Cover image for A Chronicle of the Early Safavids and the Reign of Shah Ismāʿīl (907–930/1501–1524) Edited by Kioumars Ghereghlou

A Chronicle of the Early Safavids and the Reign of Shah Ismāʿīl (907–930/1501–1524)

Edited by Kioumars Ghereghlou


$69.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-940490-01-7

416 pages
7" × 10"
4 color illustrations
Distributed by Penn State University Press for American Oriental Society

American Oriental Series

A Chronicle of the Early Safavids and the Reign of Shah Ismāʿīl (907–930/1501–1524)

Edited by Kioumars Ghereghlou

In this volume, Kioumars Ghereghlou presents an edition, with preface and indexes, of a previously unpublished sixteenth-century Persian chronicle. Written by Qāsim Beg Ḥayātī, a court scribe to Shah Ṭahmāsp (r. 1524–76), it covers Safavid history beginning with the early part of the fourteenth century and closing with an account of Shah Ismāʿīl’s (r. 1501–24) rise to power and military campaigns in Iran.


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In this volume, Kioumars Ghereghlou presents an edition, with preface and indexes, of a previously unpublished sixteenth-century Persian chronicle. Written by Qāsim Beg Ḥayātī, a court scribe to Shah Ṭahmāsp (r. 1524–76), it covers Safavid history beginning with the early part of the fourteenth century and closing with an account of Shah Ismāʿīl’s (r. 1501–24) rise to power and military campaigns in Iran.

Dedicated to the Safavid princess Mihīn Begum (d. 1562), whom Ghereghlou credits as Ḥayātī’s coauthor, the chronicle is composed of two parts. Part one deals with the predynastic phase of Safavid history and ends with an account of Shaykh Ṣafī’s life and career. Part two tells the story of the Ṣafaviyya Sufi order, from the ascension of Shaykh Ṣadr al-Dīn Mūsā b. Shaykh Ṣafi (d. 1377) to the early years of Shah Ismāʿīl’s reign. Punctuating this account are two “tailpieces” (tadhʾīl), one on the history of the Safavid shrine in Ardabīl in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and the other on the shrine’s superintendents who held this post in the early part of the sixteenth century.

This edition makes available for the first time a chronicle that had long been thought lost. Rich in new details about the Ṣafaviyya Sufi order (ṭarīqa) in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it is an important historical source for scholars interested in this period of Persian history.

Kioumars Ghereghlou is an independent scholar and the editor of A Chronicle of the Reign of Shah ‘Abbas, a critical edition of a major seventeenth-century Persian chronicle.

From the Editor’s Preface

The chronicle introduced and edited here is a Persian dynastic history from the middle of the sixteenth century, authored by a little-known court scribe close to Shah Ṭahmāsp (r. 930–984/1524–1576) and his oldest sister, princess Mihīn Begum (d. 969/1562). It is devoted to the history of the Ṣafaviyya Sufi order (ṭarīqa) from its formative years under Shaykh Ṣafī al-Dīn Isḥāq Ardabīlī (d. 735/1334) and his immediate successors until the early years of the reign of Shah Ismāʿīl (907–930/1501–1524), the founder of the Safavid dynasty. The section dealing with Shah Ismāʿīl concludes abruptly in 914/1508, the year in which the Safavids seized Baghdad from the Aqquyunlu Turkmens.

For this edition, I have used the only known manuscript of the chronicle housed in Iran’s National Library in Tehran. Apparently imperfect in fine, the manuscript was copied in Ardabīl by a certain ʿAlī Khān b. ʿAlī Beg on 1 Shaʿbān 1039/16 March 1630 (see Pl. 2). It was later bound in a single volume with approximately five hundred pages from the third part of Ghiyāth al-Dīn Khˇāndamīr’s (d. 936/1542) universal history, Tārīkh-i ḥabīb al-siyar fī akhbār-i afrād-i bashar. These pages are in the same hand, signifying that the copyist had access to the chronicle, albeit an imperfect version. In the library’s catalogue, the volume—which originally belonged to Ḥusayn Miftāḥ, a Tehran-based physician and private collector—is described as a seventeenth-century anonymous history of Shah Ismāʿīl with no mention of additions from Khˇāndamīr’s Tārīkh. Miftāḥ’s manuscript collection has its own catalogue, in which the volume is summarized and identified correctly as a chronicle of the reign of Shah Ismāʿīl and his antecedents by a certain Ḥayātī. 2 Elsewhere, Ḥayātī’s chronicle is characterized as a “fictional” account of the reign of Shah Ismāʿīl, which is both incorrect and misleading, as we shall see here.

