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date: 02 December 2022

The Persian Cosmopolisfree

The Persian Cosmopolisfree

  • Richard EatonRichard EatonUniversity of Arizona


The Persian cosmopolis refers to the vast territory between the Balkans and Bengal in which, for 1000 years, an integrated sense of moral, social, political, and aesthetic order was informed by the circulation of normative Persian texts. Several centuries after the Arab conquest of the Iranian plateau, a spoken form of a hybridized Middle Persian and Arabic emerged in written form, using a modified Arabic script. What had begun as a regional vernacular swiftly became a transregional, literary medium as regional courts in Khurasan and Central Asia patronized Persian literature and used that language in their bureaucracies, building on a tradition of professional writers that had served Persian empires for centuries. The technology of paper-making, recently introduced from China, facilitated the rapid movement of Persian texts across space, while Firdausi’s epic poem the Shah-nama (1010) celebrated Iranian mythology and pre-Islamic history in ways that connected widely scattered peoples of different ethnicities. Territorial conquests by Persianized Turks, followed by Mongol invasions that drove peoples of Central Asia and Khurasan into new lands, also served to expand the geographical extent of the Persian cosmopolis.

By the 14th and 15th centuries, the political, aesthetic, and moral order elaborated in a growing Persian canon—for example, the principle of justice—had become associated with a prestigious, cosmopolitan style that was emulated and absorbed by widely scattered peoples of diverse ethnicities and religions. Persianate architecture, attire, urban design, music, cuisine, and numismatic traditions were also assimilated by such peoples. With the translation of a rich store of romance literature into vernacular tongues, the Persian cosmopolis became as much a subjective phenomenon, inhabiting people’s collective imagination, as it was an objective, mappable zone in which popular, discursive, and normative texts circulated along networks that connected royal courts, provincial notables, Sufi lodges, merchant communities, and schools.


  • Central Asia
  • Historiography/Historical Theory and Method
  • Intellectual
  • Middle East
  • South Asia

The Persian cosmopolis refers to the vast territory from the Balkans to Bengal, and from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea, with extensions reaching maritime Southeast Asia, in which, from the 9th to the 19th century, an integrated sense of moral, social, political, and aesthetic order was informed by the circulation of Persian texts considered prestigious and normative.

Figure 1. “The Persian Cosmopolis, 900–1900.” Richard M. Eaton, India in the Persianate Age, 1000–1765 (London: Penguin Books, 2019), 12. Copyright Lois Kain.

It has also been called the Persianate world, with the neologism “Persianate” being an adjectival construction analogous to Germanic, Hellenic, Indic, Hispanic, and so on, all of which refer to the wide range of culture derived from, or based on, a particular language and its literary corpus.

The Origins of New Persian

The Persian cosmopolis originated as a consequence of political and sociolinguistic processes triggered in 651 when Arab armies overthrew the Sasanian empire (206–651) and swiftly annexed its former territories in Iraq, the Iranian plateau, Khurasan, and Central Asia. From their capital in Damascus, a succession of Arab caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty (661–750) instated the use of Arabic for purposes of administration, commerce, literature, and education, effectively submerging the region’s Iranian languages, including Middle Persian, the official language of the defeated Sasanian empire. In the mid-8th century, however, the Umayyad dynasty was overthrown in a revolution led largely by Arabized Persian speakers in Khurasan and Central Asia, who launched the Abbasid dynasty (750–1258). By establishing their capital in the newly built city of Baghdad, just 16 miles northwest of the Sasanians’ former capital at Ctesiphon, the Abbasids gradually became Persianized, adopting much of the imperial culture and bureaucratic institutions of the Sasanians. Already in as early as the mid-8th century, records of the Sasanian royal archives were copied in order to be translated into Arabic. In what has been called “Persian wisdom in Arabic garb,” the Nasihat al-muluk (“Council for Kings”)—an early 10th-century Arabic text authored by a Persian, likely in northern Afghanistan—presented the ancient Persian monarchy as part of the natural order of things.1

During the first several centuries after the conquest, even while Arab rulers were assimilating Persian imperial ideas and bureaucratic techniques, a linguistic revolution was quietly taking shape—the emergence of New Persian, a synthesis of Middle Persian and Arabic. This process had been aided by bards who spoke the hybrid tongue and were patronized by members of the old Sasanian landed aristocracy, the dihqans, who had largely remained in place across the Iranian plateau. The emergence of New Persian may be compared to events following the Norman conquest of England in 1066. There, the French language instituted by a new ruling class gradually merged with the indigenous Anglo-Saxon to create an early form of English, which ultimately achieved literary status some three centuries after the conquest (e.g., Geoffrey Chaucer, fl. 1360s). Similarly, written forms of New Persian, using a modified form of the Arabic script, first appeared in Khurasan and Central Asia several centuries after the Arab conquest. By the end of the 9th century the Samanid dynasty of rulers (819–999) in Bukhara (in modern Uzbekistan) were patronizing the language, both as a literary medium and as the official medium for managing their bureaucracy. This dynasty was one among several states that, technically still under Abbasid rule from Baghdad, established de facto independence from their Arab overlords and simultaneously patronized the literary and bureaucratic use of New Persian. Other such states included the Saffarids at Zaranj (861–1003), the Tahirids at Nishapur (821–91), the Ziyarids at Isfahan (931–1090), the Buyids at Shiraz (934–1062), and the Ghaznavids at Ghazni and Lahore (975–1194).

Given that Arab conquests across North Africa and the Middle East in the 7th and 8th centuries resulted in the near disappearance of most of the languages formally spoken in those regions, it is remarkable that Persian even survived the conquest, much less that it would become one of the most cosmopolitan and widely diffused languages in world history. This astonishing outcome was the product of several factors. First, New Persian was not identified with the rituals or liturgies of the Zoroastrian religion, as was Middle Persian. Understood by Abbasid overlords as unproblematic and neutral, the language posed no threat to Islam, the religion that the Arab ruling class had brought with them and promoted as the one, true faith. On the other hand, the territorial reach of Middle Eastern tongues such as Coptic, Aramaic, and Syriac shrank after the Arab conquest of the Middle East, largely because they had served as scriptural or liturgical languages for non-Muslim religious communities.2 Nor was New Persian identified with any ethnic group, as was, for example, Arabic or Turkish. One of its names, “Dari,” literally means “the court” (and by extension, the court language), while “Farsi” referred to a region in southern Iran, Fars (Arabized from “Pars”), home of the first Persian empire.3 Freed in this way from any ethnic association, the language could be appropriated by anyone. Moreover, the Samanid capital of Bukhara—a principle site of the language’s incubation and the production of some of its earliest literature—straddled interregional trade routes extending south to India and, along the Silk Road, west to the Mediterranean basin and east to China. As such, it was inhabited by a mix of Zoroastrians, Christians, Manicheans, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, while the languages heard there, apart from dialects of New Persian (henceforth, Persian), included Turkish, Arabic, and until the 11th century, Sogdian. Persian thus served as a common linguistic denominator in a multi-ethnic society that breathed a cosmopolitan ethos into the language that emerged in its midst.

