Historians of the Ilkhanate

October 8 2014

One of the incidental and undesigned effects of the overthrow of the ʿAbbasids and devastation of ʿIrāq was, as we have noticed already in an earlier context, the birth, in a ci-devant Syriac World’s now derelict north-eastern provinces, of an Iranic Muslim Civilization, affiliated to the Syriac, in which, for most purposes other than the exposition of Islamic theology, a New Persian language and literature were to supplant the Arabic language and literature that had been dominant in all provinces of Dār-al-Islām during the six centuries intervening between the overthrow of the Sasanids by the Primitive Muslim Arab ghāzis and the overthrow of the ʿAbbasids by the pagan Mongols. When a previously oecumenical Arabic culture retreated westwards before the face of the oncoming Mongols into a fastness in Egypt with a glacis in Syria and an eastern frontier at the western elbow of the River Euphrates, a New Persian literature that, by this time, had been on the rise for some three hundred years now at last came fully into its own; and this was perhaps the only creative cultural activity in the conquered and devastated half of Dār-al-Islām that benefited from the disaster on the very morrow of it. During the lifetime of the survivors of a generation in Dār-al-Islām that was old enough to have completed its education in a classical Arabic language and literature before the catastrophe of A.D. 1258, the cultivation of the New Persian language and literature was already relieved of the incubus of the cultural ascendancy of Arabic without being yet impoverished by being cut off from the living sources of Arabic literary inspiration. The period of Mongol domination in Iran and ʿIrāq (currebat A.D. 1258-1337) was an age in which the leading Persian men of letters were still bilingual in the full sense of still being able not merely to read Arabic but also to write in it, as well as in their native Persian tongue; [footnote] and it was also an age which produced incomparably eminent Persian historians, in contrast to both the previous and the subsequent age, in which the brightest stars in the firmament of a New Persian literature were, not historians, but poets. [Footnote.]

[First footnote in last paragraph: This point is made by Browne in op. cit. [Browne, E. G.: A Literary History of Persia […] (Cambridge 1928, University Press)], vol. iii, pp. 62-65. The historian Rashīd-ad-Dīn (vivebat circa A.D. 1247-1318), for example, made it his practice to arrange for the translation of his Persian works into Arabic and the translation of his Arabic works into Persian. Rashīd-ad-Dīn’s own account of these arrangements of his is quoted verbatim, from man. arabe No. 356, foll. 1 et seqq. in the Bibliothèque Nationale [ci-devant Royale] in Paris, by E. M. Quatremère in his life of Rashīd-ad-Dīn prefixed to his edition of part of Rashīd-ad-Dīn’s Jāmiʿ-al-Tawārīkh (“A Comprehensive Collection of Histories”), Histoire des Mongols de la Perse, vol. i (Paris 1836, Imprimerie Royale), pp. cxxxiv-cxxxvi. A student of History will be reminded of the cultural situation in Italy under an Ostrogoth domination (durabat A.D. 493-535), when the leading Italian men of letters were still conversant with Greek as well as with their native Latin.]

[Second footnote: The pre-Mongol age of New Persian literary history had been made illustrious by Firdawsī (vivebat circa A.D. 932-1020/1) and by Saʿdi (vivebat circa A.D. 1184-1292); the post-Mongol [Timurid] age was to be made illustrious by Hāfiz (obiit A.D. 1389) and by Jāmi (vivebat A.D. 1414-92). […]]

Saadi was probably born a little later than Toynbee states and was surely not pre-Mongol: “the unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Khwarezm and Iran led him to wander for thirty years abroad through Anatolia, Syria, Egypt and Iraq” (Wikipedia). And if he mentions Saadi, why not his contemporary Rumi, the most famous of all Persian poets in the West, who settled in Anatolia?

Later in the same volume he calls a Time of Troubles “an historian’s golden age”.

The ascendancy of the historians in the intervening Il-Khānī Age is significant; and it is no less significant that the two greatest members of this pleiad – ʿAlā-ad-Dīn ʿAtā Malik-i-Juwaynī (vivebat A.D. 1226-83) and Rashīd-ad-Dīn Fadlallāh Tabīb al-Hamadāni (vivebat circa A.D. 1247-1318) – were also eminent civil servants in the Mongol Il-Khāns’ service, and that two of the lesser lights, Wassāf-i-Hadrat ʿAbdallāh b. Fadlallāh of Shirāz and Hamdallāh Mustawfī of Qazwīn, both of whom were protégés of Rashīd-ad-Dīn’s, were officials of the Il-Khānī Government’s Internal Revenue Department.

The pagan barbarian conquerors of Iran and ʿIrāq, who held out for thirty-seven years (A.D. 1258-95) after their conquest of Baghdad before succumbing to Islam themselves, had found themselves from the outset unable to dispense with the services of their newly acquired Muslim subjects; for the conquerors’ purpose in invading Dār-al-Islām and overthrowing the Caliphate had been to step into the Caliph’s shoes; and the only means by which these interloping barbarians could ensure that, after they had extinguished the Caliphate, the Caliph’s government should be carried on for their benefit was by drawing upon an existing panel of native Persian Muslim professional administrators. The historian ʿAlā-ad-Dīn ʿAtā Malik-i-Juwaynī’s brother, Shams-ad-Dīn Muhammad Juwaynī, managed the administration of Hūlāgū’s appanage for the conqueror and for his first two successors during twenty-one years (A.D. 1263-84) of the Il-Khānī regime as their sāhib-dīwān, and the two brothers were the sons of a mustawfi’l-mamālik (minister of finance) and the grandsons of a prime minister of a by then already fainéant ʿAbbasid Caliphate’s Khwārizmian successor-state in the north-eastern marches of Dār-al-Islām, over against the Eurasian Steppe, on which the Mongol storm had broken in its full fury in A.D. 1220 at the fiat of a world-conquering Chingis.

A discussion of Rashid-al-Din and Juvayni follows.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

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