The Survival of Sheykh Safi's Shrine after the Collapse of the Safavid Dynasty

This study investigates the administration of the Sheykh-Safi Shrine and its relationship with the successive central authorities after the collapse of the Safavid Dynasty.
In the history of Iran, numerous researchers have studied the Safi Shrine from various viewpoints, such as the relationship of the Shrine with authorities, its cultural and architectural aspects, and the religious and popular movements centered on the shrine. It is well known that there are limited archival materials for a study of pre-modern Iran; however, this is not the case for the shrine. Many researchers, such as Aubin, Morton, Gronke and Rizvi, have analyzed archival sources, e.g., “Ardabil documents” and the land register (Sarih al-melk), and pointed out the various aspects of the shrine’s socioeconomic characters, religious issues, and the relationship of its administrations with the monarchs of the various dynasties. These studies can be classified into three periods: before the construction of the Safavid dynasty, during the Safavid period, and both these periods.
On the contrary, few studies focus on the shrine post the collapse of the Safavids in the early eighteenth century. One of the reasons for this is the growing importance of the Shi‘ite shrines of Mashhad and ‘Atabad from the sixteenth century onward. Therefore, it is reasonable that these “orthodox” shrines attracted more researchers than the Safi Shrine.
An analysis of the Safi Shrine after the collapse of the Dynasty will be useful for a better understanding of the long history of the shrine. This study shows how the religious institute that lost the former dynastic support and prestige tried to survive and maintain its existence. Such a topic has been hardly investigated in Iranian history.
This study examines the archival documents preserved in the shrine and the Tabriz archives. These documents describe the administration of the shrine and its relationship with the local society and central authority in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
On the basis of the analysis of these archival sources, I put forth two arguments. The first argument is that by bargaining with successive dynasties, such as Afsharid, Zand and Qajar, the shrine’s administrators attempted to secure the former privileges as a “fait accompli.” My second argument is that being independent from governmental authority, the shrine became highly integrated into the local Ardabil society and made efforts to preserve its own properties sometimes with compromise on the contract for them.