One of the less-understood curiosities of Persian historiography in the Safavid period is the decision of several chroniclers to organize their work based on an Iranian adaptation of the Chinese-Uighur zodiac system—in which each year starts with the March equinox (Nawruz) and corresponds to an animal sign, in a repeating twelve-year cycle—rather than making exclusive use of the lunar Islamic calendar, or avoiding the annalistic format altogether, as had often been done in preceding centuries. The adoption of the animal-cycle convention in Safavid texts, as part of a hybrid dating system, raises several questions. How, and when exactly, did this practice originate? Was it related to fiscal or military record-keeping? What purposes did solar animal years serve for court historians? Beyond these questions, the use of multiple calendars has led to confusion in the chronology of certain events—such as the accession of Shah ‘Abbas I, which took place in 995/1587 but is often dated to 996/1588. The modest goal of this paper is to scrutinize a few Safavid histories that make use of animal years, and to evaluate the ways in which they attempt, with widely varying degrees of success, to maintain concordance with the Islamic calendar.
This is part of a panel session, with colleagues from the University of Chicago and elsewhere, titled “Political and Religious Development during the Safavid Period.”