The term ‘Saljuqid literature’is used here to refer to literary works in Persian produced between 432/1040 and 617/1220.




The term ‘Saljuqid literature’is used here to refer to literary works in Persian produced between 432/1040 and 617/1220. The beginning of Saljuq (Seljuk) literature is conventionally associated with the decisive defeat of the Ghaznavids at Dandānqān by the Saljuq army (1040), and it ends with the Mongol invasion of Ḵwārazm under the leadership of Čengiz khan (1220). The designation ‘Saljuq’ is used to indicate the dominance of that dynasty over a large part of Persia throughout those two centuries, even though other dynasties also had their courts and literary circles in the bordering areas in the same period. Some of these, such as the court of the Ghaznavid Bahrāmšāh included in this survey, were of major significance in the literary history of Persia.

The Saljuq period adopted the cultural model and courtly etiquette of the great Ghaznavid sultans, but was also influenced by historical and social factors, most notably Ismaʿilism and Sufism and the growth of many urban centers,and by political decisions, including the decentralization of power, which gave rise to a substantial differentiation of the literary output of this period from the previous ones.In a territory that extended from Khorasan to Anatolia, the Saljuqs entrusted their internal politics to viziers and secretaries of Iranian stock and adopted Persian as the official language of the administration and of much of the court correspondence. The most important and immediate effect of these decisions was the very widespread diffusion of Persian as a literary language alongside Arabic. The Saljuqs, who had nocomparable cultural and literary heritage of their own in Turkish to counter Persian,accepted and cultivated the prestigious literary tradition provided by Persian language and culture. By so doing, they played a significant role in the diffusion of the Persian literary language and of the culture expressed by it, and this in turn led to a reappraisal and partial rejection of the dominance of Arabic as the lingua franca of educated society in the Middle East. On the basis of this prestige, the Persian of authors from the Saljuq period played a fundamental role in the standardization of the classical language, continuing a process already put into motion by the Samanid and Ghaznavid authors before them.

The literature produced during the 11th and 12th centuries, while revealing some common traits due, among other things, to the frequent migration of poets from one province to another in pursuit of new patrons, was enriched by quite diverse experiences which were crucial for the evolution of style, both in prose and in poetry. Other courts were culturally active alongside the Saljuq ones and were able to provide original contributions in the literary field for the purposes of establishing their prestige. Indeed, the intellectual circles of the semi-independent dynasties (Ḵwārazmšāh, the later Ghaznavid, Ghurid, Qaraḵanid, Ildeguzid and Šarvānšāh) were able to compete with the pomp of the Great Saljuqs of Hamadān, Isfahan, and Marv (Merv) with the wealth and refinement of their own literary output.

The Saljuqs never governed the vast conquered territories as a centralized empire. The main power centers were Hamadān and Isfahan in the west, and Marv and Nišāpur (Nishapur) in the east, but their courts changed location several times over the decades. There were also branches of the Saljuq dynasty in Kermān, Syria, and in Anatolia, and the dynasty’s strong tendency towards decentralization led in the 12th century to the establishment of the atābak, or ‘parallel’ dynasties of Turkish slaves, put in government in some areas (Marāḡa, Tabriz, Shiraz, etc.) ‘external’ to the main centers of power. This phenomenon favored the development of a vigorous cultural life in cities such as Ray, Shiraz, and Yazd and especially in the urban centers of Azerbaijan and Arrān such as Tabriz and Šervān.

As far as the Great Saljuqs of Iran are concerned, the first great patrons were Alp Arslān (r. 1063-72), Malekšāh and Sanjar. Poets, men of letters, and scientists of great eminence were well received at their courts. Alp Arslān was the first great patron of the dynasty. He entrusted his chancellery to Neẓām-al-Molk and encouraged panegyrists such as ʿAbd-al-Malek Borhāni (d. ca. 1072, father of the more famous Moʿezzi, ca. 1048-1127, see below), Lāmeʿi (d. ca. 1063) and occasionally ʿAmʿaq Boḵarāʾi (b. ca. 1048), who wrote both for the Qarakhanids and the Saljuqids. At the same time, Šams-al-Dawla Toḡānšāh, a son of Alp Arslān andgovernor of Khorasan, offered his patronage in the court of Herat to the poet Azraqi Heravi (d. ca. 1072) who was not only a panegyrist but also a nadim(boon companion). Azraqi also wrote a great many panegyrics forAmirānšāh of the Saljuqs of Kermān.

Malekšāh (r. 1072-92), during whose long reign the Saljuqid empire reached the zenith of its power and territorial extension, was also an enlightened and generous patron of the sciences and literature. He chose Isfahan as the capital of his kingdom and was buried in its madrasa. His chancellery could count on the activities of Neẓām-al-Molk who, after serving under his father, Alp Arslān, dedicated the Siār al-moluk or Siyāsat-nāma, a magisterial treatise on statecraft, to Malekšāh. The great panegyrist Moʿezzi was active at the court of Malekšāh. One of the most significant authors of the time, he was praised by ʿAwfi (d. after 1232) who referred to him as the greatest poet in the court of Malekšāh (ʿAwfi, II, pp. 69-70) and compared him to the Samanid Rudaki and to the Ghaznavid ʿOnṣori. The style of Moʿezzi was in fact an example of what is known as the ‘second Ghaznavid school’ (Maḥjub, pp. 551-675).Another figure of note was Omar Khayyam (ʿOmar Ḵayyām; 1047-1123), astronomer, mathematician, and poet.

