Bal'ami's Persian Translation of al-Ṭabarī's "Ta'rikh"


This fragment contains the beginning pages of the historical encyclopedia Ta'rikh al-Rusul wa-al-Muluk (History of prophets and kings) composed in Arabic by the celebrated historian al-Tabari (circa 223–310 AH/circa 838–923), later abridged and translated into Persian in 963 by the writer Bal'ami. The verso of the fragment continues the first two pages and includes a later note identifying the work as tawarikh-i Tabari-yi farsi (Histories of Tabari in Persian). The work includes a history of kings and dynasties from pre-Islamic times to the prophecy of Muhammad, as well as early Islamic history. The first two pages of text on the recto of the fragment include a lengthy encomium to God, His power, and His creations. This is followed by an encomium in Arabic to the author's patron, the Samanid ruler of Khorāsān and Transoxiana, al-Mansur b. Nuh b. Ahmad b. Isma'il, for whom Bal'ami translated the work into Persian. The author states at the conclusion of his preface that "we have transcribed in this work the history of the world, everything that is said about astronomers and that which is said about the Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jews." The third section, which begins at the lower part of the left side of the recto and continues on the right side of the fragment's verso, glorifies God's power to create, citing numerous verses from the Qur'an picked out in red ink. The page on the right contains the continuation of an encomium to God's creative powers, interspersed with Arabic prayers picked out in red ink, followed by the third section of the work which addresses various scientists' opinions on the duration of the world. In this section, the length of the world's existence from the time of Adam until the Day of Resurrection is calculated according to a variety of opinions, including those of Aristotle and Hippocrates. Bal'ami notes that some scholars believe that the duration of the world is 7,000 years. The left page includes a number of a posteriori reader's notes. At the top appears an ex-libris mark, which states that the book belonged to a certain Muhammad [...] 'Abd Khawajaga, who dated his mark 1214 AH/1799–1800. Unfortunately, both the former book's owner and the date were smeared at a later date. Because this fragment bears Bal'ami's introduction and thus marks the beginning of the manuscript, the text is framed on both sides by an illuminated border. The frames are decorated with gold flowers with blue spots on a pure-gold background. On the top and bottom horizontal frames appear praises to God, Muhammad, and Muhammad's family and his companions, executed in white ink and framed by blue panels decorated with gold flowers. The main text is executed in black ink in an old Persian Naskh (cursive) script typical of works produced during Ilkhanid rule (1256–1353) in Iran.

Last updated: December 24, 2013