In the fifteenth century, Central Asia contained many militarily strong and reasonably well-organized groups, but Sunni Islam was the only source of transcendent credibility. In 1501, however, Shah Ismail descended on northwest Persia with an army of Shiites and established an empire to rival the Sunni Ottoman Empire. Thus, in the sixteenth century, the number of sources of transcendent credibility in northwest Persia increased from one to two, a transformation that significantly increased the distinctiveness of boundaries between political units.

As we have sufficiently detailed in the case studies that can be read in our Islam Code P.1 to 3, he Monopoly of Sunni Islam in Fifteenth Century Central Asia Sunni Islam stood alone as the source of transcendent credibility in centralAsia in the fifteenth century. During this century, the collapse of the Mongol government produced a political vacuum into which many political groups emerged. Five political units stand out in terms of military power and ability to establish a moderately stable government in Persia. Each of these units relied on Sunni Islam as their source of transcendent credibility. The only moderate challenge during this period, Sufism, although popular among many nomadic groups of northwestern and northeastern Iran, did not succeed in establishing itself in any stable political entity. Although Sufism posed a minor challenge and ultimately created fertile ground for the emergence of the Safavids, it did not affect the strategies of the major political units in a serious manner.

Sunni Islam served as the source of transcendent credibility among all five of the major political entities in Persia in the fifteenth century. The Ottoman Turks in the west were a growing power, expanding in all directions from their center in western Anatolia (modern Turkey), eventually capturing Constantinople in 1453. Ottoman interest in Persia was limited to keeping the peace among their more rebellious subjects in central and eastern Anatolia and maintaining overland trade routes with India and China. The more desirable objects of expansion lay to the south and the west of the Ottoman capital, not to the east.

In eastern Anatolia and Azerbaijan, two Turkmen tribes faced off against one another: the Qara Qoyunlu (or Black Sheep) and the Aq Qoyunlu (or White Sheep). Both of these rivals were Sunni. Many scholars had believed that the Black Sheep were Shia or at least possessed strong Shia tendencies.151 The more recent consensus among Islamic historians is that this was not the case. There is very little evidence to support a Shia Black Sheep. What likely occurred was that later historians attempting to understand the rivalries and alliances among the many groups during this period saw the Black Sheep sandwiched between two Sunni powers, the Ottoman and the White Sheep, and assumed, based on scant evidence, that the Black Sheep must be Shia.152 There is far more evidence suggesting the Black Sheep were Sunni, despite some Shia anomalies.

In the east and the south two groups dominated in succession. The Timurids largely consisted of the Sunni Persians who inherited the area from the collapsed Mongol empire.153 The government of this Sunni group disintegrated due to internal struggles for power. Invaders from the northeast, the Ozbegs, took advantage of this opportunity and began to settle in eastern Persia. The Ozbegs were also Sunni, sharing the religious orientation of the region. By the time they reached southern  Persia, however, the Ozbegs were stretched thin and did not so much replace the Timurids as created a power vacuum that the Shia Safavids were later able to exploit. Given the dominance of Sunni Islam, it is important to understand how a ruling group could use it as a source of transcendent credibility and a means of legitimating its authority. In particular, Sunni Islam possessed four important aspects that had implications on associated political theories.154

First, the Sunni believed that Allah communicates with man primarily, even exclusively, through the Scriptures and the prophets. Since Mohammed was the last and the greatest of the prophets, the Koran is the principal means man has to follow Allah. Thus, Allah interacts with man only indirectly. It is the magnificence of Allah that necessitates this distant relationship.155 The Sunni believed that Allah occasionally communicated with man through prophets, but many human attempts to communicate with God revealed only the pride of man, the worst of the sins.

Second, interpretation of the Scripture could not be done by just anyone. Likewise, there was no one person who was uniquely qualified to interpret the Scripture. Instead, Koranic interpretation depended on an informal “consensus” of the scholarly community. Individual Muslims gravitated toward particular teachers (ulama), possibly even to the exclusion of other teachers, yet the community in general relied on the dialogue generated among the various teachers and schools of theology.156 Still, this dialogue should not be confused with a “free” exchange of ideas. Interpretations must be founded on the Koranic texts. In addition, traditional interpretations of Islamic law carried more weight than novel or innovative interpretations. Third, as alluded to above, individual Muslims had some freedom in choosing which of the ulama they would follow. While this is far from what the moderns would call tolerance, there was a certain degree of acceptance of alternative points of view provided they were aligned with the Koran, professed by a legitimate teacher, and not significantly different from traditional interpretations of Islamic Law (Sharia). Fourth, Sunnis believed that the caliph did not necessarily need to be a descendent of Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of Mohammed, as opposed to the Shia who argued that the caliph’s pedigree was essential. The caliph led the more traditionally political and military aspects of government: enforcing the law, defending Islam, managing the economy, and supervising the government. After the first century of Islam, the caliph had increasingly fewer specifically religious responsibilities, but continued to symbolize the unity of the entire Muslim community.

There were several political theories in circulation as to why a particular caliph was the legitimate ruler. However, the method of selecting the caliph was less important to the Sunni-Shia divide than whether the caliph descended from Ali. This had very  important political implications, but only in contrast to the Shia political theories and so discussion of it will be postponed for a later section.

The most significant challenge to the Sunni monopoly as a source of transcendent credibility was Sufism, a movement that flowered in Persia during the period under consideration. The presence of Sufism complicated the rather simplified outline of Sunni Islam and its accompanying political theory described above. Sufism is a generic term for the many mystical movements within Islam that believed man could experience direct contact with Allah under certain conditions.157 Only the most devout could truly attain contact with Allah, so clearly not every person was capable of achieving a direct link with Allah, even for a short period. Still, the belief that such contact was possible posed a powerful challenge to more traditional forms of Sunni Islam.

It is no coincidence that Sufism was very successful among the nomadic peoples who lived on the edges of larger empires.158 First, because the schools and theorists of scholarly Islam were primarily centered in urban centers, they had a minimal impact on the rural, nomadic, and uneducated people that dominated northwest Persia. Second, the opposition of the nomads to Ottoman policies became conflated with opposition to the Empire’s religious establishment, the Sunni schools and scholars. As the Empire extended its power into frontiers populated by nomads, it asked these wanderers to become sedentary. Sufi beliefs greatly coincided with feelings of rebellion against these new circumstances both in terms of religion and  politics. The Sufi who could achieve direct contact with Allah could not be contained by traditional religion any more than the imperial bureaucracies could contain the nomadic way of life.

For their part, Sunni governments repressed the Sufi movements for both religious and political reasons. Sufi ideas were particularly popular among other Ottoman rural populations who, not coincidentally, lived in areas beyond the everyday reach of the bureaucracy. Sufi teachers would periodically stir up the Turkish warriors to undertake holy wars on behalf of Allah. Some of the wandering Sufi dervishes openly opposed any contact with the governmental authorities.159 In short, among the rural population in eastern Turkey, the Sufi teachers often held more authority than the Ottoman rulers.

The Ottoman experimented with various ways of gaining control over the Sufi portions of their population. In the fourteenth century, for example, several Sufi brotherhoods had achieved success among the Ottoman masses. In response, the Ottoman rulers “extended their patronage” to the Sufi elites.160 This gave the Empire much greater control over the madrasa educational system in the region. In turn, state sponsorship and funding of the religious schools for the various sects gave the Ottoman a greater degree of control over the messages that were communicated to the masses and the next generation of ulamas.
Sufism was not merely a political maneuver. It appealed to the nomadic peoples for a number of reasons, not the least of which was a true belief in its tenets.161

The Mongol invasions of the fourteenth century and the collapse of those empires in the fifteenth produced a large degree of uncertainty among the peoples in Persia. Sufi preachers stepped in to fill this void. Not only did these Sufi teachers perform miracles and even magic, they gave the people hope in a future in which a savior would come and establish a new order. They preached of the qutb, the central “pole” around which the interests of the world revolved and that was periodically manifest in a great saint or leader of the people.162 The qutb would come and protect the oppressed peoples of the world. It was into this religious milieu that Shah Ismail, the leader of the Safavids, would later step.

