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Appendix II: Some Afterthoughts on the Chronology of Niẓāmī’s Works and That of the Sharwān-Shāhs
(2,172 words)

In Volume 5: Poetry of the Pre-Mongol Period

previous chapter: Appendix I: Anonymous Narrative Poems Attributed to the Pre-Mongol Period

In the entry on Niẓāmī (above, § 258) an attempt has been made to establish the relative chronology of his six great poems and to extract from the contradictory evidence in the manuscripts a precise date for at least some of them. A new look at the two parts of the Iskandar-nāmah (referred to here, as previously, as Isk.N. i and ii) has made it possible now in part to corroborate and in part to revise the conclusions expressed in those pages. Those conclusions that I would now wish to uphold and to underline are those concerning the relative place of the Isk.N. in Niẓāmī’s oeuvre (i.e., before, and not after, Haft paikar) and the identity of the dedicatee (the Malik of Ahar, Nuṣrat al-dīn Bēshkīn b. Muḥammad). On the other hand, my statement1 that ‘the whole final section’ of Isk.N. ii (from chap. xl of the Baku edition onwards) was composed by an anonymous editor, some years after Niẓāmī’s death, is evidently wrong. It seems rather that only chap. xl (the account of Niẓāmī’s death at the age of 63) is a posthumous interpolation; chapters xlixlii are by Niẓāmī, but they have been altered by the copyists and appear in the printed editions in a corrupted form.

To clarify this long outstanding problem it is necessary to take a fresh look at the evidence of the manuscripts of Isk.N. ii. As far as is possible to judge,2 these fall into three fairly distinct families (we disregard those copies in which chapters vi or xlixlii are missing):3

Group i is represented in the Baku apparatus apparently only by Ms.‘E’ a copy in the Hermitage (Leningrad), made for the Timurid Shāh-rukh and completed 10 Rabīʿ ii 835/1431,4 but this recension can also be found in two London manuscripts from the first quarter of the 15th century,5 and two others from the 16th;6 a wider search would doubtless reveal other copies, and possibly older ones. Those available have in chapter vi the (doubtless authentic) dedication to Nuṣrat al-dīn Bēshkīn, whose personal name (Bēshkīn) is mentioned twice (vs. 27–8)7, but without the verse mentioning Mosul,8 and contain the account of the earthquake in Ganjah. In two of the available copies (Add. 27,259 and Add. 17,329), but not the others, the interpolated chapter on the death of Niẓāmī (chap. xl) is missing. Then, in the epilogue (chap. xlixlii) these manuscripts all once again invoke ‘Malik Nuṣrat al-dīn’ in xli 5, omit the verse mentioning the name Masʿūd (xlii 62) and instead have one giving the date of the completion of the poem as May (Aiyār) 590/1194 (though one of the copies has the less plausible date May 592/1196).9 These codices then conclude the poem with verses containing Niẓāmī’s poetic signature.10

Group ii is represented by the majority of the copies used for the Baku edition, among them the ancient manuscript in Paris. These replace chapter vi by the spurious dedication to the atabeg of Mosul ʿIzz al-dīn Abū l-Fatḥ Masʿūd b. Nūr al-dīn (ruled 607/1211 to 615/1218), which, as we have seen, is in fact copied, apart from the names, from Niẓāmī’s invocation of Nuṣrat al-dīn Bēshkīn at the beginning of Isk.N. i.11 In the epilogue they similarly replace ‘Malik Nuṣrat al-dīn’ by ‘Malik ʿIzz i dīn’ in xli 5, add the verse mentioning ‘Masʿūd’ (xlii 62) and omit the verse giving the date of composition. Some of the copies (among them the Paris manuscript) then also omit the concluding verses (xlii 66–8) mentioning the name ‘Niẓāmī’.

Group iii has the dedication to Nuṣrat al-dīn Bēshkīn in the prologue, but that to ʿIzz al-dīn Masʿūd in the epilogue, as printed in the Baku edition. The manuscript basis for this recension is slender. It clearly goes back to a copy belonging to Group i, but where the final pages had got lost and the missing verses were subsequently supplied from a manuscript belonging to Group ii.

Once these three families have clearly been separated it can, I think, hardly be doubted that it is Group i alone which contains the original form of Niẓāmī’s prologue and epilogue. Group ii represents an edition made after Niẓāmī’s death in which the poem has been rededicated (by the editor) to the atabeg of Mosul. Since this atabeg did not even begin to rule until 607/1211, it was obviously necessary for the editor to suppress the verse in which the author said that he had completed his poem in 590/1194. This is then most likely to be the true date.

