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Political structure and the system of governance in the Safavids state

It is important to mention that political structure and the system of governance in the Safavids state was based on the traditions of statehood in the period of Aghqoyunlu and Karakoyunlu.

Along with unlimited and inherited authority of Shah, there were central boureochrachy apparate, which possessed its representatives in  all provinces of the empire. Safavids Shahs, who were the inherited heads of Ardebil dervish orden, preserved their spiritual authority as well. There was supreme mejlis of the state, which played only consultative role. In the presence of Shah Abbas, Supreme Mejlis consisted of 12 members and included to its structure the sons of the Shah, his closest conSultants, influencive representatives of kizilbash aristocracy and civil boureochrachy. Supreme Mejlis was called by the desire of the Shah in order to decide important state issues, after their discussion Shah took into account the suggestions of statemen.

As one of the European diplomats, who took place in one such assemblies of Supreme Mejlis by the permission of Shah Tahmasib, mentioned, “the king sits on the throne not much more higher from the ground and by his shoulders sit his sons; when they are in the palace, especially Heydar Mirza, who is the deputy of the king, they don’t go out of his view-point. His conSultants, who called vice-kings (they are 4 men) sits in the opposite. Shah put issues, spoke about them, asked the opinions of Sultans and each of them stands up and approaches to the Shah, expresses his opinion loudly, in order to that all of his colleagues are able to hear him. And if Shah hear anything interesting during the discussion, it (by his order) is noted by the high conSultant or frequently, by Shah himself; and so, everybody expresses his opinion by the request of the Shah. When the king is sure about the essence of the issue, it was discussed in the first assembly; but if he has any doubts, he listened to the opinion of the whole mejlis and then solved the problem after his personal scrutiny”.

The territory of the Safavids State was divided into the districts of divan and khasse, i.e. the state lands and the lands, which belonged to the family of ruling dynasty. These lands were accordingly called divani- mamalik and divani-khasse. The lands of khasse was governed by specially appointed vezir, these lands consisted of the inherited possessions of Safavids sheikhs in Ardebil, as well as the lands and properties in Isfahan, Fars, Herat and Mazandaran, which was gained in the presence of Shah Abbas I.

Prime-vezir (veziri-a’zam) took special place in the state administration after the Shah. Prime vezir and sometimes, some other high state officers achieved the title of the adviser (vekil) as an extra post. Vezir, with the title of vekil was the plenipotentiary in the decision of state issues about religious and secular character. In the presence of Safavids, the first vekil became the closest comprade-in-arms of Ismail I Hussein bey Shamlu. But later, this post became the reason of strife  among kizilbash military nobility-in the presence of under age Shah Tahmasib I, this post was accordingly occupied by Div Sultan Rumlu, Chukha Sultan Tekeli, Hussein khan Shamlu. Tahmasib I, who reached to the proper age and strengthened in the throne, liquidated this post later.

From the beginning of the reign of Shah Abbas I, the authority of prime vezir was extended. Civil and financial institutions of the regions and circults of the state were also governed by vezir. The distinguished point, which was shaped in the administrative system was mutual control of officers; that’s why, the Shah obtained enough and correct information about the activity of all officers, beginning from the prime vezir till the representatives in regions and cities.

Nazir (munshi-katib), who was subordinated to prime-vezir, was appointed by Shah, but in fact, he was not only the secretary of prime vezir, but also was able to give information about the shaped problems personally to the Shah. Official documents were confirmed by the prime vezir. The appointments of the officers to high posts and the distribution of tiyuls and soyurgals without his stamp was unreal. The issues about the state expences and profits, acceptance of foreign guests and diplomats, organization of their meeting with the Shah, circumstances in the provinces were referred to the sphere of his activity.

There was the munshi of the Shah, who was the head of the state clerical office in the palace. To write letters, orders and fermans of Shah, to fulfill the accounting of state expences and doubts were included to his obligation. There worked 40 scribes (katibs) under the leadership of munshi. Munshi wrote the occurred events per day and compiled the chronicle of major events in the presence of current ruler.

The Shiite clergy played an important role in the administration of Safavids state. Supreme spiritual institution was led by sadr. Adam Oleary mentioned that as Catholic Church was headed by the Pope, the spiritual institution in the Safavids state was led by sadr, who was appointed by Shah. Sadr had to know the shariat and civil law, as in the dependence of his opinion, there was given a decision from the name of the sovereign. Sadr made decisions about property issues as well as, checked the fulfillment of shariat law through the appointed spiritual officers, controlled vaqfs, appointed imams of the mosques.

