Mirrors for Princes and Sultans: Advice on the Art of Governance in the Medieval Christian and Islamic Worlds

Lisa Blaydes (Stanford University)
Justin Grimmer (Stanford University)
Alison McQueen (Stanford University)

Abstract: When and how did European modes of political thought diverge from those which existed in other world regions, particularly Middle Eastern societies that shared significant institutional heritage with Europe? To address this question, we compare Muslim and Christian political advice texts from the medieval period using automated text analysis to identify four major themes and sixty granular themes common to both Muslim and Christian polities, and examine how emphasis on these topics evolves over time. While European mirrors, and Machiavelli's Prince in particular, have been extensively studied, there has been less scholarly examination of a parallel political advice literature emanating from the Islamic world. Our empirical findings identify a major inflection point in the political discourse for Muslim texts beginning in the 12th century, a juncture suggested by historians as an ideational turning point as a result of the influence of Turkic and, later, Mongol invaders. For Christian texts, we empirically identify a decline in the relevance of religious appeals from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

Download the paper