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Der Islam

Journal of the History and Culture of the Middle East

Ed. by Heidemann, Stefan / Hagen, Gottfried / Kaplony, Andreas / Matthee, Rudi

2 Issues per year

CiteScore 2017: 0.04

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.100

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Volume 95, Issue 1


Truth and Politics in Late Medieval Arabic Historiography: the Formation of Sultan Barsbāy’s State (1422‒1438) and the Narratives of the Amir Qurqumās al-Shaʿbānī (d. 1438)

Jo Van Steenbergen / Stijn Van Nieuwenhuyse
Published Online: 2018-03-24 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/islam-2018-0006


Throughout al-Ashraf Barsbāy’s reign as sultan of Mamluk Egypt and Syria (1422‒1438), one of the main performers and representatives of his expanding authority and power was the amir Qurqumās al-Shaʿbānī (d. 1438). Defeated in the power struggle that followed sultan Barsbāy’s death, Qurqumās’ career ended dramatically in his execution by order of the new sultan, al-Ẓāhir Jaqmaq (r. 1438‒1453). Whereas this amir’s rich case received substantial attention from the era’s leading Egyptian historiographers, it has so far hardly attracted any interest in modern scholarship. This article aims to remedy this, but not simply in order to pursue some detailed reconstruction of Qurqumās’ life story. It rather wishes to explore this story as a case study towards a better understanding of how extant historiographical narratives that mattered so much to Qurqumās’ contemporaries may be read in analytically more meaningful ways than traditional approaches have so far allowed for. The article therefore proposes and explores a two-tiered ‒ social and cultural ‒ method of reading contemporary historical texts as politically engaged narrative claims to historical truth. It is demonstrated how across a diverse set of narrative texts the high-profile career of the amir Qurqumās al-Shaʿbānī appears as functionally constructed around the messy relational realities of the administration of sultan Barsbāy’s justice and the performance of his warfare in Egypt, Syria, the Ḥijāz and Eastern Anatolia. It is furthermore argued that in the historiographical record of these messy realities Qurqumās’ career is made to appear through the semantics of justice and sovereignty as an agent of the legitimate and truthful political order of the formation of sultan Barsbāy’s state, but only for as long as that state existed.

Keywords: Arabic historiography; state formation; Mamluk Sultanate; al-Malik al-Ashraf Barsbāy; Qurqumās al-Shaʿbānī; narrative construction; justice; warfare; political order; truth politics

Article note: This article has been finalised within the context of the project “The Mamlukisation of the Mamluk Sultanate II: Historiography, Political Order and State Formation in Fifteenth-Century Egypt and Syria” (UGent, 2017–21); this project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Consolidator Grant agreement No 681510). The research leading to this article was first conducted within the framework of the project “The Mamlukisation of the Mamluk Sultanate: Political Traditions and State Formation in Fifteenth-century Egypt and Syria” (UGent, 2009–14, ERC Starting Grant agreement No 240865). Research data were mainly collected by Stijn Van Nieuwenhuyse; the argumentation and text were mainly assembled by Jo Van Steenbergen. An early version of this article was first presented as a paper at the Second Conference of the School of Mamlūk Studies (Liège, 25–27 June 2015). Our thanks are due to Frédéric Bauden, organiser of the SMS conference, for accepting our paper in the conference programme, and to the many conference participants and to colleagues in the Mamluk History and Culture research group at Ghent University for helpful feedback and comments.

About the article

Published Online: 2018-03-24

Published in Print: 2018-03-22

Citation Information: Der Islam, Volume 95, Issue 1, Pages 147–187, ISSN (Online) 1613-0928, ISSN (Print) 0021-1818, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/islam-2018-0006.

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© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Public License. BY 4.0

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