Jalal al-Din Rumi

Statue of Rumi in Buca Photo Credit- İncelemeelemani

The latest news is that Beyoncé named one of her new babies after a Persian poet.  Everyone is abuzz with discussions of who this man was and what exactly this means.  Although the poetry was written in the 13th century, it has gathered popularity in the west beginning in the early 21st century.  So who was Jalal al-Din Rumi?

Jalal al-Din Rumi was born September 30, 1207 in the city of Balkh, which is is in present day Afghanistan.  He lived with his family on this far eastern edge of the Persian Empire, and was raised in the tradition of his family as an Islamic jurist.  His father Baha ud-Din Walad was considered the “Sultan of the Scholars”.  Balkh was a center of Persian culture and Sufism.  There Rumi was exposed to the Persian poets Fariduddin Attar and Sani, who apart from his father were the most important influences on the young man.  When the Mongols led by Genghis Khan began invading, the family moved 2,000 miles to the west to Konya in Anatolia.  On the way to Konya, the family made the pilgrimage to Mecca and met Rumi’s idol, Fariduddin Attar, in the Iranian city of Nishapur.  Attar recognized the eighteen year old’s talent and gave Rumi a copy of his book Asrārnāma, or The Book of God,  a book about the entanglement of the soul in the material world.  This meeting and Attar’s work had a profound affect on Rumi’s later life and work.

In Konya, Baha ud-Din became the head of a madrassa, or religious school.  When he died in 1231, the twenty-five year old Rumi took his father’s place.  He also became an Islamic Jurist, issuing fatwas and giving sermons.  By this time, he had married twice and been widowed once and was the father of four children- three sons and a daughter.  A very respectable life.  However, things changed when he met Shams-e Tabrizi.  Shams was a dervish, or “God-man”, who had taken a vow of poverty.  He was a blunt man who was far below Rumi’s social class.  His nickname was “the Bird” because he could not stay in one place for very long.  Stories say that Rumi was teaching his students by a fountain and Shams crashed the lecture and threw Rumi’s books into the water.  Rumi was horrified as the books he was carrying included his father’s journals, and now they were ruined.  When asked why he did such a thing, Shams replied that now Rumi would have to live what he had been reading about.  Instead of infuriating Rumi, this inspired him.  Later he said that his true life and true poetry began at that meeting, and

“What I had thought of before as God, I met today in a human being.”

Not everyone shared Rumi’s appreciation for Shams. The fact that the two men were in such different social classes was a problem.  The two were not supposed to be interacting on a friendly level.  Plus Shams was irascible and had a terrible temper.  He was said to swear in front of Rumi’s children and generally be anti-social.  He was repeatedly driven away by Rumi’s disciples, and made a bitter enemy in one of Rumi’s sons, Ala al-Din.  One story says, that after being driven off by death threats, Rumi was despondent because he was so lonely for his teacher and friend.  Rumi got a harebrained idea, and married his young step daughter to the teacher to legitimize his presence in their home.  Young Keemia was around twelve and Shams had to be about sixty.  This was a bad idea all the way around.  Keemia later died of an unknown illness and Shams disappears.  Some stories say he reverted to his old wandering ways and ended up in India.  Other stories say he was killed for religious blasphemy.  Still others say he was killed by young Keemia’s step brother, Rumi’s son.  No one knows for sure.  Rumi is said to have gone looking for his lost friend, and wrote the verse:

Why should I seek? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!

Rumi’s mourning for his lost teacher and friend was transformed into a collection of poetry called, Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi or The Works of Shams Tabriz.  This was a collection of over 40,000 lyric verses of all types of Eastern-Islamic poetry and is considered one of the greatest works of Persian literature.  The last years of Rumi’s life, he spent with his scribe and favorite student, Hussam-e Chalabi.  Rumi dictated his masterwork, Masnavi-ye Ma’navi or Spiritual Verses, to Hussam-e Chalabi and it is considered one of his most personal works.  It is regarded by some Sufis as the Persian-language Koran.

Rumi died of an unknown illness on December 17, 1273 and was buried next to his father in Konya.  A shrine called Yeşil Türbe, or the Green Tomb, was constructed over his burial site.  His epitaph reads:  “When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.”



Tales of the mystical creatures appear in early Arabian and later Islamic mythology. An individual member of the jinn is known as a jinni, djinni, or genie. Throughout the Quran and other Islamic texts they are mentioned frequently. The Quran says that the jinn were created from a smokeless and “scorching fire”, but are also physical in nature, being able to interact in a tactile manner with people and objects and likewise be acted upon.

The earliest evidence of the word, can be found in Persian, for the singular Jinni is the Avestic “Jaini”, a wicked (female) spirit. Jaini were among various creatures believe among pre-Zoroastrian peoples of Persia.

The jinn, humans, and angels make up the three known sapient creations of God. Like human beings, the jinn can be good, evil, or neutrally benevolent and have free will like humans.

Jewish lore mention a creaturr called Shedim, who are akin to the islamic concept of Jinn. They are said to eat, drink, procreate and die, are also mostly invisible and in some accounts, they inhabited the earth before mankind until human beings replaced them, similar to the Jinn in Islam.


