A map shows the Ottoman and Safavid empires, from 1453 to 1629.
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At its greatest extent, the Ottoman empire stretched across three continents, while the Safavid empire controlled most of what is today Iran. Into what regions did the Ottoman empire expand under Suleiman?

Russia and other European powers captured Ottoman lands, while local rulers in North Africa and elsewhere broke away from Ottoman control. Sultans tried to revive Ottoman power with limited success.

The Rise of the Safavids

By the early 1500s, the Safavid (sah FAH vid) dynasty had united an empire in Persia (present-day Iran). Sandwiched between two expansionist powers—India and the Ottoman empire—the Safavids often engaged in warfare. Religion played a role in the conflict. The Safavids were Shiite Muslims who enforced their beliefs in their empire. The Ottomans were Sunni Muslims who viewed the Shiites as heretics.

Abbas the Great

The most outstanding Safavid ruler, or shah, was Shah Abbas the Great who revived the glory of ancient Persia. From 1588 to 1629, he centralized the government and created a powerful military force modeled on the Ottoman janizaries. Abbas used a mixture of force and diplomacy against the Ottomans. He also sought alliances with European states that had reason to fear Ottoman power.

To strengthen the economy, Abbas reduced taxes on farmers and herders and encouraged the growth of industry. Unlike earlier Safavids, Abbas tolerated non-Muslims and valued their economic contributions. He built a new capital at Isfahan (is fah HAHN), which eventually reached a population of one million, with hundreds of mosques, schools, parks, libraries, and public baths.

A Center of Art and Trade

Under Shah Abbas, Isfahan flourished. It became a center for the arts and architecture, and the shah welcomed artists, poets, and scholars to his court. Palace workshops produced magnificant paintings, metalwork, textiles, and rugs.

Isfahan also became a center of the international silk trade. Armenians controlled the trade, so Abbas brought thousands of Armenians to Isfahan. He had a settlement built for these Christians just outside the capital, where they governed themselves.

The Decline of the Safavid Empire

Safavid glory slowly faded after the death of Shah Abbas and under continuing pressure from Ottoman armies. Shiite scholars also challenged the authority of the shah by stressing their own authority to interpret law and determine government policy. They encouraged persecution of religious minorities, pushing Sunni Afghans to rebel.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments