Reviews

Based on the recent academic bibliography in Georgian and Armenian languages, this panoramic article skips through a millennium of Muslim presence in Tbilisi, from the late seventh-century Arab conquest of the city to the late Tsarist period.  The historical narrative set up by the authors insists on three distinctive and uneven eras: (1) a “golden age” of Islam in Tbilisi under the Arab amirs from the eighth century CE to the successive Khwarezmian and Mongol conquests in the early thirteenth century; (2) an era of decay of the town from its destructions by Tamerlane in 1386, and by successive Turkmen conquerors in the fifteenth century, to the mid-seventeenth-century demographic revival—the population being during this period more and more dominated by Christian elements, among whom Armenian merchants; (3) a new era of relative prosperity from the mid-seventeenth century to the end of the Tsarist period, with significant variations of the Shiite and Sunni populations in the course of confrontations between Persia and the Ottoman Empire.

The textual or statistical elements provided on the proportion of Muslims in the city’s population often remain very incomplete.  The authors stress the significance of their public role during the whole medieval period (see the concessions, notably fiscal, made by the Georgian king David iv ‘the Restorer’ to the local Muslim population and elites after his conquest of the town in 1122), and the essentially seasonal, male composition of Tbilisi’s Muslim population in the nineteenth century (with variable proportions of Shiites coming from Iran and Sunnis from the Northern Caucasus, besides a more stable population of Kazan Tatars, expatriates of the Saratov and Penza governorates of Russia).  The authors remaining unfamiliar with primary Turkic sources, nothing is said of Tbilisi’s prominent, if not central role in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Islamic cultural revival in the southern Caucasus.  

Besides, some interesting ideas on the social history of the city—for instance on the replacement of the military gentility by the merchants and craftsmen’s guilds after the twelfth-century Saljuq conquest—still remember the good old Marxist-Leninist categories, and are unfortunately not supported by a documentary basis of any kind.  As to the paragraphs devoted to the historical explanation of some public charges of the Muslim community (amir, ra’is, muhtasib, with more important developments on the public role played by qadis after Muslims became a minority in the city’s population) remain very generic, and are not based on any primary literature.  Conversely, the imaginary role played by Tbilisi in the Arabic and Persian geographical literature has been well perceived, the authors stressing that by showing an essentially idyllic picture of a Muslim-peopled city under enlightened Christian rule, pre-modern Arab and Persian geographers “tended to prod Muslim rulers to follow the example of the Georgian kings (35-6)”.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon (National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris)

229. Bosworth C. E., “Zahir al-Din Mar‘ashi,” in P. J. Bearman et al., eds., The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 11, Leiden: Brill, 2002: 393-4, bibliography

This very short notice on the Persian diplomat and historian of the Caspian region Zahir al-Din b. Nasir al-Din Mar‘ashi (ca. 1412-after 1489) stresses his contribution to the historiography of the southern shore of the Caspian Sea, through his Ta’rikh-i Tabaristan u Ruyan u Mazandaran, extending from the origins up to 1476, and his Ta’rikh-i Gilan u Daylamistan carried up to 1489, both valuable for the intricate history of the petty principalities of the Caspian region.

The Redaction
CER: I-3.3.A-228