Ismail II (Shah)

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Shah Ismail II seated in white in a miniature.
Qahqaheh Fortress, where Ismail was imprisoned for almost 20 years.
Silver coin from Ismail's reign from 1576.

Ismail II ( Persian اسماعیل دوم; * May 31, 1537 in Qom ; † November 24, 1577 in Qazvin ) was the third Safavid Shah of Iran from 1576 to 1577 . He was the second son of Tahmasps I and the Qadam-Ali Sultan Chanom, who belonged to the Aq Qoyunlu . After his uncle Alqas Mirzas had fled to the opposing Ottoman Empire , Ismail succeeded him as governor of Shirvan in 1547 . There he and his advisors ( Lālā ) had to grapple with an uprising Burhan Ali bin Khalilullah II, who wanted to rebuild the empire of the Shirvanshahs . In the ensuing conflict with the Ottomans, Ismail and 7000 men moved against Kars in August 1548, pillaging the city and razing the city's fortress. Several campaigns against the Ottomans and pro-Ottoman forces followed in the later years, such as an attack in 1552 against Erzurum .

In 1549 Tahmasp's brother Bahram Mirza, who was also crown prince, died. So Ismail was made crown prince. After his marriage, Ismail moved to Qazvin to his father's court in 1555. It was here that he began several affairs with other men and practiced pedophilia. He was supposed to be made governor of Hamadans , but he broke his leg while on an outing with one of his lovers. Tahmasp was so angry about this that he sent Ismail to Herat in the east instead that same year without a ceremony . On the way, Ismail visited many cities in Khorasan . After two years, Ismail was ordered back to Qazvin. But instead of receiving Ismail, his father had him arrested and locked up in the fortress of Qahqaheh near Ardabil . The reason for this was an alleged conspiracy Ismail against his father. Ismail spent almost a full 20 years there.

Shah Tahmasp died in May 1576 without having appointed a successor. Two factions formed among his army and courtiers, each with their own candidates for the throne. This hostility between the two groups was already several years old. Ismail was supported by the tribal leaders of the Afshar, Turkmen, Tekelu and Rumlu tribes. His half-brother Haydar Mirza was supported by the East Adschlu, the Qajars, Shaykavand and Georgians. With Ismail still imprisoned, Haydar Mirza proclaimed himself the new ruler, but was arrested by Ismail's supporters and executed on May 25, 1576.

Ismail was released on May 31st and made his way to Qazvin with thousands. On September 1, 1576 he was enthroned in the Tschehel Sotun pavilion . Ismail helped many of his supporters to key positions. Some of these men were detained with Ismail in Qahqaheh. Ismail's supporters thought, because of his military successes against the Ottomans, that the empire would stabilize militarily and socially. But barely two months in office, Ismail had all male members of the ruling house executed. The murders of his relatives were justified by his minister for religious affairs, Mirza Makdum Sharifi-Shirazi, on the grounds that almost all of the male descendants of the first two Shahs came from time marriages and were therefore bastards. Temporary marriage was legitimate among the Shiites , to which the Safavids belong. But under Ismail the influence of Sunni views grew and Mirza Makdum Sharifi-Shirazi himself was described as a crypto-Sunnite. He later wrote that after long discussions with Ismail he was able to convince him of the murders. Ismail began to disempower Shiite clerics and judges and centralize all religious affairs under his care. Ismail forbade the cursing of Sunni caliphs, imams and clergy, which was common in Iran under the term of Tawallā wa Tabarrā. Ismail also had the names of the Shiite imams removed from the walls of the Friday Mosque in Qazvin and new coins minted without their names.

This pro-Sunni policy turned Kizilbash and his own sister Perichan Chanom against him. The conspirators planned to murder Ismail. They took advantage of Ismail's drug use and poisoned his opium . Ismail died on the night of November 24, 1577. His body was buried in the Imamzade Hoseyin in Qazvin. He was succeeded by his brother Mohammad Chodābande .

Some chroniclers portrayed Ismail as a just ruler who had given the empire stability and security. But according to more important chroniclers like Hasan Rumlu and Eskandar Beg, Ismail was irrational, perverse and incompetent. After them, he almost led the empire into the abyss.

Ismail married Safiya Sultan Chanom in Tabriz in 1555 and moved with his wife to the house of his uncle Bahram Mirza in Qazvin. The couple had only one daughter. Ismail later married three other women, from whom his son Soja al-Din Mohammad (* 1577) was born.

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