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Journal of Early Modern History 14 (2010) 317-354

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Constantinople and the End Time:


The Ottoman Conquest as a Portent of the Last Hour
Kaya ahin*
Tulane University

Abstract
The Muslim conquest of Constantinople was seen in various apocalyptic traditions as one
of the portents of the end. An Ottoman mystic, Ahmed B-cn, gave voice to these apocalyptic fears and expectations soon after the Ottoman conquest in 1453 CE. His apocalyptic narrative, expressed in the Turkish vernacular, placed the Ottoman enterprise within
the nal tribulations and hailed the sultan, Mehmed II, as an apocalyptic warrior. This
endorsement heralded the emergence of a new imperial ideology in the sixteenth century:
Ottoman history became an important component of universal history, while Ottoman
sultans were attributed cosmic responsibilities and messianic abilities.
Keywords
Apocalypticism, the fall of Constantinople, Ottoman Empire, Ahmed B-cn

Introduction
The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in May 29, 1453 represented, among other things, the realization of a prophecy with universal
appeal. As the inheritors of both Byzantine and Islamic apocalypticism
* Assistant Professor, Tulane University, Department of History. The author would like
to thank Cornell H. Fleischer and Evrim Binba for their invaluable comments and constant encouragement, and the anonymous reviewer and the editors of the JEMH for their
helpful suggestions. Earlier versions of the article were presented at the Early Modern
Workshop (University of Chicago), the Buett Center for International and Comparative
Studies Faculty and Fellows Series (Northwestern University) and the Fifty-Fifth Annual
Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America.Note on transliteration and dates: Ottoman Turkish is transliterated by using the modern Turkish alphabet while Arabic transliterations, for the sake of convenience, omit diacritical marks as much as possible. All dates
are Common Era unless otherwise indicated.
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010

DOI: 10.1163/157006510X512223

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fteenth-century Ottomans were not immune from it. They were also
inuenced by a heightened sense of apocalyptic urgency that permeated
the Islamic world, indeed the whole Eurasian continent, in the fourteenth
and fteenth centuries. While apocalyptic speculations in the Ottoman
realm reached a new level before and after the conquest, modern Turkish
and Ottoman scholarshipwith the exception of a few workshas failed
to recognize the existence of a distinct Ottoman apocalypticism, not to
say its impact on Ottoman politics and historiography. In order to try and
ll this lacuna this article will analyze two post-1453 works by an Ottoman mystic and scholar, Ahmed B-cn (d. after 1465; pronounced Beejaan): his Drr-i Meknn (The Hidden Pearl, hereafter DM) and
Mnteha (The Epilogue).1 Ahmed was inuenced by Byzantine and
Islamic apocalypticism; he also relied on works of divination ( jafr). He
believed that the conquest was a sign of the Last Hour (al-Sa), but he
also believed that Muslims and Ottomans had an important role to fulll
in the nal battles. Even though Ahmed passed away in the last quarter of
the fteenth century the new apocalypticism that he started (together
with its messianic overtones) would become especially relevant in the
context of the Ottoman-Habsburg and Ottoman-Safavid rivalries of the
sixteenth century. By interpreting Ottoman history within a cosmic/universal context, and by granting the Ottoman dynasty a world-historical
role, Ottoman apocalypticism left an indelible mark in the political imaginary of Ottoman imperialism.

The Conquest of Constantinople in Modern Turkish Historiography


In modern Ottoman/Turkish historiography the conquest of Constantinople is treated either as a landmark of Ottoman military superiority, a
sign of divine assistance, or the beginning of a process of empire building.
It has been argued, for instance, that the Ottoman conquest is a worldhistorical event that ushered in the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance.2 A typical account usually praises the military
1
For the Drr-i Meknn I will use a recent, quite detailed and comprehensive, critical
edition: Ahmed Bican Yazcolu, Drr-i Meknun: kritische Edition mit Kommentar, ed.
Laban Kaptein (Asch: self publication, 2007), hereafter Kaptein/DM. For the Mnteha,
the references are to the following manuscript, unless otherwise indicated: Sleymaniye
Library, ms. Hac Mahmud Efendi 1657.
2
A typical example is smail Hmi Dnimend, stanbul Fethinin nsan ve Meden
Kymeti (Istanbul: stanbul Fetih Cemiyeti, 1953). The work was meant to commemorate

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319

skills and gentlemanly qualities of Mehmed II (r. 1444-46, 1451-81), and


emphasizes the heroism and determination of the Ottoman army, but also
mentions its kindness towards the defeated.3 These narratives are meant
to provide a contrast to works by modern European historians in which
Constantinoples last hour is recounted as a tragic event.4 There are other
apologetic approaches that emphasize the religious aspects of the conquest. For instance, frequent references are made to a saying (hadith) that
is attributed to Prophet Muhammad: Constantinople shall be conquered
indeed; what a wonderful leader will that leader be, and what a wonderful
army will that army be.5 As will be discussed below, the bulk of Muhammads sayings about Constantinople have apocalyptic tones but these are
usually ignored.
Scholars without an explicit nationalist or religious agenda, on the
other hand, usually recognize the conquest as the event that started a process of urban, economic and political restructuring. This process eventually culminated in the construction of an Ottoman Empire, the
empowerment of the Ottoman sultan and his palace household, the emergence of a central administrative apparatus, etc.6 Even though the instituthe 500th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest. It was translated into English and French
and published the same year as, respectively, The Importance of the Conquest of Istanbul
for Mankind and Civilization, and, La valeur humanitaire et civilisatrice de la conqute de
Constantinople.
3
E.g. Selhattin Tansel, Osmanl Kaynaklarna Gre Fatih Sultan Mehmedin Siyas ve
Asker Faaliyeti (Ankara: Trk Tarih Kurumu, 1953), 63-111.
4
See, for example, Joseph Hammer von Purgstall, Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches
(Pest: C.A. Hartleben Verlag, 1827), vol. 1, von der Grndung des Osmanischen Reiches bis
zur Eroberung Constantinopels 1300-1453, 524-58; Kenneth M. Setton, The Papacy and
the Levant (1204-1571), vol. 2, The Fifteenth Century (Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society, 1978), 108-37; Franz Babinger, Mehmed der Eroberer und seine Zeit
(Munich: F. Bruckmann, 1953), 92-105; Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople,
1453 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1965). A somehow more balanced
account is found in Donald M. Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, 2nd
edition (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 369-93.
5
This approach is represented by works such as mer Nasuhi Bilmen, stanbulun
Tarihesi ve Sure-i Fetih Tefsiri (stanbul: Gelenek, 2003, originally published in 1953);
Necdet Ylmaz, ed., Deeri ve Tefsiri Asndan Fetih Hadisi: Feth-i Kostantiniyye (Istanbul:
Drulhadis, 2002); and especially Ahmet Araka, Konstantiniyye Fethi Hadisinin slam
Fetih Hareketlerine Etkisi ve Oluturduu Motivasyon, in I. Uluslararas stanbulun Fethi
Sempozyumu, Istanbul, 24-25 May 1996 (Istanbul: BB Kltr leri Daire Bakanl,
1997), 87-95.
6
For the most concise form of this argument see Halil nalck, Mehemmed II, Encyclopedia of Islam 2, electronic edition; relevant sections of idem., Istanbul, ibid.; idem.,

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tional approach is far superior to the apologetic one, it shares with it a


complete omission of the issue of apocalypticism. For scholars trying
to portray the conquest as one of the main historical achievements of
the Turkish nation, or to describe Mehmed II as a divinely anointed
ruler, the existence of Ottoman narratives that viewed the conquest as a
portent of the Last Hour is, obviously, not the most convenient subject.
Similarly, the proponents of the institutional approach cannot be expected
to assess the importance of attitudes and mentalities that were inspired
not by a relatively secular, almost positivistic teleology but by an eschatological one.
Stphane Yerasimos and Feridun Emecen are the only two scholars who
have discussed the weight of apocalyptic speculations in the Ottoman
realm around the time of the conquest. In his Lgendes dempire, Yerasimos provides a detailed study on the exchange of apocalyptic tropes
between the Islamic and Byzantine traditions, the migration of these
tropes into the Ottoman realm, and the emergence of distinctly Ottoman
apocalyptic narratives that center on Constantinople.7 He is also the editor, together with Benjamin Lellouch, of a volume of essays about the
apocalyptic signicance of Constantinople, as well as apocalypticism in
Anatolia, Byzantium and the Balkans before and during the rise to power
of the Ottomans.8 Feridun Emecen, in a work devoted to a thorough rereading and critique of the existing wisdom concerning the conquest,
aptly points to the awareness of contemporary Ottomans about these

The Policy of Mehmed II toward the Greek Population of Istanbul and the Byzantine
Buildings of the City, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 23 (1969-70): 229-49. For a more recent
example of this emphasis on institutionalization, see contributions by various authors in
Necat Birinci, ed., Fatih ve Dnemi / Mehmed II and His Period (Istanbul: Trk Kltrne
Hizmet Vakf, 2004). This approach also prevails in general works of Ottoman history. In
Caroline Finkels Osmans Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire (New York: Basic
Books, 2005), the chapter that deals with Mehmed IIs reign is entitled An Imperial
Vision (ibid., 48-80). Also see Colin Imber, The Ottoman Empire 1300-1650. The Structure of Power, second edition (Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
2009), 25 passim.
7
Stphane Yerasimos, Lgendes dempire: La fondation de Constantinople et de SainteSophie dans les traditions turques (Istanbul and Paris: Institut franais dtudes anatoliennes;
Librairie dAmrique et dOrient Jean Maisonneuve, 1990).
8
Benjamin Lellouch and Stphane Yerasimos, eds., Les traditions apocalyptiques au tournant de la chute de Constantinople: Actes de la Table ronde dIstanbul, 13-14 avril 1996
(Istanbul and Paris: Institut franais dtudes anatoliennes; LHarmattan, 1999).

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apocalyptic speculations, and to their eorts at dissimulating them.9


However, the author does not pursue the implications of this particular
nding. Yerasimos, on the other hand, tends to associate Ottoman apocalypticism with political dissent and does not recognize the ways in which
it legitimized the rule of the Ottoman dynasty.
Hidden behind the agendas of modern Turkish nationalism and Turkish political Islam, or seen as irrational and inconsequential by scholars
focusing on institution building, Ottoman apocalypticism shares the fate
of other post-1000 Muslim apocalyptical writings. David Cook, whose
recent work has led to a much-needed renewal of interest in Islamic apocalypticism, clearly states how dicult it was for modern scholars even to
recognize Islamic apocalypticism as a legitimate sub-section of Islamic
studies.10 Sad Amir Arjomand, who shares Cooks views that Islamic
apocalypticism has been largely ignored in modern scholarship, points to
another important misperception: Islamic apocalypticism, especially in its
Sunni variant, is usually accepted as having reached maturity around
1000. After this date apocalyptic movements, individuals and texts are
mostly studied within the context of, or as stemming from, Shiite Islam.11
This approach denies the centrality of apocalypticism in Sunni Muslim
cultures and societies and relegates it to marginal movements and groups.
The pro-Sunni bias that prevails in modern Islamic studies also permeates
the study of Ottoman religious thought and movements. The Ottoman
enterprise is often closely associated with Sunni Islam; apocalyptic and
messianic ideas are typically attributed to heterodox and Shiite religious
groups; and apocalyptic content found in explicitly Sunni works is often
downplayed as manifestations of traditional Islamic eschatology.12 This
selective reading of Sunni Islam, which purges it of all apocalyptic and
messianic beliefs, is belied by Ahmeds works. He describes himself as a
9

Feridun Emecen, stanbulun Fethi Olay ve Meseleleri (Istanbul: Kitabevi, 2003),


51-65.
10
David Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic (Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 2002),
29-33.
11
Sad Amir Arjomand, Islamic Apocalypticism in the Classical Period, in The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, eds. Bernard McGinn, John J. Collins, and Stephen J. Stein,
vol. 2, Apocalypticism in Western History and Culture, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York:
Continuum, 1999), 238.
12
For a typical representative of this approach see Ali Cokun, Mehdilik Fenomeni.
Osmanl Dnemi Dini Kurtulu Hareketleri zerine Bir Din Bilimi Aratrmas (Istanbul: z
Yaynclk, 2004).

