Ismail I: Shah of Persia (1487 - 1524) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Ismail I
Shah of Persia

Ismail I

Ismail I
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Shah of Persia
Was Monarch Noble Sovereign Poet Writer
From Iran
Field Literature Royals
Gender male
Birth 17 July 1487, Ardabil
Death 23 May 1524, Ardabil (aged 36 years)
Star sign Cancer
Mother: Halima
Father: Shaykh Haydar
Children: Tahmasp IElkas MirzaSam Mirza
Ismail I
The details (from wikipedia)


Ismail I, (July 17, 1487 – May 23, 1524), known in Persian as Shāh Ismāʿil, (Persian: شاه اسماعیل‎‎; full name: Abū l-Muzaffar Isma'il bin Haydar as-Safavī; Azerbaijani: بیرینجی شاه اسماعیل; Şah İsmayıl Xətai), was Shah of Iran (Persia) (1501) and the founder of the Safavid dynasty which survived until 1736. Isma'il started his campaign in Iranian Azerbaijan in 1500 as the leader of the Safaviyya, a Twelver Shia militant religious order, and unified all of Iran by 1509. Born in Ardabil, Iran, he was the king (shah) of the Safavid dynasty from 1501 to 1524.
The dynasty founded by Ismail I would rule for over two centuries, being one of the greatest Iranian empires (Persian empires) after the Muslim conquest of Persia and at its height being amongst the most powerful empires of its time, ruling all of Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, most of Georgia, the North Caucasus, Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan, as well as parts of modern day Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. It also reasserted the Iranian identity in large parts of Greater Iran. The legacy of the Safavid Empire was also the revival of Persia as an economic stronghold between East and West, the establishment of an efficient state and bureaucracy, its architectural innovations and its patronage for fine arts.
Ismail played a key role in the rise of Twelver Islam; he converted Iran from Sunni to Shi'a Islam, importing religious authorities from the Levant. In Alevism, Ismail remains revered as a spiritual guide.
Ismail was also a prolific poet who, under the pen name Khaṭāʾī (which means "sinner" in Persian) contributed greatly to the literary development of the Azerbaijani language. He also contributed to Persian literature, though few of his Persian writings survive.


The battle between the young Ismail and Shah Farrukh Yassar of Shirvan

Ismail was born to Martha and Shaykh Haydar on July 17, 1487 in Ardabil. His father, Haydar, was the sheikh of the Safaviyya Sufi order and a direct descendant of its Kurdish founder, Safi-ad-din Ardabili (1252–1334). Ismail was the last in this line of hereditary Grand Masters of the order, prior to his ascent to a ruling dynasty. Ismail was a great-great grandson of Emperor Alexios IV of Trebizond and King Alexander I of Georgia. His mother Martha, better known as Halima Begum, was the daughter of Uzun Hasan by his Pontic Greek wife Theodora Megale Komnene, better known as Despina Khatun. Despina Khatun was the daughter of Emperor John IV of Trebizond. (She had married Uzun Hassan in a deal to protect the Greek Empire of Trebizond from the Ottomans.) Ismail grew up bilingual, speaking Persian and Azerbaijani. Not only did Ismail have Kurdish ancestors, but he also had ancestors from various other ethnic groups such as Azeri; the majority of scholars agree that his empire was an Iranian one.

In 700/1301, Safi al-Din assumed the leadership of the Zahediyeh, a significant Sufi order in Gilan, from his spiritual master and father-in-law Zahed Gilani. The order was later known as the Safaviyya. One genealogy claimed that Sheikh Safi (the founder of the order and Ismael's ancestor) was a lineal descendant of Ali. Ismail also proclaimed himself the Mahdi and a reincarnation of Ali.


Ismail declares himself shah by entering Tabriz, painter Chingiz Mehbaliyev, in private collection.

In 1488, the father of Ismail was killed in a battle at Derbent against the forces of the Shirvanshah Farrukh Yassar and his overlord, the Aq Qoyunlu, a Turkic tribal federation which controlled most of Iran. In 1494 the Aq Qoyunlu captured Ardabil, killing Ali Mirza Safavi (the eldest son of Haydar), and forcing the 7-year old Ismail to go into hiding in Gilan, where he received education under the guidance of scholars.

