Thursday, 16 September 2010

The world's greatest headless dad

Today, Radio 4's excellent "A History of the World in 100 Objects" featured a beautiful jade cup made for the Timurid Emperor Ulugh Beg, grandson of Timur (AKA Tamburlaine The Great). Apparently, Ulugh Beg was a cultured fellow, a lover of mathematics and astronomy, whose patronage got the Observatory of Samarkand built.  A crater on the moon is named after this astronomer-king.

Sadly, although he was a notable intellectual and patron, Ulugh Beg didn't really cut it in the world of power politics.* His rule lasted only two years. The BBC web site notes:

This jade cup from Central Asia would have been valued for its beauty and its protective powers. When this cup was made it was believed that jade would crack if it came into contact with poison...

Ulugh Beg would have owned such a cup to protect himself from assassination by his rivals. However, the cup could not save him from his own son who seized power in 1449 and had Ulugh beheaded.
The clouded jade cup is a rather lovely thing, but this is one of those times when I'd gladly not trade places with the rich and powerful. When my son gets old enough to buy presents, I'd be happy to get a cheap and nasty, mass-produced "World's Greatest Dad" mug and a promise not to decapitate daddy. I'm easily pleased.

*A reputation he shared with the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II of Bohemia.