A Mongol Mahdi in Medieval Anatolia: Rebellion, Reform, and Divine Right in the Post-Mongol Islamic World.

Author:Brack, Jonathan

    The Mongols claimed that Chinggis Khan's government was based on the auspices of heaven (Mong. tenggeri). According to their evolving legitimizing assertions that were most clearly, although succinctly, articulated in their ultimatums to Europe, Chinggis Khan was selected by heaven, which conferred upon him its blessing and an exclusive mandate to universal domination. He was furthermore in possession of a special good fortune (Mong. suu) that reaffirmed his selection by heaven and guaranteed his success as the fortunate world conqueror. (1) Chinggis Khan subsequently became the locus of sacred power, the transmitter of heaven's favor to his appointed offspring and, through them, to the lands the Mongols conquered and ruled. (2) The assertion of an inheritable superior auspiciousness is found in the early correspondence between the Ilkhan Hulegu (d. 1265), the founder of the Mongol state in Iran, Iraq, and Azerbaijan (r. 1258-1336), and the last Abbasid caliph al-Mustasim (r. 1242-1258), in which Hulegu asks,

    no matter how ancient and grand your [al-Mustasim's] family may be, and no matter how fortunate (davlat) your dynasty has been, "is the brightness of the moon such that it can eclipse the brilliance of the sun?" (3) This Chinggisid hereditary claim to consecrated authority remained in force into the second half of the fourteenth century, after the collapse of the Ilkhanate. (4) With the establishment of Timurid rule in the first half of the fifteenth century, the authority of the Chinggisid line gradually waned, with the exception of Central Asia, where the charisma of the Chinggisid house retained its authority well into the eighteenth century, if not after. (5)

    As Christopher Atwood observes in his study of the gradual formation of the Mongols' religious policies, however, the notion of the inheritability of heaven's selection of Chinggis Khan represented only one half of the equation. The Mongols rejected the notion that heaven's favor could be bound to one addressee by applying external measures such as ritual or confessional means. (6) Therefore, while on the one hand the Mongols inherited heaven's blessing and their superior auspiciousness through their imperial founder Chinggis Khan, on the other hand the ruler's appointment by heaven had to be confirmed also through empirical demonstrations such as his military and political successes. Although the lack of confessional or ritual "binding" and God's direct selection of Chinggis Khan and his offspring were, in fact, inseparable in the Mongol vision of a sacral and universal Chinggisid authority, recent discussions of how Mongol rule influenced post-Mongol political structures in the Islamic world have considered only the latter--the Chinggisid hereditary claim. Yet the notions of the transferability of God's favor and its personal and empirical validation were also assumed into the formation of a new political paradigm that became one of the benchmarks of the early modern empire-building enterprises.

    In this new paradigm, Muslim kingship became free from the restrictive genealogical and juridical Sunni models for the transmission of divine authority that the ulema drew up. Divine choice became personally validated for each ruler through his political, military, and economic successes. This innovative political theology, which positioned Muslim rulers at the center of the Muslim political, religious, and spiritual cosmos, nevertheless entailed further challenges for early modern monarchs: an ever-growing requirement for Muslim rulers to express their imperial authority through an assertion and reaffirmation of their personal cosmic and divine selection, in an increasingly expanding array of elaborate formats and mediums--from history, astrology, and the esoteric sciences to artistic and material representations. This imperial "hunger" in turn promoted the rise of a new class of influential mediators, who gained prestige and influence through their success in confirming and further elaborating their patrons' claims to divine appointment. (7) Furthermore, the empirically validated transferability of God's favor also offered an ideological platform that could support and fuel the aspirations of potential rebels who had no or less prestigious hereditary rights, and subsequently provided grounds for the consolidation of new dynastic offshoots.

    This new vision of the Muslim ruler was expressed in the expanding royal appropriation and repurposing of titles that became symbols of divine selection: mujaddid (centennial renewer), sahibqiran (Lord of Auspicious Conjunction), and Mahdi (lit., rightly guided; eschatological redeemer and ultimate religious reformer). (8) First expressions of divine appointment and the personal charisma of the rulers, these titles were made to match a hereditary-based model of successive authority, thus retaining the Chinggisid dialectic tension between genealogical and empirical validations of heaven's favor. As Azfar Moin has shown, despite the astrologically driven title's obvious non-hereditary nature, the title of sahibqiran was subsequently employed by Temur's (d. 1405) successors to support their sacral dynastic authority as heirs to Temur's stature as the fortunate world-conqueror. (9)