When Ismail reached the age of 12, he came out of hiding and returned to Iranian Azerbaijan along with his followers. Ismail's rise to power was made possible by the Turkoman tribes of Anatolia and Azerbaijan, who formed the most important part of the Qizilbash movement.

Invasion of Shirvan and Azerbaijan

In the summer of 1500, about 7,000 Qizilbash troops, including members of the Ustaclu, Shamlu, Rumlu, Tekelu, Zhulkadir, Afshar, Qajar and Varsak tribes, responded to the invitation of Ismail in Erzincan. Qizilbash forces passed over the Kura River in December 1500, and marched towards the Shirvanshah's state. They defeated the forces of the Shirvanshah Farrukh Yassar near Cabanı (present-day Shamakhi Rayon, Azerbaijan) or at Gulistan (present-day Gülüstan, Goranboy, Nagorno-Karabakh), and subsequently went on to conquer Baku. Thus, Shirvan and its dependencies (up to southern Dagestan in the north) were now Ismail's. The Shirvanshah line nevertheless continued to rule Shirvan under Safavid suzerainty for some more years, until 1538, when, during the reign of Ismail's son, Tahmasp I (r. 1524-1576), from then on it came to be ruled by a Safavid governor. After the conquest, Ismail had Alexander I of Kakheti send his son Demetre to Shirvan to negotiate a peace agreement.

The successful conquest had alarmed the ruler of the Aq Qoyunlu, Alvand, who subsequently proceeded north from Tabriz, and crossed the Aras River in order to challenge the Safavid forces, and a pitched battle was fought at Sarur in which Ismail's army came out victorious despite being outnumbered by four to one. Shortly before his attack on Shirvan, Ismail had made the Georgian kings Constantine II and Alexander I of respectively the kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti, attack the Ottoman possessions near Tabriz, on the promise that he would cancel the tribute that Constantine was forced to pay to the Ak Koyunlu once Tabriz was captured. After eventually conquering Tabriz and Nakhchivan, Ismail broke the promise he had made to Constantine II, and made both the kingdoms of Kartli as well as Kakheti his vassals.


The battle between Ismail I and Muhammad Shaybani

Conquest of Iran and its surroundings

In July 1501, Ismail was enthroned as Shah of Azerbaijan, choosing Tabriz as his capital. He appointed his former guardian and mentor Husayn Beg Shamlu as the vakil (vicegerent) of the empire and the commander-in-chief (amir al-umara) of the Qizilbash army. His army was composed of tribal units, the majority of which were Turkmen from Anatolia and Syria with the remainder Kurds and Čaḡatāy. He also appointed a former Iranian vizier of the Aq Qoyunlu, named Muhammad Zakariya Kujuji, as his vizier. After proclaiming himself Shah, Ismail also proclaimed Twelver Shi'ism to be the official and compulsory religion of Iran. He enforced this new standard by the sword, dissolving Sunni Brotherhoods and executing anyone who refused to comply to the newly implemented Shi'ism

After defeating an Aq Qoyunlu army in 1502, Ismail took the title of "Shah of Iran". In the same year he gained possession of Erzincan and Erzurum, while a year later, in 1503, he conquered Eraq-e Ajam and Fars; one year later he conquered Mazandaran, Gorgan, and Yazd. In 1507, he conquered Diyabakir. During the same year, Ismail appointed the Iranian Amir Najm al-Din Mas'ud Gilani as the new vakil. This was because Ismail had begun favoring the Iranians more than the Qizilbash, who, although they had played a crucial role in Ismail's campaigns, possessed too much power and were no longer considered trustworthy.

One year later, he Ismail forced the rulers of Khuzestan, Lorestan, and Kurdistan to become his vassals. The same year, Ismail and Husayn Beg Shamlu seized Baghdad, putting an end to the Aq Qoyunlu. Ismail then began destroying Sunni sites in Baghdad, including tombs of Abbasid Caliphs and tombs of Imam Abū Ḥanīfah and Abdul Qadir Gilani.

