SAYFI QAZVINI

SAYFI QAZVINI, NĀṢER-AL-DIN Mir Yaḥyā b. ʿAbd-al-Laṭif (b. Qazvin, 19 Ḏu’l-qaʿda, 885/20 January 1481; d. Isfahan, 8 Rabiʿ I, 962/ 31 January 1555), commonly known as Mir Yaḥyā, a Persian historian best known for his Lobb al-tawāriḵ, a chronicle dealing with the dynastic history of Iran from ancient times until the late 1540s.

LIFE

Mir Yaḥyā was born in Qazvin, where he completed his studies in hagiographical and biographical traditions (siar) as well as Persian prose and poetry (Kāmi, Nafāʾes, fol. 266v; Sayfi, Lobb al-tawāriḵ, p. 253). At that time, the Sayfis ranked among the landed notables of Qazvin and Deylamān in Gilān. They claimed descent from Ḥasan b. ʿAli, a grandson of the Prophet and the second Shiʿite imam. In the years leading up to the rise of Shah Esmāʿil I to power, a relative of Mir Yaḥyā named Mir ʿAbd-al-Malek or Mir Malek (d. 909/1503) is reported to have acted as commander-in-chief (sepahsālār) at the court of Kārkiā Mirzā ʿAli, ruler of Gilan, leading local forces against various claimants to power in ʿErāq-e ʿAjam and Gilan (Monši Qazvini, fol. 275v; Ḥasan Rumlu, p. 885; Sayfi, Lobb al-tawāriḵ, p. 257). In the latter part of the 15th century and beyond, the Sayfis along with the Jabali and the Ḵāledi families of Qazvin played an active part in the Naqšbandi propaganda activities in the city. Mir Yaḥyā had been initiated into the Naqšbandi Sufi order (ṭariqa) as a disciple of Ṣonʿ-Allāh Kuzakonāni (d. 931/1525), the spiritual leader of the brotherhood in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, which can be taken to imply a few years of residence in Tabriz early in the 16th century. Another prominent Naqšbandi with whom Mir Yaḥyā studied in Qazvin was Shaikh Mir Sayyed ʿAli ʿAmmādi, a leading Sunni cleric and mystic from Kurdistan, who in the summer of 924/1518 fled to Shiraz in the wake of the central authorities’ persecution of Sunni notables of Qazvin; but before making it to Fārs he was arrested by the Qezelbāš and executed shortly afterwards by the order of Durmeš Khan Šāmlu (d. 935/1529), brother-in-law of Shah Esmāʿil I and his deputy (wakil) in military and administrative affairs (Kāmi, Nafāʾes, fol. 268r; pace Algar, p. 22).

Under Shah Ṭahmāsp I (r. 930-84/1524-76), the Safavid authorities intensified their clampdown on the Naqšbandi activities in Tabriz and Qazvin, forcing many of the leading affiliates of the order in both cities, including some of Mir Yaḥyā’s friends and close relatives, out of Iran to the Ottoman Empire and Mughal India (Algar, pp. 8-24). For several years, the presence of Qāżi Jahān Sayfi Qazvini at the Safavid court as grand vizier had shielded his close family members from religious discrimination and persecution, but, shortly after his death in 960/1553, the Sayfi sayyeds of Qazvin, who had long been known as devoted Sunnis, suffered the loss of their privileged status and subsequently many of them fell victim to sectarian intolerance. The pretext based on which the family had been targeted for maltreatment at this time was that, as long as they resided in Qazvin, it would be impossible for the Safavids to convert the city as a whole to Shiʿite Islam so that it could be proclaimed as Ṭahmāsp I’s new capital (Kāmi, Nafāʾes, fol. 266v; Šāhnavāz Khan, III, p. 813; Ṣafā, V, p. 1635). Therefore, in the summer of 1553, a Qezelbāš military chief (qurči) from Salmās in Azerbaijan was assigned the task of relocating Mir Yaḥyā and his family from Qazvin to Isfahan as political exiles, where he spent the rest of his life as a prisoner (moqayyad). Less than two years later, he died at the age of seventy-seven in Isfahan on 8 Rabiʿ I 962/31 January 1555 (Kāmi, Nafāʾes, fol. 267r; Rieu, I, p. 104). 

Two sons of Mir Yaḥyā are known to have survived their father. They were Mir ʿAbd-al-Laṭif (d. 980-81/1572-73) and Mir ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla, known as Kāmi Qazvini (fl. 998/1590), who both left Iran for India in 962-63/1555-56 and ended up at Emperor Akbar’s court in Agra (ʿAllāmi, II, 19, tr. pp. 496-98; Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, fol. 167r).  