Sufism thrived among the nomadic tribes in eastern Anatolia and among the White Sheep, once they had eliminated their Black Sheep competitors. Under their most powerful leader, Uzun Hasan, the White Sheep began to permit a great deal of Sufism to infiltrate their rather traditional forms of Sunni Islam.163 It is likely that Uzun Hasan saw this as a way of differentiating the White Sheep from their former allies the Ottoman. It may also have been a strategic decision intended to attract the support of the nomadic tribes within the Ottoman eastern frontier. Whatever the reason, the introduction of Sufi elements into the White Sheep drew the wrath of the  Ottoman, who sent an army that soundly defeated Uzun Hasan at Bashkent in 1473.164

Uzun Hasan’s successors, recognizing that a continuation of Sufi toleration was a suicidal policy since Ottoman gunpowder could easily decimate White Sheep cavalry, attempted reforms to restore orthodox Sunni laws. But Sufi beliefs had already taken root in the region and the outcome was a civil war. It was into this very favorable situation that Shah Ismail and the Safavids entered the scene. Thus, the short-lived Sufism of the White Sheep created fertile ground in the southern Caucasus region for the eventual success of the Shiite Safavids. In northwest Persia, the unique hybridized version of Sufism and Shiism that the Safavids introduced provided the Shia with a staging ground from which to proselytize the rest of Persia. However, besides Uzun Hasan’s brief and relatively localized attempt to introduce a new source of transcendent credibility into fifteenth century Central Asia, Sunni Islam maintained its monopoly as the only source in the system. Thus, according to the hypothesis, prior to the arrival of the Shia Safavids, the boundaries between the political units in this region should have been either indistinct or nonexistent.

It is difficult to locate reliable information on boundaries in fourteenth and fifteenth Central Asia. Much of the administration of the Ottoman Empire, particularly in its remote eastern regions, was not committed to written records.165 The region of eastern Anatolia, northern Iran, and the Caucasus Mountains during this period was populated almost entirely by rural populations and nomadic peoples.

Aside from a few towns, this region was bereft of urban populations. It is rather simple to draw borders around urban populations since cities rarely change territory. Nomads, on the other hand, present greater difficulties for anyone seeking to make an exclusive claim to a territory and receive compliance from its residents. The relative unimportance of Eastern Anatolia within the Empire coupled with the nomadic nature of much of this population suggested more practical forms of record-keeping. Unfortunately, these methods have generally left little information that is accessible to the modern scholar.

Increased attempts by the Ottoman Empire to settle the nomads in this area was actually a catalyst to religious, political, and ideological movements that eventually resulted in the success of the Safavids.166 Thus, an examination of the boundaries of this period should begin by noting that even if there were efforts by local or imperial administrators to draw distinct political lines – and it is far from certain that this was  the case – these attempts proved largely unsuccessful in the face of the nomadic peoples of the region who resisted and revolted to prevent such demarcations.

The more central question to this case, however, is whether there were distinct boundaries between the Ottoman Empire and either of the region’s two main political units: the Black Sheep or the White Sheep. An analysis of the proxy variables for distinctiveness of boundaries in this region reveals that, in fact, the boundaries between these political units were extremely indistinct, as the hypothesis predicts. The Ottoman Empire and the Turkmen tribes were either uninterested in or unable to impose hegemonic authority on frontier peoples. Rural populations and nomadic peoples had a variety of authority figures with which they could comply. In addition to the Ottoman and the two Turkmen tribes, wandering Sufi teachers and other holy men asked for and received the support of the people of this region. These teachers encouraged the development of local folk culture, which in turn fed into the peoples’ resistance to attempts by any larger political authority to make them subject.167 They saw themselves as fighting holy wars (jihads) for broader Islam or battles to maintain their independence. The Sufi teachers told the people that their time and resources must go to preparing the world for the coming salvation, not to
enrich far away rulers. Distance and the threat of resistance forced the Ottoman and Turkmen to take what they could get. The people of this region also had the  opportunity – and used it – to ask for assistance from more than one authority figure.168

Perhaps even more importantly, they usually asked for no assistance at all. If the Ottoman pushed their authority too hard, there was a real danger that the people in the region would side with the Turkmen tribes, as happened in the reign of Uzun Hasan. Knowing this, the Ottoman rarely demanded compliance using force. As a result, the peoples of the region were often left to their own devices. They developed a folk culture replete with poetry, theater, and local heroes.169 The culture developed around their role as holy warriors (ghazi) battling against the Georgians, Circassians, and Byzantines.170 Another undertone of this folk culture was a separation between the rural people living on the edge of Islam and the urban elites, who the Sufi suggested had grown complacent in their practice of Islam.171 The nomadic Turkish people of the eastern provinces saw themselves as acting on their own for the greater good of Islam.

Thus, it is no surprise that the Ottoman and Turkmen tribes were unable to generate compliance in these frontier areas. Historians have considered Ottoman taxation one of the fairest systems in the pre-modern world. One author describes the system as “in general simpler and less liable to abuse than earlier systems of feudal  services.”172 However, the use of econometric analysis has more recently led economic historian Metin Cosgel to suggest that Ottoman tax policy was driven more by “simple pragmatism and concern with political stability” than by vague ideas of fairness or equity.173 In some cases, Ottoman policies of the period consciously gave up economic efficiency in exchange for greater economic stability.174

The Ottoman faced many problems with collecting taxes in northwest Persia. Personal taxes in the Ottoman Empire came from two main sources: trade taxes brought to market for sale and production taxes on farming and manufacturing.175 Both of these sources of revenue are largely absent in nomadic communities. However, even in the areas where there were settlements, the Ottoman pragmatically allowed landlords who had been there before the Ottoman conquest to continue to collect the taxes.176 Thus, much of the ability to control taxation was out of the direct hands of the bureaucracy and large amounts of the taxes collected were not passed on to the central government.

Another source of inefficiency came from the Sufi teachings in the region. They preached that all resources belonged to Allah. In the Ottoman Empire, and most of the Islamic world, there were two types of taxes: taxes that fit within Islamic law  (tithes and alms) and taxes that did not (tax to the government).177 Where the line between these two types of taxes was drawn became a subject for interpretation. The Sufis instructed the people of the region to pay their teachers the former, but deny the Ottoman the latter. This money would be better spent on the jihad occurring there in northwestern Iran than back in Istanbul. The same was true for military service: the local jihad was more important than the Empire’s distant battles. It was not until the mid-1500s, after the emergence of Shiism in the region, that the Ottoman bureaucrats and religious leaders offered a more formal interpretation of its tax system in which many of the personal taxes were to be included under Islamic law.178

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire did very little to reverse these inefficiencies just listed. The Ottoman possessed enough military strength to capture Byzantium, advance into the Balkans, and hold off most of its rivals in Asia Minor. However, despite this power, the Ottoman did not consolidate its authority in the eastern portion of its Empire sufficiently to silence the Sufis, to wrest power from the local landlords, or to settle the nomads. Such actions would, at a minimum, have required different military technology than the Ottoman possessed. However, the absence of another source of transcendent credibility in the region supported by a major political unit meant that the Ottoman lacked an incentive to change the status quo.

