Wednesday, September 25

Rashid al-Dīn Hamadāni

Hamadān (Persian: همدان, in ancient Persian variously Haŋgmatana, Ecbatana) is believed to be among the oldest Iranian cities and considered one of the oldest in the world, one that existed in north-west Iran for centuries before it enters records as being occupied by the Assyrians c. 1100 BCE. One of Hamadān's many illustrious sons is Rashīd al-Dīn Fadl-allāh Tabīb Hamadānī (1247–1318) (Persian: رشیدالدین فضل‌الله طبیب  همدانی‎), a Jewish-origin Persian physician, polymath, historian and general Renaissance Man centuries before the Renaissance.

Rashīd al-Dīn Hamadānī wrote an enormous medieval history - the Jami' al-Tawarikh - this title usually translated to Compendium of Chronicles. Written in Persian, this monumental work is considered 'a landmark in intercultural historiography' and is also a key document on the Ilkhanid Mongols of the 13th and 14th centuries.

Rashid al-Dīn's encyclopedic knowledge of a wide range of cultures - from Mongolia to China to the Steppes of Central Eurasia to Persia, to the Arab lands, India, Sri Lanka and Europe - as well as his personal involvement in matters of State as an Ilkhanid vizier, provide direct access to information on the late Mongol era of the grandsons of Chingis Khan. He traces how the Mongols embraced trade after conquest, and how this resulted in the Pax Mongolica -- an atmosphere of religious tolerance, cultural exchange and intellectual ferment, resulting in the transmission of a host of ideas from East to West.

Rashid al-Dīn's grandfather had been a courtier to the founding Il-khan Hülegü, and his father had been an apothecary in that court as well. Trained as a doctor, Rashid al-Dīn converted to Islam around the age of thirty (his masters would soon start to convert, too) and started in the imperial service under Hülegü's son (i.e. Chingis Khan's great-grandson) Abaqa. He rose to rapidly through government, to become the Grand Vizier of the Ilkhanid court at Soltaniyeh near Qazvin. Rashid al-Dīn instituted economic reforms designed to benefit the native population, rather than their Mongol overlords; he fostered the interests of peasants and of civil society. Traveling through the by-now-extensive Mongol domains, his eyes surveyed agriculture, art, custom.  After Abaqa's reign, he maintained power at the court,  serving as prime-minister and physician under the subsequent Il-khanid emperors Mahmud Ghazan and his brother Öljeitü (aka Muhammad Khodabandeh), before he fell to court intrigues under Abu Sa'id, whose ministers had him executed at the age of seventy on charges of having secretly poisoned the Il-khan Öljeitü (1304-1316.)

The encyclopedic history of Rashid al-Dīn, the Jami' al-Tawarikh (in Mongolian Судрын чуулган, Sudar-yn Chuulgan) was commissioned by Mahmud Ghazan; initially conceived as a history of the Mongols, it gradually expanded to include the entire history since the time of Adam to Rashid al-Dīn's time. The work was executed at the elaborate scriptorium endowed by Rashid al-Dīn himself from his estate, called the Rab'-e Rashidi, and located at Qazvin, where a large team of calligraphers and illustrators were employed to produce lavishly illustrated copies of his manuscript year after year (and, ideally, in the endower's mind, generation after generation.) Rashid al-Dīn imported a printing process from China to enable the books to be copied while preserving attribution and accuracy. The work at the time of completion ( c. 1307) was of monumental size; several sections have not survived or even discovered. Portions of the Jami' al-Tawarikh survive in various lavishly illustrated manuscripts, many believed to have been produced during his lifetime and perhaps under his direct supervision at the Rab'-i-Rashidi workshop.

The work represented such symbolic importance for the Il-khans that Rashid al-Dīn was reportedly given a million-gold-dinar purse at its completion. It was also decreed that an annual copy be made in each of Persian and Arabic and disseminated across Mongol lands.

After Rashid al-Din's execution in 1318, the Rab'-i-Rashidi precinct was destroyed, but luckily the in-process copy that was being created at the time survived, probably somewhere in the city of Tabriz, possibly in the library of Rashid's son Ghiyath al-Din. Later, Rashid's son became a vizier in his own right, and eventually restored the scriptorium precinct of his father. Several of the subsequent compositions of the Jami' al-Tawarikh were used as models for the later illustrated version of the Shahnama (also known as the Demotte Shahnama), which in turn was of seminal influence on the art of illuminated post-Ilkhanid manuscripts, including those at the courts of the Mughals and the Rajputs, such as the Jahangirnama.

