RASULID HEXAGLOT, a six-language glossary compiled by or prepared for the sixth Rasulid king of Yemen, al-Malek al-Afżal al-ʿAbbās b. ʿAli b. Dāʾud b. Yusof b. ʿOmar b. ʿAli Derḡam-al-Din (r. 1363-77). It is a collection of vocabularies, listing forms in Arabic with matching entries in Persian, Turkic (Turki, in three dialects), a dialect of colloquial Byzantine Greek, a dialect of Western Armenian (in all likelihood Cilician), and a dialect of Mongol (most probably reflecting the Mongol spoken in the Il-khanid state). All entries are transcribed in Arabic script.

The Hexaglot (thus named by its modern editors) is part of a large codex (542 pages) from the library of al-Malek al-Afżal al-ʿAbbās. The manuscript, with few exceptions, was written by one copyist/scribe in nasḵ, often lacking the diacritical dots (noqaṭ). Some of the marginal notes were penned by al-Malek al-Afżal himself in 1376 (Varisco and Smith, p. 6). A facsimile of the complete codex, currently held in a private collection in Yemen, was published in 1998 (Varisco and Smith), with page numbers added by the editors. A study of the Hexaglot’s Byzantine Greek elements (Golden, 1985) and the full edition/transcription/translation (Golden, 2000) appeared in 1985 and 2000, respectively.

The Hexaglot consists of two distinct parts (Varisco and Smith, pp. 186-206, 211). The first (pp. 186-97) has entries in Arabic, Persian, Turkic, Greek and Armenian arranged in two six-columned entries per page, usually 29 lines in length (termed ‘sections A and B’ by the translators, cf. Golden, 2000, p. 51), and a third two-columned listing (termed ‘section C’), consisting of Arabic-Mongol, Arabic-Turkic and Arabic-Persian entries (for the page layout of the manuscript, facsimiles of these pages are also included in Golden, 2000). The second glossary (Varisco and Smith, pp. 198-205) contains three sets of entries (divided by the translators into sections A, B, and C) in four columns with 29-31 lines per page, in Arabic, Persian, Turkic and Mongol. One page is written in a smaller hand, contains 45 lines, and fours sets of entries (p. 205). There are additional marginal entries (pp. 205-6), and an Arabic-Persian-Turkic “Supplement,” p. 211).

The Rasulid kings had a tradition of scholarship. One of al-Malek al-Afżal al-ʿAbbās’ predecessors, al-Malek al-Ašraf ʿOmar II (r. 1295-96), before he came to power, was the author of an agricultural almanac (dated 1271, cf. Varisco, pp. 18-19). Agriculture was also among the intellectual interests of al-Malek al-Afżal al-ʿAbbās whose writings spanned a wide range of literary, philological, historical, genealogical and ethnographic topics. The codex has been termed “a veritable treasure trove” (Varisco and Smith, p. 5) because of the variety of topics represented in it. These include, in addition to agriculture and lexicography (for an Arabic-Ethiopian glossary, see Varisco and Smith, pp. 217-19), works pertaining to astronomy and astrology, calendars, feqh, geography, mathematics, genealogy, proverbs, religious topics, routes and distances (shipping and travel), taxation, tribal law, warfare and weapons (pp. 9-23).

Although a suitable Arab genealogy was created for them, the Sunni Rasulid house (1228-1454) appears to have stemmed from an Oḡuz (see ḠOZZ) Turkic clan, the Menjik (Menčik), a personal name also found among the Mamluks (Rásonyi and Baski, II, pp. 538-39). The dynasty’s progenitor, Moḥammad b. Hārun, a servitor of the mid-12th century ʿAbbasid caliphs, acquired the sobriquet ‘messenger’ (rasul) because of the sensitive tasks entrusted to him. Later, the Rasulids entered Ayyubid service and were part of the entourage of either Turānšāh b. Ayyub (r. 1174-81) when he took control of Yemen in 1173, or of Turānšāh’s brother and successor, Tuḡtigin (r. 1181-97), who came to Yemen in 1183. Subsequently, the Rasulids governed Yemen for their Ayyubid overlords, becoming de facto independent rulers in 1228. Their power was concentrated in the Tehāma and south of the country. They were often contesting control over Ṣanʿāʾ with the Shiʿite Zaydi Imams of the north. Their capital was at Taʿizz (Varisco and Smith, pp. 6-7; Smith, pp. 455-56).

