EṢFAHĀNI, MOḤAMMAD MAʿṢUM (محمد معصوم اصفهانی) b. Ḵˇāja ʿAli-Šāh (b. ca. 1597, Isfahan; d. ca. 1647, Ganja), Safavid bureaucrat and historian, whose history entitled the Ḵolāṣat al-siar chronicles the reign of Shah Ṣafi (r. 1038-52/1629-42).

Life. The exact dates of Moḥammad Maʿṣum’s birth and death are unknown, but there is evidence to suggest that he was born in the closing years of the 1590s. At about the age of 30, he joined the Safavid court bureaucracy. Prior to this, he had worked as an apprentice scribe with his father, Ḵvāja ʿAli-Šāh, also known as Ḵvājagi, himself a bureaucrat in service of the Safavid court in Isfahan (Eṣfahāni, p. 311). In 1026/1617, Shah ʿAbbās made Moḥammad Maʿṣum inspector of the royal camel stable (ṣāḥeb-jamʿ-e šotor-ḵān; ešrāf-e šotorḵān) in Isfahan, a post he held up until Shah ʿAbbās’ death (Eṣfahāni, p. 312; Romaskevich, p. 12). Under the later Safavids, the bureaucratic staff at the royal camel stable were among the shah’s personal retainers (moqarrab al-ḥażra) and had direct access to him on a daily basis (Mirzā Rafiʿā, fols. 50b-51a, tr., pp. 67-68; Naṣiri, p. 70). Moḥammad Maʿṣum states that, on several occasions, he had been commissioned directly by Shah ʿAbbās to compose poetry (Eṣfahāni, p. 312).

Moḥammad Maʿṣum came from a family of landed and bureaucratic notables based in Isfahan. They were descendants and relatives of Šāh Ḥosayn Eṣfahāni (d. 929/1523), who worked for nine years as grand vizier under Shah Esmāʿil I (Naṣrābādi, p. 108). During the reign of Shah ʿAbbās, the elder brother of Moḥammad Maʿṣum, called Mirzā ʿAbd-Allāh, held the posts of vizier of Gaskar (present-day Ṣawmaʿa-sarā) in Gilān-e Biapiš between 1020-30/1611-21, tax inspector of Astarābād in 1031/1622, and vizier of Lāhijān during 1033-38/1624-29 (Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, pp. 25, 597, 599, 790, 802, 824, 839, 891; Naṣrābādi, p. 108). Moḥammad Maʿṣum claims that he had managed to land a job in the court bureaucracy thanks to his own talents and not as a result of intervention of his influential family members and relatives in Isfahan. This might be true, but it is known that, in 1031 and 1036/1621-22 and 1626-27, another relative of his called Mirzā Vali Beg Eṣfahāni worked as registrar (taḥwildār) of the royal camel stable, which can be taken to imply that the influence that Moḥammad Maʿṣum’s close relatives wielded at the Safavid court had a bearing on the steadiness of his bureaucratic career under Shah ʿAbbās (Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, pp. 820, 952).

Two years after Shah Ṣafi’s ascent to the throne, Moḥammad Maʿṣum was removed from his post as inspector of the royal camel stable. Shah Ṣafi spent the first two years of his reign in Qazvin, compelling all court retainers, including Moḥammad Maʿṣum, to take up residence in Qazvin unaccompanied by their families. After two years of unemployment, Moḥammad Maʿṣum was appointed in 1040/1631 as vizier of Qarābāḡ, where he worked as scribal/fiscal supervisor at the court of the Safavid governor of Ganja, Mortażā-qoli Khan Ziādlu Qājār (Eṣfahāni, pp. 312-15). Moḥammad Maʿṣum died in Ganja during the early years of the reign of Shah ʿAbbās II (1052-77/1642-66; Naṣrābādi, p. 109; Romaskevich, p. 12).

From a young age Moḥammad Maʿṣum was an avid reader of major chronicles and narrative sources in Persian and Arabic. He tells us that, prior to his employment at the Safavid court, he had studied the works of such prominent historians as Ṭabari, Abu’l-Faraj ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān b. ʿAli, also known as Ebn al-Jawzi, ʿAṭā Malek Jovayni, Waṣṣāf Širāzi, Šaraf al-Din ʿAli Yazdi, Mirḵvānd, Ḵvāndamir, and Aḥmad Tatawi (Eṣfahāni, p. 224). Elsewhere, he mentions Eskandar Beg Monši Torkamān’s Tāriḵ-e ʿālamārā-ye ʿabbāsi and Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllāmi’s Akbar-nāma (Āʾin-e akbari) as two sources of inspiration, after which he tried to model his work (Eṣfahāni, p. 29). Moḥammad Maʿṣum’s easy access to the Safavid court during the early years of the reign of Shah Ṣafi, on the one hand, and his participation in military campaigns in western and northwestern Iran in 1043/1633, 1045/1635, and 1048/1639, on the other, helped him base the narrative spine of his chronicle on personal observations (Eṣfahāni, pp. 28, 169, 208, 223, 228). He admits that, after his transfer to Ganja in 1045/1635, he lost the privilege of living among the shah’s retainers at the Safavid court in Isfahan, a setback that forced him to finish his chronicle sooner than he had originally planned (Eṣfahāni, p. 315). During his years at the Safavid court, Moḥammad Maʿṣum was allowed to use a number of the volumes kept in the royal library (ḵazāna-ye ʿāmera) for the purpose of his chronicle (Eṣfahāni, pp. 286-87).

