Kevin Blankinship

A 13th-century guide to fraud and skulduggery

The Book of Charlatans, commissioned by a Turkish sultan, is a mesmerising account of the quacks and tricksters operating at the time

Quack medicine in the medieval Ottoman empire. Credit: Getty Images

Eight centuries ago in Turkey, at a gathering of intellectuals, a Muslim sultan insisted that one of his courtiers write a book about an unlikely subject: thieves and con artists. The sultan, Rukn al-Din, had secured another such book from Spain, but he wondered: ‘What’s left out of it?’ The set-upon courtier was Jamal al-Din Abd al-Rahim al-Jawbari, and the commissioned Arabic work, Kashf al-asrar (Exposing Secrets), his only surviving text.

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