The development of historical writing in the early Ottoman Empire is still typically viewed in terms of a paradigm established in the 1960s by Victor Ménage and Halil İnalcık. This model focuses on narratives of early Ottoman history, which culminated in dynastic histories (Tevārīh-i Āl-i ʿOs̱mān) compiled under Sultan Bayezid II and his successors. In line with historical and philological practices at the time, these scholars took a positivistic approach to comparing various narrative strands, in order to assess their relationship to each other and their factual value. Although some sources were traced to the early fifteenth century, including a book of exploits attributed to Yahşı Fakih and various lists of events compiled under Murad II, more extensive literary narratives were largely ignored except insofar as they included accounts of early Ottoman history. This resulted in a limited perspective on Ottoman historical literature from the early to mid-15th century, which tends to focus on broader views of the past and the place of the Ottoman dynasty within it.
This paper focuses on the universal history Bahjat al-Tavārīkh, a work in Persian by the Ottoman author Şükrullah, completed in 863/1458-59 under the patronage of Mehmed II’s grand vizier Mahmud Paşa. I will show that as in the case of two earlier works completed in Ottoman courts, Ahmedī’s İskendernāme and Yazıcıoğlu ʿAlī’s history of the Seljuks of Rum, Şükrullah’s work presents the non-Ottoman past in distinctly Ottoman terms. I will argue that at a time when Greek authors such as Laonikos Chalkokondyles produced works often viewed as forming part of the Renaissance (Byzantine or otherwise), Ottoman authors felt a similar need to explain their own times by taking a broader perspective on antiquity and world history.