Work. Moḥammad Maʿṣum’s chronicle, the Ḵolāṣat al-siar, had long been assumed to be a sequel (ẕayl) of the Tāriḵ-e ʿālamārā-ye ʿabbāsi. In 1852, Boris A. Dorn described it as being penned by Eskandar Beg Monši Torkmān and dedicated to Mortażā-qoli Khan Ziādlu Qājār “under whose patronage Eskandar Monši composed this work” (Dorn, p. 291). W. H. Morley too claimed that Eskandar Beg had authored the Ḵolāṣat al-siar as a “continuation” of his chronicle of the reign of Shah ʿAbbās (Morley, p. 134). Similarly, a manuscript of Moḥammad Maʿṣum’s chronicle in Leiden University library is catalogued as “a continuation of the ʿĀlamārā-ye ʿabbāsi composed by Iskandar Monschi” (De Goeje et al., V, p. 230).  It was Joseph Aumer who first noticed that the Ḵolāṣat al-siar is in fact an independent account of the reign of Shah Ṣafi from the pen of Moḥammad Maʿṣum Eṣfahāni (Aumer, pp. 80-81).  Less than two decades later, Franz Teufel also concluded that the Ḵolāṣat al-siar has nothing to do with Eskandar Beg’s history of the reign of Shah ʿAbbās (Teufel, p. 92). In 1939, based on the autobiographical section of the Ḵolāṣt al-siar, Alexander A. Romaskevich came to the conclusion that it is in fact an independent account of the reign of Shah Ṣafi by Moḥammad Maʿṣum Eṣfahāni (Romaskevich, pp. 11-13; Minorsky, p. 540; Bregel and Storey, II, p. 886). In addition to the manuscripts of the Ḵolāṣat al-siar in Munich and St. Petersburg, two late 17th-century manuscripts are preserved in the Malek Library in Tehran and the Āstān-e Qods-e Rażawi Library in Mashhad (Darāyati, IV, p. 955; Eṣfahāni, Ger. tr., pp. xxxvii-xxxix).

The Ḵolāṣat al-siar can be considered as the official history of the reign of Shah Ṣafi. Moḥammad Maʿṣum states (p. 319) that he had been commissioned by Shah Ṣafi to compose his history. It was in the winter of 1048/1639 in the midst of military campaign against the Ottomans in Kurdistan and Armenia that some of his friends and colleagues at the Safavid court told Shah Ṣafi about Moḥammad Maʿṣum’s decision to write a history in the name of the Safavid monarch (Eṣfahāni, pp. 28, 200-3). Moḥammad Maʿṣum had been allowed to borrow books from the royal library for the purpose of preparing an early draft of his universal history that covered the history of the universe from its creation up until the advent of Tamerlane (Eṣfahāni, p. 327). Shortly thereafter, Shah Ṣafi read this first part of the chronicle and ordered him to focus his narrative solely on his own reign and to refrain from the misplaced floridity of prose style. According to Moḥammad Maʿṣum, the Safavid monarch recommended that he quit plagiarizing (taṣnif) the works of other historians for the purpose of writing a universal history, emphasizing the importance of originality in authorship (taʾlif). It was based on Shah Ṣafi’s recommendations that Moḥammad Maʿṣum decided to prioritize the third chapter (maqṣad-e sevvom) of his chronicle, which deals with the reign of Shah Ṣafi (Eṣfahāni, pp. 28, 327).  There are scattered references in the Ḵolāṣat al-siar to a second chapter (maqṣad-e dovvom), suggesting that Moḥammad Maʿṣum had originally planned to cover the history of the reign of Shah ʿAbbās in the final draft of his chronicle (Eṣfahāni, pp. 30, 33). In 1052/1642, he finished his account of the first ten years of the reign of Shah Ṣafi. Shortly after Shah ʿAbbās II’s ascent to the throne, Moḥammad Maʿṣum kept working on his chronicle and extended the temporal scope of his narrative to include the remaining three years of the reign of Shah Ṣafi (Eṣfahāni, p. 327). He then dedicated the final version of his chronicle to Mortażā-qoli Khan Ziādlu Qājār.

