Asian and African studies blog

11 posts categorized "Ottoman Turkey"

07 October 2013

Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean

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Southeast Asia has long been connected by trade, religion and political links to the wider world across the Indian Ocean, and especially to the Middle East through the faith of Islam. However, little attention has been paid to the ties between Muslim Southeast Asia – encompassing the modern nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and the southern parts of Thailand and the Philippines – and the greatest Middle Eastern power, the Ottoman empire. 

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The Indian Ocean world in the 16th century, from an Italian portolano.  British Library, Harley 3450, no.6    noc

In 2009, the British Academy funded a three-year research project Islam, Trade and Politics Across the Indian Ocean, administered by the Association of South East Asian Studies in the UK (ASEASUK) and the British Institute at Ankara (BIAA).  The project set out to investigate all forms of interaction between these two regions, from political, religious, literary and commercial exchanges to mutual influences in material culture, and culminated in a conference, From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia, held in 2012 in Banda Aceh in conjunction with the International Centre for Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies (ICAIOS).  The results of the research project have also been presented in a photographic exhibition produced by the British Library, which has been shown in Durham, Leeds, Cambridge, Leicester and Exeter.  Today the exhibition opens in London at its final UK venue, in the John Addis Gallery of Islamic Art at the British Museum.  Turkish and Indonesian versions of the exhibition have also been produced, and are currently on display in Istanbul and Aceh.

The Ottoman lands were known in Southeast Asia as Rum, after the Arabic term for the Roman empire.  The Raja of Rum occupies a fabled position in Malay, Acehnese and Javanese epics, and the ruling houses of Kedah, Johor, Perak and Jambi all traced their descent from Rum. In Turkey similarly exotic imaginings existed in parallel with concrete geographical knowledge, and well into the 18th century Ottoman artists continued to illustrate medieval texts describing mythical inhabitants of Southeast Asia. 

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Winged tree-dwellers of Zabaj, referring probably to Sumatra or Java, from ‘Aja’ib al-makhluqat by Qazvini, Persian text with Ottoman paintings, 1654/5.  British Library, Or.13935, f.76r (detail)

The main periods of direct political contact between Southeast Asian states and the Ottoman empire took place in the 16th and 19th centuries, with a long hiatus in between.  But after the Turkish conquest of Egypt in 1517 and until the early 20th centuries, the two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medinah, were under Ottoman control.  During this period, the main conduit for contact between the Ottomans and the Malay world was the annual Hajj pilgrimage.  Many Muslims from the Malay archipelago lived for long periods in Mecca, where they were known as the Jawi community. When they returned to Southeast Asia they brought back as souvenirs highly-prized Ottoman goods such as manuscripts, textiles and carpets.  Thus Ottoman motifs such as the tughra or royal monogram, and distinctive calligraphic styles such as zoomorphic and müsenna mirror writing, found their way into Southeast Asian art forms including batik textiles and woodcarvings.  The two-bladed sword of the Prophet called Dhu al-Faqar, so evident in Ottoman war flags and pilgrim banners, is also found on flags from Aceh, Siak, Riau and even Sulu in the southern Philippines.


Tughra of the Ottoman Sultan Murad III (r.1574-1595).  British Library Or.15504   noc

Reproduced in the ten exhibition panels are documents from the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives (Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi) in Istanbul, including newly-discovered royal letters from Malay rulers to the Ottoman sultan, addressed as the khalifah and protector of Muslims worldwide.  Manuscripts, maps and drawings from the British Library and other institutions also testify to links between the lands of the Ottoman empire and early republican Turkey, and the Muslim peoples of Southeast Asia, from the 16th to 20th centuries.

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Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor – the first Malay monarch to visit Turkey – and his Turkish wife, Sultana Khadijah.  Na Tien Piet, Shaer almarhoem beginda Sultan Abubakar di negri Johor (Singapore, 1896).  British Library 14626.a.6

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The Indonesian version of the exhibition on display in the Library of Universitas Syiah Kuala, Banda Aceh, September 2013.  Photograph courtesy of ICAIOS.

