Correspondence between the Shah and the Tsar, treasure islands and petitions
A team of St Petersburg University scholars has prepared for publication a volume "Persian Diplomatic Documents from the Times of Shah Safi I from the Collection of the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts".
The project team includes: Artem Andreev, Director of the Centre for the Study of the Islamic Republic of Iran at St Petersburg University and Associate Professor in the Department of Ethnopolitology at St Petersburg University; Olga Yastrebova, Associate Professor in the Department of Persian Philology; Timur Slesarev, Chief Librarian in the M Gorky Scientific Library of St Petersburg University; Maryam Rezvan, Head of the Department of Central Asia at the Peter of the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Ekaterina Pischurnikova, Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Persian Philology; Sergei Kostikov, Research Associate at the Institute of History at St Petersburg University; and Dina Kopaneva; Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Slavic and Balkan Countries. The publication is part of the project "The Documentary History of the Russian Strand of Safavid Diplomacy (1501-1722)", which has been supported by the Russian Science Foundation (project № 18 78 10052). The Principal Investigator of the project is Vladimir Shorokhov, Associate Professor in the Department of Historical Regional Studies at St Petersburg University.
‘The historiography of Russian-Safavid relations covers only the period until 1621,’ the Principal Investigator of the project Vladimir Shorokhov outlined the problem. ‘Indeed, a number of topics on the Russian-Iranian agenda in the middle of the 17th century did receive some coverage. These are trade relations and the Russian-Persian conflict of the mid-1650s. However, a large body of documents, reflecting not only Iran-Russia relations, but also the culture of the Safavid state, remained unpublished.’ Vladimir Shorokhov added that this period was covered neither by Russian nor by Iranian historians. Only a few mentions of it could be found in foreign publications.
According to Vladimir Shorokhov, the body of documents on Iranian diplomacy stored in Russian archives is truly vast. The scholars therefore decided to focus on studying sources from the period from the beginning of reign of Shah Abbas the Great (1587) until the death of Shah Abbas II (1667), including documents from the time of Shah Safi I (1629-1642). The archival work was carried out in the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts (RGADA). There were 173 documents identified, of which only 24 documents are in the original, 68 — only in the translation, and 81 documents are presented by both originals and translations.
‘Many of the documents are unique both in genre and content. These are petitions and responses to petitions pertinent to negotiations, as well as misdated letters. There are also documents containing information about real-life treasure islands, which appeared following robberies of trade caravans, including state-owned caravans. This is a truly unique body of sources containing a wealth of fascinating information, thus far little known to historians,’ explained Vladimir Shorokhov, Associate Professor in the Department of Historical Regional Studies at St Petersburg University.
The scholars plan to publish documents from the time of Shah Abbas II rule. Today, the collection of materials for the years 1642-1651 has been completed.
Artem Andreev, Director of the Centre for the Study of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Associate Professor in the Department of Ethnopolitology at St Petersburg University, spoke about the structure of the publication and the rationale that lies behind the arrangement of documents in it. He shared that the "Persian" fund of the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts (fund 77 RGADA) contains three inventories: "Registers, petitions and responses"; "Letters of Persian shahs to Russian tsars"; and "Letters and treaties between Russia and Persia". The current publication was based on the materials from the first and second inventories. The found documents are extremely valuable because they are 17th-century originals. The main challenge in work with the inventories was that the records were arranged in a random manner, and information about one event could be repeated several times. It was therefore decided to structure the publication in the order the documents are arranged in the inventories, said Artem Andreev.
Olga Yastrebova, Associate Professor in the Department of Persian Philology at St Petersburg University, spoke about the typology of the materials studied. The first group consists of documents issued on behalf of Shah Safi I. In particular, there is a letter from the Persian ruler addressed to Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov, the first Russian Tsar of the House of Romanov. The letter was modelled on other surviving letters from the Shahs of the Safavid dynasty to European monarchs. Furthermore, Artem Andreev discovered two more Shah Safi’s letters to Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich and Patriarch Filaret of Moscow. They are to be published in the scholarly journal Manuscripta Orientalia. Also, this group contains travel documents of the Persian merchants and ambassadors. These are Shah’s letters addressed to the local administrators of the Russian lands along the caravan route to Moscow (including governors of Astrakhan and Kazan). The second group of documents includes petitions and registers — lists of transported goods and people who travelled with the caravans. These documents were drawn up in order to deter abuse of special privileges by the Shah’s official representatives. There were also lists of gifts to the Russian sovereign, patriarch and princes, some of which are still kept in the Kremlin Armoury.
A document that is distinct from both groups is "The List of Complaints to Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich by Shah Safi I". The text contains instructions from Shah Safi I to his Ambassador, specifying points on the agenda of the negotiations with Tsar Mikhail Romanov. In our opinion, the document can be attributed to primary sources that are practically impossible to find in the original and are called "fuṣūl" (aphorisms).
Olga Yastrebova, Associate Professor in the Department of Persian Philology at St Petersburg University
‘The corpus of Iranian diplomatic correspondence that we have studied is quite extensive, unique and valuable. It is a great joy for us that it will be presented to the scholarly community. Scholars will therefore have the opportunity to work with it and study these documents in detail,’ concluded Olga Yastrebova, Associate Professor in the Department of Persian Philology.
Dr Goodarz Rashtiani, Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Tehran, took part in the presentation. He thanked the research team for their work, emphasising that the collection contains a wealth of valuable information on the Safavid period, which has been largely understudied even in Iran. Dr Mansour Sefat Gol, Professor in the Department of History at the University of Tehran, noted that the publication is of great importance for the study of relations between Russia and Iran. He said that the presented documents are valuable primary sources for studying history, particularly from the standpoint of the history of economic relations between the two countries.
The presentation was also attended by representatives of the academic community of Iran: Dr Rasoul Jafarian, Professor in the Department of History at the University of Tehran; Dr Mahya Shoeibi Omrani, Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Tehran; and PhD student Mehdi Hosseini Taghiabad.
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