SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Iran and the Persianiate world, 1400 to 1800

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 2

This course studies the history of Persianate societies, politics, and socio-religious institutions from the rise of the Timurids in the late Islamicate Middle Period up to the Rise of the Qajar dynasty at the end of the 18th century. The course is organized around the notion of a Persianate cultural system, stretching from Eastern Anatolia to Central and South Asia. Nevertheless, a core concern of the class will be to study the changing ways in which such a system has intersected, overlapped, and sometimes defined itself in opposition to other cultural systems which were in operation within the same geographical spaces—especially Turko-Mongol, Arab, Indic, and Armenian cultures. Thus, an on-going endeavour throughout the course will be to interrogate the very concept of a “Persian” or “Persianate” culture, trace the evolution of such an idea, and ultimately, to evaluate its utility as a productive category for analysis. In the opening weeks of the course, the geographical scope will be sweeping, covering the territories ruled by the Timurids, and their inheritors, the Turkomans, Safavids, Uzbeks, Mughals, from Eastern Anatolia and Iraq, across the Iranian basin, to Central Asia, and South Asia.

The course will proceed both chronologically and thematically, allowing students to trace a variety of important topics as they have unfolded throughout the history of the late-medieval and early modern and modern Persianate world. Such key themes include, the rise of Islamo-Persianate sacred kingship and shrine-centered systems of patronage, Alid and sufic messianism, millenarianism and revolutionary movements, the development of state-sponsored Shi’ism, ethnic and religious minorities, spiritual fraternities of the bazaar, trade networks and Persianate diaspora, gender-dynamics.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  1. Gain insights into core issues in the history of Iran and the Persianate world from 1400 C.E. to 1800
  2. Acquire a strong understanding of the ways in which the key political, cultural, religious, and economic institutions characteristic of Persianate societies changed over time during the late medieval and early modern periods
  3. Develop a thorough knowledge of pertinent historiography and key primary sources (in English translation)
  4. Demonstrate in writing the ability to critically assess prevailing approaches to the subjects covered and to account for the evolution of these various approaches over time
  5. Design and execute a long research project, which revolves around a feasible set of research questions that lead to a well-structured research essay using extensive secondary literature and, where appropriate, primary sources

Scope and syllabus

Week 1: Introduction: Persia, Persian, Persianate and Iran, Iranian or what?!
Week 2: The Rise of the Safavids, and Mughals and the Negotiation of Timurid Heritage
Week 3: Sacred Kingship, Saintly Charisma and Millenarianism—the Ṣāḥib-Qirāns
Week 4: Women, Turkic Kinship, and the Construction of the Early Safavid State
Week 5: Routinization and Centralization: from Ghulat Alidism to Shiʿification
Week 6: On Administration of the Safavid Empire— From Military Patronage to Bureaucracy
Week 7: Centering the Empire and Constructing Paradise: Isfahan and Shah ʿAbbās
Week 8: Economy, Trade Networks, and the Armenians
Week 9: Knowledge of the Other-- Early Modern Persianate Diaspora- Self-Narrative and Travel writing
Week 10: Crisis of the 18th Century: Safavid Fall and the Afghan, Afshar, Zand, and Qajar Dynasties


Method of assessment

Essay of 3,000 words worth 80% of the final mark, Reaction paper/book review of 1,000 words worth 20% of the final mark

Suggested reading

  • Morgan, David. Medieval Persia 1040-1797. New York: Longman, 1994.
  • Dale, Stephen. The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Arjomand, Said. The shadow of God and the Hidden Imam : religion, political order, and societal change in Shi'ite Iran from the beginning to 1890. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.
  • Moin, Azfar. The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kinship and Sainthood in Islam. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.
  • Newman, Andrew J. Safavid Iran: Rebirth of a Persian Empire. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006,
  • Rūmlū, Ḥasan. A Chronicle of the Early Ṣafawīs, Being the Aḥsanu't-Tawārīkh. Translated by Charles Norman Seddon. Edited by Charles Norman Seddon, Gaekwad's Oriental Series. Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1934
  • Iskandar Beg Munshi. The history of Shah ‘Abbas the Great (Tārīḵ-e ‘Ālamārā-ye ʿAbbāsī). Translated by Roger M. Savory. Edited by Roger M. Savory. 2 vols, Persian heritage series. no. 28. Boulder: Westview Press, 1978
  • Babaie, Sussan. Isfahan and its palaces: statecraft, Shi'ism and the architecture of conviviality in early modern Iran. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008
  • Matthee, Rudolph P. Iran and the World in the Safavid Age, edited by Willem Floor and Edmund Herzig. London: I.B. Tauris, 2012
  • Aubin, Jean. Asian merchants and businessmen in the Indian Ocean and the China Sea, edited by Denys Lombard and Jean Aubin. Delhi, 2000


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules