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History and legend in the Jāmi` al-tawārikh: Abraham, Alexander, and Oghuz Khan*


This article explores the historical writings of Rashid al-Din Tabib (d. 1318) as part of a programme of political legitimisation for the Mongol Ilkhans of Iran. By considering both volumes of the Jami` al-tawārikh alongside one another and in their political context, it reveals aspects of the text that get lost when the dynastic and world history are treated in isolation. Rashid al-Din's presentation of legendary figures of communal identity from Perso-Islamic and Turko-Mongol traditions responds to immediate political conflicts between his patrons and their neighbours, the Jochid Mongols of the Volga region and the Mamluks of Egypt. In the relative absence of documentary evidence, court-sponsored narrative chronicles can in this way inform our understanding of ruling ideology during the period.

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A version of this paper was presented at the Tenth Biennial Iranian Studies Conference, Montreal, August 2014. Many thanks to fellow panelists and to audience members, notably Evrim Binbaş and Devin DeWeese, who offered important feedback at that time.

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1 The relationship between the Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni and the works of Hāfez-e Abru has still not been fully untangled. For an overview, see Rosen, Baron Victor, Les manuscrits persans de l’institut des langues orientales (St. Petersburg, 1886), pp. 52111; Soudavar, A., Art of the Persian courts: selections from the Art and History Trust collection (New York, 1992), pp. 6465 (cat. no. 22); Leoni, F., “A folio from a Timurid historical manuscript in the Princeton University Art Museum”, Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University (2009), lxviii, pp. 6364.

2 de la Croix, F. Pétis, Histoire du grand Genghizcan (Paris, 1710), p. 539. The younger Pétis's translation never came to print, an oversight that attracted notice as early as 1726: Khan, Abu’l Ghazi Bahador, Histoire généalogique des Tatars (Leiden, 1726), p. 79 n. Print editions of sections of the text began with Quatremère, É., Histoire des Mongols de la Perse (Paris, 1836).

3 Given the significant attention already paid to the Jāmi` al-tawārikh, a detailed overview hardly seems necessary here. For a valuable survey, see C. Melville, “Jāme` al-tawārik,” EIr.

4 Volume Two also originally included a history of Öljeitü's life and reign. This has not survived, though a fragment attached at the end of some manuscripts (Istanbul Topkapı Palace Museum ms. R.1518, 686–687; London British Library ms. Add. 16,688, 291a-293b) may preserve part of it, and `Abd Allāh Qāshāni's History of Öljeitü may have been prepared as or in conjunction with it. In a later description of the Jāmi` al-tawārikh, Rashid al-Din indicates that the collection came to include two further volumes: a genealogical tree of the peoples and a gazetteer of the places described in the first two volumes. The genealogical tree survives as the Shu’ab-e panjgāna (Five lineages) in a single manuscript in Istanbul, Topkapı Palace Museum ms. Ahmet III 2937, discussed by Binbaş, İ.E., “Structure and function of the genealogical tree in Islamic historiography (1200–1500),” in Horizons of the world: festschrift for İsenbike Togan, (ed.) Binbaş, İ.E. and Schubel, N.K. (Istanbul, 2011), pp. 489494. The gazetteer has not survived; Karl Jahn rightly calls it “the most grievous missing portion” of Rashid al-Din's oeuvre: Jahn, K., “The still missing works of Rashid al-Din,” Central Asiatic Journal (1964), ix, p. 119.

5 Karl Jahn published a series of studies and translations of sections of the world history in the 1960s and 70s, and Mohammad Raushan has recently edited most of the second volume. Jahn and Raushan each discuss the source texts of the various summary histories that they treat. Only the section dealing with the the Salghurid dynasty of Fars has not yet been edited.

6 The partial Arabic manuscript survives in two fragments divided between Edinburgh University and the collection of Nasser D. Khalili. See Blair, S., A compendium of chronicles: Rashid al-Din's illustrated history of the world (London, 1995), pp. 1627. The Persian manuscript, described in publications and museum catalogues until the 1960s as an early fourteenth century copy of the Jāmi` al-tawārikh, was in fact assembled by Hāfez-e Abru (see n. 1).

7 For more on these paintings, see S. Blair, “Jāme` al-tawārik ii. Illustrations,” EIr; M.R. Ghiasian, “The ‘historical style’ of painting for Shahrukh and its revival in the dispersed manuscript of Majma` al-tawarikh,” Iranian Studies online 17 June 2014. For a recent reassessment of book production at Rashid al-Din's scriptorium, see Azzouna, N. Ben, “Rashīd al-Dīn Faḍl Allah al-Hamadhānī's manuscript production project in Tabriz reconsidered”, in Politics, patronage and the transmission of knowledge in 13th-15th century Tabriz, (ed.) Pfeiffer, J. (Leiden, 2014), pp. 187200.

