Written Into Submission: Reassessing Sovereignty Through a Forgotten Eurasian Dynasty

Pickett, James


The Central Asian city of Shahrisabz has long been a historical footnote, widely regarded as an unruly “province in rebellion” plaguing its more powerful overlords in Bukhara during the seventeenth through late nineteenth centuries. In fact, it was an autonomous city-state in its own right, and the mechanisms through which it has been written into submission in the historiography reveal much about historical methodology and premodern logics of sovereignty. To recover Shahrisabz’s story, this article pursues a non-hegemonic reading of hegemonic Persian writing (a strategy more frequently applied to colonial sources) and pieces together scattered textual fragments composed in the city itself. In doing so, it illustrates the ways in which variegated forms of symbolic submission and coercive power intersected to create complexes not easily mappable to modern binaries. Seemingly contradictory forms of sovereignty routinely coexisted within a single polity, and greater specificity is necessary to capture a kaleidoscope of permutations. Thus source methodology and sovereignty stand as two conceptual domains intrinsically intertwined, with insights into the latter possible only with careful attention to the former.