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Letters “Lacking a Signature” Full of the “Clattering of the Persians”: A Narratological and Material Analysis of Early Ilkhanid-Mamluk Diplomacy
In the year 1282 a letter arrived in Cairo from the new Mongol Ilkhanid ruler of Iraq and Iran, Aḥmad Tegüder (r. 1282-84), bearing the news of his conversion to Islam as well as an invitation to cooperate (and/or a veiled threat to submit to Mongol suzerainty, depending on the interpretation). This letter set in motion a period of tense diplomatic exchange of letters and envoys, eventually cut short by Tegüder’s early demise. The letters pertaining to this exchange survive exclusively in historiographical contexts. They have been studied extensively before by scholars such as Adel Allouche, P.M. Holt, Anne Broadbridge and Judith Pfeiffer, who offered divergent interpretations of the letters and their purport. Much less studied are the narrative and compilatory strategies employed in the unusually detailed accounts of this diplomatic exchange in some of the Arabic sources. This presentation will focus on these contextualisations and their historiographic and narrative processes of meaning-making. I present a narratologically inspired and material reading of four major accounts of these events and their citation of the relevant diplomatic documents. The first two are given by contemporary scribes Ibn ʿAbd al-Ẓāhir (d. 1293) and Shāfiʿ b. ʿAlī (d. 1330) in their respective biographical monographs devoted to sultan al-Manṣūr Qalāwūn (r. 1279-1290). They are followed by the accounts of Baybars al-Manṣūrī (d. 1325) and Ibn al-Dawādārī (d. after 1336), both of whom compiled large scale universal histories in the early 14th century. All of these texts have been preserved in holograph manuscripts which allows for a holistic analysis of the texts and their material container. In this presentation I will pay attention not just to the documents and their narrative framing, but also to how these sections use different strategies of manuscript layout to communicate layers of meaning. It will be shown that the historiographical format chosen by these four historians had significant impact on how they presented these particular events, allowing them especially to strengthen or undermine the discursive particularities of the letters themselves. A close study of such narrative and material strategies helps us better understand the functions of compilation and authorial agency beyond positivist evaluations of originality and stemmatic relations. Rather, the compilation of documents presented significant opportunities to develop discourses of identification and categorisation along the lines of Persianness vs. Arabness and Mongol authority vs. Islamic authority.
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