The provinces, which was the Safavids empire divided, were governed by the governors-beylerbeys, who were appointed by Shah among kizilbash military nobility. Legally, they were given the title of  emir or khan and they were the most essential point in the system of state administration. They were grateful to Shah for their positions and possessions, that is why, they had to serve the Shah faithfully; but in fact they revolted against the central authority, utilizing from their rights. In the documents of Shah’s divan, of 1576, there were counted 114 emirs.

The post of beylerbey was regarded as military-civil one. Beylerbey was engaged not only in civil governance, but also led the feudal militia of the region. Sometimes, beylerbey was appointed the military commander of the troops of Safavids state in the big province. The post of beylerbey used the inherited character in the context of one clan of any kizilbash tribe. For instance, Karabakh and Astrabad was governed by the representatives of Kadjars, Shirvan and Chukhursaad-Ustaclu, Tabriz – Tekeli or Turkman, Fars – Zulkadar, Kerman – Afshar, Hamadan – Tekeli, Herat – Shamlu. As a sample, we can bring the beylerbeys of Karabakh, which was Shahverdi bey Ziyadoghlu Kadjar, who had been appointed by Shah Tahmasib. As its known, the ruler of Ganja khanate in the beginning of the 19th century was Javad khan Ziyadoghlu, who bravely fought against Russian invaders, commanded by general Sisianov.

In beylerbeyliks, the vezir of the region possessed the important place after the beylerbey. He was engaged in the financial issues, realized the control over the collection and accuration of taxes. Vezir or his representative participated in the low-court.

Vezirs of provinces were appointed or dismissed from the office by the recommendation of beylerbey and by the order of Shah. Although he was appointed by Shah, in his activity vezir subordinated to beylerbey and simultaneously was his “ears and eyes” in the province.

Beylerbeyliks were divided into mahals (circults). Mahals were governed by circult governers (Sultan or melik), which were confirmed by Shah. There were presented military-administrative and police functions to these governers. The governer of circult had to provide the internal stability, keep a little military detachment, regularly collect taxes and obligation, during the hostilities he had to pass to the subordination of beylerbey. He had to regularly send peshkesh and present to Shah. Although the governer of mahal was independent and possessed wide authority, he consulted with the beylerbey in important issues and obeyed to him.

The deputy of the beylerbey (canishin), eshikaghasebashi, divanbeyi, mehmandar also played an important role in the governance of the regions.

The deputy of beylerbey in the region possessed wide power. During the absence of beylerbey, all issues were led by him. He kept regular ties with the palace too. Neverthless, as vezirs this post was also occupied by the relatives of beylerbey in fact: he directly subordinated to beylerbey. In the Safavids state canishin and naib-al-hokuma were synonyms. Officers, who used this name were legally appointed by beylerbey. There were not given any title to the canishins of the regions.

In the system of Safavids state, major governing institutions consisted of two administrative subdivisions: beylerbeyliks and mahals. But, being the basics of military-political and administrative entity, the governance of beylerbeylik played the exceptional role in the history of Safavids State. Beylerbeylik, which was the representation of Shah’s authority in regions, was the ground of governing system in the areas; beylerbeys strengthened the authority of central administration in the areas – in cities and villages by the vehicle of Sultans and meliks. During the reign of Shah Abbas, who regained the territories, conquered by the Ottoman Empire, the state was subdivided into 13 beylerbeyliks, four of them were located in Azerbaijan.

According to the feudal military-nomadic militia, the army of Safavids was subdivided into two types as in the period of Aghqoyunlu and Karakoyunlu. There was shaped 44 thousandth regular army in the presence of Shah Abbas I; together with 60-70 thousanth unorganized feudal militia of cherik the army was constituted by 100 thousand soldiers. In 16th-17th centuries, the state army was generally located in the regions. This army consisted of military forces of Azerbaijan Turks, which were united under the command of the beylerbey of province. There were kept military forces, constituted by several thousand soldiers in each beylerbeylik – in Shirvan, Chukhur-Saad, Karabakh and Azerbaijan.

About Ismayil bey Zardabli

Author of t extbook for the higher educational institutions "THE HISTORY OF AZERBAIJAN, from ancient times to the present day"