19 Shah Ṭahmāsp and the Taẕkira: A Sixteenth-Century Ruler’s Justification of His Policies

In: Rulers as Authors in the Islamic World
Author:
Philip Bockholt
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Abstract

Shah Ṭahmāsp, the second ruler of the Safavid dynasty, ruled Iran and parts of present-day Iraq, the Caucasus and Central Asia for more than half a century, from 930/1524 to 984/1576. In the shadow of his more prominent and powerful father Ismāʿīl and his grandson ʿAbbās I, his reign has been rather neglected by modern scholarship until recently. This is not justified in view of the significant events that occurred during his reign. After becoming shah at the age of ten following the early death of his father, Ṭahmāsp overcame the bloody struggle between the Turkmen Qızılbash tribes who wanted to rule the empire alone, and managed to fend off frequent attacks from both the Ottomans in the west and the Uzbeks in the east, as well as internal rebellions, for over fifty years. The article analyses the Taẕkira, a short text dealing with the political events in the Safavid Empire during the years 930/1524–969/1562 and allegedly the only work written by the Shah himself. Arguing that the Taẕkira was not in fact conceived as a biography, but served a different and very specific purpose—the Shah’s reception of Ottoman diplomats in 969/1562—the analysis aims to answer the questions of why Ṭahmāsp wrote the Taẕkira and for whom, and how the text was received in later times. In doing so, the text is understood as a unique first-person document of the self-representation and self-assertion of an Iranian ruler in the 16th century, in which Ṭahmāsp presents himself as a legitimate Islamic monarch and justifies his policies within and outside the borders of his empire.

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