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devout Sunni Muslim but does not have any qualms about referring to
the authority of important Shiite gures or, for that matter, the Byzantine
apocalyptic tradition. This is the reason why the study of his life and
works will not only help us better understand Ottoman mentalities
around the middle of the fteenth century, but will also contribute to the
study of post-classical Islamic apocalypticism. Finally, it will also revise
our understanding of what it meant to be a Sunni before the OttomanSafavid struggle of the sixteenth century turned Sunni and Shiite Islam
into mutually exclusive confessions and identities.

The Muslim Conquest as Apocalyptic Event


For contemporary observers, in 1453, the Ottoman conquest did not
simply signify the enmity between Islam and Christianity or the imperial
transition from Byzantium to the Ottoman Empire. For Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike it meant a warning about the proximity of the End
Time/the Last Hour. Apocalypticism was a very rich and quite popular
intellectual tradition throughout the history of the Byzantine Empire, and
the end of the empire was closely associated with the end of the world.13
The political, military and economic problems suered during the last
centuries of its existence gave a particular urgency to apocalypticism.14
Constantinoples capture by Arabs/Muslims was often associated with the
13

For Byzantine apocalypticism see Gerhard Podskalsky, Byzantinische Reicheschatologie: die Periodisierung der Weltgeschichte in den vier Grossreichen (Daniel 2 und 7) und dem
tausendjhrigen Friedensreiche (Apok. 20). Eine motivgeschichtliche Untersuchung (Munich:
Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1972); Cyril Mango, Byzantium. The Empire of New Rome (New
York, NY: Scribners Sons, 1980), 201-17; Paul Alexander, The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, ed. with an introduction by Dorothy de F. Abrahamse (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1984); Paul Magdalino, The History of the Future and Its Uses: Prophecy, Policy and Propaganda, in The Making of Byzantine History. Studies Dedicated to Donald M. Nicol, eds. Roderick Beaton and Charlotte Rouech (London: Centre for Hellenic
Studies, Kings College London/Aldershot: Variorum, 1993), 3-34; David Olster, Byzantine Apocalypses, in The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, 2: 48-73; Paul Magdalino, The
End of Time in Byzantium, in Endzeiten. Eschatologie in den Monotheistischen Weltreligionen, eds. Wolfram Brandes & Felicitas Schmieder (Berlin and New York: Walter de
Gruyter, 2008), 119-33.
14
For the apocalyptic atmosphere of the last centuries of Byzantium see Marie-Hlne
Congourdeau, Byzance et la n du monde. Courants de penses apocalyptiques sous les
Palologues, in Les traditions apocalyptiques au tournant de la chute de Constantinople, eds.
Lellouch and Yerasimos, 56-73.

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End Time in the Byzantine apocalyptic tradition. Moreover, since the earliest centuries of the empire, Constantinoples topography, its monuments, and anecdotes about its foundation had always fueled the res of
apocalyptic fears and expectations. The constriction of the empire to a
small area around Constantinople further magnied the apocalyptic role
attributed to the city.15 The Ottoman conquest of the city in 1453 happened a mere thirty-nine years before the seven-thousandth (and thus
nal) year of Creation according to the Byzantine tradition and, in the
words of Paul Magdalino, it required little imagination or juggling of the
gures to believe that the reign of Antichrist had arrived.16 The scholar
and clergyman Gennadios Scholarios, the rst Ottoman-anointed Orthodox patriarch, provided the readers of his Chronographia with this crucial
information;17 he consoled himself and his ock with the thought that
they did not have long to suer.18
Since the Byzantine apocalyptic tradition had become an integral part
of European apocalypticism in the centuries preceding 1453,19 the fall of
Constantinople led to a wave of renewed apocalyptic speculations in
15
For Constantinople as one of the central tropes in Byzantine apocalypticism, see
Gilbert Dagron, Constantinople imaginaire. tudes sur le recueil des Patria (Paris: Presses
universitaires de France, 1984), 323-30; Walter K. Hanak, Some Historiographical
Observations on the Sources of Nestor-Iskanders The Tale of Constantinople, in The Making of Byzantine History, eds. Beaton and Rouech (Aldershot, 1993), 35-45; idem., One
Source, Two Renditions: The Tale of Constantinople and Its Fall in 1453, Byzantinoslavica
62, no. 1 (2004): 239-50; Wolfram Brandes, Der Fall Konstantinopels als apokalyptisches Ereignis, in Geschehenes und Geschriebenes. Studien zu Ehren von Gnther S. Henrich und Klaus-Peter Matschke, eds. S. Kolditz and R. C. Mueller (Leipzig: Eudora-Verlag,
2005), 453-69; Albrecht Berger, Das apokalyptische Konstantinopel. Topographisches in
apokalyptischen Schriften der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit, in Endzeiten, eds. Brandes &
Schmieder, 135-55. Finally, Agostino Pertusis magisterial study deserves a special mention
here: Fine di Bisanzio e Fine del Mondo. Signicato e Ruolo Storico delle Profezie sulla
Caduta di Costantinopoli in Oriente e in Occidente, ed. posth. Enrico Morini (Rome: Istituto Palazzo Borromini, 1988).
16
Magdalino, The history of the future, 27.
17
For the Greek text and a French translation see Congourdeau, Byzance et la n du
monde, 74-97.
18
Hanak, Some Historiographical Observations, 43-4.
19
For the impact of the Byzantine apocalyptic tradition in medieval Europe, see Pertusi, Fine di Bisanzio e Fine del Mondo, 5-24, 62-67; Paul Alexander, The Diusion of
Byzantine Apocalypses in the Medieval West and the Beginnings of Joachimism, in
Prophecy and Millenarianism. Essays in Honour of Marjorie Reeves, ed. Ann Williams (Essex,
UK: Longman, 1980), 53-106.

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Europe as well. Medieval Europe was rife with prophecies about Muslims20
and later Turks. The Ottoman expansion in the Balkans, together with
the fall of Constantinople, infused these with particular immediacy. As
a result the late fteenth and sixteenth centuries witnessed a radical
increase in apocalyptic and prophetic speculation. Plans about restoring
Constantinople and Jerusalem to Christianity and establishing the Last
World Empire began to gure in the political agenda of every ambitious
monarch.21
Islamic apocalypticism, which grew in dialogue with pre-existing Near
Eastern apocalypses, borrowed a large number of themes from Byzantine
apocalypticism and produced its own synthesis.22 Two common tropes,
found in both Byzantine and Islamic traditions, are especially relevant for
the study of Ottoman apocalypticism:23 Constantinople,24 and the Blond
20
Medieval European apocalypticism incorporated the Saracens in its vision of the
end very early on, as shown by Jean Flori, LIslam et la n des temps: Linterprtation prophtique des invasions musulmanes dans la chrtient mdivale (Paris: Seuil, 2007), and especially 116-147.
21
See Jean Deny, Les pseudo-prophties concernant les Turcs au XVIe sicle, Revue
des tudes islamiques 10, no. 2 (1936): 201-20; Kenneth Setton, Western Hostility to Islam
and Prophecies of Turkish Doom (Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society, 1992),
15-27; Yoko Miyamoto, The Inuence of Medieval Prophecies on Views of the Turks.
Islam and Apocalypticism in the Sixteenth Century, Journal of Turkish Studies 17 (1993):
125-45; Pl Fodor, The View of the Turk In Hungary: The Apocalyptic Tradition and the
Legend of the Red Apple in Ottoman-Hungarian Context, in Les traditions apocalyptiques
au tournant de la chute de Constantinople, eds. Lellouch and Yerasimos, 99-131; Brinda
Charry, Turkish Futures: Phophecy and the Other, in The Uses of the Future in Early
Modern Europe, eds. Andrea Brady and Emily Butterworth (New York: 2010), 73-89.
22
For the apocalyptic exchange between Islam and other religious traditions, see Cook,
Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, 2-9; Hayrettin Ycesoy, Messianic Beliefs and Imperial Politics in Medieval Islam. The Abbsid Caliphate in the Early Ninth Century (Columbia, SC:
The University of South Carolina Press, 2009), 28-35. For the formative impact of the
Muslim-Byzantine wars on Islamic apocalypticism, see Wilferd Madelung, Apocalyptic
Prophecies in H ims in the Umayyad Age, Journal of Semitic Studies 31, no. 2 (Autumn
1986): 158-74; Suliman Bashear, Early Muslim-Byzantine Wars: A Review of Arabic
Sources, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 1, no. 2 (1991): 173-207; idem.,
Arabs and Others in Early Islam, Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam 8 (Princeton,
NJ: Darwin Press, 1997) throughout, and especially 123; Cook, op. cit., 66-80.
23
For a concise analysis of the conuences between Byzantine, Arab and Turkish traditions concerning Constantinople see Yerasimos, Lgendes dempire, 183-99.
24
For the transfer of themes about Constantinople from the Christian to the Muslim
tradition, and for the additions of Muslims, see Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic,
59-66. For specic studies on the function of Constantinople in the Islamic apocalyptic

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325

Peoples25 (Banu al-Asfar). Accordingly, the Muslim conquest of Constantinople was a portent of the end. This rst conquest would soon be followed by a counter-attack by the Blond Peoples, and the city would be
recovered by Christians. Muslims would retreat to Syria and/or the Arabian Peninsula, suer extreme casualties, and ultimately conquer the city
only after the descent of the Messiah and his leadership of the Muslim
armies. In the Byzantineand eventually Europeanapocalyptic tradition the Last Roman Emperor tamed the Blond Peoples (associated with
Nordic peoples) and eventually defeated the Ishmaelites with their help.
The Islamic tradition also recognized the Blond Peoples as the main enemies of Muslims in the nal apocalyptic battles. The Blond Peoples trope
traveled throughout Islamic history; it was initially applied to the Byzantines, and then to the Crusaders.
The Ottomans inherited these tropes, fears, and expectations and
applied them to their own realities. Even in the late eighteenth century, as
noted by the diplomat and historian Ignatius Mouradgea dOhsson, some
Ottomans were apprehensive of an eventual loss of Constantinople and a
retreat into Syria.26 In the sixteenth century, an Ottoman vizier interpreted the yellow eur-de-lis of the French crown as the sign of the Blond
Peoples, only to be told by an anxious French envoy that the Blond
Peoples were actually the Habsburgs Landsknecht troops wearing yellow
tradition see Armand Abel, Un Hadit sur la prise de Rome dans la tradition eschatologique
de lIslam, Arabica 5 (1958): 1-14; Louis Massignon, Textes prmonitoires et commentaires mystiques relatifs la prise de Constantinople par les Turcs en 1453 (=858 Hg),
Oriens 6, no. 1 (June 1953): 10-17. A summary of Arab views about Constantinople from
the rise of Islam onwards can be found in Nadia Maria El Cheikh, Byzantium Viewed by
Arabs, Harvard Middle Eastern Monographs XXXVI (Cambridge, Mass.: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, 2004), 60-71.
25
The Blond Peoples, mentioned in several apocalyptic hadith, very early became an
integral part of the Islamic apocalyptic tradition. See Ignaz Goldziher, Asfar, Encyclopedia of Islam 2, electronic edition; Ahmad M.H. Shboul, Byzantium and the Arabs: The
Image of the Byzantines as Mirrored in Arabic Literature, in Arab-Byzantine Relations in
Early Islamic Times, ed. Michael Bonner (Aldershot, GB & Burlington, VT: Ashgate/Variorum, 2004), 237, 238; Yerasimos, Lgendes dempire, 190-1. The Blond Peoples played an
important role in the Christian apocalyptic tradition as well, as shown by Pertusi, Fine di
Bisanzio e Fine del Mondo, 40-62 (the Blond Peoples in Byzantine traditions) and 62-109
(the Blond Peoples in Latin and Slavic traditions); Alexander, The Byzantine Apocalyptic
Tradition, 70, 161.
26
Ignatius Mouradgea dOhsson, Tableau gnral de lempire othoman, 7 volumes (Paris:
F. Didot, 1788-1824), 1: 425 passim.