Further reading

For a list of publications on Ottoman links with Southeast Asia, see:

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia
Co-Director, Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean

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29 July 2013

An Ottoman Turkish Mosque Library Register

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This volume, which opens with an ornate rococo illuminated heading, is the original handwritten handlist of the manuscripts of Mustafa Paşa, preserved in the Mosque of Hasan Paşa. Neither the former owner nor the mosque is more specifically identified. According to an inscription, in 1230/1814-15 the library’s holdings were scrutinized under the supervision of Devletlü (His Excellency) Haccı ‘Ali Paşa. Of the 230 volumes, 135 were found to be present and 95 on loan to students. Many are common textbooks on the religious sciences.

Defter-i kütüb-i Mustafa Paşa fī Cami‘ Hasan Paşa, undated (late 18th-early 19th c.).  Original hand (f. 2v-5v, 11v-19v) is clear nesih; later additions in untidy rıkʼa. Text frames: black, gold, black, red. Thick off-white laid paper; watermarks: stylized coronet above letters BVC (C below); smaller coronet above letters CSC; stylized lion rampant. 22 folios, plus 79 blank but for ruling. 271 x 157 mm; ruled area 224 x 116 mm (British Library Or.14878)

This defter is unusually concise. Each page has a grid of 18 squares, each entry stating only the short title (or a generic description such as ‘Treatise on Sufism’) or author (but rarely both) and the number of volumes; this is often insufficient to identify the text unequivocally. In some squares, the word mevcud (‘present’) has been added in red ink. The compilers exhibit a lower level of linguistic knowledge than one might expect. The defter contains entries on folios 2v-7v; blank ruled squares on 8r-10v; then 69 folios that are blank apart from the ruled gilt text frames (not counted in foliation, following British Library practice); then further entries from f. 11v to the top row of 20r; then ten more folios with only text frames.

It is curious that the written contents comprise two sequences, both with later additions, separated by so many blank pages. The handwriting of the best-written folios – 2v-5v and 11v-19v – is all by the same individual, although the contents of the two sequences differ. The volume may have been ordered to a fixed size and format, to accommodate future acquisitions.  There is an explanation. Examination of the second sequence shows that it represents the original writer’s attempt to re-order the entries by subject, beginning with Qur’anic literature before proceeding to Ḥadīth (Prophetic traditions), Fiqh (jurisprudence), and so on. Thus the Defter of the Mustafa Paşa Library, for all its deficiencies, reflects the care taken to maintain records of the holdings of a modest Ottoman mosque library.

Muhammad Isa Waley, Asian and African Studies

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01 May 2013

A 16th century Ottoman polymath: Matrakçı Nasuh

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Matrakçı Nasuh’s Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb (Or. 7988) and Cāmi‘ üt-Tevārīh (Add. 23586)

New information about manuscripts in our collections is often made known through the work of dedicated experts who study specific items in the course of their research.  One such case was brought to light through the work of Dr. Hüseyin Gazi Yurdaydın, who successfully identified the author of one of the British Library’s Turkish manuscripts which had previously been described as anonymous (Yurdaydın, 144).  The manuscript in question is Add. 23586, a work written in Ottoman Turkish.  In the British Museum’s late 19th-century catalogue, Charles Rieu describes this work in a fair amount of detail, even identifying it as a ‘portion of the history of the dynasty,’ referring to the Ottomans (Rieu, 46).  However, the work was not definitively identified as part of the historical chronicle written by Matrakçı Nasuh, the famous 16th-century Ottoman polymath, until Dr. Yurdaydın’s work on the manuscript.  Add. 23586 contains the section of Nasuh’s Cāmi‘ üt-Tevārīh dealing with the reigns of Beyazid II (1447-1512) and Selim I (1512-1520).

Add23586_f156r_720The section on Selim I, in which the Ottoman sultan sends an emissary with a letter of warning to the last Mamluk ruler of Egypt, Tumanbay (Add. 23586, f 156r)   noc

The author of this manuscript, Matrakçı Nasuh, was an Ottoman Renaissance man. He excelled in martial arts, mathematics, science, painting and literature, among other fields. Matrakçı Nasuh’s name, in fact, comes from the word for ‘cudgel’ or ‘mace’ in Ottoman Turkish, matrāḳ, as he was famous for his virtuosity in employing this weapon and creating games and military training involving the mace, as well as other weapons, even writing a work on the art of swordsmanship, Tuḥfat ül-Ghuzāt (Yurdaydın, 143-144). In addition to the art of chivalry, Matrakçı Nasuh’s contributions to Ottoman court life are numerous. His talents first came to attention of Sultan Süleyman (ruled 1520-1566) as a young officer in the Janissary corps. In 1530, Nasuh translated Ṭabarī’s renowned historical chronicle, Tarīkh al-Rusūl wa al-Mulūk (History of the Prophets and Kings, better known in English as the Annals) from Arabic into Ottoman Turkish and adapted it to include information from Ptolemy and al-Bīrūnī (Ebel, 4). 

