When did the East-Iranian Quhistāni fortresses become “Ismaili”? New perspectives for a History of Ismailism
Keywords:Ismailis, Ismaili castles, Quhistān, Seljuqs, Mongols, medieval fortifications, medieval history of Iran
This article questions whether the expression “Ismaili castles” is appropriate to describe the fortifications of the historical region of Quhistān, in Eastern Iran. “Ismaili castle” is a locution largely used among the historiographical studies of Persian Ismailism of the Alamūt period (1090-1256), since it would reflect the strategy of political control experienced by the Ismailis in the territories they ruled. However, this expression derives from the crystallization of a 19th and the 20th century idea in line with identity-based and ideological perspectives circulating among the European scholars. According to this perspective there was a sort of “Ismaili” identity recognizable in all their mountain “castles”. The expression is not adequate in terms of historical interpretation, and specifically for reconstruction of the history of medieval Quhistān. We aim
to trace back the chain of transmission of the interpretative categories which permitted a widespread use and diffusion of the locution “Ismaili
castles”, and to analyze its impact among the modern studies on Persian Ismailism. We will then reconsider the role and function of the castles in Quhistān, in light of the preliminary observations we made during a survey conducted in the region. This article contributes to the recent
debate on the necessity to free current historiographical approaches from outdated paradigms and to widen the scope of the research to new and unedited sources. To this regard, in our conclusion we propose possible research paths and methods of historical investigation on the medieval history of Iran.