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trousers.27 Indeed, in the rst half of the sixteenth century, apocalyptic


prophecies according Constantinople an important place in the nal battles widely circulated in the Ottoman capital. Some of these foretold an
imminent Ottoman demise at the hands of European Christians while
others promised an eventual victory and the emergence of the Ottoman
sultan Sleyman as a messianic ruler.28 More importantly, fteenth-century
Ottoman scholars, historians, dervishes, and political gures were aware
that the conquest represented more than a military achievement.
In a military council before the siege, some of the participants who
opposed the siege based their objections on the apocalyptic implications
of an eventual conquest. Mehmed IIs tutor and advisor, Akemseddin,
tried to appease these fears by saying that he had studied Muhammads
sayings, and concluded that Mehmed II would conquer the city while the
Blond Peoples would attack only in the distant future.29 The trope of the
Blond Peoples is also encountered in Mehmed IIs endowment deed (vakye), where the sultan is described as ghting against the forces of evil
represented by the Blond Peoples.30 On the other hand, as shown by Feridun Emecen, the persistence of these apocalyptic themes led to carefully
planned eorts at downplaying and/or ignoring the apocalyptic ramications of the event. The apocalyptic meaning of the conquest had become
the elephant in the room.
Akemseddin, Mehmed IIs tutor and advisor, was aware that this conspicuous silence was not the best answer to the problem. He thus led the
eorts in creating a new legacy for the conquest and the conqueror, a legacy that has been transferred in its entirety into the imagination of modern Turkish political Islam. For instance, in a letter to the sultan during
the siege, he interpreted a Quranic expression, baldatun tayyibatun (a fair
territory), as a divine sign that referred to the Ottoman conquest. He
supported his argument by stating that the numerical value of the letters,
857, signied the Islamic calendar year in which the city was besieged.31
27

Michel Balivet, Textes de n dempire, rcits de n du monde: A propos de quelques


thmes communs aux groupes de la zone byzantine-turque, in Les traditions apocalyptiques au tournant de la chute de Constantinople, eds. Lellouch and Yerasimos, 10.
28
Ibid., 10-11; Robert Finlay, Prophecy and Politics in Istanbul: Charles V, Sultan
Sleyman, and the Habsburg Embassy of 1533-1534, Journal of Early Modern History 2,
no. 1 (1998): 1-31; Cornell H. Fleischer, Shadows of Shadows: Prophecy and Politics in
1530s Istanbul, International Journal of Turkish Studies 13, nos. 1-2 (2007): 52-57.
29
Ylmaz, Deeri ve Tefsiri Asndan Fetih Hadisi, 70.
30
Babakanlk Osmanl Arivi, Ali Emiri, II. Mehmed 63.
31
Ylmaz, Deeri ve Tefsiri Asndan Fetih Hadisi, 58. The quote is from the Quran,

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In another letter, written during a particularly dicult stage of the siege,


Akemseddin comforted Mehmed II by saying that he interpreted the
Quran according to divinatory techniques and identied signs that
pointed to the Ottoman conquest.32 Finally, the same Akemseddin used
divinatory methods to discover the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari. Abu
Ayyub had been one of Muhammads earliest supporters, and he reputedly died of natural causes during a Muslim siege of Constantinople in
674. Following his request, his friends buried him under the walls of the
city. The discovery of his tomb was meant to establish a link between
Muhammad and the Ottoman dynasty, and the early Muslims and the
Ottoman army.
Akemseddins familiarity with divination and the science of letters
(hurf ) indicates that he was well-acquainted with the Muslim apocalyptic tradition, since these procedures, as it will be discussed below, were
part of the arsenal of every Muslim apocalyptist in the fteenth century.
His knowledge of Islamic apocalypticism probably motivated him and his
fellow scholars even further in creating alternative interpretations. One of
these alternative interpretations to emerge in this period relied on particular saying (hadith) by Muhammad: Constantinople shall be conquered
indeed; what a wonderful leader will that leader be, and what a wonderful
army will that army be.33 The objective was to neutralize the apocalyptic
signicance of the event and use the hadith to argue that Muhammad
himself congratulated in advance the Ottoman sultan and his soldiers.
This saying, believed by some scholars to be an Ottoman fabrication, is
not found in authoritative hadith collections such as those prepared by
al-Bukhari and Muslim.34 Most of Muhammads sayings on Constantinople
chapter 34 (Saba), verse 15. Akemseddins letter is in the Topkap Palace Archives, E. 5584;
it is reproduced in ibid., 71-3. The letter is signed Hzr and can thus be apocryphal or
manufactured later, but the information is important in showing Ottoman attempts at
creating an alternative set of prophecies around the conquest.
32
The letter is reproduced in Halil nalck, Fatih Devri zerinde Tetkikler ve Vesikalar,
3rd edition (Ankara: Trk Tarih Kurumu, 1995), 217-9.
33
See note 5 above.
34
J. H. Mordtmann (Al-Kustantiniyya, Encyclopedia of Islam 2, electronic edition)
argues that this hadith is mostly emphasized by fteenth- and sixteenth-century Ottoman
sources, and that older references are wanting; he thus implies that it was likely manufactured by the Ottomans in the rst half of the fteenth century. The hadith is actually
older, and can be traced back to Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. AH 241/CE 855), even though it
does not gure in the collections of Muslim and al-Bukhari. It was probably fabricated
during the Byzantine-Muslim wars in Syria. I am grateful to Mehmetcan Akpnar for
determining the origins of this particular hadith.

328

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have an apocalyptic tone and these are easily accessible in more popular
hadith collections.35 The Ottomans extensively used al-Bukhari and
Muslim. However, when it came to downplaying the apocalyptic signicance of the conquest, they ignored the more popular sayings and preferred to emphasize a relatively obscure hadith at the expense of the others.
Similarly, in letters sent to various Muslim rulers after the conquest, only
neutral sayings, those few that did not have an apocalyptic content,
were quoted.36
Ahmed radically diers from these Ottoman learned men because,
rather than veiling the apocalyptic meaning of the conquest, he preferred
to take it at face value. He had already dabbled in eschatology in works
written before the conquest. After the conquest, however, he espoused
eschatology as the history of the present. Especially in his DM he placed
the history of the Ottoman enterprise within an apocalyptic panorama
that he built thanks to Byzantine and Islamic apocalypticism as well as
divination. However, very much like the Ottoman learned men mentioned above, he lent his support to the ruling sultan, Mehmed II, whom
he portrayed as an apocalyptic warrior protecting Muslims from the
Blond Peoples. By attributing such a role to the sultan he also started a
process that would culminate, in the sixteenth century, in the creation of
a messianic and imperialist rhetoric around the Ottoman sultan Sleyman (r. 1520-1566).37
35

For a short assessment of these apocalyptic sayings, see Bashear, Early Muslim-Byzantine Wars: 178-80; for these sayings as reported in various authoritative sources, see
Isam Sayyid, ed., al-Fitan wa alamat akhir al-zaman lil-Imamayn al-Bukhari wa Muslim
(Giza: Maktabat al-Nadhah, 2003); Mustafa Adawi, ed., Al-sahih al-musnad min ahadith
al-tan wa al-malahima va ashrat-al-saa (Riyadh: Dar Balnasiyah lil-Nashr wa-al-Tawzi,
2002); Ahmad Muhammad Abd Allah Ali, Mashahid al-Qiyamah al-hadith al-nabawi
(Al-Mansourah: Dar-al-Wafa, 1991), especially 39-98.
36
Ahmet Ate, stanbulun Fethine Dair Fatih Sultan Mehmed Tarafndan Gnderilen
Mektuplar ve Bunlara Gelen Cevablar, Tarih Dergisi 4, no. 7 (1953): 11-50.
37
Ottoman messianic and apocalyptic thought in the sixteenth century has been masterfully studied by Cornell Fleischer. See his Bureaucrat and Intellectual in the Ottoman
Empire: The Historian Mustafa l (1541-1600) (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1986), 133-5, 138; idem., The Lawgiver as Messiah: The Making of the Imperial Image
in the Reign of Sleymn, in Sleymn the Magnicent and His Time, ed. Gilles Veinstein
(Paris: La Documentation Franaise, 1992), 159-74; idem., Mahdi and Millennium.
Messianic Dimensions in the Development of Ottoman Imperial Thought, in The Great
Ottoman-Turkish Civilization, vol. 3, Philosophy, Science and Institutions, ed. Kemal iek
(Ankara: Yeni Trkiye, 2000), 42-52. Also see Barbara Flemming, Shib-krn und
Mahd: Trkische Endzeiterwartungen im ersten Jahrzehnt der Regierung Sleymns, in

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329

Ahmed B-cn and the Ottoman Realm in the Fifteenth Century


We do not have a detailed account of Ahmeds life. He was born in the
last decades of the fourteenth century in Anatolia. He left the area twice,
the rst time for attending school in Egypt, and the second time for a pilgrimage to Mecca. During his lifetime he was widely known as Ahmed
B-cn. B-cn means lifeless in Ottoman Turkish; he was given this
nickname for his pallid appearance, a result of years of ritual fasting. He
spent most of his life in a dervish lodge in Gallipoli, together with his
brother Mehmed. The brothers are known as Yazczade, i.e. the scribes
sons, on account of their father Salihs work as a scribe in the retinue of
an Ottoman pasha. Mehmed passed away in 1451, and Ahmed after
1465. They were both members of the Bayrami order of dervishes, and
Mehmed appears to have become one of the orders prominent gures in
the decades following the death of its founder, Hac Bayram, in 1429. In
near-contemporary Ottoman biographical dictionaries as well as modern
works, Ahmed and Mehmed are shown considerable respect for their religious devotion, spiritual purity, and scholarly achievements.38 This image
agrees with Ahmeds presentation of himself in his works where he often
describes himself as a man who rejects worldly pleasures and devotes all
his time to prayer and contemplation.
Ahmed lived through a dicult period of the Ottoman enterprise. The
Ottoman polity almost disintegrated at the hands of Timur at the Battle
of Ankara in 1402. The ensuing interregnum, during which competing
Ottoman princes fought each other in Anatolia and the Balkans, lasted
from 1402 to mid-1413. Mehmed I (r. 1413-1421), ascending the throne
in 1413, had to follow a careful policy of restoring the authority of the
Ottoman sultan while accommodating various local powers. Murad II
(r. 1421-1444, 1446-1451) was faced with two rebellions by Ottoman
princes, in 1421-2 and then in 1423. The rest of his reign was spent ghting against newly resurgent enemies in Anatolia and the Balkans. Mehmed
II (r. 1444-46, 1451-81), the future conqueror of Constantinople, spent
Between the Danube and the Caucasus, ed. Gyrgy Kara (Budapest: Akadmiai Kiad,
1987), 43-62; idem., Public Opinion under Sultan Sleymn, in Sleymn the Second
and His Time, eds. Halil nalck and Cemal Kafadar (Istanbul: Isis, 1993), 49-58.
38
For biographical information about the Yazczade brothers, written with a not very
scholarly admiration, see Amil elebiolu and Kemal Eraslan, Yazc-olu, slam Ansiklopedisi, XIII: 363; Yazcolu Mehmed, Muhammediye, ed. Amil elebiolu, 2 vols.
(stanbul: Milli Eitim Bakanl Yaynlar, 1996), 1: 9-42.