What is more, the new lingua franca that emerged in 9th-century Khurasan and Central Asia filled several lacunae in the linguistic and historical traditions of the Arab newcomers to the Iranian plateau. For one thing, the Arab victors had no prior tradition of imperial rule that might have informed them on governing substantial populations of sedentary non-Arabs long accustomed to rule by one or another imperial regime, namely, the Byzantine Romans and the Sasanian Persians. Although pre-Islamic Arabic was rich in poetry, it produced no treatises on the theory or practice of statecraft. Nor had it a genre of epic literature that might have given its users the means to imagine transregional political space. It was a language of scripture, not of empire. Above all, the Arabs who conquered former Sasanian territories lacked a service class of professionally trained writers who could conduct cadastral surveys, manage land revenue records, or run the administrative machinery typical of large, agrarian-based states. On the other hand, successive imperial dynasties ruling the Iranian plateau had acquired over a millennium of experience in bureaucratic governance, with each new empire recruiting its professional writers from its predecessor. Even though the language they used had evolved from Old to Middle to New Persian, the expertise of a service class of professional writers was carried over from one generation or regime to the next. In order to run their bureaucracy, then, Arab rulers of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates were obliged to recruit writers from among families of the defeated Sasanians. The latter, in turn, acquired Arabic and adapted their skills to the needs of the new ruling class.4

By a remarkable coincidence, the technology of paper-making reached Central Asia and Khurasan from China in the 8th and 9th centuries, just when the courts of the Abbasid caliphate’s eastern provinces were asserting de facto autonomy from Baghdad. This important technology greatly enhanced the efficiency of those regions’ writing classes at the very moment that writers and their courtly patrons had begun using Persian for managing their bureaucracies. Consequently, the association between bureaucratic management and the Persian language became further cemented, an association that would endure for centuries throughout the Persian cosmopolis.

The Formation of a Literary Canon

The use of paper also accelerated the circulation of Persian literary texts, not only among native-born landed aristocrats whose families dated back to Sasanian times, but also among the courts of those semi-autonomous states that appeared in the Abbasid caliphate’s eastern districts. As early as the 9th century, Persian storytellers and literati circulated from court to court across networks that, over time, expanded in reach and increased in density, giving the emerging Persian cosmopolis its institutional infrastructure. Just as ambitious and talented literati sought the support of wealthy patrons, so also ambitious rulers sought the prestige and cultural capital that accrued from patronizing gifted poets or other literati. In an environment where a well-turned phrase or line of verse had become the coin of the realm, Persian literature and new states that patronized gifted literati grew together, in a symbiotic relationship. The Samanid court at Bukhara stands out for its patronage of both poetry and prose literature. The poet Rudaki (858–941), based in that court, is widely regarded as the father of Persian poetry. Samanid rulers also patronized the historian Bal’ami (d. 974), who adapted for the Persian-speaking world an abridged version of the Universal History of Tabari (d. 932), who had previously penned an Arabic chronicle of the early Muslim centuries.

The Ghaznavid dynasty of eastern Afghanistan and the Punjab, a successor state of the Samanids, then patronized many Persian writers whose extraordinary literary output, stretching from about 1000 to 1200, constituted the height of what the British Orientalist E. G. Browne calls the “Persian Renaissance.”5 In the early 11th century the most prominent Ghaznavid ruler, Mahmud of Ghazni (r. 997–1030), repeatedly raided north India, using his plundered wealth to heap lavish patronage on such poets as Farrukhi Sistani (d. 1037), ‘Unsuri Balkhi (d. 1040), and Manuchehri Damghani (d. 1040). Mahmud is also said to have been regularly attended by 400 Persian poets, presided over by his newly created courtly position of poet laureate (amir al-shu’ara), an office that institutionalized the nexus between courtly patronage and Persian literary production.6

In 975 the Samanid governor of Tus and Nishapur, in Khurasan, had sponsored a New Persian translation of the Middle Persian Xwaday-namag, which celebrated the heroic deeds of pre-Islamic rulers. This long-lost text served as the model for the Shah-nama, or the “Book of Kings,” which the epic poet Firdausi completed under Mahmud’s patronage in 1010. Quite apart from its content, the Shah-nama contributed to the consolidation of the Persian language, inasmuch as its Arabic vocabulary is limited to just 4 or 5% of the total.7 The work itself is a vast narrative canvas of some 50,000 verses surveying both mythological and pre-Islamic historical kings of Iran, but within a global framework that embraced Europe and China. In time, the Shah-nama would be read, imitated, and argued about by peoples across the Balkans, Anatolia, Iraq, the Iranian plateau, Central Asia, Kashmir, north India, the Deccan, the rim of the Bay of Bengal, and as far east as the Malay peninsula.

Indeed, Owen Cornwall sees Firdausi’s epic poem as the foundational act of the Persian cosmopolis, since it was through this text that millions inhabiting the vast domain from the Balkans to Bengal, and beyond, could imagine themselves as culturally connected.8 For the Shah-nama depicts Alexander the Great (d. 323 bc) not only as the man who had conquered the territories between Greece and India, thereby bringing the world’s diverse populations into a single polity. He was also a legitimate Persian king, since in the poet’s telling he had been born the secret son of a Persian princess and the Achaemenid emperor, Darius the Great (r. 522–486 BC). Even before Firdausi’s time, many Muslims had identified Alexander with the enigmatic figure in the Qu’ran (18:83–86) called “He of the Two-Horns” (ẕu’l-qarnayn) who traversed the world from east to west and thwarted the forces of evil. Alexander thus emerged for many as not only a universal king but also a quasi-messianic figure. Although Firdausi had only indirectly invoked this aspect of Alexander’s persona, his Qur’anic, quasi-messianic dimension was more firmly emphasized by the poet Nizami Ganjavi (d. 1209) in his own Alexander epic, the Iskandar-nama (“Book of Alexander”). Nizami, however, was writing at a time when the popular institutions of Islamic mysticism—Sufi brotherhoods, lodges, and shrines—had already appeared across the Muslim world. This suggests why the poet portrayed Alexander as a perfect ruler who had acquired occult knowledge through discoursing with Sufi-like ascetics and philosophers.9 By the time Nizami was writing, a body of epic and romance literature, including the various cycles of the Alexander story, had appeared in oral traditions and popular folklore, sustained and propagated by storytellers throughout the Persian-speaking world.