At Marv, Sanjar (r. 1117-57) also established himself as a great patron of belles-lettres. Of the great number of poets described by the anthologies (taḏkeras), and associated with his court, we have already mentioned Moʿezzi (formerly Malekšāh’s poet laureate) who was succeeded as the most important panegyrist by Anwari (d. ca. 1189) an erudite poet, scholar and astrologer, one of the greatest literary personalities of the time, and an unquestioned innovator of the form and content of the qasida (qaṣida). Adib Ṣāber (d. 1143-47) was another poet of fame and an excellent composer of quatrains, loyal toSanjar,according to legend,to the point of sacrificing his own life for him (Jovayni, II, p. 8). His divan (divān)is a careful record of the political tendencies in the court and therefore also includes a series of panegyrics dedicated to Atsïz Ḡarčāʾi, the famous ruler of Ḵwārazm, while he was an ally of Sanjar. We might also recall the poet ʿAbd-al-Vāseʿ Jabali (d. ca. 1160), who embarked on his poetic career under the patronage of the Ghaznavid Bahrāmšāh, and later gained Sanjar’s favor when the latter came to Ghazna by dedicating the final years of his life to him. He composed most of his panegyrics for Sanjar’s entourage, but also wrote in praise of the Saljuqs of Kermān. Ḥasan Ghaznavi, known as Ašraf (d. 1160), had a similar destiny, passing from theinitial protection of Bahrāmšāh to that of Sanjar.

According to tradition, Mahsati of Ganja (12th century; Meier, 1963; Idem, 2005), the first Persian poetess to have left us a substantial corpus of poetry, was also associated with the court of Sanjar. A controversial figure from the outset, she was almost exclusively a composer of quatrains whose formal refinement and richness of content are worthy of their place in the literary environment of the 12th century.

The rising political instability after Sanjar’s death meant that the last representatives of the dynasty were only able to count in anoccasional manner on the work of great panegyrists such as Aṯir Aḵsikati (d. ca. 1174), ʿEmādi Rāzi (d. between 1135-74) and Mojir-al-Din Baylaqāni (d. 1178).

A partial exception to this was the Isfahan court governed by the local Āl-e Ḵojand and Āl-e Saʿid aristocracy. It was here at Isfahan in fact, favored by their generous patronage, that Jamāl-al-Din Eṣfahāni (d. 1192) and his son Kamāl-al-Din Eṣfahāni (ca. 1172-1237; Glünz, 1993), who was given the epithet ḵallāq al-maʿāni (creator of meanings) flourished. The work of these poets constitute a landmark in the history of poetry at the time, in particular because of the stylistic innovations they introduced, giving rise to the transition from the Khorasan style to the Iraqi style (Voroz¡ejkina, 1984).

The city of Konya, the capital of the sultanate of Rum from 1097, was the seat of a court that became culturally significant at a later period than the one considered here. Saljuqid rule in Asia Minor lasted until 1307 and this prolonged influence of Persian culture on the region left an indelible mark on the Ottoman civilization.

Ḵwārazm became part of the empire after the defeat of the Ghaznavids but gained its autonomy in 1097 with Qoṭb-al-Din Moḥammad who inaugurated the fourth dynasty to rule the land as Ḵwārazmšāhs. Atsiz Garčāʾi (r. 1128- 1156) was the most illustrious ruler of the Ḵwārazmšāhs, not only from the political point of view but also from that of the cultural life which flourished in his court; one century later the memory of his generous patronage was still alive as the historian, Jovayni (b. 1225), and the biographer, ʿAwfi, praised his literary sensibility and the prestigious circle of intellectuals who attended his court (ʿAwfi, I, pp. 35-38). Great poets such as Adib Ṣāber dedicated numerous qasidas to him but the most famous figure associated with his name and with that of his successor, Il-Arslān, is unquestionably Rašid-al-Din Waṭwāṭ (1088-1177). Poet, propagandist, critic and man of letters, he found himself engaged on several occasions in poetical contests with Anwari, thepoet laureate in Sanjar’s court. Waṭwāt was the head of the chancellery and a prolific author in both Persian and Arabic of correspondence, which he himself collected (entitled Abkār al-afkār fi’l-rasāʾel wa’l-ašʿār in Arabic and ʿArāʾes al-ḵawāṭer wa nafāʾes al-nawāder in Persian). His knowledge of Arabicliterature and his own skill at poetry enabled him to compile not only a divan, but also a work on prosody, Ḥadāʾeq al-seḥr fi daqāʾeq al-šeʿr,the influence of which on the poetic canon lasted for many centuries.

Another outstanding man of letters and linguist at the court of Atsiz Garčāʾi was Zamaḵšari (d. 1143) who dedicated his renowned monolingual Arabic dictionary, Moqaddamat al-adab, to the sovereign; nor should we forget the presence at that court of the physician, Zayn-al-Din Esmāʿil Jorjāni, believed to have been a pupil of Avicenna who composed the Aḡrāż al-ṭebb, one of the first medical treatises in Persian literature. This work was based on his earlier Ḏakira-ye Ḵᵛārazmšāhi dedicated to the predecessor of Atsiz, Qoṭb-al-Din Moḥammad (r. 1097-1127).

After the defeat of Masʿud at Dandānqān, the Ghaznavids continued to exercise power and cultivate literature in the lands remaining under their jurisdiction (present-day Afghanistan and much of Northern India). The most illustrious of the late Ghaznavid sultans was unquestionably Bahrāmšāh who ruled from 1117 to 1157. His reignwas defined as the ‘Indian summer’of the dynasty and his court at Ghazna boasted of many significant poets and men of letters. Ḥasan Ghaznavi had quite a difficult relationship with his illustrious patron and after a long period of understanding that lasted from 1118 to 1148, he found himself accused on several occasions of complicity with people hated by the sovereign. Ḥasan Ghaznavi, who had celebrated Bahrāmšāh’s victorious military campaigns in numerous qasida, dedicated a famous sawgand-nāmato the sovereign in the hope of regaining his favor (Beelaert, 2002, pp. 55-73). Proficient in all the sciences of the time, he also wrote poetry in Arabic like all his most illustrious colleagues and, in accordance with the tradition, he also wrote on philosophical and theological matters in both Arabic and Persian.

