genghis khan -- 1/23/24

Today's encore selection -- from The Horde by Marie Favereau. Chinggis (alternate spelling Genghis) Khan and his Mongol successors built an empire that, at its peak, covered some 9 million square miles of territory, making it the largest contiguous land empire in world history:
"The Mongols interfered with the economic organization of their subjects and projected their power further than any other im­perial formations of their time. Yet the Mongols understood that con­trol over craft production, currency, traders, harvests, and crops had to be flexible and supple, and respectful of the practices and traditions of dominated peoples. Thus, for instance, when Mongols conquered new territories, they usually minted coins that were familiar to the locals and were easily accepted in existing circuits of exchange. Furthermore, the Mongols did not try to extract value from subjects no matter the cost to the subjects -- that is, the Mongols did not enslave their subjects and work them to death, as much later colonial regimes in the Atlantic world did. Rather, the goal of Mongol imperial oversight and interven­tion was to motivate and empower subjects to produce and trade across the empire, thereby enriching their Mongol overlords. Why was there no clash between globalization and empire building during the height of Mongol domination? This is a phenomenon that needs explaining, and I believe the explanation lies in the unique imperial policies of the Mongols.

Genghis Khan and Toghrul Khan, illustration from a 15th-century Jami' al-tawarikh manuscript

"Over the past several decades, scholarship on the Mongols has developed tremendously. Thomas Allsen's work is especially important. He was the first to demonstrate that the Mongol Empire must be un­derstood as an integrative system beyond the regional divisions -- the Chinese territory, the Middle Eastern territory, the Qipchaq steppe, and so on -- that formed in the wake of Chinggis Khan. Drawing on Allsen's work, a new generation of historians has reinterpreted the history and legacy of the empire. Masterfully conducted by Michal Biran, Nicola Di Cosmo, Peter Jackson, Hodong Kim, Timothy May, David Morgan, and others, new research demonstrates that a holistic view is necessary to understanding the functioning of the Mongol Empire. What hap­pened in Qaraqorum, the Mongol imperial capital, resonated deeply in Sarai, the Jochid capital on the lower Volga River. (Readers should not be misled by terms such as 'capital.' These cities were built and favored by the khans, but the khans did not live in them except during annual festivals and on other special occasions. As I detail throughout the book, khans lived on the road, migrating with their people and herds.)

"Scholars have begun to sweep away old stereotypes of marauding plunderers showing instead that the Mongol Empire was a complex political, social, and economic entity resembling a federation or a common­wealth. Our challenge now is to combine the bird's-eye view with a microhistory perspective of Mongol Eurasia. The idea of global micro­history is to connect the local and world registers, in order to deepen our understanding of both. The small scale, the voices of individual people and the scenes of their lives, provides details that inform world­wide history. The voices of individual people may be hard to track down, especially from early periods. But the task is not impossible, especially when the voices are those of the Horde -- a well-documented case, if not one that has otherwise received comprehensive treatment.

"Holism has shown us that the Chinggisid empire was full of mutual influences, as its various portions shaped each other. But that does not mean the empire was a monolith. Its diversity emerges in microhistor­ical accounting. The empire fostered several enduring nomadic regimes led by the Jochids, Chagatayids, Ögodelds, and Toluids, named for four sons of Chinggis Khan. Each of these regimes deserves to be studied separately, in detail. This study focuses on the Jochid regime -- the Horde -- illuminating its particular implementations of and departures from Mongol styles of rule and examining the longstanding effects of Jochid policies on global history."



Marie Favereau


The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World


The Belknap Press of Harvard University


Copyright 2021 by Marie Favereau


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