Archive for the ‘Great Lives’ Category

Abbas the Great




Abbas of the Safavid dynasty, the third son of Sultan Mohammed Shah, came to the throne in 1588, at a critical time. He had to restore internal security and reassert the authority of the monarchy.

The Turkmen tribes (known as the Red heads or Kizilbash) constituted the backbone of Safavid military strength and they proved unreliable. They were in the matter of time, counterbalanced by the standing army of his ghulams (slaves) mainly of descendents of Georgians, Armenians and Circassians who had been brought to Persia by his predecessors. They were appointed governors of crown provinces.

He was the first king to create a standing army. Next he strove to expel Ottoman and Uzbek troops from Persian soil. In 1598 Uzbeks were defeated and Khorasan was annexed. From 1602 onwards he waged successful wars against the Ottomans and recovered the territory lost to them. After his victory over Uzbeks, he transferred the capital from Kazvin to Isfahan. He made the city one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

His reign was a period of intense commercial and diplomatic activity. It also marked a peak of Persian artistic achievement. The production and sale of silk was a monopoly of the crown. Under his patronage carpet weaving became a major industry. Fine Persian rugs were exported to Europe along with other items like textiles, brocades and damasks of unparalleled richness of colour and design.Paintings, illumination of manuscripts, ceramics the works of his period  make his rule exceptional.

He was courageous and energetic ruler with a zeal to justice and welfare of his subjects. He showed unusual religious tolerance, granting privileges to many Christian groups. Notwithstanding he tarnished his reputation by the murder and mutilation of many members of his family.

His traumatic childhood left him with a morbid fear of conspiracy. As time went that obsessive fear increased which caused him to put to death or to blind any member of the royal family who gave him anxiety in this regard. In this way one son was executed, two were blinded*.

His reforms contained within them the seeds of the future decay of both dynasty and state.

*Note: In the East blinding was a common practice,in the case of princes likely to be troublesome to the crown prince at a future date. A deep perpendicular incision was made down each corner of the eyes;the lids were lifted and the balls were removed by cutting the optic nerve and the muscles. Later under Caliphate passing a red hot sword close to the orbit or a needle over the eyeball sufficed. (ack: Burton’s Alf Laylah wa Laylah-footnote/vol .1)


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Athenian statesman, contemprory of Demosthenes, the orator.

Phocion was a pupil of Plato and in later life a close friend of the Platonic philosopher Xenocrates. After serving Persia as a mercenary, he was drawn into Athens’ efforts to remain independent of Macedonia. In 348 his tactical skills saved an Athenian force sent to crush allies of Philip II in Euboea. He helped Megara (343) and Byzantium (340) defend themselves against Philip, but from about this time he regarded the Macedonians as unstoppable and cultivated diplomatic relations with them in order to avoid outright conquest. Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323, he advised against the Lamian War, though he led the defense against a Macedonian raid into Athenian territory. Sent to sue for peace the next year, he managed to reduce his city’s indemnities but was forced to accept the occupation of Athens’ port, Piraeus.

Phocion ruled Athens as Macedonia’s agent with great moderation and personal honesty. In the power struggle after the death of the regent in 319, however, he was deposed, convicted of treason, and was decreed the same death as meted out to Scrates, death by drinking hemlock. He was executed by Athenians hoping to restore democracy. Shortly afterward, the Athenians decreed a public burial and a statue in his honour.


When someone made a joke about his severe visage, and some of the local politicians he was not on good terms with laughed in response, he remarked, “My frown never yet made any of you sad, but these jolly men have given you plenty of sorrow.”

Demosthenes once said to Phocion that he might be killed some day, if the people became irrational. Phocion responded: “Yes; however, they would kill you if they came to their senses.” Demosthenes naturally described him as ‘the chopper of my speeches.’

Phocion’s recognized uprightness bestowed on him the cognomen “The Good”. Phocion could have been extremely wealthy, either by his offices or by the high commissions which were managed by him. Instead, he had an extremely frugal lifestyle. This was despite the fact that the entire Athenian political class was quite corrupt in that epoch.]

Philip II offered much money to him and the Macedonian heralds mentioned the future needs of his sons. Phocion responded, “If my sons are like me, my farm, which has enabled my present eminence, will suffice for them. If, instead, they become spoiled by luxury, I will not be the individual who will be guilty for that.”

Alexander sent a delegation to Phocion to offer him 100 talents, but he refused, saying: “I am an honorable man. I would not harm either Alexander’s reputation or mine.” Then, the king further offered him the government and possession of the cities Cius, Mylasa and Elaea. Phocion refused, but did request the release of some men enslaved at Sardis, who were promptly liberated. Soon afterward, Alexander died (323 BC).

In 322 BC, Harpalus arrived at Athens from Asia, seeking refuge. He tried to give 700 talents to Phocion, who rejected this offer. Phocion warned that he shouldn’t attempt to corrupt Athens or he would be punished. Consequently, the angry Harpalus turned the whole assembly against Phocion with his bribes. However, as Phocion kept helping him (with good will but within ethical limits), Harpalus approached Phocion’s son-in-law, Charicles, becoming a friend. Charicles eventually accepted a lavish commission to build a tomb for Harpalus’ mistress, and was investigated for corruption. Phocion refused to help him at the trial, saying: “I chose you to be my son-in-law only for honorable purposes.”

Phocion also refused presents from Menyllus. Phocion said: “You are not a better man than Alexander, so there is no reason to accept your gifts.” With his bribes, Menyllus then became a friend of Phocus.

(ack: wikipedia,Brittania encyclo.,)

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