By the 14th and 15th centuries, a substantial canon of Persian texts was circulating across an ever-widening space, collectively defining a sense of a shared aesthetic and moral order. The canon, together with representative writers, included works of epic poetry (Firdausi, d. 1020, Nizami, d. 1209, Amir Khusrau, d. 1325); romance literature (Nizami, Jami, d. 1492); Sufism (Sana’i, d. 1131, ‘Attar, d. 1220, Rumi, d. 1273, Hujwiri, d. 1077); ethics (Hafiz, d. 1390, Sa’di, d. 1291; Tusi, d. 1274; Amir Khusrau, d. 1325); politics (Nizam al-Mulk, d. 1092, Ghazali, d. 1111); science (Ibn Sina, d. 1037); and history (Ibn Balkhi, d. 934; Bal’ami, fl. 963–92, Bayhaqi, d. 1066, Juzjani, f. 1260, Rashid al-Din, d. 1318). Although the canon of Persian literature continued to grow and evolve, for centuries the works of these literati continued to be copied in libraries, taught in madrasas, recited in courts, invoked in everyday discourse, and committed to memory. By elaborating distinctive norms of kingship, governance, courtly etiquette, social comportment, Sufi piety, poetry, art, architecture, and so on, texts produced from this time—both poetry and prose—provided the ideological scaffolding that sustained the emerging Persian cosmopolis. At the same time, royal courts, lodges or shrines of Sufi shaikhs, and schools (madrasas) were among the institutional bases from which and through which such texts could circulate.

The Growth of the Persian Cosmopolis

Nizami Ganjavi composed his Iskandar-nama and his other popular stories in Ganja, a town located in the Caucasus, very far from Samanid Central Asia. Similarly, Hujwiri produced his treatises on Sufism in Lahore, in the Punjab, Amir Khusrau lived his whole life in Delhi, and Rumi settled in Konya, Anatolia. This speaks to the wide diffusion of Persian literary production that had taken place by the opening of the 14th century. One factor explaining that diffusion was the vigorous patronage of the entire gamut of Persianate culture—literature, monumental architecture, art, science, and so on—by non-Persian speakers who wielded the power of the sword. Foremost among these were ethnic Turks who had infiltrated Central Asia and Khurasan from the 9th century on. Whether arriving as pastoral migrants, armed invaders, or military slaves recruited to serve state armies, they all embraced a Sunni Muslim identity and Persianate culture, both of which they vigorously promoted upon attaining positions of power. The Ghaznavid sultans of eastern Afghanistan were only one among several such Turkish ruling houses. In the 11th and 12th centuries, as Mahmud of Ghazni’s successors pushed eastwards and annexed north Indian territory, the Ghaznavid court actively patronized Persian literary culture at its capital in Lahore.

Turkic power also carried Persian literary culture westwards in the 11th and 12th centuries, as Seljuk Turks advanced from their homelands in Central Asia to Anatolia, where they filled the political vacuum left by the retreating Byzantines. Along the way, they also lavishly patronized Persian architecture and Persian literati. Their sultans adopted Persian titles like Khusrau, Qubad, or Kaikaus, they issued coins bearing the lion and sun image, an ancient symbol of Iranian kingship, and they even traced their origins to ancient kings of Persia rather than to Turkish heroes. Although Arabic was still used in the fields of theology, law, or science, and Turkish was spoken by Seljuk officials and their mass of migrating pastoralists, the Seljuks made Persian their official, administrative language. Just as pastorally oriented Arabs had turned to the skills of Sasanian writers for managing their newly won empire, so also the Seljuk Turks recruited indigenous Persian administrators for the same purpose. The most of famous of these, Nizam al-Mulk (d. 1092), had earlier served Ghaznavid authorities in Khurasan. It was his aim to transplant the bureaucratic structure of the imperial Sasanians, as inherited by the Samanids and Ghaznavids, to Seljuk domains spanning Central Asia, Khurasan, the Iranian plateau, Iraq, Syro-Palestine, and Anatolia.

But the growing Persian cosmopolis did not emerge solely as a consequence of powerful states expanding their sovereign domains. Migrations triggered by political instability also played a role. Beginning with Genghis Khan’s assault on Central Asia in 1219 and continuing for decades, Mongol invasions drove many thousands of traumatized, Persian-speaking refugees from their homes in Central Asia, Khurasan, and the Iranian plateau. Some fled toward the west, such as the theologian and jurist Baha’ al-Din Walad, who abandoned his native Balkh around 1220 with his entire family and entourage. His son, the renowned Sufi and poet Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273), eventually settled in Konya, Anatolia, where his followers established the Mevlevi order of Sufism. To the east, the Delhi sultanate had been established by Turkish military slaves in 1206, just several years before the first Mongol invasions of western Asia began. Those invasions drove countless refugees from Central Asia and Khurasan into India’s Delhi sultanate, as we learn from the memoirs of followers of the Chishti shaikh of Delhi, Nizam al-Din Auliya (d. 1325).10

The Mongol destruction of Baghdad and the abolition of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258 also shattered what for centuries had been the focus of Islamic piety. With the caliphate gone, the focus of that piety became dispersed among a host of charismatic Sufi shaikhs such as Rumi in Anatolia or Nizam al-Din in India. And since Persian was the dominant language of Sufi piety in those areas most affected by Mongol invasions, an enormous body of Persian literature—treatises, letters, recorded conversations—moved with those emigrants fleeing the Mongols. Such population movements transformed former frontier zones into centers of Persianate culture, such as Istanbul, Edirne, and Konya in the west; Delhi, Bidar, and Pandua and in the south; Samarqand, Tashkent, and Kashgar in the east; and Kazan in the north. Furthermore, despite the initial devastation that Mongol conquerors had brought to western Asia, their successors—in particular the Il-Khans (1256–1357)—followed the earlier pattern of the Turks by converting to Islam and lavishly patronizing Persianate culture. Examples include such architectural gems as the Dome of Soltaniyeh (1312) in northwestern Iran, or the historian Rashid al-Din (d. 1318) of Tabriz.

Finally, very much at work in expanding the territorial reach of the Persian cosmopolis was the subtle process of emulation—that is, borrowing and assimilating the aesthetic, political, or moral principles elaborated in the Persian canon. By the 15th century, ambitious elites, regardless of their religious or ethnic background, were taking steps to participate in the larger, cosmopolitan world that Persianate culture seemed to represent. An outstanding example of this is how the notion of royal justice, a core value in Persian political thought, was assimilated by peoples who had never been subject to a Persianate state like the Seljuks or the Delhi sultanate. From the 11th century on, as caliphal authority progressively weakened, political and religious authority became effectively compartmentalized, with the politically impotent caliph monopolizing religious authority in southwest Asia, and independent sultans appropriating political authority.11 A de facto separation of religion and state was made explicit in the early 12th century by Ibn Balkhi in his Fars-nama (“Book of [the region of] Fars”), dedicated to the Seljuq sultan Muhammad Tapar (r. 1105–18). In this work the chronicler wrote that kingship in pre-Islamic Iran was based on the supreme principle of justice, and that every king of that age had taught his heir-apparent the following maxim:

There is no kingdom without an army, no army without wealth, no wealth without material prosperity, and no material prosperity without justice.12

This aphorism and others like it were typically attributed to kings or ministers of the Sasanian dynasty, or even to Alexander the Great. Equally significant is the statement’s integration of economy, morality, power, and kingship into a single, coherent ideology. Notable, too, is its absence of any reference to God or religion, and the central place it gives to justice.

