Article

Safavids

Andrew J. Newman

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online April 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0135
Safavids

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The Safavid period is conventionally dated from the capture of Tabriz in 1501 by Ismail I (d. 1524) to the fall of the capital Esfahan to the Afghans in 1722. As such, the Safavid dynasty was the longest-ruling dynasty in Iran’s history, since its conquest by Arab Muslim armies in the 640s, and stands between Iran’s medieval and modern history. Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the numbers both of Western scholars focusing on the Safavid period and of those for whom the period is one of many areas of interest have grown rapidly. Too, notwithstanding the turmoil of the period, in Iran the publication of key Persian- and Arabic-language primary materials relative to the period has also expanded. In the early 21st century, there is a vast array of primary and secondary sources, composed in many different languages, that was not available prior to 1979. The growth in scholarly interest in the period, in both the West and Iran, together with the growth of available source materials has encouraged the appearance of subdisciplines within the field. Despite this growth, however, the field of Safavid studies remains split between studies of the socioeconomic and political realms and the “cultural,” as broadly construed. Most in both groups also remain beholden to the conventional “decline” understanding of the period, whose origins date, at least, to the works of E. G. Browne (d. 1926). The 17th century especially continues to be depicted as having begun with a burst of cultural and intellectual accomplishment, thanks to the military, political, and economic stability achieved by Abbas I (d. 1629)—a “strong” ruler—but ending in an atmosphere of intolerant religious orthodoxy amid military, political, and economic chaos and “weak” leadership at the center. Scholars still accept the inevitable decline and fall of the Safavid “state,” as represented by the 1722 Afghan capture of Esfahan. This preoccupation with Safavid “decline” is reinforced by recourse to critiques of the Safavid system on offer in both Persian-language historical chronicles and the accounts of contemporary Western travelers to and residents in Iran, although many of the former were composed after the period and the latter are often contradictory, offering as “fact” information gathered after the events in question or in such detail as to beggar credibility, and are the product of a variety of agendas that can render their contributions problematic. Ottoman studies has jettisoned “decline theory,” but “decline” still remains the dominant paradigm in Safavid studies.

Article.  19657 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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