The Islamic World to 1600
The first full battle between the armies of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires occurred in 1514 at Chaldiran, in northwestern Persia. The conflict was caused by a number of factors, including Ottoman persecution of its Qizilbash population in Asia Minor, and expansionist goals of both empires into the others' territory. The Ottoman army, en route to battle the Safavids, arrived at the Plains of Chaldiran in August, 1514. The Safavids attacked the next day, and the ensuing battle had significant consequences for both empires.
The most immediately noticeable factor in the battle was the absolute superiority of the Ottoman army over the Safavids. With many more years - centuries, in fact - of military experience behind them, the Ottomans' 100,000 troops swiftly defeated the Safavids' 40,000. The battle also showcased the effectiveness of new forms of weaponry. The Ottomans, the first Islamic empire to employ artillery in warfare, brought Janissaries armed with muskets, as well as 200 cannons, 100 mortars, and other field artillery to Chaldiran. The Persians, meanwhile, who had no modern weaponry, used the old tactics of cavalry archers. They were soundly defeated. Shah Ismail withdrew his troops after suffering heavy casualties, and the Ottoman Sultan, Selim I, did not pursue him. Selim then marched into Tabriz, the Safavid capital, although his near-mutinous army, who wanted to return home, kept him from staying and taking any more Persian territory.
The outcome at Chaldiran had many consequences. Perhaps most significantly, it established the border between the two empires, which remains the border between Turkey and Iran today. With the establishment of that border, Tabriz became a frontier city, uncomfortably close to the Ottoman enemy. That consideration would be a major factor in the decision to move the Safavid capital to Qazwin, in the mid-16th century, and finally to Isfahan, in central Persia, in 1598.
Domestically, Ismail's image in the eyes of his followers was also severely damaged by the Safavid defeat at Chaldiran. The Qizilbash believed deeply in the shah's divinity, and they had trouble reconciling the defeat with their previous view of the shah as invincible. Ismail weathered this crisis, however. A more serious loss of faith in the shah would likely have caused the collapse of the empire, which did not happen. Ismail's father and grandfather had both been killed in battle, and he invoked that fact in persuading his people that he was still a capable and divine leader, despite the defeat at Chaldiran. Personally, however, Ismail was devastated by this, his first defeat, and went into virtual mourning. He never again led his troops into battle personally.
By far the most significant factor in the battle was the Ottoman use of artillery. Without it, military historians have asserted that the battle could have gone either way. The Ottomans had used firepower in warfare since they were introduced to the weapons from Europe in the early 15th century. A common - and misguided - assumption about Chaldiran, however, is that the Persians did not use artillery because they had not yet been introduced to it. In fact, the Persians had known of the new weapons since the mid-15th century, through their alliance with the Venetians, and also through battles with the armed Ottomans in pre-Safavid times. The Persians had used artillery in small battles with local foes, but had never done so on a large scale by the time of Chaldiran in 1514. Still, the Safavids could have matched the Ottoman firepower had they chosen to do so. They opted against it, however, because they believed that the new weaponry was cowardly, and they had faith in the effectiveness of their cavalry. The Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt held similar views, and they were also defeated by Ottoman firepower three years after Chaldiran.
The Battle of Chaldiran did convince the Safavids that artillery would be a sound investment, however, particularly with the constant Ottoman threat on the northwest Persian frontier. During the reign of Ismail's son, Tahmasp I, the Safavids often used artillery in warfare, and by the mid-16th century they had joined the Ottomans as one of the most powerful Islamic empires precisely because of their possession and use of modern weaponry.
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