Ottoman History

Tracing the meanings of the first Ottoman history: Ahmedi’s “Tevarîh-i Mulûk-i Âl-i ‘Osman”

It is striking that “gazâ” is a critical concept in Ahmedi there is no mention of one of the bloodiest and the biggest Gaza in his history, Nicopolis in 1396.

I wrote this assignment for HIST 222 (Ottoman History: 1300-1600) but I changed its order a bit to understand what the article aims for. Enjoy reading!

It is apparent that several authors have attempted to write Ottoman history for centuries. In this sense, particularly, primary sources are quite crucial to understanding any narrated age in the past in terms of uniting the collections of the past and the conditions of the present from the viewpoints of narrators. In this regard, it is quite necessary to consider primary sources regarding the Ottomans to grasp them better. Among other primary sources, the early works are more important than other ones since there is not much writing on the early times of the Ottomans, unlike their other ages. The deficiency of written books in that period of time makes the remaining written works valuable and worthy to regard their importance. Ahmedi’sTevârîh-i Mulûk-i Âl-i ‘Osman (The History of Ottoman Sultans) at the end of his Iskendernâme (Alexander the Great’s Book) is a considerable literary book for these reasons. Ahmedi portrays people in a poetic form with exalting the Ottomans as well as humiliating their enemies. Even though his ideological and literary concerns necessitate some precautions about historical conditions, his literary work is a worthwhile source in terms of being the first product in the Ottoman times, shaping its contemporaries, and influencing Ottoman history writing in the next centuries.

 

Who was Ahmedi?

 

The first page of Ahmedi’s Divan (the collection of his poems) (DIA)

In the first place, it would be said that writers’ way of life would affect their works and determine their structure according to historical circumstances. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze writers’ life to understand their works better. Who Ahmedi was and what he did must be underlined in this respect. Even though his influence has been widespread through the centuries, there is limited knowledge concerning Ahmedî’s own life. According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, “his place and date of birth are not known”1 until going to Cairo for his religious education and to learn scientific issues in his youth2. His original name is İbrahim and his nickname is Tâceddin while using the literary nickname “Ahmedî” in his products as a traditional practice of Divan literature3.  Getting lessons from Sheikh Ekmel-ad-Din, he made friends from among future prominent figures like Fenarî as E. J. W. Gibb highlights4. After some years; he returned to Anatolia again with vast knowledge in different areas5 and began to write his initial poems under the patronage of AyasBey of Aydınids. Yaşar Akdoğan underlines that he wrote poems to appreciate Ayas’s personality. In one of those qasidas, Ahmedi claimed that Aydınid rulers’ were more valuable than planets and his sublimity is superior to stars6. This seemingly exaggerated wording is a characteristic of political literature for gaining the support of leaders at that time7. Ahmedi used a similar panegyric style for the Germiyanids and the Ottomans. At that time he entered Germiyanid court on an unknown date and wrote books for Amir Süleyman of Germiyan, the Ottoman expansion was continuing under Bayezid I. In that historical climate, he aims to capture Turcoman beyliks. As Linda Darling points out, “the fifteenth century saw the Ottoman state develop from a border principality to global great power. This change in the empire’s identity is reflected in its political literature…”8 “like the other Anatolian beys (or princelings), the fourteenth-century Ottomans supported intellectuals, poets, and religious scholars at their courts…”to legitimize their rule by using the means of literary genres and to improve their political discourse among other principalities. Thus, Ahmedi also preferred to enter Ottoman court though in what year he got in there is ambiguous10.  His most fruitful period started with the protection of Bayezid’s son Prince Suleiman. According to sources, there was an intimate relationship between Prince Suleiman and Ahmedî11and this led Ahmedi to present a high number of works that he was planning to dedicate Suleiman of Germiyan12 including his Tevârîh. However, the Ottomans’ tide turned upside down with the Timurid assaults at the Battle of Ankara in 1402. Captivated by Timurid forces, Bayezid I lost his life after one year and the Ottomans fragmented into smaller parts controlled by Bayezid’s three sons. Ahmedi remained in Prince Suleiman’s Bursa and Edirne-based courts until his murder in 1410. The last and shortest phase of patronage for Ahmedi is to participate in Prince Mehmed’s court in Amasya13. He died as a well-known old poet and supporter of Mehmed I in Amasya in 1412-13. He had a poet brother called Hamzevî who took this nickname since he wrote the life of Prophet Muhammad’s uncle Hamza14. Ahmedi also wrote in several other genres, including a health book and a dictionary15.

