The Timurid Vocabulary of Sovereignty and Ottoman Discourses on Rule in the Early Sixteenth Century

By Christopher Markiewicz
Submitted to Session P5119 (Ruler of the East and the West: Notions of Universal Rule in Early Modern Ottoman History, 1400-1800, 2018 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
13th-18th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Ottoman conceptions of rule in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries have most frequently been cast in relation to the Ottoman sultans’ activities as preeminent warriors of the faith (gazis). This focus is entirely justified, and, no doubt, expansion of the domains of Islam constituted an important aspect of Ottoman ideology in this period. And yet, in the sixteenth century, an alternative conception concurrently emerged that emphasized the cosmically ordained status of sultans as universal sovereigns. Significantly, this new vocabulary of sovereignty was shared by all of the major Muslim empires of the sixteenth century. This presentation will examine why the Ottomans adopted this new vocabulary in the sixteenth century and what broader processes facilitated its adaptation from a wider cultural context that stretched between the Balkans and north India.

Central to the adoption of this new vocabulary among the Ottomans was the appeal of skilled Persian emigre scholar-secretaries who offered their Ottoman patrons a conception of sovereignty grounded in the cosmological and Sufi-theosophical legitimating discourses that had developed in Persianate lands since the time of Timur (d. 1405). Over the course of the fifteenth century, such discourses were most frequently articulated, presented, and discussed in the appropriately florid and refined style of Persian prose historical writing and circulated broadly across Islamic lands through the movement of Persian secretaries from one court to another.

In this manner, the new fifteenth-century discourses of sovereignty eventually came to be thoroughly embraced by the Ottomans in the sixteenth. This presentation considers these broader processes by focusing on the impact of emigre Persian secretaries and their work—including the histories, political treatises, and diplomatic correspondence that they composed—upon Ottoman ideological sensibilities in the first decades of the sixteenth century. While more often than not these emigres were subsequently marginalized and forgotten by their Ottoman colleagues, the political concepts they pioneered and the stylistic approach they insisted upon were taken up enthusiastically by later generations of Ottoman intellectuals and secretaries alike.