Home / Azerbaijan / The reign of Shah Abbas I and his reforms

The reign of Shah Abbas I and his reforms

When Shah Abbas I came to the throne in 1587 (he was called the “Great” later), the internal situation of Safavids state was hard as the foreign political circumstances. Chukhur-Saad, Shirvan, Azerbaijan and Western environs of Iran had been conquered by Ottomans. The troops of Uzbek Sheybanids occupied approximately whole Khorasan. The population of western and eastern regions had been ruined and captivated by both Ottomans and Uzbeks. As Volga-Caspian way and caravan ways to Mediterrarian ports were closed by the order of Sultan, the interior and exterior trade had been reduced. At the result of tax policy of former Shahs, the economy of Safavids state was inflicted to damage.

There were happening strifes of kizilbash tribes and local feudal owners, as well as popular uprisings, arisen at the result of hard taxes inside of the state. In 1588, Shahverdi khan, the governer of Luristan revolted against the central power and in 1589, prince Rustam Mirza tried to occupy Sistan. The tribes of Zulkadar rose in Fars and afshars revolted in Kerman. In Isfahan local governor, Yusif bey rose against the Shah and Shah obliged to conlude agreement with him in 1590.

In 1590, Shah Abbas had to conclude Istanbul peace treaty with Turkey and ceded the Eastern Georgia, Chukhur-Saad, Shirvan, Azerbaijan (expect in Ardebil and Talish), most part of Luristan and a part of Western Iran with the city of Hamadan to the Ottoman Empire.

Shah utilized from the peace with Turkey as the break for the suppression of local revolts and for the war with Uzbeks. There was gained decisive victory over Uzbeks near Herat in 1597-1598s. So, Khorasan was re-occupied.

The reign of Shah Abbas I was considered the critical period in the history of Safavids state. Shah Abbas I was able to restore foreign political circumstances, which became aggravated at the result of internal strifes and chaos in the Safavids state. Neverthless, the reign of Shah Abbas I was essential not only with successful wars and foreign policy, but also internal policy of Shah Abbas I possessed great essence.

There were existed such chathegories of feudal land ownership in the 16th-17th centuries as: “araziy-i-divani” – state lands, khasse of Shahs, vaqf properties of Shiite clergy, mulk-land property of Shiite clergy, mulk-land possession on the right of private property. Major part of all land possessions was constituted by state and Shah lands; so that, according to Muslim law, supreme owner of all lands was state and Shah. But gradually, there was shared special lands, possessions of ruling dynasty from the land foundation of the country and this possessions were called “araziy-i-khasse”.

At the result of centralization policy of Safavids state at the end of 16th –beginnig of 17th centuries, which was directed to the liquidation of feudal strife, the amount of state and Shah lands increased. Namely, it became the material ground for strengthening of Safavids state at the end of 16th –the beginning of 17th centuries. Safavids Shahs, who possessed big amount of lands, shared big lands to various military – civil officers. Most of the shared lands were temporary and conditional (in the type of European benefice) ones.

The shape of khasse in the state was not new appearance. This chathegory of possession existed in the presence of Abbasid caliphs, Seldjukid rulers and Mongolian elkhans. But, khasse reached to its high level in the period of Safavids dynasty. Its economic possibilities were great and Safavids Shahs were able to press each separatist tendencies in the country, relying on them.

Safavids administration, under the leadership of Shah Abbas I, gradually concentrated land possessions, which had belonged to kizilbash aristocracy before, under own authority. It caused to re- determination of land foundation and the change of the structure of land-ownership. Especially, the size of state and Shah lands extended, at the expense of which, the bouerochratic and military-feudal office of the administration in Safavids state were kept. The size of the possessions of Shiite clergy, which was the pillar of the throne was increased as well. The number and size of mulks were reduced.

Shah Abbas I began to extend personal possessions (khasse) from the beginning of his reign. Political line on the strengthening of supreme authority assisted to it too. First of all, he aimed to return such part of the possessions of khasse, which passed to the hands of either the representatives of ruling clan of Safavids, or to the clergy and kizilbash leaders during his father’s period.

Internal policy of Shah Abbas I was based on the struggle with feudal strife and separatist tendencies of feudal owners, as well as the strengthening of central authority. That is why, since first years Shah relied on that group of feudal class, which was interested in the existence of powerful central authority, to civil officers, who were Persians, especially Khorasan bouerochrachy. At the result of this policy, the role of Iranian element in the political life of the state increased and Turkish-kizilbash nobility was inflicted to damage. Major assistants of Shah Abbas I were vezir Hatim-bey Ordubadi, then his son and heir in this post, Abu-Talibey.

