The Coming of the Mongols
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The Coming of the Mongols

David O. Morgan, Sarah Stewart, David O. Morgan, Sarah Stewart

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eBook - ePub

The Coming of the Mongols

David O. Morgan, Sarah Stewart, David O. Morgan, Sarah Stewart

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The Mongol invasions in the first half of the thirteenth century led to profound and shattering changes to the historical trajectory of Islamic West Asia. As this new volume in The Idea of Iran series suggests, sudden conquest from the east was preceded by events closer to home which laid the groundwork for the later Mongol success. In the mid-twelfth century the Seljuq empire rapidly unravelled, its vast provinces fragmenting into a patchwork of mostly short-lived principalities and kingdoms. In time, new powers emerged, such as the pagan Qara-Khitai in Central Asia; the Khwarazmshahs in Khwarazm, Khorosan and much of central Iran; and the Ghurids to the southeast. Yet all were blown away by the Mongols, who faced no resistance from a sufficiently muscular imperial competitor and whose influx was viewed by contemporaries as cataclysmic. Distinguished scholars including David O Morgan and the late C E Bosworth here discuss the dynasties that preceded the invasion - and aspects of their literature, poetry and science - as well as the conquerors themselves and their rule in Iran from 1219 to 1256.

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I.B. Tauris
Sa’di on Love and Morals
Homa Katouzian
(University of Oxford)
What is certain about Sa’di’s life is that he flourished in the thirteenth century (seventh century AH), went to the Nezamiyeh College of Baghdad, travelled widely and lived long. It is clear from his love poetry that he was an ardent lover, and from much of his work that he was not a Sufi, although he cherished the ideals of Sufism and admired the legendary classical Sufis. There is also a remarkable humanist tendency in his works, produced two-and-a-half centuries before the emergence of Christian humanism in Europe. Not much else can be said about his life with the same degree of certainty.
In his introduction to Bustan, Sa’di writes that he had travelled far and wide and spent time with all manner of people. But none such as the people of Shiraz had he found in terms of sincerity and generosity. Returning to his land, he thought that they normally brought sugar as a gift from Egypt:
If I could not afford to bring sugar
I can offer words that are even sweeter
Thus he offered Bustan as a homecoming present to his fellow citizens. It is clear from this introduction that Sa’di had spent many years seeing the world. In Golestan there are many tales and anecdotes which speak of the places the narrator has been to, and experiences he has had in Baghdad, Mecca, Damascus, Alexandria, Diar Bekr, Hamadan, Isfahan, Balkh, Bamiyan, and even Kashgahr, which is now in China. There is a long tale in Bustan of the narrator’s visit to Somnath in India, where he kills a keeper of a Hindu temple. Often, such stories have been believed to be autobiographical, by both Iranian and Western scholars, including Mohammad Khaza’eli,2 John Boyle3 and Henri Massè.4 As I have shown elsewhere, this is extremely unlikely, and in fact there is little evidence that Sa’di ever travelled to the east.5
One thing is certain. Sa’di did go to the Nezamiyeh College in Baghdad. He says clearly in a verse:
(‘I had a scholarship grant at Nezamiyeh’).6 And in an anecdote in Golestan, he says that, as a youth, he had been under the guidance of Abolfaraj ibn Jowzi, who flourished in the thirteenth century and was a leading scholar as well as the mohtaseb – the chief enforcer of religious ethics and duties – in Baghdad.7
Birth and Death
For a long time, it used to be thought that Sa’di had been born in 1184 CE (580 AH) despite the fact that the traditional date of his death is between 1291 and 1294 (691 and 694), which would mean that he lived for 110 years. Both these dates have been vigorously defended – as late as the twentieth century, by Khaza’eli and Massé.8 This too I have shown to be very unlikely.9 Sa’di was very probably born between 1203 and 1209. The date of his death, as noted, has been consistently quoted to have been between 1291 and 1294, which would mean that he lived for a maximum of 91 years – a long, but not impossible, life for his time. Still, these dates may or may not be correct. In fact we lose chronological sight of Sa’di around 1281 (680).10
Sa’di left Fars in the wake of the arrival of the Mongols in pursuit of Jalal al-Din Menkaborni, Kharazmshah, in 1225 (622), when he was at least 16 years old, but was probably around 20. As noted, he presented Bustan to his fellow citizens as a gift for his return to Shiraz. In the introduction to that book he has recorded the date of its publication as 1257 (655):
It was 655 years after hijra
When this famous treasure was filled with pearls11
He must therefore have returned home in the early to mid 1250s: given that he had left Shiraz in the 1220s, he had therefore spent 30 years of his life travelling abroad, learning, teaching, observing. He says clearly in a short and little-known qasideh not only that he had left Shiraz about 1225 (622) when Sa’d ibn Zangi was (the Solghorid) ruler in Fars, but that he returned when his son Abubakr ibn Sa’d was ruler, and the horrors of the first Mongol invasion had subsided:
… I left the Turks’ den13 when I saw
The world entangled like an African’s hair
When I returned the country was calm
The wolves having shut their claws …
Whence this calm, I asked someone;
Look how ignorant you are, he replied
That is how it was then as you saw
A world full of turmoil and horror
Thus it is now under the just Sultan
Atabak Abubakr ibn Sa’d Zangi
This he wrote in the mid 1250s, unsuspecting of the imminent second Mongol conquest, when Baghdad itself was sacked. He wrote two moving elegies, one in Persian and one in Arabic, mourning that catastrophe:
The heavens would be right to weep down blood full
For the fall of the realm of Musta’sim, commander of the faithful
Sa’di was a poet, a prose writer, a lover, a man of the world, as well as one who believed in personal propriety and social justice. He was a man of tolerance, moderation, great wit, and good sense – qualities which, added to his outstanding artistic talent, made him better known and more popular in his own time than any other poet in the history of Persian literature. In his works he alludes to the extent and spread of his popularity in the vast Persian-speaking lands of the time. There is also independent evidence for it. For example, a contemporary letter written in Anatolia (discovered by Mohammad Qazvini) opens with a short stanza by Sa’di, which means that the stanza was famous in that part of the world.15
Together with that of Ferdowsi, Rumi and Hafiz, his fame has been widespread in the Persian cultural region, and his works have been recited and appreciated even by illiterate Persian speakers throughout the ages. His fame is unique, however, in the fact that he is the only Persian poet about whom the common folk have made up anecdotes and legends – even about his legendary daughter, who is su...

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