Mausoleums in Safavid Family History

An Unpublished Royal Edict from the Ardabil Shrine (912/1507) [DYNTRAN WORKING PAPER 28, September 2017]

by Naofumi ABE

The presence of family mausoleums is a common phenomenon in Muslim-majority regions of Western and Central Asia, Northern Africa, and the Indian Subcontinent. Modern research on Muslim mausoleums has been mainly linked to scholarly interest in Sufism and Muslim saintly figures, as well as in history of architecture; however, these mausoleums can also be used as historical evidence of the families of Sufi saints.

Following the foundation of the Safavid dynasty in the early 16th century in Iran, mausoleums and tombs of the descendants of Shi‘ite imams (the imāmzādes) gradually replaced those of Sufi saints; they have been flourishing and receiving local—and frequently regional—popular devotion until the present day. Although most Sufi orders in Iran, suffering persecution by the Safavid regime, lost their social influence, numerous mausoleums dedicated to Sufi saints are still standing. Among them, the most prominent is the mausoleum of the famous Sheykh Ṣafī al-Dīn Ardabīlī (13th-14th c.), the eponymous founder of the Safavid Sufi order, whose descendants established the ruling Safavid dynasty at the beginning of the 16th century. Interestingly, this mausoleum can be considered simultaneously a Sufi, family, and dynastic funerary monument. Several Safavid shaikhs and rulers are buried in this place: not only Sheykh Ṣafī al-Dīn himself, but also some of his descendants, including the first Safavid ruler Esma‘īl I (r. 1507-1524). The title of Kishwar Rizvi’s recent monograph, The Safavid Dynastic Shrine (2010), likewise emphasizes this understanding.

Borj-e Allāh, Mausoleum of Sheykh Ṣafī al-Dīn Ardabīlī. (Photo: Courtesy of the Mausoleum of Sheykh Ṣafī al-Dīn and Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization [Sāzman-e Mīrāth-e Farhangī, Ṣanāye‘-dastī va Gardeshgarī])

The Sheykh Ṣafī al-Dīn mausoleum in Ardabil became an object of veneration and patronage through by  successive rulers, from the Mongol Ilkhanid dynasty onwards. The complex grew socially and evolved economically under  continuous court patronage, and has survived until now. For historical studies, the existence of the so-called “Ardabil documents” archive makes the mausoleum quite a unique case. The collection of Ardabil documents consists of a variety of archival materials dating from the Mongol period to the 20th century, such as royal edicts, local administrative orders, and sharī‘a documents, as well as thousands of receipts related to the mausoleum’s fiscal administration. These documents are now preserved in several locations: the National Museum (Mūze-ye Mellī) of Iran, the Waqf Organization (Sāzemān-e Owqāf) in Tehran, and the mausoleum itself, which exhibits some of them. The catalogue of the Ardabīl documents has been published by Emād Sheykh al-Ḥokamā’ī (1387sh/2008a); the receipts of the mausoleum which remain uncatalogued are detailed in another publication by the same Iranian scholar (Shaykh al-Ḥokamā’ī 1387sh/2008b: 17).

The Ardabil documents have been studied in depth since the 1970s., especially by German scholars. While Monika Gronke investigated sharī‘a documents, including documents of sale, rent, and so forth (see Gronke 1982, who refers to them as Privaturkunden, or “private documents”), Gottfried Herrmann and Bert Fragner worked on royal edicts of the Mongols and the Safavids respectively (Herrmann 2004; Fragner 1975a; 1975b). Recently, a Japanese research project which seeks to bring together Japanese, Turkology and Sinology with historical studies on Iran, has also been working on the Ardabil documents, with a focus on Uyghur script documents and Chinese style red seals (with inscriptions in ’Phagps-pa and Arabic) from the Mongol period (Haneda and Yokkaichi, eds., 2015).

