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Adab al-Mulūk

The Mirrors for Princes of Classical Islam

Adab al-mulūk (or, in the plural form, ādāb al-mulūk), an Arabic phrase that might be rendered as ‘the manner(s) (or customs) of kings’, denotes a subject matter and a corresponding genre of literature. The subject comprehends a variety of topics related to sovereignty, including practices of statecraft and ceremonial expressions of political culture. Literary compositions devoted to these themes, directed at courtly audiences and members of the cultural elites, convey, often through the deployment of aphorisms also sometimes referred to as ādāb, exemplary royal conduct and governmental practices. Authors, copyists and librarians sometimes employ the phrase adab (or ādāb) al-mulūk as a title for texts that belong to this genre. Occasionally, authors appropriated the term to describe a metaphorical kingship, as in the case of a tenth-century manual for Sufis, so entitled because “the Sufis have renounced all the appurtenances of the world, and have accordingly become kings” (liʾanna al-ṣūfiyya zahadū ʿan jamīʿ asbāb al-dunyā fa-ṣārū mulūkan) (Adab al-mulūk fī bayān ḥaqāʾiq al-taṣawwuf, ed. Bernd Radtke, 1991, p. 6-7; = Die Lebensweise der Könige: Adab al-mulūk: Ein Handbuch zur islamischen Mystik, German translation by Richard Gramlich, 1993, p. 22).

 Adab and adab al-mulūk

As a subject and as a literary genre, adab al-mulūk constitutes a prominent branch of the encompassing category of adab. Among the meanings of the term adab is custom, conduct (usually virtuous), manners or etiquette. Often described as ‘literary humanism’, the term adab also refers to the voluminous literature that depicts and promotes the knowledge necessary for the cultivation of the humane virtues. Usefully likened to the concept of paideia (Tarif Khalidi, 1994, p. 83), adab is closely related to taʾaddub, the process of acquiring such knowledge and developing the associated virtues, and to taʾdīb, the process of instruction designed to illustrate and instill magnanimity of disposition and encourage correspondingly meritorious conduct. Across its many meanings, adab carries deeply ethical connotations (cf. S. A. Bonebakker, 1984, p. 389-421); and in certain aspects, Arabic adab displays similarities earlier, especially Iranian concepts and forms of literary expression (Dj. Khaleghi-Motlagh, 1985, p. 431-9). In the plural, ādāb, the term connotes rules of ethical behaviour and laudable habits, as well as, on occasion, maxims (Joseph Sadan, 1986, p. 283-300, esp. 288-289).

Of particular relevance in this context are the inclusivity, eclecticism and breadth of interest manifested in the field of adab, as well as its frequently signalled ‘secular’ orientation. The literary culture associated with adab engaged with a vast range of topics and deployed a correspondingly ample repertoire of cultural materials. In its formative phases, adab reflected the varied and interrelated literary activities of numerous figures, including several secretaries in caliphal employ (cf. Khalidi, 1994, p. 83-96). These early men of letters produced a variety of compositions, which collectively addressed countless facets of human experience. Several individuals also adapted, directly or indirectly, Middle Persian, Greek, Syriac and Sanskrit texts into Arabic. To many observers, adab displays a detachment from the realm of the religious scholarly culture. According to Lenn Goodman, “Secular values – the distillate of Hellenistic, old Persian, Arab, Byzantine, Jewish, and Syriac traditions, with a leaven of Indian fable and the vivid naturalism of Chinese portraiture and figure painting for critical distance – stood alongside the law and faith of Islam and, like the philosophic outlook of the Greek teachers, claimed the power of interpreting and judging it” (Lenn E. Goodman, 2003, p. 101, cf. 108). The integration and adaptation of the wisdom and learning of earlier peoples, especially the bodies of cultural materials conveyed through the movements of translation, contributed significantly to the emergence of a flourishing literary culture in Arabic. The phenomenon is as diverse in the trajectories of its constituent elements as it is in the scope of its forms and subject matter, however (see, for example, Makram Abbès, p. 19-121; see also Joel L. Kraemer, 1992, p. vii, 2, 10, 14-17; cf. Abdallah Cheikh-Moussa, 1991, p. 171-6; Alexander Key, 2005, p. 71-112). Materials linked with the religious tradition and the Muslim community, especially the memory of the exemplary figures of the beginnings of the Islamic era, appear in combination with assortments of materials associated with non-Muslim peoples, especially Greek, Iranian and Indian figures whose insights, derived from their human experience, represented universal and perennial wisdom. It might be added that in the course of the centuries, several figures known for their participation in religious scholarship and a religiously associated ethical discourse, notably the polymaths ʿAlī b. Muḥammad al-Māwardī (364-450/974-1058) and ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Ibn al-Jawzī (510-97/1126-1200), also produced works of or connected to adab; the Adab al-dunyā wa-l-dīn (“Ethical Conduct in [Matters] Religious and Mundane”) of the former author presents a particularly remarkable example.,Through their participation in multiple branches of intellectual and cultural production, such individuals conveyed their insights and instruction to an exceptionally large and diverse audience.