The relative indistinctiveness of the boundaries between political units in northwest Persia may also be inferred from the Ottoman Empire’s lack of credible  commitment to defend these frontier territories from rivals in the East. There is little to no evidence that anything existed resembling distinctive lines of defense between political units in Persia in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It can reasonably be argued that there were stretches of “no-man’s land” separating political units. One indication was the dominant military technology of the region: the nomad on horseback. Such soldiers were incredibly ill-suited for defense. A second reason may be the lack of urban centers that could provide supplies for a defensive line. As long as there was only a single source of transcendent credibility in the region, the Ottoman and the Turkmen tribes lacked any incentive to develop new military technology or new urban centers to permit the construction of more distinctive lines of defense.

This was true despite the fact that the degree of military threats in the region was rather great. The White Sheep, for example, fought the Black Sheep, the Timurids, and the Ottoman. Historian David Morgan suggests that one of the reasons the White Sheep at their height were so successful was because they avoided overextension after victories.179 One strategy was to leave large stretches of unclaimed territory between the major political units. After the White Sheep victory over the Timurids in 1469, they left the vulnerable areas of northeastern Iran (Transoxania and Khurasan) open. The centers of these empires were far more important strategically than the frontier zones. Rival militaries that entered one’s frontier could be dealt with, but otherwise there was no incentive to defend outlying regions.

The Ottoman used the same strategy on its eastern side. Diplomatic negotiations began in 1472 when an embassy from Venice met with the White Sheep  leader, Uzun Hasan. Within a few months, the Ottoman decisively defeated Uzun Hasan. However, the Ottoman did not follow up this victory with the capture of any significant territory. The focus of the Ottoman at this moment was on their European flank – a site of an alternate source of transcendent credibility. The goal in the East was to keep neighbors from stirring up revolts in the region. Although the true motives of the Ottoman still elude us, it is possible to argue that the Ottoman strategy was to prevent the region from drifting further into Sufism or alliance with the Christians. In other words, the Ottoman actively sought to preserve the status quo of one source of transcendent credibility in the region. Military defeat without subsequent territorial follow-up kept a Sunni power in place in northwestern Iran without the expense to the Ottoman of conquering this region.

The 1473 battle was one of the very few times prior to 1500 when the Ottoman sent a large force the eastern portion of their empire. Standing armies were not stationed in the eastern portion of the Ottoman Empire, except in the relatively few cities. The military goal was not to keep invaders out, but to keep a semblance of peace within. Sufism was the true enemy, not the White Sheep. All of this is even more remarkable given the strategic and economic importance of the region. The Ottoman relied on the trade routes through northern Iran and through the Caucasus Mountains. These overland routes were significant to the Ottoman economy, especially given the growth of Venetian sea power in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Thus, it is noteworthy that the Ottoman did not take stronger measures in the eastern half of their empire. The Ottoman strategy in the east only changed once northwestern Iran fell into the hands of the Shiite Safavids.

Another piece of evidence that northwest Persia prior to 1500 held relatively indistinct or non-existent boundaries is that no political entity was able to establish a hierarchical judicial system in the area. The presence of an alternate source of transcendent credibility on the Ottoman western flank (Christianity) complicates the analysis of this proxy. On the one hand, the Ottoman had a very hierarchical judicial system and maintained strict control over appointments and rulings throughout the empire.180 However, on the other hand, they were only partly successful in achieving the same degree of control over the judicial system in the eastern portion of their empire. The local people often called upon the wandering Sufi teachers, for example, to mediate disputes.181 The Ottoman judicial system, while extensive, did not reach very far beyond the cities, plus this region held few cities that ulama, judges, and professors of law found suitable to their position. Thus, local people could choose to either have a Sufi holy man hear and mediate a dispute or take the case to the nearest town and have the thinly stretched Ottoman bureaucracy assist in settling the issue.

These were two clearly different judicial structures, unlinked in any fashion.Both parties made efforts to reduce the influence of the other within the region.The Sufis relied on persuasion, which proved insufficient to remove the authority of the Ottoman completely from the area. On the other hand, while the Ottoman possessed more force capabilities and tried on occasion to use these to reduce the influence of the Sufis, these efforts also came up short. Thus, a tenuous stalemate was  tolerated in the region between all of the authority figures. No authority figure had the necessary incentives to start a full-scale assault on the influence of any of the others. The end result was that frontier individuals had the opportunity (and used it) to choose the most advantageous judicial venue. Similarly, the Ottoman Empire also lacked sufficient incentives to impose standardization of currency and other economic measurements in the region. The sheer size of the Ottoman Empire meant that attempts to standardize money and measurements would be an enormous problem. The central Ottoman government had minted coins from the very early years of its existence, but this was no guarantee that the money would be used. Examinations of the tahrir defters (imperial tax registers) reveal that not only were regional units of measurement used, they were also often used in the imperial bureaucracy’s record keeping.182

From its inception to the 1500s, the Ottoman Empire increased the standardization of its coinage within Anatolia and the Balkans.183 Still, before 1500, the Ottoman also encouraged the use of other forms of currency within the Empire. For example, the Ottoman used the Venetian ducat, the gold coin of their Mediterranean rivals, as the standard for their own gold sultani.184 On its peripheries, including eastern Anatolia, the use of non-Ottoman currencies was even more pronounced. In newly conquered territories, there was often a locally familiar currency already in place. Obviously, to replace these currencies with the Ottoman currency would have had the effect of undermining the local economies and producing unrest. In addition, imposition of a new currency and mints would have been extremely costly to the central government. The Ottoman thus allowed the former currencies to continue to circulate in the peripheral areas, at least until the sixteenth century.

In sum, these proxy variables demonstrate that before the arrival of the Shia Safavid state in the early sixteenth century, the region of northwest Persia and eastern Anatolia lacked a distinctive boundary. The Sunni political units of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkmen dynasties lacked the incentives necessary to make such an investment in the region. The status of the boundaries in this region changed, however, with the arrival of new source of transcendent credibility in the region that possessed the necessary military capabilities to pose a threat to the Sunni political units also vying for control of the area. As has been suggested in the discussion above, it is important to consider that some of these proxy variables do not hold if one examines the entire Ottoman Empire throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In particular, along the Ottoman-Christian boundary there is much more evidence that a distinctive boundary was in place. For instance, in this region and in the Balkans, once they were captured, the Ottoman used the timar tax system.185 Here, the central government appointed sipahis, state employees who had proven themselves in war, to live in the rural areas and collect taxes and raise and train provincial troops. This is a significant contrast to  the system of local landlords the Ottoman used in eastern Anatolia to collect taxes.

Thus, when modern historians talk about the centralizing efforts of Mehmet II (1451-81), the application of these measures tended to be in regions that bordered alternative sources of transcendent credibility, not in areas bordering other Sunni political units.186 Thus, the locations of the exceptions in the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century provide more evidence in favor of the overarching hypothesis.

Safavid Shiism: A New Source of Transcendent Credibility in the System

At the start of the sixteenth century, a group known as the Safavids conquered northwestern Persia, breaking the monopoly Sunni Islam had enjoyed in the region. Shiism, the source of transcendent credibility in the Safavid state, posed theological and political threats to its Sunni neighbors, compelling the Ottoman in the west and, later, the Mughal in the east to adjust their frontier strategies and increase the distinctiveness of their boundaries with the Safavids.From the very beginnings of Islam, Shiites saw themselves as something other than the more numerous Sunnis. Many of their beliefs were crucially different and their ecclesial structures also developed in very different forms. Sunni political leaders now faced Shiite ulema, backed by the forces of a political unit, declaring the bases of Sunni governments to be heretical.187 Thus, the emergence of a Shiite state in Persia was considerably unwelcome to the Ottoman Empire.

Shiism entered the region in force in 1501, when Shah Ismail led an army out of the Caucasus Mountains and into northern Iran, conquering the remnants of the Turkmen tribes that ruled there. His support came from the various tribes in the region that tended toward the Sufi teachings and a warrior lifestyle. Ismail claimed Safi al-Din (1252-1334), the famous Sufi leader, as his ancestor, thus his family name was Safavid. Ismail was able to consolidate his victory and expand his empire in all directions, eventually controlling an area spanning large sections of modern Iraq and Iran.