One of my current research interests focuses on the survival of the Sheykh Ṣafī al-Dīn mausoleum and its administration in the post-Safavid period. To the best of my knowledge, the administrative and social history of the mausoleum based on the analysis of the Ardabil documents remains an almost unstudied field, both in the Safavid period and after. Previous scholarship on this religious institution especially analysed information from one famous historical source, the Ṣarīḥ al-melk, a land register of the Sheykh Ṣafī al-Dīn mausoleum. Two versions of this Ṣarīḥ al-melk are preserved in the National Museum of Iran: one was compiled by ‘Abdī Beg Shīrāzī during the reign of Shāh Ṭahmāsb I (r. 1524-1576) (edited by Maḥmūd Moḥammad Hedāyatī, see Ṣarīḥ al-melk 1390sh/2011), and the other was completed by Moḥammad Ṭāher al-Eṣfahānī in the reign of  Shāh ‘Abbās II (r. 1642-1666). Additionally, another version of the Ṣarīḥ al-melk was drafted in the late Qājār period. I am planning to explore this source in the near future. Alexander Morton (1974; 1975) and, recently, Kishwar Rizvi (2010) studied the history of the architectural features of the mausoleum and the dynastic ideology in the first half of the Safavid era, using the Ṭahmāsb period version of the source which contains precious information on its architectural components. Another study on the Ṣarīḥ al-melk by Fariba Zarinebaf-shahr (1998) explores the waqf endowments by women in the Safavid period. In addition, the inscriptions and artistic features of the cenotaph of Esmā‘īl I have been analysed by Robert Hillenbrand (2003).

The scarcity of research is partly due to limited access to the documents. Since 2009, when the catalogue of the Ardabil documents was published by Emād Sheykh al-Ḥokamā’ī, we have gradually had better access to the source materials. The edited text of the above mentioned Ṣarīḥ al-melk has also become available in 2011, thanks to Maḥmūd Moḥammad Hedāyatī, despite the fact that the editor of the text did not specify which manuscript(s) he used for his edition. As a result, the research environment in this field is more promising than ever.

Among the documents on exhibition at the Sheykh Ṣafī al-Dīn mausoleum, the oldest one is a royal edict issued by Shāh Esma‘īl I and dated to the year 912/1507. While Bert Fragner published a bilingual (Persian-German) edition of other documents in exhibition (1975a; 1975b), this document apparently had gone unnoticed until now, as it seems that it was not registered in Sheykh al-Ḥokamā’ī’s catalogue. Thus, the following edition of the Persian text and its English translation constitutes a modest contribution to the historical study of the Safavid mausoleum based on the Ardabil documents, about forty years after Fragner’s important piece of research.

Royal edict dated to the year 912/1507. (Photo: Courtesy of the Mausoleum of Sheykh Ṣafī al-Dīn and Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization [Sāzman-e Mīrāth-e Farhangī, Ṣanāye‘-dastī va Gardeshgarī])
Persian text:

یا علی

الحکم لله  ابو المظفر اسمعیل بهادر سیوزمیز


  بود مهر علی و آل او چون جان مرا در بر// غلام شاه مردان است اسمعیل بن حیدر

در این وقت مقرر فرمودیم که چون قطعه زمینی که در جنب انبارخانه واقع است

به موجب پروانه همیون ما ملک عمدة الحفاظ و قدوة الفض ء المستعلی (للمستغنی ؟)

حافظ  کمال الدین ملکی است و متصرف شرعی زمین مذکور است و قباله شرعی بعضی از آن اراضی که خودداری نموده در دست دارد

هیچ  آفریده به ناحق و نامشروع در آن مدخل نسازد و مراجعت نگردد و اگر کسی به ناحق تصرف نموده باشد

باز گرداند  و به تصرف او گذارند که بدو متعلق است در این باب قدغن عظیم داند و از فرموده تخلف نورزند و از مخالفت محترز و مجتنب باشد و از شکایت اندیشه نماید

تحریراً  فی   سادس عشرین شهر شعبان المعظم سنه اثنی عشر و تسعمائه

ختم بالخیر

English translation:

Oh, ‘Alī!

The ruling is with God, Abū al-Moẓaffar Esma‘īl Bahādor, My word,
[Seal:] The mercy of Imām ‘Alī and his offspring, same as my soul, embraces me,  //  [I,] Esma‘īl ibn Heydar, [am] the slave of the king of heroes (i.e., Imām ‘Alī).
On this occasion, we ordered the following:
A piece of land, which is located next to the storehouse [of the mausoleum], and according to the royal edict (parvāne-ye homāyūn) belongs to Ḥāfeẓ Kamāl al-Dīn, the pillar of Qur’an memorizers (uffāẓ) and the model of the great learned (fożalā’), is his private land, which he occupies, according to the sharī‘a document related to some of the landed properties under his possession. Consequently, none of the creatures is allowed to intervene in the land in question illegally and illicitly and to make an inquiry about it. If a person happens to occupy the land illegally, this person must return it to Kamāl al-Dīn’s possession since the land belongs to him. Knowing this injunction to be most strict, do not deviate from our command, be careful and abstain from transgression, and fear any grievances. Dated the 26th of Sha‘bān of the year 912.
[Margin:] Ending with happiness


