What are the differences between the Ottoman and Safavid empires in terms of government and religion?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

Posted on

Religiously, there were at least two major differences between the Ottomans and the Safavids.  First, the Ottomans were Sunni Muslims while the Safavids were Shi'ite.  The Safavids were anti-Sunni to the extent that they would at times massacre Sunnis (as they did in Baghdad) when they conquered a Sunni area.  Second, the Safavids were less tolerant of non-Muslims in their empire than the Ottomans were.  They preferred to use Shi'ism as a unifying force in their empire.

Governmentally, the main difference was that the Safavids were a bit more centralized than the Ottomans.  Safavid shahs kept power more closely to themselves than Ottoman sultans did.

beardian's profile pic

Posted on

The Ottoman and Safavid Empires, known as "Gunpowder Empires", differed in

First, the Ottomans:

The Ottoman government was an absolute monarchy that lost touch with the people over time.  It also lacked rules for succession, which history has shown leads to political turmoil and a power vacuum upon death of the monarch/leader.  (Other examples of this - Roman Emperors, the prophet and caliph Mohammad of the early Islamic Caliphate in 632, etc.)  The leader was the sultan, advised by a vizier and supported by a bureaucracy.  Leaders such as Suleiman the Magnificent extended Ottoman power through trade dominance; Istanbul was a key trading city in the heart of the Ottoman Empire.  However, the Ottoman declined due to the aforementioned succession problems, instability from a rapidly expanding border, peasant revolts, and economic problems stemming from wars.

Religiously, the Ottomans were very tolerant.  The Ottomans were Sunni Muslims- followers of Islam.  Taking the Qur'an to heart, Christians and Jews were considered people of the book and were highly respected, or at least tolerated. 

Now, the Safavids:

The Safavid Empire formed in modern day Iraq, Iran, and portions of Afghanistan.  Similar to the Ottomans, the Safavids used their military for westward expansion.  The most famous Shah was Abbas the Great, who recruited Persians into his bureaucracy and formed a military made up of conquered troops, much like the Ottomans and their janissaries.  Again in similarity with the Ottomans, the Safavids suffered from a series of weak leaders, and internal power struggles for control of the empire led to even more weakness.  Ultimately, the Safavids fell to Afghan raiders.

Religiously, the Safavids followed the Shi'a branch of Islam, a difference from the Sunni Ottomans.  Religious leaders and teachers helped spread Islam throughout the empire.  They were also not as tolerant of non-Shi'a Muslims.

Direct Comparison


  • Ottomans were more market driven
  • Safavid Empire was land locked, so their trade was limited
  • Ottomans had an absolute monarch, Safavids ruled by a shah
  • Ottomans were Sunni Muslims, Safavids were Shi'a Muslims


  • Oppression and turmoil caused peasant rebellion
  • Both followed branches of Islam
  • Government focused on westward expansion
  • Bureaucracy supported the leader

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