Among Bahrāmšāh’s panegyrists we should also recall Masʿud-e Saʿd-e Salmān (1048-1121; see Sharma, 2000) and Abu Bakr Ruḥāni and the presence of an array of minor poets whose divanhave not survived but who are quoted in ʿAwfi’s work. One figure who immortalized the fame of Bahrāmšāh with panegyric verses,especially with religious poetry, was Sanāʾi (ca. 1045-1130; de Bruijn, 1983). He did not have the classic career of a court poet and in fact it was when he had already acquired considerable fame as a religious poet that he was invited to court by Bahrāmšāh to whom he dedicated his most important mathnavi (maṯnavi),the Ḥadiqat al-ḥaqiqa,as well as various qasidasand ghazals (ḡazals). Bahrāmšāh did not only encourage poetry, and his protégés included the great prose writer Abu’l-Maʿāli Naṣr-Allāh Monši (d. 1160) who translated the book Kalila wa Demnainto Persian from the Arab version by Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ. His prose, much admired by his contemporaries, reveals some of the characteristics of ornate prose and was to become a model of elegance for the period that followed.

Ghaznavid rule continued in the Punjab and north of India in the 11th and 12th centuries: Lahore became the capital of the empire and revived the splendor of the Ghaznavid courts of Maḥmud and of Masʿud. The late Ghaznavids had already been assimilated by Persian culture, even in Indian territory, Persian was the language of the court and Lahore was described by sources as a typical Persian town. Among the major poets who flourished at Lahore and who were founders and precursors of Persian poetry in India, were Abu’l-Faraj Runi (d. 1106-14) and the already mentioned Masʿud-e Saʿd-e Salmān. The former, born in Lahore in a family originally from Khorasan, spent his entire career in the Punjab. Masʿud-e Saʿd-e Salmān did not enjoy a similarly peaceful career. Also born and educated in Lahore, belonging to a wealthy family originally from Hamadān, he first appeared as an already mature panegyrist in theretinue of Prince Sayf-al-Dawla Maḥmud, with whom he had a happy political and military career. After falling into disgrace under the sultan Ebrāhim, he passed much of his life in prison until, already advanced in years, his value as a poet was recognized by Bahrāmšāh, to whom his last panegyrics were dedicated. It was specifically the ill-fated events of his life that led Masʿud-e Saʿd-e Salmān to write those poems from prison (ḥabsiyyāt) that were to make him famous (Zafari, 1985).

Though living a life away from the court, ʿAli Ḥasan Hojviri (d. 1072) passed the final years of his life in Lahore, spreading the doctrines of Sufism and following its practices. His was the first treatise on the subject in Persian, the Kašf al-maḥjub.

During the same time span, in the most central areas of the territory of present-day Afghanistan, power was held by the Islamic dynasty of the Ghurids (also known as Āl-e Šanšāb). Linked to them is the literary output of Neẓāmi ʿArużi (d. 1164), for many years active in that court, an attentive traveler and observer of his times, and author of the Čahār Maqāla, a precious documentary source of court life in Saljuqid times and one of the oldest repertories of Persian poetry with information on poets and anthologies of verse.

The Qaraḵanids ruled over western Transoxiana and considered themselves to be the heirs to the Samanid tradition in the region. Major poets and men of letters flourished in their court during the two centuries discussed here, even if their activities were not dedicated exclusively to rulers of this dynasty. ʿAmʿaq Boḵārāʾi (b. ca. 1048) began his career at Bukhara where a school of poetry of its own had developed (it is sufficient to recall the fame of his contemporary, Rašidi Samarqandi, whose divan has not survived, however), and from there he moved in 1067 to the Qaraḵanid court in Samarqand (Samarkand) to become poet laureate of Šams-al-Molk Naṣr b. Ebrāhim. Much admired by his contemporaries, to the point that Anwari praised his mastery and Sanjar invited him to compose an elegy on the death of his daughter, he had a throrough knowledge of philosophy, of the various sciences and of the different literary genres. One of the most interesting authors in the Qaraḵanid court was the great satirical poet, Suzani Samarqandi (d. ca. 1173), a panegyrist of many Qaraḵanid sovereigns of Samarqand. He also wrote countless qasidas for the governors of Bukhara and for the Saljuqid Sanjar, but his fame is linked above all with his invectives and the force of the satires he wrote against colleagues and worthies of his time.

The Ildeguzids exercised power in the north-western zones of Persia, including Arrān, much of Azerbaijan and of Jebāl, from the second half of the 12th century to the first decades of the 13th century. The Ildeguzid atabegs, formally subject to the Saljuqids, constituted an independent dynastic line up until about 1225. Also of Turkish origin, the Ildeguzids played a substantial role in patronizing Persian literature, but given the geographical location of their territories, the cultural activity of this dynasty was strongly influenced by their close and continuous contacts with Christian Georgia and with the peoples of the bordering Caucasus. Their courts attracted poets and intellectuals and they proved to be generous patrons not only in the literary area but also by funding imposing architectural works: it was Ildeguz (ca. 1135-1175), founder of the family, who had the great Hamadān madrasa built.

With their capital, Šarvān (Šervān), in the lands of the eastern Caucasus, the Šarvānšāh dynasty also always maintained its independence from the Great Saljuqs. As they deemed themselves to be descendants of the Iranian Bahrām Čobin the Šarvānšāh gave preference to Persian letters with a certain zeal, and the first half of the 12th century was a flourishing period for this dynasty which had such eminent men of letters as Ḵāqāni and Falaki at its service.

The rich circle of men of letters who flourished in this geographical-cultural milieu included above all a prestigious group of three personalities linked together by a master-disciple relationship. Ḵāqāni of Šarvān (b. 1126) was a pupil of the poet Abu’l-ʿAlā of Ganja (d. 1159), to whom he dedicated satirical attacks in his mathnavi, Toḥfat al-ʿErāqayn. It is presumed that Ḵāqāni was the master in turn of Mojir-al-Din of Baylaqān with whom he had exchanged poisonous and scurrilous satires. Ḵāqāni had a great influence on the development of the Persian qasida and played a fundamental role in characterizing the poetic output of this region. A panegyrist at the court of Manučehr II at Šarvān and later with the Ildeguzids at Tabriz, he was often in search of new patrons and undertook many journeys for this purpose.

