Chronicling a Dynasty on the Make: New Light on the Early Safavids in Hayati Tabrizi's Tarikh (961/1554).

Author:Ghereghlou, Kioumars
Position::Critical essay


This article examines the historiographical value and narrative relevance of a Persian source from the middle of the sixteenth century that chronicles the pre-dynastic and early dynastic phases of Safavid history. Authored by Qasim Beg Hayati Tabrizi (fl. 961/1554), a minor poet and bureaucrat from the very heart of the Safavid establishment in Tabriz and Ardabll, the account spans the period between the formative years of the Safaviyya Sufi order (tariqa) under Safi al-Din Ishaq Ardabill (d. 735/1334) and the opening years of the reign of Shah Ismail (907-30/1501-24). When dealing with the administrative history of the Safavid shrine in Ardabll, Hayati's narrative also contains scattered references to the reign of Shah Tahmasp. Hayati's history has long been thought lost, but a potentially unique manuscript of the chronicle in question, bound with large portions of volume three of Ghiyath al-Din Khvandamlr's (d. 942/1536) Tarikh-i hablb al-siyar fi akhbar-i afrad-i bashar, is in the National Library of Iran in Tehran. It has been catalogued erroneously as Tarikh-i Shah Ismd'll, an anonymous seventeenth-century history of Shah Ismail, with no mention of Khvandamlr's chronicle that makes up two-thirds of the volume in its current binding.'

Hayati Tabrizi's narrative, which he called simply Tarikh, (2) adds new details to our present knowledge of the early history of the Safavids, which is essentially based on Safwat al-safa, a late fourteenth-century hagiographical account of the life and spiritual feats (manaqib) of Sail al-Din Ishaq Ardabill by Rukrr al-Din Tavakkull b. Ismail Ardabill (fl. 787/1385), also known as Ibn al-Bazzaz, as well as on the universal and dynastic histories of four sixteenth-century Persian chroniclers. The works of two of these, Sadr al-Din Ibrahim Amini Haravi

(d. 941/1535) and Khvandamlr, have been assessed critically in modern scholarship, and it is concluded with regard to them that self-censure on the one hand and a parochial focus on Herat on the other have left us with a blurred picture of the trends and events that shaped the political construction of the Safaviyya in Azerbaijan in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. (3) Both Aminl Haravi and Khvandamlr used "imitative writing" (4) as the underlying technique of textual montage, building on Safwat al-safa. The other two chroniclers, Yahya Sayfi Qazvini (d. 962/1555) and Ahmad Ghaffari Qazvini (d. 975/1568), devoted the closing parts of their universal histories to the early Safavids. But both chronicles are annalistic, which has divested them of narrative depth, and they pivot primarily around military campaigns, court appointments, and diplomatic relations under the first two Safavid rulers. (5)


Very little is known of Qasim Beg Hayati Tabrizi's life and career. First and foremost, he should not be confused with a younger poet from Rasht called Kamal al-Din (d. 1028/1619), who wrote poetry under the pen name Hayati. (6) Also, it is tempting to identify Qasim Beg Hayati and Qasim Beg HalatI, a sixteenth-century "resourceful and meticulous poet and historian" from the Turkman clan of the Qizilbash, (7) as one and the same person, but there is not enough evidence for this.

Hayati's name appears in an early seventeenth-century Safavid chronicle as a historian from Tabriz. (8) According to the Safavid prince Sam Mirza (d. 975/1567), Hayati Tabrizi's father was a deputy judge, but the son did not take over this post and ended up as a poet, scribe, and calligrapher. (9) Not once in Tarikh does Hayati mention his first name, but from an entry in an early nineteenth-century tadhkira it can be established that it was Qasim Beg. (10) Hayati Tabrizl's studies seem to have focused on Persian history and hagiography (siyar), while oft-cited Quranic verses in Tarikh also suggest that he had studied or memorized the whole Quran as part of his elementary studies. Apart from Safwat al-safa, which Hayati cites on occasion when dealing with Shaykh Safi's life and career, there is evidence that he also took inspiration from Mir-Khvand's (d. 902/1497) universal history, Rawiat al-safa. In the prologue to his Tarikh, Hayati briefly discusses fava'id-i tarikh ("the benefits of history"), which, as we know, is the title of a long introductory chapter in the first volume of Rawiat al-safa. (11)

