Shah Abbas I Biography
Shah Abbas I, the ﬁfth ruler of the Safavid dynasty, ruled Iran from 1587 until 1629, the year of his death. Shah Abbas came to power at a time when tribal unrest and foreign invasion had greatly reduced Iran’s territory. Once on the throne he set out to regain the lands and authority that had been lost by his immediate successors. His defeat of the Uzbeks in the northeast and the peace he made with the Ottoman Empire, Iran’s archenemy, enabled Shah Abbas to reform Iran’s military and ﬁnancial system. He diminished the military power of the tribes by creating a standing army composed of slave soldiers who were loyal only to him. These so-called ghulams (military slaves) were mostly Armenians and Georgians captured during raids in the Caucasus. In order to increase the revenue needed for these reforms the shah centralized state control, which included the appointment of ghulams to high administrative positions.
With the same intent he fostered trade by reestablishing road security and by building many caravan series throughout the country. Under Shah Abbas, Isfahan became Iran’s capital and most important city, endowed with a new commercial and administrative center grouped around a splendid square that survives today. His genius further manifested itself in his military skills and his astute foreign policy. He halted the eastward expansion of the Ottomans, defeating them and taking Baghdad in 1623. To encourage trade and thus gain treasure, he welcomed European merchants to the Persian Gulf. He also allowed Christian missionaries to settle in his country; hopeful that this might win him allies among European powers in his anti-Ottoman struggle. Famously down to earth, Shah Abbas was a pragmatic ruler who could be cruel as well as generous. Rare among Iranian kings, he is today remembered as a ruler who was concerned about his own people.