Exactly what system of belief Shah Ismail I brought with him when he and the Safavids captured northern Iran remains a subject of debate.188 By the end of the 1500s, it the Safavid state was certainly a Shia state, but the initial Shiism of Ismail and his main supporters, the Qizilbash, was better described as a “melting-pot” of many Sunni, Sufi, and Shia beliefs.189 However, at least from the perspective of the Safavid’s neighbors, from the beginning the source of transcendent credibility was assuredly perceived as not Sunni. The Sufis who had roamed northern Iran stirring up occasional revolts had been worrisome, but lacked sufficient strength to cause longterm problems. The situation was dramatically different now. Many of the beliefs of the Sufis had been combined with the might of an army and the long-term stability of a government. The Ottoman government required a new strategy on its eastern boundary.

Shia Islam and Sunni Islam were clearly two different sources of transcendent credibility and were recognized as such by contemporaries. While the content of the Safavid’s Shia source of transcendent credibility changed through the sixteenth century, the Sunni Ottoman reacted aggressively against it in all its manifestations. Since the later and more traditional form of Shiism, Twelver Shiism, is the one that eventually dominated Safavid interpretations, this is the one the following analysis will compare with Sunni Islam. Twelver Shiism was not new with the emergence of the Safavids, though it had found its most effective champion in them. The split between Sunnis and Shiites dates back to first century of Islam. Twelver Shiites believe that there have been twelve infallible imams, all descended from Muhammed’s son-in-law and cousin, Ali. A division almost immediately occurred between the Shiites, who believed only a descendent of Ali could become imam, and the Sunnis, who believed that the imam did not need to be a descendent of Ali. Each group named separate imams as the leaders of Islam. In 874, the Shiites’ twelfth imam disappeared. Of course, he may have been abducted and killed by his enemies, but the Shiites believe he went into hiding, is still alive, and will return again to take power and spread the true religion.
Those who share this messianic notion are called Twelver Shiites. Though a complex theology surrounding these beliefs has been developed for centuries, for the purposes of this discussion there are five main tenets that set Twelver Shiism apart from Sunni Islam.

First, in Safavid Shiite theology, Allah communicated to man indirectly through Scriptures and directly through the imam. Because the imam descended from  Ali, Allah made him infallible. Thus, when the imam interpreted Scripture or made a pronouncement on some topic, his word represented that of Allah. The Sunnis do not allow that any teacher has infallibility.

Second, the caliph should be a direct descendent of Muhammad and Ali. For the Shiites, Ali was both Allah’s hujja, meaning he was Allah’s proof or evidence, and he was Allah’s wali, meaning he was Allah’s close friend.190 Thus, Ali, like Muhammad, stood in the gap between men and Allah, permitting some limited communication between the two realms. Likewise, the direct descendents fulfilled this same function. This was incredibly significant theologically and politically because it allowed the selection of any spiritual or temporal ruler to be made by Allah, not men. Only Allah could choose who descended from Muhammad and, therefore, only Allah could choose who was qualified to rule the people. An “election” of a spiritual leader was tantamount to humans attempting to interpose their will where only Allah’s will should carry the day.

Third, Shiites emphasized the imposition of doctrine by the imam, rather than through the consensus of a scholarly community. While the Sunnis relied on the plurality of the ulama and the emergence of a consensus from among their teaching and writings, the Shiites depended on the infallibility of the imam. Even unanimity could be wrong, let alone a consensus. Infallibility, by definition, was always right. This, in turn, produced ecclesiastical structures that were far more hierarchical than Sunni counterparts.

Fourth, believers could not “choose” which of the ulama they followed. Again, if the imam was infallible, then there was no choice. Of course, practically speaking, there could be disagreements on minor matters among the Shiites that would be seen as beneath the imam to address and, therefore, different schools of thought could still emerge within Shiism. This, however, was a very different situation than that presented by Sunni Islam in which different sects strictly speaking had no overarching interpretative authority.

Fifth, the Hidden Imam (the mahdi) would return someday. This added an explicitly eschatological aspect to the practice of Islam that had a very important political dimension among the Safavid. The world must be prepared so that the mahdi could return. Because the mahdi would not return until the time was right, the duty of every believer was to transform the world. From a political standpoint, this likewise became the purpose of the government. Thus, Shiite military zeal was not focused entirely on the Sunni. The Safavid state was incredibly hostile toward non-Muslim minority populations.191 However, practically speaking, this meant that jihad, or holy war, was no longer merely directed at Christians – the Sunni hindered the return of the mahdi as much or more than anyone else.

The early Shiism of Shah Ismail and the Qizilbash shared all of these aspects of Twelver Shiism, which made the later transition to more orthodox beliefs much smoother. But, Ismail went much further. Depending on which source one reads, Ismail can be seen referring to himself as a prophet, the mahdi, Ali, or even Allah. At  the very least, his followers saw him as someone who was in direct contact with Allah and who would usher in the next phase of the world, though there was disagreement over whether he was the mahdi or was the person who would prepare the way for the mahdi.

The Qizilbash devoted themselves to Ismail, giving him the military power necessary to take over northern Persia and consolidate his rule. A weakness in Ismail’s radical formulation of Shiism as the source of transcendent credibility was revealed when he lost to the Ottoman at the battle of Chaldiran in 1514.192 Ismail had never lost a battle before and this had added to the truth of his divine claims. After the battle, however, not only did he fall into fits of depression, the Qizilbash also began to question his true status. The Qizilbash continued to support Ismail, but material reasons were now combined with spiritual ones.

It is from this point that the native Persians began to gain more power in government and religious matters. Also, many more “orthodox” Shiite teachers throughout the Islamic world began to flock to the new Safavid territories and had the effect of moderating the more radical versions of Qizilbash belief.193 The effect was a shift from the more radical version of Shiism originally professed by Ismail to a more orthodox Twelver Shiism.194 This reinterpreted Shiite source of transcendent credibility effectively united the Turkish military class and the Persian bureaucratic  class, a union that would have been all but impossible without an effective overarching ideology.195

Not only were there theological differences between Shiism and Sunni Islam, these differences produced political outcomes that made the sudden appearance of Shiism in northern Iran a threat to the Ottoman source of transcendent credibility. Clearly, both the Sunni and the Shia share the same ultimate source of Allah. However, in a manner parallel to Protestant and Roman Catholic distinctions in Europe, each group has a very different means of linking the authority of Allah to the authority of the ruler. It is for this reason that Sunni Islam and Shiism may be considered different sources of transcendent credibility.
For the Sunnis, Allah has no direct connection to man (except the Koran).

Believers are left with lots of freedom to choose between different ulamas and schools, which implied a meritocracy among the religious teachers. Politically, this meant that the legitimacy of the ruler was largely tied to his ability. In the Ottoman Empire, for example, legitimacy often required stability within the Empire and territorial expansion. Muslim rulers would also try to maintain their legitimacy through the patronage of notable religious scholars. They gave gifts, made endowments (awqaf), and created places within the government for the more popular teachers, who tended to produce fatwas that supported the government.196 In these ways, a Sunni ruler could demonstrate that he ruled with the support of Allah, even though Allah did not communicate directly with men. This is not to suggest that  subjects had the freedom to judge the ruler’s effectiveness openly, nor that the people had a “right” to choose a more effective ruler. In ordinary circumstances, the fact that the ruler was the ruler was often enough in to verify that the ruler worked on behalf of Allah.197

It is important to note that the Sunni religious leaders did not call for the exclusion of Shiites from the community of Islam.198 From the Sunni standpoint, Shiism is just one of the many possible schools of thought. However, due to Shiism’s exclusionary nature, Sunni rulers were not willing to allow this particular school of thought to gain a stable political foothold. The Shiites, on the other hand, were not as inclusive as the Sunnis. They clearly defined the boundaries between their beliefs and those of the Sunni. For example, to the central Islamic tenet that “there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet,” the Shiites added the phrase “and Ali is the friend of Allah.”199 The Sunni rejected this phrase.

