Tahmasp I

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Tahmasp I
The second Safavid king
Well-known RelativesIsma'il I (father), Isma'il II (son)
Burial PlaceMashhad
ActivitiesExpansion of Shi'a in Iran

Shāh Tahmāsb Awwal Ṣafawī (Persian: شاه تهماسب اول صفوی), or Tahmasp I (b. 919/1514 - d. 984/1576), was the son of Isma'il I (the founder of the Safavid dynasty). He was the longest-reigning Safavid king who was in power for 54 years. Shiism was announced as the official religion in the period of Isma'il I, but it was established and spread in the period of Tahmmasp. The institution of the Shiite clergy was founded in his period, especially after the immigration of al-Muhaqqiq al-Thani to Iran when Shiite clerical families were formed by immigrant scholars and their children.

The Peace of Amasya between Shah Tahmasp and Sultan Sulayman led to 20 years of peace between Iran and the Ottoman empire.

Shah Tahmasp moved Iran's capital from Tabriz to Qazvin.


Tahmasp I was born in 919/1514. When he was just 1 year old, he was taken to Herat at the command of his father, Shah Isma'il. He was given the ownership of the territories from Khorasan to Amur River, and Div Sultan Rumlu, the ruler of Balkh, was chosen as his tutor. He took over the reign when he was just 10 years old. He reigned from 930/1524 - 984/1576, for 54 years, which is the longest reign in the Safavid era.

Although Shah Isma'il was the founder of the Safavid dynasty, the dynasty owes its stability and establishment to the long period of Shah Tahmasp's reign. The first half of his reign was devoted to eliminating divisions among the heads of the Qizilbash and the control of wars in eastern and western borders of the country.

In 54th year of his reign, Shah Tahmasp died in Qazvin on Safar 15, 984/May 24, 1576. After a while, his corpse was buried in Mashhad. Shah Tahmasp appeared to be a pious person committed to religious obligations. Although Shiism was announced as the official religion during his father's reign, it was Tahmasp who established and propagated Shiism throughout Iran.

Important Events

Combatting External Enemies

Since the very beginning of Tahmasp's reign, ardent enemies of the Safavid government, that is, Uzbeks and Ottomans, began their attacks on Iran. 'Ubayd Allah Khan Uzbek and his rulers constantly invaded Khorasan and killed people there. Finally, in the great battle of "Jam" in 935/1528, 'Ubayd Allah was defeated by Shah Tahmasp, and thus, Khorasan remained immune to Uzbek invasions for a while. On the western front, Shah Tahmasp had a powerful enemy, that is, Sultan Sulayman Qanuni (or Suleiman the Magnificent). The Ottoman king inherited vast territories of Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa, conquered by his father. He also continued to annex more territories to the Ottoman realm.

The escape of Ulama Sultan Tiklu, a respected head of the Qizilbash, to the Ottoman realm, and the refuge of Alqas Mirza, Shah Tahmasp's brother, to Sultan Sulayman, as well as provocative actions against Iran in Istanbul fueled a war between the Safavid and the Ottoman governments.

The Ottoman army repeatedly invaded the western territories of the Safavid government in Azerbaijan. Given that the Safavid army had a much smaller number of soldiers, they had to take a defensive, rather than an offensive, strategy. Shah Tahmasp employed the tactic of resource destruction to gain the maximal result and block the Ottoman progress, such that Ottoman invasions failed to achieve the intended results. The Ottomans were even defeated in some fronts, such as Caucasus. Isma'il Mirza, Shah Tahmasp's son, regained the territories occupied by the Ottomans by conquering Erzurum, Kurdistan, and Armenia.

Peace of Amasya

Peace of Amasya was a treaty made between Shah Tahmasp and Sultan Sulayman I in 1555 in Amasya (a city in northern Anatolia in today's Turkey). The treaty specified the borders of Iran and the Ottomans and, thereby, it put an end to long-term battles between the two countries. The treaty brought 20 years of peace between the two nations. The manuscript of Shah Tahmasp's letter with his own stamp is archived in the Library of Topkapı, number 8968.

According to the treaty, provinces of Azerbaijan, east Armenia, and east Georgia were specified as parts of Iran, and west Georgia, west Armenia, and Iraq were specified as parts of the Ottoman government. Also, the Ottoman king agreed to peacefully treat the followers of Shiism in his country, and support Iranian pilgrims on their way to Mecca and Medina. Moreover, they ordered border commanders to avoid issuing any commands which would lead to border disputes.

