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    Journal of persianate studies 8 (�0�5) ��3-��6 brill.com/jps Introduction: The Safavids in Global

Journal of persianate studies 8 (�0�5) ��3-��6

Journal of persianate studies 8 (�0�5) ��3-��6 brill.com/jps Introduction: The Safavids in Global

brill.com/jps

Introduction: The Safavids in Global Perspective

Rudi Matthee

University of Delaware matthee@udel.edu

Safavid history, backward by any standard just a generation ago, has since made great strides. Whereas until the late 1980s the handful of scholarly works on Iran’s history in the early modern period that existed were dominated by a focus on religion and politics, we now have a large and growing number of seri- ous studies, not just of religious and political, but also of commercial, admin- istrative and art-historical aspects of this important period in Iranian history. The three Safavid conferences that were held between 1988 and 1998, in Paris (1988), in London (1995), and in Edinburgh (1998), gave a tremendous boost to this increased output. So has the attention the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies has, from its creation in 1996, paid to Iran as part of a larger cultural realm. An unprecedented Internet-driven level of collaboration between Western, Japanese, and Iranian Safavid scholars has enriched the field as well. These efforts and initiatives have made Safavid studies take flight to the point where the field entered the twenty-first century as a community of schol- ars engaged in multiple research projects and, increasingly, debate. This special issue of JPS showcases some of the results of this endeavor. The core of its contents originated as papers presented at the sixth biannual meet- ing of ASPS in Sarajevo in 2013. The six essays offered here cover a range of topics and fields and span the length of the dynasty, from its formative, pre- national phase to its decline and fall as a state structure. The first three address questions of the mind, focusing on religion, ideology and literature; the last three concern aspects of material history, the forces of war, diplomacy and statecraft. What ties them together, other than that all are innovative as well as thought provoking, is a focus on regional connectedness—they all touch on relations and comparisons between the Safavids and the two adjacent early modern Islamic empires, the Ottomans and the Mughals. Among the most vexing problems in Safavid studies has always been the question of the origins of the dynasty and their supporters, the Qezelbash, and in particular their belief system and motivating ideology prior to attaining political power in 1501. A circumscribed set of sources, most of them written

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by opponents of the Safavids, long prevented modern scholars from venturing beyond sketchiness and conjecture in their analysis of the formative years of the dynasty. New, Turkish-language sources have of late come to light, though, and these now enable us to develop and challenge the prevailing narrative. The opening papers mine these sources to reexamine the issue of Safavid origins. Riza Yildirim opens the volume with an important, boundary-moving essay that provides fresh answers to the old question of what exactly motivated the Qezelbash to join the ideological struggle that brought Shah Esmā’il to power at the turn of the sixteenth century. Common wisdom holds that the Turkoman tribes that supported the Safavid cause were persuaded by his claim to be an incarnation of the divine. Yildirim doesn’t deny or minimize Esmā’il’s aura, yet he seeks the reasons why popular devotion and piety evolved into tribal activism less in personal charisma than in a milieu where the boundaries between the sacred and the profane were fluid, allowing the collective memory of the martyrdom of Imam Hosayn to turn from redemptive, passive suffer- ing to an ardent desire to avenge the blood spilled on the plain of Karbala. Using an hitherto unexplored set or oral narratives, heroic and hagiographic tales relating to the Karbala myth, he explains how a deeply felt reverence for the ahl-e bayt among the Qezelbash was transformed into outrage about the murder of Hosayn and a call for retribution against the perpetrators by way of fighting the Yazids of their own time. Ferenc Csirkés follows with an examination of Shah Esmā’il’s poetry in con- text. He bases his study on twenty-three poems that occur in the divāns of both Esmā’il and Seyyed ‘Imād al-Din Nesimi, a Horufi poet from the turn of the fifteenth century. Using an unprecedented number of editions, and employ- ing careful textual philology, he seeks to clarify their authorship to the extent possible. He then turns to the intriguing question of the reason why so many poems would have shown up in both divāns and submits that such misattri- bution might be the result of the embeddedness of these poems in an orally- based textual milieu in which the source and the cause merged to become indistinguishable. Once such poems were written down, he argues, they left the realm of religion and entered the domain of politics, where they served as markers of power and grandeur, even if they remained liminal. Poetry is the subject of the third contribution as well. The days are long gone that E. G. Browne could dismiss Safavid literature as just derivative and ornamental. Theo Beers illustrates this with a probing study of the poetry of Vahshi Bafqi (d. 991/1583), a prominent poet from the reign of Shah Tahmāsb I who remains less well known than his contemporary rival, Mohtasham. Beers first attempts to establish a biographical profile of Vahshi Bafqi, fully cognizant of the fact that the composite sources for this project are not “pieces of one