 Specialised branches of adab

Within the encompassing category of adab, adab al-mulūk denotes the cultural and moral formation of and the conduct and practices appropriate to a particular set of individuals, namely kings. It finds a parallel in several sub-categories that similarly address the adab suitable to specific functional groups, such as viziers, secretaries, boon companions, judges and teachers. Among the extant works dedicated to these specialised forms of adab are, on the vizierate, the Qaw̄anīn al-wizāra of al-Māwardī; on the secretarial art, the Adab al-kātib of Ibn Qutayba (213-76/828-89) and the Adab al-kuttāb of the tenth-century Muḥammad b. Yaḥyā al-Ṣūlī (d. c. 335/946); on the function of the boon companion, the Adab al-nadīm of the tenth-century Maḥmūd b. al-Ḥusayn Kushājim (d. c. 360/970-1); on teaching and learning, the Ādāb al-muʿallimīn of the ninth-century Muḥammad Ibn Saḥnūn (d. 256/869) and the Ādāb al-mutaʿallimīn of Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī (597-672/1201-74). In Persian, the Chahār maqāleh (c. 550/1155) of Niẓāmī ʿArūżī Samarqandī illustrates a similar concern with the qualities and customs particular to secretaries, poets, astrologers and physicians. The functions of the judicial office received substantial attention, evident in such works as the [Kutub] Adab al-qāḍī of Aḥmad b. ʿUmar al-Khaṣṣāf (d. 261/837), Aḥmad Ibn Abī Aḥmad Ibn al-Qāṣṣ (d. 335/946) and al-Māwardī, in the Adab al-qāḍī wa-l-qaḍāʾ of Abū l-Muhallab Haytham b. Sulaymān al-Qaysī (d. 275/888), and in the [Kutub] Adab al-qaḍāʾ of Ibrāhīm b. ʿAbdallāh Ibn Abī al-Dam (583-642/1187-1244), Aḥmad b. Ibrāhīm al-Sarrūjī (d. c. 710/1310) and ʿĪsā b. ʿUthmān al-Ghazzī (d. 799/1396).

The generic category of adab al-mulūk consists of disparate compositions identifiable by their subject matter and function rather than by their adherence to a required structure or style. Like other specialised fields of adab, the topic of adab al-mulūk appears as a theme in several anthologies and encyclopaedic writings. Ibn Qutayba devoted an early section of his Kitāb al-Sulṭān, the first book of his ten-part collection ʿUyūn al-akhbār, to ‘the companionship of the sultan and its rules of etiquette’ (bāb ṣuḥbat al-sulṭān wa-ādābihā) (Kitāb ʿUyūn al-akhbār, I, p. 19-27). (In the course of his treatment of the subject, Ibn Qutayba twice cites the independent composition, the Ādāb of Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ [ʿUyūn al-akhbār, I, p. 20, 22], whose substantial contribution to the genre will be explored later in this article.) Whether within the structures of larger works or as independent compositions, authors employed a variety of literary forms and narrative techniques to convey political and moral advice to rulers and instruct them in appropriate behaviour.