In this edition, editorial additions are given inside angle brackets (< >). Errors by the copyist are corrected in the text and misspelled words and constructions are given in a footnote. A few marginal notes that were added later to the manuscript are in footnotes, each marked by a plus (+) sign. Ellipses indicate lacunae in the text. In correcting and vocalizing Arabic quotes, I have consulted the Quran and Mirṣād al-ʿibād min al-mabdaʾ ilā l-maʿād, a major volume in Persian on the tenets of mysticism by the Kubravī mystic Najm al-Dīn Abū Bakr ʿAbdallāh Rāzī (d. 654/1256). 4 Additionally, I have consulted a dictionary of Quranic, mystical, and hadith terms and phrases in classical Persian prose literature.

Ḥayātī is an obscure figure, rarely ever referred to in Safavid-era chronicles and anthologies of poets. He appears incidentally in Aḥmad Ḥusaynī Qumī’s (fl. 1015/1606) chronicle Khulāṣat al-tavārīkh among a cohort of sixteenth-century chroniclers whose works cover the reign of Shah Ismāʿīl. 6 From Qumī’s account, it is evident that Ḥayātī was from Tabrīz—and not from Astarābād, as is claimed in an essay on Shah Ṭahmāsp’s patronage of jurists and historians.

According to the Safavid prince Sām Mīrzā (d. 975/1567), who seems to have known Ḥayātī in person, Ḥayātī’s father was a deputy judge, but the son did not succeed to his father’s job, becoming instead a scribe and calligrapher. Many of the chronicle’s frequent quotes from the divine sources and mystical works are found in a seminal text of Kubravī mysticism, Rāzī’s Mirṣād al-ʿibād, which suggests systematic use by Ḥayātī of this work; it does not rule out that he was himself well versed in Quran, hadith, and mysticism, as well as in Persian historiography and hagiography (siyar). Given the strong following that the local branch of the Kubraviyya enjoyed in sixteenth-century Tabrīz, it is tempting to assume that Ḥayātī was an affiliate of the ṭarīqa, yet there is no evidence for this assumption.

Not once in his chronicle does Ḥayātī mention his first name, but from brief biographical entries in two later anthologies of poets, it can be concluded that his given name was Qāsim Beg. He should not be confused with a younger poet from Rasht called Kamāl al-Dīn (d. 1028/1619), a resident of Kāshān who composed poetry under the pen name Ḥayātī, which derived from his job as an itinerant water-seller. During his years in Kāshān, this Ḥayātī Gīlānī (Kāshānī) espoused the Nuqṭavī ideology and was eventually arrested and jailed in Qahqaha Castle in the highlands of Qarāja-Dāgh, some fifty miles northwest of Ardabīl, for his involvement in Nuqṭavī propagandizing activities in Persian Iraq (ʿIrāq-i ʿajam) and Khurāsān. 11 Nor should Qāsim Beg Ḥayātī be mistaken for Qāsim Beg Ḥālatī, a sixteenth-century poet and bureaucrat, who in an early seventeenth-century anthology of poets is described as “a gifted poet as well as a learned and studious historian.” Ḥālatī was from Yazd and lived four decades after 961/1554, the terminus ante quem for Ḥayātī’s chronicle. Finally, there are references in a late sixteenth-century Persian chronicle to a certain Qāsim Beg Tabrīzī. A physician (ḥakīm) by profession, this Qāsim Beg held office as grand vizier under the Niẓāmshāhid ruler of Ahmednagar, Burhān (r. 915–960/1510–1553), and his son and successor Mīrān Ḥusayn (r. 961–972/1554–

1565). Despite the identical nisba, he is not our Qāsim Beg Ḥayātī Tabrīzī, who was a court scribe in Safavid Iran in 961/1554 when the former was reinstated as Niẓāmshāhid grand vizier.

