The Contribution of Drought to the Cultural Collapse of the Safavid Empire of Iran at the End of the 17th Century

Authors: James Speer*, Indiana State University, James M Gustafson, Indiana State University
Topics: Climatology and Meteorology, Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Paleoenvironmental Change
Keywords: Safavid Empire, Iran, Dendroclimate, Tree Rings, Drought, Societal Decline
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Marshall East, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Around 1666, the Safavid Empire of Iran started to decline and finally fell to a small group of Afghan raiders in 1722. This empire was one of the most powerful states in the early modern world alongside Ming China, the Ottomans, and the Mughals. Most historical records of the dynasty leading up to the decline and fall of the empire were destroyed by those same Afghan raiders when they conquered the capital city of Isfahan, so records are minimal for this time period. We have pieced together the existing records from the court of Shah Safi II (later renamed Shah Suleiman) and compared these records to climatic reconstructions from tree rings. We gathered 27 tree-ring chronologies from Turkey, Cyprus, and Jordan from the International Tree Ring Databank (ITRDB) that extend prior to 1650. We re-analyzed these chronologies using a 200-year cubic smoothing spline in ARSTAN. We entered all of the chronologies into a principle component analysis to develop multiple chronologies representing the different climate variables for the region. Temperature and precipitation records were gathered from CRU and PDSI from Dai for the region. We analyzed the climate response of each resultant chronologies (eigenvectors) against the climate data to reconstruct multiple climate variables. These chronologies were also entered into KNMI Explorer to determine the spatial extent of the climatic response of each chronology. We found that drought, famine, and disease were all important factors in the economic and political decline of the Safavid Empire in the late 1600s and early 1700s.

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