At the time of writing the prologue to his chronicle, in the spring of 961/1554, Hayati was a senior bureaucrat, or "a servant battered by the arrows of outrageous time," as he puts it. (12) According to him, it was Shah Tahmasp (r. 930-84/1524-76) who commissioned him to document Safavid history but after completing his chronicle, he decided to dedicate it to Princess Mihln Begum (d. 969/1562), a blood (a'yani) sister of Tahmasp, and to a group of her female relatives, whom he refers to as "the veiled inhabitants of the nook of intuition" (mukhaddarat-i hijla-yi shuhiid). (I3) Born in 925/1519 to Tajlu Khanum Mawsillu (d. 947/1540), Mihln Begum was the "oldest of Shah Isma'il's sixteen daughters." (14) Early in the 1550s she was made chief superintendent (tawliyat) of religious endowments (awqaf), which made it possible for her to disburse generous amounts of cash as pensions and gifts among the Shi (c)i clerics and descendants of the Prophet (sg. sayyid) in Iran and in the shrine cities of Iraq, Bilad al-Sham, and the province of al-Qatlf and its Bahrain salient. (15) It bears noting that later in the sixteenth century Tahmasp's influential daughter, Parikhan Khanum, followed the example of her paternal aunt by commissioning Abd al-Mu'min All b. Zayn al-'(c)AbidIn QavamI ShirazI (d. 988/1580f.), also known as 'Abdi Beg--a prolific poet and bureaucrat employed by the Safavid shrine in Ardabll--to compose a universal history with special reference to the dynastic phase of the Safavid reign. (16) Perhaps, like 'AbdI Beg QavamI ShirazI, Hayati Tabrizi had an administrative career in the awqaf sector. His detailed account of the Safavid shrine complex in Ardabll can be taken to suggest that he spent a stint of service in that city, where over the course of the first half of the sixteenth century several members of the Safavid royal family, including Mihln Begum's mother, funded and supervised various construction projects.

There is evidence that Hayati belonged to the circle of friends and acquaintances of a number of Safavid princesses and their female relatives. After eulogizing Mihln Begum in his prologue, he recommended that the Safavid princesses and other inhabitants of the royal harem read his Tarikh and get a good grasp of the life and times of their "renowned ancestors." (17) From Hayati's references to Shah Tahmasp's other siblings it can also be assumed that he was close to Sam Mirza. Hayati praised the Safavid prince for "his unwavering support and generous patronage of scholars and men of letters" and wrote with grief and sadness of the passing of his oldest son, Rustam Mirza, who died of smallpox within a few days of being married, in Ardabll in the spring of 961/1554. (18) At that time Sam Mirza held office as chief superintendent of the Safavid shrine complex in Ardabll. (19)

Hayati is one of the earliest Safavid chroniclers to experiment with dynastic history as a narrative framework. As noted above, his contemporary fellow historians chronicled the early history of the Safavids as the closing chapter of their universal histories, juxtaposing Shah Ismail, Shah Tahmasp, and their predecessors with a long line of dominantly non-Shi (c)i households, rulers, conquerors, and claimants to power. Unsurprisingly, to emphasize the distinctive and pivotal role of the Safavids as the true makers of history, the late sixteenth-century chronicler, 'AbdI Beg QavamI ShirazI, found it necessary to praise in the prologue to the concluding part of his universal history Shah Ismail and Shah Tahmasp as millennial revivers of Twelver Shi'ism. (20) The same claim was made by Hayati, who considered Shah Isma (c)Il the true reviver of Twelver Shi'ism after "nine hundred years" of failed attempts to establish the faith as the state religion. (21) Hayati's early use of the dynastic framework in his Tarikh runs counter to the commonly held view that under the Safavids dynastic histories began to appear only in the early part of the seventeenth century--that is, more than a hundred years after Shah Ismail's rise to the throne. (22) In using the dynastic framework, Hayati followed the example of Amini Haravl's history, in which Shah Isma'H's coronation and military victories are chronicled as a direct continuation of three long introductory chapters (sg. fath) on the divinely ordained history of the Prophet Muhammad and the twelve Shi'i imams. Both historians have taken the biography of the Prophet Muhammad and the twelve Shi'i imams as the starting point of their accounts of early Safavid history, but while Amini Haravl's account opens with two long chapters on the Prophet Muhammad, (23) in Hayati's narrative it is the history of the Shivi imams that has received the lion's share of attention. Like Amini Haravl, however, Hayati's introductory chapter on Shi'i imams closes with remarks concerning the impending return of the Hidden Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdl.

Organizationally, Hayati's Tarikh can be divided into two parts (Table 1). The first part, which outlines the history of the Safaviyya during the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, is structured into three "gardens" (sg. hadiqa). The second part, titled "the second branch" (shu'ba-yi duvvum), deals with the early phase of Safavid history from the time of Junayd's (d. 864/1460) assumption of the mantle of spiritual leadership (irshad) of the Safaviyya early in the 1450s until Shah Ismail's invasion of Baghdad in 914/1508. Hayati's account of the twelve Shic'i imams is larded with internalist {batinl) and Hurufi/Nuqtavi themes and tropes. Hayati held the...

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