Short commentary:

This document indicates that Ḥāfeẓ Kamāl al-Dīn, who was most probably a member of the mausoleum bureaucracy, having purchased the landed property in question through legal transactions, requested Shāh Esma‘īl to issue a royal edict to confirm his ownership. It is reasonable to say that the storehouse most probably belonged to the mausoleum, although there are no indications in the document nor in the supportive source materials for my argument. I presume that since Kamāl al-Dīn endowed this asset to the mausoleum. The above document is preserved there even though the Ṣarīḥ al-melk does not mention the transaction or his endowment of the land.

by Naofumi Abe
University of Tokyo
(September 2017)

Tomb of Shāh Esma‘īl. (Photo: Courtesy of the Mausoleum of Sheykh Ṣafī al-Dīn and Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization [Sāzman-e Mīrāth-e Farhangī, Ṣanāye‘-dastī va Gardeshgarī]).


  • Ṣarīḥ al-melk (1390sh/2011). Zeyn al-‘Ābedīn ‘Abdī Beg Nowīdī Shīrāzī, Ṣarīḥ al-melk, ed. Maḥmūd Moḥammad Hedayatī, Tehran: Mo‘āvenat-e Farhangī-ye Sāzmān-e owqāf va omūr-e kheyrīye.
  • Fragner, B. (1975a). “Ardabīl zwischen Sultan und Schah. Zehn Urkunden Schah Ṭahmāsps II,” Turcica 6: 177-225
  • Fragner, B. (1975b). “Das Arbabīler Heiligtum in den Urkunden,” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 67: 169-215.
  • Gronke, M. (1982), Arabische und persische Privaturkunden des 12. und 13. Jahrhunderts aus Ardabil (Aserbeidschan), Berlin: Klaus Schwarz.
  • Haneda and Yokkaichi, eds. (2015). “Special Issue: Multilingual Documents and Multiethnic Society in Mongol-Ruled Iran,” Orient (Reports of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan): 50.
  • Herrmann, G. (2004). Persische Urkunden der Mongolenzeit, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Hillenbrand, R. (2003). “The Sarcophagus of Shah Ismā’īl I at Ardabīl,” in: Society and Culture in the Early Middle East: Studies on Iran in the Safavid Period, Andrew J. Newman (ed.). Leiden: Brill: 165-192.
  • Morton, A. (1974). “The Ardabīl Shrine in the Reign of Shāh Ṭahmāsp I,” Iran 12: 31-64.
  • Morton, A. (1975). “The Ardabīl Shrine in the Reign of Shāh Ṭahmāsp I (concluded)” Iran 13: 39-58.
  • Rizvi, K. (2010). The Safavid Dynastic Shrine: Architecture, Religion and Power in Early Modern Iran. London: I.B. Tauris.
  • Sheykh al-Ḥokamā’ī, E. (1387sh/2008a). Fehrest-e Asnād-e Boq‘e-ye Sheykh Ṣafī al-Dīn Ardabīlī. Tehrān: Ketābkhāne, Mūze va Markaz-e Asnād-e Majles-e Showrā-ye Eslamī.
  • Sheykh al-Ḥokamā’ī, E. (1387sh/2008b). “Fard-hā-ye Astāne-ye Sheykh Safī Ardabīlī,” Gozāresh-e Mīrāth 25-26: 17.
  • Zarinebaf-shahr, F. (1998). “Economic Activities Safavid Women in the Shrine-City of Ardabil.” Iranian Studies 31-2: 247-61.

To quote this publication:

Naofumi Abe, “Mausoleums in Safavid Family History: An Unpublished Royal Edict from the Ardabil Shrine (912/1507),” DYNTRAN Working Paper, no. 28, online edition, September 2017, available at:

Cite this blog post
Sandra Aube (2017, September 26). Mausoleums in Safavid Family History. DYNTRAN: Dynamics of Transmission. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from

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