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K. ahin / Journal of Early Modern History 14 (2010) 317-354

two years on the Ottoman throne between 1444-46, when his exhausted
father Murad II abdicated in his favor. Murad had to return in 1446 to
fend o yet another oensive on the Balkan front, and Mehmed denitively became the Ottoman sultan at the death of his father in 1451.39
During his reign the Ottoman polity reached unprecedented military and
economic power, and the political and cultural prestige of the Ottoman
dynasty increased.
The birth of Ottoman historiography is closely related to the urge to
evaluate the cataclysmic developments that rocked the Ottoman realm in
the eventful fteenth century.40 However, the potential relationship between
apocalypticism and history-writing or a simple sense of history has not
been addressed. Notable scholars of apocalypticism such as Paul Alexander41 and Bernard McGinn have touched upon the close relationship
between apocalyptic mentality and historical consciousness. The depiction of history in apocalypses is heavily colored by the authors [k]nowledge of Gods plan and current events are presented in relation to the
coming end.42 It is possible to over-emphasize the historical aspects of an
apocalyptic text at the expense of its eschatological content.43 On the
39

For further details about this period, see Halil nalck, The Ottoman Empire. The
Classical Age 1300-1600 (New York & Washington: Praeger Publishers, 1973), 17-22;
M. A. Cook, ed., A History of the Ottoman Empire to 1730 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 24-31; Halil nalck, Mehemmed I, Encyclopedia of Islam 2, electronic edition; J. H. Kramers, Murad II, ibid; Finkel, Osmans Dream, 27-47. For the
diculties faced by the Ottomans in the Balkans in this period, see Halil nalck, The
Struggle for the Balkans, 1421-1451, in A History of the Crusades, ed. Kenneth Setton,
vol. 6, The Impact of the Crusades on Europe, eds. Harry W. Hazard and Norman P. Zacour
(Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 254-75.
40
For the Ottoman historiography of the period, see Halil nalck, The Rise of Ottoman Historiography, in Historians of the Middle East, eds. B. Lewis and P. M. Holt (New
York and London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 152-67; Victor L. Mnage, The
Beginnings of Ottoman Historiography, in ibid., 168-79. For a refreshing discussion on
Ottoman historical works in the fteenth century and a critical assessment of modern
debates on Ottoman historiography see Cemal Kafadar, Between Two Worlds. The Construction of the Ottoman State (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995), 90-117.
41
Cf. his seminal article, Medieval Apocalypses as Historical Sources, American Historical Review 73, no. 4 (April 1968): 997-1018.
42
Bernard McGinn, Introduction: Johns Apocalypse and the Apocalyptic Mentality,
in The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, eds. Bernard McGinn and Richard Emmerson (Ithaca
and London: Cornell University Press, 1992), 9.
43
This risk of over-historicizing an apocalyptic text is discussed, in the case of Islamic
apocalypticism, in Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, 33-5. In order to overcome this

K. ahin / Journal of Early Modern History 14 (2010) 317-354

331

other hand, as David Cook states, the Muslim apocalyptist, while his
writing is heavily biased by his political-theological standpoint, is far better equipped [than the Muslim historian] to stand back and give an interpretation of the events to which he is a witness.44 In this regard, Ahmeds
identication of the conquest as the portent of the Last Hour, his reading
of contemporary history within the scheme of prophecies, and his ultimate identication of Mehmed II as one of the actors of the nal battles
can be seen as stemming from an urge to produce a cohesive historical
explanation about the fortunes of the Ottoman enterprise.
Ahmed was also inuenced by, and reacted to, another dynamic: the
emergence of a new reading public and the wider use of the Turkish vernacular.45 Ahmed and his brother Mehmed assumed the task of providing
the people of their land (bu bizim ilin kavmi) with vernacular compendia. Ahmeds Envrul-kn (The Lights of the Beloveds/Mystics, hereafter Envar) and Acibul-mahlkt (The Wonders of Creation) or his
brother Mehmeds Muhammediye (The Book of Muhammad), all written before 1453, can be interpreted, among other things, as outcomes of
this self-appointed mission.46 The sociological prole and reading habits
of this new reading public have yet to be ascertained. (Obviously practices
such as reading aloud and listening were widespread as well.) Administrators and scholars had a working knowledge of reading, of course. The
brothers insistence on becoming a bridge between the learning of the
Islamic world as expressed in Arabic and Persian and the simple Turkish
of the Ottoman readers also shows that the targeted audience included
risk, says John C. Reeves, the textual and religious milieu in which the apocalyptic narrative is produced has to be accounted for: Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic. A Postrabbinic Jewish Apocalypse Reader (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006), 3-7.
44
Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, 35.
45
The fteenth century witnessed, to use an expression by Alessio Bombaci, the birth
of an Anatolian koine which was a result of translations from Arabic and Persian as well as
original compositions: Alessio Bombaci, Histoire de la littrature turque, trans. Irne
Mliko (Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck, 1968), 244.
46
For Ahmeds own words about this mission see Ahmed B-cn, Envrul-kn
(Istanbul: Matbaa-yi Osmaniyye, 1301 AH/1883-84 CE), 3-5; Acibul-mahlkt, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, ms. Borgiani Turco 27, 1b; Mnteha, 3b-4b. On this particular
activity of the Yazczade brothers, also see Tijana Krstic, Narrating Conversions to Islam:
The Dialogue of Texts and Practices in Early Modern Ottoman Balkans (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 2004), 45-51, 57. I agree with Krstics suggestion that this
mission can be partly interpreted as a form of vernacular religious preaching in the midst
of an ever-expanding Ottoman polity.

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K. ahin / Journal of Early Modern History 14 (2010) 317-354

their fellow mystics (most of whom would not necessarily read Arabic
and/or Persian), certain sections of the urban population and also, quite
probably, new converts to Islam. The existence of a new reading public
also means that the DMs apocalyptic narrative could reach a fairly large
number of readers. This explains the tone of urgency and the condence
about the nearness of the Last Hour that is characteristic of the DMs
apocalyptic sections: Ahmed speaks, in the DM, as a relatively established
author who knows that his work will be widely circulated, and he desires
to warn as many readers as possible.

Apocalyptic Anities
Just as Ahmed reacted to new historical realities and the rise of a new
reading public, he was also inuenced by religious movements, beliefs,
and mentalities that exerted a major impact on the Islamic world in the
fourteenth and fteenth centuries. He lived in a world in which messianic
movements played an important role; he dwelled in an intellectual environment where divination and prophecy were familiar subjects for every
learned individual. Anatolia itself had been the scene of religiously-motivated rebellions and movements in recent history. The religious revolts
and the Mongol invasion of the mid-thirteenth century, the decline and
fall of the ruling Seljuk house, the tensions between the Mongol governors of Anatolia and their overlords in Iran, and the inux of new Turkic
tribes provided ample material to apocalyptists in the centuries before
Ahmeds birth.47 During his lifetime eyh Bedreddin (d. 1416) and his
followers started a messianic religio-political movement that created considerable upheaval in Western Anatolia and the Balkans.48 These ideas had
47
Apocalyptic rumors already circulated in Anatolia in the centuries preceding the capture of Constantinople: Flemming, Shib-krn und Mahd, 45-6; Irne Beldiceanu,
Pchs, calamits et salut par le triomphe de lIslam: le discours apocalyptique relatif
lAnatolie (n XIIIe-n XVe s.), in Les traditions apocalyptiques au tournant de la chute de
Constantinople, eds. Lellouch and Yrasimos, 19-33; Balivet, Textes de n dempire, rcits
de n du monde, in op. cit., 8.
48
Bedreddin today is variously reviled as a heretic, praised as a primitive communist,
or rehabilitated as a Sunni scholar whose views were misinterpreted. For a detailed bibliography of Bedreddin studies and a critical view of ahistorical approaches to Bedreddin
see Tayfun Atay, zmlenememi Bir Tarih Sorunu: eyh Bedreddin, in Sosyal Bilimleri An. Yeni Bir Kavraya Doru, eds. Kaya ahin, Semih Skmen, Tanl Bora (Istanbul:
Metis-Birikim, 1998), 161-79.

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333

an impact not only among scholars and dervishes, but the ruling classes as
well. It has been mentioned above that the Ottoman sultan and his entourage were keenly aware of the new politico-religious ideas. For instance,
in Abdlvs elebis Hallnme, presented to Mehmed I in 1414, the
Ottoman sultan was compared to the Messiah (Mehdi), like whom he
ruled over Muslims with justice and conquered new lands.49 In yet another testimony to these new politico-religious ideas, the Aqquyunlu sultan
Uzun Hasan (r. 1453-78), who ruled over a large swath of territory in
Eastern Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and Iran, utilized political astrology, the
science of letters as well as apocalyptic and messianic arguments to legitimize his reign.50
It is possible to identify, in Ahmeds case, two more immediate inuences. First of all, his father Salih was well-versed in the arts of foretelling
the future by interpreting various signs, and he produced a detailed study
of natural and atmospheric events, days and months and their specic
meanings.51 Second, Ahmed probably came into contact with apocalyptic
texts and milieus while studying in Egypt. In the sixteenth chapter of the
DM, he refers to a book that includes information about the Hidden
Things. He states that this book, written in verse, was preserved in Egypt
and intimates that he had access to the books contents.52 The existence of
such a milieu in Egypt is supported by the fact that the two most important gures of Ottoman messianism and apocalypticism in the fteenth
century, the above-mentioned eyh Bedreddin and Abd al-Rahman Bistami (d. 1454 or 1455), studied in Egypt.
There are no references to Bedreddin in Ahmeds works but Bistami is
mentioned with particular reverence; his Miftah al-Jafr al-Jami (The Key
to All Divination, hereafter Miftah) is Ahmeds main source for divination.53 Bistamis works on the science of letters (ilm al-huruf ) and divina49

Dimitris Kastritsis, The Sons of Bayezid: Empire Building and Representation in the
Ottoman Civil War of 1402-1413 (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 217-18, 221-22.
50
John Woods, The Aqquyunlu. Clan, Confederation, Empire, rev. and expanded edition
(Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999), 102-6.
51
Yazc Salahddin Salih b. Sleyman el-Malkaravi, emsiyye, Sleymaniye Library,
ms. Laleli 2140.
52
The great Muslim scholar and social observer of the fourteenth century, Ibn Khaldun, also came across books of prophecy in Egypt (Denis Gril, Lnigme de la Sagara alnumaniyya l-dawla al-uthmaniyya, attribue Ibn Arabi, in Les traditions apocalyptiques
au tournant de la chute de Constantinople, eds. Lellouch and Yerasimos, 143).
53
For Bistami, see Denis Gril, Esotrisme contre hrsie: Abd al-Rahmn al-Bistm,