WORK

Sayfi's most noted work is the Lobb al-tawāriḵ, an abridged history of the life and times of the Prophet Moḥammad, the twelve Shiʿite imams, and the dynasties that ruled in Iran from the time of the mythical Pišdādi and Kayānid kings to the Safavid Ṭahmāsp I. Contents and various manuscripts of this chronicle are outlined and discussed by Charles Rieu (I, pp. 104-5), Edgard Blochet (I, no. 327, p. 226), and Charles A. Storey (tr., I, no. 268, pp. 399-403), as well as by Mir Hāšem Moḥaddeṯ, who has published the most recent edition of the work (Sayfi, Lobb al-tawāriḵ, pp. 10-11). A general catalogue of the manuscripts kept in major libraries of Iran lists more than forty available manuscripts of the Lobb al-tawāriḵ, a fact that attests to the wide circulation and readership it enjoyed in early modern Iran (Derāyati, VIII, nos. 235063-235103, col. 1006a-1007b).

Mir Yaḥyā wrote the Lobb al-tawāriḵ in the name of Prince Abu’l-Fatḥ Bahrām Mirzā, a younger brother of Ṭahmāsp I, with the objective of “propagating the good deeds and noble works” of the Safavid royal family (Sayfi, Lobb al-tawāriḵ, pp. 20, 22, 290; Kāmi, Nafāʾes, fol. 266v; Amin Aḥmad Rāzi, III, p. 176; cf. Blochet, I, no. 327, p. 226; Monzawi, VI, col. 4168b). The year 1549, in the autumn of which Bahrām Mirzā passed away (Ḡaffāri Qazvini, p. 299; ʿAbdi Beg Širāzi, p. 103; Ḵoršāh Ḥosayni, pp. 175-76), can be taken as the actual terminus ante quem for Mir Yaḥyā’s history, even though there is evidence that he continued to work on parts of it for at least a year more (Sayfi, Lobb al-tawāriḵ, p. 234). Sayfi’s account on the ruling dynasties of Iran in Islamic period mainly draws from more than five post-Mongol Persian chronicles, including the works of Ḥamd-Allāh Mostawfi, Šaraf-al-din ʿAli Yazdi, ʿAbd-Allāh Bayẓāvi, and Rašid-al-Din Fażl-Allāh Hamadāni. 

The Lobb al-tawāriḵ is organized into four parts (qesm). The first part (pp. 23-45) tells about the history of early Islam, including the lives and times of the Prophet and the twelve Shiʿite imams, with no mention of the Sunni rightly guided caliphs. The second part (pp. 46-77) is devoted to the history of the pre-Islamic dynasties of Iran from the Pišdādiān to the Sasanians. The third part (pp. 78-265) is divided into three chapters (maqāla) and six sections (bāb), each dealing with one of the dynasties that ruled in Iran over the course of the centuries that ensued following the Arab conquest of the country. The closing part (pp. 266-94) is devoted to the reigns of Shah Esmāʿil I (r. 1501-30) and his son and successor Ṭahmāsp I (r. 1530-84).

The most important parts of his history are those dealing with the history of Iran under the Qarā Qoyunlu and the Āq Qoyunlu tribal confederations and the first two Safavid monarchs. Each section consists of a series of individual entries dedicated to the reign of a specific ruler. All entries are packed with dates as well as brief descriptions of military campaigns and territorial conquests of each ruler. The sub-section (faṣl) dedicated to the Āq Qoyunlu rulers of Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and ʿErāq-e ʿAjam features a number of approving allusions to Uzun Ḥasan, whom Sayfi praises as champion of the šariʿa and administrative centralism (Sayfi, Lobb al-tawāriḵ, p. 249). These positive references can be found in almost all Safavid chronicles, so far as Uzun Ḥasan is concerned. Thus, contrary to what is claimed in modern scholarship (e.g., Woods, p. 221), they do not reflect Sayfi’s departure from the official Safavid line on the Āq Qoyunlu. The fourth part of the book is about the Safavids. Here the reign of Shah Esmāʿil I has received the lion’s share of attention. Unlike historians such as Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Ḵˇāndmir and Ṣadr-al-Din Ebrāhim Amini Heravi, whose accounts of the reign of Esmāʿil I often miss important dates, Sayfi’s narrative rests on a solid chronological foundation, a feature that makes it the precursor of annalistic historiography in Safavid Iran as exemplified in the works of such late 16th-century historians as Aḥmad Ḡaffāri Qazvini, Ḥasan Rumlu, and Aḥmad Ḥosayni Qomi. Despite its relative narrative independence and chronological precision, compared with most of the major Safavid chronicles of the 16th century, Sayfi’s account of the reign of Shah Esmāʿil I is notably economical. In particular, he eschews the verbosity and digression that define the historiographical style of chroniclers such as Ḵˇāndmir and Amini Heravi.

It is as a useful encyclopedic handbook on the history of Iran and Islam that the Lobb al-tawāriḵ has been of most interest to several generations of historians in Iran and abroad. Gilberto Gaulmine and Antonio Gallando prepared and published the first and only Latin translation of the work in 1690, which was reprinted in 1783. In 1848, Boris A. Dorn (pp. 3-14) published an edition of the sub-section III of section VI of the Lobb al-tawāriḵ in an article on the acquisitions of the Asiatic Museum of St. Petersburg in 1848. About a decade later, in 1859, Vladimir V. Vel’yaminov-Zernov (pp. 337-42, 368-69) published the Russian translation of the section dedicated to the history of the Shibanid rulers of the Uzbek Khanate of Samarqand. The Persian text has also been the subject of various editions; the first one, prepared by Sayyed Jalāl-al-Din Ṭehrāni, was published in 1935, followed in 1984 by the edition prepared by Moḥammad-Bāqer Nirumand Šuštari. The most recent edition is the one published by Mir Hāšem Moḥaddeṯ in 2007.