The Hexaglot, although compiled in Yemen, which was never under Chingisid rule (see ČENGIZ KHAN), was, in many respects, a product of the Eurasian world shaped by the Mongol conquests. The latter brought East and West Asia into closer contact and encouraged the study of languages. A number of polyglot dictionaries or glossaries, some of a practical commercial or missionary nature (cf. the two glossaries in the Codex Cumanicus) appear across Eurasia, from China and Korea to the Crimea, Egypt and Yemen, in the Chingisid realms and in the lands that were connected to them by politics and trade (Allsen). These grammars and glossaries continued to be written well after the fall of the Chingisid Empire in the 14th century.

In the Hexaglot, as in many other works, the lexical material is organized according to subject matter, themes, or semantic categories rather than orthographic or grammatical principles. The most extensive transcriptions are provided for Medieval Greek and Armenian words. The latter presented the most complex problems of transcription as aspirated Armenian c’, p’, t’, k’ could not be represented. Armenian s, ts, and dz were noted as s. Armenian dz was sometimes rendered by ż (e.g., Varisco and Smith, p. 186 line 1: “God” asfaż = asvadz [asdvadz]; cf. Golden, 2000, pp. 20-21, 55, 61). The Persian entries largely follow the established orthographic conventions. There are a few terms (e.g., Varisco and Smith, p. 193, line 23/Golden, 2000, p. 150: pātingā “eggplant”) that differ from standard Persian.

The first glossary begins with religion and associated terms dealing with Heaven and Hell, this world and the hereafter. In a series of verbs in the imperative, contrasting pairs often follow each other: e.g.: Arab. eʿlam “know!” – Pers. bedān – Turk. bilgil – Greek iksevre – Arm. qdesir (kdetsir); Arab. ensa “forget!” – Pers. farāmuš kon – Turk. unut – Greek lizmonise – Arm. marsir (martsir) (p. 187A, lines 3-4). A partial conjugation of the verb “to do” (e.g., Varisco and Smith, p. 188A, line 1-B line 8) includes negative forms: Arab. mā faʿala “he did not do” – Pers. nakard – Turk. qılmadı – Greek uk epike – Arm. čarar (p. 188A, line 5). Verbal forms are followed by a listing of personal pronouns (e.g., p. 188B, line 9) in nominative—Arab. anā “I” – Pers. man – Turk. ben – Greek eḡo – Arm. es—and dative/accusative forms—Arab. “to me” – Pers. marā – Turk. banga – Greek emenan (acc.) – Arm. inc. Demonstrative and interrogative pronouns and prepositional forms are followed by words for body parts, human beings, and kinship. Some political terms (e.g., p. 191A, line 12) are included: Arabic al-amir – Pers. amir – Turk. beg – Greek primikir – Arm. amira. Adjectives (e.g., p. 191A, lines 18-19) are often given in contrasting pairs: Arabic al-ṭawil “long” – Pers. derāz –Turk. uzun – Greek makrin – Arm. ergayn; Arab. al-qaṣiri “short” – Pers. kutāh – Turk. qısḡa – Greek kondon – Arm. garj. Days of the week and concepts relating to time are followed by terms for seasons, climate and natural phenomena. Dwellings and their contents (utensils) are grouped with plants, food and drink, garments and textiles, jewelry and precious and non-precious metals. Beasts of burden and other animals, insects, and horses are followed by weapons, horse paraphernalia, colors, diseases, falconry and birds, and numerals. Horses are often denoted by color, such as Arab. al-ašqar “chestnut horse” – Pers. bur “bay horse” – Turk. čilgü “chestnut, sorrel horse” Greek daḡalin “roan horse” Arm. garmir si (tsi) “red horse” (p. 196A, line 3). The C column of the first glossary covers a wide variety of themes, including some unusual words for foods (e.g., p. 190C, line 15: Arab. lākeša nawʿ men al-ṭabiḵ – Turk. tutmač) and eating utensils (e.g., p. 190C, line 13: Arab. oḏāni yokalo behemā al-rešta “two pieces of wood with which one eats macaroni” [that is: chopsticks] – Turk. šökü; cf. Golden, 1994-95).

The second glossary, which lacks a section on verbs, covers similar themes, but often in greater detail, and lists, for example, 35 terms for clothing (Varisco and Smith, p. 205). Sometimes a dialect form or term is different from the first glossary. Examples are Arab. al-lebā’ “colostrum,” which is first matched with Pers. forša – Turk. aḡuz – Greek pitiya – Arm. čapas (p. 194A line 23) and then with Pers. fala Turk. aḡus – Mong. urāq (p. 205B line 8); Arab. al-doḵn “pearl millet” is first Pers. gāvars – Turk. ṭarıq – Greek keḵros Arm. goyrik (p. 194A line 5) and then Pers. arzan – Turk. taru – Mong. amun (p. 202B line 18); Arab. al-amir “prince” is first Pers. amir – Turk. beg – Greek primikir – Arm. amira (p. 191A line 12) and then Pers. mir – Turk. beg – Mong. noyin (p. 198A lines 27-28).