 

What whispers Tevârîh to us?

 

The first pages of the initial Ottoman history (DIA)

 

At this point, investigating the context and concepts of Tevârîh is necessary without neglecting why Ahmedi wrote such a book and what his main goals were. First of all, as mentioned above, Tevârîh is the last topic of Iskendernâme which summarizes not only the famous leader’s life but the entire world history in 8.754 couples16. He used the poetic form of mathnavi that is written in rhyming couplets with the scheme of xx/yy/zz without any limitation. Additionally, writing Alexander the Great’s life story in poems is a common Islamic-Persian tradition that Ferdowsi and particularly Nizâmi contributed17. Sılay puts forward that Ahmedi versified this legendary story for the first time in Turkish to be a vehicle that carries his discourses on a series of topics18. When it comes to Tevârîh, it describes the founding sultans of the Ottomans within 465 couples19. As Pal Fodor puts it “Ahmedi’s work chiefly concern the rise of the empire’s and the dynasty’s powers”20In this respect, Darling argues that the book has two fundamental goals. One is “to convey ethical advice to rulers and legitimize their rule.”21In other words, praising and educating the intended audience are two-headed purposes of Tevârîh. Moreover, Fodor agrees with Darling to specify focusing on education and glorification in the book. To him, it “is permeated with two conceptions, one didactic,..the other eulogizing.22”. To illustrate it is possible to encounter such advice “indeed, this world is a transient place; whoever comes here must leave! Her name is “Earth”; whatever she finds, she eats. Do not object to her…”23

In this context, the book is bound to the Sufi philosophy in giving ethical suggestions24. On the other hand, he applauds Süleyman as “what a noble sultan!”25. This presentation to a prince and its exaltation of the sultanic rule would demonstrate that the intended audience of Tevârîh is the Ottoman elite circles. As a man of the educated class, Ahmedi usually extolled the upper classes whoever he preferred. Therefore, BabürTurna contends that “the reader here obviously the Ottoman ruling class.”26 To be brief, Tevârîh’s scope begins with why he placed the Ottoman ruler at last. In the wake of emphasizing the concepts of gazâ and gazî, the book stresses the emirate of Osman and qualifies him27. After “plundering the infidel day and night”28, Ahmedi gives importance to Orhan’s son Suleiman’s famous expedition towards the Balkan Peninsula. The book elaborates on Murad I’s 30-year reign. Ultimately, the book reaches its end with Bayezid and his son Suleiman with some gaps of knowledge (like the Battle of Nicopolis) the reason for which is questioned by historians.

 

What perceives Ahmedi in history?

   To understand the work better, it is essential to consider Ahmedi’s perception of history. In Turna’s view, Ahmedî’s formulation of history is “the superiority of coming last”29. Ahmedî advocates that “what comes at the end is better than what comes at the beginning. Those who have intelligence understand what I say.”30  He also makes religious explanations like “Qur’an is the last of the four revealed books…The Prophet [Mohammed] came after the others.”31 However, Ahmedi’s contradiction lies here since while his linear-based assumption of history resulted in the Ottomans being superior to the Prophet. It can easily be found the traces of that perception in Tevârîh like his claim of Gazî Orhan’s justice caused to forget Caliph Umar’s adalâ notion32. Why he makes such discrepancy is that this “serves the author as a means of praise and exaltation for the ruler of the present time.”33

So, Sufi literature writers also used that traditional similar reasoning for their religious leaders34. Fodor puts forward that for Ahmedi history “a thesaurus of examples…fit the portrayal of the ideal types embodied by his characters…What Ahmedi describes is at most a sketchy outline of Ottoman history studded with an array of legends.”35. Accordingly, the narrator’s treatment of history as a “grand narrative” which gives importance to last assists him to establish a legitimizing principle for his patrons, the Ottomans.

