Displaying Scientific Wealth and Erudition: A Portrait of Bayezid II (r. 1481-1512) as a Philosopher-King

By A. Tunç Sen
Submitted to Session P4887 (Fashioning Philosopher-Kings in the Post-Mongol Persian Cosmopolis, 13th-19th Centuries (II), 2017 Annual Meeting
Iran; Islamic World; Ottoman Empire; Turkey;
13th-18th Centuries; History of Science; Islamic Studies; Ottoman Studies;
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This paper seeks to examine the extent of Bayezid II's systematic efforts to patronize and cultivate sciences, particularly the science of the stars, as part of his broader attempts to cast himself as an idealized philosopher-king, and the newly flourishing Ottoman court as the hotbed of cultural and scientific supremacy. In the wider Eurasian landscape of the late-medieval and early-modern era it was not uncommon for a royal patron to support mathematical, astronomical, and astrological learning; thereby one could not only reap the practical benefits of the produced knowledge in various sociopolitical and military affairs but also ensure the self-evident ideological prestige of fashioning oneself as a generous patron of arts and sciences. In a few exceptional cases, the noble patron himself also became involved in the very scientific activity that he patronized. The eight Ottoman sultan Bayezid II was one such ruler, who did much more than simply gather around him a coterie of the best mathematically and astronomically trained experts or endow the palace with a set of accurate and dazzling instruments. In a way reminiscent of earlier Timurid princes, including Mirza Iskandar b. Umar Shaykh or Ulugh Beg, Bayezid II personally studied several canonical texts on varying branches of astral sciences, much to the chagrin of some of his ‘’devout’’ contemporaries. It is worth noting here that Bayezid II is often referred to in contemporary sources and modern literature with the epithets “wali” (sanctified) and/or “sofu” (pious), but little scholarly ink has been spilt over the burning relevance of his genuine celestial interests to his “piety” and ruling personality. This presentation aims to probe the significance of Bayezid II’s learned interests and intellectual aspirations on the basis of a few curious archival reports, intriguing paratextual evidence from surviving manuscripts, registers of palace household goods, and testimonies of his contemporaries.