Amusing Shah Abbas

The Shah didn’t always act like a great warrior, major world leader, and major patron of architecture. Here he is, according to the Chronicle of the Carmelites – acting much more like a very annoying small boy:

Rams ready to fight: Brooklyn Museum collection. Late 19th / early 20th century

“One Friday therefore, on the 17th July [1609], while [Fathers Benignus and Redemptus] were in the Maidan near the palace of the King … to see whether they could speak to him by any sort of means, and at about 5pm the king appeared, having come out by a secret gate and a way different from that by which he was awaited by his attendants. Accompanied by very few people, he came riding a very fine sorrel mare …”

1866: ram fighting in the Persian khan, Constantinople. Illustrated London News.

The Shah caught sight of the Friars and asked them what they wanted, before setting his horse “vaulting”. Two Turkish “pashas” arrived with their mounted entourage and, in the melee, the Friars were crowded out.

The Friars always made much of their “barefoot” status, and had already very pointedly refused gifts of horses that they had been offered – so I was fascinated to read that they promptly decided to call over – presumably their own – horses and mount up, so they could continue to talk to Shah Abbas.

Then, in order to “amuse the Shah, some poor people had brought onto the Maidan a number of rams, which had been trained to fight one another, charging with great fury”. Abbas also threw small stones at the Pashas, flicking gravel into the wine cups they were drinking from, then “turning laughing to the Fathers, as if he wanted to show that, even though those Turks might have the name of being high in his favour, he did not for all that esteem them, but rather for his pleasure he used them as he like”.

Click here if you want to see a modern image of ram-fighting – which seems to me almost as unpleasant as bull-fighting.

1 thought on “Amusing Shah Abbas”

  1. I’ve been away retracing part of the traditional trading route between Europe and Persia – between Trabzon and Erzerum. Amazing scenery (even castles)! Lovely people! And truly scrumptious food: I especially enjoyed gobbling down apricots and white mulberries straight off the trees.

    But you’re going to have to wait for a report on this, as I’m busy finishing a book chapter about European accounts of seventeenth century Isfahan.
    So this week, I thought I’d share something from the Chronicle of the Carmelites about two Friars trying to meet up with Shah Abbas – and being outflanked by a beautiful vaulting mare, and some Turkish Pashas, and then even by some gravel.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.