Refiguring Timur the Philosopher-King in the Safavid Cultural Imagination: Accretions and Interpolations to Hatifi’s Timur-nama

By Marian Elizabeth Smith
Submitted to Session P4847 (Fashioning Philosopher-Kings in the Post-Mongol Persian Cosmopolis, 13th-19th Centuries (I), 2017 Annual Meeting
13th-18th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In late fifteenth-century Khurasan, ‘Abd Allah Hatifi (d. 1521) composed a masnavi chronicling the life, military campaigns, and rule of Timur, which he dedicated to the last Timurid ruler, Sultan-Husayn (d. 1506). Hatifi’s work, known as the Timur-nama or Zafar-nama-yi Hatifi, presents Timur as a sacred king (sahib-qiran) and inheritor of both Chinggisid and Iranian traditions of kingship who, by virtue of his auspicious birth, is blessed with wisdom, a proclivity for just rule, and a mandate to conquer the world.

The large number of extant manuscripts demonstrates that the Timur-nama enjoyed widespread circulation and popularity in courtly circles in the post-Timurid Persianate world, from Ottoman Anatolia to Mughal India. Upon closer inspection, however, the Timur-nama’s manuscript tradition reveals that while Timur’s status as a sahib-qiran remains a stable feature of Hatifi’s masnavi, later accretions and interpolations to the text re-fashion Hatifi’s portrait of Timur, cloaking him in a language of overt Islamic piety and chivalry (javanmardi). Moreover, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century recensions of the text, especially those produced in the Safavid realm, include elements not present in the earliest surviving manuscript copied in Herat in 1496, namely an exordium, doxology, and account of the Prophet's Muhammad’s ascension, or mi'raj. In these narratives, the Prophet Muhammad’s valor, piety, military prowess, and status as the Seal of the Prophets are valorized and subsequently find their analog in the characterization of Timur.

I examine this reimagining of Timur and Timurid kingship in the early modern period through the lens of the Timur-nama. In particular, I explore the reasons why Safavid-era manuscripts expand upon Hatifi’s original text in a way that departs from the emphasis that author placed on the language of Turco-Mongol, Chinggisid sacred kingship and instead privileges a more pan-Islamic (neither Sunni nor Shi’i) language of sovereignty. While the Turco-Mongol and Iranian elements of Timur’s ancestry are certainly not expunged from the narrative, here his portrait is refashioned as model of the ideal Islamic sacred sovereign and philosopher-king in accordance with the the religious, cultural, and political shifts in early modern Safavid Iran.