This translation/adaptation, which Nasuh called the Cāmi‘ üt-Tevārīh, came to the attention of the new sultan in 1534 (Yurdaydın, 144). Perhaps in an effort to establish his status as a patron of the arts, as well as a universal monarch drawing his legitimacy from previous Islamic and pre-Islamic rulers, Süleyman commissioned Nasuh to continue his historical chronicle to include the Ottoman dynasty.  It is a copy of this work that is contained in part in the BL’s Turkish manuscript collection in MS. Add. 23586. Our copy of this work is dated AH 960 or AD 1553, making it contemporary with the life of Matrakçı Nasuh, who died in AD 1564.

Add23586_720The colophon of Cami’ üt-Tevarih recording the scribe as Ṣāliḥ ibn-i Ḥasan el-Ḳonyavī (Add. 23586)    noc

In addition to his contribution to the writing of history and the creation of games with cudgels, Matrakçı Nasuh was also famous as a technician. The most well-known episode of his engineering talent occurred during the circumcision ceremonies of Süleyman’s sons, Mehmed and Selim, when he famously constructed two moving citadels out of paper from which soldiers emerged and staged a battle, as part of the public spectacle and celebration in the Istanbul hippodrome (Yurdaydın, 144). He was also a talented painter and created a new form of art that depicted the topography of cities of the Ottoman Empire with great precision and detail (Ebel, 2-3). 

Matrakçı_Nasuh_Soltaniyeh_Map_720Beyan-i Menazil-i Sefer-i Irakeyn-i Sultan Suleyman, written circa 1537. (Istanbul University Library 5967)  noc  Wikimedia Commons

In addition to Matrakçı Nasuh’s work on historiography, the British Library also holds one of his manuscripts on mathematics, his famous treatise, Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb Or. 7988. 

Or7988_f16r_720Ümdet ül-Ḥisāb. From the chapter on fractions, in which the division of inheritance is explained (Or. 7988 f. 16r)  noc

However, the canonical work on the history of Ottoman mathematical literature, aptly titled Osmanlı Matematik Literatürü Tarihi, lists thirteen extant copies of Matrakçı’s mathematical treatises in manuscript libraries in Turkey and one manuscript in the University Library of Cambridge but does not mention the BL copy (İhsanoğlu, 72-73), meaning that this manuscript will have escaped the attention of many researchers.  It is hoped that by drawing attention to the existence of these manuscripts through our blog that we can create connections between scholars abroad and here in the UK in order to facilitate research on our manuscript collections and to make our collections more accessible.


Nur Sobers-Khan,  Asian and African Studies

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Further reading

Kathryn A. Ebel. ‘Representations of the Frontier in Ottoman Town Views of the Sixteenth Century,’ Imago Mundi 60/1 (2008): 1-22.

Sencer Çorlu, et al. ‘The Ottoman Palace School Enderun and the Man with Multiple Talents, Matrakçı Nasuh,’ Journal of the Korea Society of Mathematical Education Series D: Research in Mathematical Education 14/1 (2010): 19–31

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, (ed). ‘Nāṣūḥ al-Maṭrākī,’ Osmanlı Matematik Literatürü Tarihi, Vol. 1.  Istanbul, 1999.

Charles Rieu.  Catalogue of Turkish Manuscripts in the British Museum.  London, 1888: 45-46.

Nasuhü’s-Silahi Matrakçı. Tarih-i feth-i Şikloş  ve Estergon ve Estolnibelgrad, tarih-i Sultan Bayezid: History of the conquest of Sıklös and Esztérgom and Székesfehérvar, the history of Sultan Bayezid. Ankara, 2001.

Dominique Halbout du Tanney. Istanbul vu par Matrakçı et les miniaturistes du XVIe siècle. İstanbul, 1993.

Hüseyin Gazi Yurdaydın. ‘Matrakçı Nasuh,’ İslam Ansiklopedisi, Vol. 28, Ankara, 2003: 143-145