Bibliography: 

Works. 

Yaḥyā b. ʿAbd-al-Laṭif Sayfi Qazvini, Lobb al-tawāriḵ, ed. Sayyed Jalāl-al-Din Ṭehrāni, Tehran, 1935; ed. Moḥammad-Bāqer Nirumand Šuštari, Tehran, 1984; ed. Mir Hāšem Moḥaddeṯ, Tehran, 2007; Latin tr. Gilberto Gaulmino and Alberto Gallando, as Lubb-it Tavarich, seu Medulla Historiarum, Paris, 1690; repr. in Magazin für die neue Historie und Geographie Angelegt von D. Anton Friedrich Büsching XVII, 1783, pp. 1-180.

Idem, “Faṣl-e šešom [az qesm-e sevvom] dar ḏekr-e Āl-e Buya,” ed. B. A. Dorn, in “Die letzten Erwerbungen des Asiatischen Museums im Jahre 1848,” Mélanges asiatiques tirés du Bulletin historico-philologique de l’Académie Impériale des Sciences de St. Pétersbourg I, 1852, pp. 1-16; and for the Russian translation fo the section on the Shibānids, see V. V. Vel’yaminov-Zernov, “Monety Bukharskie i Khivinskie,” Vostochnonogo Otdeleniya Russkogo Arkheologicheskogo obshchestva IV, 1859, pp. 337-42, 368-69.

Sources.

ʿAbdi Beg Novidi Qavāmi Širāzi, Takmelat al-aḵbār: Tāriḵ-e Ṣafawiya az āḡāz tā sāl-e 978 hejri qamari, ed. ʿA. Ḥ. Navāʾi, Tehran, 1990. 

Amin Aḥmad Rāzi, Haft eqlim, ed. J. Fāżel, 3 vols. Tehran, 1950.

Abu’l-Faẓl b. Mobārak ʿAllāmi, Aḵbār-nāma, ed. ʿAbd-al-Raḥim, 3 vols., Calcutta, 1877-86; tr. H. Blochmann, as The Ain-i Akbari, Delhi, 1965. 

Budāq Monši Qazvini, Jawāher al-aḵbār, MS Dorn 288, St. Petersburg Public Library, St. Petersburg. 

Aḥmad Ḡaffāri Qazvini, Tāriḵ-e jahānārā, Tehran, 1964.

Ḵoršāh Ḥosayni, Tāriḵ-e ilči-e Neẓāmšāh: Tāriḵ-e Ṣafawiya az āḡāz tā sāl-e 972 hejri qamari, ed. M. R. Naṣiri and K. Haneda, Tehran, 2000. 

Fażli Beg Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, Afżal al-tawāriḵ, MS Or. 4678, British Library, London.

Ḥasan Rumlu, Aḥsan al-tawāriḵ, ed. ʿA. Ḥ. Navāʾi, Tehran, 2004. 

Ṣamṣām-al-Dawla Šāhnavāz Khan Awrangābādi, Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ, ed. M. A. ʿAli, 3 vols., Calcutta, 1888-91. 

ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla Kāmi b. Mir Yaḥyā Sayfi Qazvini, Nafāʾes al-maʾāṯer, Codex Persien 3, Die Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich.

Studies and catalogues. 

H. Algar, “Naqshbandīs and the Safavids: A Contribution to the Religious History of Iran and Her Neighbors,” in M. M. Mazzaoui, ed., Safavid Iran and Her Neighbors, Salt Lake City, 2003, pp. 7-48. 

E. Blochet, Catalogue des manuscrits persans de la Bibliothèque Nationale, 4 vols., Paris, 1905-34. 

M. Darāyati, Fehrestvāra-ye dastnevešthā-ye Irān, 12 vols., Tehran, 2010. 

A. Monzawi, Fehrest-e nosḵahā-ye ḵaṭṭi-e fārsi, 6 vols., Tehran, 1969-74.

C. Rieu, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum, 3 vols., London, 1879-83; repr., London, 1966. 

Ḏ. Ṣafā, Tāriḵ-e adabiyāt dar Iran, 5 vols. in 8, Tehran, 1990-91.

C. A. Storey, Persian Literature: A Bio-bibliographical Survey, rev. and tr. Yuri E. Bregel, as  Persidskaya literatura: Bio-bibliografichskiĭ obzor v trekh chastyakh, 3 vols., Moscow, 1972. 

J. E. Woods, The Aqquyunlu: Clan, Confederation, Empire, Salt Lake City, 1999.

(Kioumars Ghereghlou)

Cite this article:

Kioumars Ghereghlou, "SAYFI QAZVINI," Encyclopædia Iranicaonline edition, 2015, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/sayfi-qazvini (accessed on 26 August 2015).