Philosopher-Kings in the Age of Chinggisid Auspicious Kingship: The Sahibqiran Öljeitü and his Mujaddid Vizier

By Jonathan Brack
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 the Ilkhanid (Mongol) court in 13th-14th centuries Iran, cultural mediators experimented with Islamic and Iranian concepts to express and explain Mongol notions of sacral kingship and the Chinggisid claim to divine right. In this paper, I examine the Ilkhanid vizier Rashid al-Din’s (d. 1318) extensive historical and theological writing to demonstrate how the vizier experimented with, and re-conceptualized the main tenets of the theory of Chinggisid sacral authority, namely that Chinggis Khan and his offspring were chosen by God for universal rule; that they were in possession of a special good fortune; and that they enjoyed a unique, unmediated relationship with God, which served as conduit through which divine truth and wisdom can reach mankind.

Through his unique theology of auspicious kingship, Rashid al-Din presented the Mongol sultan Öljeitü (d. 1317) as a prodigy who, with no previous formal training, could instantaneously and with little to no effort gain unprecedented insight into the most pressing philosophical and theological debates of his age. According to the Ilkhanid vizier, Öljeitü would meticulously follow and enforce reason at his court, as well as receive and convey divine inspiration (ilham). In this paper, I explore how Rashid al-Din created a new hybrid Muslim-Iranian philosopher king modeled on the examples of both pre-Islamic Iranian mythical monarchs as well as the Prophet Muhammad himself. This new hybrid figure, Chinggisid-Iranian-Muslim, furthermore, corresponds with Rashid al-Din’s own controversial self-presentation, on the one hand, as the religious centennial renewer (the mujaddid) of the seventh Hijri century, and on the other, as following the example of the mythic sixth-century Iranian vizier Buzurgmihr, who was renowned for his wise advice to Anushirvan (d. 579). Rashid al-Din, moreover, uses these different models to lucratively position himself as the Ilkhan Öljeitü’s exclusive mediator - the sole individual at court able to fully comprehend and explain the Mongol ruler's unprecedented brilliant utterances .

Rashid al-Din’s hybrid model of the philosopher-king shows that it was the Islamic engagement with the ideology of Chinggisid difference, and moreover, the process of creative adaptation and experimentation it entailed, that fashioned a new political discourse about sacral kingship in the eastern Islamic world. I argue that these new political theologies of auspicious kingship shaped post-Mongol Eurasian imperial discourses on sovereignty, legitimacy, and divine right.