The category of adab al-mulūk is related to and not always distinguishable from the generic designations siyar al-mulūk, “the ways (or conduct) of kings”, and naṣīḥat (naṣāʾiḥ) al-mulūk, “counsel(s) for kings”, terms that similarly denote both topics and literary genres and sometimes appear in the titles of compositions. In modern scholarship, writings that fulfilled the function of imparting counsel of an ethical and a practical nature for the benefit of rulers and the courtly elites are often referred to as “mirrors for princes”. This term derives from the Latin speculum regis, speculum principis or speculum regale, which phrases similarly evoke a genre of literature and appear in the titles of compositions devoted to the subject. As titles, these phrases appear relatively late and infrequently, although the concept of the speculum, or mirror, was used to describe a large and varied set of works, their subject matter by no means limited to sovereignty (Sister Ritamary Bradley, 1954, p. 100-15; Herbert Grabes, 1982, p. 19-37, 235-329). Similarly in the Islamicate languages, the concept of the mirror seldom appears in titles (the Turkish Mirʾât ül- mülûk of Ahmed b. Hüsamüddin al-Amâsî, composed for Mehmed I [r. 805-25/1403-21] constitutes a rare exception), but it sometimes provided a metaphor for the contemplation and emulation of the royal ideal (see Abdallah Cheikh-Moussa, 2014, p. 497-524).

 Early Arabic works of adab al-mulūk

Early Arabic works of adab al-mulūk frequently reflect the reception of Middle Persian, Greek, Syriac and Sanskrit writings, many of them translated and adapted into Arabic in the later Umayyad and early Abbasid periods. Perhaps of greatest significance to the genesis of an Arabic genre of adab al-mulūk were renderings of Middle Persian texts, substantial numbers of which were translated into Arabic by Iranian littérateurs such as Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (d. c. 140/757), Abān al-Lāḥiqī (d. 200/815) and ʿAlī b. ʿUbayda al-Rayḥānī (d. in or after 219/834), all of whom acted as cultural intermediaries and transmitters of ancient lore (Mohsen Zakeri, 1994, p. 76-102; idem, 2007). Informed by the Middle Persian culture in which he was steeped, Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ not only transmitted Middle Persian materials but also composed new works dedicated to royal and courtly matters, notably the [Kitāb] al-Ādāb al-kabīr and the Yatīma (the latter has survived only in scattered quotations; see Ihsan ʿAbbas, 1977, p. 528-50, 555-7).

The works of Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ

Both as a translator and as an author, the secretary and littérateur Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ contributed immeasurably to the genesis of a literature of adab al-mulūk in Arabic. Most significant, perhaps, is his Kitāb al-Adab (al-Ādāb) al-kabīr (Āthār Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ, p. 279-314). The acclaimed humanist Miskawayh (c. 320-421/932-1030) incorporated the full text of this composition, apart from its introduction, into his Jāvīdān khirad, “Perennial Wisdom” (al-Ḥikma al-khālida, p. 293-327: Ādāb Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ wa-waṣāyāhu; cf. Mohammed Arkoun, 1982). In the introduction to his Ādāb al-kabīr, Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ expresses his awe before the towering stature and lofty achievements of past generations, and implies the relative lack of accomplishment of his contemporaries. He nevertheless suggests that later generations might contribute refinements to the cumulative store of knowledge attained in the course of human history, and he presents his composition as a vehicle for the communication of “the types of [meritorious] custom of which people stand in need” (abwāb al-adab allatī yaḥtāju ilayhā al-nās). In his collection, most of which is presented in the mode of direct address (yā ṭālib al-adab, iyyāka idhā kunta wāliyan an, iʿlam an[na], idhā kunta) or oblique address (laysa lil-malik an, li-yaʿlam al-wālī an[na]), Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ combines the insights inherited from the past with observations that he had developed in the course of his secretarial service. At times situating himself in relation to his unidentified addressee (“I exhort you in matters pertaining to refined dispositions and hidden affairs” [wa-anā wāʿiẓuka fī ashyāʾ min al-akhlāq al-laṭīfa wa-l-umūr al-ghāmiḍa]), he reproduces the teachings of earlier peoples without explicit indication of the provenance of his materials or self-conscious citation (cf. Shaul Shaked, 1984, p. 31-67, 31-40 and 1995, Article VI; Ihsan Abbas, 1985, p. 445-6). His single explicit quotation is ascribed to an unidentified ḥakīm (“Commit to memory the words of the sage, who said” [iḥfaẓ qawl al-ḥakīm alladhī qāla], p. 300).

