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Poets in Power

How poetry ran the Safavid dynasty

Published onApr 29, 2022
Poets in Power

Poetry is one of the oldest and most powerful art forms in the world. The Persian empire was also one of the most powerful in the world, at its peak it was one of the largest empires to exist, stretching from modern day Ukraine and Bulgaria down to Egypt and northern India. The Persians were the world's first superpower, established the first postal service, and were the first people to establish regular routes of communication between three continents - Africa, Asia and Europe. Persians also loved art in all its forms, nowadays mostly remembered for their rugs, other art forms were also largely celebrated and spread, especially poetry and literature. Persian literature was considered the dominant influence in cultured circles at the time, so if you were a hopeful wordsmith or politician in Persia, India, or Turkey, you had better know the Persian language and popular forms of prose, or else you wouldn’t get very far or be taken very seriously.

The Safavid dynasty was founded in 1501 by Ismail I, who was a prolific poet and a patron of the arts. Despite this, the Safavid dynasty is considered by many scholars and critics to have been a period of great decline for Persian literature as a whole, especially in terms of poetry. Even in this period of decline, the poets still had great amounts of power, their work influenced popular culture, elite culture, politics, and more. 

Our popular culture today is very powerful, impacting the way people speak, dress, and buy. Not much has changed in the past 500 years. The Safavid people heavily based things like clothing, speech patterns, and trade crafts on the popular poetry and prose forms of the time. Clothing and artwork would depict scenes from poems, and people would speak and write in ways that followed the patterns of prose that were popular at the time. The elite members of the Safavid court culture would use prose and cite poets during important political exchanges, even the kings would use poetry to taunt rival empires in war times, as many were poets themselves.

Religion was another very important part of everyday life back then, and religious poetry had the big responsibility of helping justify the rule of the current king. If the poets could reassure the people through prose that the king was fit to rule in the eyes of God, then of course they should accept him too.

It’s not hard to see how the poets held a lot of power in this time, their influence touched every part of life for every citizen within and outside of the empire. Below is a map showing a few key locations in the history of Persian poetry.

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