The Adventures of Shāh Esmāʿil

A Seventeenth-Century Persian Popular Romance


The Adventures of Shāh Esmāʿil recounts the dramatic formative years of the Safavid empire (1501–1722), as preserved in Iranian popular memory by coffeehouse storytellers and written down in manuscripts starting in the late seventeenth century. Beginning with the Safavids’ saintly ancestors in Ardabil, the story goes on to relate the conquests of Shāh Esmāʿil (r. 1501–1524) and his devoted Qezelbāsh followers as they battle Torkmāns, Uzbeks, Ottomans, and even Georgians and Ethiopians in their quest to establish a Twelver Shiʿi realm. Barry Wood’s translation brings out the verve and popular tone of the Persian text. A heady mixture of history and legend, The Adventures of Shāh Esmāʿil sheds important light on the historical self-awareness of late Safavid Iran.
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Biographical Note

Barry Wood, Ph.D. (2002, Harvard University) is Assistant Professor of Humanities at Dixie State University. He has published articles on Persian art, manuscripts, and cultural memory in journals including Ars Orientalis and Iranian Studies. This is his first book.

Table of contents


Notes on Transliteration

Part 1: The Ancestors of Shāh Esmāʿil

1 The story of Solṭān Firuzshāh
2 The story of ʿEvaz al-Khavāṣṣ and his son Moḥammad al-Ḥāfeẓ
3 The story of Salāḥoddin Rashid
4 The story of Seyyed Jebrāʾil
5 The story of Solṭān Khwājeh ʿAli
6 The battle between Solṭān ʿAli Mirzā and Aybeh Solṭān and the death of Solṭān ʿAli

Part 2: Shāh Esmāʿil vs. the Torkmāns

7 Shāh Esmāʿil catches sight of His Majesty the Lord of the Age
8 The emergence of Shāh Esmāʿil from Gilān and Lāhijān with seven people, and the conquest of Ṭārom
9 The story of the sons of Rostam Shāh, and of how His Majesty the Shadow of God went to Ardabil; the killing of ʿAli Khān Solṭān
10 Alvand sends ʿOthmān Solṭān to fight the Shāh, who in turn sends Qarāpari Qājār; the latter is killed, and the Torkmāns are defeated
11 King Alvand goes to the Anatolian emperor and seeks help; he comes to Iran and is defeated; his qualities
12 The world-conquering Shāh’s proposal to Tājlu Begom, the daughter of ʿĀbedin Beg Shāmlu, and the wedding feast of that fortunate prince
13 Birth of the Shadow of God, Shāh Ṭahmāsp, in the village of Ranān near Eṣfahān
14 Shāh Esmāʿil sends an army against Solṭān Morād, and that failure is captured
15 Solṭān Morād flees toward Shirāz; Moḥammad Karahi captures him and sends him to Shāh Esmāʿil, but he flees again
16 Solṭān Morād flees toward Shirāz as Elyās Beg pursues him
17 Elyās Beg goes to Dāmghān to fight Ḥosayn Kiyā Cholāvi and is killed by that man’s duplicity
18 Shāh Esmāʿil proceeds from Qom towards Firuzkuh and Māzandarān to defeat Ḥosayn Kiyā Cholāvi
19 ʿ Ali Kiyā goes to take the pass of Firuzkuh
20 Shāh Esmāʿil arrives at the fortress of Mārānkuh and does battle with Ḥosayn Kiyā Cholāvi, who is killed
21 Shuʿayb Āqā is killed by Solṭān Aḥmad Sāruʾi; Moḥammad Karahi rebels, Solṭān Aḥmad is killed, and Yazd is captured
22 His Majesty arrives at Yazd, and Moḥammad Karahi is killed
23 Shāh Esmāʿil goes from Yazd to Ṭabas; Tardi Bābā is killed, and Amir Kamāloddin Ḥosayn comes to the royal court on behalf of Solṭān Ḥosayn Bāyqarā
24 ʿ Abdi Beg is martyred at the hands of Ḥosayn Beg, son of Ṣārem Khān the Kurd; Shāh Esmāʿil arrives, and Ṣārem Khān flees
25 The conquest of Baghdād by the Qezelbāsh; Bāyrak Solṭān flees to Moṣul, and Shāh Esmāʿil visits Najaf
26 The royal banners leave for ʿErāq and Khorrāmābād, where Malekshāh Rostam is
27 The Shāh and his army come to fight Malekshāh Rostam, who pledges obedience; together they go to Ḥovayzeh to fight Malek Fayyāz
28 His Majesty sends Nur ʿAli Khalifeh to the Ṣufis of Rum on his behalf, and he accepts oaths of fealty in Tabriz and Diyārbakr
29 The royal banners head for Diyārbakr, and Shāh Esmāʿil does battle with ʿAlāʾoddawleh Dhulqadr
30 Shāh Esmāʿil sends a letter to ʿAlāʾoddawleh, who responds with an offer of peace; His Majesty returns to Ādharbāyjān
31 Sāru Aṣlān and Sāru Qaplān come to the aid of Moḥammadi Solṭān and are killed by Qarākhān the brother of Moḥammad Khān Ostājlu, who is victorious
32 On the nature and circumstances of Solṭān Salim, son of Solṭān Bāyazid of Anatolia
33 Qarākhān attacks Arzenjān, and Moḥammad Khān sends Solṭān Bāyazid of Anatolia an envoy with women’s clothing
34 Solṭān Bāyazid and Solṭān Qānṣaw, the ruler of Egypt, fight against ʿAlāʾoddawleh Dhulqadr

