The Jami’ al-tawarikh, also known as ‘Compendium of Chronicles’ or ‘Universal History’ is a work of literature and history, written by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani (1247–1318) at the start of the 14th century, the breadth of coverage of the work has caused it to be called, ‘the first world history’.
It was in three volumes written sometime between 1306 and 1311. The surviving portions total approximately 400 pages, with versions in Persian, Arabic, and Mongolian. The work describes cultures and major events in world history from China to Europe; in addition, it covers Mongol history, as a way of establishing their cultural legacy.
The text was initially commissioned by il-khan Mahmud Ghazan (Khazan Khan), who was anxious for the Mongols to retain a memory of their nomadic roots, now that they had become settled and adopted Persian customs.
The lavish illustrations and calligraphy required the efforts of hundreds of scribes and artists, with the intent that two new copies (one in Persian, and one in Arabic) would be created each year and distributed to schools and cities around the Middle East, Central Asia, Asia Minor, and the Indian sub-continent.
Approximately 20 illustrated copies were made of the work during Rashid al-Din’s lifetime, but only a few portions remain, and the complete text has not survived.
In 1980, an illuminated version of Rashīd al-Dīn’s manuscript in Arabic was sold at Sotheby’s to Nasser David Khalili of London for £850,000, then the highest price ever paid for an Arabic manuscript.
Another set of pages, with 151 folios, is owned by the Edinburgh University Library.
Image: Mountains between India and China, Khalili Collection.