    This article proposes that the roots of the Muslim political theology of divine selection are found in the Ilkhanate during the decades following the Mongol conversion to Islam (ca. 1295), when cultural brokers--literati, historians, and viziers--sought to explain, reconceptualize, and further expand the now-Muslim Chinggisids' assertions of auspicious kingship, through God's selection of Chinggis Khan, by appropriating and experimenting with Perso-Islamic political vocabularies. Through their innovative experiments, Chinggis Khan's unique affinity with heaven found a parallel in Islamic messianism and reformism (tajdid). Hence, the first Muslim ruler to be cast as a predestined, divinely appointed, centennial reformer (mujaddid) was the Ilkhan Oljeitu (r. 1304-1316). (10) The fourteenth-century Ilkhanate also witnessed the first attempt to recruit this ideology of reform to support and develop the claims of non-Chinggisid Mongols to the transfer of God's favor and, therefore, to their succession to Chinggisid universal domination.

    The attempt in question is the 1322-1323 messianic rebellion of the Mongol governor of Rum (Anatolia) Temurtash (d. 1327) against the Ilkhan Abu Said (r. 1316-1335). According to the sources, Temurtash proclaimed himself the Mahdi. I argue here for a new understanding of Temurtash's rebellion, viz., as an attempt to challenge Chinggisid rule in the Ilkhanate by taking over the Muslim discourse of reform to reinforce the transfer of divine favor. Furthermore, whereas the agenda behind Temurtash's failed uprising might have been to ultimately replace Chinggisid rule in the Ilkhanate, I argue that the urban Persianate elite of Anatolia sought to rechannel this uprising to fit in with their own hopes to revive an earlier Perso-Islamic Saljuq order in Anatolia. (11)


    In 1322 (722h), the Mongol governor of Rum (Anatolia), the amir Temurtash, son of the powerful Mongol amir Chupan, declared himself shah-i islam and had his name added to the Friday sermon (khutba). According to the contemporary Ilkhanid historian Mustawfi Qazvini, Temurtash was recruiting an army to overthrow Abu Said and was corresponding to that end with the Mamluks. He also declared himself Mahdi. (12)

    Temurtash had initially accompanied his father Chupan to Anatolia in 1314, after Chupan was dispatched to Rum by Oljeitu, who was concerned with news of Karamanid Turkmen insubordination and occupation of Konya. Once Chupan arrived in Anatolia, the Karamanids retreated from Konya to Larende. Chupan reinstated Mongol rule in Anatolia and, learning of Oljeitu's death in 1317, headed back east and left Temurtash in charge in Kayseri. When heading to Nigde to deal with another Karamanid insurrection, Temurtash learned about the uprising of the preceding governor of Anatolia, the amir Irenjin, against his father Chupan and the recently enthroned Ilkhan Abu Said. He fled to Danishmand lands until news of his father's victory over the plotting commander reached him. (13) Once the uprising was resolved, Temurtash was reinstated in office. Temurtash orchestrated his own rebellion shortly after, however.

    In his bid for independence, Temurtash joined earlier failed Ilkhanid rebels who, taking advantage of the distance from the ruler's camp (ordu) and their long-standing connections to the region, used Anatolia as a base for declaring independent rule. (14) Like the rebellions of these precursors, Temurtash's revolt was short-lived. When Chupan learned of his son's insubordination, he personally headed an army mid-winter to Rum, fearing his son's actions would reflect badly on his own position as the Ilkhan's right-hand officer, if not the de facto ruler of the Ilkhanate. After convincing his defiant son to avoid a military confrontation with him, Chupan dragged him to the court, where the young Abu Said had little choice but to pardon the rebel. Shortly after, Temurtash was reinstated for a second time as governor of Rum. (15) According to Qazvini, two of Temurtash's culprits were blamed for instigating the uprising: an unidentified amir by the name of Hukarji (or Sukarji), and a judge by the name of Najm al-Din Tashti. (16) The later Timurid historian Hafiz Abru adds that Chupan had the amir and the qadi executed, along with several others, for orchestrating the uprising. (17)

    Although Temurtash's actions and policies in Rum are noted in a variety of sources in Arabic, Persian, and Armenian, we lack a detailed historical account of the revolt itself or clear insight into the instigators' convictions. For this reason they have received little notice, but recently Charles Melville briefly addressed the rebellion, arguing...

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