In the spring of 961/1554, during which Ḥayātī wrote the prologue to his chronicle, he was, in his own words, a senior scribe “stricken with a variety of grief and misery,” barely able to concentrate his energy and time on the task of preparing the clean version (bayāż) of his manuscript. Initially, it was Shah Ṭahmāsp who had commissioned him, and from Ḥayātī’s account, it is evident that he had been asked to focus his chronicle on the founding fathers of the Ṣafaviyya ṭarīqa as well as on Shah Ismāʿīl. 16 This may have occurred in or shortly before 949/1542, the year we can plainly establish as the start date of Ḥayātī’s chronicle. The commission to compose a chronicle of the Ṣafaviyya is in the context of Shah Ṭahmāsp’s ambition to refashion the Ṣafaviyya as a ṭarīqa with deep-rooted links to the twelve Shīʿite imams. Relatedly, in the same year as Ḥayātī’s commission, the Safavid ruler assigned Mīr Abū l-Fatḥ Sharīfī (d. 976/1568), a Shīʿite jurist from Astarābād, the task of preparing a new edition of Tavakkulī b. Ismāʿīl Ibn Bazzāz Ardabīlī’s (fl. 787/1385) Ṣafvat al-ṣafā, which was targeted for a series of surgical purges and revisions. While Sharīfī’s edition of Ṣafvat al-ṣafā focuses on Shaykh Ṣafī, concluding with a short, laconic chapter on his immediate successors and descendants, Ḥayātī’s chronicle deals only briefly with the founder of the Ṣafaviyya ṭarīqa; he devotes much of his account to events in the fifteenth century and the decades leading up to Shah Ismāʿīl’s rise to power. Like Sharīfī, Ḥayātī too is critical of Ibn Bazzāz, accusing him of being an enemy of Shīʿite imams. He chides Ibn Bazzāz for attributing “various unmerited things” to Shaykh Ṣafī and his successors. Ḥayātī particularly resents Ibn Bazzāz’s inclusion of al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d. 110/728), the celebrated Sunni mystic and jurist, in the spiritual lineage of the Ṣafaviyya ṭarīqa that linked a long line of Shaykh Ṣafī’s Sufi mentors to the first Shīʿite imam ʿAlī. To Ḥayātī, al-Baṣrī was a morally corrupt Sufi who had sided with the Umayyads in opposition to ʿAlī and his descendants.

It took Ḥayātī more than a decade to finish his not so lengthy chronicle, which he then decided to dedicate instead to Shah Ṭahmāsp’s oldest blood (aʿyānī) sister, Mihīn Begum. 21 Perhaps the Safavid ruler was not pleased by Ḥayātī’s account of Safavid origins, which is patchy and terse as far as Shaykh Ṣafī’s life is concerned; conversely, with regard to his successors, the chronicle goes too far in detailing and highlighting the internal divides and power struggles of the ṭarīqa in the fifteenth century. Besides Mihīn Begum, Ḥayātī designated other female members of the royal household, whom he called “immaculate, talented souls” (pāk-gawharān-i faṭānat-munjiz), as readers of his chronicle, entreating them to keep a forgiving eye on his errors and inconsistencies. Ḥayātī was also close to Shah Ṭahmāsp’s younger brother, Sām Mīrzā, who in the 1550s held office as superintendent of the Safavid shrine in Ardabīl. In his introductory section, Ḥayātī writes with grief and sadness about the passing of Sām Mīrzā’s son, Rustam Mīrzā, who died of smallpox in the spring of 961/1554 shortly after the end of several months of festivities in Ardabīl celebrating the youthful prince’s marriage with a young lady from the Shaykhāvand household, the descendants of Shaykh Ṣafī in Ardabīl.

