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To Be A Prince In The Fourth/Tenth-Century Abbasid Court

To Be A Prince In The Fourth/Tenth-Century Abbasid Court

By Nadia Maria El Cheikh

Royal Courts in Dynastic States and Empires, edited by Jeroen Duindam; Tülay Artan; Metin Kunt (Brill, 2011)

Introduction: Court studies are almost nonexistent for early Islamic history, including the Abbasid era. Many questions need to be investigated in connection with the Abbasid court. What terminology was used in the sources to define the court and the courtiers? Who was a ‘courtier’? What was the distinction between the household and the bureaucracy? How was the environment around the ruler organized spatially? Who filled it? How did it represent itself, and with what degree of ceremonial or spectacle? What were the rights and duties, obligations and privileges of the officers within the court and household? What do the sources tell us about the members of the caliphal households, whether women or princes?

In recent years, historians of the court have become interested in the ritual and symbolic aspects of rulership as part of the political system. They have, additionally, refocused attention on the whole personal and domestic world within which the ruler lived. This paper explores one aspect of the personal world that constituted the fourth/ tenth century caliphal court by focusing on the life and career of the Abbasid prince Abu al-ʿAbbas, eldest son of the caliph al-Muqtadir (AH 295–320/CE 908–932). Questions that I discuss revolve around the various spaces in which the prince lived, the education and tutorship that he received, the duties to which he was assigned from an early age, and the ceremonial role that he assumed. Information about his life prior to his assumption of the caliphate help us formulate a conception of the expected roles of princes at the fourth/tenth century Abbasid court, the possibilities and limitations open to them, and the networks that formed around them.

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