In the Ḵolāṣat al-siar, Moḥammad Maʿṣum follows an annalistic line of historiographical representation. However, in the uncritically edited version of the chronicle published in Tehran in 1989, the events given under each year extend into the next year, making it almost impossible for the reader to determine the exact dates of the developments that shaped the reign of Shah Ṣafi. Interestingly, when discussing the merits and shortcomings of Eskandar Beg’s chronicle, Moḥammad Maʿṣum criticizes him for embedding his narrative in an annalistic framework (Eṣfahāni, p. 29). Chronological lapses are few and far between in Moḥammad Maʿṣum’s account of the opening years of the reign of Shah Ṣafi, wherein he chronicles the bloody purges at the court as well as the way in which the Safavid regime’s hold on provincial administration began to unravel immediately after Shah ʿAbbās’ death. Given Moḥammad Maʿṣum’s presence at the Safavid court in Qazvin during 1038-41/1629-32, his account of the execution and blinding of a number of high-ranking bureaucrats and military chiefs as well as more than fifteen Safavid princes and princesses together with their parents, in 1041/1631-32, is chronologically more precise than the coverage of the same events in the histories of Eskandar Beg, Moḥammad-Yusef Vāleh Qazvini, and Moḥammad-Ṭaher Vaḥid Eṣfahāni (Eskandar Beg, pp. 86, 97-101, 141; Vāleh Qazvini, pp. 64, 104-09, 115-16; Vaḥid Qazvini, pp. 222, 239-41, 246-47, 248, 250, 260-61).   

Border clashes with the Uzbeks in Khorasan during the early years of Shah Ṣafi’s reign have received the lion’s share of attention in Moḥammad Maʿṣum’s narrative. Sub anno 1038/1629, he chronicles the outbreak of wars with the Uzbeks and the Khanate of Urganj, which resulted in the fall of Abivard and Nesā, two major fortress towns in northern Khorasan, to the hands of the Uzbeks. Uzbek raids against the rural and nomadic settlements to the north of Herat in the autumn of 1629 are also chronicled (Eṣfahāni, pp. 48, 57-60, 61-63).

When dealing with Shah Ṣafi’s military campaigns against the Ottomans in the provinces of Arabian Iraq, Kurdistan, and Yerevan (also Čoḵur-e saʿd), Moḥammad Maʿṣum pays special attention to Shah Ṣafi’s alliance with the Ardalān ruler of Šahrazur, Aḥamd Khan. Despite fierce opposition on the part of his pro-Ottoman relatives in Kurdistan, Aḥmad Khan Ardalān decided to assist the Safavids in their fight against the Ottomans and, as it appears from Moḥammad Maʿṣum’s chronicle, his troops mounted several successful raids against the Ottoman garrison in Mosul (Eṣfahāni, pp. 70-71, 74, 75, 97). Yet, shortly after the Battle of Marivān, which was fought in Ramażān-Šawwāl 1039/April-June 1630 between Shah Ṣafi and the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV (r. 1623-40) and ended with the defeat of the Safavids, Aḥmad Khan Ardalān’s brother, Maʾmun Khan, was arrested and imprisoned in the Eṣṭaḵr Castle in Fars on account of his alleged pro-Ottoman leanings (Eṣfahāni, p. 97). In Moḥarram 1046/June 1636, Shah Ṣafi removed Aḥmad Khan from his post as hereditary governor of Šahrazur and made another Ardalān military chief called Solaymān Khan governor of the same city (Eṣfahāni, p. 235).

Apart from his own observations, in some cases Moḥammad Maʿṣum relies on the testimonies of his contemporaries. For example, when dealing with the life and times of Darviš Reżā Afšār, an alleged claimant to Mahdiship in Qazvin, who was arrested and executed in Ẕu’l-ḥejja 1040/July 1631, Moḥammad Maʿṣum confirms his use of eyewitness accounts and details supplied by several sources, including the famous vizier of Māzandarān, Sāru Taqi Eṣfahāni, who at one point was a devotee of Darviš Reżā (Eṣfahāni, pp. 117-21). There are also references in the Ḵolāṣat al-siar to the news of the outbreak of flood, plague, and earthquake in Tabriz, Qazvin, Solṭāniya, Ḵalḵāl, Gilan, Isfahan, Karbala, and Baghdad in Šawwāl 1043/April 1634, the summer of 1044/1634, Ẕu’l-qaʿda 1045/May-June 1636, Moḥarram 1046/June-July 1636, Ẕu’l-qaʿda 1046/April-May 1637, and Ẕu’l-qaʿda 1050/February 1641 (Eṣfahāni, pp. 184, 195, 233, 234-35, 247, 286). Moḥammad Maʿṣum’s chronicle sheds light on the formative years of the question of Kandahar under Shah Ṣafi. According to Moḥammad Maʿṣum, in Ramażān 1047/January-February 1638, the Safavid governor of Kandahar, ʿAli-Mardān Khan, joined forces with the Mughals and within a few months managed to bring the province out of the effective control of the Safavids (Eṣfahāni, pp. 251, 254-55). In Rajab 1051/October-November 1641, Moḥammad-Maʿṣum points out, the Safavid military chiefs in Isfahan and Khorasan mobilized their troops for a military campaign against ʿAli Mardān Khan and his Mughal allies, but it came to naught (Eṣfahāni, p. 293).