Shah Abbas I, who protected Iranian element in his state, did his best to develop producing forces especially in Iranian regions, as well as in central district – Persian Irag with its major city – Isfahan, where Shah Abbas moved his capital in 1598. With these goals, Shah Abbas implemented tax reform in the years of 1598-1599. The tax of “choban beyi”, which was gathered from cattle-breeders was completely abolished in the whole Persian Irag. Isfahan and its circult was liberated from all obligations for a year, later (in 1613) for 3 years and then for a year again; the land-owners and peasants were freed from land taxes as well as the peasants were liberated from the payment for lease in the lands of khasse.

The line of cities, which suffered from the Ottomanin vasions – Ordubad, Derbend and others-obtained the right of tax immunity, after re-occupation by Safavids state.

Extra taxes, which were applied in the 70-80s of the 16th century were abolished. All these measures were applied in order to facilitate the condition of peasants and city-dwellers, to improve the economy of the state, to rely on the support of Iranian settler population and weaken the power of kizilbash aristocracy.

Hard circumstances inside of the Safavids state caused to the interference of neighbourhood countries to Iran. The Ottoman Empire violated the peace treaty of 1555, began the war against Safavids state and occupied essential part of Iran in 1587. In the East the troops of Sheybanids invaded to Khorasan and conquered it.

The increasement of feudal taxes and obligations, local feudal strifes and the invasion of neighbourhood countries caused to the destruction of the state. There occurred popular uprisings in different parts of Safavids state in the 70-80s of the 16th century; in 1571-1573, there happened antifeudal uprising of craftsmen and the poverty of city in Tabriz, in 1577, there began uprising in Shirvan, in 1580, there occurred peasant uprisings in Talish, Gilan, Khorasan.

When Shah Abbas I came to Safavids throne, the social confrontation of kizilbash tribes had been deepened. Small tribal top, which occupied high positions in the state exploited not only the settled population, but also the ordinary members of their own tribes. Naturally, this caused to the disagreement of the last ones. They were ready to rise against tribal aristocracy in any suitable condition. Safavids Shahs did their best to strengthen the central authority before Shah Abbas as well. But they could not attain this. The pillar of Safavids authority – kizilbash tribes were the obstacle on the way of central power. The realization of centralized policy demanded from Safavids Shahs to weaken the pillar of kizilbash nobility – feudal tribal troops. It was necessary to create such forces, which would be able to prevent them.

Such force could be only the regular troops, which would be created on the ground of centralization, i.e. permanent military parts, organized not from tribal sign.

Safavids court was engaged in the reorganization of the army long before the coming of English conSultants under the leadership of brothers of Sherly to Iran. The realization of major reforms in troops, creation of the corpus of regular troops – tufengchies (musketeers) and gulams (slaves), implementation of cruel discipline had begun in Safavids court even at the end 80s and the beginning of 90s of the 16th century.

The creation of new troops, which basically was constituted by settled Iranian population happened in the first years of Shah Abbas I’s reign. The prominent men of Safavids court participated in the implementation of military reform. In the 90s of that century, there appeared several individuals, who were engaged in reorganization and command of troops, in the political scene of Safavids state. They were, prime vezir Etemad Daule Fatali bey Ordubadi, Farhad khan from Karshanlu tribe, Allahverdi khan and Allahkulu khan Kadjar Kurchibashi. By the vehicle of these men, the military reform in Safavids troops was completed in the eve of Khorasan campaign, in 1598.

Among the troops, created by Shah Abbas I, we can mention these: the corpus of musketeers- tufengchies, Guard’s corpus of gulams (slaves-kullar), the corpus of gunners (topchiyan). Regular parts, as A.Rahmani mentioned, were created according to territorial sign. There were existed Isfahan, Yezd, Khorasan, Larican, Mazenderan and other detachments here.

The corpus of tufengchies. The utilized weapon-tufeng was well-known in Safavids troop for the whole 16th century. But the regular detachments, provided with tufengs, were created only in the first years of the reign of Shah Abbas I (in 1593), when the Shah sent his troops, commanded by Farhad khan Karshanlu in order to neutralize the revolt of Ahmed khan, the governor of Gilan.

The corpus of tufengchies was created from settled Iranian population, but the most part of its recruits was constituted from city- dwellers, as well as the representatives of low class of the city. They brought salary with money from state Treasury, but the money approximately always was exchanged with natural items. Official salary supplied only part of their expences, that is why during peaceful times, the tufengchies were sent to their houses, where they were engaged in agriculture.

Regular detachments were always ready to realize campaign. These detachments were the basics of Safavids troops and they were used both in foreign wars and in the suppression of interior uprisings. In 1595, when Shah was in Gilan the governor of Fars – Ali khan revolted against the government and Shah Abbas I sent him great troop, under the command of Farhad khanagainst. Special detachment of Isfahan tufengchies also joint to him by the order of Shah. By the vehicle of these troops the uprising of Alikhan was suppressed.