By 1510, he had conquered the whole of Iran and Azerbaijan, southern Dagestan (with its important city of Derbent), Mesopotamia, Armenia, Khorasan, and Eastern Anatolia, and had made the Georgian kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti his vassals. In the same year, Husayn Beg Shamlu lost his office as commander-in-chief in favor of a man of humble origins, Muhammad Beg Ustajlu. Ismail also appointed Najm-e Sani as the new vakil of the empire due to the death of Mas'ud Gilani.

Ismail I moved against the Uzbeks. In battle near the city of Merv, some 17,000 Qizilbash warriors ambushed and defeated an Uzbek force numbering 28,000. The Uzbek ruler, Muhammad Shaybani, was caught and killed trying to escape the battle, and the shah had his skull made into a jewelled drinking goblet. In 1512, Najm-e Sani was killed during a clash with the Uzbeks, which made Ismail appoint Abd al-Baqi Yazdi as the new vakil of the empire.

War against the Ottomans

Artwork of the Battle of Chaldiran

The active recruitment of support for the Safavid cause among the Turcoman tribes of Eastern Anatolia, among tribesmen who were Ottoman subjects, had inevitably placed the neighbouring Ottoman empire and the Safavid state on a collision course. As the Encyclopaedia Iranica states, "As orthodox or Sunni Muslims, the Ottomans had reason to view with alarm the progress of Shīʿī ideas in the territories under their control, but there was also a grave political danger that the Ṣafawīya, if allowed to extend its influence still further, might bring about the transfer of large areas in Asia Minor from Ottoman to Persian allegiance". By the early 1510s, Ismail's rapidly expansionist policies had made the Safavid border in Asia Minor shift even further west. In 1511, there was a widespread pro-Safavid rebellion in southern Anatolia by the Takkalu Qizilbash tribe, known as the Şahkulu Rebellion, and an Ottoman army that was sent in order to put down the rebellion down was defeated. A large-scale incursion into Eastern Anatolia by Safavid ghazis under Nūr-ʿAlī Ḵalīfa coincided with the accession of Sultan Selim I in 1512 to the Ottoman throne, and became the casus belli which led to Selim's decision to invade Safavid Iran two years later. Selim and Ismail had been exchanging a series of belligerent letters prior to the attack. While the Safavid forces were at Chaldiran and planning on how to confront the Ottomans, Muhammad Khan Ustajlu, who served as the governor of Diyabakir, and Nur-Ali Khalifa, a commander who knew how the Ottomans fought, proposed that they should attack as quickly as possible. This proposal was rejected by the powerful Qizilbash officer Durmish Khan Shamlu, who rudely said that Muhammad Khan Ustajlu was only interested in the province which he governed. The proposal was rejected by Ismail himself, who said; "I am not a caravan-thief; whatever is decreed by God, will occur."

Personal items of Shah Ismail I captured by Selim I during battle of Chaldiran. Topkapi Museum. Istanbul

Selim I eventually defeated Ismail at the battle of Chaldiran in 1514. Ismail's army was more mobile and his soldiers were better prepared, but the Ottomans prevailed due in large part to their efficient modern army, and possession of artillery, black powder and muskets. Ismail was wounded and almost captured in battle. Selim entered the Iranian capital of Tabriz in triumph on September 5, but did not linger. A mutiny among his troops, fearing a counterattack and entrapment by fresh Safavid forces called in from the interior, forced the triumphant Ottomans to withdraw prematurely. This allowed Ismail to recover. Among the booty from Tabriz was Ismail's favorite wife, for whose release the Sultan demanded huge concessions, which were refused. Despite his defeat at the Battle of Chaldiran, Ismail quickly recovered most of his kingdom, from east of the Lake Van to the Persian Gulf. However, the Ottomans managed to annex for the first time Eastern Anatolia and parts of Mesopotamia, as well as briefly northwestern Iran.