Moḥammad Maʿṣum’s chronicle closes with a history of the Ziādlu (also Ziādoḡli) clan of the Qajars from the time of their emigration from eastern Anatolia to Qarabagh in the latter part of the 15th century up until the reign of Shah ʿAbbās (Eṣfahāni, 317-25). In 1978, Gerhard Rettelbach published a German translation of the Ḵolāṣat al-siar in Munich.




Moḥammad Maʿṣum Eṣfahāni, Ḵolāṣat al-siar, ed. Iraj Afšār, Tehran, 1989; tr. G. Rettelbach as Hulāsat as-siyar: Der Iran unter Schah Ṣafi (1629-1642), Munich, 1978.

Fażli Beg Ḵuzāni Eṣfahāni, A Chronicle of the Reign of Shah ʿAbbas: Volume III of the Afżal al-tavāriḵ, ed. K. Ghereghlou, Cambridge 2015.

Eskandar Beg Monši Torkmān, Ḏayl-e tāriḵ-e ʿālamārā-ye ʿabbāsi, ed. Aḥmad Sohayli Ḵvānsāri, Tehran, 1938.

ʿAli-Naqi Naṣiri, Alqāb o mawājeb-e dawra-ye salāṭin-e Ṣafawiya, ed. Y. Raḥimlu, Mashhad, 1992.

Moḥammad-Ṭaher Naṣrābādi, Taḏkera-ye Naṣrābādi, ed. M. Nāji Naṣrābādi, Tehran, 1999.

Mirzā Rafiʿā, Taḏkerat al-moluk, tr. and explained by V. Minorsky, as Tadhkirat al-mulūk: A Manual of Ṣafavid Administration (circa 1137/1725), Persian Text in Facsimile (B.M. Or. 9496), London 1943.

Moḥammad-Ṭāher Vaḥid Qazvini, Tāriḵ-e jahānārā-ye ʿabbāsi, ed. S. M. Ṣādeq, Tehran, 2004.

Moḥammad-Yusef Vāleh Qazvini, Ḵold-e barin: Ḥadiqa-ye šešom o haftom az rawża-ye haštom, ed. M.-R. Naṣiri, Tehran, 2001.

Studies and catalogues.

J. Aumer, Die persischen Handschriften der K. Hof- und Staatsbibliothek in Muenchen, Munich, 1866.

Y. E. Bregel and C. A. Storey, Persidskaya literatura: Bio-Bibliographicheskiĭ obzor, 3 vols., Moscow, 1972.

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

B. A. Dorn, Catalogue des manuscrits et xylographes orientaux de la Bibliothèque Impériale Publique de St. Pétersbourg, St. Petersburg, 1852.

M. J. De Goeje et al., Catalogus codicum Orientalium Bibliothecae Academiae Lugduno-Batavae, 6 vols., Leiden 1851-73.

V. V. Minorsky, “Review of Persian Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey, Section II, fasciculus 3. M: History of India by C. A. Storey (London: Luzac and Co., 1939),” BSOS 10/2, 1940, pp. 539-41.

W. H. Morley, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Historical Manuscripts in the Arabic and Persian Languages Preserved in the Library of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London 1854.

A. A. Romaskevich, “Iranskie istochniki po istoriĭ Turkmen XVI-XIX vv.,” in S. L. Volina et al., eds., Materialy po istorii Turkmen i Turkmenii, 2 vols., Moscow, 1938-39, II, pp. 7-22.

F. Teufel, “Sendschreiben von Dr. Franz Teufel an Prof. H. L. Fleischer,” ZDMG 36, 1882, pp. 89-96.

(Kioumars Ghereghlou)

Originally Published: July 18, 2016

Last Updated: July 18, 2016

Cite this entry:

Kioumars Ghereghlou, “EṢFAHĀNI, MOḤAMMAD MAʿṢUM,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/esfahani-mohammad-masum (accessed on 19 July 2016).