Rashid al-Din

views updated


RASHID AL-DIN (Fazlallah Tabib al-Hamdani , "the physician from Hamadan"; 1247–1318). He was born to Jewish parents in *Hamadan. He was the son of ʿImād al-Dawla b. Abu al-Khayr, a pharmacist by profession. We do not have any knowledge of the early periods of his life until we hear of him entering the service of the Ilkhan Abaqa (r. 1265–1282), the second *Mongol Emperor, as a physician. We are informed from some early sources that he had embraced Islam around the year 1278, when he was 30 years old. Twenty years later, namely around 1298, Rashid al-Din became a deputy to Sadr al-Din Zanjāni, the vizier of Arghun's son, Ghazan Khan (r. 1295–1304). A few months later, Sadr al-Din was put to death and his place was taken by Saʿd al-Din Sāvaji who made Rashid al-Din his associate. In this capacity Rashid al-Din introduced substantial administrative reforms during Ghazan's reign. He amassed tremendous power and wealth and owned property in almost every corner of the Mongol Empire. Eight of his 14 sons were appointed governors of provinces. As the associate of the Sāhib Divān, mostly using his fortune he built madrasa s, hospitals, and other public and educational institutions in many places in the empire, especially in the capital city of *Tabriz and in the nearby city, Sultāniyya. In the suburb of Tabriz he constructed a little town, called by his name Rabʿ-i Rashidi, to which he brought intellectuals and artists from different Islamic lands.

In Tārikh-i Uljeitu, composed by ʿAbdallah Kāshāni (d. 1337), we read about a bitter debate which took place between Rashid al-Din and Saʿd al-Din Sāvaji in the presence of the Uljeitu. Saʿd al-Din vilified Rashid al-Din with abusive words and called him a Jew (1969:121ff.). For this impudent behavior, Saʿd al-Din was dismissed from the office of the Sāhib Divān and was put to death on February 19, 1312. Rashid al-Din almost experienced the same fate.

Soon afterwards, Tāj al-Din ʿAli-Shāh was appointed by the Emperor Uljeitu to replace Saʿd al-Din. From that time, because of the deep hatred and rivalry between ʿAli-Shāh and Rashid al-Din, the vast Mongol Empire was divided and administered by the two Sāhib Divāns. Thus ʿAli Shāh became responsible for northwestern *Persia, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor, and Rashid al-Din took charge of central and southern Persia. Eventually, the enmity between the two viziers brought disaster to Rashid al-Din when he was accused of having poisoned the Uljeitu. In an interesting account, related mostly by Kāshāni, Rashid al-Din was charged with murdering the emperor by prescribing the wrong medicine. During his trial, his Jewish background was mentioned very often. Rashid al-Din, when defending himself against the accusation that he had poisoned Uljeitu, said: "How could I do such a thing? I was a Jewish pharmacologist, a physician, a weak person who rose to a high rank" (Suqāʿi 1974:183). Rashid al-Din and his 16-year-old son, Ibrahim, were put to death in 1318 by the new emperor, Abu Saiʿd, the son of Uljeitu. Consequently, Rashid al-Din's property was confiscated and Rabʿ-i Rashidi was looted. Later on, one of Rashid al-Din's sons, Ghiyāth al-Din, was appointed vizier to Abu Saʿīd (r. 1316–1335).

Rashid al-Din is considered one of the greatest scholars in Persia. Besides Persian, he knew Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, and Mongolian languages. He produced several monumental books, the most important of which was Jāmiʿal-Tavārīkh. The latter includes the history of the Mongols and accounts relating to the history of many nations including the European peoples. His production of the history of the Mongol and Turkish tribes remains a single, uniquely valuable source until now. Regarding his writings, including a commentary on *Koran, see S.H. Nasr et al. in the bibliography below. About 80 years later, Rashid al-Din's body was transferred from the Muslim graveyard and buried in the Jewish cemetery.


E. Blochet, Introduction à l'histoire des Mongols (1910); W.J. Fischel, "Ueber Raschid ad-Daulas juedischen Ursprung," in: mgwj, 81 (1937), 145–53; J. Karl, Die Geschichte der Kinder Israels des Rašid ad-Din (1973; ʿAbdallah Kāshāni, Tarikh-i Uljeitu (1969), in Persian; S.H. Nasr et al. (eds), Proceedings of the Colloquium on Rashid al-Din (1971), in Persian; A. Netzer, "Rashid al-Din and His Jewish Background," in: Sh. Shaked and A. Netzer (eds.), Irano-Judaica, 3 (1994), 118–26; B. Spuler, Die Mongolen in Iran (1939); F. Suqa'i, Tāli kitāb wafayāt al-aʿyān ibn al-Suqāʿi (1974).

[Amnon Netzer (2nd ed.)]