Dynasty that ruled in Iran from 1501 to 1732.
The dynasty took its name from its ancestor Shaykh Safi al-Din (d 1334), the much-venerated head of a sectarian Sufi order based at Ardabil in north-west Iran. The Safavids rose to power after almost 200 years in which, after the fall of the Ilkhanids and apart from the meteoric career of Timur, Iran had lacked cohesiveness and relatively fixed boundaries. This period was also one of religious ferment during which folk Islam, Sufism and extreme Shi‛ism flowered. The Safavids combined these three elements, turning the order at Ardabil into a revolutionary Shi‛ite movement originally dominated by Turkoman tribesmen (the qizilbash, ‘red-heads’) from eastern Anatolia and Azerbaijan, and creating a successful political system that they quickly imposed on the country as a whole. The Safavids taught that their legitimacy depended on the teachers of religious law who exercised their personal judgement (Pers. ...