By the 15th century, the Arabic copy of the Jami' al-Tawarikh was in Timurid Herat. It then passed to the court of the Mughals in India, where it came to be in the possession of Akbar (1556–1605). Subsequently, there is record of it passing through the hands of one Mughal emperor after another for two centuries. It was divided into two parts in the mid-1700s, though both sections remained in India until the 19th century, when they were taken by British employees of the East India Company. One section (now in the Edinburgh library) was acquired by Colonel John Baillie from the library of the Indian prince Farzada Kuli per the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.  The other section was acquired by John Staples Harriot of the East India Company sometime prior to 1813. At some point during the next two decades, this second portion was brought to England and entered the collection of Major General Thomas Gordon, who then bequeathed it to the Royal Asiatic Society in 1841. In 1948, it was loaned to the British Museum, and in 1980 the second portion was auctioned-off at Sotheby's, where it was purchased by the Rashidiyyah Foundation of Geneva  (ex Royal Asiatic Society) for £850,000, then the highest price ever paid for a medieval manuscript. Nasser David Khalili acquired it in 1990. Above, a folio from my copy of this portion, showing the Buddha (!) offering a piece of fruit to the Devil incarnate (see here for a discussion of Jami' al-Tawarikh and Buddhism.) Below, Ravana lies defeated at the end of Rama's battle for Lanka; Rashid al-Dīn's ambit is indeed large.

Compared to Juvaini, Rashid al-Dīn's tone is measured; his style matter-of-fact; only occasionally does he lapse to verse or allegory. There is a refreshing absence of sycophancy or flattery, even in the sections on the Il-khans themselves. (Ghazan is praised briefly for bringing Islam to the Mongols, thereby revealing and accomplishing Allah’s purpose in the destruction wrought by Chingis Khan.) Rashid al-Dīn is frank about the shortcomings of early Mongol rule in Persia, though he is seldom overly judgmental, usually offering little by way of personal opinion - his is not the moralizing tone that is a conspicuous aspect of Juvaini. For example, in his verdict on the reign of Ahmad Takudār, the seventh son of Hülegü and third Il-Khan of Iran, Rashid al-Dīn characterizes Takudār simply as a ruler unable to deliver justice, using his personal experience from the time when he was in the service of the Juvainis to substantiate the observation.

While he knew the Il-khans from personal experience, Rashid al-Dīn's trusted source on the affairs of the Great Khans in Mongolia was one Bolad ('steel', the word survives in Hindi today as faulad) Chingsang (Mongolian:Болад чинсан, Болад ага, Болд, Persian: Pulad chinksank, Chinese: 孛羅丞相; pinyin: Bóluó chéngxiàng, "Chancellor Bolad", d. 1313),  a Mongol minister of the Yuan Dynasty (his father had been a steward attached to the residence of Chingis Khan's wife Börte), who later served in the Il-khanate as the representative of the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, as well as grand cultural adviser.  Bolad provided valuable information to the Jami' al-Tawarikh on how the main wing of the Mongols worked, even as the Il-khans drifted away from the mores of the steppes and of China; Mongolists consider him as a cultural bridge between East and West. Below, illustrations on attire from China in the Jami' al-Tawarikh.

To recall, Hülegü himself had been born to Tolui, Chingis Khan's youngest son, by Sorgaqtani Beki, the influential Kerait princess. Sorgaqtani, though a tribal outsider, successfully navigated Mongol politics arranging for all of her sons to become Mongol leaders in their generation. She had been Nestorian Christian by faith; Hülegü was friendly to Christianity, his favorite wife, Dokuz Khatun, was Christian, as was his closest friend and general, Ket-buqa. It is recorded however that Hülegü himself had become Buddhist, at least towards the end of his life and all the mayhem (echoes of Asoka?) to his wife's distress.

Hülegü's brother Möngke had been installed as the Fourth Great Khan c. 1251, succeeding Güyük son of Ögedei Khan. In 1255, Möngke entrusted Hülegü with leading a massive Mongol army to conquer or destroy the remaining Muslim states in southwestern Asia. Hülegü's campaign sought the consolidation of various conquests made since Chingis Khan's time in Iran and Khorasan; the submission of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, the submission or destruction of the Ayyubid states in Syria, and, hopefully, the submission or destruction of the Mameluke Sultanate of Egypt. Chanelling Chingis, Möngke ordered Hülegü to treat kindly those who submitted, and utterly destroy those who did not.

Hülegü marched out with perhaps the largest Mongol army ever assembled (perhaps his brother was managing a contender out of Mongolia with all his followers; 20-30% of Mongol forces went with Hülegü, essentially to found a new empire spanning Persia, Iraq and Syria.) Here is Rashid al-Dīn on the consolidation of Mongol power in Iran and Khorasan:

He [Hülegü] sent Sadruddin to supervise the handling over of all the strongholds and fortifications his fathers and forefathers had acquired over time in Quhistan, Rodbar, and Qutmis, and which were filled to the brim with vessels and treasures. The number came to a hundred. The castellans were made to come out, and all the fortresses were razed except for Gird Koh and Lammasar. His [i.e. the local Khwarshah Ruknuddin's] kinsmen and adherents held Lammasar for a year. After that, pestilence broke out and many died. Those who were left came out and joined the others. They held Gird Koh for nearly twenty years, but in the end, during Abaqa Khan's reign, they came out and were killed, and it too was taken over.


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