The Turkic, Greek, Armenian and Mongol materials of the Hexaglot reflect living dialects rather than official literary languages. Local Yemeni chronicles (e.g., Ḵazraji, II, pp. 133-34, 294) record contacts with Turkish-controlled Anatolia (Rum) and the presence of Turkish, Greek and Armenian servitors and slaves in Yemen. These contacts are the most probable source of the Greek and Armenian entries. The Turkic material contains both Qepčāq and Oḡuz elements: til “tongue, language” (Varisco and Smith, p. 198B, line 29), til bilgen “translator” (p. 198B, line 4), tilawuz “eloquent” (p. 203B, line 16), dil “tongue, language” (p. 189B, line 16), dillik “eloquent” (p. 191B, line 22), yapaḡu, yapaḡı, jabaḡı “wool” (p. 205C, line 1), as well as “felt” kiz, kiyiz (p. 202A, line 12) and keče (p. 193B, line 24). There are several entries in what is most probably a dialect of Kʷārazmian Turkic as opposed to Oḡuz and Qepčaq: e.g., “foot” aḏaq (p. 199A, line 14) v. ayaq (p.190A, line 25). The Mongol entries show Oḡuz and Eastern Turkic influences, typical of the Il-khanids: e.g., “elephant” yaḡan (p. 199C, line 5) rather than Mong. jaḡan; and “calf of the leg” baldir (p. 186C, line 14) rather than Mong. köl ün bulcin. There are Turkic loanwords in the Greek entries pointing to their Anatolian origins: e.g., daḡarčuki [daḡartzuki] “small leather sack” (p. 196B, line 13) < Oḡuz Turk. daḡarčuq, but taḡarčıq/taḡarčuq (p. 196B, line 13) in the Hexaglot; and “billy goat” takas (p. 195B, line 6) < Turk. teke, but deke (p. 195B, line 6) in the Hexaglot.



P. B. Golden, ed., The King’s Dictionary: The Rasūlid Hexaglot – Fourteenth Century Vocabularies in Arabic, Persian, Turkic, Greek, Armenian and Mongol, tr. T. Halasi- Kun, P. B. Golden, L. Ligeti, and E. Schütz, HO VIII/4, Leiden, 2000.

ʿAli b. al-Ḥasan al-Ḵazraji, The Pearl-Strings: A History of the Resúliyy Dynasty of Yemen, ed. E. G. Browne, R. A. Nicholson, and A. Rogers, GMS 3, 5 vols., Leiden, 1913-18; Arabic text with English translation; rev. reprint of the Arabic text as Al-ʿOqud al-loʾloʾiya fi taʾriḵ al-dawla al-rasuliya, ed. M. B. ʿAsal, 2 vols., 2nd ed., Ṣanʿāʾ, 1985.

D. M. Varisco, Medieval Agriculture and Islamic Science: The Almanac of a Yemeni Sultan, Seattle, 1994.

D. M. Varisco and G. R. Smith, eds., The Manuscript of al-Malik al-Afḍal al-ʿAbbās b. ʿAlī b. Dāʾūd b. Yusūf b. ʿUmar b. ʿAlī Ibn Rasūl (d. 778/1377): A Medieval Arabic Anthology from the Yemen, facsim. ed., Warminster, UK, 1998.


T. T. Allsen, “The Rasulid Hexaglot in its Eurasian Cultural Context,” in Golden, 2000, pp. 25-49.

C. E. Bosworth, The New Islamic Dynasties, Edinburgh, 1996, pp. 108-9 no. 49 for the Rasulids.

P. B. Golden, “The Byzantine Greek Elements in the Rasulid Hexaglot,” Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 5, 1985, pp. 41-166.

Idem, “Chopsticks and Pasta in Medieval Turkic Cuisine,” RO 49, 1994-95, pp. 73-82.

L. Rásonyi and I. Baski, Onomasticon Turcicum, Uralic and Altaic Series 172, 2 vols., Bloomington, Ind., 2007.

G. R. Smith, “Rasulids,” EI² VIII, 1995, pp. 455-57.

(Peter B. Golden)

Originally Published: March 6, 2009

Last Updated: March 6, 2009