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puzzle.” The result is a remarkably full portrait of a man who spent most of his career in his native Kashan and who managed to become known to posterity as one of the major poets of his time despite the fact that he was never attached to the patronage system of the court and died an alcoholic. Beers ends his essay with a call for the publication of a new, critical edition of Vahshi’s kolliyāt, as well as of tazkeras from the period, so as to enable scholars to achieve a greater level of insight into the rivalries among poets, their patronage networks, and the prevailing thought patterns of the time. Walter Posch turns our attention to questions of war and diplomacy between and among the three early modern Islamic empires, the Safavids, the Ottomans and the Mughals. He does so with a well-researched piece on “elephant diplomacy” that is as whimsical as it is scholarly. He uses the ele- phant that Shah Tahmāsb donated to his wayward brother, Alqās Mirzā, in 955/1548, as an entry into the nature of diplomatic relations between the three states in the mid sixteenth century. His argument is that sectarianism, which is often adduced as the main motivation in Ottoman-Safavid relations, should not obscure the more mundane driving forces behind policies and strategies— expansion in the case of the Ottomans, and defensive reactiveness in the case of the far weaker Safavids. In both cases, he concludes, realism and pragma- tism trumped ideology. Jose Cutillas’ piece brings us to the seventeenth century by considering an aspect of Shah ‘Abbās I’s foreign policy that remains understudied in English- language scholarship: his dealings with the Iberian world. Looking at the shah’s contacts with Madrid and Lisbon while borrowing from new insights into early modern diplomacy in the Mediterranean basin, he explores the question of whether and to what extent the Safavid monarch had a conscious “Mediterranean” policy. Cutillas responds affirmatively, submitting that ‘Abbās, far from just reacting to Ottoman pressure in his diplomatic engagement with the main Mediterranean powers, may have had an active Mediterranean pol- icy, including a plan to spread Shiʿite propaganda to North Africa. My own contribution, finally, is an outgrowth of the book that I published in 2012 as Persia in Crisis: Safavid Decline and the Fall of Isfahan. My essay, too, addresses the three empires, albeit from a completely different angle. It grew out of a perceived need to put the notion of “decline” in the kind of compara- tive framework encompassing the neighboring Ottoman Empire and Mughal India that the book did not allow me to engage in. All three states suffered serious economic, social and political problems amounting to a crisis in the course of the seventeenth century. The outcome was different for each. Whereas the Safavid state, under-resourced and poorly managed, collapsed, their much greater resources in the case of the Mughals and the far greater

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military challenges they faced in their wars against Europe in the case of the Ottomans, enabled the latter two empires to survive and to some extent over- come this crisis. Yet they evince enough commensurability to make a com- parative approach sensible and productive, highlighting differences as well as similarities that require more study. If the papers in this volume point to the future of Safavid studies, this must involve the examination of the multiple aspects of this formative period in Iranian history in a wider, comparative and integrative context, encompass- ing the neighboring regimes with which the Safavids interacted as well as the wider world. The authors offer their studies as a contribution to the continu- ing debate about the place the Safavids occupied in the evolving early modern power constellation.

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