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History in the Ahistorical? Byzantine and Sasanian Elements in a Pseudo-Aristotelian Treatise on Strategy and Politics

Principal Investigator:
Research Team:
Jun 01, 2016 — Jun 30, 2017
Contact Person:
Prof. Dr. Regula Forster
+49 (0)30 838 4 53662

A collection of sixteen letters purportedly representing an exchange between Aristotle, Philip of Macedonia, and Alexander the Great has survived in Arabic but seldom been studied. The correspondence was possibly abbreviated from a larger collection known to have been in circulation in eighth-century Syria. It bears the features of an epistolary novel where Greek rhetorical devices have clearly been in play, within a larger Islamic context of references. The protagonists to whom the Muslim biographical tradition has attached the circulation of such a collection of letters are well-known figures who worked for the Umayyad chancellery during the first half of the eighth century in Syria, Iraq, and Iran.


Classical Greek, Byzantine, Sasanian and Islamic references form the cultural background of the collection. It is in particular in Letter VIII (On General Policy, Arabic: Risāla fī al-siyāsa al-ʻāmmiyya) that excerpts from Byzantine and Sasanian treatises on strategy and politics have been discovered. During the project, Regula Forster and Emily Cottrell will concentrate on mapping concordances with parallel texts (chiefly in Greek, Arabic and Persian) and providing an analysis of Letter VIII, contrasting it to the other letters in the collection. Letter VIII differs in both composition and contents from the remaining letters, where Late Antique references seem to be lacking. A proper identification of the mythological and historical references in Letter VIII will enable the applicants to publish an annotated translation of the text, paving the way to further studies on the remaining letters.