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Mohammad Khodabanda

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Mohammad Khodabanda

Sultan Mohammad Shah
Shahanshah of Persia
Coin minted during the reign of Mohammad Khodabandeh
Reign 11 February 1578 – October 1587
Predecessor Ismail II
Successor Abbas I
Born 1532
Died 1595 or 1596 (Aged 63 or 64)
Consort Khayr al-Nisa Begum
Issue Hamza, Abu Talib, Abbas I
Full name
Mohammad Khodabandeh
Dynasty Safavid
Father Tahmasp I
Mother Sultanum Begum Mawsillu
Religion Twelver Shi'a Islam

Mohammad Khodābandeh or Khudābanda, also known as Mohammad Shah or Sultan Mohammad (Persian: شاه محمد خدابنده‎‎, born 1532; died 1595 or 1596)[1] was Shah of Persia from 1578 until his overthrow in 1587 by his son Abbas I. He was the fourth Safavid Shah of Iran and succeeded his brother, Ismail II. Khodabanda was the son of Shah Tahmasp I by a Turcoman mother, Sultanum Begum Mawsillu,[2] and grandson of Ismail I, founder of the Safavid Dynasty.

After the death of his father in 1576 Mohammad was passed over in favour of his younger brother Ismail II. Mohammad suffered from an eye affliction that rendered him nearly blind, and so in accordance with Persian Royal culture could not contend for the throne.[3] However, following Ismail II's short and bloody reign Mohammad emerged as the only heir, and so with the backing of the Qizilbash tribes became Shah in 1578.

Mohammad's reign was marked by a continued weakness of the crown and tribal infighting as part of the second civil war of the Safavid era.[4] An important figure in the early years of Mohammad's reign was his wife Khayr Al-Nisa Begum, who helped secure her husband's reign.[3] However her efforts to consolidate central power brought about opposition from the powerful Qizilbash tribes, who had her murdered in 1579. Mohammad has been described as "a man of refined tastes but weak character".[1] As a result Mohammad's reign was characterised by factionalism, with major tribes aligning themselves with Mohammad's sons and future heirs. This internal chaos allowed foreign powers, especially the rivalling and neighboring Ottoman Empire, to make territorial gains, including the conquest of the old capital of Tabriz in 1585. Mohammad was finally overthrown in a coup in favour of his son Shah Abbas I.

Early life

Born Sultan-Muhammad Mirza in Tabriz, Muhammad was named titular governor of Herat at the age of four, shortly after the city was reovered from the Uzbeks in 1537. The real power was his lala (tutor-mentor), the Qizilbash amir Muhammad Sharaf al-Din Oghli Takkalu, who was responsible for the massive public works in the 1540s which brought irrigations complexes, gardens, shrines and other public buildings to Herat. These efforts met with the approbation of Shah Tahmasp, and attracted to the city poets, illustrators and calligraphers, with whom Muhammad became acquainted.[5]

Muhammad was named governor of Shiraz in 1572. He had acquired a reputation as a poet in Herat, one "noted for his education and cognative acuity," according to Sam Mirza, a contemporary biographer of poets. Muhammad brought a retinue of artists andn pets with him to Shiraz, a city that had been a center of philosophic inquiry since the late fifteenth century and more recently as a venue for widely-regarded manuscription illumination.[6] IMuhammad was at Shiraz when he brother, the shah, died.

Initial power struggle

Mohammad succeeded to the throne of Persia on the death of his younger brother Ismail II. Ismail had attempted to kill or blind all the royal Safavid princes but he was assassinated before the order to execute Mohammad and four of his young sons could be carried out. Mohammad's eyesight was so poor he was nearly blind but the Qizilbash army factions who controlled the succession to the throne had no other viable candidate to turn to and they proclaimed him shah at Qazvin on 11 February 1578.[7][8]

Mohammad was mild-tempered compared to his brother, but he was also weak-willed. His Circassian half-sister, Pari Khan Khanum, who had conspired with the Qizilbash to assassinate Ismail, believed she would easily be able to dominate him. However, when she fell out with the Grand Vizier Mirza Salman, he left Qazvin for Shiraz, where the shah and his ruthless and ambitious wife Khayr al-Nisa Begum (known by the title Mahd-i Ulya) were staying and turned them against Pari Khan Khanum. On their return to Qazvin they had her strangled.[9][10]

Mahd-i Ulya now took personal control of Iran and began to promote the career of her elder son, Hamza Mirza (she cared little for her younger son Abbas Mirza). But she antagonised the Qizilbash who eventually asked the shah to remove her from power. When she refused to concede to their demands, a group of Qizilbash conspirators burst into the harem and strangled her on 26 July 1579.[11][12]

Conflict over succession

The Qizilbash factions increasingly came to dominate Iran. In 1583 they forced the shah to hand over his vizier, Mirza Salman, for execution. The young Hamza Mirza took over the reins of state but on 6 December 1586 he too was murdered in mysterious circumstances.[13]

Foreign threats

Foreign powers took advantage of the factional discord in Iran court to seize territory for themselves. Shirvan. Shirvan fell before the end of the summer of 1578, by which fact the Ottomans had now control of almost all territories west of the Caspian Sea coast, and it also opened the way for an attack on what is nowadays the core of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which were subsequently attacked in 1579 by a large contingent of Crimean Tatars, led by Adil Giray Khan,[14] but he was captured in a remarkable counterattack led by Mirza Salman Jabiri and Hamza Mirza, and later executed in Qazvin, the Safavid capital at that time. Another Ottoman army under the leadership of Osman Pasha and Ferhat Pasha crossed into Iran and captured Tabriz in 1585. Sultan Mohammad sent Hamza Mirza to fight the Ottomans but the young prince was murdered during this campaign and the city remained in Ottoman hands for 20 years.[15][16]

End of reign

When the Uzbeks launched a large-scale invasion of Khorasan, the leader of the Ustalju Qizilbash faction in the province, Murshid Quli Khan, decided the time was right to overthrow the shah and replace him with Mohammad's son Abbas Mirza, who was Murshid's ward. Murshid and Abbas rode to Qazvin where the prince was proclaimed the new ruler of Iran in October 1587. Mohammad made no attempt to challenge the coup and accepted his dethronement.

Final years

He lived in the capital for a time but was then apparently banished to the prison of Alamut, although Iskandar Beg Munshi records him dying in Qazvin some time between 21 July 1595 and 10 July 1596.[17][18]

Art and culture

Mohammad was also a poet who wrote verse under the pen name "Fahmi".[8]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Andrew J. Newman, Safavid Iran, I.B.Tauris, 2004, p.42
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Newman p.41
  5. ^ Colin P. Mitchell, The Practice of Politics in Safavid Iran: Power, Religion and Rhetoric (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009) ("Mitchell"), p. 160.
  6. ^ Mitchell, pp. 160-61.
  7. ^ Cambridge History of Iran Volume 6, p.253
  8. ^ a b Savory p.70
  9. ^ Savory pp.70–71
  10. ^ Cambridge History p.254
  11. ^ Savory pp.71–73
  12. ^ Cambridge History of Iran p.254
  13. ^ Savory pp.73–74
  14. ^ Sicker 2001, pp. 2-3.
  15. ^ Cambridge History of Iran p.257, p.260
  16. ^ Savory p.74
  17. ^ Savory p.75
  18. ^ Cambridge History of Iran pp.261–2


Mohammad Khodabanda
Preceded by
Isma'il II
Shah of Persia
Succeeded by
Abbas I
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