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Safavids, Iranian dynasty that ruled Persia from 1501 - 1736.

The Safavids descended from Sheykh Safi od-Din who led the Sufi order of Sasaviyeh in the 13th century. The order represented a puritanical reaction against the sullying of Islam by the Mongol infidels who had ruled Persia under the Il-Khans during the 13th century.

The founder of the dynasty, Ismail Safavi, won enough support from a fanatical sect of Turkish tribesmen, to crown himself shah of Azerbaijah in 1501. In the next ten years he subjugated Iran and Iraq; despite the Sunni character of this territory, he proclaimed Shi'ism the state religion.

The establishment of the Safavi Empire was disturbing to the rest of the Muslim world, because the shah's followers thought him to be the rightful head of the entire Muslim community. This brought the Safavids into conflict with the Sunni Ottoman sultans who claimed the leadership of the Islamic community for themselves.

In 1514 Ismail was defeated by his Sunni rival, the Ottoman sultan Selim I. The continuing struggle against the Ottomans cost the Safavids much territory and also their capital Baghdad. The Safavid capital was thereafter relocated at Isfahan, a city that achieved much fame during the reign of Shah Abbas I.