334

K. ahin / Journal of Early Modern History 14 (2010) 317-354

tion ( jafr) were very popular in the Islamic world and especially in the
Ottoman territories, as shown by the large number of his manuscripts
found in Ottoman libraries.54 Miftah was the main inspiration behind
Ottoman apocalypticism and messianism in the sixteenth century.55
Ahmeds reliance on Bistami indicates that, already around the middle of
the fteenth century, Ottoman literati had begun to use his work.
Ahmeds ample use of Bistamis work also helps us establish the connections between the nascent Ottoman apocalypticism of the mid-fteenth
century and the Ottoman messianism of the sixteenth.
Anatolia was not the only place in the Islamic world to fall under the
sway of apocalyptic and messianic inuences. There was a resurgence of
messianic expectations all over the Islamic world in the period following
the Mongol invasions.56 In Iran, Eastern Anatolia and Mesopotamia, in
the fourteenth and fteenth centuries, there were a series of religious
movements that dabbled in messianism, the science of letters, or ideas
such as abolishing confessional boundaries and creating a new, universal
religion. The belief that the Last Hour was near was an important element
in most of these new religious discourses. This interest in apocalypticism
was also observed in Syria and Egypt, as shown by the popularity of works
by, for instance, Ibn Kathir (1301-1373).57 These movements have traditionally been studied as precursors to the rise of the Shiite Safavids in the
un reprsentant de la science des lettres Bursa dans la premire moiti du XV e sicle, in
Syncrtismes et hrsies dans lOrient seldjoukide et ottoman (XIV e-XVIII e sicle), Actes du
Colloque du Collge de France, October 2001, ed. Gilles Veinstein (Paris: Peeters, 2005),
183-95; hsan Fazlolu, lk dnem Osmanl ilim ve kltr hayatnda hvnus saf ve
Abdurrahman Bistm, Dvn lm Aratrmalar Dergisi 2 (1996): 229-240; Cornell H.
Fleischer, Ancient Wisdom and New Sciences in the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries, in Falnama: The Book of Omens, ed. Massumeh Farhad (London: Thames & Hudson, 2010), 231-43.
54
Touc Fahd, La divination arabe: tudes religieuses, sociologiques et folkloriques sur le
milieu natif de lIslam (Paris and Leiden: Brill, 1966), 228-30.
55
This point is discussed and proven by Cornell Fleischer in his Seer to the Sultan:
Haydar-i Remmal and Sultan Sleyman, in Cultural Horizons/Kltr Ufuklar. A Festschrift in Honor of Talat S. Halman, ed. Jayne L. Warner, 2 vols. (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2001), 1: 290-99.
56
Arjomand, Islamic Apocalypticism in the Classical Period, 275.
57
Ibn Kathir, Ahwal yawm al-qiyamah, ed. Yusuf Ali Budiwi (Damascus and Beirut:
al-Yamamah, 2000); idem., Nihayat al-bidayah wa-al-nihayah al-tan wa-al-malahim,
2 vols., ed. Muhammad Fahim Abu Ibbiyah (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Nasr al-Hadithah,
1968). The lands of the Byzantine Empire as well as Syria are named as the battlegrounds
in the apocalyptic battles before the Last Hour in I: 72-79.

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335

Middle East around 1500, and they have been labeled as heterodox.58
This traditional approach, which tends to identify every deviation from
orthodoxy with Shiite tendencies, has been already identied and criticized by Arjomand. Recent, much-needed studies by Shahzad Bashir,
Mohammad Masad, and Evrim Binba nally began to ll an important
lacuna by addressing the popularity of messianic and apocalyptic movements in the post-Mongol Islamic world beyond the connes of the traditional approach.59 It is now possible to ascertain that these new ideas
exerted an impact over scholars, literati and others who described themselves as Sunnis but who did not have any qualms about extending the
frontiers of their knowledge, such as Ibn Kathir, Abd al-Rahman Bistami,
and Ahmed himself.

Reading the Drr-i Meknn: Authorship, Composition Date,


and Contents
The text of the DM does not include the name of its author or the date of
its composition. Despite this initial anonymity, various manuscripts of
the work, preserved in Turkish and European collections, are listed under
Ahmeds name. Among the three scholars who recently studied the DM
this anonymity has been remarked upon only by Laban Kaptein60 while
Necdet Sakaolu and Stphane Yerasimos assumed, on the basis of the
works being traditionally attributed to Ahmed, that he is the author. This
58
Biancamaria Scarcia Amorettis Religion in the Timurid and Safavid Periods (The
Cambridge History of Iran, ed. Harold Bailey, vol. 6, The Timurid and Safavid Periods, ed.
Peter Jackson and Laurence Lockhart [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986],
especially 610-34), despite its great scholarly merit, is a typical example of the approach
that reduces these new political movements to proto-Shiism and limits their impact over
and appeal for self-described Sunnis in this period.
59
Shahzad Bashir, Deciphering the Cosmos from Creation to Apocalypse: The Huruyya Movement and Medieval Islamic Esotericism, in Imagining the End, ed. Abbas
Amanat (London: I.B. Tauris, 2002), 168-84; idem., Messianic Hopes and Mystical Visions.
The Nurbakhshiya between Medieval and Modern Islam (Columbia, SC: South Carolina
University Press, 2003); Mohammad Ahmad Masad, The Medieval Islamic Apocalyptic
Tradition: Divination, Prophecy and the End of Time in the 13th Century Mediterranean
(Ph.D. dissertation, Washington University at St. Louis, 2008); lker Evrim Binba,
Sharaf al-Dn Ali Yazd (ca. 770s-858/ca. 1370s-1454): Prophecy, Politics, and Historiography in Late Medieval Islamic History (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago,
2009).
60
Kaptein/DM, 45-7 passim.

336

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anonymity is meaningful since, in all three Abrahamic religions, it is an


oft-encountered characteristic of an apocalyptic text. On the other hand,
the text itself gives enough clues to ascertain that Ahmed is indeed the
author. A comparison of some passages in the DM with the Envar strongly
suggests that the author of the two texts is the same person.61 There is also
a thematic conuence between the DM and Ahmeds other works. His
focus on cosmology, creation, the wonders of the world, Susm, eschatology, salvation, and piety nds an ultimate expression in the DM, but this
expression culminates in apocalypticism.
The date of the DMs composition is not provided in the work but,
once again, there are a few clues that clearly show it was written around
the middle of the fteenth century and, very likely, after 1453. The inclusion of various anecdotes about the history and physical characteristics of
Constantinople made Stphane Yerasimos conclude that the work must
have been composed after 1453 and before 1465, the date of Ahmeds last
known work.62 Laban Kaptein more or less concurs with Yerasimos on the
date; in his critical edition, he discusses the philological and linguistic
aspects of the work and shows that it is a product of the Ottoman literate
milieu of the fteenth century.63 Ahmeds reference to Abd al-Rahman
Bistami as having passed away shows that the DM was indeed written
after 1454/1455, the date of Bistamis passing. Finally, references to
Mehmed IIs sultanate, and the important place accorded to Constantinople and the coming of the Last Hour also indicate a post-1453 date of
composition.
The DM is distinct from Ahmeds previous works with regard to its
tone of urgency and the authors calls to his fellow Muslims that the end
61

A reference to a hadith by Muhammad, reportedly taken from Ibn Arabis Ruh


al-Kuds, is found both in Envar and the DM (Envar, 385; Kaptein/DM, 575). A discussion of the signs of the Last Hour in Envar and some passages in the DM use a similar
language, to the extent of including the same expressions. Cf. Envar, 298: Halkn zerine
bir zaman gele ki slamdan resmi kala ve Kurann ismi kala; Kaptein/DM, 560: mmetimin zerine bir zaman gele ki dinin ad kala slamn resmi kala Kurann ismi kala.
62
Yerasimos, Lgendes dempire, 61, 105, 203.
63
Kaptein/DM, 44-66. In a work dedicated to the study of the Dejjal (the Deceiver)
in the Islamic tradition Kaptein already argued that the DM was composed around
1455-56: Laban Kaptein, Eindtijd en Antichrist (ad-Daggl) in de Islam Eschatologie bij
Ahmed Bcn ( ca. 1466) (Leiden: Onderzoekschool CNWS, Rijksuniversiteit Leiden,
1997), 274. I was able to read only the English summary (ibid., 273-77), appended at the
end of the Dutch original. Kaptein states in the English summary that he discusses the
problem of the composition date in Chapter 3.1.

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337

is indeed near. In the introduction, the author presents himself as a man


of knowledge (ilm) who stays away from the hypocrisy (riya) of his age.
He states that he gathered true wealth, i.e. religious knowledge, which he
spends to educate others. He argues that this wealth distinguishes him
from those who vainly build mosques and hospices to leave their names
to posterity.64 In the last chapter of the work, the author once again
repeats that life in this world is transitory, and that good Muslims should
prepare for the afterlife.65 He then warns his readers that events described
in the previous sections (i.e. the attack of the Blond Peoples and the ensuing battles, the Last Hour, the Resurrection, and the Last Judgment) are
bound to happen soon. This aspect of the work is in tune with other
Islamic apocalypses, whose authors usually try to instigate a change of
outlook among their readers.66
The DM is an encyclopedic work that provides information about Creation, the wondrous creatures that inhabit the Earth, Alexander the Great
and the prophet-king Solomon, the cities of the world, divination, and
eschatology. From its introduction to its nal chapter it constitutes a
streamlined narrative that proceeds from creation to destruction. The life
of the world and the fate of humanity are presented in an introduction
and eighteen chapters (bb). The rst chapter is on skies, the throne and
the footstool, the tablet and stylus, paradise and hell, moon, day and stars,
and angels.67 This chapter mostly reproduces information found in other
medieval Islamic cosmologies.68 Similar themes continue in the second
chapter on Earth, the wonders and creatures of Earth, and Hell.69 These
sections about creation and cosmology provide the rst part of the apocalyptic scaolding. As Walter Schmithals argued, cosmology is particularly
64

Kaptein/DM, 349-50.
Op. cit., 582-3.
66
Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, 19-20: The Muslim apocalyptist seeks to create a sequence of events that leads up to a nal decisive point that is so shattering to his
audience that the result of the experience is a change of outlook. Doubtless this would
involve people seeing that their everyday lives are insignicant in comparison to the
immediate fact of Judgment Day, and the tribulations accompanying it.
67
DM/Kaptein, 354-79.
68
For a comparison with Islamic cosmologies, see A. Heinen, Islamic Cosmology. A
Study of as-Suyutis al-Haya as-saniya l-haya as-sunniya (Beirut and Wiesbaden:
F. Steiner, 1982), 84-8, 94-106; Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Cosmology: Basic Tenets
and Implications, Yesterday and Today, in Science and Religion in Search of Cosmic Purpose, ed. John F. Haught (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2000), 42-57.
69
DM/Kaptein, 380-95.
65

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important for the apocalyptist since it shows to the readers the unchangeable laws set forth by God, and invites them to read the ensuing apocalyptic speculations within the same context.70
Historical concerns appear with the third chapter (On this earth and
its creatures).71 At the very beginning, it is announced that world history
is divided into ten periods of seven thousand years and that the coming of
Adam is the beginning of the tenth and last period of seven thousand
years.72 This is followed by a short treatment of the history of prophets. It
starts with the Fall and extends to the time of Muhammad, announced as
the last prophet. Other important gures such as Noah and his sons,
Moses, Zachary, Joseph, and Jesus are presented in simple sketches.
The fourth chapter (On the science of geometry, climes, days and
hours)73 is followed by one on the wonders of mountains.74 The sixth
chapter is on seas and islands;75 the seventh chapter narrates various anecdotes about the cities of the world (and most notably Constantinople);
and the eighth chapter deals with the construction of the temple of Solomon, the Church of Saint Sophia, and the Kaba in Mecca.76 As Yerasimos
argues in his discussion of DM, the seventh and eighth chapters show the
authors anity with the Byzantine tradition since he reproduces themes
found in Byzantine sources about the foundation of Constantinople.77
The ninth chapter focuses on the prophet-king Solomon and his
achievements. In the tenth chapter, the story of Solomon and the Queen
of Sheba is narrated. The eleventh chapter gives some information about
physiognomy and the life spans of various creatures; the twelfth chapter is
a collection of stories about cities and individuals that have been objects
of Gods wrath; and the thirteenth chapter includes information on the
medicinal uses of various plants. The fourteenth chapter reprises the
theme of geographical wonders, apparitions, and historical anecdotes,
while the fteenth chapter reproduces the story of the legendary bird
Simurg.78
70
Walter Schmithals, The Apocalyptic Movement. Introduction & Interpretation, trans.
John E. Steely (Nashville & New York: Abingdon Press, 1975), 19.
71
Kaptein/DM, 396-417.
72
Op. cit., 396.
73
Op. cit., 418-24.
74
Op. cit., 426-33.
75
Op. cit., 434-42.
76
Op. cit., 444-73.
77
Yerasimos, Lgendes dempire, 68-9, 104, 110-1.
78
Kaptein/DM, 474-544.