The central concerns of the Ādāb al-kabīr are the disposition and conduct of the ruler, the persons with whom he should associate, and the disposition and conduct of the individuals who associate with the king. In a more fragmentary fashion, the text also treats the requirements of ethical behaviour in society as a whole, and it devotes significant attention to the necessity of sincerity in friendship and the dangers of enmity. Several scholars have classified the first part of the text as a mirror for princes, albeit a pointedly pragmatic example of that literature (Gustav Richter, 1932, p. 4-22; J. D. Latham, 1990, p. 48-77, 57-64; see also Michael Cooperson, 2005, p. 150-63). For example, Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ writes, “If you are afflicted with companionship of a ruler who does not wish for the wellbeing of the subjects, then know that your option lies between two possibilities in which there is no (good) choice. Either you incline with the ruler against the subjects, and this entails (your) perdition in the realm of religion, or you incline with the subjects against the ruler, and this entails (your) perdition in the world – and there is no stratagem for you but (to choose between) death or flight” (p. 289). Throughout his composition, Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ emphasises caution, vigilance and prudence, especially on the part of persons who associate with kings, and especially with regard to personal enemies.

Kitāb al-Tāj = Akhlāq al-mulūk

Similarly significant is the book generally known under the title Kitāb al-Tāj fī akhlāq al-mulūk, traditionally attributed to al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 255/868) but in fact the work of Muḥammad b. al-Ḥārith al-Taghlibī/al-Thaʿlabī, who died in 250/864 (Gregor Schoeler, 1980, p. 217-25). This work, dedicated like Ibn Qutayba’s ʿUyūn al-akhbār to al-Fatḥ b. Khāqān (d. 247/861), a commander and courtier of the caliph al-Mutawakkil (r. 232-47/847-61), accordingly dates from the mid-ninth century. As later passages of the present article will demonstrate, it appears that several authors knew this work not as the Kitāb al-Tāj but as the Kitāb Akhlāq al-mulūk, and that it established a model for later works of adab al-mulūk. The book is eclectic in its materials, which address, among other subjects, the comportment of the monarch, the organisation of the court, the conduct required in his boon companions, and matters of military strategy. It incorporates a large amount of material associated with the Sasanian court, as well as several narratives related to the caliphs of the early centuries. In the twelfth century, the otherwise unknown author, Abū l-Ḥasan ʿAlī Ibn Razīn, produced an abridgement of the work, to which he also gave greater coherence by arranging the material into forty mostly short chapters (cf. Franz Rosenthal, 1995, p. 105-9; Schoeler, p. 223). (For further discussion of Ibn Razīn’s work, see below.) Even at this remove, Ibn Razīn retains, on occasion, the term āʾīn, which, in its Middle Persian form ēwēn, corresponded to a considerable measure with the Arabic adab (Ibn Razīn, Ādāb al-mulūk, p. 111: min āʾīn al-malik, p. 114: āʾīn al-sharāb). Later still, the Ottoman bureaucrat and historian Mustafa Âli (948-1008/1541-1600) translated and adapted the Kitāb al-Tāj into Turkish. Âli dedicated his revised work, arranged according to topic, to Sultan Mehmed III (r. 1003-12/1595-1603) and his new grand vizier Ibrahim Paşa (Cornell H. Fleischer, 1986, p. 166).

The Ādāb al-mulūk of al-Thaʿālibī

Among the most illuminating examples of Adab al-mulūk in Arabic is the work of the prolific adīb and celebrated poet and philologist Abū Manṣūr ʿAbd al-Malik Muḥammad al-Thaʿālibī (350-429/961-1038). Al-Thaʿālibī, who spent his entire life in the eastern Islamic world, composed his Ādāb al-mulūk between 403/1012 and 407/1017 and dedicated it to the Khwarazmshah ʿAbū l-ʿAbbās Maʾmūn II (r. 399-407/1009-17), to whom he refers as mawlā amīr al-amīr (Ādāb al-mulūk, p. 29). The Khwarazmshah Maʾmūn was related by marriage to the Ghaznavid sultan Maḥmūd (r. 388-421/998-1030). Al-Thaʿālibī, who devoted considerable attention to the choice of titles for his works, considered alternative titles for his Ādāb al-mulūk, some of which appear in the notations of copyists and librarians (Ādāb al-mulūk, p. 32; cf. Bilal Orfali, 2009, p. 273-318, 280.) The book takes the form of ten thematic chapters, into which the author incorporates numerous narrative accounts (akhbār) and several verses of poetry. His ten chapters are devoted to (1) the elevated status of kings, the intensity of the need for them and the duty of the people to obey, exalt and honour them; (2) proverbs and metaphors related to royalty; (3) the sayings, counsels and tawqīʿāt (signatory notes) of kings and the felicitous utterances of the virtuous in their addresses to them; (4) governance (siyāsa), the utterances of kings and others, and the admonitions of the wise to kings; (5) the moral dispositions, manners and customs, praiseworthy and reprehensible, of kings in governance and in other matters; (6) kings’ selection of viziers, officials and servants; (7) the calamities that befall kings; (8) kings’ enemies and the management of the armies and of wars; (9) the appropriate conduct of kings in the affairs of governance and other matters; and (10) the service of kings and the manners of their companions (khidmat al-mulūk wa-ādāb aṣḥābihim). As part of his presentation of the elevated status of kings, al-Thaʿālibī observes their importance as patrons of philosophers (ḥukamāʾ), scholars and the masters of crafts (ruʾasāʾ al-ṣināʿāt), who serve their sovereigns with the products of their minds (bi-natāʾij afhāmihim) and offer them the fruits of their intellects (bi-thamarāt ʿuqūlihim); were it not for the virtuous among the ancestors of kings, many sciences would have been lost and lofty expressions of wisdom rendered void (39).