This secularized worldview became a stock theme in the Persian cosmopolis, repeated with only slight variations by a host of writers of the “Mirrors for Princes” genre of courtly advice literature, such as Kay Ka’us bin Iskandar (d. 1085), Nizam al-Mulk (d. 1092), and Abu Hamid Ghazali (d. 1111).13 To be sure, the ideal of social justice was never an exclusively Persian ideal, as it had deep roots in the wider Middle Eastern world.14 Nor was it antithetical to Islam, as the principle is found in the Qur’an itself.15 But as the Abbasid caliphate grew progressively impotent, the principle of justice assumed a larger profile in Persianate political discourse and governance. In the Delhi sultanate, Sultan Iltutmish (r. 1210–35) even minted copper coins with a single word on one side: ‘adl (“justice”).16 As a principle of proper governance, in fact, Persianate theorization on politics tended to place justice above piety. A leading historian and political theorist of the Delhi sultanate, Zia al-Din Barani (d. c. 1347), asserted that, whereas any country could flourish under a non-Muslim ruler so long as he was just, no country ruled by a Muslim would flourish if he was unjust.17

What is perhaps most remarkable about the Persian cosmopolis, however, is how readily its ideals and values diffused into territories that lay beyond Persianate states like the Seljuk or Delhi sultanates. A distinctive ideology privileging the notion of justice and connecting economy, morality, and politics infiltrated that part of southern India ruled by the Kakatiya dynasty of Hindu rajas (1083–1323). At some point in the 12th or 13th century, the Telugu poet Baddena, writing at the Kakatiya court, penned these striking lines:

To acquire wealth: make the people prosper. To make the people prosper: justice is the means. O Kirti Narayana! They say that justice is the treasury of kings.18

This terse formula bears an unmistakable similarity to that of Ibn Balkhi, Baddena’s near-contemporary, especially considering that the idea of justice had never been central to Indic political thought.19 One sees here a process of voluntary borrowing by a Hindu courtier evidently seeking to participate in a political culture he considered worthy of emulation.

The same is true for the portability of the title “sultan.” Although an Arabic word, Persian political theorists from the 11th century on had endowed it with the trappings of pre-Islamic absolute monarchy, and in particular, the ideology and mystique of the Sasanian emperor. Although the Samanid monarchs styled themselves simply amir (lit. “commander”), theorists of that era had already done the work of appropriating pre-Islamic Persian ideals of absolute monarchy. In 1002 Mahmud of Ghazni became the first to style himself “sultan,” after which the term was widely used by rulers across southwest Asia. But the term was not exclusively associated with Islam, or with any religion. In 14th-century India, it was perceived as so detached from ethnicity or religion that it could be assumed by anybody claiming unlimited political authority. This was certainly the case with the Hindu founders of the powerful southern kingdom of Vijayanagara (1347–1565), where in 1347 Marappa declared himself “sultan among Indian kings” (hindu-raya-suratalah).20 In 1355 his brother Bukka styled himself simply “sultan.”21

After the death of the renowned Central Asian warlord Timur (d. 1405), who conquered most of the Middle East and lavishly patronized stunning works of Persianate architecture, many monarchs in India emulated his aesthetic vision, including those of Vijayanagara. In the 15th and early 16th centuries, Vijayanagara’s “sultans” built a separate zone within their capital city walls, the so-called “Royal Center,” for the performance of extravagant processions and public festivals. The palaces, audience halls, gateways, and watchtowers in this part of the city incorporated many features associated with the Persianate aesthetic vision: pointed arches, cross-vaultings, domes, stucco reliefs. An audience hall of 100 columns, 130 square feet in size, closely resembles Persianate royal courts found elsewhere in India and the Iranian plateau, with its earliest antecedent traceable to the Hall of a Hundred Columns in Persepolis (5th century bc). Similarly, whereas Vijayanagara’s north-facing throne hall has no known precedent in classical Indian courts, it has many antecedents in Persianate courts, such as those at Bidar, Warangal, Tughluqabad, and Samarqand. Nor does the city’s citadel appear in the center of a concentric mandala pattern, as is prescribed in classical Indian texts. Rather, it appears off to one side, a design that finds antecedents in such Persianate citadels as those of Daulatabad (1326–27) in the central Deccan, Tughluqabad (1320–23) near New Delhi, and in the Safavid era city of Bam, in southern Iran.

In 1442 the court at Vijayanagara established direct contact with Timur’s son and successor, Shah Rukh (r. 1405–47), when the latter’s ambassador was received from Herat with great pomp. The ambassador was struck by the apparel he noticed at the Vijayanagara court, such as the long silk tunics worn by the king and his courtiers. Locally called kabayyi, a Telugu loanword from the Arabo-Persian qaba, this long-sleeved pullover had first appeared in Iran in the 11th and 12th centuries, where it was a luxury garment made of expensive fabrics such as brocade. Subsequent visitors to Vijayanagara noticed—and contemporary paintings confirm—that the king and his courtiers also wore tall, conical headgear locally known as kullayi, a Telugu loanword derived from its Persian equivalent—kulah. In 1521, Vijayanagara’s king Krishna Raya (r. 1509–1529) commissioned an elaborately designed city gateway in the fort of Raichur, in which he is depicted in a bas-relief panel wearing a kullayi. Placing this image in the city’s most prominent gateway suggests the king’s desire to publicly display his affiliation with the Persian cosmopolis.22

Apart from architecture and apparel, Vijayanagara’s ruling class also assimilated Persianate principles of local governance and military organization. The state’s system of land revenue assignments, called nayamkara, required high-ranking officials, or nayakas, to combine military and tax-collecting duties. This institution, which had no precedent in southern India, was modeled on that of the iqta’, a defined unit of land whose revenues were collected and used by an assignee for maintaining specified numbers of troops that he commanded. Brought to north India by the Ghaznavids in the late 11th century and instated by rulers of the Delhi sultanate (1206–1526), this institution also seems to have been borrowed by Vijayanagara’s rulers. In short, none of the kingdom’s Persianate features—its royal architecture, its revenue and military systems, its royal titulature, its courtly apparel, or its urban design—had been imposed by outside conquerors. Rather, the state’s ruling class seems to have emulated what it understood to be a prestigious, transregional style of statecraft.

