The author of this very important work studies in depth and with meticulousness the government and society in Iran and Central Asia under Timur’s son and successor Shah Rukh (1409-47). The volume is constituted of eight chapters, and introduction and a remarkable conclusion, which relocates the book’s content in varied perspectives. The author’s scrupulous research is based on a number of Persian and Arabic sources (list pp. 284-7) and secondary studies (list pp. 287-95). B. Manz examines the key issue that Shah Rukh had to confront, viz. how to consolidate power after the death of the dynasty’s founder?
The three first chapters (13-110) are devoted to the varied strategies implemented by Shah Rukh for gaining legitimacy. The crucial political fact that he had to face was that coercion was no monopoly of political power: All the society’s strata were entitled to launch military operations. On this aspect, B. Manz convincingly sheds light on the role played by the religious personnel of Islam, notably in Samarqand. In the second chapter (49-78), she leads an interesting reflection on the various types of sources utilised for this study, and she insists on the necessity to reconstruct their respective contexts, in order to interpret them. The following chapter (79-110) is devoted to the establishment of Shah Rukh’s diwan and of the personnel associated to it, and brings very interesting elements on the tentative centralisation set up by the sultan. In the two next chapters, B. Manz studies the features of Timurid dominance in Southern Iran, with particular interest in Isfahan and in Shiraz. So doing, she raises the question of the relationship between central power and regional centres located far from it. And she observes that as well as in the Il-Khanid period, it was necessary to dispose of local relays and to have them collaborate with the representative of Timurid power (for comparison, see Denise Aigle, Le Fars sous la domination mongole: politique et fiscalité, Paris, 2005).
The sixth and seventh chapters (178-244) cast a particularly revealing light on religion’s role in political matters. The author shows that religious and spiritual authority was also diffuse, like political authority itself. She explains in detail the relations between the religious and political élites, and shows the growing significance of Sufi shaykhs, for whom the power was making investments through the creation of numerous of religious establishments. This class of higher religious personnel could intervene into political life (see pp. 203-38). In compensation, Shah Rukh deployed a variety of means for controlling the most prominent religious figureheads of his realms (238-43). At the same time, this rise of religious authorities does not constitute a peculiarity of the Timurid period: Hadn’t it already characterised the regime of the Il-Khans (cf. J. Aubin, “Le patronage culturel en Iran sous les Ilkhans: une grande famille de Yazd,” Le monde iranien et l’islam 3 (1975): 107-18; G. Lane, Early Mongol Rule in Thirteenth Century Iran: A Peasant Renaissance, London – New York, 2003: chapter 8, pp. 226-54)? One of the most innovative chapters of the book is the one entitled “Political Dynamics in the Realm of Supernatural (pp. 178-207).” The author shows there that finally neither the government nor the Sufis detained the monopoly of power “in the sphere of supernatural.” A number of other groups enjoyed access to invisible powers. Such was the case of the descendents of the Prophet, the sadat (sing. sayyid). Other figureheads with a more marginal position like miracle-workers, crazy saints (majzub), dervishes and qalandars whose outrageous conduct could shock the opinion, were credited a much better access to the spiritual world than those recognised religious authorities like leading Sufi shaykhs closely associated with political power. This chapter questions the commonplace of religious austerity in Shah Rukh’s time. The last chapter describes the succession crisis created by the rebellion of Muhammad b. Baysunghur in several regions of the empire.
In all, this work provides us with an excellent and subtle image of a society where political power and coercion is most of the time shared by different groups, in particular by religious societies and communities. As such, the book could be compared with that by Michael Chamberlain (Knowledge and Social Practice in Mediaeval Damascus, 1190-1350, Cambridge, 1994), who wonders about the “social use of knowledge” through the case of Damascus. The author of this latter study observes that the political power was detained by élite ‘houses’ (buyut), not by the state itself or by its constitutional bodies. M. Chamberlain analyses the strategies deployed by these houses for the acquisition of authority and its transmission from generation to generation. One can only congratulate B. Manz for this admirable and scrupulous research, which closely examines varied categories of sources in order to follow the strategies implemented by the power, by social groups, and by individuals. This monograph, no doubt, will mark a milestone in the development of Timurid studies.