Authors of advisory literature, including adab al-mulūk, characteristically reproduce materials of longstanding familiarity, but their deployments of these materials arise less from generic expectations and constraints than from the enduring meaningfulness and flexibility of the materials in the cultural milieux of authors and audiences. As Julia Bray has demonstrated, al-Thaʿālibī’s text shares the “cultural eclecticism” of its predecessors and engages with a large repertoire of materials of diverse provenance, not, however, as a “mere stylistic habit”, but as a “tool for thinking” (Julia Bray, 2010, p. 32-46, 33). Within a framework that reflects themes of perennial interest (its subjects already, as Charles-Henri de Fouchécour has written, “bien fixés”, 1986, p. 138), al-Thaʿālibī combines broadly familiar materials of established stature with references to local and recent examples, and directs his text to matters of immediate concern. Among the themes to which he pays notable attention, as Luke Treadwell and Patricia Crone have indicated, is the peril that attends rulers’ susceptibility to the beguiling overtures of heretics. Al-Thaʿālibī foreshadows his treatment of this topic in his introduction, where, after praise of God, the Prophet and his family, he alludes to kings’ divinely established purpose as “defenders” of the religious community (p. 29). In his later treatment of the potential dangers to the state, al-Thaʿālibī mentions the “missionaries of such free-thinking, heretical, atheistic sects as the Batinis, Carmathians and Ismaʿilis”, among others (p. 168). These persons “will frequently succeed in penetrating the affairs of kings who have not listened to the discourse (kalām) of the religious specialists (mutakallims) or investigated the science of dialectical theology (kalām)” (p. 168-9). They will extricate kings “from the bondage of the law into the liberty of atheism” (min riqq al-sharīʿa ilā ḥurriyyat al-ilḥād) (p. 169). They will coax kings to abandon observance of the prayers and other acts of worship and to follow their desires (shahawāt) (p. 169). As an example, al-Thaʿālibī invokes the Samanid Amir Naṣr II b. Aḥmad (r. 301-31/914-43), whom Ismaʿili missionaries, by their strategies of deception, seduced to the pursuit of pleasure (ladhdha) (Ādāb al- mulūk, p. 168-9; P. Crone and L. Treadwell, 2003, p. 37-67; J. Bray, 2010, p. 41-4 [most of the translations in the preceding sentences are Bray’s]). Elsewhere in his book, al-Thaʿālibī refers to the deification of kings in the Jahiliyya (p. 36), and mentions in passing the reports concerning a “group among the Sufis” (qawm min al-ṣūfiyya), known as the Ḥulūliyya, who “pursue this wicked path and hold this impossible opinion” (p. 36-7). In the same context he refers to al-Muqannaʿ (d. 163/779-80 or 166/782-3), the ‘Veiled One’, who, he reports, claimed divinity and called upon the people to worship him. Al-Thaʿālibī summarises al-Muqannaʿ’s theory of a series of incarnations, and states that his power (shawka) and sedition (fitna) grew intense until, in the reign of the caliph al- Mahdī (r. 158-69/775-85), God caused him to perish. Nevertheless, al-Thaʿālibī writes, some of his followers, known as the “Wearers of White” (al-mubayyiḍa), remained in Transoxiana until the present time (p. 37-8). To this contemporary example al-Thaʿālibī adds the cases of the Rāwandiyya, some of whom venerated the caliph al-Manṣūr (r. 136-58/754-75), and the ghulāt who deified ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/661), the first imam of the Shiʿa.

