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statue of Rashid-al-Din Hamadani in Iran

Rashīd al-Dīn Tabīb (Persian: رشیدالدین طبیب) also Rashīd al-Dīn Fadhl-allāh Hamadānī (1247–1318) (Persian: رشیدالدین فضل‌الله همدانی), was a Persian physician [1] of Jewish origin, polymathic writer and historian, who wrote an enormous Islamic history, the Jami al-Tawarikh, in the Persian language, often considered a landmark in intercultural historiography and a key document on the Ilkhanids (13th and 14th century). In 1980, an illuminated version of this manuscript in Arabic was sold at Sotheby's to Nasser David Khalili for £850,000, the then highest price ever paid for an Arabic manuscript[2].

His encyclopedic knowledge of a wide range of cultures from Mongolia to China to the Steppes of Central Eurasia to Persia, the Arab lands, and Europe, provide the most direct access to information on the late Mongol era. His descriptions also highlight the manner in which the Mongol Empire and its emphasis on trade resulted in an atmosphere of cultural and religious exchange and intellectual ferment, resulting in the transmission of a host of ideas from East to West and vice versa. Historian Morris Rossabi calls Rashid-al-Din: "arguably the most distinguished figure in Persia during Mongolian rule".[3]



Mongol soldiers, in Jami al-Tawarikh by Rashid al-Din, 1305–1306.

Rashid al-Din Monafiq was born into a Jewish family at Hamadan[1]. His grandfather had been a courtier to the founder Ilkhanate ruler Hulagu Khan, and Rashid al-Din's father was an apothecary in the court. He converted to Islam around the age of thirty.

Rashid was trained as a physician and started service under Hulagu's son Abaqa. He rose to become the Grand Vizier Ilkhanid court at Soltaniyeh, near Qazvin. He served as vizier and physician under the Ilkhanate emperors Mahmud Ghazan, Oljeitu, before he fell to court intrigues under Abu Sa'id, whose ministers had him killed at the age of seventy.

Jami al-Tawarikh

His encyclopedic history, the Jami al-Tawarikh ("Compendium of Chronicles") was commissioned by Mahmud Ghazan, and initially was a history of the Mongols and their dynasty, but gradually expanded to include the entire history since the time of Adam to Rashid al-Din's time.

The time of its completion is believed to be between 1307 to 1316, during the reign of the Muhammad Khodabandeh (Oljeitu). Mongolian minister Bolad provided him the information about the Borjigin and helped his work.


Calligraphy Workshop: Rab' i-Rashidi

The work was executed at the elaborate scriptorium Rab' i-Rashidi at Qazvin, where a large team of calligraphers and illustrators were employed to produce lavishly illustrated books. These books could also be copied, while preserving accuracy, using a printing process imported from China.

Hulagu with his Christian queen Dokuz Khatun. Hulagu conquered Muslim Syria, in collaboration with Christian forces from Cilician Armenia, Georgia, and Antioch. From Rashid al-Din's work.

The work was at the time of completion, c. 1307, of monumental size. Unfortunately several sections have not survived or been discovered. Portions of the Jami al-Tawarikh survive in lavishly illustrated manuscripts, believed to have been produced during his lifetime and perhaps under the direct supervision of Rashid al-Din at the Rab'i-Rashidi workshop.

Historiographical significance

Two portions of the surviving encyclopedia, volumes II and III, are of great importance for the study of the Il-Khanate. Volume II is an account of the successors of Genghis Khan while volume III describes the Il-Khans of Iran. In his narration down to the reign of Möngke (1251–1259), Juvayni was Rashid al-Din's main source; however, he also utilized numerous now-lost Far Eastern and other sources. The Jami' al-Tawarikh is perhaps the single most comprehensive Persian source on the Mongol period.

For the period of Genghis Khan, his sources included the now lost Altan Debter (Golden Book), and historians find by comparison with material that survives in Chinese sources that he made good use of the source.[citation needed] His treatment of the Ilkhanid period seems to be biased, as he himself was a high official, yet it is still seen as the most valuable written source for the dynasty.

The most important historiographic legacy of the Jami-al-Tawarikh may be its documentation of the cultural mixing and ensuing dynamism that led to the greatness of the Persian and Ottoman empires, many aspects of which were transmitted to Europe and influenced the Renaissance. This was the product of the geographical extension of the Mongol Empire, and is most clearly reflected in this work by Rashid al-Din. The text describes the different peoples with whom the Mongols came into contact and is one of the first attempts to transcend a single cultural perspective and to treat history on a universal scale. The Jami attempted to provide a history of the whole world of that era[2], though many parts are sadly lost.

