Isma?il I, Shah (1487–1524)

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ISMA˓IL I, SHAH (1487–1524)

Shah Isma˓il (r. 1501–1524) was founder and first king of the Safavid dynasty, which ruled Iran until 1722. Isma˓il lived during a turbulent time in Iran's history, in a period of political fragmentation and decentralization. When Isma˓il's brother Sultan ˓Ali was killed in battle by the ruling house of Aq Qoyunlu in 1494, Isma˓il went into hiding in northern Iran. In 1499, he and his Qizilbash followers, Turkoman tribesmen, attempted to seize power, and defeated the last Aq Qoyunlu ruler. He was crowned king in the northern Iranian city of Tabriz in 1501.

Before becoming king, Isma˓il's religiosity reflected Shi˓ite "exaggerated" beliefs such as anthropomorphism with respect to God, transmigration of souls, and occultation and return. In his poetry, he claims divinity for himself, and proclaims to be the Hidden Imam. His followers were said to have followed him into battle without wearing armor, believing him to be invincible.

In 1501, however, Isma˓il established not ghuluww Shi˓ism, but orthodox Twelver Shi˓ism as the official state religion, imposing this sect upon a predominantly Sunni Iran. He spent the next ten years of his career consolidating and expanding his rule inside Iran and beyond. He was defeated in Azerbaijan by the Ottomans at the battle of Chaldiran in 1514. This led to a ceasing of military campaigns. Isma˓il died ten years later, in 1524.

See alsoEmpires: Safavid and Qajar .


Savory, Roger. Iran under the Safavids. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Sholeh A. Quinn