8 In her valuable survey of the ideological contests between Mongol and Mamluk courts, Anne Broadbridge admits to an “abashedly Cairo-centric view” by virtue of available documentary evidence: Broadbridge, A. F., Kingship and ideology in the Islamic and Mongol worlds (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 34.

9 On the Oghuznāma tradition, see İ.E. Binbaş, “Oḡuz Khan narratives,” EIr.

10 al-Din, Rashid, Jāmi` al-tawārikh, (ed.) Raushan, M. and Musavi, M. (Tehran, 1994), pp. 4852; hereafter Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni.

11 Dankoff, R., “The Alexander romance in the Diwān lughāt at-Turk,” Humaniora Islamica (1973), i, p. 242 n. 28.

12 London British Library ms. Add. 7628, 27b-29a; ms. I.O. Islamic 3524, 27a-28a. This article was prepared before Mohammad Raushan's edition of the pre-Islamic period and caliphate became available: Jāmi` al-tawārikh: tārikh-e Irān va Islām, (ed.) M. Raushan (Tehran, 2013).

13 de Rachewiltz, I., The secret history of the Mongols: a Mongolian epic chronicle of the thirteenth century (Leiden, 2006), pp. 35 (§§17–22) and commentary, esp. pp. 263–265. Perhaps indebted to Christian motifs, this story came to have powerful significance as a mechanism for legitimising non-Chinggisid Mongols as spiritual descendants of `Ali: Moin, A. A., The millennial sovereign: sacred kingship and sainthood in Islam (New York, 2012).

14 For more on the myth, see Aigle, D., “Les transformations d’un mythe d’origine: l’example de Gengis Khan et de Tamerlan,” Revue des Mondes Musulmans et de la Méditerranée (2000), lxxxix–xc, pp. 151168; DeWeese, D., Islamization and native religion in the Golden Horde: Baba Tükles and conversion to Islam in historical and epic tradition (Pennsylvania, 1994), pp. 273275, with additional bibliography.

15 Pelliot, P., “Neuf notes sur des questions d’Asie Centrale,” T’oung Pao (1929), xxvi, pp. 201266; DeWeese, pp. 275–277.

16 Atwood, C. P., “Six pre-Chinggisid genealogies in the Mongol Empire”, Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi (2012), xix, pp. 1523, 49.

17 Atwood, passim.

18 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, p. 25.

19 By comparison, even a century later, after the collapse of the Ilkhanate, different claimants to the Mongol heritage in the Middle East promoted different versions of Mongol history: Manz, B. F., “Mongol history rewritten and relived,” Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée (2000), lxxxix–xl, pp. 129149.

20 The best survey of this whole period remains Boyle, J. A., “Dynastic and political history of the Il-Khāns”, in The Cambridge history of Iran. Vol. 5: the Saljuq and Mongol periods, (ed.) Boyle, J. A. (Cambridge, 1968), pp. 304352, though this will presumably be replaced by D. Morgan's chapter in the forthcoming Cambridge history of the Mongol Empire.

21 Jackson, P., “The dissolution of the Mongol Empire,” Central Asiatic Journal (1978), xxii, iii-iv, pp. 186244.

22 Jackson 1978, pp. 208–210.

23 Boyle 1968, pp. 152–154; Jackson 1978, pp. 220–227.

24 On this war, see Amitai, R., Mongols and Mamluks: the Mamluk-Ilkhānid war, 1260–1281 (Cambridge, 1995) and various articles collected in idem, The Mongols in the Islamic lands: studies in the history of the Ilkhanate (Ashgate, 2007). For the concomitant diplomatic struggle, see Broadbridge 2008, esp. pp. 27–137.

25 Halperin, C. J., “The Kipchak connection: the Ilkhans, the Mamluks and Ayn Jalut,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (2000), lxii, ii, pp. 229245.

26 Melville, C., “From Adam to Abaqa: Qādi Baidāwi's rearrangement of history,” Studia Iranica (2001), xxx, pp. 6786. Juvayni states that he was encouraged to write his history while at the Mongol capital of Qaraqorum: Juvayni, Alāʾ al-Dīn `Atā-Malik, The Ta’ríkh-i-Jahán-Gushá of `Alá’u ‘d-Dín `Atâ-Malik-i-Juwayní, (ed.) Qazvini, M. M. (London, 1912–1958), i, pp. 23; idem, The history of the world-conqueror, translated by J. A. Boyle (Manchester, 1958), pp. 4–5. The Akhbār is anonymous, but was probably composed by Qutb al-Dīn Shirāzi while he was in Anatolia in the mid-1280s, perhaps as an effort to ingratiate himself with the administration of Arghun Khan: S. Kamola, “Rashīd al-Dīn and the making of history in Mongol Iran” (Ph.D. Diss: University of Washington, 2013), pp. 75–78.

