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Shah Abbas: The Great Leader of the Safavid Empire

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To maintain control over a vast empire, it was vital that a ruler was well respected by his people. In the world, there were many great leaders that ruled their country. For example, there was Odysseus the Greek king of Ithaca with achievements so great he was placed in Homer’s epic The Odyssey. There was Caesar (aka Augustus) who became the first ruler of the Roman Empire. His rule established an era of unfamiliar peace and quiet. Then you have Charlemagne, King of the Franks. And last but not least was our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who saved our nation from the Civil War.

Although these leaders had great respect from their people, none had a level of respect greater than Shah Abbas, the greatest leader of the Safavid Empire. Shah Abbas rose to power in 1588. Around that time, the Safavid Empire was not doing so well. The Safavid Empire’s biggest enemies, the Ottoman Empire and the Uzbek Empire, were taking over the empire. At the age of 16, Shah Abbas could come up with a great strategy. Shah Abbas really despised the Ottoman and Uzbek Empires not only because they were Sunni Muslims and they were trying to take over their land, but also because the Ottoman Empire insulted Shah Abbas and his people. So, Shah Abbas decided to call a truce with the Ottoman Empire knowing that they are more powerful then the Uzbeks. During the “truce” with the Ottoman Empire, he was a vassal (right hand man) to them. Abbas then got rid of the Uzbeks, leaving only the Ottomans, who suspect nothing from the people who made peace with them. It is like the old saying, “Keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer.”

Shah Abbas was greatly known for his military power. Abbas was the best at coming up with great strategies. Abbas had a standing army, which meant that even during a time of peace, he had an army ready to go to war if there were to be any conflict. Abbas thought that his army would still needed to get stronger, so Abbas hired an Englishman by the name of Robert Sherley to help manage his army. Thanks to Robert and his brother Anthony, in a short time Shah Abbas created a formidable army. Sherley divided the army into three groups: the slaves, the riflemen, and the artillerymen. The order was so because on the battlefield, he would send his weakest men (slaves) first, weakening the enemy. Then, send his second strongest men (riflemen) to create more damage, and finally, send his more powerful men to finish their enemy off. All three groups were trained and armed according to European military standards.

Because of Sherley’s training and Shah Abbas’ superior strategies, Shah Abbas was able to defeat the Uzbeks and later on, the Turks (Ottoman). Abbas’ military consisted mainly of gunpowder weapons (rifles, cannons). This also gave them a huge advantage because many other enemies used close combat weapons, such as swords, spears, daggers, etc.

Shah Abbas did not just focus on his military. He, like most other great leaders, was very spiritual (religious). Abbas and most of his people were Muslims. Unlike most other countries, Abbas was a Shi’a Muslim. Since Sunni Islam was the religion of Iran’s main rival, the Ottoman Empire, Abbas often treated Sunnis living in western border provinces harshly. He was also very tolerant towards other religions, including Christianity. The reason is that he wants to earn the trust of the Western Europe and to collect taxes to financial his empire. He wanted to trade without any conflict. This was also the relationship that the Ottoman Empire had with Western Europe. The Sunni and Shi’s hatred wasn’t only with religion, but also with trading with Western Europe.

Although Abbas was a very kind and tolerant towards his subjects, he had to have some laws and boundaries set so no one stepped out of line. Abbas treated his subjects very fairly and had a great devotion for the law. He would listen to his citizens in order to find out any of them were being unreasonable. Typically, they would be brutally punished. During his father’s rule, he allowed his officials do what they pleased. This made his father very weak and Abbas knew he had to take over for his father. One way that Abbas would have punished criminals is by using a karkan, a triangular wooden collar that is put around the neck. Robbers would have been punished by having their hands amputated off on their first offense, and penalty by death on their second offense. For killing somebody else is punishment by death. If one person injures another person, that person would get bastinado, or foot whipping.

The cause of the downfall of the Safavid Empire was Shah Abbas’ paranoia. He believed that of one of his child, brother, or father was going to kill him to take his throne. This case has happened in the past and in other empires. To prevent this from happening, he killed one of his children and blinded the other two. On top of that, he threw his father, brother, and his two blinded sons in prison. Of course, after his death, the Safavid Empire had no heir to take over the throne, therefore, leading to the decline of the Safavid Empire.

Overall, Shah Abbas treated his subjects fairly. Shah Abbas treated the population well and hoped that their settlement in Isfahan would be beneficial to Persia. Shah Abbas listened to what his commoners had to say, even if they were being unjust.

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