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Historical Writing During the Reign of Shah Abbas: Ideology, Imitation, and Legitimacy in Safavid Chronicles. (Reviews of Books).

Historical Writing during the Reign of Shah [Abbas.sup.[subset]]: Ideology, Imitation, and Legitimacy in Safavid Chronicles. By SHOLEH A. QUINN. Salt Lake City: UNIVERSITY OF UTAH PRESS, 2000. Pp. xiv + 197.

The study of Persian historiography (as opposed to the mining for information of historical texts) is still in its infancy. Sholeh Quinn's analysis of Safavid chronicles makes a major contribution to the growing field of interest, not merely in what historians wrote, but in how and why they wrote. Quinn describes her project as "discovering the chroniclers' models, outlining the conventions of historical writing to which they adhered, isolating examples of imitative writing, and reaching conclusions about the ideological concerns of the chroniclers by analyzing the rewriting that took place," through the study of selected texts (p. 3).

In her introduction Quinn provides a brief sketch of the Safavid dynasty and of Safavid historical writing, which she sees as a continual process of rewriting that reflects the "key ideological transformations experienced by the dynasty" (p. 5). Although her main focus is on the reign of Shah [Abbas.sup.[subset]], which saw an unprecedented florescence of historical writing, she also takes into account earlier Safavid and Timurid histories. After briefly outlining "the dynasty's best-known chronicle," Iskandar Beg Munshi's [Alam.sup.[subset]]-ara-yi [Abbasi.sup.[subset]], Quinn describes pre-Safavid works to which Safavid historians referred (chiefly the Safvat al-safa a hagiographical account of the dynasty's founder Shaykh Safi al-Din, and the late Timurid Rawzat al-safa), and goes on to consider early Safavid histories written in the reigns of Shah [Isma.sup.[subset]] and Shah Tahmasb, before turning (chapter two) to those written under Shah [Abbas.sup.[contains]].

The concluding sections of this chapter address, first, the issue of genre, with regard to which Quinn sagely prefers to be guided by the "categories employed by the historians of the time" rather than to impose "late-twentieth-century classifications on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts" (p. 24); and second, the "evolution of Safavid chronicles" away from the universal or general histories that dominated the early Safavid period towards dynastic history, a movement to which "political and dynastic stability certainly must have contributed." Whereas universal histories had functioned "to establish broader contours of political legitimacy," and "may reflect Turko-Mongol claims to universal rule," by Shah [Abbas's.sup.[contains]] time this claim was "no longer possible.., since the Islamic world was divided under Mughal, Safavid and Ottoman rule" (p. 28). This may be too simplistic; "universal rule" seems more a hyperbolic topos (Witness its recurrence in panegyrics) than a claim based on political realities. To assess motivations, we need to look at individual examples, case by case.

Quinn devotes chapter three (certainly one of the book's most important, and most interesting, chapters) to an analysis of the prefaces to Safavid historical texts. As she points out, "most scholars have used the prefaces primarily as a source of biographical information about the author and occasionally for examples of his writing style. Others overlook the prefaces, due to the highly bombastic and rhetorical nature of the language and style in many of the introductions" (p. 33). Her analysis is conducted in terms of what she calls "imitative writing." Rejecting the notion that imitation is tantamount to plagiarism, Quinn argues that "imitative writing refers to the practice of a chronicler choosing one or more earlier texts as a model on which to base his narrative." He may reproduce the earlier text, add or omit details, change the wording, and so on; in any case, "it is absolutely essential for the reader to be aware of the model or models a particular chronicler was using" (p. 34).

Quinn identifies three "conventional elements" of Safavid prefaces: "(1) a religious prologue, (2) information about the author, and (3) information about the work" (p. 35). Each of these contains several subsections (e.g., the author's statement of intent), as well as a number of variables, "such as citing [Qur.sup.[contains]]anic verses and traditions (hadith) and presenting the king's genealogy." These prefaces were composed "in a language intended to demonstrate their [authors'] literary skills, including their knowledge of poetry, history, the [Qur.sup.[contains]]an, and Arabic" (p. 35). Quinn traces these conventions back to the preface to Mirkhvand's Rawzat al-safa, which she anaiyzes insightfully. But they may be seen in the earliest Persian histories, and in even earlier Arabic ones; a comparison along broader chronological lines would reveal more about the methods and intentions of historians of different periods. For example, Mirkhvand's statement that he had long wished to write a history, but "was unable to r each his ultimate goal until events suddenly changed for the better" with the encouragement of his new patron, [Ali.sup.[subset]] Shir [Nava.sup.[contains]] (p. 39), is a topos, paralleled in the prefaces to the anonymous Mujmal al-tavarikh va-al-qisas and to Ibn Funduq's Tarikh-i Bayhaq (to cite two instances from the early twelfth century); the "convention" involves an expression of gratitude to the patron, whether direct or indirect.

Quinn's comparative analysis of a variety of pre-Safavid and Safavid prefaces is meticulous; but the question arises as to whether we are dealing with specific examples of imitation (despite frequent similarities in wording) or with well-established conventions. To take another example: Qazi Ahmad, in his Khulasat al-tavarikh, points to a lacuna in historical writing since the deaths of earlier historians, which it is his intent to fill. This lacuna is historically verifiable. But there are also earlier parallels--for instance, in Jarbadhqani's preface to his translation of [Utbi.sup.[subset]], in which he complains of the Saljuqs' failure to patronize historians--as well as variations on this topos (as in Bayhaqi: since others better qualified are busy with other tasks, he has taken it upon himself to write the history of Ghaznavids, lest it should be forgotten).

Quinn argues further that prefaces serve issues of legitimacy. Qazi Ahmad's preface is the first to feature the Safavid genealogy; prior to this, "the genealogy was not an element of the historical canon; but its incorporation in the preface would eventually lead to its becoming one of the standard conventions" (p. 45). The incorporation of genealogies is surely a variable; and legitimation may also be served by other means, both direct and indirect (e.g., by invoking divine sanction). Referring to the ruler as "lord of the conjunction" (sahib-qiran) also occurs earlier (especially in panegyric poetry); the use of this epithet as a title (if it was one) requires further investigation, as does the notion of legitimation by astrology (a fascinating topic, which must be studied in the context of astrological histories and apocalyptic themes). The need for further study, however, by no means diminishes the value of this chapter, but demonstrates the inchoateness of Persian historiographical studies.

Chapter four ("The Historiography of Safavid Origins") discusses changing perceptions and revisions of those origins. As Quinn points out, "dynastic origins have always been subject to later revision and reinterpretation, as individuals who come to power often commission new versions of their dynasty's history in order to serve their own purposes." Safavid chroniclers "retold the life stories of the Safaviyya order's founders in order to address a complex set of changing assumptions about the nature of kingship and political and religious legitimacy" (p. 63), As the Safavids' religio-political ideology developed, the founders of the dynasty--the Sunni Sufi shaykhs Safi al-Din, Sadr al-Din, and Khvajah [Ali.sup.[subset]]--became transformed into Twelver [Shi.sup.[subset]]is.

One vehicle for this transformation was the legitimizing dream. There is a lengthy tradition of such dream narratives going back to pre-Islamic times (we might also note their importance in even more ancient Biblical narratives). Quinn analyzes six versions of Shaykh Safi's dreams, showing that what began as an emphasis on the Shaykh's sainthood (vilayat) ended with the transformation of this term to emphasize that the shaykh, and his descendants, were destined for rulership. This is accompanied by subtle changes in details; for example, the shaykh's "sable hat" (kulah-i samur) becomes transformed into a crown (taj). Other chroniclers present Shaykh Safi as the mujaddid ("renewer") of his age (a concept originally developed in Sunni circles), with a spiritual genealogy traced back to the sixth Imam [Ja.sup.[subset]]far al-Sadiq, while the Safavids themselves are ultimately transformed, not merely from Sunnis to Twelver [Shi.sup.[subset]]is, but to descendants of [Ali.sup.[subset]] ibn Abi Talib.

Genealogies (both authentic and fictive) were ever an important element both in dynastic legitimation and in hagiography (the invented silsila); and while Quinn sees this Safavid manifestation as an effort to counter similar claims by the Ottomans and Mughals, and attaches it to a broader movement by both the Safavids and the Ottomans to "[replace] genealogical proofs with 'Islamic' proofs," seen with earlier Timurid chroniclers "who replaced Mongol genealogies with more 'Islamic' legitimizing notions" (pp. 85-86)--such impulses, again, go further back in time. (The Saljuq historians Nishapuri and Ravandi, for example, legitimized the sultans in primarily "Islamic," as opposed to genealogical, terms.) Another legitimizing ploy is the shaykh's alleged meeting with Timur (a symbolic passing on of the mantle of power); this, too, has parallels in earlier history (cf. the Saljuq Tughril Beg's alleged meeting with, and "investiture" by, Baba Tahir outside the gates of Hamadan). Quinn's observation that, "far from trying to preserve an unchanging, static narrative, the [Safavid] chroniclers refashioned their early history according to contemporary legitimizing needs," and her stress on the importance of recognizing "what models a particular chronicle used and how he modified that model" (pp. 90-91), provides a salutary corrective to the notion that historians simply copied from their predecessors; the writing of history was an interpretive act, and this fact must be recognized in studying the historiography of any period.

Chapters four and five deal with what Quinn terms "nonimitative writing," through a comparison of different accounts of a contemporary event: "the fall from power and subsequent execution of the Qizilbash officer [Ya.sup.[subset]]qub Khan ... during the early years of Shah [Abbas's.sup.[subset]] reign." Although, when dealing with contemporary history, "the authors relied on different types of sources and used other methodologies," there is "a definite continuity of thought with the ideas and concerns expressed in the prefaces and the accounts of the dynasty's origins" (p. 95). The two main sources for contemporary events were "chancery documents and reports of eyewitnesses, including the chroniclers themselves" (p. 96). (We may recall the Ghaznavid historian Bayhaqi's reliance on such sources for his own contemporary history.) But the use of "common" sources does not lead to uniformity of treatment: the various accounts reflect the historians' particular concerns, and, as a result, contain significant variations in their depiction of what modern historians would consider the same scenario. Quinn concludes that "when chroniclers narrate events that took place while they were alive, their method of historical composition differs from writing an introduction, which had to conform to certain standard conventions" (p. 123); here, I think, she both underestimates the element of choice, and the prevalence of certain motifs that shape perceptions of events (e.g., arrogance, betrayal, and so on).

In the concluding chapters (six and seven) Quinn briefly compares Safavid and Mughal chronicles, exploring their interrelationship and the "common and unique" features they display, and examining both prefaces and dream narratives. She then turns to the "Safavid historiographical legacy" as reflected in the histories of the Afsharid period, arguing that "various conventions established in the Timurid period continued into Safavid and Mughal historiographical traditions," were modified by historians of both, and influenced later historical writing. This emphasis on Timurid histories as model is reiterated in Chapter seven ("Conclusions"), with special stress on Khvandamir's Habib al-siyar, which "many of the historians followed... and in so doing created standard conventions to which other historians following the same historiographical tradition had to conform or else account for their divergence." Their divergences "reflected the new ideological perspectives of the historians following those conventions" (p . 141).

My own opinion, already expressed above, is that these "conventions" (or "models") were developed in even earlier Arabic histories. But I should stress, again, that this in no way diminishes either the meticulous scholarship displayed in this book or the important insights it provides into Safavid historiography. It is an important addition to the comparative material we must have in order to engage with the study of Islamicate historiography; and to someone like myself, who deals with earlier Persian historiography, it shows a continuity between the earlier texts that I have studied and the historical writings of later periods. Perhaps the great "watershed" of the Mongol invasions did not, in fact, lead to completely new approaches to the writing of history.

Moreover, the book makes for highly enjoyable reading. Quinn's style is lively and vivid, and her comparative methodology both original and instructive. There are a few minor lapses (due chiefly to unfamiliarity with earlier material). The view that historical writing arose out of hadith studies (p. 6) has now generally been discredited. For Abu Macmari (the compiler of the prose Shahnamah; p. 7) read Abu Mansur [Ma.sup.[subset]]mari; the Tabari "translation" (ibid.) surely qualifies as an "original narrative in Persian," not least because it is a narrative, not an annalistic, history. The preface of the Rawzat al-safa resembles not only that of Ibn Funduq's Thrikh-i Bayhaq (p. 40) but that of Ravandi's Rahat al-sudur. But these are minor quibbles; and Quinn must be congratulated on providing both a succinct and an exciting analysis of Safavid historiography.
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Author:Meisami, Julie Scott
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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