Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

Articles

The Principal Offices of the Ṣafawid State During the Reign of Isma'īl I (907–30/1501–24)

R. M. Savory

Isma'īl's defeat by the Ottomans at Chāldirān—his first defeat—destroyed the legend of his invincibility. This legend was based on his pretensions to a quasi-divine status, and, after Chāldirān, the qizilbāsh, although they continued to pay lip-service to this idea, showed clearly by their actions that they no longer accorded any special reverence to the person of their ruler. They had lost their faith in Isma'īl's supernatural powers, and this impaired their fundamental relationship with him. Although in theory Isma'īl was still the murshid-i kāmil, and the qizilbāsh were his murīas, the qizilbāsh were no longer prepared to follow him with the fanatical devotion and indifference to personal danger which had been noted by a Venetian merchant in 1518, only two years before Chāldirān. Once the religious bond between Isma'īl and the qizilbāsh had been broken, and their relationship reduced in practice (though not in theory) to a secular plane, it was but a short step to disobedience to his commands and an open flouting of his authority, especially as this authority was further reduced by his virtual withdrawal from the conduct of state affairs and by the fact that after Chāldirān he ceased personally to lead his troops into battle. The oppressive rule of Amīr Khan Turkmān in Khurāsān during 922–8/1516–22, and his arrogant disregard of Isma'īl's express commands, constituted a challenge to Isma'īl's authority which he seemed reluctant or unable to meet.

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