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Global Perspectives on Medieval Middle East

Session XI-07, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • This paper will discuss the composite configurations of Cilician Armenian kingship, as represented in the premodern Armenian versified chronicle known as Vahram’s Chronicle. In doing so, this paper will utilize Cilicia’s unique geopolitical position as a means of exploring the multiple languages of sovereignty across Armenian, Persian, Mongol, and Latin discursive fields. By using Cilician Armenia as a case study, this paper will connect the literary techniques at play in the chronicle with Cilicia’s involvement in various diplomatic and cultural spheres of influence over the course of the kingdom’s lifespan—roughly between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. Through this approach, the paper will analyze the various axes of boundary making in the chronicle, in addition to arguing for the broad communicability of Christian and Islamic models of sovereignty across the medieval Middle East. Vahram’s Chronicle, written by the secretary of the Cilician king Levon II (1236-1289), is a particularly compelling example of the fluidity of models of sovereignty and sacral kingship at play in a Cilician context, both in terms of its content and literary style. The chronicle discusses the life and times of the various lords and kings of Cilician Armenia, giving particular consideration to the various traits that associated the success of the rulers to the prosperity of the kingdom as a whole. The lives of the various subjects of Vahram’s Chronicle are also told in relation to the polities neighboring Cilician Armenia, emphasizing the close connections between the Armenian lords and their Byzantine, Seljuq, Mongol, Mamluk, and Crusader counterparts in a manner that draws attention to the parallels present in their respective models of kingship. The text also details a family history for the ruling Het‘umids that genealogically connects the dynasty to the Rubenids who preceded them as kings of Cilicia, as well as to the Bagratuni kings of Greater Armenia (885-1045). In doing so, the chronicle serves to reinforce the dynastic legitimacy of the Het‘muids by connecting them to a broader tradition of Armenian kingship in a way that disengages this Armenian kingship from its territorial claims over Greater Armenia (Eastern Anatolia and the South Caucasus).
  • In ibn Tawu’s biography he mentions an event in which the 9th century Queen Buran of Baghdad employs an astrolabe to discover a “qat” and thus make a prediction about the fate of the caliph. This reference would make Buran the first named woman astrologer/astronomer in the Islamic world. This paper examines what level of knowledge is being ascribed to Buran by ibn Tawus. By examining treatises from Abu Ma’shar and al-Biruni, we can recreate the method of the “qat” to examine the level of scientific, mathematic, and technical knowledge Buran may have had and its application in ‘ilm al-nujum. Through a careful recreation of the theoretical method employed by Buran we can extrapolate about women’s access to networks of knowledge, the transmission of learning, and the role of astrology in medieval Abbasid courtly culture. Buran’s knowledge and event attributed to her highlight the under-studied role of women in the astral sciences and the nebulous boundary between astrology and astronomy in the medieval Islamic period as well as the importance of the astral sciences as a legitimizing force in Abbasid politics.
  • As Najam Haider has recently illustrated, premodern Muslim historians occasionally altered minor details or embellished speech in the hope of making larger points to intended audiences. In an attempt to transcend debates over veracity in late medieval Arabic historiography, this paper presents a fifteenth-century case study of how the historical narratives of the Syro-Egyptian litterateur Ahmad ibn 'Arabshah (d. 1450) sought to bring textual order to complex realities of political uncertainty. The creation of monologues and dialogues presented both in his biography of Tamerlane ('Aja'ib al-maqdur) and his panegyric for sultan al-Zahir Jaqmaq (Ta'lif al-tahir) reveal many of the author’s historical truth claims and the processes and literary tools through which he made his historiographical texts meaningful. In examining Ibn 'Arabshah’s usage of Genette’s categories of mimetic, transposed, and narrated speech, this paper studies the author’s literary strategies to decode unique political messages on justice and kingship embedded in his historical writing. Ibn 'Arabshah constructed vastly different textual personas of his two biographical subjects. The first was the Central Asian commander amir Temur (r. 1370-1405) – presented consistently throughout the biography as an unjust tyrant. The second subject, sultan Jaqmaq of Cairo (r. 1438-1453) – was alternately set forth by the author as an ideal Muslim sovereign. Both texts include numerous examples of how Temur and Jaqmaq spoke to subordinates, emissaries, and common people, and how they vocalized their thoughts on justice, righteous war and royal succession. In both cases, the dialogue Ibn 'Arabshah separately attributed to his chief antagonist and protagonist links directly to messages he sought to convey to elite audiences, and how the author made sense of contemporary moments of uncertainty at times of succession between the political orders established in Cairo by the sultans Barsbay (1422-1438) and Jaqmaq. A close textual and chronological relationship exists between Ibn 'Arabshah’s two texts, and many of the good qualities of Jaqmaq are in direct dialogue with the bad qualities of Temur. Ibn 'Arabshah’s lengthy monologues served his historical actors as a venue through which to share their innermost thoughts - along the lines of a Shakespearean soliloquy - laying their consciences bare and delivering motivations to the audience. These extended speeches prove to be a worthy subject of analysis which reveal the ways in which they served the author as literary tools to move the overall direction of the historical narratives in which they appear.