Rashīd al-Dīn’s History of Oghuz as a Gloss on the Mongol Past

The Jāmiʿ al-tawārīkh of Rashīd al-Dīn (d. 1318) has been praised as an early example of “world history” by virtue of including, in addition to the famous dynastic history of the Mongols, a series of summary histories of other peoples from across Eurasia. One of these histories is the earliest extant lengthy prose elaboration of the cycle of legends concerning Oghuz Khan and his descendents. These stories, later known as the “Oghuznāma,” provide an etiology for the tribes of Oghuz Turks that occupied the western Eurasian steppe and that, under the leadership of the Saljuqs, had entered the Middle East two centuries before the Mongols. Rashīd al-Dīn’s version of the Oghuznāma has been recognized as the source for later Turcoman tribal identifications and, for this reason, has been extensively studied as an important document in the formation of western Turkic social organization. Karl Jahn went so far as to see in Rashīd al-Dīn’s work the first attempt at a unified history of the Turkic peoples. However, the location of the Oghuznāma within the Jāmiʿ al-tawārīkh and its relationship to the Mongol dynastic history suggest that it was meant to be read as far more than simply a history of the Oghuz Turkic tribes. This paper examines the Oghuznāma of Rashīd al-Dīn as it pertains to its author’s project of legitimizing the Mongol Ilkhans within the Middle East. By comparing this account to other early reflections of the life of Oghuz, this paper shows how Rashīd al-Dīn deploys Central Asian and Middle Eastern historical traditions in the service of Mongol political ideology. In particular, Rashīd al-Dīn associates the literary tradition surrounding Oghuz Khan and Alexander the Great with the historical conquests of Genghis Khan and Hülegü to bolster Ilkhanid claims to sovereignty over and against those of the Mamlūks of Egypt and the Jochid Khanate of Kipchak.