Al-Thaʿālibī’s text consists of discursive passages interspersed with narratives and quotations, the adept choice and sequenced presentation of which allow the author to extend as well as illustrate his points. Sometimes, he recounts an episode from his own experience; a number of these encounters involve his friendly acquaintance the poet Abū l-Fatḥ ʿAlī b. Muḥammad al-Bustī (d. 400/1010 or 401/1011). In several locations, al-Thaʿālibī cites Qurʾanic verses, to which he occasionally adds an explication. For example, having invoked the verse “Say, O God, Lord of Sovereignty, You bestow sovereignty on whom You will and remove it from whom You will” (3: 26, Qul Allāhumma mālika l-mulki tuʾtī l-mulka man tashāʾu wa-tanziʿu l-mulka mimman tashāʾ), al-Thaʿālibī provides the commentary, “(By this verse) He indicated the transfer of sovereignty from community to community (min umma ilā umma) and its departure from family to family (min usra ilā usra), (a process) that unfolds according to the purpose of the Most Wise, may His praise be glorified. In this (matter) He pursues His course in promoting the optimal (irtiyād al-aṣlaḥ) and furthering the most suitable (īthār al-aʿwad). His installation of the king is in accordance with good order, and His removal of him by (means of) another (ruler) belongs among the matters that God accomplishes in His wisdom and on which the interests of His creatures depend” (p. 36). Among the textual sources to which al-Thaʿālibī refers are several compositions by or associated with Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ: the Yatīma (p. 57, 87, 93, 99, 227), Kalīla wa Dimna (p. 58, 173, 228, 229), and a set of utterances for which the written source remains unnamed (in at least one case, the quotation appears in the Ādāb al-kabīr (p. 52; see also p. 63-4]). Al-Thaʿālibī also cites the Akhbār al-wuzarāʾ (“Accounts of the Viziers”) of al-Jahshiyārī (d. 331/942) (p. 45, 46). In addition, he quotes from the Akhbār Anūshīrwān (p. 42); a Kitāb al-Āʾīn (p. 182), from which his two quotations treat matters of military strategy; the “Epistle of Aristotle to Alexander” (Risālat Arisṭāṭālīs ilā l-Iskandar) (p. 86); and the Kitāb Akhlāq al-mulūk (p. 203, 219, 242), apparently the previously mentioned Pseudo-Jāḥiẓian text also known as the Kitāb al-Tāj. In addition to these citations from textual sources, al-Thaʿālibī includes numerous accounts of and references to figures from the distant and legendary past, such as Galen, Alexander, Alexander’s mother, Farīdūn, Isfandiyār, Ardashīr, Bahrām Gūr, Anūshīrwān, Sābūr (= Shāpūr) and Abarwīz (= Khusraw Parvīz), as well as works of modern figures, such as Aḥmad b. al-Ṭayyib al-Sarakhsī (d. 286/899), Ibn al-Muʿtazz (247-96/861-908), Abū Zayd al-Balkhī (d. 322/934) and al-Ṣāḥib ibn ʿAbbād (326-85/938-95). He also refers to a Persian work of Ādāb al-mulūk by Abū l- Ḥasan Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm b. Sīmjūr (d. 378/988) (172-3; cf. 54, 109, 152). Furthermore al-Thaʿālibī narrates episodes involving numerous individuals, including many of the Abbasid caliphs, several members of the Tahirid dynastic family, several members of the Buyid dynasty, and the Samanid amirs, whom he held in particular esteem. Among the contemporaries and near contemporaries of his region, al-Thaʿālibī frequently cites the Amir Abū ʿAlī al-Ṣaghānī (d. 344/955) (in one account, Abū ʿAlī, in a display of his patience, endures seventeen scorpion bites rather than move unbidden in the presence of the Samanid Amir Naṣr b. Aḥmad (p. 44-5, cf. p. 50, 77, 241), as well as several members of the Mīkālī family of Nishapur (p. 53, 152-3).