Aṯir-al-Din of Aḵsikat (d. ca. 1174), and the already-mentioned Mojir-al-Din of Baylaqān (d. 1178) belong to the same cultural context; both were active in the courts of other regions along with countless minor poets whose collections have not survived. Neẓāmi of Ganja (d. 1208-9), one of the literary geniuses of the period, was also linked to the Ildeguzids while keeping a distance from court life and defending his own artistic freedom. He passed his entire life in Transcaucasia and he was on good terms with Ildeguz, Pahlavān Moḥammad and Qezel Arslān. In fact the poem Ḵosrow o Širin was dedicated to Pahlavān Moḥammad and Qezel Arslān.

Other literary figures of great importance in this region also included the multi-faceted Falaki of Šarvān (d. sometime between 1122 and 1160; Hādi, 1929), panegyrists of Manučehr II Šarvānšāh and the court astronomer, Ẓahir of Fāryāb (1155-1201), an erudite poet, learned in the sciences and specially in astronomy who, after spending his youth roaming from court to court as a panegyrist (at Nishapur, at Isfahan, and in Māzandarān), finally found himself an acceptable position with the Ildeguzids in Azerbaijan. As well as his qasidas, often compared to those of his great contemporaries, Anwari and Ḵāqāni, he is also attributed with an astrological treatise in which he criticized a prognostic drawn up by Anwari that later proved to be incorrect.

The geographical closeness of the territories subject to the Ildeguzids and those under the Šarvānšāh encouraged the flow of intellectuals and poets from one court to the other. It is also possible to speak of a certain similarity of inspiration and of style between the poets born and educated in these areas, to the point of defining them as belonging to the ‘Azerbaijan school’ (Rypka, Hist. Iran Lit., pp. 201-9). The complexity of the language and of the compositional techniques, the originality and multiplicity of the themes, the presence of Persian archaisms and, at the same time, a wide range of borrowings from Arabic vocabulary are among the stylistic features which are common to poets in this cultural context compared with other contemporaries closer to the Khorasani style.

It should be remembered that many writers in the Saljuq period did not always enjoy good fortune in a single court but, through ambition or necessity, had to seek protection and economic support from different sovereigns and cannot therefore be linked in a definitive manner to one dynasty or another. Emblematic within this category is the case of ʿOṯmān Moḵtāri of Ghazna (ca. 1074-1119) who began his literary career in the Ghaznavid court. Unable to find a suitable place in the court of Masʿud III, he went first to Lahore, then to Balkh, and finally to Kermān where he served for three years as a panegyrist at the court of the Saljuqid prince Moʿezz-al-Din Arslān Shah Qāvordi, which he then left to return to Ghazna to Masʿud III. The latter named him malek-al-šoʿarā, but the ascent of Bahrāmšāh saw him in exile once again at the Qaraḵānid court in Samarqand where he composed various poems in praise of Qelič Tamḡāč Khan. During his wanderings he sent various panegyrics to notables of the time, pursuing his restless search for a suitable patron. For example, he dedicated his most important philosophical mathnavi, Honar-nāma, to the Ismaʿili governor of Ṭabas, Esmāʿil Gilaki. The complexity of his poetic corpus is shown by the fact that his divanis traditionally subdivided into Ḡaznaviyyāt, Kermāniyyātand Samarqandiyyāt: each of these sections comprisesthe panegyrics dedicated to the various sovereigns and to the personalities in their entourages, while a fourth section contains those compositions which cannot be catalogued according to patron. It all provides interesting evidence of the sense of fluidity of the territorial, cultural and ideological borders with which the intellectuals of the time were prepared to live their professional lives.

Genres of Poetry. An aristocratic feudal environment such as that of the 11th and 12th centuries implies a type of literature characterized by fixed genres and by a code of forms and themes; despite this the Saljuqid period was one of considerable enrichment of the repertory of contents and images, especially in poetry, and there was a clear evolution in the literary genres and canonical forms of writing.

The qasida was widely used and with very important results despite the sense of weariness and the critical attitude professed by the authors themselves towards this form of poetic expression. As a response to this tired feeling, the qasida freed itself in part from its rigid panegyrist structure and adapted itself to various subjects, becoming an instrument of supplication and preaching, with moralizing contents, fierce invectives and philosophical reflection. The 12th century is considered the golden age of the panegyric even if it also heralds the beginning of its decline in favor of other poetic forms, for various socio-cultural reasons. If the divāns of the Saljuq poets are still characterized by a preponderant presence of the qasida, these panegyric odes nevertheless also deal with new themes using an increasingly rich and varied lexicon that draws on original images from sectors of learning that had formerly been extraneous to poetry (medicine, astronomy and religious sciences). It would be the recognized qasida masters, Anwari (Šafiʿi Kadkani, 1995) and Ḵāqāni (Beelaert, 2000), who would be the first to abandon the old paths and magisterially combine poetic experience with learning, refining the rhetorical tools and, in a certain sense, exhausting the potentials of the qasidagenre by exercising their ingenuity to the full. Alongside the official poetry of the court, a poetry came into being triggered by impatience with the ills of the time and inspired by Sufism and Ismaʿilism. Emblematic in this sense is the work of Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow (1004-77; Hunsberg, 2000), known as Ḥojjat, who denounced the worst aspects of the society of his time and the logic of the courtly life on the basis of moral and philosophical principles. The wealth, originality, and profundity of his ideas, the strength of his convictions, the concern with substance rather than form, made him a key figure of his time who embodied, with stark originality, both the highest cultural achievements, as well as the social and moral tensions of the 11thcentury.

