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In 1514 the Safavids suffered a major defeat (the battle of Chaldiran) at the hands of the Ottomans under Selim the Grim due to, in large part, Ottoman muskets and artillery. At the time the Safavid army was a cavalry force, reliant on bows and arrows. While the Ottomans also used bow armed cavalry, they had large numbers of firearm equipped infantry and artillery and made use of tabor tactics. The Safavids actually allowed the Ottomans the time to set up their tabor...

The Ottomans had the military ability to seize any Safavid city they could reach, but had a hard time holding onto them. There was a sort of king of the mountain over Tabriz and other cities. Under Tashmap the Safavids adopted firearms and artillery in robust numbers, putting them to use in the battle of Jam against the Uzbeks; forming a tabor with infantry and artillery and posting Qizilbash cavalry on the wings. The tabor was hardly unbreakable and in fact the Safavids at times were able to smash them with cavalry charges; though if the men inside had good morale and were well supplied they could withstand cavalry.

Under Shah Abbas the army grew to; 15,000 Ghulam cavalry armed with traditional arms; 12,000 Persian infantry armed with muskets; a 12,000 man division of artillery; a 3,000 man imperial guard for the Shah; the regular army numbered between 40,000 and 50,000 and was supplemented by the Qizilbash cavalry in time of war. The Ghulams and Persians both eventually fought as sort of dragoons, with both forces using firearms and riding on horseback. The use of slave/Persian units allowed Abbas to centralize control but the reliance on slaves created a praetorian situation.

Artillery was used for sieges and during several major battles but was not commonly used for battles in the field. The Safavids, when fighting the Ottomans, relied on guerrilla attacks and raids where artillery could play little role. On the east it was hard to bring the Uzbeks to battle. On both fronts the Safavids relied on cavalry; bow and firearm equipped. There does not seem to be much usage of artillery to crack tabors.

In time they relied more on peoples from the Caucasus Mountains, not as much for military effectiveness, but because of politics; the Harem was full of women from the Caucasus Mountains and the army/court was full of slaves from the same place.


The Battle between Shah Ismail and Shaybani Khan,
by Mu'in Musavvir, from the Tarikh-i alam-aray-i Shah Ismail

Persian Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers