Universität Bonn

Abteilung für Islamwissenschaft und Nahostsprachen

20. April 2023

27.04.2023 | 17:00 Uhr (5:00 pm, CEST) | Ulrich Haarmann Memorial Lecture Online (Zoom): Jaimee K. Comstock-Skipp (Visiting Fellow, Oxford Nizami Ganjavi Centre) 27.04.2023 | 17:00 Uhr (5:00 pm, CEST) | UHMLO (Zoom): Jaimee K. Comstock-Skipp (Oxford Nizami Ganjavi Centre)

"Remembering the Dismembering: Accounts of Muḥammad Shaybānī: Khan’s Dispatched Body Parts"

UHMLOnline_Comstock-Skipp.jpg © Abteilung für Islamwissenschaft und Nahostsprachen
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Jaimee K. Comstock-Skipp (Visiting Fellow, Oxford Nizami Ganjavi Centre)

Remembering the Dismembering: Accounts of Muḥammad Shaybānī: Khan’s Dispatched Body Parts

Transoxiana (Central Asia) circa 1500 was a battleground. The weakened Timurids that had ruled the region were struggling with a new Safavid power sweeping in from western Iran, along with the Abū’l-Khairids (commonly called Shaybānid Uzbeks) that had pushed down from the northern steppes of Kazakhstan today. As the self-proclaimed rightful inheritors of Chinggis Khan’s dominion through his eldest son Juchi, this group was comprised of tribes that had united under a figure named Abū al-Khair Khan in the mid 15th century. Actual power and territorial control would be achieved within the first decade of the 16th century by his grandson Muḥammad Shaybānī Khan. Shaybānī Khan forced the Timurids out of Transoxiana and took the key cities Herat and Samarqand by 1507, making the princes there begrudgingly relocate to India where they later became the Mughals. Shaybānī Khan was able to enjoy his leadership over the dynasty he helped to establish only briefly, for in early December 1510 at the Battle of Marv in present-day Turkmenistan, he was defeated by the Safavid Shah Ismāʿīl I. The historical record then gets murky following the khan’s last breath.

Conflicting narratives, official and popular, give the dispatch of various body parts belonging to Muḥammad Shaybānī: a skull was turned into a gilded drinking cup for the Safavid shah, who together with the last Timurid ruler Badīʿ al-Zamān drank from it; one severed hand was gifted to the future Mughal emperor Bābur; another hand was sent to a local lord in northeastern Iran who was accused of not ‘lending a hand’ to help the Safavids secure dominion over all of Iran; a head stuffed with straw was carried in a box and bestowed to the Mamluk Sultan Qānṣūh al-Ghaurī in Cairo; another stuffed head and bejeweled armbands were thrown into the lap of the Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II in Constantinople.

A normally-formed human being only has two hands and one head, so not all of these accounts can be correct. The talk will focus on Arabic and Persian textual sources, along with visual, material, and oral culture from the 16th century, as well as the whereabouts of the physical remains. The Abū’l-Khairids, Safavids, Ottomans, Mamluks, Timurids, and Mughals were all in some part connected as much through military and diplomatic exchanges as by the very body parts of Muḥammad Shaybānī Khan.

This lecture will be held online on Zoom. Please register using the following link:


Contact the organizer: anna.kollatz@ori.uni-heidelberg.de


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