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Mirrors of the World: Alexander Romances and the Fifteenth Century Ottoman Sultanate


Beginning in the third century BCE, just after the death of the Alexander III of Macedon, a series of historical and romanticized narratives begin to circulate that told the tale of his life, adventures, and military career. These textual representatives were only one aspect of a broader category of Alexandriana – the textual, visual, material and folkloric representations – that highlighted the deeds of Alexander the Great. Textural representations of Alexandriana spread throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Central Asia, and were rendered into a broad range of languages including, Greek, Syriac, Hebrew, Ethiopic, Mongolian, Persian and Ottoman Turkish. Previous readings of Ahmedi's fifteenth-century Ottoman Turkish rending of the Iskendername have correctly placed it as part of the nisahatname 'mirrors for princes' genre, but have underplayed its role in the almost two-millennia tradition of the Alexander Romance cycle. This oversight missed several opportunities to investigate Ottoman participation in the long durée of Mediterranean cultural continuity of the Alexander Romance tradition. Furthermore, the beginning of the fifteenth century offered a narrative link between the Ottoman and Alexandrine historical contexts that has been overlooked thus far. Equally important, the Ottoman Civil war and Wars of the Diadochi offered an opportunity for understanding the role of the Alexander narrative in the fifteenth century Ottoman context. Mid-fifteenth century association and emulation of Alexander the Great provided both narrative links between Mehmed the Conqueror and Alexander the Great. Such links re-shaped a "Mediterraneaninzed" Ottoman imperial paradigm that sought – if only ephemerally—to re-unite the Mediterranean world under the Ottoman standard. Translatio imperii was encapsulated within both the Alexandrine and Ottoman narratives and represented not a single context but several distinct contexts (trans-imperial, geographic, intra-dynastic and inter dynastic translatio imperii) which highlighted a series of circumstantial parallelisms (Narrative, Person, Place and Event) between these two narratives. This significance of Ottoman participation in the broader Mediterranean cultural world represented a major step in a cultural continuity and Mediterranean cultural unity that both shows the Ottoman relationship with the distant past and its entry into the early modern world as a major world empire.

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