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339

The apocalyptic core of the DM is found in the sixteenth and seventeenth chapters of the work. The sixteenth chapter is on the mysteries of
the science of divination ( jafr), news about the world, portents of
divination,79 and the seventeenth chapter focuses on the signs of the Last
Hour.80 The work ends with an eighteenth chapter, which is comprised of
a long prayer and praise of Muhammad. Here the author issues a stern
warning to his fellow Muslims and assures them that the tribulations
described previously are about to begin.81

Contents of Ahmeds Apocalypticism


The apocalyptic message of the DM consists of a number of interrelated
but distinct layers. The author identies various social and religious ills in
his society and believes these to be among the signs of the Last Hour; he
tries to determine the exact date of the end with reference to the Byzantine and Islamic traditions as well as divination ( jafr); he acknowledges
the conquest of Constantinople as a sign of the Last Hour and heavily
relies on the Byzantine tradition to establish the citys inauspiciousness; he
determines, again on the basis of divination, the nature and details of the
struggles that will pit the Muslims against the Blond Peoples; nally, he
identies the Ottoman sultan, Mehmed II, as an important actor in these
struggles. The important building blocks of Ahmeds apocalyptic narrative
are discussed below.
The moral apocalypse
The DM can be read, among other things, as a nal call to repentance
before the impending Last Judgment. The author complains that piety is
rare, that judges take bribes instead of administering justice, administrators are oppressive and treacherous, and that women stroll alone in streets
and marketplaces and merchants cheat on prices. He is especially bothered by the attitude of religious scholars, who completely surrendered to
this corrupt society for fear of losing their privileges.82 These moral and
religious criticisms are spread throughout the work, but they become
especially pertinent in the context of the later chapters. The seventeenth
79
80
81
82

Op. cit., 546-56.


Op. cit., 558-78.
Op. cit., 580-84.
Op. cit., 560, 495-6, 558-60.

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chapter, a study of the portents of the Last Hour, begins with a long diatribe on contemporary society.83 This long passage is all the more interesting when it is compared to similar passages from Ahmeds Envar, or his
brother Mehmeds Muhammediye. In both works, the social and moral ills
that will precede the Last Hour are mentioned very briey, and are not
necessarily associated with the authors own society.84 In the DM, on the
other hand, moral concerns are directed against contemporary society,
and they eventually provide an introduction to more serious considerations. In a way, the author uses the more familiar and popular trope of
moral decay to bring his audience into his discussion of the End. This
rather generic form of social criticism, encountered in the majority of
Islamic apocalypses, has been categorized by David Cook as the moral
apocalypse.85
How should these moral criticisms be interpreted? David Cook believes
that these are oft-used tropes, while Stphane Yerasimos, in his Lgendes
dempire, argues that these moral criticisms make the author an opponent
of the new Ottoman imperial project centered on Constantinople.86 For a
work that is composed between 1455 and 1465, however, it is somehow
early to correctly diagnose such a recent development as the foundation
of an imperial polity and to take a position against it. More importantly,
in his Mnteha, Ahmed portrays Mehmed II as the protector and leader
of Muslims who is poised to conquer Rome (see below). It is possible that
later readers saw in the DMs moralistic harangues a condemnation of the
Ottoman enterprise per se, but these passages of the work reect a generic
form of social and religious criticism rather than political opposition.
Bernard McGinn has eloquently addressed the problem of interpreting
the moral criticisms of the apocalyptists. Some apocalyptic texts are not a
reaction to a shattering crisis, but rather an accommodation to a new positive situation, such as the conversion of the Roman Empire or the rise of
the Reform Papacy . . . It is not so much crisis in itself, as any form of
83
Op. cit., 560. These diatribes are in tune with various apocalyptic texts studied by
David Cook. Cf. Cook, Studies in Islamic Apocalyptic, 241, 317-8.
84
See Envar, 368; Muhammediye, 313.
85
For a very good summary of the issue of moral apocalypse in the Islamic tradition,
see David Cook, Moral Apocalyptic in Islam, Studia Islamica 86 (1997): 37-69; idem.,
Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, 230-68. For a comparison of Ahmeds criticisms with other
works in the Islamic tradition, see Cooks selection of texts that display this characteristic
in ibid., 333-44.
86
Yerasimos, Lgendes dempire, 61, 69, 195-6.

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341

challenge to the established understanding of history, that creates the situation in which apocalyptic forms and symbols, either inherited or newly
minted, may be invoked.87 Similar examples are found in Islamic history
as well. For instance, in the period immediately following the Mongol
sack of Baghdad in 1258 and the rise of the Mamluks of Egypt to prominence, an apocalyptic and messianic imagery was used to adapt to the
existing crisis and legitimize Baybars (r. 1260-1277) as the Mamluk sultan.88 In the case of Ahmed too, the main motivation was not to stand
against the Ottoman enterprise by producing its moral critique but rather
use the tropes of moral apocalypticism to create a readiness among his
readers for the message that he intended to deliver.
The Chronology of the End
The laments of the moral apocalyptist may apply to any human society at
any given time. The certainty, supported by various chronological proofs,
that the End is at hand, is a dierent matter. For this purpose Ahmed uses
prophetic sayings (hadith), the chronological calculations of the Byzantine
and Islamic traditions, and dates provided through divination. The central idea is that the lifespan of the world was determined by God at the
time of the Creation and that this lifespan is about to end.
Even though the nearness of the End, particularly emphasized by the
fact that Muhammad is the last prophet, permeates Islam from the very
beginning, it is also generally accepted that the exact time of the Last
Hour is known only by God.89 However, as David Cook argues, merely
watching the signs and portents of the End was not prohibited, and even
encouraged.90 The idea that the exact date was only known to God was
also diluted by a number of hadith that provided the faithful with chronological approximations.

87
Bernard McGinn, Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1979), 31.
88
Remke Kruk, History and Apocalypse: Ibn al-Nas Justication of Mamluk Rule,
Der Islam, 72, no. 2 (1995): 325-37; Denise Aigle, Les inscriptions de Baybars dans le
Bild al-m. Une expression de la lgitimit du pouvoir, Studia Islamica 97 (2003):
57-85.
89
Suliman Bashear, Muslim Apocalypses and the Hour: A Case Study in Traditional
Reinterpretation, Israel Oriental Studies 13 (1999): 80.
90
Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, 19.

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Ahmed indeed uses a number of prophetic sayings. For instance, he


says that Muhammads coming is in itself a sign that the Resurrection (alqiyama),91 the event that follows the destruction of the world and precedes the Last Judgment, is near.92 He quotes another hadith according to
which Muslims will not stay on Earth for more than one day. He then
explains that one day here corresponds to a thousand years, thus implying
that the Last Hour may be scheduled for 1000 AH/1590-1 CE.93 To warn
his fellow Muslims about the events that await them in the near future
Ahmed then announces that the tribulations that will precede the Last
Hour will start around 900 AH/1494-95 CE; Muhammad himself is
quoted as having said that portents such as moral decay, plagues, and natural disasters will manifest themselves after 900 AH.
These chronological estimations are also supported by the argument
that the lifespan of the world was determined by God as seventy thousand
years. Adam descended on Earth in the year 62,960; humans were allotted seven thousand years. The Last Hour would thus occur in year
69,960. The Earth would remain empty for forty years before the Last
Judgment.94 There are indications that Ahmed was informed about the
seven-thousand-year cycle by the Byzantine tradition.95 However, he
revises the Byzantine tradition to make it compatible with the Muslim
tradition: 1492, determined by various Byzantine scholars to be the end,
is too close a date. Muhammads sayings and divination treatises inform
him otherwise. Ahmed explains this discrepancy by arguing that the calculations of the Byzantine tradition are based on solar years while the
Muslims utilize a lunar calendar. Thus, the 7,000 years of the Byzantine

91

Louis Gardet, Kiyama, Encyclopedia of Islam 2, electronic edition.


DM/Kaptein, 546-7. The reference here is to the famous hadith of the two ngers,
according to which Muhammad stated that his arrival and the Resurrection (or the Last
Hour [al-sa] in other versions) are as close to each other as his middle and index ngers.
For a discussion of this hadith and its dierent versions, see Bashear, Muslim Apocalypses
and the Hour: 76-80.
93
DM/Kaptein, 575.
94
Op. cit., 546.
95
For the signicance of the year 7000 in the Byzantine tradition, see Podskalsky,
Byzantinische Reichseschatologie, 92-9; Magdalino, The history of the future, 4 passim and
throughout; Hanak, Some Historiographical Observations, 43-4; Paul Alexander, Historiens byzantins et croyances eschatologiques, Actes du XII e Congrs International des
tudes Byzantines 2 (Belgrade, 1964): 6-7; Congourdeau, Byzance et la n du monde,
66-73.
92

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343

tradition correspond to 7,210 lunar years.96 The end is near, of course,


but it is distant enough to allow the cosmic battles predicted by divination to happen.
The Conquest of Constantinople as a Triggering Event
The chronological evidence clearly places Ahmed and his readers in close
proximity of the Last Hour. Ahmeds recourse to this particular evidence
begs one question here: why is it that, among Ahmeds body of works, the
DM is the only one that includes these concerns? Ahmed, as a well-educated individual, was obviously aware of the apocalyptic chronology
found in Muhammads sayings but he does not dwell upon it in his previous works. What separates the DM from the others and gives it its apocalyptic tone is that it is composed after the realization of a prophecy.
In Ahmeds Envar and his brother Mehmeds Muhammediye, both composed before 1453, eschatological issues and the signs of the Last Hour
are treated to a considerable extent but no specic dates or chronologies
are provided. Ottoman history and recent events do not play any role in
their eschatological narratives.97 The Muslim capture of Constantinople
and the subsequent attack of the Blond Peoples are mentioned among the
portents of the Last Hour. It is remarked that the Muslim conquest of the
city will be followed, after seven years, by an attack of the Blond Peoples,98
but the attack is relegated to the distant future. Finally, the tone of these
two works radically diers from the DM: the warnings and exhortations
encountered in the DM are completely absent from both the Envar and
the Muhammediye.
In the DM, Ottoman history and the Ottoman sultan become important reference points and actors in the apocalyptic theater. Constantinoples history and the citys apocalyptic signicance become important
tropes; the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II is singled out as the man who will
rule the Ottoman realm during the nal troubles; Ottoman lands become
the scene for battles between the Muslims and the Blond Peoples. Under
96

DM/Kaptein, 555.
For these eschatological passages, see Envar, 293-9, 368-83; Muhammediye, 2: 311-32.
For a concise analysis of Islamic eschatology, see Marcia Hermansen, Eschatology, in The
Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, ed. Tim Winter (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 2008), 308-325. Hermansens emphasis on how eschatology
is interwoven with history is particularly relevant for my analysis of the brothers works.
98
Envar, 368.
97

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the impact of the triggering event, that is, the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, Ahmed realizes a passage from eschatology to apocalypticism,
to an apocalyptic eschatology that provides a particular view of history
and its nal events.99 The author of the DM clearly believes that the last
age itself is about to end and sees the events of his own time as the last
events themselves.100
Ahmed radically diers from those who evaluate the conquest outside
its apocalyptic implications. First of all, he espouses a number of Byzantine traditions, which no doubt circulated in the Ottoman lands, to
emphasize the misfortunes of the city and its eventual destruction at the
end of time. As shown by Stphane Yerasimos, the author of the DM is
very much concerned about the history of the city and relevant Byzantine
anecdotes and prophecies. Constantinople, as it is presented in the DM,
is a city that was built at an inauspicious time, incurred Gods wrath, and
suered throughout its history from plagues, earthquakes, and man-made
disasters; obviously the Ottoman conquest does not change the fate of the
city.101 Rather, the Ottomans inherit a doomed city.
To make things even worse, the Byzantine tradition is supported by the
Islamic tradition itself. On the basis of his Muslim sources Ahmed ascertains that Constantinople is captured by Muslims not once, but on three
separate occasions. The rst Muslim (i.e., the Ottoman) conquest is followed by a Christian onslaught and the Muslims are pushed back into
Syria. They reorganize, counterattack, and enter the city a second time.
However, while the Muslim soldiers are advancing towards the city center,
Satan appears to them, claiming that the Dejjal (the Deceiver, an Islamic
apocalyptic gure similar to the Antichrist)102 appeared, and is laying
waste to their homes. Panicked, the Muslim soldiers retreat pell-mell and
once again return to Syria.103 The denitive Muslim conquest happens
99

McGinn, Introduction: Johns Apocalypse and the Apocalyptic Mentality, 5.