The Vanishing Persian Army of Cambyses

Persian warriors, a detail from the frieze in Darius’ palace in Susa. Pergamon Museum / Vorderasiatisches Museum, Germany. Image credit: Mohammed Shamma / CC BY 2.0.
Persian warriors, a detail from the frieze in Darius’ palace in Susa. Pergamon Museum / Vorderasiatisches Museum, Germany. Image credit: Mohammed Shamma / CC BY 2.0.

When your dad is Cyrus the Great, you have a lot to live up to.  He began the Achaemenid Empire and reigned over the territory from Asia Minor to India.  Unfortunately, Cyrus met his match in a warrior queen named Tomyris and went to his long home.   (More on her in this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/tomyris-the-woman-who-brought-down-cyrus-the-great/ )  This left his son Cambyses in charge.  There had been a bit of trouble when he was overseeing things for his father in Babylon.  No one is quite sure, but the Chronicle of Nabonidus indicates there was an issue during the very important New Year’s Akitu festival.   Possibly with Cambyses being armed during the ceremony, which was expressly forbidden.  However, all of this was glossed over as Cambyses was the chosen heir and took the throne around 530 BCE.

To set Cambyses off on the right foot, he took up the conquest of Egypt.  Although the Egyptian empire had been weakened, it was no pushover.  Pharaoh Amasis was ready to fight and had allied himself with Greek mercenaries to augment their navy.  Unfortunately, their Greek allies turned coat and didn’t fight.  There is no record of a sea battle, and the Persians marched in six months later and defeated the Egyptian army.  Amasis was dead and his son Psammetichus was captured and surrendered, receiving honorable treatment.  What is telling also is the admiral of the Egyptian fleet, Wedjahor-Resne, became Cambyses’ right hand man soon after the conquest.  Perhaps there was some more turncoating afoot?  Who knows.  What is known is Cambyses was recognized as the new pharaoh of Egypt with Wedjahor-Resne by his side as adviser.

However, not everyone was ready to play nice with the Persian conquerors.  According to Herodotus, in 524 BCE the priests at the Temple of Amun at the Oasis of Siwa rejected Cambyses.  That wasn’t going to stand, and Cambyses sent an army of 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to march into the desert and take care of these rebel priests.  Herodotus reports the god Amun must not have liked someone trying to beat up on his priests and sent a sandstorm to swallow up the army.  Since that day, no one has found hide nor hair of them.  And that was that.  Well, not exactly.  Experience has shown you can’t die from a sandstorm alone.  So what happened to the 50,000 men?

19th century engraving of The Lost Army of Cambyses. Public domain.
19th century engraving of The Lost Army of Cambyses. Public domain.

Egyptologist Olaf Kaper believes he has the answer.  In 2014 he published his findings and based on his research, he believe the army was not headed for Siwa but for the Dachla Oasis.  This was the location of a shadowy figure in Egyptian history, Petubastis III.  He is thought to have been a local price and possibly a member of the old royal line.  He was the leader of the rebel movement against Cambyses.  Kaper found an inscription by Petubastis III that he defeated the lost army of Cambyses via an ambush.  After this, he was crowned pharaoh in the lower Egypt capital of Memphis.  He believes Cambyses’ successor Darius I put forth the sandstorm story to cover up his predecessor’s shameful defeat.

However, two other archeologists, Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni, believe they found the resting place of the lost army.  They believe the army did not travel the well known route, but tried to sneak to Siwa around the back.  Instead of gaining surprise in battle, they only found the khamsin, the strong, hot wind from the Sahara desert.  In an excavation in 2009, they found a mass grave with hundreds of bleached bones and skulls.  Amongst the bones were Persian artifacts, such as arrow heads and horse bits.  Additional excavation has not been started according to the Egyptian authorities.

So was the army lost to natural elements or a military blunder?  Without additional study, we will never know.


The Hasanlu Lovers

The Lovers Hansanlu Lovers (Penn Museum Image)

Their remains were found by a team from the University of Pennsylvania led by Robert Dyson at the Teppe Hasanlu archaeological site, located in the Solduz Valley in the West Azerbaijan Province of Iran, in 1972. It was the site of the Teppe Hasanlu citadel.

Around 800 B.C. when the pair was alive the area had been burned out from a military attack. People fighting from both sides were killed in the fire, which apparently spread quite unexpectedly and quickly through the town. The skeletons were found in a plaster grain bin, probably hiding from soldiers, and they almost certainly died from asphyxiated quickly due to the fire. The “head wound” on the skeleton is from modern-day excavators.
No other objects where found with the pair except a stone slab under the head of one skeleton.

The image earned the photograph its title Hasanlu Lovers or The 2800 Years Old Kiss. Though some websites and sources identify the skeletons as both being male, they are actually male and female (female on the left). Either way they died together in a loving embrace. Love is eternal.




timurlane-1After the death of Genghis Khan, the Mongol Empire had fragmented into separate khanates as his descendants squabbled amongst themselves.  The empire he built was too big for any of them to rule, so it was split into pieces and divided between them.  The northwestern portion was called Golden Horde, and by 1336 the majority of it was ruled by Sultan Mohammed Oz Beg.  His domain ran from Moscow to the Aral Sea and his capital was Sarai.