One of the volumes of the Jami al-Tawarikh deals with an extensive History of the Franks (1305/1306), possibly based on information from Europeans working under the Ilkhanates such as Isol the Pisan or Dominican friars, which is a generally consistent description with many details on Europe's political organization, the use of mappae mundi by Italian mariners, and regnal chronologies derived from the chronicle of Martin of Opava (d. 1278).[4]

Book transmission: printing and translation

Ghazan on his horse. Rashid al-Din, History of the world.

Rashid al-Din also collected all of his compositions into a single volume, entitled Jami' al-Tasanif al-Rashidi ("The Collected Works of Rashid"), complete with maps and illustrations. He even had some of his shorter works, on medicine and government, translated into Chinese. Anyone who wished was given access to his works and encouraged to copy them. In order to facilitate this, he set aside a fund to pay for the annual transcription of two complete manuscripts of his works, one in Arabic and one in Persian.

The printing process used at the workshop has been described by Rashid al-Din, and bears very strong resemblance to the processes used in the large printing ventures in China under Feng Dao (932–953):

when any book was desired, a copy was made by a skillful calligrapher on tablets and carefully corrected by proof-readers whose names were inscribed on the back of the tablets. The letters were then cut out by expert engravers, and all pages of the books consecutively numbered. When completed, the tablets were placed in sealed bags to be kept by reliable persons, and if anyone wanted a copy of the book, he paid the charges fixed by the government. The tablets were then taken out of the bags and imposed on leaves of paper to obtain the printed sheets as desired. In this way, alterations could not be made and documents could be faithfully transmitted.[5] Under this system he had copies made, lent them to friends, and urged them to transcribe them and return the originals. He had Arabic translations made of those works he composed in Persian, and Persian translations of works composed in Arabic. When the translations had been prepared, he deposited them in the mosque library of the Rab'i-Rashidi.[2]

Loss of influence and death

In 1312, his colleague, Sa'd al-Dawla, fell from power and was replaced by Ali Shah, who soon began intriguing to bring down Rashid al-Din. Then, in 1314, Mohammed Khodabanda died and power passed to his son, Abu Sa'id. Young and inexperienced, Abu Sa'id sided with 'Ali Shah and on July 13, 1318, Rashid al-Din, at the age of seventy, was put to death on the obviously trumped-up charge of having poisoned Oljeitu, as during the trial, Rashid al-Din was able to prove the letter that was used against him as evidence, as fake and expose the plot.[6]

His property was confiscated and—even worse from the standpoint of both art and history—Rab' i-Rashidi, with its scriptorium and its precious copies, was turned over to the Mongol soldiery. Only two fragments of the Jami' al-Tawarikh have survived, one of them the manuscript sold at Sotheby's in 1980.[2] A century later, during the reign of Timurlane's son Miranshah, Rashid ad-Din's bones were exhumed from the Muslim cemetery and reburied in the Jewish cemetery.[7]


Scholars are in dispute about whether Rashid al-Din's Letters are a forgery or not. According to David Morgan in The Mongols[8] Alexander Morton has shown them to be a forgery, probably from the Timurid period.[9] One scholar who has attempted to defend the letters' authenticity is A. Soudovar, in his article "In defense of Rasid-od-din and his Letters".[10]

More on Rashiduddin Hamadani

On 5 April 2009, Professor Saadat Noury in his reference article of First Iranian Record on Fingerprinting wrote that, "Khajeh Rashiduddin Fazlollah Hamadani (Rashid-al-Din Hamadani) was most likely the first Iranian who was familiar with the biometric methods and he was the one who introduced the old scientific technique of fingerprint. Khajeh Rashiduddin was an Iranian physician, a historian, a scholar author and a patriot politician. He served as a Minister (in Persian: Vazir) from 1298 until his death in 1318. In his article, historian Morris Rossabi noted that Khajeh Rashiduddin was the most distinguished figure in 14th century Iran".

See also


  1. ^ a b "Rashid ad-Din". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Accessed 11 April 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d Saudi Aramco World: A History of the World
  3. ^ Genghis Khan: World Conqueror? Introduction by Morris Rossabi
  4. ^ Jackson, p.329–330.
  5. ^ Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China. v.5, "Paper and Printing", ed. Tsuen-Hsuin, Tsien. Cambridge University Press, 1985. p. 306–307.
  6. ^ Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam, 1984, p. 101.
  7. ^ William Orville Douglas, West of the Indus, 1958, p. 417
  8. ^ The Mongols, 2nd ed., p. 183.
  9. ^ A.H. Morton, "The Letters of Rashid al-Din: Ilkhanid fact or Timurid fiction?", in R. Amitai-Preiss and D.O. Morgan, The Mongol Empire and Its Legacy (1999), pp. 155–199.
  10. ^ Studia Iranica, 32 (2003), pp. 77–122.

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