The Venetian ambassador Caterino Zeno describes the events as follows:

He also adds that:

Late reign and death

After the Battle of Chaldiran, Ismail lost his supernatural air and the aura of invincibility, gradually falling into heavy drinking of alcohol. He retired to his palace, never again participated in a military campaign, and withdrew from active participation in the affairs of the state. He left these to his vizier, Mirza Shah Husayn, who became his close friend and drinking companion. This allowed Mirza Shah Husayn to gain influence over Ismail and expand his authority. Mirza Shah Husayn was assassinated in 1523 by a group of Qizilbash officers, after which Ismail appointed Zakariya's son Jalal al-Din Mohammad Tabrizi as his new vizier. Ismail died on 23 May 1524 at the relatively early age of thirty-six. He was buried in Ardabil, and was succeeded by his son Tahmasp I.

The consequences of the defeat at Chaldiran were also psychological for Ismail: His relationships with his Qizilbash followers were fundamentally altered. The tribal rivalries between the Qizilbash, which temporarily ceased before the defeat at Chaldiran, resurfaced in intense form immediately after the death of Ismail, and led to ten years of civil war (930-40/1524-33) until Shah Tahmasp regained control of the affairs of the state. The Safavids later briefly lost Balkh and Kandahar to the Mughals, and nearly lost Herat to the Uzbeks.

During Ismail's reign, mainly in the late 1510's, the first steps for the Habsburg–Persian alliance were set as well, with Charles V and Ludwig II of Hungary being in contact with a view to combining against the common Ottoman Turkish enemy.

Ismail's poetry

Bust of Ismail I in Ganja, Republic of Azerbaijan

Ismail is also known for his poetry using the pen-name Khaṭā'ī (Arabic: خطائی‎‎ "Sinner"). He wrote in the Azerbaijani language, a Turkic language mutually intelligible with Turkish, and in the Persian language. He is considered an important figure in the literary history of Azerbaijani language and has left approximately 1400 verses in this language, which he chose to use for political reasons. Approximately 50 verses of his Persian poetry have also survived. According to Encyclopædia Iranica, "Ismail was a skillful poet who used prevalent themes and images in lyric and didactic-religious poetry with ease and some degree of originality". He was also deeply influenced by the Persian literary tradition of Iran, particularly by the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, which probably explains the fact that he named all of his sons after Shahnameh-characters. Dickson and Welch suggest that Ismail's "Shāhnāmaye Shāhī" was intended as a present to his young son Tahmasp. After defeating Muhammad Shaybani's Uzbeks, Ismail asked Hatefi, a famous poet from Jam (Khorasan), to write a Shahnameh-like epic about his victories and his newly established dynasty. Although the epic was left unfinished, it was an example of mathnawis in the heroic style of the Shahnameh written later on for the Safavid kings.

Most of the poems are concerned with love—particularly of the mystical Sufi kind—though there are also poems propagating Shi'i doctrine and Safavi politics. His other serious works include the Nasihatnāme in Azerbaijani language, a book of advice, and the unfinished Dahnāme in Azerbaijani language, a book which extols the virtues of love.

Along with the poet Imadaddin Nasimi, Khatā'ī is considered to be among the first proponents of using a simpler Azeri language in verse that would appeal to a broader audience. His work is most popular in Azerbaijan, as well as among the Bektashis of Turkey. There is a large body of Alevi and Bektashi poetry that has been attributed to him. The major impact of his religious writings, in the long run, was the conversion of Persia from Sunni to Shia Islam.

The following anecdote demonstrates the status of vernacular Turkish and Persian in the Ottoman Empire and in the incipient Safavid state. Khatā'ī sent a poem in Turkish to the Ottoman Sultan Selim I before going to war in 1514. In a reply the Ottoman Sultan answered in Persian to indicate his contempt.

One of the examples of his poems are:

Poetry example 1

Today I have come to the world as a Master. Know truly that I am Haydar's son.

I am Fereydun, Khosrow, Jamshid, and Zahak. I am Zal's son (Rostam) and Alexander.
The mystery of I am the truth is hidden in this my heart. I am the Absolute Truth and what I say is Truth.
I belong to the religion of the "Adherent of the Ali" and on the Shah's path I am a guide to every one who says: "I am a Muslim." My sign is the "Crown of Happiness".
I am the signet-ring on Sulayman's finger. Muhammad is made of light, Ali of Mystery.
I am a pearl in the sea of Absolute Reality. I am Khatai, the Shah's slave full of shortcomings. At thy gate I am the smallest and the last [servant].

