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a dynasty that flourished from 1502 to 1736 in the Middle East; rulers of the Safavid state. The dynasty was founded by Ismail, a son of a sheikh of the Safavid order, a dervish order, who became Shah Ismail I of Persia (Iran) after defeating the Ak-Koyunlu tribes and their allies. The Safavid state comprised Iran, Azerbaijan, part of Armenia, most of what is now Afghanistan, and, at times, Iraq and other territories. Until the late 16th century, the Safavid shahs were supported by the nobility and home guard of the Kizilbash tribes, which were of Turkic Azerbaijani origin. Initially the Safavid state was centered in Azerbaijan. Its capital was at Tebriz until 1555, when it was moved to Qazvin; beginning in 1597–98, Isfahan served as the state’s capital. The most common unit of land distribution was the toyul. The state religion was the Imamite sect of Shiism, a branch of Islam.
Rising taxes in the Safavid state led to popular uprisings, including rebellions in Gilan (1570–71) and Tebriz (1571–73). The Safavids waged long wars against the Ottoman Empire and the Uzbek khans. As a result of feudal internecine conflicts, beginning after Tahmasp I (reigned 1524–76), the state broke up into a number of independent domains. Taking advantage of these conditions, the Ottoman Empire captured the state’s northwestern areas and the Uzbek khans captured Khorasan. Threatened with total dismemberment of the state, most of the Kizilbash nobility joined in support of Shah Abbas I (reigned 1587–1629), who was also supported by Kurdish and Lur feudal lords and by the secular elite and religious leaders of Iran and Transcaucasia.
The economic reason for the revival of the Safavid state was the growth of the shah’s domain, which by the 1670’s included entire regions, such as Gilan and Mazanderan. Revenues from the domain were used to maintain the standing army created under Abbas, as well as the court and state officials. Winning a series of victories over the Turks and Uzbeks, Abbas recovered Azerbaijan, Khorasan, and, temporarily, Iraq, all of which had been lost by his predecessors. As a result of reforms of the tax system, state administration, and the military, the Safavid state grew stronger and enjoyed a relative economic upsurge. The Safavids maintained active diplomatic and commercial relations with Russia and other European and Asian countries.
However, by the 18th century, the Safavid state fell into an economic and political decline. Among the factors that contributed to the decline were increased feudal exploitation, particularly exploitation by state officials of the shah’s domain, increased taxation, particularly in the late 17th century, and the practice of apportioning toyuls from the shah’s domain, beginning in the mid-17th century. The unceasing popular uprisings prevalent in the 17th century, for example, in Gilan (1629) and Qazvin (1632), intensified in the 18th century. Considerable lands were lost: Isfahan was captured in 1722 by Afghan tribes that had revolted in 1709, Transcaucasia and western Iran were occupied by Turkey, and the state’s Caspian regions were ceded to Russia by Shah Tahmasp II (reigned 1722–32). Finally, in a successful struggle against the Afghans and Turks, the Safavid military commander Nadir overthrew the Safavid dynasty in 1736.
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A. P. NOVOSEL’TSEV and O. A. EFENDIEV