Born in 925/1519 of Shah Ismāʿīl’s marriage to Tājlu Khānim Mawṣillū (d. 947/1539), Mihīn Begum was the most powerful women in court politics in the 1540s and 1550s. She had been designated a fiancée of the Hidden Imam and as such remained unmarried all her life. Early in the 1550s, she was charged with supervising the awqāf sector. This post, as Ḥusaynī Qumī points out in his chronicle, enabled her to distribute cash among the descendants of the prophet (sādāt) and pro-Safavid religious scholars in Iran, the shrine cities of Arabian Iraq, Bilād al-Shām, Bahrain, and the province of al-Qaṭīf in eastern Arabia. She also supported calligraphers and scribes. Patronage of historians by members of the royal family was not limited to Mihīn Begum. Her older brother, Bahrām Mīrzā (d. 956/1549), had already rewarded Mīr Yaḥyā Sayfī (d. 962/1555), a Sunni notable from Qazvīn, for composing Lubb al-tavārīkh, a universal history that concludes with an account of Safavid history. Prior to this, Bahrām Mīrzā had chosen to pursue his studies with Amīnī Haravī, whose single-volume chronicle covers the history of the Ṣafaviyya ṭarīqa and the first twelve years of the reign of Shah Ismāʿīl. 27 Later, in the reign of Shah Ṭahmāsp, his oldest daughter Parīkhān (Parī-Jahān/Parī-Jān?) Khānim (d. 985/1578) commissioned Zayn al-ʿ bidīn b. ʿAbd al-Muʾmin ʿAlī Qavāmī Shīrāzī, also known as ʿAbdī Beg (d. 988/1580), a prolific poet and senior account-keeper in the awqāf sector in Ardabīl, to write a universal history, which he completed and dedicated shortly afterwards to her.

A significant part of the charitable work performed in the awqāf sector under the stewardship of Mihīn Begum was centered in Ardabīl, the site of Shaykh Ṣafī’s mausoleum and shrine. Her mother, Tājlu Khānim Mawṣillū, was also closely involved in the shrine’s construction projects. Contributions to the expansion of the Safavid shrine in Ardabīl were not limited to cash investments in architectural plans and construction; they could also take the form of providing monetary support for the learned employees of the shrine as a way of encouraging them to compose works of poetry and prose in the name of their patrons. Ḥayātī’s description of the Safavid shrine’s buildings and of the lives and careers of its superintendents in the sixteenth century is perhaps so detailed because he either frequently visited Ardabīl or worked for the awqāf services of the Safavid bureaucracy in that city.

As mentioned, several marginalia in a different hand were added to the manuscript of Ḥayātī’s chronicle (see Pls. 3, 4). There are some on fol. 22 that detail the burial places of a number of the descendants of the Prophet (imāmzādah) in Safavid Iran. One of these explains how the note’s author had had the interior walls and main hall of an imāmzādah shrine in Harand, a small rural town halfway between Iṣfahān and Nāʾīn, tiled and carpeted, as well as spending a generous amount of cash to provide for the same small shrine. The marginal note added to fol. 196 is about the construction under Shah Ismāʿīl of a tiled portal (īvān) and a small dome in the middle of a manmade lake outside Hamadān. The author visited the ruins of both structures, which had originally been built for one of Shah Ismāʿīl’s beloved concubines—a beautiful young lady called Parī. From the same marginal note, we learn that Shah Ismāʿīl composed passionate poems about his love affair with Parī. This is corroborated by the fact that the name Parī keeps recurring in the Safavid ruler’s dīvān or collected poems. It is likely that Mihīn Begum is the author of these marginalia (preserved and reproduced by the scribe?), for her responsibilities as head of the awqāf sector included regular visits to shrines and charitable-trust buildings across the country. She was also well placed to have firsthand knowledge of Shah Ismāʿīl’s extramarital affairs and hobbies.

(Excerpt ends here.)

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