Scholarly Interest or Enemy Studies? Ottoman Turkish Translations of Arabic and Persian Chronicles in the 16th to 18th Centuries

By Philip Bockholt
Submitted to Session P4895 (Practices of Translation in the Ottoman and Safavid Empires, 2017 Annual Meeting
Iran; Ottoman Empire;
13th-18th Centuries; Historiography; Islamic Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
From the 16th to 18th centuries, a striking number of Ottoman Turkish translations of Arabic and Persian historiographical narratives was made available to an Ottoman audience in Istanbul, at that time capital of the Ottoman Empire. Apart from scattered information found in library catalogues and scarce remarks on a few texts being discussed in articles, we do not know much about why these chronicles were singled out for translation, which people were involved as patrons and translators, when and where exactly the process of translating took place and, last but not least, how people actually translated texts from one language into another. Among the many texts translated into Ottoman Turkish were chronicles like the Persian general and dynastic histories Rawzat al-safa and Tarikh-i Alamara-yi 'Abbasi, both dating back to Timurid and Safavid times, and the Arabic chronicle 'Iqd al-juman written in Mamluk Egypt. All of these were translated at a time when the Ottomans were, with regard to Safavid Iran, heavily engaged with their neighbours in war, or had already overcome former rivals, as in the case of the Mamluks in Egypt and Syria. Thus, among others, as a case in point, the various translations of Persian histories made on the order of the Grand Vezir Damat Ibrahim Pasha in the 18th c. might be seen as an attempt by the Ottomans to learn more about their subjects and current enemies.
In my paper, I will focus on several translations of Ghiyas al-Din Muhammad Khvandamir’s Habib al-siyar (Beloved of careers), a Persian general history written under Shah Isma'il I in Safavid Herat in the 1520s. Being copied all over the Persianate world from Anatolia in the west to the Indian subcontinent in the east in premodern times, today, there are several dozen extant Persian copies and a number of Ottoman Turkish translations of the work being kept in libraries in Istanbul alone. Of these, at least one translation was made on demand of the Grand Vezir Damat Ibrahim Pasha. By having a look at paratextual elements as well as the text itself, I will contextualize these manuscripts and put them into a broader framework of the transmission of knowledge between the Ottoman Empire and its neighbours.