 

The first Ottoman sultan, Osman “Gazî”, and his companions

 

“Gazîyân” and “Gazâvât”: Ottoman Way of Warfare

 

As for its main concepts, Gazâ (“military expedition on behalf of Islam”36) and gazî(“[o]ne who fights on behalf of Islam”37) are the dominating concepts alongside other ones. Tevârih does not thoroughly define Gazâalthough it largely counts sixteen times rephrase – awkward. In the work, this term is used to indicate “a sacred obligation”38in Islam. On the other side, gazî is well-defined and exemplified in five couples. In Ahmedi’s viewpoint, “the gazî is the instrument of the true religion (Islam)…the servant of God, who purifies this world from the filth of polytheism…the sword of God…the protector and the refuge of the true believers.”39 In this respect, one must note that Ahmediregarded these two concepts for his authorial and political goals. Fodor underlines that “the concepts of gazâ and gazî in the Dâsitân are the apparent tools to ideologically explain the past to alleviate internal and external conflicts and vindicate past and future actions.”40 Moreover, Darling suggests that the poem cannot be an expression of religious celebration. Instead, “the poem linked the Ottoman gazâ to the Near Eastern political tradition of the “Tale of Alexander” and the Şahname, harnessing the gazî spirit to a regularized Perso-Islamic regime.”41

 

By mixing different traditions, the book carries a central message (the construction of the legitimacy for the Ottoman supremacy) more powerful, and “the Gazi mission set in the past ensured legitimation of any move of the Ottomans.”42 Fodor illustrates that Tevârîh used these terms deliberately in Anatolian assaults of sultans by identifying him as Gazîdespite the fact that attacked beys are Muslim. Additionally, gazî soldiers do not just spread Islamic ideals but demolish everything from infidels. As Ahmedi indicates “they drove the infidel out from their land. They eradicated the blasphemy.43” Other than that point, the book’s use of these two terms prepared Paul Wittek’s famous “Gazâ theory” in identifying the foundation of the Ottomans to connect with their momentum44.

nicopolis miniature ile ilgili görsel sonucu

On the left side, Bayezid the Thunderbolt meets with Dogan Beg (the commander of Nicopolis Castle) during the Crusaders siege in 1396

 

How to criticize the first Ottoman history?

Is that a history book or…?

 

However, the typical eulogy can be criticized due to a variety of points. Especially, the points like whether Ahmedi is a historian or not and to what extent his book would be regarded as “history” are disputable among historians. Moreover, Ahmedi’s exaggerations towards historical events have been a debatable issue. To begin with, Banarlı comments that work is historical “with remarkable truthfulness as to his age and a sensibility for historiography”45Ahmedi achieves to be a historian. Wittek also traces the same way in his works. However, Fodor refuses that claim since it is “a eulogy rather than an authentic historical work. Instead of historical development or change, the Dasitan portrays the progress of an idea,…being personified by the members of the Ottoman dynasty”46 He took a quote from Heath W. Lowry who also states that this is not a sort of “Chronicle” but “nasihâtnâme”47 (the book of advice for rulers in Islamic literature). As to its writer, while Ahmedi is accepted as a reliable historian by Wittek and Bananrlı, Turna objects to that interpretation and embraces Colin Imber’s argument that defends that Ahmedi wrote a “nasihâtnâme”, so he is a “moralist”48. Turna adds that “his first duty was to produce the literary and aesthetic taste of courtly art…through morally ideal and illuminative cases at the expense of anachronism.”49 For those reasons, Fodor concludes that he “created a self-contained work of art…this treatment of the subject, however, did not result in a historical work…which stood in the service of the well definable political objectives of the Ottoman dynasty. As such, it is primarily a source of the age…but with due caution, it can provide some assistance…” about the Ottomans50.

 

The first history book’s influence over generations

 

