Persian Illuminated Historical Documents of Safavid Period from Georgian Depositories

This is a post by Elene Giunashvil, guest contributor for Iranian Studies for 22-23

Georgia’s cultural past, both as a unified state and as divided into its independent principalities,  reflects tendencies and peculiarities of different periods. These periods have been significantly influenced by the country’s political and cultural orientation. From the beginning, Georgia was related to the Islamic World, but during the period from the 16th to the 18th century, Iran became the most important area to understand Georgia’s own historical events. Political, social-economic, and cultural relations between these countries were recorded in the 16-18th centuries in Persian, Georgian, and bilingual (Georgian-Persian) historical documents. These documents are important primary sources for the study of Iranian-Georgian issues, issues in the Caucasus more generally, as well as for the history of the entire Near East.

The diverse collections of Persian historical documents from the Safavid period (1501-1735) presented at the Georgian National Antiquities are unique in terms of their composition, completeness, and historical and artistic value. They are preserved at Korneli Kekelidze Georgian National Centre of Manuscripts (Pd fund) and the National Archive of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia (funds N 1450, 1452). These collections join Persian farmāns (deeds), hokms (verdicts), books of grants and purchases, and letters of appeal (petitions) to Persian kings and the Georgian governors who had converted to Islam, with their decisions. They record many deeds of trade transactions, contracts, trade and taxation receipts, and wedding contracts. They refer both to Georgia and other parts of the Caucasus, and are addressed to Georgian landowners, cathalicoses, Armenian meliks, and rulers of Dagestan, among others. They are presented in their original versions as well as copies.

These collections were acquired through the archival funds of administrative establishments of the Caucasus and private purchases. The collection of the National Centre of Manuscripts mostly comprises the documents acquired by the Museum of History and Ethnography.

Extensive literature has been devoted to the Persian historical documents kept in Georgian depositories. A great part of the Persian farmāns and hokms (including a number of Safavid documents) of the National Center of Manuscripts and the National Archives of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia were edited by M. Khubua (1949), V. Puturidze, (1961, 1962, 1965, 1977), N. Dundua (1984, 2010), M.Todua, I.Shams (1989).These publications comprise established Persian texts of selected documents, their Georgian or Russian translations, with some black-and-white and color photos. The description of the corpus of Persian historical documents in Georgian archives was done by Georgian and Persian scholars: A. Chulukhadze (1381/2002), A. Chulukhadze, G. Rashtiani, (1382/2003).

The Persian historical documents from the 16-18th centuries present a rich source for the study of the historical, economic, and social relations of late feudal Georgia and Safavid Iran. At the same time, the illuminated documents are of great importance for art history. Their refined drawings are illustrative of the art used in the manuscripts of the period.

In 2011 the collective monograph Illuminated Historical Documents in the Depositories of Georgia (281 p., 250 black and white and 27 color photos) was published under the joint project of National Centre of Manuscripts and Tbilisi State University with financial support from Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation. Its editor-in-chief is Darejan Kldiashvili, Senior Fellow of the National Centre of Manuscripts. The second chapter of this book was devoted to Persian illuminated documents (it includes a survey, by Tamar Abuladze and Irine Koshoridze, pp. 150-162; and a catalogue by T. Abuladze, pp. 165-224). The majority of Persian documents presented in the catalogue (40) are richly illuminated farmāns from the Safavid period, issued at Isfahan by Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), Shah Sefi (1629-1642), Shah Abbas II (1642-1666), Shah Suleiman I (1666-1694), Shah Sultan Hussein (1692-1722), and Shah Tahmasp II (1722-1732) (catalogue, pp.165-203). The earliest document was issued by Shah Abbas I. Among these documents farmāns by Sultan-Hussein are especially lavish and colorful. 

Persian historical documents of the Safavid period (16th to mid 18th century) in Georgian Depositories are distinguished by their great artistic value. The documents are richly illuminated, adorned with ornamentation and double decorative frames. They reflect the basic principles of contemporary Persian manuscript painting and represent eminent examples of Islamic fine art. The main part of the text of the Persian illuminated document is written in black India ink, with bright ink and gilding used for some emphasized parts. Persian documents are usually small in size, written on a single page. The average size is 36/50 +20/30 cm; The text usually concludes with the date of its writing. The document’s verso is used for witnessing and registering (with the high vizier Eʿtemād al-Dowla’s seal, as well as other high officials’ seals and endorsements). The illuminated documents are written on high quality thin waxed paper of  Syrian and Chinese origin, and of different colors. The documents are mostly elongated in their shape.

Documents begin with an invocation consisting of only one or some more words (He [the God], whose supremacy is divine). This part of the document is sometimes written in different calligraphy and ink. Red ink or gilding is used to finalize the prayer formula referring to Shah’s ancestors. Handwriting of these illuminated documents is mostly calligraphic nastaliq’ that reached its highest stage of development in the 17th century during the Safavid period. The text of Persian documents is short, and  is usually placed between ornamented frames designed on two sides with stylized floral motifs. The frames of the text are covered with colored flower motifs corresponding to the frame ornament. Often a seal in a decorative frame is placed in the center of the upper part of the illuminated frame; in addition to calligraphy, this serves a special artistic function. For Persian illuminated documents, ready-made Iranian artistic frames are also encountered; these were widely used in Islamic manuscripts of that period.