Bernard McGinn, Early Apocalypticism: The Ongoing Debate, in The Apocalypse
in English Renaissance Thought and Literature. Patterns, Antecedents and Repercussions, eds.
C. A. Patrides and Joseph Wittreich (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984), 4, 10-12.
101
Yerasimos, Lgendes dempire, 69, 104, 110-111; DM/Kaptein, 457-8. For the Byzantine traditions on the foundation of Constantinople, see Dagron, Constantinople imaginaire, 61-97.
102
A. Abel, Dadjdjl, Encyclopedia of Islam 2, electronic edition.
103
DM/Kaptein, 562-3. Here too, there is an interesting mixture of Byzantine and
Muslim/Ottoman traditions. In the Byzantine tradition, after Muslims enter the city, an
angel descends from the skies, gives a sword to a pauper who then becomes the Byzantine
100

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345

only under the leadership of the Messiah, who defeats the Blond Peoples
and enters Constantinople.104 This is the reason why Ahmed is concerned
about the fate of the city: the city, and the Ottomans who hold it, will be
at the center of the rst phase of the nal battles, which are about to
start.
Divination (Jafr)
The Islamic and Byzantine traditions talk about the lifespan of the world
and single out the Muslim conquest of Constantinople as a sign of the
end. The details of the events that will happen during the period before
the end, as well as further proof about the nearness of the Last Hour, are
provided by prophecies that are found in divinatory treatises.
Divination in the Islamic tradition rests on the belief that Muhammad
transmitted to Ali b. Abi Talib a secret knowledge about the future of
humanity, and that this knowledge was written down by Ali on a camelskin parchment. It was generally accepted that this knowledge was then
preserved and transmitted by the Shiite imams, Alis direct descendants.
This did not prevent scholars and others who dened themselves as Sunnis from using divination, as seen in the case of Ahmed as well as many
others. Collections of prophecy, astrological tables foretelling the future,
deductions on the basis of numerical values attributed to the letters of the
Arabic alphabet, apocalyptic narratives, etc. existed under the vague and
wide rubric of jafr throughout Islamic history. While jafr has not been
openly espoused as part of an orthodox Muslim corpus it was recognized
by a fairly large number of scholars and literati who believed that a small
number of adepts could dabble in it.105 The relationship between Islamic
apocalypticism and jafr was established very early on, as shown by Touc
Fahd. The newly resurgent apocalyptic atmosphere in the Islamic world
after the end of the thirteenth century carried this association further, and
divinatory techniques became very popular.106
emperor, and Muslims are chased all the way back to the Arabian Peninsula. In Ahmeds
version, the Byzantine angel becomes Satan, and the Muslim defeat at the hands of the
pauper emperor is turned into a satanic deception and a retreat.
104
Op. cit., 565.
105
On jafr, see Touc Fahd, Djafr, Encyclopedia of Islam 2, electronic edition; idem.,
La divination arabe, 219-24.
106
Masad, The Medieval Islamic Apocalyptic Tradition, 8-9, 13 and especially
108-48.

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It has been mentioned already that the intellectual atmosphere in which


Ahmed dwelled was particularly susceptible to the inuences of apocalypticism and messianism. Ahmed probably knew the divinatory master of
the time, Abd al-Rahman Bistami, in person. The DMs sixteenth chapter
is entitled On the secrets of divination, news of the world, and portents
of divination. This chapter is as much an attempt at developing an apocalyptic narrative as introducing the Turkish readers of the Ottoman realm
to Bistamis work, to vernacularize the jafr literature that was typically
found in Arabic-language works. Through Bistami, Ahmed is connected
to a larger Islamic tradition of divination. For instance, the information
in the Ottoman Turkish passages of the sixteenth chapter as well as a few
Arabic quotations are taken, via Bistami, from Kamal al-din Muhammad
Ibn Talhas (d. 1254) al-Durr al-muntazam (or -munazzam). This seminal
work, written in the rst half of the thirteenth century, was studied by
Bistami and partly preserved in his Miftah.107
The sixteenth chapter of the DM opens with Ahmeds admission that
he uses Miftah as his source, and an invitation for learned readers to consult the Miftah for further information. Bistami is called the guide of those
who search for the Truth, a scholar who discovers Gods secrets and attributes (shaikh al-mukhakkikin, al-alim bi kashf asrar Allah wa ayatihi).108
He is also qualied as shib-i hurf, i.e. a practitioner of the science of
letters, one of the most important procedures to determine the secret
meanings of words and establish connections between words/letters and
dates/present history.109

107

On the link between Bistami and Ibn Talha see Masad, The Medieval Islamic
Apocalyptic Tradition, 68. On Ibn Talha and his al-Durr, see ibid., 70-80 and passim. For
a comparison of the passages in the DMs sixteenth chapter and al-Durr, cf. DM/Kaptein,
553-4, 555; Kamal al-Din Muhammad ibn Talha, al-Durr al-muntazam al-sirr al-azam:
bahth ahl al-kashf wa-al-irfan alamat Mahdi akhir al-zaman, ed. Majid al-Atiyah (Beirut: Dar al-hadi, 2004), 112-3, 145-55, 156, 158-9.
108
DM/Kaptein, 548.
109
On the science of letters as a related technique of interpreting the present and predicting the future, see Touc Fahd, Huruf (Ilm AL-), Encyclopedia of Islam 2, electronic
edition; Denis Gril, La science des lettres, in Les illuminations de la Mecque/The Meccan
Illuminations. Textes choisis/Selected Texts, ed. Michel Chodkiewicz (Paris: Sindbad, 1988),
385-487, 608-36 (notes). The pages between 439 and 489 provide a translation of sections on the science of letters from Ibn Arabis al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya, while the preceding part has Grils analysis of translated passages and a detailed discussion of the science of
letters.

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347

The sixteenth chapter reects all the aspects of a typical divination


treatise.110 The author is very careful in qualifying divination as an extraordinary measure that has to be activated only when necessary and only by
a handful of initiates. He emphasizes that this knowledge has to be hidden from those without the required qualications (n-ehl ).111 Finally, he
distinguishes himself from fortune-tellers who, he says, are Satans instruments. Ahmed, to the contrary, does not seek individual prot, but
searches after the key to a divine message.112
What is divination, as explained in the DM? First of all, the idea is that
there is a form of secret knowledge that goes back to God through the
Prophet himself. God sends Muhammad an apple, which is mistakenly
eaten by his grandchildrens tutor. On eating the apple the tutor enters an
ecstatic state and talks about hidden aairs (mugayyebt). He is stopped
by Muhammad, but not before his words are heard by some Muslims,
who then write them in versied form.113 This accident is not all. There is
also a book, called Jafr Ali, (Alis Divination); it includes information
about the dynasties that will rule between Muhammad and the Last Hour,
and also details about the end itself.114
Indeed, the jafr tradition, together with Byzantine and Islamic apocalypticisms, warns Ahmed that the conquest of Constantinople is the
beginning of the end.115 On the basis of jafr, Ahmed informs his readers
that political fortune (devlet) travels from dynasty to dynasty. It resided in
Iran in the past, then shifted to Khurasan and to Cairo. Its next recipient
is the Muslim dynasty that will rule over the lands of the Byzantine Empire
(Rm); however, soon after this Muslim dynasty takes over Rm, various
signs of the Last Hour will manifest themselves. By giving an end to the
rule of the last Byzantine dynasty and completing the conquest of Rm,
110

For these typical aspects see Fahd, Djafr, Encyclopedia of Islam 2, electronic edition.
DM/Kaptein, 550, 551. The idea that the knowledge of the last things was available
only to a handful of initiates was not foreign to the Christian tradition either: The early
idea that the nal events were determined far back in the past and foretold in detail to
certain chosen men is . . . characteristic . . . The last things can be known; indeed, they can
be exactly calculated, but this is only possible for the initiated (Gerhard von Rad, Old
Testament Theology, trans. D.M.G. Stalker, 2 vols. [New York: Harper, 1962-1965], 2:
301-2; quoted in McGinn, Visions of the End, 8).
112
DM-Kaptein, 536-7.
113
Op. cit., 547-8.
114
Ibid.
115
Op. cit., 550.
111

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the Ottomans thus become the blessed Muslim dynasty foretold in the
books but also nd themselves in an apocalyptic setting.116 The Ottomanization of the apocalypse is supported by other prophecies too. Accordingly, a young man name Mahmud or Muhammad will be the sultan at
the time of the tribulations.117 Mehmed, whose name is the Turkish form
of the Arabic Muhammad, was enthroned for the rst time when he
was twelve years old, and denitively succeeded his father when he was
nineteen.
Jafr also provides its practitioners with specic dates and geographical
locations concerning the nal tribulations. The key date, after which there
is no return, is 909 AH/1503-4 CE. The East (Sharq) will be devastated
by battles and various calamities after that date; Syria and Rm will particularly suer; the Blond Peoples will relentlessly attack the Muslims;
three battles will be waged in the Eastern Mediterranean and around
Constantinople, and the citys inhabitants will be decimated; a number of
gures identied only by their initials will come forward to play an
important role in this new era.118 Indeed, all the knowledgeable and the
initiated agree that the tenthand lastcentury will be dominated by
catastrophes.119
Mnteha (The Epilogue): Ahmeds Final Judgment
The Mnteha is important for proving the strength of Ahmeds apocalyptic convictions. Ahmed wrote the work twice, once in the second half of
1453 CE,120 and then in Muharrem 870 AH/August-September 1465
CE.121 The rst version does not include any apocalyptic comments; the
second version, written after the DM and during a period in which the
author believed to have decoded the secret of his age, is dierent in this
regard. Furthermore the Mnteha describes Mehmed II as an apocalyptic
warrior poised to fulll another prophecy: the conquest of Rome. The
work thus shows that apocalyptic speculations triggered by the conquest
116

Op. cit., 561.


