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“And On That Day an Envoy Reached Us From…”: 15th Century Accounts of Reception of Embassies in Mamlūk Chronicles
Mamluk chronicles are well known for the rich and numerous accounts they provide us of the arrival and reception of foreign ambassadors in Cairo. This material has been increasingly used in the past decade to inform us of the Mamluk sultanate’s diplomatic practice as it contains precious details regarding the identity of the ambassadors, the modality of reception and exchange and sometimes even the motives underlying the contact— that is, for the factual data it provides. Those accounts have often been linked to the imperial ambitions of the Mamluk sultans and the material they present has thus been read as a legitimizing tool. They however have never been analyzed on their own as part of a broader narrative project of the various authors. Influenced by the concept of “literarization” developed by Ulrich Haarmann, the present paper argues that the accounts of embassies found in Mamluk chronicles of the 15th century also demonstrated the great expansion of the field of historiography and its inclination towards diversification — a trends that was already initiated in the previous centuries. But more importantly, the paper aims to investigate the construction of these narratives and the role those accounts may have played in historiography more generally to support various agendas. The paper will analyze a series of Mamluk chronicles of the 15th century and their accounts of arrival and reception of foreign embassies in Cairo. A distinction will be made among the authors from secretarial background and those from a military one. For each source, we will ask which embassies are mentioned? How are the account organized? How do the accounts relate to the other recorded events? Which kind of additional material is used to document those accounts? How does the author’s profile influence the account? And finally, what is the role given to diplomacy by those authors and to which end? Unlike previous studies focused on the external use of diplomacy as a mere legitimizing tool, this paper addresses the internal use of diplomacy as a narrative tool that was staged to a broader audience. By switching the focus from the factual data to the structure and discourse of those accounts, as well as the context of the various authors, the paper ultimately aims to shed a new light on diplomacy.
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