27 Writing that same year, Ibn al-Tiqtaqā asserts that historical anecdotes and biographies, such as the kind that he was engaged in writing, were the most important field of study for rulers, and then blames the Ilkhans for dismissing all scholarship not directly contributing to affairs of state: al-Tiqtaqā, Ibn, al-Fakhri, (ed.) Farhūd, A.`A. and `Māyū, A.M. (Aleppo, 1997), pp. 13, 25.

28 Vassāf, Shihāb al-Dīn `Abd Allāh, Tajziyat al-amsār wa tazjiyat al-a`sār (Bombay, 1853), pp. 405406.

29 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, 28; Hamd Allāh Mustaufi Qazvini dates the commission of the Blessed history to the first year of Ghazan's new Ilkhanid age, which began on the spring equinox of 1302: Zafarnāma von Hamdallāh Mustaufi und Šāhnāma von Abu’l-Qāsim Firdausī (Tehran and Vienna, 1999), p. 1414.

30 Qāshāni, Jamāl al-Din Abu’l-Qāsim, Zubdat al-tawārikh. Baksh-i Fātimiyyān va Nizāriyyān, (ed.) Dāneshpazhuh, Mohammad Taqi (Tehran, 1987), pp. 34, discussed also in Morton, A. H., The Saljūqnāma of Zahir al-Dīn Nishāpūri (Chippenham, 2004), pp. 2325.

31 For a valuable historical and historiographical survey of the early Seljuq dynasty, see Peacock, A. C. S., Early Saljūq history: a new interpretation (London, 2010).

32 See, for example, Sümer, F., Oǧuzlar (Türkmenler) Tarihleri – boy teşkilâtı – destanları (Ankara, 1967).

33 Tekin, T., A grammar of Orkhon Turkic (Bloomington, 1968), p. 231et al.; Liu, M., Die chinesischen Nachrichten zur Geschichte der Ost-Türken (T’u-küe) (Wiesbaden, 1958), pp. 158, 591 n. 831. See also Sümer, pp. 1–3.

34 al-Kāšγari, Mahmūd, Compendium of the Turkic dialects (Diwān luγāt at-Turk), edited and translated by Dankoff, R. and Kelly, J. (Cambridge, 1982), i, pp. 101102 (ms. 40–41).

35 Kāšγari, i, pp. 362–363 (ms. 623–25).

36 For example, see Barthol’d, V.V., Four studies on the history of Central Asia. Volume 3: history of the Turkman people (Leiden, 1956), pp. 121145; Turan, O., “Rashid üd-dīn et l‘Histoire des Turcs,” in Majmū’a-ye khitābe-ha-i tahqiqi dar bare-ye Rashid al-Din Fazl Allāh Hamadāni, (ed.) Nasr, S. al. (Tehran, 1971), pp. 6880; Togan, A. Z. V., Oǧuz destanı (Istanbul, 1972).

37 al-Dīn, Rashid, Jāmi` al-tawārikh. Vol. 3: Tārikh-e Oghuz, (ed.) Raushan, M. (Tehran, 2005), hereafter Tārikh-e Oghuz; Jahn, K., Die Geschichte der Oġuzen des Rašid ad-Dīn (Vienna, 1969).

38 Jahn, K., “Zu Rašid al-Dīn's „Geschichte der Oġuzen und Türken”,” Journal of Asian History (1967), i, i, pp. 4546; idem, Die Geschichte der Oġuzen des Rašid ad- Dīn (Vienna, 1969), p. 7.

39 Paris BnF ms. Supplément turc 1001, catalogued by Blochet, E., Catalogue des manuscrits turcs (Paris, 1933), ii.125 and available online through The reading of this manuscript was the subject of an exchange between R. Nour and P. Pelliot between 1928 and 1931. It has most recently been interpreted by M. Ölmez, “Commentary of OGHUZ-NAMA,” Commentary Project of the Center for Central Eurasian Civilization Archive,, with comprehensive bibliography, including previous editions.