Another special feature of Saljuq poetry was that it changed the structure of the divan. More and more ghazals of amorous, Anacreontic and mystical inspiration began to appear in the divans of virtually all the poets: indeed the definitive formation of the technical ghazal dates from this period when it began to establish itself as the most appropriate poetical form for interpreting and expressing the lyrical tension and mystical aspirations of the time. The robāʿiyāt became the vehicle for an increasingly wide-ranging repertory of themes, especially mystical and philosophical: the proliferation of robāʿiyāt, not always of certain attribution, constitutes one of the peculiar features of the Saljuq period from a literary point of view. Broadening the traditional repertory, the qeṭʿa incorporates private musings and often satire and invective too, as is particularly evident from the compositions of Anwari and Ḵāqāni, and from the original qeṭʿa by Masʿud Saʿd-e Salmān, inspired by the theme of the šahr-āšub (Golčin-e Maʿāni, 1967). Strophic poems, such as mosammat, tarjiʿ-band and tarkib-band, continued to be written in the customary fashion.

But it was Sufism, whose definitive doctrinal lines would be delineated in the span of these two centuries that had the most far-reaching and long-lasting impact on the future of Persian poetry. Escaping from the logical rigor of discursive exposition, mystical inspiration lent itself perfectly to poetry. A system of symbols and metaphors was in fact already present in the quatrains attributed to Abu Saʿid Abi’l-Ḵayr (d. 1049) and would be used and enriched by the mystics of the Saljuqid period. An emblematic example is the Moḵtār-nāma of Farid-al-Din ʿAṭṭār. If Sanāʾi created the didactic poem inspired by religion with his monumental Ḥadiqat al-haqiqa, it was ʿAttār with his ghazalsand with his robāʿiswho definitively codified the mystical language of the lyric, formulating a repertory of similes, metaphors, symbols and images which would become the point of reference for poets in the succeeding centuries.

In the course of these two centuries, the eleventh and the twelfth, mysticism became inextricably associated with poetry, using three preferred tools: the mathnavi, the robāʿi and the ghazal; the last of these would later develop an ambiguity of language in which the inspiration of profane love would fuse itself indissolubly with mysticism.

During the Saljuqid period, the mathnavi of epic inspiration experienced a period of stasis, almost exclusively by imitating the Šāh-nāmaby Ferdowsi. Asadi’s Garšāsp-nāma belongs to this genre along with a series of minor poems, such as Dāstān-e Kok-e kuhzād, Farāmarz-nāma, Bānugošasp-nāma, Jahāngir-nāma, Borzu-nāma, Šahriyār-nāma, Bahman-nāma and the Kuš-nāma, which develop marginal episodes of Ferdowsi’s work.

On the other hand, the 12th and 13th centuries marked an era of intense development of the didactic poems of mystic inspiration which experienced a season of great fortune and success: it is sufficient to mention the Rawšanāʾi-nāma by Nāser-e Ḵosrow, the Honar-nāma by ʿOṯman Moḵtāri, the Sayr al-ʿebād ela’l-maʿād and the Ḥadiqat al-ḥaqiqa by Sanāʾi, the Maḵzan al-asrār by Neẓāmi and such fine maṭnavis by Farid-al-Din ʿAṭṭār as Asrār-nāma, Manṭeq al-ṭayr, Moṣibat-nāma and Elāhi-nāma.

Masterpieces of the romantic epic came into being at the same time: first with Vis o Rāmin by Faḵr-al-Din Gorgāni and then, with the narrative poems of Neẓāmi (Ḵosrow o Širin, Leyli o Majnun and Haft Peykar ). This genre achieved perfection, inspiring a line of illustrious successors in the centuries that followed. Among the minor romantic poems it is worth mentioning two other works: the Homāyun-nāmaby an unknown author and Amāni’s Yusof o Zoleyḵā. Moreover, a new short mathnaviinspired by subjects of various kinds began to spread during Saljuqid times (for example, the Kārnāma-ye Balḵby Sanāʾi, the satirical Hajv-e Qāzi Kirangby Anwari and a famous jovial poem by Masʿud-e Saʿd-e Salmān (Divān, 1986, pp. 787-817).

The prose from the Saljuqid period is abundant and varied: histories, epistolography, biographies, travel journals and popular stories, and treatises on literary, political, moral, philosophical, scientific and mystical subjects. In the framework of these works whose compositional intentions are so diverse, the prose style underwent a radical change compared with the previous period, the result in part of close contact with Arabic prose and in part of the increasingly sophisticated needs of its users. The search for elaborate and effective elements with which to enrich the compositions, typical of all the literature of this period, would have a marked impact on prose where it brought into being a style known as naṯr-e fanni, rich in rhetorical figures, phonetic and prosodic devices, metaphors and allusions, and weighed down by a large Arabic vocabulary, all elements which had been less apparent in the prose of preceding eras. As far as prose mixed with poetry is concerned, the prosimetrical genre of the Maqāmātappeared in Persian too, in 1156, in Ḥamidi’s Maqāmāt.

Masterpieces of adab and great works of moral philosophy date from this period: the Qābus-nāma by Kay Kāvus b. Eskandar, the Čahār Maqāla by Neẓāmi ʿArużi of Samarqand, the Siyāsat-nāma by Neẓām-al-Molk, the Kimiyā-ye saʿādat, and the Naṣiḥat al-moluk by Moḥammad Ḡazāli. Moralizing literature, particularly in vogue in this period of decadence in politics and habits, also expressed itself through collections of fables in the version of the Kalila wa Demna by Abu’l-Maʿāli Naṣrollāh Monši, in the Marzbān-nāma by Varāvini and in the Sendbād-nāma by Ẓahiri of Samarqand. The popular romance came into being at the same time (the Dārāb-nāma by Abu Tāher Moḥammad Ṭarsusi and the Samak-e ʿAyyār [Gaillard, 1987] of uncertain attribution) as well as scientific prose and the first general encyclopaedias (Jāmeʿal-ʿolumby Faḵr-al-Din Rāzi), repertories of fantastic phenomena (the Toḥfat al-ḡarāyebby Moḥammad b. ʿAyyub al-Ṭabari and the ʿAjāyeb al-maḵluqāt va ḡarāyeb al-mawjudāt by Moḥammad Ṭusi) and works on astronomy (the Zij al-sanjari byʿAbd al-Raḥman Ḵāzeni) and medicine (the Ḏaḵira-ye Ḵvārzmšāhi by Zayn-al-Din Esmāʿil al-Jorjāni).