The electronic catalogue of Persian as well as other historical documents is available online at My present project (which I will discuss in future posts) in collaboration with the National Centre of Manuscripts aims at digitizing these unique 40 Persian illuminated documents preserved there, which are still unknown to the scholarly society. There will be detailed introductions of both material and contextual features: the nature of the support, their content, issuers and recipients of these texts, dates, place of preservation, sizes, damages; seal location and inscription, endorsements, and chancellery seals.

Special attention will be paid to the reading of seal inscriptions, which are often difficult to understand due to the handwriting used, ink and paper surface damage, and relation between manuscripts and known historical personalities.

Ciphers of selected documents will be provided to the digitization laboratory; all instructions will be made on existing material, detailed digitization of inscriptions and seals. Also, the digitization will aim to provide high-quality photos, enlarged details of seals, verso sides, etc. 

Below are some images of Persian illuminated documents from the catalogue, followed by a brief explanation:

Document Pd-4 (Illuminated Historical Documents, Catalogue,  N 6, p.168)

The document issued by Shah Safi I (1611–1642) in 1642 addressed to the vali (vassal and executor) of Kartli Rostom/Rostom Khan (r. 1632–1658) and vali of Kakheti Teimuraz (r. 1606–1648).

The deed is a typical specimen of Persian illuminated documents: on the top of the text in the center is placed the shah’s large dome-shaped seal set into the rosette, which is made with refined gold gilding with blue and red accents. The seal has an inscription and is surrounded by poetic writings dedicated to Imam Ali.

Document Pd-7 (Illuminated  Historical Documents, Catalogue, N 8, p.170)

The document was issued by Shah ʿAbbās II in 1658. It concerns confirmation of a toyul (fief) to Papuna Tsitsishvili, a representative of the famous Kartli princely house. The document is masterfully adorned with gold-leaf ornamentation. The text is written in gold gilding in black and red ink. The seal with the names of Shah ʿAbbās II and the Twelve Imams is placed in the rosette, made with refined gold gilding and black accents.

Document Pd-47 (Illuminated Historical Documents,  Catalogue, N 32, p.192)

The document is Shah Sultan Husayn’s decree to the authorities of Kartli and Kakheti and presents another eminent pattern of the refined Persian illuminated manuscripts.


Chulukhadze, A. (1381/2002). Fehrest e asnād e ārshivhā-ye Gorjestān pirāmun e tārikh e Irān,

 jeld e avval, Tehrān. (A List of Documents from Georgian Archives, concerning History of  Iran), vol. 1. Tehran. 

Chulukhadze, A. Rashtiani, G. ( 1382/2003). Fehrest e asnād e ārshivhā-ye Gorjestān pirāmun e tārikh e Irān, jeld e dovvom, Tehrān. (A List of Documents from Georgian Archives, dealing with History of Iran), vol.2. Tehran. 

Dundua, N. (1984). Kartulsp’arsuli (orenovani) ist’oriuli sabutebi (XVIXVIII ss.) (Georgian          Persian (Bilingual) Historical Documents, 16th-18th Centuries), Tbilisi.

Dundua, N. (2010) Aghmosavlet Sakartvelos mepeebis, bat’onishvilebis da khanebis mier gacemuli sp’arsuli sigelebi (Persian Deeds, issued by Kings, Princes and Khans of East    Georgia).Tbilisi.

Khubua, M. (1949). Sakartvelos muzeumis sp’arsuli firmanebi da hokmebi (Farmāns and Hokms  of the Museum of Georgia).Tbilisi. 

Puturidze, V. (1961). Sp’arsuli ist’oriuli sabutebi Sakartvelos c’igntsacavebshi. C’igni I, nak’veti 1 (Persian Historical Documents at the Georgian Book-depositories. The Book I, part 1, Tbilisi).

Puturidze, V. (1962). Sp’arsuli ist’oriuli sabutebi Sakartvelos c’igntsacavebshi. C’igni I, nak’veti 2 (Persian Historical Documents at the Georgian Book-depositories. The Book I, part 2, Tbilisi).

Puturidze, V. (1965). Sp’arsuli ist’oriuli sabutebi Sakartvelos c’igntsacavebshi. C’igni I, nak’veti 3 (Persian Historical Documents at the Georgian Book-depositories. The Book I, part 3, Tbilisi).

Puturidze, V. (1977). Sp’arsuli ist’oriuli sabutebi Sakartvelos c’igntsacavebshi. C’igni I, nak’veti 4 (Persian Historical Documents at the Georgian Book-depositories. The Book I, part 4, Tbilisi).Todua M. A., Shams I. K. (1989). Tbilisskaya kollektsia persidskix firmanov (TbilisiCollectionofPersianFarmāns), vol. II, Tbilisi.

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