40 DeWeese, pp. 323–331.

41 Togan, p. 148.

42 Tārikh-e Oghuz, p. 2.

43 Tārikh-e Oghuz, p. 3–4.

44 To survey the entire literature on Alexander the Great, or Eskandar/Sekandar, in the Islamic tradition would be a Herculean task. For an overview of the Alexander tradition in Persian literature and associated bibliography, see W. L. Hanaway, “Eskandar-nāma,” EIr. For an overview of the Romance in the many languages in which it appeared, see Ross, D. J. A., Alexander historiatus: a guide to medieval Illustrated Alexanderromans (Franfurt, 1988). For the quranic Dhu’l-Qarnayn, refer to W.M. Watt, “al-Iskandar,” EI2.

45 Dankoff, passim. For the survival of the Alexander Romance and other legends among later Turkic peoples of Western Eurasia, see Frank, A. J., “Historical legends of the Volga-Ural Muslims concerning Alexander the Great, the city of Yelabugha, and Bāchmān Khān”, Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée (2000), lxxxix–xc, pp. 89107.

46 Poppe, N., “Eine mongolische Fassung der Alexandersage,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländische Gesellschaft 107 (1957), pp. 105129; Cleaves, F. W., “An early Mongolian version of the Alexander Romance,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (1959), xxii, pp. 199.

47 Het’um the historian, History of the Tartars, translated by R. Bedrosian, Chapter 16:

48 For the story of Alexander's wall, discussed as well below, see van Donzel, E. J. and Schmidt, A., Gog and Magog in early eastern Christian and Islamic sources (Leiden, 2010).

49 Polo, Marco, The book of Ser Marco Polo the Venetian concerning the kingdoms and marvels of the East, edited and translated by Corbier, Henri (New York, 1903), pp. 484485.

50 John of Carpini, Plano, “History of the Mongols,” translated by Christopher Dawson in Mission to Asia (Toronto, 1980), pp. 3031; Painter, G. D., “The Tartar relation,” in The Vinland map and the Tartar relation, (ed.) Skelton, R. al. (New Haven, 1965), pp. 7072.

51 Gandzakets’i, K., Kirakos Gandzakets’i's history of the Armenians, translated by R. Bedrosian (New York, 1986), p. 307; Boyle, J. A., “The journey of Het’um I, King of Little Armenia, to the court of the Great Khan Mongke,” Central Asiatic Journal (1964), ix, pp. 186187.

52 Het’um the historian, translated by Bedrosian, Chapter 46:

53 Gandzakets’i, translated by Bedrosian, 235. For more on this passage, including possible identifications for Ghut’un-noyin, see Boyle, J. A., “Kirakos of Ganjak on the Mongols,” Central Asiatic Journal (1963), viii, p. 203, n. 29.

54 Rachewiltz, p. 4 (§21), cf. Pseudo-Callisthenes, , The Greek Alexander romance, translated by Stoneman, R. (London, 1991), pp. 3743; idem., The romance of Alexander the Great, translated by A. M. Wolohojian (New York, 1969), pp. 25–30.

55 Tārikh-e Oghuz, pp. 13–14.

56 Tārikh-e Oghuz, pp. 16–18.

57 An alternate reading to “arrow” sees in the name of these sub-confederacies the basic element of oghuz, namely oq, meaning “tribe” (c.f. the On Oq, etc. of the Orkhon inscriptions): Sümer, p. 1.

58 On the genealogical impulse among early Muslims, see Rosenthal, F., A history of Muslim historiography, second revised edition (Leiden, 1968), pp. 95100.

59 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, pp. 23–31.

60 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, p. 223.

61 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, pp. 147–149; Atwood, pp. 17–19.

62 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, p. 218.

63 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, pp. 42–45.

64 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, pp. 147–48.

65 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, pp. 42–44, 147.

66 Tārikh-e Oghuz, pp. 22–23.

67 The best survey of the Mongol institution of slavery remains Vladimirtsov, B., Le régime social des Mongols. Le féodalisme nomade, translated by M. Carsow (Paris, 1948), pp. 7389; for further bibliography, see Rachewiltz, pp. 505–507.

68 Vladimirtsov, pp. 89–99.

69 Vladimirtsov, p. 86.

70 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, pp. 1293–1294.

71 al-Mansuri, Baybars, Zubdat al-fikra fi ta’rikh al-hijra, (ed.) Richards, D. S. (Berlin, 1988), p. 334.

72 Tārikh-e Oghuz, pp. 13–15, 54.

73 For an overview of where Islamic sources locate Alexander's wall, see van Donzel and Schmidt, pp. 73–74, 89–93.

74 Frye, R., “The Sasanian system of walls for defense,” in Studies in memory of Gaston Wiet, (ed.) Rosen-Ayalon, M. (Jerusalem, 1977), vii –xv, pp. 1112. On the dating of this wall, see Gadjiev, Murtazali, “On the construction date of the Darband fortification complex”, Iran and the Caucasus (2008), xii, pp. 116.

