18 Timurid-Mughal Philosopher-Kings as Sultan-Scientists

In: Rulers as Authors in the Islamic World
Matthew Melvin-Koushki
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The successors of Amir Temür (r. 1370–1405), supreme Lord of Conjunction (ṣāḥib-qirān), developed a distinctive form of saint-philosopher-kingship without precedent in Islamic history. As part and parcel of their universalist-imperialist quest to transcend binaries political and epistemological in equal measure, they fashioned themselves absolutist astrocrats, capable of talismanically marrying heaven to earth, by means of a personal mastery of astronomy-astrology. Of manifest political utility, the science of the stars had attracted the perennial interest of ruling elites since antiquity; but these Timurid rulers were the first to pursue it within an explicitly Pythagorean lettrist framework—whence the dual astrological-lettrist platform undergirding Timurid claims to imperial universalism, which definitively Timuridized the very title ṣāḥib-qirān; and whence the mathematization of astronomy by the members of the Samarkand Observatory, a revolutionary development much feted by historians of science. Thus institutionalized, this same occult platform remained an effective means of performing a specifically Timurid mode of sovereignty throughout the Persianate world until at least the mid-seventeenth century, and especially in Mughal India. This article translates and contextualizes the personal scientific output and patronage programs of two Timurid philosopher-kings, Iskandar Sulṭān (r. 1409–1414) and Ulugh Beg (r. 1409–1449), and their Indo-Timurid heirs, Shāhjahān (r. 1628–1657) and Dārā Shukūh (d. 1659), each of whom took the Pythagorean lettrist principle of world as mathematical text quite literally indeed—with the Taj Mahal as its apotheosis.

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