The Ottoman Turks, who arose as one of several independent states emerging from the disintegration of the Seljuks in Anatolia around 1300, and who would dominate all of Anatolia and the Balkans by the end of the 14th century, vigorously patronized Persianate culture, especially between 1421 and 1481 under sultans Murad II and Mehmed II. With the fall of Constantinople and the final defeat of Byzantine authority in 1453, the Ottomans had become a vast, multicultural empire, for which purpose they drew upon the rich tradition of Persian imperial statecraft and ideology. Manuals for crafting diplomatic correspondence, for example, were based on Persian models, while Sultan Mehmed II (“the Conqueror”) came to see Shiraz, Tabriz, and Herat as cultural capitals. By the 16th century, Persian vocabulary had permeated Ottoman Turkish, a sure sign that Persian learning had spread beyond courtly circles, especially among Sufi communities like the Naqshbandis at Bursa or the Mevlevis in southwestern Anatolia.23

Although India’s Mughal empire was launched in the early 16th century by Persianized Turks from Central Asia, the new ruling class was not carried to power by a mass of Turkish-speaking pastoralists and peasants, as were the Seljuks and Ottomans. As a result, Turkish gradually disappeared as a spoken tongue among the dynasty’s ruling class, whereas Persian with its immense prestige remained the court language throughout the empire’s history (1526–1858). Indeed, the Mughal court came to see itself as occupying the center of a sprawling Persian cosmopolis. The classical canon of Persian literature as we know it in the 21st century had been consolidated and stabilized by Timurid patronage in centers such as late-15th-century Herat, which both the Mughal founder Babur (r. 1526–30) and his son Humayun (r. 1530–40, 1555–56) visited in the twilight of that city’s Timurid glory. Having begun their imperial career in India just as their Timurid relatives in Central Asia had ended theirs, the Mughals inherited a Persian literary past that was already coherent, systematized, and available.24 They then lavishly patronized both that canon and the Persian language, as when the emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) commissioned the compilation of a massive dictionary of 9,000 entries that endeavored to embrace the entire Persian language by consolidating all previous lexicographical efforts. This was the Farhang-i Jahangiri (“Dictionary of Jahangir”), so called because it was completed by Akbar’s son and successor.

Aiming to promote a political culture that would arch over north India’s many linguistic communities, in 1582 Akbar also made Persian the official language for what soon became the world’s largest empire by population and wealth.25 It would be used even at the lowest level of the empire’s massive bureaucracy, as a result of which clerks recruited from India’s traditional scribal castes such as Kayasthas or Khatris readily learned the language at schools established across the empire. Also meeting that demand were rustic, versified wordbooks (nisab) that began to appear for the purpose of interpreting Persian words for Hindavi-speakers.26 Facility in the language not only brought employment, but also status in the larger Persianate world, since school curricula included classics such as the poetry of Sa’di. In this way, Hindu scribal communities became acculturated to Persianate norms, adopting Persian pen names and attending musical rituals at Sufi shrines.27 At the other end of the sociopolitical spectrum, Hindu aristocrats in 17th and 18th century Bengal boasted of their knowledge of Persian and even accorded it the status of a shastra—that is, a formal intellectual discipline, and not just a medium for accountants or bureaucrats.28

The Persian Cosmopolis and Vernacular Cultures

A defining feature of the Persian cosmopolis was the capacity of New Persian—a transregional, cosmopolitan language with a rich literary canon—to serve as a model for vernacular, regional languages such as Hindavi, Dakani, Urdu, Malay, or dialects of Turkish when they, in turn, developed their own literary traditions. This was not unlike the relation of cosmopolitan Latin to French or Spanish; or of Sanskrit to Javanese, Kannada, or Telugu. Such tongues have been called “cosmopolitan vernaculars” inasmuch as they were all regional languages that developed their literary traditions modeled on one that was older, prestigious, and transregional.29

Before achieving its own literary status, New Persian had been a vernacular lingua franca spoken by diverse populations across the Iranian plateau and Central Asia. It became a “cosmopolitan vernacular” when, in the early 9th century, it attained written status using the Arabic script, and especially in the next century when it modeled its own literature on older, cosmopolitan literary traditions: Arabic and Middle Persian. From Arabic it absorbed poetic structures (of rhyme and meter) and a considerable vocabulary, while it drew on Middle Persian for mythological heroes and the legacy of pre-Islamic, Persian imperialism.30 Firdausi’s Shah-nama, looking backward in time, had accommodated Greek, Arab, and Indian cultural traditions; while looking forward in time, it would serve as a model for acculturating subsequent peoples to Persianate traditions of monarchal rule, notably Turks and Mongols between the 11th and 14th centuries.31 Indeed, by giving its reciters, listeners, and readers a shared, imagined past that spanned vast territory, the Shah-nama nearly singlehandedly transformed New Persian from the regional vernacular it had been until around 1000, to a cosmopolitan language in its own right. Its particular scheme of rhyme and meter henceforth defined the epic genre of Persian poetry. To be considered authentic, all subsequent epics would have to conform to it. This grand epic thus became an early text in a rapidly consolidating canon of Persian literature that would serve as a model for other regional tongues when they, in turn, attained literary status and became cosmopolitan vernaculars.

The earliest Turkish work of literature in the Persian script dates to 11th-century Central Asia, where the Turkic Karakhanid dynasty (999–1211) rose to power after overthrowing the Samanid state in 999. Although the Karakhanids’ court language remained Turkish, they appropriated and patronized much of the Samanids’ Persianate culture. This included the Kutadgu Bilig (“The Wisdom of Royal Glory”), a Turkish poem composed in 1069. In point of substance, this work took as its model the Persianate “Mirror for Kings” advice literature. In form, its author used the same mutaqarib verse pattern that Firdausi had used for his Shah-nama, composed some six decades earlier. And the work’s vocabulary is replete with literal translations of Persian metaphors, betraying its debt to Persian models.32

No Turkish literature survives from the period of the Seljuk rule in Anatolia (1075–1308), and in the early 13th century Mongol invasions drove Persian-speaking refugees into Anatolia, which only consolidated that region’s existing centers of Persian literary production.33 Nonetheless, without courtly patronage, in the 13th and 14th centuries Turkish literature began to appear in Anatolia.34 In the 15th century, the Ottoman court did support the production of Turkish literature, although it was very much modeled on Arabic and Persian prototypes. By the early 16th century, Turkish rulers across the Persian cosmopolis were writing original and important works in their native language. These included no less figures than Isma’il Safavi (r. 1501–24) and Zahir al-Din Babur (r. 1526–30), founders of the Safavid and Mughal empires respectively, and Shaybani Khan (d. 1510), the Uzbek chieftain who founded the Khanate of Bukhara.35 By this time Ottoman Turkish poetry had also come into its own, without slavishly imitating Persian models. When Ottoman armies defeated Isma’il Safavi and seized Tabriz in 1514, many Iranian literati came to Istanbul, where Persian literature enjoyed a brief comeback in courtly circles. But from the 1530s, Turkish regained supremacy. The Ottoman chancery experienced a similar trajectory. Whereas the early Ottomans had used Turkish alongside Persian and even Arabic in their bureaucracy, after the mid-15th century Turkish had become the empire’s official medium, even though it, too, retained considerable Persian vocabulary.