The Ādāb al-mulūk of ʿAlī Ibn Razīn

The Ādāb al-mulūk of ʿAlī Ibn Razīn provides a further example of the adaptation of a repertoire of materials to the conditions prevailing in the author’s milieu. Ibn Razīn probably wrote his book for al-Malik al-ʿĀdil Nūr al-Dīn Arslān-Shāh I b. Masʿūd (r. 589-607/1193-1211) in late twelfth-century Mosul (Introduction, 5, 8-10, 11-12; cf. 15-16). The title Ādāb al-mulūk appears in a separate notation at the front and in the calligrapher’s signature at the end of the single manuscript (20, 140); the phrase also appears, however, in the opening passage of Ibn Razīn’s text, which reads, “Persons possessed of wisdom in matters of governance (al-ḥukamāʾ bi-l-siyāsāt), among the Arabs, Persians and Indians, composed books on ādāb al-mulūk, in which they set forth their discourse at length and outlined fables” (p. 30). Like al-Thaʿālibī, Ibn Razīn articulates his counsels with reference to a diverse set of cultural materials, including an Adab al-mulūk ascribed to Buzurgmihr (30-1) (perhaps an Arabic rendering of the Pandnāmāgh-e Vuzurghmihr-e Bokhtaghān), an Ādab mulūk al-hind (p. 52-3), and the Akhlāq al-mulūk of Muḥammad b. al-Ḥārith al-Taghlibī/al-Thaʿlabī (p. 30, 32, 59, 102, 103, 136), this last evidently, like the work of the same title cited in al-Thaʿālibī, the Pseudo-Jāḥiẓian Kitāb al-Tāj fī akhlāq al-mulūk. Indeed, Ibn Razīn announces that he has abbreviated and to some extent expanded al-Taghlibī’s work, with the exception of the latter’s inducements to squander monies in distasteful ways (p. 30); in this matter, he has followed instead the Adab al-mulūk of Buzurgmihr, who insisted on sincerity and truthfulness and discouraged the squandering of funds for reprehensible purposes (p. 31).

In places, and especially at the opening of his chapters, Ibn Razīn cites Qurʾanic texts, followed by Prophetic hadith, for which he sometimes supplies the chain of transmitters (p. 32-3). From these sacred sources he moves to the figure of the king, who should be “the most learned person of his age, the gentlest and most just in his action”, since “in relation to the people, the king occupies the station of the body and all the limbs” (p. 33). (Notably, Ibn Razīn draws correspondences between the divinely stipulated regulations regarding interactions with the Prophet and the proper treatment of kings; for example, he links the divine instruction to the believers that they should not raise their voices above the voice of the Prophet [Q 49: 2-3] with the maintenance of a low voice in the presence of the ruler, p. 68.) The king should, in addition to his practical experience, cultivate learning through the study of books (p. 33; see further below). Invocations of Sasanian monarchs and their practices abound, especially Ardashīr, Bahrām Gūr, Qubādh, Anūshīrwān and Abarwīz. Among the caliphs, Umayyad figures appear with some frequency, especially Muʿāwiya and ʿAbd al-Malik; among the Abbasids, al-Hādī, al-Rashīd and al-Maʾmūn appear most commonly.

ʿAlī Ibn Razīn composed his book in forty chapters of uneven length. In his usage, the term ādāb is often synonymous with akhlāq (“moral characteristics” or “moral dispositions”; as previously indicated, Ibn Razīn draws heavily on the Akhlāq al-mulūk); his third chapter, for example, addresses “the difference among the akhlāq of kings in their use of perfume” (p. 40). Ibn Razīn treats a full spectrum of topics related to courtly culture and the extended royal household. The king’s engagement in diverting pastimes (lahw) should be limited, lest excessive attention to entertainment should distract him from important matters, and contribute to his ruin and perdition. Nor should the king become incapacitated through the consumption of strong drink (sharāb) (p. 50-1). (Ibn Razīn does not, however, question the king’s consumption of strong drink; like his predecessor al-Thaʿālibī, he probably regarded it as part of the ‘aristocratic principle’ [J. Bray, 2010, p. 37]). Ibn Razīn deals at greatest length with the post of the boon companion (munādama) and the qualities proper to the nadīm (p. 114-27; among other attributes, the nadīm should possess proficiency in “various branches of learned culture” [fī funūn al-ādāb], p. 115). The depiction of courtly culture in the Ādāb al-mulūk illustrates the centrality of ties of loyalty and gratitude.