Tevârîh has deeply affected its contemporaries as well as aftermaths and the book has engendered various responses from historical works. These works have carried prominent traces from that eulogy. To exemplify, as İnalcık surveys, Ahmedi’s younger contemporary Şükrullah Çelebi’s work Behcetü’t-Tevârîh was influenced by Ahmedi. It “is an encyclopedic-didactic work, including world history, like Ahmedî’s Iskendernâme”51in Persian. İnalcık also claims that Şükrullah used this work from its original after analyzing similar parts concerning Murad I’s murder52. Mengüç writes that these two “were closely related…and their works were eulogistic and ruler-oriented.”53and Behçetü’t-Tevârîh repeated the work for depicting sultans as Adil (just) and Zahid (ascetic)54. The accusation of Bayezid I by Tevârîh is also “echoed in an anonymous history written around the same time” and afterward.”55 However, Enveri rejects this representation and showed his work away from ruler-centered history-writing56. In addition, Neşri directly took similar parts from Ahmedi after Şükrullah57. Darling mentions Ahmedi’s influence on Yahşi Fakih’s history though Yahşi is older than Ahmedi58. Putting aside that point, his usage of gazâ and gazî notions “initiated a new tradition…because future historians would invariably explain away the assaults on Muslim territories with this “gazî-ideology”59  Eventually, this work led to “an emerging historical self-consciousness among the Ottomans” as Mengüç displays60.

 

Conclusion

 

On the whole, Ahmedi’s Tevârîh is a milestone in Ottoman history writing with its striking features. Living in an age of disorder in the Anatolian world of beyliks, Ahmedî dedicated his Tevârîh to a powerful sultan’s prince to provide legitimacy for the Ottoman rule and to give ethical advice for education under the deep influence of Persian-Islamic legacy. In this way of ensuring patronage, although Ahmedi chronologically recounts the emergence of Ottoman power in a ruler-centered order written in verse with exaggerations caused controversies about its reliability as a “history” and prepared ground for attacks on Ahmedî’s historiography. Eventually, Tevârîh took a remarkable variety of reactions from distinct perspectives, and his contemporaries and following historians have been profoundly affected by Tevârîh’s narrative methodology. All in all, the exceptional and rare historical knowledge which this panegyric and literary work provides makes it very precious.

 

Notes

  1. G.L. Lewis “Aḥmadī”, Encyclopaedia of Islam: Second Edition, (Brill Online Publication of Reference Works, 1960).
  2. Yaşar Akdoğan, “Giriş”, İskendername’den Seçmeler (Selections from İskendernâme), (Ankara: The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism Publications, 1988): 6.
  3. Günay Kut, “Ahmedî”, TDV Islam Ansiklopedisi Volume II, (Ankara: Diyanet Foundation Publications, 1989): 165.
  4. E. J. W. Gibb, “Ahmedi”, A History of Ottoman Poetry: Volume I, (London, Brill Publications, 1900): 260-261.
  5. Nihad Sami Banarlı, “Ahmedi”, Resimli Türk Edebiyatı Tarihi Volume I, (Ankara: The Turkish Ministry of National Education Publications, 1948): 387.
  6. Akdoğan, “Giriş”, 7.
  7. Ibid., 7.
  8. Linda Darling, “Political Literature and the Development of an Ottoman Imperial Culture in the fifteenth century”, Journal of the OTSA Volume 1, (Indiana University Press, 2014): 57.
  9. Ibid., 58.
  10. Kut, “Ahmedi“, 166.
  11. Edith Ambros, “Aḥmedi”, Encyclopaedia of Islam: Second Edition, (Brill Online Publication of Reference Works, 2012).
  12. Halil İnalcık, “Ahmedî’ye Göre Fetret Dönemi (1402-1413)”, Devlet-i Âliyye: Volume I, (Istanbul: İş Bank Cultural Publications, 2014): 96.
  13. Ibid., 96.
  14. Gibb, “Ahmedi”, 255.
  15. Banarlı, 391.
  16. Akdoğan, 66.
  17. Banarlı, 391.
  18. Kemal Sılay, “Ahmedi’s History of the Ottoman Dynasty”, Journal of Turkish Studies Volume 16, (Harvard: Harvard University Publications, 1992):129.
  19. Sılay, “Ahmedi’s History”, 130.
  20. Pal Fodor, “Ahmedi’s Dasitan as a Source of Early Ottoman History”, ActaOrientaliaAcademiaeScientiarumHungaricae Volume 38, (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó Publications, 1970):44.
  21. Linda Darling, “Political Literature and the Development of an Ottoman Imperial Culture in the fifteenth century”, Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association Volume 1, (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2014): 57.
  22. Fodor, 46.
  23. Sılay, 138.
  24. Babür Turna, “Perception of History and the Problem of Superiority in Ahmedi’s Dastân-i Tevârih-i Mülük-i âl-i Osman”, ActaOrientaliaAcademiaeScientiarumHungaricae, Volume 62. (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó Publications, 2009), 271.
  25. Sılay, 144.
  26. Turna, 279.
  27. Sılay, 130.
  28. Ibid., 137.
  29. Turna, 270.
  30. Sılay, 133.
  31. Ibid., 134.
  32. Ibid., 137.
  33. Turna, 272.
  34. Ibid., 271.
  35. Fodor, 48.
  36. Sılay, 178.
  37. Ibid., 178.
  38. Ibid., 137.
  39. Gustave Bayerle, “Gazi”, Pashas, Begs and Effendis: a Historical Dictionary of Titles and Terms in the Ottoman Empire, (Istanbul: The ISIS Press, 1997): 68.
  40. Fodor, 51.
  41. Darling, 60.
  42. Fodor, 50.
  43. Sılay, 137.
  44. Fodor, 45.
  45. Fodor, 43.
  46. Fodor, 46.
  47. Heath W. Lowry, the Nature of the Early Ottoman State, (New York: SUNY Press, 2003): 31.
  48. Turna, 275.
  49. Turna, 269.
  50. Fodor, 54.
  51. Halil İnalcık, “Tarihçi Şükrullah Çelebi (1380?-1460)”, ActaOrientaliaAcademiae Scientiarum Hungaricae Volume 61. (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó Publications, 2008): 115
  52. İnalcık, 117.
  53. Murat Cem Mengüç, “Histories of Bayezid I, Historians of Bayezid II: Rethinking Late Fifteenth-Century Ottoman Historiography”, Bulletin of the SOAS of London University Volume 76. (London: Cambridge University Press, 2013): 374.
  1. Mengüç, 383.
  2. Darling, 60.
  3. Mengüç, 374.
  4. İnalcık, 117.
  5. Darling, 61.
  6. Fodor, 51.
  7. Mengüç, 373.

