chapter
Introduction
Pages 13

Although Arabic, Persian and Turkish possess rich and sophisticated traditions of historical writing, the study of the pre-modern historiography of the Middle East has scarcely begun. Numerous works languish unedited in manuscripts scattered around the libraries of the world, while many of those that have been published exist only in very defective editions.1 Only a comparatively small number of scholarly studies-and very few monographs-have been devoted to individual works. As a result, in spite of a number of valuable general studies of Islamic historiography,2 even the outlines of its development and characteristics remain hazy, let alone the details. Moreover, there is little comprehension of how the historiographical traditions of the three classical languages of the Islamic Middle East, Arabic, Persian and Ottoman Turkish, relate to one another and to what extent and how they differ. This deficiency in modern scholarship appears particularly acute when compared to the situation for mediaeval Europe, where most chronicles have not only been edited and often translated, but also studied in detail from a variety of philological and literary perspectives. As a result, we have a much clearer idea why such works were composed, for whom, and what literary devices they used to impress their audiences. For the composition of historiography in both the East and West was not a simple process of recording facts and dates.3 Rather, much of the interest in the study of these works derives from the fact that, just as for audiences in the Greek and Roman worlds, historical events possessed a meaning not so much in themselves as through the ethical lessons they could impart. For pre-modern historians, facts could be entirely subservient to their ethical meaning, and the task of the historian was less to record them precisely than to decide ‘what, and how much, to make of them to suit his own purpose’.4 The general mediaeval perception of history differed rather from popular modern ones: whilst people today might-and often do-draw attention to the lessons that may be learned from the past, they usually have in mind an idea that ‘history repeats itself’, rather than that it has an ethical meaning per se. Thus mediaeval historical writing was rarely if ever the search for the facts about the past ‘as it really was’, as the nineteenth-century German historian von Ranke expressed it in a famous phrase.