In India, an early form of Hindi literature appeared in the 14th-century eastern Gangetic plain in the form of a popular romance genre, the premakhyan. Composed in the Arabic script by India-born Sufis, these poems were patronized by provincial officials of the Delhi or Jaunpur sultanates, or by Afghan rebels opposing those states. As a culturally fluid zone that was politically fragmented and multilingual, northern India between the late 14th and early 16th centuries saw the invention not only of new discourses, but of new communities created by those discourses. At this time the term “Hindavi” referred to any of India’s indigenous languages, in distinction to Persian. Yet the premakhyans reimagined Persian models of poetry in terms of local religious and poetic practices, creating outwardly Hindu characters in stories that were framed by the Sufi’s quest for the divine. For example Maulana Da’ud, a Persian-speaking Turk with a Central Asian ancestry who was also an eager enthusiast for Hindavi poetry, composed his Candayan (1379) for people who had already enjoyed the Persian romances of Nizami Ganjavi.36 His achievement was to redefine the local language and its literary traditions by translating the Perso-Arabic theory of ‘ishq (love) into the eastern Hindavi notion of prema-rasa (pure love). In this way, the premakhyans transformed the canon of Indian poetry even while the ruling class that patronized them was being transformed by Indian culture.37 For members of that class, Hindavi was not the poor country cousin of Persian. To the contrary, writes Aditya Behl, the Hindavi premakhyans “were fully part of the mental furniture of the sultanate male aristocrats, just as much part of their cultural and literary canon as were the older works of Sa‘di or Firdausi.”38

In peninsular India another Persianate language, vernacular Dakani, attained literary status even while to the north, the Mughal court remained deeply invested in patronizing Persian. Because it had originating in 14th-century north India before being carried south by migrant settlers, Dakani was based on dialects of Punjabi. Once it took root in the Deccan plateau, however, it evolved as both the spoken and literary idiom of Deccani Muslims. By the 16th and 17th centuries, Dakani literature enjoyed the patronage of the plateau’s sultans, not least because doing so enabled them to articulate a political distance from the Mughal empire, their powerful adversaries to the north. And because it was spoken and read across the entire plateau, Dakani has been described as a “transregional vernacular,” situated conceptually above the Deccan’s three regional vernaculars (Marathi, Kannada, Telugu) but below the truly cosmopolitan Persian.39 That therefore made for a porous relationship between Dakani and Persian, of which most Deccani Muslims had at least a reading knowledge. Between the 14th and 17th centuries, the courts of the Deccan sultanates avidly patronized Dakani literature, while both Persian and Dakani literati were prominent in courtly audiences.

As analyzed by Subah Dayal, the relationship between Persian and Dakani can be seen in 17th-century Dakani “victory poems” (fath-nama), an established Persian literature genre. Such poems were composed in the 1640s by bilingual Deccani poets who accompanied armies of the sultanate of Bijapur as they pushed southward against Hindu chieftains. One such poem, the Fath Nama-yi Ikkeri (“Victory Poem of Ikkeri”) by Mirza Muqim, opens with Bijapur’s commander speaking in Dakani and hurling vitriolic insults at his enemy, who is characterized as an uncouth and uncultured brute. But once the chieftain is defeated, the same commander speaks entirely in chaste Persian as he receives his former adversary in a formal ceremony of submission. The exchange thus reveals the contextual usage of the intimate and familiar Dakani, in contrast to the distant but formal Persian. As with eastern Hindavi, however, Dakani was not at all construed as “inferior” to cosmopolitan Persian. To the contrary, by switching between the two languages, the poet Muqim could upstage those Iranian immigrants at Bijapur’s court who spoke only Persian.40

In north India, meanwhile, Persian retained its hegemonic status from the 16th through 18th centuries. Khari Boli, the dialect of Hindavi spoken in the Mughal empire’s capital at Delhi, was not widely cultivated as a literary medium until the early 18th century, when several factors combined to elevate that dialect, later known as Urdu, into a new literary medium. One factor was the arrival in Delhi from the Deccan of an especially influential poet, Muhammad Wali (d. c. 1708), who showed that a written form of Khari Boli known as rekhta was capable of great verse, as had already been achieved in the Dakani language. One Urdu poet, Mir Taqi Mir (1723–1810), described the new genre simply as “poetry of the Persian style in the language of … Delhi.”41 Yet Wali had shown that Urdu could in fact rival or even surpass Indo-Persian poetry in sophistication of imagery, complexity, and abstractness of metaphor, which in turn infused a new sense of poetics among Delhi’s literati.42

The Bay of Bengal and its two sides formed a maritime zone in which Persian or Persian-influenced texts freely circulated from at least the 14th century on. In the 14th century the great poet of Shiraz, Hafiz (d. 1390), famously wrote, “All the parrots of India will become sweet-spoken [lit.: ‘will crack sugar’] from this Persian candy that goes to Bengal.” While the verse hints at the reception of Persian poetry—in particular that of Hafiz himself—at the court of the Bengal sultanate (1342–1575), those rulers neither patronized Persian literature nor maintained a Persian chancery. Nonetheless, Hafiz’s verse clearly alludes to the inclusion of Bengal in the Persian cosmopolis, at least in the imagination of 14th-century Shiraz.43 A significant penetration of Persianate culture in Bengal had to await the translation of Persian classics, especially romance literature, into the Bengali language. This occurred mainly in the delta’s southeastern corner, extending to the Bay’s eastern side, the Arakan coast. There, Buddhist kings, seeking to integrate themselves with the wider Persianate world, adopted Persian royal titles and issued coins stamped with the Perso-Arabic script. Further linking themselves to that world were a number of Bengali literati patronized by the Arakanese court. The most important of these, Alaol (d. 1673), had been captured from southern Bengal by Portuguese pirates and taken to the Arakanese capital of Mrauk U, where he found patrons who supported his literary projects. These include Bengali translations of such Persian classics as Nizami Ganjavi’s Haft Paykar (“Seven Portraits”) and Sikandar-nama (“The Book of Alexander”), as well as some of the Hindavi premakhyans that had already assimilated Persianate poetic and thematic sensibilities. After Alaol, argues Thibaut d’Hubert, Persian deeply penetrated Bengali society beyond courtly contexts, and in some regions of the delta Persian would eventually play the role of Sanskrit, becoming the default medium to access literacy.44

