A Mediterranean Apocalypse: Prophecies of Empire in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries

In: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

Abstract

This article traces the intertwining of contemporaneous Muslim and Christian millenarian beliefs and excitation from the early fifteenth to late sixteenth centuries, specifically as crystalized by the rise of the Ottoman power, the Muslim conquest of “Rome” (Constantinople) in 1453, and the sixteenth century Ottoman-Habsburg rivalry for recognition as legitimate claimants to the world empire of the last age of history. The most influential formulator of the Ottoman eschatological identity was the mystic and lettrist ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Bisṭāmī, whose works underlie the fully articulated royal messianism of Sultan Süleymān (r. 1520-1566). At Süleymān’s court the French orientalist and apocalyptic enthusiast Guillaume Postel, a proponent of French Valois universal end-time monarchy, saw al-Bisṭāmī’s work brandished in 1535. Following the trajectory of the production, consumption, and deployment of these texts in the context of revolutionary changes across the Mediterranean—not least of all in understandings of religions and their relationship to historical empire—makes clear the centrality of apocalyptic to contemporary understandings of history and the significance (and legitimacy) of the new imperial formations, and to new understandings of the interrelationship between cognate, if sometimes hostile, monotheisms.

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