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'Macht' and 'Herrschaft' in Persianate Chronicles from Medieval and Early Modern India

From November 15 to 18, 2018, the SFB/CRC 1167 members Stephan Conermann, Anna Kollatz, Florian Saalfeld, and Tilmann Trausch attended the MESA Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas. The mixed group consisted of researchers of the CRC’s Islamic studies subprojects "Imperial representation and ceremonial at the Mughal court" (PI: Prof. Dr. Eva Orthmann) and "‘Macht’ and ‘Herrschaft’ in Indo-Persian historiographical texts from the Delhi sultanate period (1206–1526)" (PI: Prof. Dr. Stephan Conermann).

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SFB/CRC 1167 "on tour". © Florian Saalfeld | SFB 1167

MESA, the Middle East Studies Association, is one of the most important international scholarly associations fostering the study of the Middle East. Its Annual Meeting is one of the most relevant conferences in the fields. The CRC members organized a panel entitled "‘Macht’ and ‘Herrschaft’ in Persianate Chronicles from Medieval and Early Modern India". As one of three, the panel was sponsored by MEM, the Middle East Medievalists organization, a sub organization of MESA focusing on the “medieval” Middle East – a Eurocentric term increasingly under discussion; however, the funding secured increased interest in the panel.

The panel dealt with Muslim realms of medieval and early modern India, realms which are characterized by a distinct stratification by rank. To understand the political and social organization of these realms, the analytical categories ‘Macht’ and ‘Herrschaft’ are of eminent importance. ‘Macht’ and ‘Herrschaft’ were constituted in the social logic of the elite discourses of these societies, and in the Persianate historical writings these discourses produced. Thus, the CRC-panel focused on two main questions: 1) How are ‘Macht’ and ‘Herrschaft’ conveyed in texts which are written either along ideal types or explicitly formulated models? 2) How are phenomena of ‘Macht’ and ‘Herrschaft’ represented in texts from the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal periods?

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© Florian Saalfeld | SFB 1167

Following Tilmann Trauschʼs introduction of the CRC 1167ʼs idea and conception to a predominantly American audience, Stephan Conermann discussed semantical and narratological approaches to ʿAbd al-Malik ʿIṣāmīʼs Futūḥ al-Salāṭīn, a historical epic anecdotally dealing with aspects of Muslim rule in northern India from Maḥmūd of Ghaznī to the 14th-century sultans of Delhi. Usually, this text has been perceived as a historiographic text. In his talk, however, Conermann demonstrated why is it highly useful to analyze the Futūḥ al-Salāṭīn by way of the “classic” narratological toolkit, including topics like focalization, plot, narrator vs. author, time, setting, analepsis, prolepsis, and the like. Focusing on the representation of “power to” and “power over”, Conermann addressed the different voices of the epic – authorial, storytelling, analogical – as moral reflections, spiritual discourses and the textual function of speech and dialogue.

In the second paper, Blain Auer, Professor of the Study of Islam in South Asia at the University of Lausanne and guest at the CRC-panel, discussed the functions of Islamic Genealogies of Prophets and Persian Kings in legitimizing the ‘Herrschaft’ of the Sultans of Delhi. He attempted to answer two questions: How were genealogical narratives, based on genealogies crafted on prophets such as Adam, Abraham, and Moses while simultaneously drawing from the heritage of Persian kings of legend such as Jamshīd and those from pre-Islamic Persian dynasties like the Sasanian kings, woven into the authority of the Delhi Sultanate? And what discourses of power were embedded in the concept of genealogy? To underpin the obligatory acceptance of the ruled, so went Auer’s argument, the sultanate’s historical writing utilized both prophetic and royal genealogies to emphasize the sultans’ claim to rule.

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View over San Antonio, Texas. © Florian Saalfeld | SFB 1167

In the panel’s third paper, Florian Saalfeld discussed strategies of legitimizing ‘Herrschaft’ in Minhāj al-Dīn Jūzjānīʼs Ṭabaqāt-i Nāṣirī, a chronicle from Delhi’s thirteenth century courtly sphere. In his talk, he identified a set of personal qualities and behaviors ascribed to a sultan of Delhi which enables him to rule successfully. However, the chronicler Jūzjānī ascribed these qualities not only to Delhi’s current sultan Nāṣir al-Dīn Maḥmūd, but to the latter’s foremost dignitary Ghiyās̱ al-Dīn Balban as well. Is Jūzjānī, discussed Saalfeld, lifting Balban into position as Nāṣir al-Dīnʼs legitimate successor? Instead of looking to historical circumstances, Saalfeld traced possible reasons for Jūzjānīʼs equating of Ghiyās̱ al-Dīn Balban with Nāṣir al-Dīn Maḥmūd Shāh on a literary level. He argued that Jūzjānī might have depicted Balban as a person of ideal abilities intentionally so that his later ascension to the throne could be legitimized in advance.

In the fourth and final paper, Anna Kollatz discussed approaches of communication theory when dealing with communicational aspects of ‘Macht’ within the elite discourses at the court of the Mughal ruler Shāh Jahān. Starting from a broad understanding of communication, the paper examined which ways of communication are presented in Shāh Jahāni sources, how historiographers did describe communication situations, and to what purpose they did use this topic in their respective narratives. According to Kollatz, textual representation of court communication served to depict or even discuss social relations and rank, especially between the emperor and the manṣabdār-elite holding functions both at court as well as in the military and administration. It served both to show idealized social relations and to mirror ways of negotiating ‘Macht’ as well as constellations of ‘Macht’ and ‘Herrschaft’ between emperor and elite.

Although, and in some matter even because the CRC-panel was one of the very few non-American panels at the conference, it should well have contributed to presenting the work of the CRC 1167 to an international audience and to put the University of Bonn on the map of research on the Muslim history of the Indian Subcontinent.