The Age of the Seljuqs
rom their ancestral heartland by the shores of the Aral Sea, the medieval Oghuz Turks marched westwards in search of dominion. Their conquests led to control of a Muslim empire that united the territories of the eastern Islamic world, melded Turkic and Persian influences and transported Persian culture to Anatolia. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the new Turkic-Persian symbiosis that had earlier emerged under the Samanids, Ghaznavids and Qara-Khanids came to fruition in a period that, under the enlightened rule of the Seljuq dynasty, combined imperial grandeur with remarkable artistic achievement. This latest volume in The Idea of Iran series focuses on a system of government based on Turkic ‘men of the sword’ and Persian ‘men of the pen’ that the Seljuqs (famous foes of the Crusader Frankish knights) consolidated in a form that endured for centuries. The book further explores key topics relating to the innovative Seljuq era, including: conflicted Sunni-Shi’a relations between the Sunni Seljuq empire and Ismaili Fatimid caliphate; art, culture and ceramics; and poetry and architecture.
Istvan Vasary looks back in Chapter 1 to the early history of the Turks in the wider Iranian world, discussing the debates about the dating and distribution of the early Turkish presence in Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan. Nizam al-Mulk is the subject of Chapter 2, in which Carole Hillenbrand subjects this ‘maverick vizier’ to critical scrutiny. While paying due credit to his extraordinary achievements, she does not shy away from concluding that his career illustrates the maxim that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. A fitting antagonist for Nizam ul-Mulk is the subject of Chapter 3, in which Farhad Daftary follows the career of the remarkable revolutionary leader Hasan-i-Sabbah and the history of the Ismaili state-within-a-state that he founded with his capture of the fortress of Alamut in 1090. In Chapter 4, David Durand-Guedy examines the Seljuq Empire from the viewpoint of its (western) capital, Isfahan. He concentrates on the distinction between the parts of Iran to the west of the great deserts (and in close connection to Iran and Baghdad) and the parts to the east, notably Khorasan, with its ties to Transoxiana and Tokharestan. Vanessa Van Renterghem in Chapter 5 challenges the long-held view that the Seljuq takeover of Baghdad represented a liberation of the Abbasid caliphs from their burden-some subordination to the heretical Buyids. Alexey Khismatulin in Chapter 6 presents a forensic examination of two important works of literature, casting doubt on the authorship of both the Siyar al Muluk attributed to Nizam ul-Mulk and the Nasihat al-Muluk ascribed to al-Ghazali. In Chapter 7 Asghar Seyed-Gohrab discusses the poetry of the Ghaznavid and Seljuq period, demonstrating the poets’ mastery of metaphor and of extended description and riddling to build suspense. The final chapter by Robert Hillenbrand shifts the focus from texts and literature to architecture and to that pre-eminent Seljuq masterpiece, the Friday Mosque of Isfahan.
Professor Edmund Herzig holds the Soudavar Chair in Persian Studies at the Oriental Institute and is a Fellow of Wadham College at the University of Oxford. He received his BA in Russian and Persian from the University of Cambridge and his DPhil in Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford. His thesis was entitled ‘The Armenian Merchants of New Julfa, Isfahan: A Study in Pre-Modern Asian Trade’. His principal research interests are the contemporary history of Iran (currently focusing on the political and international history of the Islamic Republic, and on the relationship between history and national identity in modern Iran); Safavid history; the history of Armenia and the Armenians with special interest in the Armenians of Iran. Recent publications include ‘The Armenians: Past and Present in the Making of National Identity’, with M. Kurkchiyan (2005); ‘Regionalism, Iran and Central Asia’ in International Affairs (2004); ‘Venice and the Julfa Armenian Merchants’ in B. L. Zekiyan and A. Ferrari eds. ‘Gli Armeni e Venezia’.
Dr Sarah Stewart is Lecturer in Zoroastrianism in the Department of the Study of Religions at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and Deputy Director of the London Middle East Institute, also at SOAS. She has been co-convenor of the ‘Idea of Iran’ symposia since its inception in 2006 and has co-edited five volumes in the ‘Idea of Iran’ publication series with I.B.Tauris. She serves on the Academic Council of the Iran Heritage Foundation and has been a longstanding Fellow of the British Institute of Persian Studies, most recently serving as its Honorary Secretary until 2013, in which year Dr Stewart co-organised the acclaimed exhibition: ‘The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination’. Her publications include studies on Parsi and Iranian-Zoroastrian living traditions and is currently working on a publication (in collaboration with Mandana Moavenat) on contemporary Zoroastrianism in Iran.