Late Islamic Period
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Late Islamic Period: History

 

The late Islamic period was an age of empires, when the Islamic world was governed by three powerful dynasties: the Safavids in Iran; the Mughals in India; and the greatest of the late Islamic dynasties, the Ottomans, who ruled Anatolia, the Arab lands, and much of eastern Europe. Although the Ottomans already controlled all of Anatolia and parts of eastern Europe prior to 1453 and their conquest of Constantinople (thereafter Istanbul), which they made their capital, the sixteenth century was the Ottoman golden age.

In 1517 the Mamluk empire fell to the Ottomans, and by the middle of the sixteenth century Ottoman control extended from central Europe to the Indian Ocean. The Ottoman Empire reached the peak of its military and political potency under Sulayman the Magnificent (r. 1520–66), whose armies advanced as far west as Vienna. To Sulayman’s reign also belong some of the greatest achievements of Ottoman architecture, particularly the enormous and incomparable mosques and religious foundations that he had built in Istanbul.

Ottoman power began to weaken in the century following Sulayman’s death. For the first time the Ottoman army experienced large-scale military defeat at the hands of the Europeans, whose military and economic power continued to overwhelm them in the eighteenth century. The empire was finally dismantled following Ottoman defeat in World War I, with only Anatolia remaining under Turkish rule.

In the early sixteenth century Iran was united under the rule of the Safavid dynasty, whose members traced their descent to Shaykh Safi, a Sufi who founded a dervish order at Ardabil, in northwestern Iran. In 1501 the young and charismatic Ismacil Safavi seized control of northwestern Iran from the Aq Quyunlu and was proclaimed the first Safavid shah, in Tabriz, the new capital. Ismacil established Shicite Islam as the official religion of the Safavid state, which at the time consisted only of the province of Azerbayjan. Within a decade, however, all of Iran was under Safavid control.

The greatest of the Safavid rulers was Shah cAbbas (r. 1587–1629), who inherited a kingdom beset by political, financial, and military troubles. As part of his political and fiscal reforms, cAbbas transferred his capital to Isfahan, in central Iran, where he built a new city adjoining the old one. cAbbas also advocated trade with Europe, to which Iran exported silk, along with carpets, textiles, and ceramics. Under cAbbas, Iran reached new heights of power, prosperity, and opulence, and although his successors failed to match his achievements, they continued his traditions for another century, until the fall of the Safavid dynasty in 1732.

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Image in top banner:
Tile Panel, Turkey, Iznik, Ottoman, last quarter of the 16th century; fritware, underglaze painted; 29 1/2 x 52 3/4 in. (74.93 x 133.99 cm); The Nasli M. Heeramaneck Collection, gift of Joan Palevsky, M.73.5.6


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Text by Linda Komaroff, PhD, curator of Islamic art.
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