Poetry example 2

My name is Shāh Ismā'īl. I am God's mystery. I am the leader of all these ghāzīs.

My mother is Fātima, my father is 'Ali; and eke I am the Pīr of the Twelve Imāms.
I have recovered my father's blood from Yazīd. Be sure that I am of Haydarian essence.
I am the living Khidr and Jesus, son of Mary. I am the Alexander of (my) contemporaries.
Look you, Yazīd, polytheist and the adept of the Accursed one, I am free from the Ka'ba of hypocrites.
In me is Prophethood (and) the mystery of Holiness. I follow the path of Muhammad Mustafā.
I have conquered the world at the point of (my) sword. I am the Qanbar of Murtadā 'Ali.
My sire is Safī, my father Haydar. Truly I am the Ja'far of the audacious.
I am a Husaynid and have curses for Yazīd. I am Khatā'ī, a servant of the Shāh's.

Poetry example 3

"The light of all is Muhammed."

due to your desire my heart burned, will i see you ever?
i hope in the holy divan of truth, you will remember me

they call you generous, valiant oh' impeccable leader
the light of all is Muhammed, valiant thou' Ali valiant

i could not find anyone in this lone world who is like you
let me see your moon-faced effigy, so i will not stay in desire

all your servants who call your name will not be devoided in the hereafter
the light of all is Muhammed, valiant thou' Ali valiant

forgive this sinner, i lead my face to your holy dergah
my soul stayed in blasphemy, thou' will not insist on my sin

i soughed shelter and came to this revealed refuge
the light of all is Muhammed, valiant thou' Ali valiant

Hata-i says: "thou' Ali, my body is filled up with sins"
the light of all is Muhammed, valiant thou' Ali valiant

Poetry from other composers about Ismail, I.

From Pir Sultan Abdal:

He makes a march against Urum
The Imam of Ali's descent is coming
I bow down and kissed his Hand
The Imam of Ali's descent is coming

He fills the cups step by step
In his stable only noble Arab horses
His ancestry, he is the son of the Shah
The Imam of Ali's descent is coming

The fields are marked step by step
His rival makes his heart aking
Red-green is the young warrior dressed
The Imam of Ali's descent is coming

He lets him seen often on the field
Noone knows the secret of the saviour
Shah of the world goodman Haydar's grandson
The Imam of Ali's descent is coming

Pir Sultan Abdal, I am, if i could see this
Submit my self, if I could wipe my face at him
From ere he is the leader of the 12 Imams
The Imam of Ali's descent is coming

Emergence of a clerical aristocracy

An important feature of the Safavid society was the alliance that emerged between the ulama (the religious class) and the merchant community. The latter included merchants trading in the bazaars, the trade and artisan guilds (asnaf) and members of the quasi-religious organizations run by dervishes (futuvva). Because of the relative insecurity of property ownership in Persia, many private landowners secured their lands by donating them to the clergy as so-called vaqf. They would thus retain the official ownership and secure their land from being confiscated by royal commissioners or local governors, as long as a percentage of the revenues from the land went to the ulama. Increasingly, members of the religious class, particularly the mujtahids and the seyyeds, gained full ownership of these lands, and, according to contemporary historian Iskandar Munshi, Persia started to witness the emergence of a new and significant group of landowners.

Appearance and skills

Shah Ismail I as depicted in a European illustration

Ismail was described by contemporaries as having a regal appearance, gentlemanly in quality and youthfulness. He also had a fair complexion and red hair. His appearance compared to other olive-skinned Persians, his descent from the Safavid Shaykhs, and his religious ideals, contributed to people's expectation based on various legends circulating during this period of heightened religious awareness in Western Asia.