The circulation of another Persian romance tale, Sayf al-Muluk, shows how networks of literati across the Persian cosmopolis could knit together a shared cultural universe. Originating as a Persian romance, probably in 13th-century Gujarat, a versified version of the story was composed in Chaghatai Turkish at the Uzbek court in Bukhara in the 1530s. In 1625 the sultan of Golkonda then patronized a Dakani version of the tale. And from that kingdom, whose territory abutted India’s eastern shores, the story circulated across the Bay of Bengal to Arakan, where Alaol wrote a Bengali version only several decades after its Dakani version had appeared.45 Soon thereafter, in 1685 a member of a diplomatic mission of the Iranian shah to the court of Siam noted, while sailing along the coast of Sumatra, the very place where he thought the story’s hero had found his beloved.46 The incident offers striking evidence not only of how vividly the poem’s hero, Sayf al-Muluk, inhabited the imagination of Iran’s Safavid court, but also of the inclusion of distant Sumatra in that court’s mapping of the Persianate world. The Persian cosmopolis, it seems, was as much a subjective phenomenon, inhabiting people’s collective imagination, as it was an objective, mappable zone in which texts circulated from hand to hand, court to court, or lodge to lodge.

The Sayf al-Muluk cycle was not the only such Persian text that circulated through early modern Southeast Asia. So did several Malay versions of the Alexander cycle that were composed in the region. Their influence is suggested in the royal titles that two sultans of Aceh gave themselves: Iskandar Muda (r. 1607–36) and his son-in-law Iskandar Thani (r. 1636–41).47 An influential work of advice literature (“Mirror for Kings”), the Taj al-salatin (“The Crown of Kings”), was translated into the Malay language in Aceh around 1603 for the rulers of the Aceh sultanate. Deriving from some Persianate literary model, and enjoying wide popularity among Malay elites and commoners alike since the 17th century, this work praises the Sasanian emperor Anushirvan while elaborating the proper role of wazirs, royal justice, and the sacred authority of the kings—all typically Persianate themes. In the mid-17th century there appeared a similar work, the Bustan al-salatin (“The Garden of Kings”), a Malay text written at Aceh by an India-born emigré, Nur al-Din Raniri (d. 1658), which also praises Anushirvan and dwells on royal justice.48 Although the Portuguese capture of the strategic seaport of Malacca in 1511 seriously disrupted earlier Indian Ocean networks, Persianate ideas of rulership had by then become thoroughly indigenized in maritime Southeast Asia.49

Although the number of Persian loanwords in Malay amount to only a tenth the share of Arabic words, those in question suggest both the intensity and the nature of the Persianate world’s impact on maritime Southeast Asia—especially in the realms of shipping, commerce, and politics.50 Malay words pertaining to shipping include those for “ship-captain” (nakhuda), “sailor” (kelasi > khalashi), “harbor chief” (shahbandar), and “seaport” (bandar). Those pertaining to commerce include “market” (pasar > bazar), “merchant” (saudagar), and “wheat” (gandum). And those pertaining to political authority or governance include “throne” (tahta > takht), “ruler” (shah), “palace” (istana > astan), “high official” (dewan > divan), “royal drum” (nobat > naubat), and “scribe” (karkon).51

The Collapse of the Persian Cosmopolis

The demise of the Persian cosmopolis is related to the intrusion of European colonial rule across most of the Middle East and southern Asia, followed by the rise of nationalist movements everywhere. European intrusions overthrew indigenous courts where Persian literature had been patronized and disrupted well-established networks along which Persian texts had circulated. Opposition to European colonialism, in turn, planted the seeds of powerful nationalist ideologies driven by the European notion of “one language, one people, one state.” Rulers of Iran’s Qajar dynasty (1789–1925), and especially the two Pahlavi monarchs (1925–79), appropriated the Persian language and its vast literary canon for the modern Iranian state. In particular, the epic poet Firdausi (d. 1020) was anachronistically reimagined as a proto-nationalist figure. Between 1928 and 1934 Reza Shah Pahlavi (r. 1925–41) patronized the construction of a magnificent tomb for Firdausi’s grave site in Tus (near Mashhad), directly modeled on that of Cyrus the Great near Persepolis. Today a national shrine, Firdausi’s tomb thus conflates 4th-century bc Persia, 11th-century Khurasan, and the modern nation-state of Iran. Regardless of where they had actually lived, leading contributors to the Persian canon—for example, Sana’i of eastern Afghanistan, Rudaki of Uzbekistan, and Jalal al-Din Rumi of Anatolia—were likewise assimilated to Iran’s nationalist project.

Meanwhile, by the 1920s regions once associated with the production of Persianate culture beyond modern Iran advanced their own nationalist agendas and vernacular languages. The Republic of Turkey replaced the Arabic script with the Roman and made as its national language a simplified dialect of Anatolian Turkish purged of Arabic and Persian vocabulary; in Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Soviets replaced the Arabic script with the Cyrillic and elevated the Turkic language of each republic to “national” status. By the mid-20th century regional vernaculars in South Asia like Urdu or Hindi were similarly raised to “national,” or at least “official” status, while cosmopolitan languages like Persian or Sanskrit, not being widely spoken in the region, could never attain such status.52 In a postcolonial world teeming with nationalist sentiment and riven by national boundaries, there was little room for a cosmopolitan, transregional language like Persian to flourish beyond Iran’s national borders—except for parts of Afghanistan and the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan.

Discussion of the Literature

In his landmark 1974 study The Venture of Islam, Marshall Hodgson coined the neologism “Persianate” in reference to local languages of high culture that

depended upon Persian wholly or in part for their prime literary inspiration. We may call all of these cultural traditions, carried in Persian or reflecting Persian inspiration, “Persianate” by extension.53

This brief discussion explains why the territorial reach of the Persian cosmopolis far exceeded the territory in which Persian was ever spoken as a first language. But Hodgson did not elaborate on this fruitful observation, which passed unnoticed for decades.

In 1999, Bert Fragner advanced the idea of a world defined by Persian as a spoken language, subdivided between those areas where it was a first language and those where it was a second one. This distinction made it possible to theorize a vast zone in which Persian served as a transregional contact language.54 An institutional breakthrough came in 2008 when Said Amir Arjomand launched the Journal of Persianate Studies, which became the organ for the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies, founded 12 years earlier, and a major platform for discussion of all matters related to the Persian cosmopolis.

