Shah Safi I of Persia (±1610-1642) had most of his male family members ruthlessly killed off, and spend most of his time under the influence of alcohol and opium. Not interested in the government of his Empire, he lost Irak and Quandahar to the conquering Ottomans and Mughals.

Shah Abbas the Great of Persia Shah Safi of Persia was born around 1610, and was given the name Sam Mirza. His mother was Princess Dil-Aram Khanum (†±1647), 2nd daughter of the mad Persian Shah Ismail II (1537-1577). His father was Muhammad Baqir (1587-1615), eldest son of the famous Persian Shah Abbas the Great (1571-1628, to the right). The couragious Abbas may have been a great ruler, but he wasn’t a great father. When his sons grew up, he became jealous of their popularity. On January 25, 1615, while returning from his bath, Muhammad Baqir was stabbed to death by a slave on his father’s orders. Abbas rewarded the assassin by promoting him to high office. Sam Mirza was approximately 5 years old at the time, and was to grow up with his mother in the confines of the harem.

    Talmasp I  +----- Ismail II ------------------------------ Dil-Aram Khanum
    1514-1576  |     ±1533-1577                                    †±1647
        x -----+                                                      x ---------- Safi I
    Kadamali   +- Muhammad Khudabanda -- Abbas I the Great --- Muhammad Baqir    ±1610-1642
   ±1516-1593          1532-1595            1571-1629             1587-1615   
      Both Safi's grandfather's were Shah of Persia

When Abbas was gravely ill in 1621, his 2nd surviving son, Muhammad Khudabanda (1591-1632), began celebrating his anticipated succession, but Abbas recovered, and had his son blinded. In 1627, the old Shah had his youngest son, Imam Quli (1602-1632), blinded, too, on suspicion of plotting against him. By this act Abbas cut off the last of his sons from the throne. Thus, when Abbas finally died on January 19, 1629, he was succeeded by his grandson Sam Mirza, who was crowned on January 28, and took the name Shah Safi.

Safi I came to the throne without any experience of government, trained only in indolence and self-gratification. In the first 5 years after his accession, he used his autocratic powers to arbitrary execute any who aroused his suspision or dislike. Safi's aunt, Zubaidah Begum1 (±1586-1632), and her supporters seem to have refused to accept Safi's succession, and she is alleged to have attempted to poison Safi. This harem-based opposition to his rule seems to have prompted Safi to kill of all his family members, including his aunt and her husband. His only brother Sulaiman and his blinded uncles Khudabanda and Imam Quli were put to death in 1632. In addition, Imam Quli’s young son, Najaf Quli, and 40 women of the harem were killed. A similar fate overtook many of the senior officials and high-ranking generals that Safi had inherited from the previous reign.

Around 1635 Safi made a prestigious marriage to Princess Tinatin of Kartli (Central Georgia), a daughter of King Taimuraz I by his 2nd wife, Queen Khoreshan-Darejan, daughter of King Giorgi X of Kartli, but later Safi had her strangled. Safi also married a Circassian, Ana Khanum (†1647). His other women were concubines and they all lived in the royal harem.
The buildings of the royal harem were within an inner enclosure, where they were surrounded by a spacious garden. The women in the harem were looked after by black euneuchs and slave maidservants. The palace complex in Isfahan had been laid out by Abbas the Great, but Safi had the stables moved to make way for a grand new reception hall.
Among Safi's 6 sons and 2 daughters were his able successor, Abbas II (±1633-1666), a son of Ana Khanum, and an able daughter, Mariam Begum. She was to develop an alcohol addition, too, but still was to play a role in the reign of Safi’s great-grandson, Husayn (±1668-1726).

At the time Persia was an empire much larger than modern-day Iran, but Quandahar in the east of the Empire was lost to the Mughals in 1638. The next year, the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV (1612-1640) captured Bagdad2, reconquering all of Irak and its Shi'i shrines. Safi appeared at Kasr-i-Shirin with 12000 men, but his force was too weak to effect anything of importance. Humiliating though the loss of this territory with the shrines was, the resulting peace treaty with the Ottomans gave a boost to trade, and central revenues reached unprecedented levels due to the excellent administration of Safi’s chief miniter, Mirza Muhammad Taqi, known as Saru Taqi. He was quite competent, integer and incorruptible, and he managed to remain in office well into the next reign.

Safi’s upbringing in the harem was evident in his lack in interests in affairs of state, or apparently in much else, apart from drink and drugs. Christians, who were dependent on his favour, described Safi as “generous, charming and pleasant to deal with”, but others regarded him as “ruthless and cruel”. Safi I proved to be the most murderous ruler after his maternal grandfather, Shah Ismail II. Killing off his relatives, even his blinded uncles and an aunt, hint at a paranoid or psychopathic tendency, aggravated by substance abuse.
Safi drank large amounts of alcohol to counter his opium addiction, and, while still in his early 30s, he died of his excesses at Kashan on May 12, 1642. In the name of his more competent son and successor, Abbas II, all Safi’s younger sons were blinded, too.

Copyright © 2011-2015 by J.N.W. Bos. All rights reserved.

" Tis certain there has not been in Persia a more cruel and bloody reign than his. "

F. Krusinski



1 Zubaida’s daughter, Jahan Banu, married King Simeon II of Kartli (Central Georgia), and had a grandson, who married Shahbanu, a daughter of Shah Safi II (Safi I's grandson, who was also known as Sulaiman).
2 After the capture of Bagdad, the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV (1612-1640) had all but 300 of the garrison of 30000 slaughtered, and an additional 30000 innocent citizens, mostly women and children.


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