75 Bosworth, C. E., The new Islamic dynasties (New York, 1996), pp. 143144; D. M. Dunlop, “Bāb al-Abwāb,” EI2; Frye, R., Ibn Fadlan's Journey to Russia: a tenth-century traveler from Baghdad to the Volga River (Princeton, 2005), p. 105.

76 Frye, 2005, pp. 58, 77. For later accounts in the same vein, see van Donzel and Schmidt, pp. 98–109.

77 D. M. Dunlop, “Bāb al-Abwāb,” EI2.

78 Vassāf, p. 398.

79 Vassāf, p. 50.

80 London, British Library mss. Add. 7628, 28b; IO Islamic 3524, 27b.

81 al-Athir, `Izz al-Din Ibn, al-Kāmil fi al-ta’rikh, (ed.) Tornberg, C. J. (Beirut, 1965–67), i, p. 288.

82 “Safāli” conforms to the ethnonym preserved in Latin sources as Savali. In other Arabic and Persian sources, it is given as Suwar, Suvar, or Sabir. The form Safāli, which is clear in both manuscripts consulted for this study, suggests that Rashid al-Din had access to Latin sources on the Volga Bulghars.

83 London, British Library mss. Add. 7628, 28b; IO Islamic 3524, 27b.

84 Add. 7628, 42b; IO Islamic 3524, 41a; c.f. Baydāwi, Qadi, Nizam al-Tawārikh, (ed.) Muhaddes, M. H. (Tehran, 2003), p. 44.

85 Add. 7628, 47b-38a; IO Islamic 3524, 46a.

86 Baydawi, p. 49.

87 This began in earnest with Waldman, M. R., Toward a theory of historical narrative: a case study in Perso-Islamicate historiography (Columbus, 1980) and is exemplified in the publication of Melville, C., Persian historiography (London, 2012) as part of the “History of Persian Literature” series.

88 Aubin, J., Émirs mongols et vizirs persans dans les remous de l’acculturation (Paris, 1995), pp. 1217; Jackson 1978, pp. 212–215.

89 On Arghun, see Lane, G., “Arghun Aqa: Mongol bureaucrat”, Iranian Studies (1999), iv, pp. 459482; Aubin 1995, pp. 15–17; Kolbas, J., The Mongols in Iran: Chingiz Khan to Uljaytu (London, 2006), pp. 121189.

90 Juvayni, (ed.) Qazvini, ii, pp. 245–246; idem, translated by Boyle, pp. 508–509.

91 On this embassy, see Juvayni, (ed.) Qazvini, ii. pp. 251–256, iii. p. 74; idem, translated by Boyle, pp. 514–519, pp. 597–598.

92 When Arghun eventually returned to the Middle East, he had been invested with the honorific title of aqa, lacking executive authority but continuing to exercise important judicial and military functions under Hülegü and his son and successor Abaqa (1265–82) until his death in 1275. See Aubin 1995, p. 20.

93 One manuscript of Juvayni's work includes a space equivalent to seven or eight lines of text at the end of the chapter dedicated to Arghun, suggesting that, had the work been completed, we might know more than we do. See Juvayni, (ed.) Qazvini, ii, p. 262 n. 1; idem, translated by Boyle, p. 525 n. 26.

94 Juvayni, (ed.) Qazvini, ii, p. 242; idem, translated by Boyle, p. 505.

95 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, pp. 68–69, 103.

96 Juvayni, translated by Boyle, p. 505; Lane, p. 460.

97 Allsen, pp. 18, 50.

98 Rachewiltz, p. 3 (§§14–16) and commentary on pp. 258–259; Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, pp. 179–181. On the father's near-total command over the fate of his children in Mongol society, see Ratchnevsky, P., “Die Rechtsverhältnisse bei den Mongolen im 12.-13. Jarhundert,” Central Asiatic Journal (1987), xxxi, i-ii, pp. 6980.

99 Rachewiltz, p. 164 (§239) and commentary on pp. 854–856.

100 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, pp. 99–102; Shu’ab-i panjgāna, Istanbul, Topkapı Palace Museum ms. Ahmet III 2937, 106b. Rashid al-Din switches the names of the sons of Quduqa from the Secret History, though this has no effect on the structural relationship established by the story.

101 Tārikh-e mobārak-e ghāzāni, 597.

* A version of this paper was presented at the Tenth Biennial Iranian Studies Conference, Montreal, August 2014. Many thanks to fellow panelists and to audience members, notably Evrim Binbaş and Devin DeWeese, who offered important feedback at that time.

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