In 2012 Brian Spooner and William L. Hanaway edited Literacy in the Persianate World: Writing and the Social Order which, taking a position opposite to that of Fragner, emphasized the centrality of Persian not as a spoken language but as a technology of writing. For them, written Persian—whether Old, Middle, or New—fostered practical skills that, over several millennia, had created a stable class of scribes whose principal mission was bureaucratic. The editors therefore focused not on Persian belles lettres but on skilled professionals who staffed the chanceries for states across Eurasia, from Mongol East Asia to the Ottoman Balkans.55

By 2014, a sufficient mass of studies on “the Persianate” had appeared that Abbas Amanat and Assef Ashraf organized a “Conference on the Persianate World” at Yale University, whose proceedings were later published in The Persianate World: Rethinking a Shared Sphere.56 The organizers sought to explore the dimensions of Persianate Studies as an academic field, and whether “Persianate” as a conceptual framework could be extended beyond language and literature, to embrace economic, political, and material cultures.

Meanwhile, on an entirely separate track, Sheldon Pollock in 1998 advanced the idea of the “cosmopolis,” distinguishing between literary, transregional languages and regional vernaculars. The former, which included Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, or Latin, were grounded neither in place, ethnicity, or religion, but in aesthetics—that is, their “ability to make reality more real—more complex and more beautiful—as evinced by [their] literary idiom and style.”57 By contrast, vernacular tongues were regional, and did not travel. Yet, Pollock argued, they might define themselves against something larger—a cosmopolitan literary medium endowed with a rich literary tradition—and at a certain point pioneer their own literary possibilities. Dwelling in the shadow of such a transregional literary tradition, they assimilated the idioms, the subject matter, and the aesthetics of the cosmopolitan language, becoming in this way a “cosmopolitan vernacular.” For Pollock, since literature and communities are mutually constitutive, literature “addresses, sometimes calls into being, particular sociotextual communities.”58 Once the distinction and relation between transregional and regional languages had been theorized, it became a relatively easy matter to extend Pollock’s cosmopolis model from the Sanskrit case to the Persian.

The reason that the Persianate and the Persian cosmopolis became such fertile ideas in the early 21st century is related, at least in part, to the politics of the preceding century. Following the Iranian Revolution of 1979–80, the Islamic Republic imposed severe restrictions on Western academics who wished to conduct research in Iran. But no such barriers prevented them from working in those regions formerly integrated into the Persian cosmopolis. This had the effect of refocusing the attention of a post-1979 generation of academics on the larger geographic world in which Persian had once been a vital force. It is no coincidence that the regular meetings of the Association for the Study of the Persianate societies were held in Dushanbe (Tajikistan) in 2002, Yerevan (Armenia) in 2004, Tbilisi (Georgia) in 2007, Lahore (Pakistan) in 2009, Hyderabad (India) in 2012, Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina) in 2013, and Istanbul (Turkey) in 2015.59 It was only toward the end of the 20th century and in the early 21st century, when scholars were no longer inclined to view Persian literature as an exclusively Iranian phenomenon, that “the Persianate world” and the “Persian cosmopolis” gained widespread currency. Such a “de-nationalizing” of Persian was reflected in a 2019 volume edited by Nile Green entitled The Persianate World: The Frontiers of a Eurasian Lingua Franca, whose chapters treat the Ottoman sphere, Bengal, Ming China, Qing China, Inner Asia, the Punjab, Russia, Turkistan, colonial India, Khiva, and Daghestan, with no chapter devoted exclusively to Iran.

It is therefore not surprising that the term “Persianate,” though coined in 1974, did not take off until several decades after Iran’s 1979 revolution. The early 21st century saw a new generation of scholars who had neither worked in Iran nor been steeped in a nationalist sentiment that linked Persian language and literature primarily with that nation. That, in turn, produced the space in which the study of the Persian cosmopolis could flourish.

Further Reading

  • Alam, Muzaffar. The Languages of Political Islam: India 1200–1800. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
  • Amanat, Abbas, and Assef Ashraf, eds. The Persianate World: Rethinking a Shared Sphere. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2019.
  • Arjomand, Amir Said. “From the Editor: Defining Persianate Studies.” Journal of Persianate Studies 1 (2008): 1–4.
  • Arjomand, Amir Said. “The Salience of Political Ethic in the Spread of Persianate Islam.” Journal of Persianate Studies 1 (2008): 5–29.
  • Behl, Aditya. Love’s Subtle Magic: An Indian Islamic Literary Tradition, 1379–1545, edited by Wendy Doniger. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Bellenoit, Hayden. “Between Qanungos and Clerks: the Cultural and Service Worlds of Hindustan’s Pensmen, c. 1750–1850.” Modern Asian Studies 48, no. 4 (2014): 872–910.
  • Chatterjee, Kumkum. “Scribal Elites in Sultanate and Mughal Bengal.” Indian Economic and Social History Review 47, no. 4 (2010): 445–472.
  • Cornwall, Owen. “Alexander and the Persian Cosmopolis, 1000–1500.” PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 2016.
  • Darling, Linda. A History of Social Justice and Political Power in the Middle East: The Circle of Justice from Mesopotamia to Globalization. New York: Routledge, 2013.
  • Dayal, Subah. “‘Vernacular Conquest’: A Persian Patron and His Image in the Seventeenth Century Deccan.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 37, no. 3 (2017): 549–569.
  • Eaton, Richard M. India in the Persianate Age, 1000–1765. Oakland: University of California Press, 2019.
  • Faruqi, Shamsur Rahman. “A Long History of Urdu Literature Culture, Part I.” In Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia, edited by Sheldon Pollock, 805–863. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
  • Green, Nile, ed. The Persianate World; the Frontiers of a Eurasian Lingua Franca. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019.
  • Hakala, Walter N. Negotiating Languages: Urdu, Hindi, and the Definition of Modern South Asia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.
  • Keshavmurthy, Prashant. Persian Authorship and Canonicity in Late Mughal Delhi: Building an Ark. London: Routledge, 2016.
  • Kia, Mana. Persianate Selves: Memoires of Place and Origin before Nationalism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020.
  • Lambton, Ann K. S. “Justice in the Medieval Persian Theory of Kingship.” Studia Islamica 17 (1962): 91–119.
  • Orsini, Francesca. The Hindi Public Sphere, 1920–40: Language and Literature in the Age of Nationalism. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Orsini, Francesca, ed. Before the Divide: Hindi and Urdu Literary Culture. Hyderabad, India: Orient Blackswan, 2010.
  • Pollock, Sheldon. “The Cosmopolitan Vernacular.” Journal of Asian Studies 57, no. 1 (Feb. 1998): 6–37.
  • Sharma, Sunil. Mughal Arcadia: Persian Literature in an Indian Court. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.
  • Spooner, Brian, and William L. Hanaway, eds. Literacy in the Persianate World: Writing and the Social Order. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2012.
  • Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. “Persianization and Mercantalism: Two Themes in Bay of Bengal History, 1400–1700.” In Commerce and Culture in the Bay of Bengal, 1500–1800, edited by Denys Lombard and Om Prakash, 47–85. New Delhi: Manohar, 1999.