Ibn Razīn refers repeatedly to the “rightful claim(s)” (ḥaqq, ḥuqūq) due to kings; among the royal prerogatives, for example, is their right to solitude when undergoing medical treatment, such as cupping, venesection or the administration of medicine (p. 41). Other royal “rights” include the distance that an individual who enters their presence should maintain (p. 66), that no one should pray in front of them (p. 74), that their secrets should remain hidden from all persons near and far (p. 85), and that they should receive gifts at Nawruz and Mihrajan (p. 127). (By contrast, Ibn Razīn rarely addresses the rights of subjects against the king; an exception concerns the interaction of kings and their companions during the game of polo, p. 136.) For Ibn Razīn, the king’s rights (ḥuqūq) are sometimes inseparable from his akhlāq: it is among the king’s akhlāq, for example, that neither his boon companions, nor the circle of his intimates (biṭāna) should share the king’s mode of dress, or his application of perfume or incense, since these acts elevate the king above the level of parity (with his subjects) (p. 42). It is also among the king’s akhlāq to look into the conducts of the kings of the past and to emulate the most attractive of his predecessors’ akhlāq. In the remaining matters related to the kingdom, he should attend to the great and small: he should be as knowledgeable concerning the lowliest insects as he is concerning elephants and the seven plants, and as familiar with the meanest of crafts as with the most illustrious of the bygone kings (p. 45). In congruence with the provisions of the Akhlāq al-mulūk of al-Taghlibī, Ibn Razīn depicts as a matter of royal akhlāq that the king’s place of sleeping, by night and by day, should remain unknown (p. 82), and that he should sit for the redress of grievances (maẓālim) for the common people for one day at Nawruz and another day at Mihrajan; on these days no one, great or small, noble or base, should be prevented from gaining access to him (p. 105). As the combined stipulations regarding the conduct and functions of the monarch on the occasions of Nawruz and Mihrajan indicate, the king’s akhlāq and his ḥuqūq govern, respectively, his behaviour and the actions of persons in his presence.

Among the particular points of emphasis in Ibn Razīn’s Ādāb al-mulūk is his attention to the royal library and the king’s reading matter. The king, he recommends, should adopt the director of the library (ṣāḥib bayt al-ḥikma) as a confidant, and establish a known place for his personal perusal of books. No one should approach him while he is attending to his reading; a single servant should remain in the vicinity, and maintain an appropriate distance, so as to be able to apprehend the king’s requirements, should they arise, without distracting him (p. 45). If the king should desire a book from the director of the library, the servant and anyone else present should retire, so that no one should learn the name of the book, which should be brought to the ruler in a clean and perfumed cloth (p. 46). If the king’s selected reading matter were to become known, everyone would rush to purchase the book, even at a cost many times its worth (p. 48). The author reports having observed an individual who sold parts of his clothing in order to buy books said to have been perused by “a certain king of our time”; left with inadequate means, the individual had spent two nights starving and in extreme cold, and had contracted a long illness; meanwhile, the book was of no benefit to him (p. 48). Among the king’s akhlāq, Ibn Razīn writes, is that if he should wish to ask a question of the judges, jurists or scholars in attendance at his court, he should pose it only after a period of two or three days, during which time he should consult a number of books, in case he should find his question treated in one of them. He should adopt the same procedure with regard to the questions he might wish to pose to specialists in medicine, astronomy, philosophy, geometry, logic or other crafts and professions (p. 49, cf. H. Touati, 2007, p. 14-20).

It is an indication of its versatility that the field of adab al-mulūk retained its status and value into the early modern period, when scholars acknowledged it as a distinct category of knowledge. In his epistemological and bibliographic compendium Kashf al-ẓunūn ʿan asāmī al-funūn, Kātib Çelebi Ḥājjī Khalīfa (d. 1067/1657) included a section devoted to “the science of the customs of kings” (ʿilm adab al-mulūk). Ḥājjī Khalīfa’s contemporary Aḥmad Khāniyya (Muḥammad Amīn Ibn Ṣadr Amīn Shīrvānī Mullāzādeh) (d. 1036/1626) likewise dedicated a concluding section of his al-Fawāʾid al-khāqāniyya, composed in 1023/1614, to “the science of the customs of kings”. These examples, to which several others might be added, illustrate the breadth and adaptability of adab al-mulūk. Authors of works in this genre preserved and conveyed ancient wisdom and the cumulative insights of human experience, and at the same time addressed the particular interests of their patrons and the immediate concerns of their contemporaries.



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How to cite:
Louise Marlow, «Adab al-mulūk: », in Houari Touati (ed.), Encyclopedia of Mediterranean Humanism, Spring 2014, URL =