The great artistic value of the religious prose of the Saljuqid period was also recognized alongside its considerable doctrinal importance. Some of the masterpieces of the period, such as the Kašf al-maḥjub by ʿAli Ḥasan Hojviri, the allegorical tales of Šehāb-al-Din Yahyā Sohravardi, the Savāneh al-ʿoššāqby Aḥmad Ḡazāli, the Asrār al-tawḥid by Ebn Monawwar, and the Taḏkerat al-awliyāby Farid-al-Din ʿAṭṭār, can be placed among the most important works of religious – and specifically mystical – inspiration in the entire history of Persian literature.

History only achieved a secondary position: the Saljuqid princes were not particularly interested in promoting the production of chronicles recounting the ascent and political events of their dynasties except during the decades of imminent decline which is when the Saljuq-nāma by Ẓahir-al-Din Nišāpuri, and the Rāḥat al-ṣodur va āyat al-sorur by Moḥammad b. ʿAli Rāvandi appeared (Cahen, 1962; Meisami, 1999).

In addition to the official correspondence of Rašid al-Din Vaṭvāṭ, one should mention here the importance of the Saljuqid epistolography, attested by the rich production of letters by various intellectual personalities of the period, such as the poets Sanāʾi and Ḵāqāni, the famous brothers Aḥmad and Moḥammad Ḡazāli, the secretaries Bahāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad Baḡdādi and Montajab-al-Din Jovayni (see ENŠĀʿ).

The Saljuqid period was, in fact, also the time when people began to reflect on writing and theorizing on the various technical aspects of verse-writing. One of the most evident results of the need for standardization of the forms and contents of literary expression was the compilation of the first works in Persian on the techniques of versification, the Tarjomān al-balāḡa by Rāduyāni and the Ḥadāʾeq al-seḥr fi daqāʾeq al-šeʿr by Rašid-al-Din Vaṭvāṭ. These manuals on ʿelm-e badiʿprovide the codification in the Persian language of the canonical ways of composing poetry.

Alongside these works on poetic theory and practice came the production of the first monolingual dictionary of Persian, the Loḡat-e Fors by Asadi Ṭusi, the compilation of which is traditionally justified by the diffusion of Persian literary language in peripheral regions of Saljuqid territory and the consequent need for the new ranks of ‘provincial’ intellectuals and poets to be able to avail themselves of tools which would help them to understand the works of the old masters.


For the bio-bibliographical information, history of the manuscripts and commented references to the editions of the divans and longmathnavis,see:

François de Blois, Persian Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey, V: Poetry of the Pre-Mongol Period, 2nd rev. ed., London, 2004, and the articles related to the poets in the EIr. and EI2.

See also:

Mahsati Ganjavi, Mahsati Ganjaʾi, bozorgtarin šāʿera-ye robāʿi-sarā, ed. Moʿin-al-Din Mehrābi, Spanga-Cologne, 1995.

ʿAtā b. Yaʿqub (ʿAtāʾi Rāzi), Borzu-nāma bā kašf al-abiyyāt va dāstān-e Kok-e kuhzād, ed. M. Dabirsiyāqi, Tehran, 2003.

Bānugošasp-nāma, ed. R. Karāči, Tehran, 2003.

Ẓahir Fāryābi, Divān, ed. H. Yazdgerdi and A. Dādbeh, Tehran, 2002.

Masʿud-e Saʿd-e Salmān, Divān, ed. M. Nuriān, 2 vols., Tehran, 1986.

References to the main editions of prose works quoted in the article:

Abu’l-Maʿāli Naṣr-Allāh Monši, Kalila va Demna, ed. M. Minovi, Tehran, 1964.

Aḥmad al-Ḡazāli, Savāneḥ al-ʿoššāq, ed. N. Purjavādi, Tehran, 1980.

Idem, Mokātebāt-e Ḵwāja Aḥmad Ḡazāli bā ʿAyn al-Qodāt Hamadāni, ed. N. Purjavādi, Tehran, 1977.

ʿAli Ḥasan Hojviri, Kašf al-maḥjub, tr. R. N. Nicholson, Leiden and London, 1911.

Idem, Kašf al-maḥjub, ed. M. ʿAbedi, Tehran, 2006.

Asadi Ṭusi, Loḡat-e Fors, ed. M. Dabirsiāqi, 2nd. ed., Tehran, 1977.

ʿAwfi, Lobāb. Bahāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad Baḡdādi, al-Tavassol elā’l-tarassol, ed. A. Bahmanyār, Tehran, 1938.

Farid-al-Din ʿAṭṭār, Taḏkerat al-awliyā, ed. R. A. Nicholson (intr. by M. Qazvini), 2 vols., London and Leiden, 1905-7, repr. Tehran, 1957.

Ebn Monavvar, Asrār al-tawḥidfi maqāmāt al Šayḵ Abi Saʿid, ed. Šafiʿi Kadkani, 2 vols., Tehran, 1987.

Faḵr-al-Din Rāzi, Jāmeʿ al-ʿolum, ed. M. Tasbiḥi, Tehran, 1967 (based on Bombay ed. 1944).

