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Ibn Khaldūn, Ibn al-Khaṭīb and Their Milieu: A Community of Letters in the Fourteenth-Century Mediterranean

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Despite the calamities of the fourteenth century, the Black Death, the disintegration of political power, and the destructive rivalry between North African and Andalusī rulers, the correspondence of two scholars and ministers, Ibn al-Khaṭīb and Ibn Khaldūn, reveals a network of intellectual contacts maintained above the fray. As Ibn al-Khaṭīb’s famous essay, the “Art of Being a Minister,” made clear, the intelligentsia saw itself as both within and above the political milieu. The conferring of diplomas from teacher to student was based as much on personal loyalty as on scholarship. In the same century, however, many members of the intellectual club, including Ibn Khaldūn and his teachers, complained that rulers limited the traditional freedoms of the scholars and ministers. Ibn Khaldūn articulated these moves as assaults on true scholarship. The intellectuals writing the history of the fourteenth-century Mediterranean were not simply agents of the rulers they worked for; rather, even as rivals they saw themselves as guardians in a family of letters, linked more by the ijāza than by blood. They were, or at least aspired to be, members of an intellectual class that transcended political and, sometimes, religious boundaries.

Affiliations: 1: Department of History, Georgia State University34 Peachtree Street NW, Suite 2050, Atlanta, ga


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