Safavid Empire Essay Example

In the thirteenth century, the Ottomans had taken over the Byzantine to then become the largest and longest Islamic empire in history. After their 600 years reign, the Safavid empire rose to power after. Although different in many ways, these Islamic empires do possess a lot of similarities. Together they would affect the history of Islamic nations and the early world of trade.

first, there are differences between the greatest leaders of both empires, Mehmet II and Shah Abbas. According to an article by, the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II is credited for strengthening the economy of the Ottoman’s empire. The Ottoman’s military is known to be strong, which is why they were able to expand their empire and take control of trading routes along with it.  In contrast, Shah Abbas was not as good at leading his military as Mehmet II. According to an article in, Shah Abbas received the throne “at a critical moment in the fortunes of the Ṣafavid dynasty”. The article goes into further details that due to his predecessor, his father, ruling the Safavid empire poorly, the Ottomans were winning back some of their territories. Shah Abbas was not able to strengthen his military to defeat the Ottomans even after reforming his army. So, he instead agreed to sign a treaty that would give a portion of Safavid-owned, Persian land away to them.

Although Shah Abbas was not as great when it came to strengthening his empire’s military as Mehmet II, he is still remembered as a leader that increased trade for the Safavid empire by spreading Persian art across the region. Shah Abbas supported Persian art and culture and by doing so, according to, “artisan's products provided much of Iran's foreign trade”. Spreading Persian culture allowed their empire to increased trade with the Europeans from “the establishment of a royal monopoly” (, for things such as Persian rugs and other artisan crafts. In comparison, Mehmet also encouraged trade under his reign in numerous of ways. For example, He remade the cities of Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople) to be the main centers for world trade. It is also said in the article that Mehmet encouraged merchants to move to Istanbul, a tradition that would continue for the following Sultans for their empire.   

Furthermore, one of the strengths that both empires shared was their control over world trade. After the Ottomans had taken over Constantinople,  they successfully expanded their territory by controlling the majority of the Middle East regions and eastern Europe. Doing so, the Ottomans took control over much of the Silk Road from Constantinople, which was the main trading route for Europe to trade with Asia. The Silk Road went through much of the Ottoman’s territory, so, they applied high taxes onto the trade. Having control of the trade would allow for the Ottoman Empire to continue to afford to conquer more land. In comparison, the Safavid empire expanded due to their control over trade. By the time the Safavid were rising to power, Vasco da Gama had already discovered a water route from Europe to Asia. To escape the high taxes on the Silk Road, many Europeans traveled by sea. However, the Safavid’s empire had a geographical advantage by being located on the Indian ocean, so they taxed the trade. 

Role of religion

Thirdly, Although both empires practiced the religion of Islam, the role of religion differentiates between the two either empires. According to a article, the Safavids started off as a Shi'a Islamic brotherhood that militarized over centuries. Religion brought stability and unity to their military which allowed the empire to grow in power to conquer more Ottoman's territories. Shi’ism Islam was declared by the Safavid’s ruler, Shah Ismail, as the state of religion and he did not believe in religious tolerance. For instance, according to the article, Safavid empire,“ persecuted Sunni Muslims, ...and all other religions. Alien shrines were vandalised, and Sufi mystic groups forbidden”.

In comparison, although not much better, the Ottoman empire practiced religious tolerance to a point. For example, the abundance of Christians still practicing Christianity since the fall of the Byzantine empire. Mehmet the Ottoman Sultan decided to coexist with their communities and give them space to practice their religion for according to the, “[their communities] were controlled by the Sultan acting through their religious leaders”.  Also, the Ottoman Empire had adopted the Janissary system. Through this system, it required a son from a Christian family to be taken away to be trained as a soldier for the sultan. During this time, the boys were converted from a Christian to Muslims and were forced into strict training.

Finally, A major difference between the two empires was the reason for their downfall. The Ottoman ran into problems after it could no longer expand its territories.  Corruption in the government began to affect the empire after their military became idle. Other problems ensued such as when the Janissary system fell apart due to the slave revolts to gain more power. The prebendal system also failed when warriors began to challenge their sultan’s authority after becoming stationed in one area. As the Ottoman empire decline due to internal conflicts, they experienced a series of attacks from both sides of their borders.  Unfortunately, they did not have a large enough military to defending their border from outside attacks. 

In contrast, the Safavid empire declined after the death of their leader, Abbas I. Abbas was the greatest ruler of Safavid, however, the Shah’s that followed would not live up to his level. According to,  Abbas l feared his sons “succeeding him” to his throne. This resulted in a grandson of Abbas to rule as a shah. Unfortunately, the new shah did not take his role seriously including did not involve himself in the government much. After Abbas l’s death, the Safavid empire dealt with the attacks from the Ottoman Empire and the Mughal Empire on both sides. The Safavid Empire soon weakened due to poor management and lost territories on both sides of their empire against the Ottomans and Mughal empires.

The overall accomplishments of the Safavid and the Ottoman empire were spreading the religion of Islam, reforming their militaries, and taking control of the majority of world trade. These two empires shared many similarities but as well as many differences. For instance, in their leaders, their belief in religious tolerance, and reasons for their empire’s downfall. With my research, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Ottoman was a more effective empire overall. The Ottoman’s Sultans continue to maintain a strong military throughout their reign which is why they were able to control the Silk Road for so long. Also, they were clever to use religion to push their control by setting up effective systems in their society, such as with the Janissary system. Together, it is evident to see why they became the longest and lasting Islamic empire.



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