For the Shiites, Allah did have direct connection with man: the imam. If the imam was among the people, he was not just the best spiritual and temporal ruler – he was the only legitimate one. Legitimacy was not determined by outcomes, as it was for the Sunni. Legitimacy could only come via birth and heritage. Subjects had absolutely no say in who the ruler was or evaluating the job he was doing. Allah  determined the ruler through birth. Thus, submitting to the ruler was the same as submitting to Allah.

Of course, one problem for the Shiites was that the rightful heir of Ali was still in hiding, raising the question of how government should operate in his absence. The solution was something akin to stewardship. The leader of a Shia government was granted the authority he needed on the condition that he prepared the world for the return of the mahdi.200 The religious leaders had the ability to declare the ruler as delinquent in his responsibilities as steward and remove him, an event that occurred most recently in Iran in 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini removed the Shah. The spiritual realm thus trumped the temporal sphere in Shiism to an extent it did not and could not within Sunni Islam.

Practically speaking, contemporaries saw these two sources of transcendent credibility as different and threatening to each other.201 Not only did the Shiite Safavid “self conscious sense of self-righteousness make cooperation with Sunnis difficult, but it led to extravagant claims and aggressive activities.”202 As was mentioned earlier, Ismail redefined the term jihad so that the Sunni Ottoman became the primary targets rather than Christians.203 Over the next two centuries, Safavid rulers and Christian rulers would develop numerous alliances that were partly trade  related and partly directed against the Sunni Ottoman Empire.204 The Ottoman, for their part, recognized that the Shiism of the Safavids was especially attractive to persons living in central and eastern Anatolia. Almost immediately, people on the Ottoman eastern frontier, who thanks to centuries of Sufi influence shared many of the same beliefs as the newly emerged Shiite state, began to drift into the Safavid sphere of influence. Ismail sent envoys into eastern Anatolia who were instructed to stir up the population there and bring them into the Safavid sphere of influence.205

The Ottoman “could not fail to notice” that there was a flow of compliance eastward.206 In fact, the growing instability in East helped precipitate the abdication of the Ottoman ruler Sultan Bayezid in favor of his son Selim the Grim, who immediately turned his attention eastward.207 Selim understood the crisis in the east very well. He had been the governor of an eastern province during the early years of Shah Ismail and watched as Ismail transformed himself from a local religious leader into the fanatical leader of a massive army. Selim fully comprehended that this was no ordinary revolt or invading army – it was an army in possession of an alternate source of transcendent credibility that would have tremendous appeal among the subjects of eastern Anatolia.208 Selim’s every action in the east supported the hypothesis that the arrival of a new source of transcendent credibility necessitated a new strategy with respect to the boundaries of the two political units. This Sunni-Shiite rivalry did not dissipate after the Ottoman victory at Chaldiran in 1514. On the contrary, it has shaped economic, social, religious, and political realities in eastern Anatolia and northern Iran up to the present day.

The Shiite Safavids faced a threat not only from the Sunni Ottoman Empire, but also from the emergence of the Sunni Mughal state in India. Forced out of the eastern edges of the Safavid empire by Shah Ismail’s armies, a local leader known as Babur entered the political vacuum of northern India in the 1520s. With the help of gunpowder, his army had a relatively easy time taking control of vast stretches of India. The control of Babur’s Mughal dynasty was still somewhat tenuous until Babur’s grandson, Akbar (1556-1605), took the reigns of power and turned his realm into a full-fledged empire. The Mughal depended on a source of transcendent credibility relatively similar to the Sunni Islam of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, central Asia in the sixteenth century contained three major political units and two sources of transcendent credibility. Being surrounded on both sides by a different source of transcendent credibility exacerbated the perceived threat the Safavids faced. When Shah Ismail I first conquered the eastern portion of his territory (modern Afghanistan and southeastern Iran) in the 1510s and early 1520s, there was no credible political unit threatening Shiism on the eastern flank. Within a decade, this situation changed dramatically. Therefore, if the hypothesis holds in the case of the Safavids, the distinctiveness of the borders along the eastern portion of the Safavid state should have increased by at least the 1530s.

This, in fact, was the case. Ismail had left local princes in control of the territory on the eastern edges of the Safavid state. These rulers were ostensibly loyal  to Ismail, but were not hierarchically connected to the central government. In 1536, however, Tahmasp I, the Safavid ruler who succeeded Ismail I, appointed a governor for the eastern region of Lahijan to replace the local prince Ismail had left as ruler.209 This move was a direct response to the rise of the Sunni Mughal Empire. Throughout the mid-sixteenth century, the Safavids continued to replace local princes with governors appointed by the central government, turning what was a frontier region into portions of a unified state. The border that eventually emerged between Safavids and Mughal stayed largely intact for the next two hundred years. Several attempts were made by the Mughal to conquer the Qandahar region (in modern Afghanistan), but all of these ended with the Mughal being pushed back into India.210 This border very closely matches the present-day border between Pakistan on the one hand, and Afghanistan and Iran on the other.

As has just been demonstrated, the hypothesis successfully explains the case of the Safavid state in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The emergence of the Shiite Safavid state introduced an alternative source of transcendent credibility into the system, raising the number of sources from one to two. According to the hypothesis, then, the distinctiveness of the boundaries between political units of differing sources of transcendent credibility should also have increased. This was the case. The  boundaries between the Shiite Safavid state and the Sunni Ottoman Empire, on one hand, and with the Sunni Mughal Empire on the other, became more distinct.

Increased Effort and Ability to Impose Hegemonic Authority on Frontier Peoples

The Ottoman Empire vigorously responded to the threat of the Shiite Safavid state. In 1502, a year after the appearance of Ismail and his Qizilbash army, the Ottoman sultan sent troops into eastern Anatolia to physically brand every person with known sympathies for the Safavids and emigrate those persons to the West. 211 Thiswas a powerful demonstration that although distinctive boundaries are sometimes drawn on land, they can also be physically inscribed on people. Most of the fighting between the Safavids and the Ottoman and their allies between 1502 and 1514 occurred in territories that had been frontier zones between the Ottoman and the White Sheep.212 In each of these encounters the Safavids were victorious, encouraging the people of eastern Anatolia to rise up in open revolt against the Ottoman. This, in turn, created a crisis within the Ottoman government, which, as has already been mentioned, led to the replacement of the Ottoman sultan Bayezid II in 1512. The arrival of a new source of transcendent credibility in the region necessitated a new strategy in the east or the loss of large stretches of territory. Bayezid was either unwilling or unable to make the necessary adjustments – his son Selim the Grim was not.

Selim’s first actions involved getting the nomadic people of the east under firm central government control. The nomadic people, especially the Qizilbash in the Ottoman territories, were either registered, imprisoned, or executed. Troops were stationed in the area purposefully to prevent the flow of people from Ottoman territory into Safavid lands.213 Significantly, the townspeople in the region were not persecuted at all. Once these groups were brought under control, Selim gathered a larger army complete with cannon and marched out to meet Ismail, ultimately defeating his army at Chaldiran in 1514.