Op. cit., 553.
118
Op. cit., 551-55.
119
Op. cit., 553, 555.
120
For copies of the rst version see Sleymaniye Library, ms. Hac Mahmud Efendi
2267, Kl Ali Paa 630, Tercman 204, etc.
121
Sleymaniye Library, ms. Hac Mahmud Efendi 1657. The completion date is provided in 232a.
117

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of Constantinople converged towards a positive reading of Ottoman history and started a process at the end of which the Ottoman sultans of the
sixteenth century could use messianic themes for legitimization.
The Mnteha, unlike the DM, is signed by Ahmed; he mentions his
own name at the beginning and the end. The work is similar to his previous treatises in its inclusion of themes dear to the author: the history of
the prophets, mysticism, piety, etc. A major dierence between the DM
and the Mnteha is that eschatological issues are not at the forefront in
the latter. However, when the author briey mentions the signs of the
Last Hour, the conquest of Constantinople is not enumerated among
them, while this is the case in all his other works. The author clearly
believes that this particular sign had already manifested itself. When he
mentions Constantinople in the 1465 version, he describes the conquest
as a cosmic struggle between good and evil. In his own words, the conquest only means the following: that the forces of true belief won and laid
waste to the city of the Devil.122
The Mnteha also diers from the DM in its treatment of Mehmed II.
The DM argues that a young man by that name will be the sultan of the
realm during the last age, but the Mnteha goes one step further. Ahmed
praises Mehmed II as a just sultan who engages in ghaza (Holy War).
He describes him as the conqueror of Constantinople, the patron of mosques
and hospices in the city, and the captor of various cities and realms in
Anatolia and the Balkans. In this day, says Ahmed, the true objective of
the Ottoman sultan is to capture Rumiye (Rome) and eventually all the
lands of the Blond Peoples.123 Because, Ahmed continues, the Resurrection is near, and it is evident that the Blond Peoples will attack from
the West.124 Ahmed closely follows here yet another Islamic apocalyptic
122
Mnteha, 112b: Istanbul feth itmek iman kuvvetleri galebe eyleyib iblis ehrini
harab itmekden ibarettir.
123
Stphane Yerasimos showed the signicance of Rome in the imagination of sixteenth-century Ottoman imperialism in De larbre la pomme: La gnalogie dun thme
apocalyptique, in Les traditions apocalyptiques au tournant de la chute de Constantinople,
eds. Lellouch and Yerasimos, 170-90 passim. Ahmeds references to Rome show that the
trope entered Ottoman apocalyptic narratives already in the second half of the fteenth
century. A number of Italian observers also believed that Mehmed wanted to conquer
Rome and planned to join East and West by creating a world empire unied by a single
faith and a single monarch. See Glru Necipolu, Sleyman the Magnicent and the
Representation of Power in the Context of Ottoman-Hapsburg-Papal Rivalry, The Art
Bulletin, September 1989 (71): 424-5.
124
Mnteha, 2b-3a, and specically the following passage: Rumiyeyi ve Amuriyeyi ve

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tradition, according to which Constantinoples conquest before the Last


Hour is followed by a Muslim takeover of Rome itself.125 In a work that
he signs with his name (unlike the DM) he continues to inform his readers of the true nature of the age they live in. This time, however, he is
more condent about the direction of history. While the DM presents the
Ottoman sultan as one of the actors of the nal tribulations, Mehmed II
becomes in the Mnteha the apocalyptic warrior par excellence, the leader
and protector of the Muslims against the Blond Peoples.

Conclusion
The DM is a good example of the intellectual dynamism and syncretism
that is often observed in the apocalyptic literatures of all Abrahamic religions: the authors, most of whom prefer to remain anonymous, use various sources from within their own religious tradition and from without
in order to warn their fellow believers about the present and the future.
These apocalypses are often motivated by a political crisis and cultural/
religious malaise but, as seen in the case of Ahmed, they can also lean
towards legitimizing a new political ideology that supports the powers
that be.
Next to the challenges that face the readers of any apocalyptic text the
DM and the Mnteha present important issues that are relevant for the
study of medieval Islam, apocalypticism, and Ottoman history: the nature
of Islamic apocalypticism beyond 1000 CE (and the methods of procedures used therein); the exchanges between Christian and Muslim apocalyptic traditions; and the role played by apocalypticism in Ottoman
historical and political thought from the mid-fteenth century onwards.
Ahmeds work clearly belongs to a new trend in Islamic apocalypticism,
a trend that becomes popular after the thirteenth century. What can be
called classical Islamic apocalypticism mostly relies, as shown by David
Cook and others, on an interpretation and analysis of Muhammads sayings with an apocalyptic content.126 The post-classical Islamic apocalypBeni Asferi almak kasdn iderdi. Zira kyamet yakn, krin galebesi Magribden yanadan
olsa gerekdir (3a).
125
For the role played by Rome in the classical Islamic apocalypticism see Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, 35, 58-9, 64-7.
126
Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, 23. For a typical example of this early Muslim
apocalyptic tradition and its reliance on the sayings of Muhammad, also see Michael

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351

ticism, however, develops the corpus by integrating these with divination


and prophecy. Indeed, as Muhammad Masad and Evrim Binba show,
these two become the main tenets of Islamic apocalypticism in this period.127 This trend is clearly illustrated by Ahmeds ample use of divination
in his work. More importantly, by translating passages of Bistami and Ibn
Talhas into Turkish the DM produces a Turkish vernacular version of the
new Islamic apocalyptic tradition.
While Ahmed denes himself as a pious Sunni Muslim he often refers
to the authority of Ali and Jafar al-Sadiq in divination; and they are both
important gures of Shiite Islam. He thus clearly proves the futility of
attributing the bulk of post-1000 CE apocalyptic thinking to Shiah; while
the apocalyptic language may have been inuenced by Shiite tropes and
gures, this does not mean that Sunnis did not espouse it. It is mistaken
to aasume an irreconcilable rift between Sunnah and Shiah in the period
preceding the Ottoman-Safavid conict of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. Before Sunnah and Shiah were made one of the most important dening characteristics of the two empires, the boundaries of these
confessional identities were obviously more blurred than it has been
assumed traditionally.
It is well-known that Islamic apocalypticism developed in close contact
with other Near Eastern/Abrahamic apocalypses. Indeed, this is the main
reason behind its surprising dynamism and variety. This apocalyptic
exchange began during the Byzantine-Muslim encounters in Syria around
the mid-seventh century and continued for a long period. For instance,
the bishop Liudprand of Cremona, in one of his diplomatic visits to Constantinople in 968, saw that both the Byzantines and the Muslims had
their own versions of the Visions of Daniel.128 Two centuries later, Caesarius of Heisterbach reported a dialogue between a Christian knight and
Nur al-Din Zangi (1118-1174), one of the main Muslim rivals of the
Crusaders in the Levant. Nur al-Din admitted that Muslim books mentioned a Christian emperor who would soon rise and restore Jerusalem to
the Christian faiththus repeating a typical Byzantine trope.129
Cook, An Early Islamic Apocalyptic Chronicle, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 52, no. 1
(January 1993): 25-29.
127
Cf. Masad, The Medieval Islamic Apocalyptic Tradition, 23-64; Binba, Sharaf
al-Dn Ali Yazd, and especially Chapter V, Yazd and the Intellectual Topography of
Timurid Iran and Central Asia in the Fifteenth Century, 76-174.
128
Alexander, The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, 97-8.
129
Quoted in McGinn, Visions of the End, 149. McGinn says that the ascription of an

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This relationship obviously extended into, and represented an important dimension of, Ottoman-Byzantine cultural and religious exchanges.
(To be sure, the Ottomans also enjoyed an exchange with various European traditions, both through the Byzantine intermediary and by themselves.) In a sense, it can be argued that the Ottomans did not only take
over the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, but also the Byzantine
apocalyptic traditions associated with the empire and with Constantinople. Gregory Arnakis, Michel Balivet, Cemal Kafadar, and Stphane
Yerasimos all dealt with the issue of cultural and religious exchanges
between Christians and Turks in Anatolia, and they convincingly showed
that these were more sophisticated than the purists on both sides claimed
and continue to claim.130 Ahmeds example not only supports the ndings
of these scholars, but also shows that further comparison of late Byzantine
texts and their Ottoman contemporaries are necessary. As discussed
above, Ahmed was aware of Byzantine traditions about Constantinople.
He also knew about the seven-thousand-year trope and 1492 as the nal
date. To give yet another example about his anity with the Byzantine
sources, in a passage in the sixteenth chapter of the DM, Ahmed uses
metaphors such as the bellowing of the ox that are commonly encountered in Byzantine versions of the Visions of Daniel and the Pseudo-Methodius.131 This exchange was reciprocated by the Byzantines too: one of the
most accomplished Byzantineand indeed, European-scholars of the
period, George of Trebizond, was amenable to seeing the Ottoman sultan
eventual Christian victory to Muslims is a standard trope in medieval anti-Muslim polemics, but we should take into account the fact that Caesarius report may be based on an
authentic dialogue.
130
There is a fairly large literature on political and institutional continuities and breaks
from the Byzantines to the Ottomans, but I am focusing here more on works that deal
with cultural and religious issues. A few examples are as follows: George G. Arnakis,
Gregory Palamas among the Turks and Documents of his Captivity as Historical
Sources, Speculum 26 (1951): 104-118; idem., Gregory Palamas, the Hiones, and the Fall
of Gallipoli, Byzantion, 22 (1952): 305-312; Yerasimos, Lgendes dempire throughout;
Kafadar, Between Two Worlds, 62-90; Michel Balivet, Romanie byzantine et pays de Rum
turc: Histoire dune zone dimbrication grco-turque (Istanbul: Isis, 1994); idem., Byzantins
et Ottomans: Relations, interaction, succession (Istanbul: Isis, 1999). On the fascinating
events that befell Gregory Palamas, also see Anna Philippides-Braat, La captivit de Palamas chez les Turcs. Dossier et commentaire, Travaux et mmoires 7 (1979): 109-221.
131
For the theme of the ox, see DM/Kaptein, 551; Pertusi, Fine di Bisanzio e Fine del
Mondo, 78, 122; Dagron, Constantinople imaginaire, 329; Yerasimos, De larbre la
pomme, 161, etc.

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Mehmed II as the much-foretold Last Roman Emperor; George eventually wrote to Mehmed, proposing the establishment of a universal religion
under his aegis.132
Finally, it is important to emphasize the popularity of apocalyptic ideas
in the Ottoman realm in the mid-fteenth century, and the ways in which
apocalypticism made an original contribution to the Ottoman historical
imagination and political culture. The conquest of Constantinople has
long been accepted as the ultimate rite of passage for the early Ottoman
polity, and its genuine gateway to empire formation; the rise of an autochthonous historiographical tradition has been evaluated as one of the outcomes of this achievement. Ahmeds apocalypticism can be seen, to a
certain extent, as part of the creative historical imagination of the era.
Basing his arguments on divination the author ascertains that the Ottoman sultan and the Ottoman realm will play an important role in the
battles to come. Mehmed II will ght against the Blond Peoples and try
to conquer Rome, another city whose fall to the Muslims is a portent of
the end.
* * *
Like so many other apocalyptic texts, Ahmeds apocalyptic narrative had a
potentially long lifespan. Some passages, such as the Arabic sections (borrowed from Ibn Talha via Bistami) in the sixteenth chapter, can easily
be applied to Ottoman history in the sixteenth century. For instance, the
reference to a certain Selim who will wage naval battles and conquer
a Western island/peninsula ( jazirat al-Garb)133 could be interpreted as
referring to Selim II (r. 1566-74), during whose reign the Ottomans lost
the Battle of Lepanto (1571) and captured Cyprus (1571) and Tunis
(1574). The same is true of the prophecy about a man, named after a
prophet, who will come to power around 900 AH/1494-95 CE in Qazwin and claim to be the Master of the Age (sahib-zaman). In the eyes of
many a sixteenth-century reader, this would point to Shah Ismail, who
came to power a few years after the date in the prophecy, took over Qazwin among other cities, and made messianic claims.134 Once Ottoman
132
John Monfasani, George of Trebizond. A Biography and a Study of His Rhetoric and
Logic (Leiden: Brill, 1976), 131-6.
133
DM/Kaptein, 553.
134
Op. cit., 555. Here I agree with Cornell Fleischers criticism, in his Seer to the

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history becomes part of cosmic developments, and once a genuine Ottoman apocalyptic tradition is formed, there is nothing that would prevent
sixteenth-century Ottomans from continuing Ahmeds apocalyptic line of
thought and interpreting their time and age with the consciousness of living just before the Last Hour.

Sultan, of Denis Gril. Gril (in Lnigme de la Sagara al-numaniyya l-dawla aluthmaniyya) believes that these prophecies were circulated ex post facto, while they can be
found in Ibn Talhas thirteenth-century work. These prophecies already circulated in the
Islamic world, but thanks to the new urge to read Ottoman history through apocalyptic
lenses, old prophecies acquired a new life.