Farāmarz b. Ḵodādād al-Kāteb al-Arrajāni, Samak-e ʿayyār, ed. P. N. Ḵānlari, 2 vols., Tehran, 1964-85.

[Ḥamidi] Ḥamid-al-Din Balḵi, Maqāmāt, ed. S. ʿA. A. Abarkuhi, Isfahan, 1960.

Idem, Maqāmāt-e Ḥamidi, ed. R. Anzābi Nežād, Tehran, 1986.

Kay Kāʾus b. Eskandar, Qābus-nāma, ed. Ḡ-Ḥ. Yusofi, Tehran, 1973.

Ḵāqāni Šarvāni, Majmuʿa-ye nāmahā, ed. Z˜. Sajjādi, [Tehran], 1967.

Moḥammad al-Ḡazāli, Kimiyā-ye saʿādat, ed. Ḥ. Ḵadivjam, Tehran, 1985.

Idem, Naṣiḥat al-moluk, ed. J. Homāʾi, Tehran, 1938.

Idem, Makāteb-e fārsi-ye Ḡazāli be nām-e Fazāʾel al-anām men rasāʾel Ḥojjat al-Eslām, ed. ʿA. Eqbāl Āštiyāni, Tehran, 1984.

Moḥammad b. ʿAyyub al-Ṭabari, Toḥfat al-ḡarāyeb, ed. J. Matini, Tehran, 1992.

Moḥammad Ṭusi, ʿAjāyeb al-maḵluqāt va ḡarāyeb al-mawjudāt, ed. M. Sotuda, Tehran, 1966.

Montajab-al-Din Badiʿ ʿAli Jovayni, ʿAtabat al-kataba, ed. M. Qazvini and ʿA. Eqbāl Āštiyāni, Tehran, 1950.

Nāṣer-e Ḵosraw, Safarnāma, ed. M. Dabirsiyāqi, Tehran, 1957.

Idem, Ketāb-e gošāyeš va rahāyeš, ed. S. Nafisi, Leiden, 1950.

Neẓām-al-Molk, Siyar al-moluk (Siyāsat-nāma), ed. H. Darke, Tehran, 1968.

Neẓāmi ʿArużi Samarqandi, Čahār Maqāla, ed. M. Qazvini, Leyden and London 1910.

Idem, Čahār Maqāla, ed. M. Qazvini rev. by M. Moʿin, Tehran, 1952-3.

Moḥammad b. ʿOmar Rāduyāni, Kitāb Tarcuman al-balāga (Ketāb Tarjomān al-balāga), ed. A. Āteš, Istanbul, 1949.

Rašid-al-Din Vaṭvāṭ, Nāmehā-ye Rašid-al-Din Vaṭvāṭ, ed. Q. Tuyserkāni, Tehran, 1959.

Idem, Ḥadāyeq al-seḥr fi daqāyeq al-šeʿr, ed. ʿA. Eqbāl Āštiyāni, Tehran, n.d. Rāvandi, Rāḥat al-ṣodur va āyat al-sorur dar tāriḵ-e āl-e Saljuq, ed. M. Eqbāl, Leiden and London 1921, repr. Tehran, 1985.

Sanāʾi, Makāteb-e Sanāʾi, ed. Nazir Ahmad, Aligarh, 1962.

Šehāb-al-Din Yahyā Sohravardi, Majmuʿe-ye āṯār-e fārsi-ye Šayḵ-e ešrāq / Oeuvres philosophiques et mystiques, Vol. II (āṯār-e fārsi), ed. S. H. Nasr and H. Corbin, Tehran and Paris, 1970.

Abu Tāher Ṭarsusi, Dārāb-nāma, ed. Ḏ. Ṣafā, 2 vols., Tehran, 1965-7.

Saʿd al-Din Varāvini, The Marzubān-nāma, ed. M. Qazvini, Leyden and London, 1909.

Idem, Marzbānnāma, ed. M. Rawšan, 2 vol., Tehran, 1976.

Ẓahir-al-Din Nišāpuri, The Saljuqnama of Zahir al-Din Nishapuri: A critical text making use of the unique manuscript in the library of the Royal Asiatic Society, ed. A. H. Morton, London, 2004.

Ẓahiri Samarqandi, Sendbād-nāma, ed. A. Āteš, Istanbul, 1948; Tehran, 1983.

Studies and monographs: A. Beelaert, A Cure for the Grieving Studies on the Poetry of the 12th-Century Persian Court Poet Khāqānī Širwānī, Leiden, 2000.

Eadem, “The Saugand-nāma, a Genre in Classical Persian Poetry,” in M. Szuppe ed., Iran. Questions et Connaissances. Studia Iranica Cahier 26, Paris, 2002, pp. 55-73.

C. E. Bosworth, The Later Ghaznavids: Splendour and Decay, Edinburgh, 1977.

J. T. P. de Bruijn, Of Piety and Poetry, the Interaction of Religion and Literature in the Life and Works of Ḥakīm Sanāʾī of Ghazna, Leiden 1983.

C. Cahen, “The Historiography of the Seljuqid Period,” in Historians of the Middle East, ed. B. Lewis and P. M. Holt, London, 1962, pp. 59-78.

The Saljuq and Mongol Periods, Camb. Hist. Iran, vol. 5. DMBE. Dānešnāme-ye adab-e fārsi: adab-e fārsi dar šebh-e qāra, ed. H. Anuša, 4 vols. in three parts, Tehran, 1996.

L. P. Elwell-Sutton, “The “Rubāʿi” in the Early Persian Literature”, Camb. Hist. Iran, vol. 4, pp. 633-57.

Ch.-H. de Fouchécour, La description de la nature dans la poésie lyrique persane du XIe siècle, Paris, 1969.

Idem, Moralia: les notions morales dans la littérature persane du 3e/9e au 7e/13e siècle, Paris, 1986.