An Italian traveller describes Ismail as follows:


Ismail's greatest legacy was establishing an empire which lasted over 200 years. As Alexander Mikaberidze states, "The Safavid dynasty would rule for two more centuries [after Ismail's death] and establish the basis for the modern-nation state of Iran." Even after the fall of the Safavids in 1736, their cultural and political influence endured through the era of Afsharid, Zand, Qajar, and Pahlavi dynasties into the modern Islamic Republic of Iran as well as the neighboring Azerbaijan Republic, where Shi'a Islam is still the dominant religion as it was during the Safavid era.

In popular culture


In the Safavid period, the famous Azeri folk romance Shah Ismail emerged. According to Azerbaijani literaty critic Hamid Arasly, this dastan is related to Ismail I. But it is also possible that it is dedicated to Ismail II.

Memorial places and structures

  • Metro, District and Facility in Azerbaijan.
  • A street in Ganja and Prospect in Baku.
  • In 1993, a monument to Ismail I was erected in Baku.
  • A sculpture was erected in Khachmaz (city) to Ismail I.


Shah Ismayil is the name of an Azerbaijani mugham opera in 6 acts and 7 scenes composed by Muslim Magomayev, in 1915-1919.


Ismail I's Statue in Ardabil, Iran.


    • Tahmasp I
    • Prince 'Abul Ghazi Sultan Alqas Mirza (15 March 1515 – 9 April 1550) Governor of Astrabad 1532/33–1538, Shirvan 1538–1547 and Derbent 1546–1547. He rebelled against his brother Tahmasp with Ottoman help. Captured and imprisoned at the Fortress of Qahqahan. m. Khadija Sultan Khanum, having had issue, two sons,
      • Sultan Ahmad Mirza (died 1568)
      • Sultan Farrukh Mirza (died 1568)
    • Prince Sultan Rustam Mirza (born 13 September 1517)
    • Prince 'Abul Naser Sultan Sam Mirza (28 August 1518 – December 1567) Governor-General of Khorasan 1521–1529 and 1532–1534, and of Ardabil 1549–1571. He rebelled against his brother Tahmasp, captured and imprisoned at the Fortress of Qahqahan. He had issue, two sons and one daughter. His daughter, married Prince Jesse of Kakheti (died 1583) Governor of Shaki, the third son of Georgian king Levan of Kakheti.
    • Prince 'Abu'l Fat'h Sultan Moez od-din Bahram Mirza (7 September 1518 – 16 September 1550) Governor of Khorasan 1529–1532, Gilan 1536–1537 and Hamadan 1546–1549. m. Zainab Sultan Khanum. She had issue, four sons and one daughter:
      • Sultan Hassan Mirza died in his youth,
      • Sultan Husain Mirza (died 1567)
      • 'Abu'l Fat'h Sultan
      • Ibrahim Mirza (1541–1577),
      • Sultan Badi uz-Zaman Mirza (k.1577)
    • Prince Soltan Hossein Mirza (born 11 December 1520)


    • Princess Shahnavaz Begum, m. 14 May 1513, Prince Şehzade Murad Effendi, elder son of Şehzade Ahmet, Crown Prince of Ottoman Empire, son of Bayezid II.
    • Princess Gunish Khanum (26 February 1507 – 2 March 1533) m. (first) at Hamadan, 24 August 1518, Sultan Mozaffar Amir-i-Dibaj (k. at Tabriz, 23 September 1536), Governor of Rasht and Fooman 1516–1535, son of Amir Hisam od-din Amir-i-Dibaj.
    • Princess Pari Khan Khanum (not to be mistaken with Tahmasp's daughter Pari Khan Khanum) m. on 4 October 1521, Shirvanshah Khalil II Governor of Shirvan 1523–1536, son of Shirvanshah Ibrahim II.
    • Princess Khair un-nisa Khanish Khanum (died 12 March 1564) m. 1537, Seyyed Nur od-din Nimatu'llah Baqi Yazdi (d. 21 July 1564), son of Mir Nezam od-din 'Abdu'l Baqi Yazdi.
    • Princess Shah Zainab Khanum (born 1519)
    • Princess Farangis Khanum (born 1519)
    • Princess Mahin Banu Khanum (1519 – 20 January 1562)


The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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