Let us now look at the first of the two poems that make up the Iskandarnāmah. We have seen12 that this was definitely composed after Lailē-Majnūn, which Niẓāmī completed in 584/1188 for the Sharwān-shāh Akhsatān. But in Isk.N. i we find a significant passage13 in which the poet says that ‘King Akhsatān’ has passed away, recalls the favours that the late monarch had bestowed on him and encourages his (unnamed) successor to surpass him in munificence. Although it is not explicitly stated, the verses do seem to imply that the addressed ruler is Akhsatān’s son. This in turn suggests that Niẓāmī began work on the Iskandar-nāmah with the intention of presenting it to one of the Sharwān-shāhs, but this family evidently lost control of the area around Ganjah before Niẓāmī could complete the poem, which he consequently dedicated to the new strong man in Transcaucasia, Nuṣrat al-dīn Bēshkīn.

It is these observations which suggest the following chronology of Niẓāmī’s works. Makhzan al-asrār is written after 550/1155 and quite possibly in or shortly after 561/1166. Khusrau-Shīrīn follows between 571/1176 and 582/1186 (with the epilogue added between 582/1186 and 587/1191). Lailē-Majnūn is completed in 584/1188 and presented to Akhsatān, who dies very shortly afterwards. Niẓāmī now begins work on a new grandiose project, the story of Alexander, to be presented to Akhsatān’s successor, but he too soon departs from the scene. The poet completes the two parts of the Life of Alexander and dedicates both to the Malik of Ahar, completing the last part in May 590/1194. The earthquake mentioned in the prologue to Isk.N. ii is in all probability that of Rabīʿ i 590 (February or March 1194),14 which must then have been in very fresh memory. Niẓāmī’s last work, Haft paikar, is completed three years later, in Ramaḍān 593/1197. There is no good reason to think he survived for long after that date.

The evidence of Niẓāmī’s poems, but also of other literary sources, allows us also to complement and revise the picture of the chronology of the Sharwānshāhs previously drawn mainly on the basis of the numismatic evidence.15 As already discussed,16 Manūchihr (ii) b. Afrēdūn, the brother-in-law and vassal of the Georgian king Demetre i, became king of Sharwān some years after 514/1120, was still alive in 555/1160, and died probably very soon afterwards. His son Akhsatān (i) became king by, in any case, 566/1170, the year of the death of the caliph al-Mustanjid (whose name appears on his earliest coins).17 Niẓāmī’s verses in Isk.N. i mean that we can move the previously accepted terminus ad quem for Akhsatān’s death forward by about a decade: he died in, or shortly after, 584/1188, and in any case well before 590/1194. For the following period up to 622/1225 we have numismatic or epigraphic evidence for four kings, namely Manūchihr’s sons Shāhānshāh18 and Farrukhzād, and his grandsons Farīburz (ii) b. Afrēdūn (with an inscription dated 600/1203–4) and Karshāsp b. Farrukhzād, and some other names are mentioned in passing (and not necessarily correctly) for this period in historical sources. But it seems impossible to determine the relative chronology of these doubtless very minor rulers; it could also well be that several of them reigned at the same time. The Sharwān-shāhs reemerge briefly from obscurity with ʿAlāʾ al-dīn Farīburz (iii) b. Karshāsp b. Farrukhzād b. Manūchihr, whose coins mention caliphs from al-Nāṣir to al-Mustaʿṣim, showing that he ruled from, at the latest, 622/1225 to, at least, 640/124219 and it is in fact likely he is the unnamed king of Sharwān of whom Ibn al-Athīr20 speaks under the events of 622: in this year, the historian tells us, the Sharwān-shāh (i.e. Farīburz) deposed his father (i.e. Karshāsp), who fled to the Georgians, raised an army against his son and was defeated. Farīburz is the dedicatee of the work discussed in the following appendix. His son Akhsatān ii left a number of coins all with the date 653/1255–6 (very possibly accession issues).21 Ibn al-Fuwaṭī says that Akhsatān ii was killed by Hülegü in 658/1260.22

next chapter: Appendix III: Sharwānī’s Nuz’hat al-Majālis and the Early Persian Rubāʿī


^ Back to text1. First edition, p. 446. The paragraph has been omitted in this second edition.

^ Back to text2. Unfortunately, the catalogues, apart from those by Rieu, are almost entirely useless for the questions under discussion. It is astonishing how many modern cataloguers, in their so-called descriptions of Mss. of the Khamsah, have regurgitated at great length the ‘information’ contained in the usual literary histories about the dates of Niẓāmī’s works and the identity of his patrons, but have not taken the trouble to impart to their readers the relevant data actually contained in the Mss. that they are claiming to describe.

^ Back to text3. The old Tehran Ms. Univ. 5179 (dated 718/1318; see above, p. 297, fn.) jumps from vi 1 to vii 1, leaving out most of the dedication, and is also incomplete (and very corrupt) at the end, stopping a third of the way down the last page with xxxiii 2. Chapter vi is truncated in the same way in several other Mss., e.g. in London Khalili 455 (dated 964/1557).

^ Back to text4. Omitted from our list of Mss.; the colophon is quoted in the edition, pp. 231–2. In the epilogue (chap. xlixlii) ‘E’ appears to share most of its readings with ‘B’ (a Baku Ms. dated Ramaḍān 979/1572), while in the prologue (chap. vi) it shares its significant variants with ‘D’ (Leningrad Public Library, dated 896/1490; apparently belongs to our Group iii), but no variants from ‘B’ are quoted for this chapter. Is the chapter perhaps missing in ‘B’ (as it is in the Mss. mentioned in the preceding footnote)?

^ Back to text5. Namely Add. 27,259 (Rieu pp. 866–7), dated 821/1419 and Or. 12,087 (Meredith-Owens p. 75), dated 823/1420, both of which I have collated.

^ Back to text6. Add. 17,329 (Rieu p. 571), dated 994/1585–6 (collated); Add. 26,144 (Rieu p. 571), dated 968/1561 (not at present available for consultation, but quoted from Rieu).

^ Back to text7. These verses, and others, are missing in Add. 17,329 and (according to the apparatus) also in ‘E’, but they are found in the other two Mss. collated by me.

^ Back to text8. Printed (evidently from Dastgirdī’s edition) as vs. 11 in the Baku edition.

^ Back to text9. Add. 27,259 has clearly: nawad du gudhashtah zi pānṣad shumār (Rieu’s reading, confirmed by collation). Or. 12,087 and Add. 17,329 definitely have nawad dar gudhashtah …, and this reading is reported also for ‘E’ and ‘B’ in the apparatus to xlii 61. The graphic difference between du and dar is, of course, very slight. However, since Niẓāmī completed his Haft paikar in 593/1197, it would seem unlikely that he should have finished another large work only one year earlier. (The Calcutta edition of 1869, which is clearly based on a Ms. belonging to Group i, has the obviously erroneous date 599 in the main text, but records the variant 592 in the apparatus. The latter reading is also in the modern Ms. London r.a.s. 250, dated 1212/1797–8).

^ Back to text10. At least some of the Mss. of this group (e.g. Or. 12,087) have the verse (xlii 38, found also in the Mss. of the other families) giving the poet’s age as 60, though this and the following 13 verses are missing in Add. 27,259. If Niẓāmī was 60 in May (roughly Jumādā i) 590, then he must have been born in the twelve months ending in Jumādā i 530/1136, but this is difficult to reconcile with the verse in Lailē-Majnūn (see above, p. 274) indicating that he was born in 535/1140–1.

^ Back to text11. See above, p. 278.

^ Back to text12. Above, pp. 2756.

^ Back to text13. See the Baku edition pp. 308–10 (xli 3–23), especially vs. 18: agar shud sahī sarw shāh Akhsatān * tu sar-sabz bādī dar īn gulsitān.

^ Back to text14. See above, p. 278. Presumably the poet composed the prologue and epilogue after he had completed all the rest of the poem.

^ Back to text15. See D.K. Kouymjian, A numismatic history of Southeastern Caucasia and Adharbayjān based on Islamic coinage of the 5th/11th to the 7th/13th centuries (Microfilm), Ann Arbor 1969.

^ Back to text16. Above, p. 146, fn. 12; § 188.

^ Back to text17. Kouymjian pp. 169–82.

^ Back to text18. Thus spelt on the coins. The common noun shāhanshāh normally has a short vowel in its second syllable in Neo-Persian.

^ Back to text19. Kouymjian pp. 216–28.

^ Back to text20. al-Kāmil fī l-taʾrīkh, ed. Tornberg, xii pp. 279–80.

^ Back to text21. Kouymjian pp. 228–32.

^ Back to text22. Ibn al-Fuwaṭī, al-Juzʾ al-rābiʿ min talkhīṣ majmaʿ al-ādāb fī muʿjam al-alqāb, ed. M. Jawād, Damascus 1962–7, no. 1592. This information seems trustworthy despite the fact that Ibn al-Fuwaṭī has (as so often) garbled the name of Akhsatān’s father to ʿAlāʾ al-dīn Farāmarz (sic) b. Gushtāsp (sic).

Cite this page
“Appendix II: Some Afterthoughts on the Chronology of Niẓāmī’s Works and That of the Sharwān-Shāhs”, in: Storey Online, Charles Ambrose Storey. Consulted online on 21 September 2023 <>
First published online: 2021

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