Also in 1336, a son was born to a Turco-Mongol tribal leader of the Barlas in Transoxiana.  Transoxiana is located at the edge of the mountains just south of the beautiful city of Samarkand.   This is in modern day Uzbekistan.  The boy was called Timur.  Timur’s father was one of the first tribesmen to convert to Islam, and so the young boy grew up reading the Qur’an and educated in the ways of Sunni Islam.   He earned the nickname “the lame”, or Timurlane, after being shot in the thigh early in life.  Stories vary as to whether this was sustained participating in local rebellions or after being caught by a farmer for stealing sheep.  When Timur was 10 years old, there was a rebellion against the Mongol leader in Transoxiana and a man named Kazgan became emir.  There was a period of anarchy for several years as the battles were fought to bring the area back into Mongol control.  Mongol armies marched into Transoxiana in 1360 and 1361, and Timur acted like a good tame prince and submitted to the new Mongol governor, Ilyas Khodja, becoming a minister within his government.  They didn’t realize who they were dealing with.

Unbeknownst to the Mongols, Timur made an alliance with Hussein, the grandson of the Kazgan, who originally freed Transoxiana in Timur’s youth.  Together they fought the Mongols winning victories in 1364, but ultimately being defeated in 1365 at the Battle of the Mud.  They withdrew to consolidate power.  It wasn’t always a happy partnership as neither of them seemed to like each other very much, but it was successful in that they were able to eventually drive the Mongols from Transoxiana.  An Islamic uprising in Samarkand and a plague affecting the Mongol’s horses helped matters immensely.  With the common enemy of the Mongol’s retreating, Hussein and Timur’s partnership was deteriorating rapidly as both of the were jockeying for supremacy over Transoxiana.  Timur spent his time charming the local emirs, princes and merchants as well as a man from Mecca who claimed to be a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad.  It came to open warfare when Timur’s wife died as she was also Hussein’s sister.  Without the ties of family between them, the two clashed.  Hussein was captured at the siege of Balkh in 1370 and executed, leaving Timur the undisputed master of Transoxiana.  He set up his capital at Samarkand, and began consolidating his power.  Anyone who had been loyal to Hussein, including most of the inhabitants of the city of Balkh, were bound in chains and beheaded.

Samarkand was improved and beautified as Timur’s favorite and capital city.  New walls were built which were surrounded by a deep moat.  The marketplace was enlarged and beautiful gardens and palaces were built.  Soon Samarkand was the envy of even Cairo and Baghdad.  Leaving a nominal king behind in Samarkand to rule, Timur took his army out for a test drive.  The make up was similar to the Mongols, however, there were more foot soldiers.  The army took great pride in Timur and his warrior prowess.  Their loyalty was to their commander, not their state.  They moved east and took on his old enemies, the Mongols.  In 1381, they turned west and moved through Iraq, Asia Minor and Syria.  Their atrocities were legendary.  Even Timur’s own court historian didn’t try to pretty it up.  For example, at Sabzawar, Timur had a tower built out of live men and cemented together with bricks and mortar.  Populations were massacred as a matter of course and minarets were made of decapitated heads.  Not a nice guy.  By 1385 all of Persia was under his control.

Then he moved north into what is now Georgia and Armenia.  He wrapped himself in the mantle of a warrior for Islam as he claimed these kingdoms were attacking caravans on their way to Mecca.  The Christians there were slaughtered.  The Mongols attacked him there again, but he pushed them back to Moscow.  By 1392, things were pretty much settled and Timur was itching for another fight.  He after putting down more rebellion in Persia and Georgia and practiced a scorched earth policy by destroying entire towns.  Then he turned his greedy eyes to India.

Claiming the Muslim rulers there were being too tolerant of their Hindu neighbors, Timur attacked.  He destroyed the Islamic kingdom centered around Delhi and bragged about getting further into India than Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan.  Then he turned westward again, leaving the Indian builders and artisans he took from Delhi in Samarkand, Timur headed to Syria.  He took on the Mameluks and occupied Damascus.  During the looting of Damascus, a fire started that burned for three days.  Damascus took years to recover.  He was getting too close to the Ottoman Turks, who engaged them in battle in 1402 at Angora, today’s Ankara.  Timur crushed them.  Moving on to Smyrna, he demanded the Christian crusader knights there convert to Islam.  When they did not he conquered the city and had the entire population killed.  Their heads were built into a pyramid.

Timur returned to Samarkand and began planning a new expedition into China.  Luckily for China, he died in 1405 enroute with the army.  At Samarkand, Timur was embalmed and buried in an ebony casket.  Like Genghis Khan before him, Timur’s sons could not hold his empire and squabbled amongst themselves.  By the end of the century the empire was fractured and gone.


Sources available on request