In the summer of 1598, i.e. at the beginning of Khorasan campaign the creation of regular corpus of tufengchies was completed.

Even in the spring of that year Shah Abbas decided to realize campaign to Khorasan, taking into account the chaos inside of Uzbek state at the result of change of the dynasty and ordered to collect 10 thousand tufengchies, which was done. Tufengchies were provided with weapons, swards and sabres. During the campaign they marched beyond the artillery, but in the battle they fought with pedestrians.

The second measure, done by Shah Abbas I was the creation of the corpus of gulams (kullar) – personal Guards of the Shah, which consisted of 12 thousand men. This was the cavalry, constituted especially from gulams of Caucasian origin – Georgians, cherkes and other North Caucasian nations, which had been brought to Iran in their childhood or which had been born from the captives; They were fostered in the mood of devotion to Shah. The aristocracy also did their best to include their sons to the line of gulams, as to be the “slave of Shah” was an honour and this sign opened way to authority and wealth too.

The creation of this Guards’ corpus began immediately after coming to the throne of Shah Abbas I. The corpus of gulams fulfilled the obligations of Shah Guards, guarded the court and the Shah and these slaves could be used in any aimes during the demonstration. The twelveth detachment of gulams always were in the presence of Shah and accompanied him in campaigns, travels and hunt; this detachment could be utilized in the suppression of kizilbash uprisings.

The creation of the corpus of gunners (topchiyans) possessed special place in the military reform Abbas I. Gunners were collected among settled, especially urban population of Iran. Generally, there were taken craftsmen to this corpus. They acted under the leadership of masters-topchies.

Part of gunners were settled in the capital and big cities. All gunners were led by topchubashi. Guns were located in the fortresses and in needed occasions they were moved from place to place. Sometimes, there were needed big weapons during the fights. Then, there were directed the detachments of gunners-casters, who prepared new guns under the walls of the besieged fortress.

Along with new created regular troops, there continued to exist previous feudal militia in the presence of Shah Abbas I and the major place in this militia was taken by the detachments of kurchies. These detachments were created on the ground of tribal characteristic and they were led by kurchibashi (the head of kurchies). In the first years of Shah Abbas I’s reign they were “the regular troops”, by the vehicle of which were suppressed feudal revolts and popular uprisings. The number of court kurchies equaled to 4,5 thousand men in the eve of Shah Tahmasib I’s death; each of them possessed from 5 to 50 mulazums and mekers (military servants) according to their own positons.

Abbas I protected kurchies and directed them to implement various missions/errands, they brought salary from state Treasury, but nevertheless the essence of kurchies declined at the result of military reforms of Shah. They hadn’t already been the single military force, their main functions passed to regular troops, which were provided with weapons, as well as to gulams. The detachments of kurchies were reorganized.

We can compile the general amount of Shah Abbas’s troops on the ground of different sources. New regular lines of troops: Corpus of tufengchies – about 20 thousand, Guards’ corpus of gulams – 12 thousand, Corpus of topchu – gunners with special forces – about 12 thousand, Reorganized feudal militia: Kurchies – more than 10 thousand Militia of provinces – more than 60 thousand. Total number – 114 thousand.

So, there was created the regular army from 44 thousand soldiers and reorganized feudal militia of cherik, consisted of 60-70 thousand men in the presence of Shah Abbas and the total amount of his army was constituted from more than 110 thousand soldiers. Major military forces of Shah Abbas I was constituted from new regular parts – tufengchies, gulams and gunners (totally, 44 thousand men). Except of above-mentioned results of military reform, we must mention that Shah Abbas was able to attract to the military service and representatives of other ethnos, which were included to the part of Safavids state. Shah Abbas I, who possessed such well-done and capable troops, conducted foreign wars and suppressed the revolted kizilbash aristocracy and separatist actions of local governors successfully.

The keeping of provincial forces, which were the feudal militia, showed that the military reform of Shah Abbas did not complete entirely. The results of military reform reflected the changes of internal policy of Shah: instead of relying on kizilbash tribes, he began to rely on the population of Iranian regions, even major ground of the state – Azerbaijan continued to be under the supremacy of Ottoman occupation.

Safavids court implemented measures on the strengthening of central machinery of state and the centralization of political authority in the country along with realizing the military reform. Safavids Shahs had unsuccessfully tried to strengthen the machinery of state before Shah Abbas I. The progress of socio-economic and political development of the Safavids state gave chance to Shah Abbas to realize administrative reform. We should mention that the admisitrative reform of Shah Abbas was incompleted as his central policy.

