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Symposium in London-- The Idea of Iran: Turks and Persians and the spread of the Persianate world

Saturday 21st May 2011, Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, SOAS in London

Organised by: The Centre for Iranian Studies, SOAS and The Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford

Supported by: The Soudavar Memorial Foundation

artwork: D. Schlumberger and J. Sourdel-Thomine, Lashkari Bazar (1978)

The Idea of Iran: Turks and Persians and the spread of the Persianate world

The eighth programme in our The Idea of Iran series will focus on two distinct aspects of the years around the end of the first millennium CE, when the political and cultural strength of the ‘Abbasid Caliphate and of Baghdad was on the wane and when the Eastern lands of the Islamic empire began to take on a new character, which has been dubbed ‘Persianate’ or ‘Perso-Islamic’. One of the paradoxes of the history of the age is that the establishment throughout the Eastern Islamic lands of new Turkish dynasties at the head of Turkish military elites coincided with the genesis and spread (into Central and South Asia) of the new Persian language and literature and of Perso-Islamic culture.

The Centre for Iranian Studies, SOAS and the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford remain deeply grateful to the Soudavar Memorial Foundation for their continued support for this series.


  • Said Amir Arjomand, Stony Brook Institute for Global Studies State, University of New York
  • Mohsen Ashtiany, Columbia University
  • Franklin Lewis, University of Chicago
  • Alexsandr Naymark, Hofstra University, New York
  • Khodadad Rezakhani, LSE
  • Istvan Vasary, Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest

Admission: £15; Conc. & LMEI Affiliates: £10; Students: Free.
Pre-registration required. To register online please visit the SOAS Online Store
Contact email:
Contact Tel: 020 7898 4490


9.15 Registration

9.55 Welcoming Remarks

10.00-10.45 Speaker 1

The ‘King of Islam’ and its Typological Significance

Professor Said Amir Arjomand, Distinguished Service Professor of Sociology and Director of the Stony Brook Institute for Global Studies, State University of New York

The revival of the Persian idea of kingship by the Samanids in Transoxania and Iran was a key feature of a distinctive type of political regime which I have called the Persianate polity. The idea of imperial monarchy, expressed in the title of ‘king of kings’ (shāhanshāh), was developed within the Caliphal body politic of the ‘Abbasid empire by the Buyids in Iran and taken up by the Saljuqs. In Ghazali’s letters of admonishment to Sultan Sanjar, we come across a significant mode of address, the ‘king of Islam’ (malek-e eslām) that subsequently gained currency in the type of political regime that can be labeled Islamicate royalism. The monarch was called the ‘king of Islam’ (pādshāh/sultān/shāhanshāh-e eslām).

10.45-11.30 Speaker 2

The House of Afrasiab: the power base and historical identity of the Qarakhanids

Professor Alexsandr Naymark, Associate Professor of Fine Arts, Hofstra University, New York

This paper will talk about the basis of the Qarakhanids’ power at the time of their arrival to Mawaraannahr. Recent excavations in the Zaravshan valley indicate that while the Qarakhanids tried to present themselves as champions of Islam, their power base was far from being Islamic and monolithic. That may explain why in order to support their claim for the lands of central Mawaraannahr they had to acquire another identity - one that would place them within the traditional historical context of the Iranian world. As a result they started presenting themselves as the house of Afrasiab. Some other manifestations of their political identity can be discerned in the paintings recently discovered in the Qarakhanid palace of Samarqand.

11.30-12.00 Coffee

12.00-12.45 Speaker 3

Beyhaqi and the Consolations of History

Mohsen Ashtiany, Research Fellow, Columbia University, New York

When Marilyn Waldman’s study of the Ghaznavid historian Abu’l-Fazl Beyhaqi appeared three decades ago, one reviewer likened her endeavour to apply Speech Act Theory to the text’s rhetorical strategies to taking a hammer to a butterfly. In the following years, the butterfly has not only survived the ordeal but shown remarkable resilience. Singling him out as an iconic figure at odds with his own time, some of these studies replicate the way Beyhaqi himself uses historical or pseudo-historical exempla in a heuristic manner. But a study of his Tārikh-e Mas’udi, along with a range of other writings, suggests a re-valuation of the ways in which he sought solace through an alluringly vivid verbal re-enactment of analogous incidents from the past.

12.45-1.30 Speaker 4

The Poetics of Literary Production and the Circulation of Symbolic Value in the Persophone World, 11th to 12th Century CE

Professor Franklin Lewis, Associate Professor of Persian Language and Literature in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

Driven by the impetus to promote a literature of Persophone expression, the Samanid Amirs drew upon legendary or historical models to create a paradigm of poetic patronage and court sponsorhip of literary production. It was this courtly tradition that the Ghaznavids, and after them, the Seljuks and Khwarazmshahs inherited. But literary patronage was not confined to the Sultan and principal officials of the central court. Poets who failed to win entree to the central court for example, may ultimately tell us more about the dynamics of poet-patron relations as well as the ways in which poets played with class (poet-patron, slave-master) and ethnic (Persian-Turk) difference to create a symbolic universe imbued with a playful tension.

1.30-2.30 Lunch

2.30-3.15 Speaker 5

Two Ways of Acculturation: Qarakhanids versus Ghaznavids and Seljuks

Professor Istvan Vasary, Professor of Turkic and Central Asian Studies, Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest

The Ghaznavids and the Seljuks readily accepted the superiority of Perso-Islamic high culture, and became fervent propagators of Persianate culture, not even vaguely attempting to embed their aboriginal nomadic culture into the texture of Islam. The sole vehicles for transmitting high culture were Arabic and Persian, while the Turkish language was restricted to family and military usage. In sharp contrast the Qarakhanids, though wholeheartedly embracing the Persianate culture of the conquered land of Transoxania, made decisive strides to create their own version of Turco-Islamic culture. Their role was as pioneering for the Turco-Islamic world as that of the Samanids was for the Perso-Islamic world.

3.15-4.00 Speaker 6

Money, Trade, and Diplomacy: the commercial life of eastern Iran in the post-Samanid period

Dr Khodadad Rezakhani, Department of Economic History, London School of Economics (LSE)

The Samanid territories taken over by new Turkic speaking dynasties continued to thrive, and in the case of their most famous successors, the Ghaznavids, even managed to expand into territories outside the traditional grasp of Iranian dynasties. Incipient Turkic dynasties, Ghaznavids, Qarakhanids, and eventually the Seljuks, established elaborate and effective trade networks in eastern Iran, Central Asia, and the Steppe, and managed to continue some of the intensive trade known from the earlier Samanid period. This paper will have a general look at the post-Samanid trade networks in Iran and Central Asia and will consider the role of this trade in attracting further Turkic-speaking tribes to the Iranian Plateau.

4.00-4.10 Closing Remarks

4.10-4.30 Tea

... Payvand News - 05/16/11 ... --

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