The Seljuk Succession

In 1092 a Seljuk sultan and his powerful vizier were assassinated more or less at the same time, thus leaving a power vacuum. As usual in a polygamous system, a number of young half-brothers were left as pretenders to the throne, pushed forward by their ambitious mothers, who in turn were backed by different factions of the court and army. This situation, repeated time and time again throughout Asian history, may serve to show what is wrong with the feminist-stroke-Orientalist assumption that the women of Muslim courts were mere sex toys. This game was played, and sometimes won, by young girls who started out as foreign slaves, whether purchased or kidnapped, with no connections; so political skill was all. Plus motherhood, of course. And when queens and concubines play the game of promoting their own lineage and trying to exterminate rival lineages, they have one advantage denied to kings – they are quite, quite sure that the pretender is indeed their own son. Apart from that, the genetic mathematics of the thing are identical.

Why, then, are we so reluctant to perceive Oriental politics in terms of mothers competing to secure resources for their own posterity at the expense of other mothers’ posterity, and employing whatever males they can find as instruments of those goals? Is it because of the peculiar Occidental institution of “legitimacy”, which sidelined royal by-blows and meant that the game of thrones could be played only between full brothers? Or is it because men simply do not wish to recognise their own roles as catspaws, much less contemplate the possibility that all male roles are played out in the service of intra-female competition? Do women then find this male blindness, this “patriarchal” assumption that it is all about the men, a supremely convenient distraction from what is really going on?

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  1. Written by urban
    on April 16, 2013 at 15:05

    In a more familiar context, let us not forget Bathsheba’s machinations to promote Solomon to the throne in II Kings. We never hear about why she was bathing on the rooftop in clear sight of the palace, but her drive to ensure that her son ascends to the throne does suggest a motive for her wanting to attract the king’s attention in the first place.

  2. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on April 16, 2013 at 19:51

    The B.C. version of lurid pics on Facebook?

    Our oldest mutual friend says that 18-century French paintings of naughty ladies were actually job applications for the post of royal mistress.

    I’ll see your Bathsheba and raise you Sisera’s mom in my next chapter.

  3. Written by urban
    on April 18, 2013 at 06:26

    Are they not dividing the spoil? A maiden or two for every man?

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