Administrative reform began to be realized at the beginning of Shah Abbas’s coming to the throne. Safavids court tried to eliminate the isolation of each kizilbash tribe under the leadership of his inherited leader. Now the governance appointed the head of various kizilbash tribal unions from the members of tribe, who were devoted to Shah. The control over the tribal militia also passed to the hands of these leaders.

At the result of realized measures Abbas I, managed to weaken the role and influence of kizilbash aristocracy in political life of Safavids state. Abbas I was able to neutralize the revolted kizilbash emirs, most of them were killed, or dismissed from their posts. Instead of them, Shah Abbas I, appointed the people among devoted gulams. The decrease of the influence of kizilbash nobility was shown by this fact that in 1629, only 35 emirs from 93 were from the kizilbash origin in Safavids state.

The most important result of realized administrative reform by Abbas I, was that gulams began to play an important role in the political life of Safavids state. Abbas I, who appointed more devoted and capable gulams to high military and administrative offices, was sure that they would serve to Safavids throne. Really, gulams had not already been slaves, but they entered to the leading feudal class of Safavids state. They were rewarded by land possessions of tiyul, soyurgal, sometimes – permanent reimbursement of taxes, taken from raiyyats for their service.

At the end of Abbas’s reign, many gulams reached to the highest positions and influence in Safavids state. The highest military commander (sepakhsalar) was appointed among gulams; Safavids court began to the strengthening and centralization of supreme power by the vehicle of Iranian bouerocrachy. The last one possessed secondary position in the state till the end of the 15th century. This bouerocrachy conducted civil issues, led economic and financial affairs. Even the prime vezir of Safavids state was not considered the “pillar of the state” and did not possess decisive weight in political life of the state before Shah Abbas’s reign; kizilbash aristocracy always intervened to the appointment of great vezir. At the result of Shah Abbas’s administrative reform the role of great vezir increased. He was relied on the solution of important issues.

There was not only strengthened the central machinery of state, but also changed the administrative division of the state. Safavids state, as its Western neighbour – the Ottoman Empire, was divided into big administrative entities – beylerbeyliks. After the returning of territories,which were occupied according to Istanbul treaty of 1590, the number of such provinces – beylerbeyliks reached to 13: Kandagar, Shirvan, Herat, Tabriz, Chukhursaad, Karabakh, Astrabad, Fars, Gilan, Kerman, Merv, Meshed and Kazvin. Not only kizilbash emirs, but also serving gulams were appointed to the governance of these provinces- beylerbeyliks. Consequently, according to above-mentioned evidences, we can say that, military-political power in the state had been completely in the hands of Azerbaijan (Turkish) military nobility before Shah Abbas’s reform; Persians and representatives of other ethnic groups were engaged in financial, trial issues and clerical office.

It is important to mention that Shah Abbas I and his successors were not able to limit the power of beylerbeys and completely turn them into administrative officers. During the appointment of beylerbeys, Shah Abbas I had to take into account the traditions and pretends of part of kizilbash nobility, which preserved their devotion to Safavids. Generally, in Karabakh and Southern Azerbaijan, beylerbeys were appointed from kizilbash emirs, who considered that beylerbeyliks was their inherited right. The post of beylerbey was not inherited and Shah might dismiss the beylerbey in any time, but it was formally and beylerbey independently governed his region. Even after the reform of Shah Abbas I, there continued to be local machinery of state under the subordination of beylerbey, which reminded central machinery of state.

There were regional vezirs and heads of finance – mustohfi, who had to control the regular collection of taxes here. Regional vezir subordinated to the great vezir of the state.

Beylerbeyliks were divided into much smaller administrative entities – circults and uyezds, which governed by khans and Sultans. Sultans were appointed by central government, but they also subordinated to beylerbey. The smallest administrative entity was village, which was governed by kendkhuda – village headman.

Military and administrative reforms, at the result of which were created troops and great army of state officers, demanded on material basics. With this aim, central authority began to the accuration of tax system at the end of 16th – beginning of the 17th century- the amount of taxes, collected from provinces was exactly accurate, their collection was controlled by central financial institution of the state.

Safavids state abolished or reduced several taxes in various regions. Generally, in 1598, the population of Persian Irag was liberated from the payment of taxes on the amount of 100 thousand tumans. The tax of chobanbeyi was liquidated, this tax had been collected by the head  of cattle and brought the benefit on the amount of 20 thousand tumans. The taxes, collected from craftsmen and merchants were decreased.

The abolishment of several taxes or the reducement of their sizes by Shah Abbas I, did not imply the general reducement of taxes, collected from population. Tax fermans of Shah Abbas I, testifies that, in the necessity there were added new taxes to previous ones, but they were abolished soon. But anyway, the tax reform of Shah Abbas I, had great essence and stimulated to the growth of industrial life of Safavids state, as well as strengthened its economic circumstances.

About Ismayil bey Zardabli

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