M. Gaillard, Le livre de Samak-e ʿAyyār, structure et idéologie du roman persan médiéval, Paris, 1987.

M. Glunz, Die panegyrische qaṣīda bei Kamāl ud-dīn Ismāʿīl aus Isfahān, Beirut, 1993.

A. Golčin-e Maʿāni, Šahrāšub dar šeʿr-e fārsi, Tehran, 1967.

Idem, Taḏkerahā. Hādi Hasan, Falaki-i-Širwāni: his times, life, and works, London, 1929.

W. L. Hanaway, “The Iranian Epics”, in Heroic Epic and Saga, ed. by F. J. Oinas, Bloomington and London 1978, pp. 76-98.

A. Hunsberger, Nāsir Khusraw: the ruby of Badakhšan. A portrait of the Persian Poet, traveller and philosopher, London and New York, 2000.

Iqbal Husayn, The early Persian Poets of India (A.H. 421-679), Patna, 1937.

Ḥ. Ḵāleqi Rād, Qeṭʿe va qeṭʿesarāyi dar šeʿr-e fārsi, Tehran, 1996.

Ḥ. Ḵatebi, Tāriḵ-e taṭavvor-e naṯr-e fanni dar qarn-e šeššom o haftom-e hejri, Tehran, 1965. Idem, Fann-e naṯr dar adab-e pārsi, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1996.

F. D. Lewis, “Reading, Writing and Recitation: Sanāʾi and the Origin of the Persian Ghazal,” Ph. D. diss., University of Chicago, Ann Arbor, 1995.

L. Lewisohn ed., Classical Persian Sufism: from its Origins to Rumi, London and New York, 1993.

Idem and C. Shackle, ʿAṭṭār and the Persian Sufi Tradition, London, 2006.

M. J. Maḥjub, Sabk-e ḵorāsāni dar šeʿr-e fārsi, Tehran, 1976.

F. Meier, Die schöne Mahsati. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des persischen Vierzeilers, Wiesbaden, 1963.

Idem, Die Schöne Mahsati: Der Volksroman über Mahsati und Amir Ahmad, ed. G. Schubert and R. Würsch, Leiden- Boston 2005.

J. S. Meisami, Medieval Persian Court Poetry, Princeton 1987.

Idem, Persian Historiography to the End of the Twelfth Century, Edinburgh 1999.

D. Meneghini, Letteratura persiana in epoca selgiuchide (429-615 / 1037-1218), Venezia, 2004 [with an extensive bibliography].

R. Musulmonion, Nazariyai Adabiyot, Dušanbe, 1990.

M. Najm Ābādi, Tāriḵ-e ṭebb dar Irān, Tehran, 1962.

Naṣrollāh Emāmi, Marṯiya-sarāyi dar adabiyyāt-e fārsi, Tehran, 1990.

M. N. Osmanov, Stil’ persidskogo jazyka, Moscow, 1973.

M. Rastgār Fasāʾi, Anvāʿ-e šeʿr-e fārsi, Shiraz, 1993.

H. Razmju, Anvāʿ-e adabi va āṯār-e ān dar zabān-e fārsi, Mashad, 1991.

B. Reinert, Hāqāni als dichter. Poetische logik und phantasie, Berlin, 1972.

M. L. Reisner, Evoliuzia klassičeskoi gazeli na fārsi (X-XIV veka), Moscow, 1989.

H. Ritter, Uber die Bildersprache Nizamis, Berlin and Leipzig, 1927.

Idem, Das Meer der Seele, Leiden 1955.

J. Rypka, “Poets and Prose Writers of the Late Seljuq and Mongol Periods,” in Cam. Hist. Iran, V, pp. 550-625.

Ḏ. Ṣabur, Āfāq-e ḡazal-e fārsi, Tehran, 1991.

Ḏ. Ṣafā, Ḥamāsasarāʾi dar Irān, reprint, Tehran, 1984.

A. Schimmel, Islamic Literature of India, Wiesbaden, 1973.

M.-R. Šafiʿi-Kadkani, Ṣovar-e ḵiyāl dar šeʿr-e fārsi, Tehran, 1979.

Idem, Tāziyānahā-ye soluk. Naqd va taḥlil-e čand qaṣida az Ḥakim Sanāʾi, Tehran, 1997.

Idem, Mofles-e kimiyāforuš. Naqd va taḥlil-e šeʿr-e Anwari, Tehran, 1995.

Idem, “Ḥamāsa-ye šiʿi az qarn-e panjom,” MDAF (Autumn and Winter issue), Mashad, 2000.

S. Šamisā, Sayr-e robāʿi dar šeʿr-e fārsi, Tehran, 1984.

Idem, Sayr-e ḡazal dar šeʿr-e fārsi, repr., Tehran, 1997.

Idem, Sabkšenāsi-ye naṯr, Tehran, 1998.

S. Sharma, Persian Poetry at the Indian Frontier: Masʿud Saʿd Salman of Lahore, Delhi, 2000.

S. Sperl and C. Shackle eds., Qaṣida Poetry in Islamic Asia and Africa, 2 vols., Leiden, New York, and Cologne, 1996.

Studies on the poetry of Anwari, ed. by D. Meneghini, Venice, 2006.

Z. N. Vorožejkina, Isfahanskaya škola poetov i literaturnaya žizn’ irana, [XII-XIII vek.], Moscow, 1984.

V. Ẓafari, Ḥabsiya dar adab-e fārsi, az āḡāz-e šeʿr-e fārsi tā pāyān-e zendiya, Tehran, 1985.

ʿA-Ḥ. Zarrinkub, Šeʿr-e bidoruḡ šeʿr-e bineqāb, n.p., 1977.

Idem, Naqd-e adabi, 2 vols., Tehran, 1982. Idem, Sayr-i dar šeʿr-e fārsi, Tehran, 1984.

R. Zipoli, “Satirical, invective and burlesque poetry”, in History of Persian Literature, Vol. III, forthcoming.

(Daniela Meneghini)

Last Updated: May 25, 2010