After Chaldiran, the Ottoman army continued east to capture the Safavid capital of Tabriz. However, this portion of the world was considered a backwater by the Ottoman military. The real glories and riches were to be found in fighting in Europe or Egypt, not in the sparsely populated mountains of Iran. Faced with an impatient military, Selim and his army stayed in Tabriz only one week before heading back to the Ottoman capital.214 However, over the next few years, the Ottoman carefully built up their territories that bordered Safavid occupied lands. What had once been frontier provinces, either claimed by two or more political units or claimed by none, began to fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of one of the dominant political units in the area. The circumstances on the Safavid-Mughal boundary have already been discussed. In the northwestern Safavid territories there are also several examples. In the sixteenth century, the province of Bitlis,215 was transformed into an ordinary Ottoman district, rather than a frontier region governed  by local princes that claimed loyalty to the Ottoman government.216 Other formerly frontier provinces soon followed suit including Arzinjan and Diyarbakr, both on the newly established border with the Safavids.217

Before the arrival of the Safavids, the people of eastern Anatolia and northern Iran possessed significant latitude to appeal to the authority of the Ottoman administration, the Turkmen tribes, or various Sufi teachers. However, in the first two decades of the sixteenth century, these areas were captured militarily and administratively for either the Ottoman or the Safavids. Frontier territories and loosely allied princes became obsolete. Nomads were settled or at least controlled in the Ottoman territories. In Safavid territories, nomad chiefs received significant government and military positions.

In short, the appearance of a second source of transcendent credibility created the necessary incentive for the territory of eastern Anatolia and northern Iran to become a more settled territory. At least in the first two decades of the sixteenth century, the people of the area moved around largely according to their religious beliefs to place themselves under the exclusive authority of either the Ottoman or Safavids. Thus, on the one hand both political units exerted more efforts to impose hegemonic authority in the specific territories in the region. However, on the other hand, the sometimes voluntary and sometimes coerced emigration of the local population increased the ability of the political units to be successful in those efforts. In the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire required more income than it did in the past. Military technology changed during this century and the central government required larger standing armies and navies.218 As a result, the central government needed to change its tax collection system to increase the efficiency of taxation in the peripheral and rural regions. Thus, the landlord system in Eastern Anatolia was replaced with tax farming, a method that had long been used in urban areas.219 By 1695, tax farming had been replaced by the malikane system, whereby taxes were farmed out on a lifetime basis, rather than on the basis of annual or fiveyear contracts.

Ideally, what we would like to know here is whether the Ottoman administration was able to raise more taxes relative to the wealth of the population after the organization of the eastern provinces in the early sixteenth century. I have not found any secondary material that makes such a comparison at all. However, it is plausible to argue that the new administrative realities in the eastern provinces allowed for a more efficient collection of taxes. With central government administrators now located in these provinces, the rural areas would have been more thoroughly registered and the local landlords would have been less able to conceal their share of the tax.

Corruption of central government officials is a likely scenario, but, as has been mentioned before, officials would have sought a better position that one in what was seen as the backwater of the Empire. In addition, the more rebellious of the Sufi  teachers who had encouraged the local population to eschew paying taxes to the central government had been eliminated or forced to emigrate thanks to the programs of Selim in the early 1500s. Finally, thanks to the Ottoman possession of provinces in Armenia and Georgia, more overland trade would have passed through this region and could be taxed. Thus, even if there is no evidence that taxation in this region was higher relative to the wealth of the population, at the very least it may be argued that tax collection methods would have increased the amount of revenue flowing into the central government’s treasury.

A credible commitment by the Safavids to defend frontier territories grew only gradually over the sixteenth century. One of the biggest reasons for this is that the military technology Ismail initially relied on, the nomadic cavalry, was an excellent means of conquest, but ill-suited to defense. Thus, during the reign of Tahmasp I (1533-76), the core defensive strategy against Ottoman invasions was retreat coupled with scorched earth tactics. On three separate occasions the Ottoman army managed to capture large stretches of northwestern Iran, but after the army withdrew, these Shiite territories reverted right back to the Safavid state.220 Thus, we are presented with Safavid borders that were frequently subject to attack and invasion, but which, over the long term, stayed relatively unchanged.

In gratitude for their loyalty, Ismail granted the Qizilbash leaders important positions within the government. On the positive side in terms of Safavid defense, this  meant that the various nomadic tribes had a larger stake in keeping the Ottoman out of their lands. However, on a more negative side, Qizilbash resistance to military reform meant that it took most of the sixteenth century to transform the military organization into one that concentrated on defending boundaries. In fact, it was not until the major reorganization of the military instituted by Shah Abbas I (1587-1629) that the Safavid state possessed the military strategy and technology to establish lines of defense that were more or less permanent. Still, this does not mean that the Safavids were unable to credibly commit to defending their frontier territories in different ways. Governors in Safavid provinces along strategically important boundaries were often given the title of amir al-umara, which highlighted their military role over their other administrative functions.221 These governors were given some troops to supplement the provincial armies that they were asked to raise and train. Thus, no invading force would be permitted to march untouched into Safavid territory, though the force that met them may be small and under equipped.

In regions covered by deserts or mountains, a line of defense is rarely the best option to prevent the flow of persons across a boundary. In such places, there are only a few roads or passes that must be guarded in order to tightly control movement. For the Safavids, many of their frontiers fell into this category, which is a large reason why they were able to use a relatively small military strength to protect a vast border. It was also important to guard these passages since they were the main route of trade – and the best way to collect trade taxes. The Safavids, more than any of the preceding authority figures in Persia, dispatched guards, traders, and inspectors at key points along these routes and especially at the edges of their territory.222

The Ottoman also built up their defenses along their eastern boundary to a degree that would have been unheard of in the fifteenth century. There was little danger of an outright attack coming from Safavid territory into Ottoman lands because of the asymmetry in military strength between the two powers. Still, the population in northwestern Iran had proven to be susceptible to fanaticism and, thus, the more radical elements had to be kept out of eastern and central Anatolia. Maintaining peace and order in the eastern half of the empire required strict control of the flow of ideas and persons coming from Safavid territories.

 Increased Efforts to Establish a Hierarchical Judicial System

In the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Ottoman central government took greater steps to infuse hierarchy into its judiciary throughout the empire. Before this period, the central government was very interested in maintaining law and order throughout their territory, but the actual practice was decentralized, resting in the authority of local landlords or central government military officials located in the more remote areas. In the mid-sixteenth century, the Ottoman system began to redefine “justice” to mean the protection of rural and urban producers against abuses of the military elite.223 In essence, this allowed the ruler to claim authority as sole protector of the weak in the peripheral areas. The population was encouraged to  appeal to the central government when it was believed that this justice had been denied. Obviously, it was still difficult for persons on the periphery to make such an appeal, but the central government adapted the system in order to more easily facilitate the process.

During the first years of the Safavids, there were many courts in the realm and many different administrators of these courts. This created a large degree of jurisdictional conflict and confusion. The solution the early Safavid rulers devised was the creation of a new position, the divan-begi. This position was given authority over other courts within the state, making it “the highest court of appeal.”224 Thus, in both the Safavid and Ottoman territories, judicial structures were rearranged so that there existed a regularized procedure of appeal over which the respective central governments held the ultimate authority.

As was alluded to earlier, the main judicial rival in northern Iran was not another political unit, but the Sufi teachers to which locals appealed. Because Sufi teachings mirrored the Shia beliefs to a much larger degree than the Sunni system of belief, Sufi teachers and organizations were permitted a wide degree of freedom in Safavid territory that they were not in Ottoman lands. The Ottoman solution was, in a sense, to “buy off” the Sufi teachers. Whether or not this exchange was a quid pro quo, the granting of these endowments had the effect of moderating the Sufi teachings.225 Sufi teachers who resisted this influence were forced to emigrate. The Safavid solution was slightly different. Rather than buy off specific Sufis, the Sufi teachers were permitted to maintain their organizations, and it was these larger groups that the Safavids brought into the government. These “continued to exist as a system within a system,” but over time their influence was minimized to the point where they were “devoid of any real function within the state.”226 Integrated into either the Ottoman or Safavid government, the Sufi teachers lost their ability to appeal independently to the population, plus they were forced to confine their activities to one side of the emerging border or the other. The end result was that the central governments absorbed the Sufi teachers into their respective judicial hierarchies.