Part 3: Shāh Esmāʿil vs. the Uzbeks

35 Shāhi Beg Khān, son of Abulkhayr Khān, makes his emergence and seizes Torkestān from the descendants of Amir Timur
36 Of the sons of Solṭān Ḥosayn Bāyqarā and their circumstances, and how their fates were ruined
37 Bābor Pādeshāh goes to Kābol, while Shāhi Beg Khān goes to Balkh and Badiʿozzamān sets out to fight him
38 Shāhi Beg Khān comes to Dāmghān, then returns to Samarqand; Moḥammad Ḥosayn Mirzā comes to the service of Shāh Esmāʿil; Amir Najm II and the great commanders subdue Khorāsān, entrust it to the sons of Solṭān Ḥosayn Mirzā, and leave
39 The victorious royal banners come to Marv, and the Shāh plays a trick on Shāhi Beg Khān the ruler of Torkestān, who is killed
40 Mirzā Moḥammad Ṭālesh returns from Māzandarān and is met by the Shāh; Bārsil Khān, the king of Urgench, comes to the foot of the royal throne with Ovays Mirzā and Bābor Pādeshāh; Amir Najm II goes to Torkestān
41 Amir Najm II and his commanders head for Torkestān, and Bābor Pādeshāh comes to Balkh
42 Amir Najm II arrives at Qarshi; Shaykham Mirzā mounts a night attack on the Qezelbāsh encampment; Amir Najm executes his nephew Moḥammad Kāẓem; the victory of Amir Najm and the death of Shaykham Mirzā
43 Jāni Beg Solṭān goes to Balkh; ʿObayd Khān comes, and Khorāsān is seized by an Uzbek army; Shāh Ṭahmāsp Khān Mirzā leaves Harāt for ʿErāq; Shāh Esmāʿil receives word that Amir Najm II has been killed
44 Shāh Ṭahmāsp returns to Iran and to His Majesty, who summons an army to conquer Khorāsān and Torkestān; the kings of Torkestān flee
45 Jāni Beg Solṭān reaches Qāsem Khān, the Pādeshāh of the steppe of Baghlān, who sends his son Abulkhayr Khān with a great army to fight Shāh Esmāʿil; Abulkhayr Khān is killed, and the Uzbek kings flee

Part 4: Shāh Esmāʿil vs. Solṭān Salim

46 The glorious banners turn back to Iran, and His Majesty the Shadow of God learns of the death of Solaymān Mirzā in Tabriz; he sends an emissary to Anatolia to see Solṭān Bāyazid, the Qayṣar of Rum
47 Solṭān Salim, the Pādeshāh of Rum, comes to Iran and arrives at Chālderān; the victorious banners of the Shadow of God turn toward him, but the Qezelbāsh are defeated
48 Moḥammad Zamān Mirzā, the son of Badiʿozzamān Mirzā, rebels and goes to Astarābād; ʿObayd Khān arrives at Balkh with all his corruption
49 Solṭān Salim learns of the theft and burning of his supplies by ʿAlāʾoddawleh Dhulqadr and the death of Moṣṭafā Pāshā at the hands of his men, then goes to fight ʿAlāʾoddawleh and kills him
50 Solṭān Salim, the ruler of Anatolia, fights Solṭān Qānṣaw, the king of Egypt, who is killed
51 Solṭān Morād, the son of Yaʿqub Pādeshāh son of Ḥasan Pāshā the Torkmān, comes to conquer Diyārbakr and is killed by Aḥmad Solṭān Qājār
52 Ghazāli joins forces with Solṭān Solaymān to fight Nur ʿAli Khalifeh, who is killed by the Anatolians
53 Solṭān Solaymān comes to Iran a second time, and Ghazāli is captured by His Majesty the Shadow of God

Part 5: The Later Years

54 Shāh Esmāʿil learns of the death of Solṭān Salim and of Solṭān Solaymān’s accession to the throne and return to Istanbul; His Majesty leaves Chālderān with the intention of conquering Khorāsān
55 Jāni Beg Solṭān the Uzbek comes to Balkh and fights Kopek Solṭān, and the Uzbek army is defeated; ʿObayd Khān comes to Harāt and returns without having attained his goal; Amir Khān Torkmān, the governor of Harāt, kills Amir Moḥammad and is deposed; His Majesty sends Durmesh Khān to fight in Harāt
56 Durmesh Khān comes to Harāt, seizes Amir Khān Torkmān, and sends him to the royal court, then settles down to rule the city



All interested in Iranian history and popular literature, particularly that of the Safavid period, as well as both specialists and non-specialists interested in the popular preservation of cultural memory.


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