Foreign Policy in Medieval Persia: General Characteristics

  June 08, 2021   Read time 2 min
Foreign Policy in Medieval Persia: General Characteristics
The most outstanding characteristic of the political system in medieval Persia was the monarchy. The basically theocratic state which had emerged at the turn of the sixteenth century was marked by secular absolutism about a century later.

Absolute monarchy was the most important unifying factor so long as the monarch in power possessed the will and the means necessary to maintain order. In the absence of such a ruler, the lack of social cohesion and political consensus compounded by the decline of the Shia ideology was an important source of weakness in Iran. This weakness was aggravated by Iranian isolationism, which was in part a product of fanatic adherence to Shn dogma. It was also accentuated by irredentist and expansionist wars. Iranian foreign policy in the early centuries was generally marked by two basic characteristics. One characteristic concerned the foreign policy process. The monarchy was the most structured unit of foreign policy making. The nature of the foreign-policy decisions was significantly influenced by the character of the individual monarch. An incompetent ruler would be incapable of maintaining political order, and his failure to do so would invite foreign intervention and occcupation. A strong ruler, on the other hand, would be able to revive the state after its collapse and reestablish its former political boundaries and independence. The other outstanding characteristic of Iran’s foreign policy was the tendency of its policy makers to adopt objectives beyond their means. The objectives and means of the state were those of the monarch. The means most often preferred was war, whether it was motivated by religious dogmatism, by irredentism and expansionism, or by the desire to restore or defend the independence of the state with which the monarch and his dynasty were closely identified. I n th e nineteenth century, as earlier, the foreign policy of Iran interacted with the internal and external situation. But conditions were not quite the same. The external environment in the nineteenth century in particular was vastly different from that of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. On the other hand, there were striking resemblances in the internal conditions of Iran during the two period. The basic features of Iran's internal setting in the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries continued into the nineteenth century. The outstanding feature of the political system was the monarchy. This institution remained as the most structured unit of decision making. It also continued as the all-important unifying factor, although the lack of social cohesion, the divided loyalties, and the problem of succession to the throne continued to haunt the Iranian polity. Monarchical absolutism in the nineteenth century was almost identical with that in the times of Shah ‘Abbas the Great and Nadir Shah.

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