Any discussion about the currency in Central Asia in the sixteenth and seventeenth century must begin with the strength of European currency and the presence of European trading posts. Florentine and Venetian gold coins continued to flow throughout Central Asia after the establishment of the Safavid state. Because gold was far more valuable than silver, it was the currency of international trade. Silver and copper, on the other hand, were the coin of local merchants. Thus, at least in the Safavid state and in Mughal India, European gold coins could continue to be exchanged without doing too much damage to the sovereignty of these political units. The average subject would deal in quantities too small for gold coins, but would have plenty of use for silver and copper.

The Ottoman Empire, facing different challenges on the border of Europe, was an exception here. Starting in the sixteenth century, the Ottoman made its sultani the only gold coin to be used in its Empire. This gold coin, which the central government took pains to ensure its weight and fineness in order to compete with the Venetian ducat, helped to unify the Empire.227 The Ottoman saw coins as a symbol of national sovereignty and circulated them on purpose to demonstrate the power of the central government.228

For their part, the Safavids focused on the standardization of silver coins, a less valuable, but therefore more frequently used type of currency. For a variety of reasons (the two most important being the instability in leadership following Tahmasp I and the control of the southwestern port of Hormuz by the Portuguese), mint consolidation was not undertaken systematically until the 1600s.229 In the 1500s, the mahmudi, a silver coin that was minted in southwestern Iran, was the most widely circulated currency in the Persian Gulf region. It is likely that, at least in the sixteenth century, the Safavids did not see any great benefit in tampering with a currency that was already highly successful, nor with confronting the military might of the Portuguese who profited most from this coin. Still, it must be noted that the Safavids demanded, and the Portuguese usually acquiesced, that Portugal assist in the imposition of the Shia creed in Hormuz, Goa, and other Portuguese port towns in the region.230 The demands of the Safavid rulers in the early 1600s were different, however, and the  central government began to consolidate the various mints around the state. The mahmudi gradually deteriorated in value and was replaced with coins from official Safavid-approved mints. Though this process took place later than the hypothesis would predict, it is not necessarily problematic. The Safavids lacked the incentives to intervene.

However, in the late sixteenth century, the Mughal Empire became the largest importer of metals outside Europe, excluding Ming China.231 This greatly affected the value of silver in the Safavid state and required the central government to take more active role in the minting of all coins. Secondly, there had been a dramatic decline in Portuguese power and its ability to stay in direct control of Hormuz. In addition, questions of authority and sovereignty became more significant for Safavid rulers in the 1600s. As a result, the incentives to fully standardize currency emerged at that point.

In the early sixteenth century, the Safavids also sought to control the minting through the indirect method of taxing all mints in the territory. In addition to the fees the central government charged mints for the privilege of operation, up until 1565 mints were also charged a tamgha tax, which was the difference between the real and nominal value of every coin made.232 In 1565, Tahmasp I cancelled this tax, though it continues to show up on royal treasury records well into the eighteenth century. The  large amount of revenue gathered through these taxes each year demonstrates that the central government had a fairly tight control over the workings of its mints. In short, both the Ottoman and the Safavids increased their efforts to standardize their currencies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Admittedly, there were many external factors that interposed themselves, which brings into question the causal impact of the emergence of a second source of transcendent credibility. I would not argue that Shiism’s appearance was the exclusive cause of increased standardization, though at least because of incentives tied to sovereignty issues it did play some role.

Taken together thus, these proxies suggest that, in the sixteenth century, Central Asian political units invested in more distinct boundaries with neighboring political units that did not share the same source of transcendent credibility. Something had clearly changed in the sixteenth century that produced incentives to invest in these boundaries to a degree that was unheard of or impossible in the previous century. The most significant change over that period was the arrival of a new source of transcendent credibility in the system, increasing the number of sources from one to two. Despite persistent military threats in the east in the fifteenth century, it is only after the arrival of a military threat that was coupled with an alternative source of transcendent credibility that the Ottoman changed their strategy in the eastern portion of their empire, investing resources to bring the nomadic peoples under control and establishing a more distinctive boundary with the Safavids. In short, this case provides additional evidence in support of the relationship between number of sources of transcendent credibility in a system and the distinctiveness of the boundaries between political units.


151 A discussion on the religious attitudes of the Black Sheep may be found in Roemer, 166-168. A good discussion on the religious attitudes of the Black Sheep and their relationship with the later Safavid Empire can be found in Vladimir Minorsky (1992 [1957]), Persia in AD 1478-1490 (London: Royal Asiatic Society).

152 It is important to note at this point that the dependent variable of this dissertation is distinctiveness of boundaries between political units, not peaceful relations with neighbors. Thus, although the Black Sheep frequently warred with their Sunni neighbors, the hypothesis suggests that the boundaries between them were relatively indistinct, which was the case.

153 There were several towns in the Timurid territory, including Ray, Qum, and Kashan, that had a large population of Shiites and the regions around the eastern side of the Caspian Sea also had a higher than usual number of Shiites. Still, these groups were small in number and mostly located in mountainous regions that were already geographically isolated from the rest of the Timurid realm. Beginning with the reign of Shah Rukh in 1409, there was a successful crackdown on these Shiite regions: Maria Eva Subtelny and Anas B Khalidov (1995), “The Curriculum of Islamic Higher Education in Timurid Iran in the Light of the Sunni Revival under Shah-Rukh,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 115(2): 210-12.

154 Islamic political theory is incredibly complex and varied. The nature of this research requires an oversimplification of centuries of political thought. The implications that are listed in the chapter were commonly held, particularly in the early modern period. For a fuller discussion on the historical development of Islamic political theories see Antony Black (2001), The History of Islamic Political Thought: From the Prophet to the Present (London: Routledge); Ann Lambton (2002), State and Government in Medieval Islam (London: Routledge); Patricia Crone (2005), God’s Rule – Government and Islam: Six Centuries of Medieval Islamic Political Thought (New York: Columbia University Press): 197-257.

155 Even the title “Allah” connotes this meaning. It is derived from a combination of El, meaning “strong,” and ilah, meaning “standing alone.” Thus, Allah means “the far and distant God.” Robert O Ballou, ed. (1972 [1944]), The Portable World Bible (New York: Penguin Press), 438-39.

156 The Sunni jurist al-Shafi’i put it this way: “We accept the decision of the public because we have to obey their authority, and we know that wherever there are sunnas of the Prophet, the public cannot be ignorant of them although it is possible that some are, and we know that the public can neither agree on anything contrary to the sunna of the Prophet or on an error.” Quoted in David Waines (1995), An Introduction to Islam (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 69.

157 Waines, 133-154. Perhaps the most famous of the Sufi sects to the West is the whirling dervish.

158 Lawrence G Potter (1994), “Sufis and Sultans in Post-Mongol Iran,” Iranian Studies 27(1-4), 77-102.

159 Ira M Lapidus (2002 [1988]), A History of Islamic Societies, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 266.

160 Ibid., 265.

161 Ibid., 232.

162 “Qutb,” John Bowler, ed., (2000), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

163 It is still a matter of debate exactly how much Sufism affected the White Sheep under Uzun Hasan. What is clear is that Uzun Hasan’s successor spent most of his reign trying to eradicate whatever Sufism had seeped into the Turkmen society. HR Roemer (1986), “The Turkmen Dynasties,” in The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol 6: The Timurid and Safavid Periods, Peter Jackson and Laurence Lockhart, eds., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 184-85.