Settlement in the Capital

Thanks to the peace brought by the Amasya treaty, Shah Tahmasp never left Qazvin for 20 years. In this period, he tried to push his agenda in such peaceful circumstances. However, he was so stingy and parsimonious that in the last 14 years of his reign, he did not pay the salaries of his army. Thus, members of the army made a living by exerting pressures on people. This led, in turn, to people's dissatisfaction, culminating in riots in Gilan under the leadership of Sayyid Husayn in 979/1571-2 and in Tabriz in 981/1573-4. Both riots were quenched, but seeds of unrest grew up in later periods of the Safavid era. After Tahmasp's death, it took 12 years for the Safavid kingdom to regain its stability and power.

Moving the Capital

Since Tabriz was very close to the Ottoman borders, and was, therefore, vulnerable to Ottoman invasions, and since it was too far from Khorasan which was a target of Uzbek attacks, Shah Tahmasp moved the capital from Tabriz to Qazvin in 965/1558. Since then until 1007/1599 (when 'Abbas I chose Isfahan as the Safavid capital), Qazvin was the capital of the Safavid government.

Refuge of Neighboring Figures to Iran

A major event in the period of Shah Tahmasp was that Humayun, the king of India, and Bayezid, the Ottoman prince, took refuge to Iran. Both events had tremendous impacts on the relationship between Iran, on the one hand, and Indian and the Ottoman empire, on the other. In 950/1543, Humayun, the king of India, had to leave India and refuge to Shah Tahmasp because of his disputes with Shir Khan Afghan and the hypocrisy of his brothers. Shah Tahmasp warmly welcomed him and ordered his forces to respectfully accompany him to the capital. After a period of residence in Iran, Humayun returned to India with the help of Safavid forces and regained his reign. This event led to good relationships between Iran and India which lasted until the fall of the Safavids, except for few border disputes.

In 967/1559-60, Bayezid entered Iran through Anatolia together with 10,000 armed soldiers and took refuge to Shah Tahmasp, because of his disputes with his father Sultan Sulayman and his brother, Selim. Shah Tahmasp respected him and ordered that he and his companions be accommodated in the palace. When the Ottoman king learned about Bayezid's refuge to Iran, he frequently sent respectful as well as threatening letters to Shah Tahmasp and asked him to expedite Bayezid. Shah's intercessions could not lead the Ottoman king to forgive his son. Eventually, the Safavid king surrendered Bayezid and his children to Ottoman agents in order to prevent Ottoman invasions and wars which were blocked by the Peace of Amasya. Subsequently, the two parties made a peace treaty in 969/1561, and battles in western Iran disappeared for a while.

Immigration of Scholars to Iran

Early in the Safavid period, Shiite clerical and jurisprudential centers were located outside Iran in Arabic lands, and in particular, Jabal Amel. When the Safavid kingdom was established in Tahmasp's period, many Shiite scholars and fuqaha (jurisprudents) immigrated to Iran. Although scholars such as Shaykh Zayn al-Din 'Ali and Sayyid Ni'mat Allah al-Hilli had migrated to Iran in the period of Isma'il I, and even al-Muhaqqiq al-Karaki had visited Iran once in his period, these migrations were not permanent. Thus, the formation of the Shiite clerical institution began since the period of Tahmasp I, especially after the immigration of al-Muhaqqiq al-Thani to Iran which led to formation of Shiite clerical families of immigrants and their children in Iran. They held different governmental positions in Iran, such as shaykh al-islam, leadership of congregational prayers, prime ministry, and ministry. These clerical families, which were tied together as relatives by blood or marriage as well as through education, gave an Arabic face to the Iranian clergy until the middle of the Safavid period. However, with the rise of a new generation of Iranian Shiite scholars and jurisprudents, Iranians dominated the arena of Shiite clergy and jurisprudence. The best-known scholars who immigrated to Iran in the period of Shah Tahmasp include: al-Shaykh 'Ali b. al-'Ali al-Karaki, known as al-Muhaqqiq al-Thani, al-Shaykh 'Ali al-Minshar, al-Shaykh al-Husayn b. 'Abd al-Samad al-Harithi, and his son, al-Shaykh al-Baha'i.

With his religious character and policies, Shah Tahmasp tried to establish close relationships with scholars. Scholars and clergies were always present in his meetings. Shah Tahmasp never acted in any significant case without consulting the scholars' fatwas and the jurisprudential rulings.