Bibliography

Ambros, Edith. “Aḥmedi”, Encyclopaedia of Islam:Third Edition, (2012). Brill Online Publication of Reference Works.

Akdoğan, Yaşar. İskendername’denSeçmeler (Selections from İskendernâme). The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism Publications. Ankara. 1988.

Banarlı, Nihad Sami. Resimli Türk Edebiyatı Tarihi Volume I. The Turkish Ministry of National Education Publications. Ankara. 1948.

Bayerle, Gustave. Pashas, Begs and Effendis: a Historical Dictionary of Titles and Terms in the Ottoman Empire. The ISIS Press. Istanbul. 1997.

Darling, Linda. “Political Literature and the Development of an Ottoman Imperial Culture in the fifteenth century”, Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association Volume1. Indiana University Press. (2014): 57-69.

Fodor, Pal. “Ahmedi’sDasitan as a Source of Early Ottoman History”, Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae Volume 38. Akadémiai Kiadó Publications. (1970): 41-54.

Gibb, E. J. W. A History of Ottoman Poetry: Volume I. Brill Publication. London. 1900.

Inalcık, Halil. “Tarihçi Şükrullah Çelebi (1380?-1460)” (Historian Şükrullah Çelebi), Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae Volume 61. Akadémiai Kiadó Publications (2008): 113-118.

Inalcık, Halil. Devlet-iÂliyye: Volume I. İş Bank Cultural Publications. 2014.

Kut, Günay. “Ahmedî”, TDV Islam Ansiklopedisi Volume II (1989): 165-167. Diyanet Foundation Publications.

Lewis, G.L. “Aḥmadī”, Encyclopaedia of IslamSecond Edition, (1960). Brill Online Publication of Reference Works.

Lowry, Heath W. The Nature of the Early Ottoman State, New York, SUNY Press. 2003.

Mengüç, Murat Cem. “Histories of Bayezid I, Historians of Bayezid II: Rethinking Late Fifteenth-Century Ottoman Historiography”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University Volume 76. Cambridge University Press (2013): 373-389.

Sılay, Kemal. “Ahmedi’s History of the Ottoman Dynasty”, Journal of Turkish Studies Volume 16. Harvard University Publications. (1992): 129-200.

Turna, Babür. “Perception of History and the Problem of Superiority in Ahmedi’s Dastân-iTevârih-iMülük-i âl-i Osman”, Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae Volume 62. Akadémiai Kiadó Publications. (2009): 267-283.

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