This book by M. Subtelny can be resituated in the continuity of her previous works on the Timurids, on the study of agriculture handbooks and on the economic role played by mausoleums (see the bibliography pp. 385-7). The present study is a significant contribution to the development of Timurid studies. While dealing with on many figures of the imperial family, the author concentrates on the reign of Timur’s great-grandson Sultan Husayn Bayqara (the ruler of Khurasan from 1469 to 1506). This period of time gave way to deep change in governance and in the society itself. As M. Subtelny explains in her introduction, in this book she has endeavoured to answer to several questions: Why Timur’s descendants “were obliged to make the transition from a nomadic empire to a sendentary form of government in the first place; what was the nature of the polity they established [. . .]; what competing political forces were in play during the process of transition [. . .]; and, finally what mechanisms did Timurid rulers employ in their attempt to effect the transition to a more centralised, sedentary state.”
In chapter 1, “The Routinisation of Charisma: The Timurid Patrimonial Household State (11-42),” the author examines (11-2) the concept of charisma (qut) that lied at the basis of Timur’s ideology, through the application of Max Weber’s concept of “routinisation of charismatic authority.” This notion had already been used by Eric Voegelin in a study published in 1966 (note 4 p. 12). Timur’s successors were confronted with a crucial challenge: How to maintain political control and legitimacy without a leader endowed with charismatic authority? M. Subtelny explains that the empire founded by Timur constitutes “a case study of what Max Weber referred to as the routinisation of charisma, according to which economic factors served as the chief impetus for the reorganisation of administrative structures [. . .].” In this first chapter, she subtly tackles the Chinggiskhanid legacy through the Turkic and Mongol concept of law (törä) that was claimed by Timur. In chapter two, “From Political Vagabond to Potentate: The Career of Sultan-Husain Bayqara (43-73),” she describes the sultan’s rise to power, which was interrupted by “periods of political vagabondage (qazaqliq) .”
Chapter three (“The Challenge of Change: Centralising Reforms and Their Opponents, 74-102”) examines the tensions between different ideological trends and the competitions between the military élite and the Islamic Persian bureaucracy. M. Subtelny shows that these tensions reached their peak during the reign of Sultan Husayn, that it is during this period of time that the Persians begun to impose a number of economic reforms in order to centralise the fiscal administration. These reforms were opposed by the military élites as long as they were challenging their privileges. In chapter four (“The Search for Long-Term Solutions: Khorasan and The Agricultural Imperative,” 103-47), she analyses the mirrors of princes that were utilised for explaining to the members of the imperial family the advantages of agriculture. It was apparently in this period that numerous agriculture handbooks were written, the origin of which is traces by M. Subtelny. The study of relations between agriculture and pious foundations (waqfs) is the subject of chapter five (“Piety and Pragmatism: The Role of the Islamic Pious Endowment,” 148-91). Thanks to a detailed analysis of these documents, the author demonstrates that the growth of waqfs significantly contributed to the prosperity of Khurasan. The sixth and last chapter (“Of Saints and Scribes: The Timurid Shrine as a Vehicle for Agromanagement,” 192-228) is devoted to the role of mausoleums and to their gradual transformation into vast complexes endowed with a great many arable lands. The promotion of these mausoleums was made not only by the imperial family, but also by the ruler’s wives and by the military élite. So doing, they were making these religious complexes an important factor of the development of agriculture in Khurasan.
In this exceptionally rich study M. Subtelny brings very satisfactory answers to the questions raised in her introductory chapter. She demonstrates that the military élites did maintain their Turkic and Mongol identity as well as their nomadic culture, while making the promotion of an economy based on agriculture. The text is completed by very useful annexes: reproductions and translations of manuscript documents (236-359), a substantial bibliography (361-90) and a detailed index (391-411).