164 David Morgan (1988), Medieval Persia: 1040-1797 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 105-107. The presence of an alternate source of transcendent credibility in the White Sheep increased the perceived threat to the Ottoman, whether this was because the Ottoman feared these new ideas seeping into the Empire and undermining their Sunni source or because the White Sheep used the source to stir up the nomads living in Azerbaijan and Eastern Anatolia. The Ottoman were not responding to the White Sheep as a military threat (they had always been a potential military rival but the Ottoman had not attacked), but to an ideological threat.

165 Even the more developed and urbanized Ottoman Empire relied more on oral performance in its early-modern courts than on written documentation in its court proceedings. When this is coupled with the predominantly uneducated nomadic population in eastern Anatolia, it is no surprise that there is a significant lack of written records, including property deeds, contracts, and court decisions. Bogac A Ergene (2004), “Evidence in Ottoman Courts: Oral and Written Documentation in Early-Modern Courts of Islamic Law,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 124(3): 487.

166 See pp. 7-10 above.

167 Lapidus, 266.

168 Potter (1994). Elites in the region also had the opportunity to choose between several authority figures, see Maria Eva Subtelny (1988), “Socioeconomic Bases of Cultural Patronage under the Later Timurids,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 20(4): 479-505.

169 Lapidus, 266.

170 Morgan, 109.

171 Lapidus, 266.

172 H Inalcik (1973), The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age, 1300-1600 (London: Phoenix
Press), 73.

173 Metin M Cosgil (2004), “Taxes, Efficiency, and Redistribution: Discriminatory Taxation of Villages in Ottoman Palestine, Southern Syria, and Transjordan in the Sixteenth Century,” Working Paper 2002-22, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics, 23.

174 Relli Shechter (2005), “Market Welfare in the Early-Modern Ottoman Economy – A Historiographic Overview with Many Questions,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 48(2), 253-76.

175 Metin M Cosgil (2005), “Efficiency and Continuity in Public Finance: The Ottoman System of Taxation,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 37(4), 571.

176 Sevket Pamuk (2004), “Institutional Change and the Longevity of the Ottoman Empire, 1500-1800,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 35(2), 230.

177 Cosgil (2005), 581.

178 Ibid., 582.

179 Morgan, 105.

180 For example, in the western portion of the Ottoman Empire, many ethnic communities were permitted to create their own court systems that used that group’s religious laws. However, all of these court systems still remained ultimately subject to the Ottoman Shariah judicial system, Daniel Goffman (2002), The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press): 73.

181 Lapidus, 266

182 Metin M Cosgil (2004), “Ottoman Tax Registers (Tahrir Defterleri),” Historical Methods 37(2), 90; H Inalcik and D Quataert (1994), An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1914 (New York: Cambridge University Press), 987-93.

183 Pamuk (2004), 238-39. These were the regions of the Empire that shared boundaries with political units relying on sources of transcendent credibility other than Sunni Islam.

184 Sevket Pamuk (2000), A Monetary History of the Ottoman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

185 Pamuk (2004), 230.

186 See for example, Oktay Ozel (1999), “Limits of the Almighty: Mehmed II’s ‘Land Reform’ Revisited,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 42(2): 226-46.

187 Waines, 170-72.

188 Morgan 112-23; BS Amoretti (1986), “Religion in the Timurid and Safavid Periods,” in The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol 6: The Timurid and Safavid Periods, Peter Jackson and Laurence Lockhart, eds., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 629-40; Kathryn Babayan (1994), “The Safavid Synthesis: From Qizilbash Islam to Imamite Shi’ism,” Iranian Studies 27(1-2), 135-61.

189 Amoretti, 629.

190 Michael Sells, ed. (1999), Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations (Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press), 152-53.

191 The exception to this is the reign of Abbas I, Roger M Savory (2003), “Relations between the Safavid State and Its Non-Muslim Minorities,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 14(4): 435-58.

192 Roger M Savory (1986), “The Safavid Administrative System,” in The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol 6: The Timurid and Safavid Periods, Peter Jackson and Laurence Lockhart, eds., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 359.

193 Colin Turner (2001), Islam Without Allah? The Rise of Religious Externalism in Safavid Iran (New York: Routledge), 72-87; Rula Jurdi Abisaab (2004), Converting Persia: Religion and Power in the Safavid Empire (I R Taurus), 7-30.

194 Some of the early beliefs about Ismail persisted, however. For example, even as late as 1629, the successive leaders of the Safavids were referred to by a title the Qizilbash gave to Ismail: murshid-i kamil (Perfect Guide), Savory, “The Safavid Administrative System,” 360.

195 Morgan, 128.

196 Gregory C Kozlowski (1995), “Imperial Authority, Benefactions and Endowments (Awqaf) in Mughal India,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 38(3): 355-70.

197 This political theory is reminiscent of the Mandate of Heaven in Confucian China or the use of Romans 13 in Christian Europe.

198 Waines, 170. On the other hand, the more the Shia claimed to be the only orthodox version of Islam, the more Sunni religious and political leaders established policies that would prevent this exclusionist branch of Islam from dominating particular areas. A source of transcendent credibility that claims it is the only legitimate source must be considered a threat by all other sources of transcendent credibility. Hence, even “inclusive” sources of transcendent credibility (such as Sunni Islam) can become exclusivist when faced with an exclusivist source of transcendent credibility.

199 Ibid., 171.

200 Waines, 167-69.

201 Waines 170-72.

202 Ronald Ferrier (1986), “Trade from the Mid-14th Century to the End of the Safavid Period,” in The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol 6: The Timurid and Safavid Periods, Peter Jackson and Laurence Lockhart, eds., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 427.

203 Amoretti, 635.

204 Even though the Shiites and the Christians had different sources of transcendent credibility, neither bordered the other, although both bordered the Ottomans with their Sunni source of transcendent credibility.

205 HR Roemer (1986), “The Safavid Period,” in The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol 6: The Timurid and Safavid Periods, Peter Jackson and Laurence Lockhart, eds., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 218.

206 Ibid., 219.

207 Morgan, 116.

208 Roemer (1986b), 222.

209 Ibid., 244-45.

210 Roemer (1986b), 299-300.

211 Ibid., 219.

212 Ibid.

213 Ibid., 219-220.

214 Roemer (1986b), 225; Morgan, 117.

215 Bitlis (or Bidlis) was a province located on western and southern shores of Lake Van, on what became part of the border between the Ottoman and Safavid territories.

216 Mehmet Oz (2003), “Ottoman Provincial Administration in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia: The Case of Bidlis in the Sixteenth Century,” International Journal of Turkish Studies 9(1-2), 144-56.

217 Roemer (1986b), 225.

218 Charles Oman (1987 [1937]), A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century (London: Greenhill Books), 607-770.

219 Cosgil (2005).

220 Morgan, 127-28.

221 Savory, “The Safavid Administrative System,” 370.

222 Ferrier, 415.

223 BA Ergene (2001), “On Ottoman Justice: Interpretations in Conflict (1600-1800),” Islamic Law and Society 8(1): 52-87.

224 Savory, “The Safavid Administrative System,” 355-56.

225 Kozlowski (1995).

226 Savory, “The Safavid Administrative System,” 356.

227 Pamuk (2004), 238-39.

228 Pamuk (2000).

229 Ruti Matthee (2001), “Mint Consolidation and the Worsening of the Late Safavid Coinage: The Mint of Huwayza,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 44(4), 505-39.

230 Ferrier, 427.

231 Najaf Haider (1996), “Precious Metal Flows and Currency Circulation in the Mughal Empire,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 39(3), 298-364.

232 Bert Fragner (1986), “Social and Internal Economic Affairs,” in The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol 6: The Timurid and Safavid Periods, Peter Jackson and Laurence Lockhart, eds., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 545.

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