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Abstract

This dissertation explores the relationship between intellectual networks, royal patronage and developments in political thought in late medieval Islamic Spain and North Africa. It proposes a new reading of the history of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada (635/1238–897/1492) that examines these broader issues by closely studying the life and works of Lisān al-Dīn Muḥammad b. al-Khaṭīb (713/1313–776/1374), the most prominent Spanish Muslim historian, chancellor and philosopher during the 8th/14th century, situating this figure within a larger network of scholars, statesmen and functionaries in the late medieval Islamic West. This dissertation illustrates the manner in which the crisis and transformation that characterized the territorial fragmentation of Islamic Spain and North Africa contributed to the rise of a distinct class of scholar-officials who reshaped the intellectual and political culture of the Western Mediterranean. It argues that the gradual concentration of executive political authority in the hands of scholar-officials, such as Ibn al-Khaṭīb, was part of the process of the consolidation of royal power at the expense of the nobility during the late Middle Ages. For their part, these scholar-officials composed works across a variety of genres that sought to legitimate and rationalize the centralization of royal authority. To examine this phenomenon, this dissertation draws upon a corpus of Arabic, Castilian and Aragonese manuscripts, as well as coinage and epigraphy. It investigates the lives of those individuals who existed in close proximity to royal power during the late medieval period in order to explore how their own experiences and ideas fashioned discourses about sovereignty, governmentality and the craft of history during the 14th century. The rise of a distinct class of scholar-officials, whose members included Christians, Muslims and Jews working for different (often competing) dynasties, was underpinned by similar networks of patronage, intellectual interests and a shared geography. These highly-educated individuals rose to prominence as chancellors, treasurers, and councilors within the royal courts in Iberia and were responsible for producing a multitude of works, while patronizing pieces of art and architecture that embodied their particular worldview. Lisān al-Dīn b. al-Khaṭīb provides us with an illustrative example of this class of individuals during the 8th/14th century. This figure followed in the footsteps of leading Spanish Muslim scholar-officials such as Abū Bakr b. al-Khaṭṭāb, Ibn ‘Amīra, Ibn Sa‘īd and Ibn al-Abbār, individuals who had exercised significant administrative and political authority while also being deeply involved in various intellectual and literary pursuits during the 7th/13th century. Ibn al-Khaṭīb authored over 50 works, including historical chronicles, epistolography, biographical dictionaries, poetry, medical texts, and political treatises, throughout his career. This dissertation illustrates his role at the intersection of intellectual and political developments and demonstrates how his literary production was closely intertwined with his function as a statesman. It provides the first comprehensive study in English of Ibn al-Khaṭīb’s life, from his birth into a minor family in the small town of Loja in 713/1313 to his rise as a physician and scribe in the Nasrid court, his transformation from a client and servant of the Nasrid dynasty into an itinerant scholar-official who sought to establish his own individual power and influence across the Islamic West, to his controversial assassination in Fez in 776/1374. It looks particularly closely at the letters that he exchanged with his broader network of scholars, nobles, functionaries and kings across the Mediterranean world to think about the question of loyalty, ties of obligation and individual strategies of survival in the Islamic West during this period.

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