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The Mongol Empire between Myth and Reality


Mirza Firuz Shah


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Mongols 1206-1368

Subject Year (Time):



Denise Aigle





Publisher & Place:

Tuta Sub Aegide Pallas 1683 Brill Leiden Boston

Publisher Date:




ISBN 10|13:

9789004277496 | 9789004280649

Royal Mughal Ref:




Both modern historiography and the mediaeval chronicles have often portrayed the period of Mongol rule as one of the darkest times for the Iranian lands. It has been seen as a major split in their history. The Mongol conquest brought about an unprecedented situation in Muslim Iran: a society organized on the basis of Islamic precepts and customs was suddenly in the hands of a people whose world-view and mores were utterly different. The descendants of Genghis Khan used the shared political culture of the nomadic peoples of the steppes to establish their rule over the great stretches of Asia and Eurasia.1 The Secret History of the Mongols, the founding text of Mongol identity, is a source of the utmost importance. It informs us as to the social organization of these tribes, their values, and their religious and cultural universe. We find in it their models of political legitimization at the time of the conquests, in particular the concept of “Heaven” (tenggeri). The first paragraph begins:

The origin of Cinggis Qan. At the beginning there was a blue-grey wolf, born with his destiny ordained by the Heaven above. His wife was a fal low doe. They came crossing the Tenggis.2 After they had settled at the source of the Onan River on Mount Burqan Qaldun, Bataciqan was born to them.3 From his birth and on, thus, Heaven had chosen Genghis Khan for a lofty destiny. 4 The term “Heaven” appears in other expressions too: Genghis Khan 1 See Peter Golden, “Imperial Ideology and the Sources of Political Unity Amongst the Pre Cinggisid Nomads of Western Eurasia,” aema ii (1982): 37-76; “War and Warfare in the Pre-Cinggisid Western Steppes of Eurasia,” in Warfare in Inner Asian History (500-1800), ed. N. Di Cosmo (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 105-172. 2 Lit. “the Sea” or fig. “a large body of water” such a great lake, possibly the Baikal, see Igor de Rachewiltz, Secret History 1:1, n. 1. 3 Secret History § 1. Italics are from the translator. 4 The term “Heaven” (tenggeri) is often associated with the term “Earth” (qajar), as when Genghis Khan, after his victory over Jamuqa, declares: “Heaven and Earth increased my force and took me into their protection,” Secret History § 125. About these ideas at the time of Genghis Khan, see Igor de Rachewiltz, “Heaven, Earth and the Mongols in the Time of Cinggis Qan and his Immediate Successors (ca. 1160-1260) —A Preliminary Investigation,” in A Lifelong Dedication to the China Mission. Essays Presented in Honor of Father Jeroom is the “son of Heaven.”5 The “force of Heaven” assists him in his conquests. Heaven grants him and his successors his protection, as is attested in the diplomatic documents. But while the khan’s success is explained by the support of the “Heaven Above,” he has not in fact received any order to conquer the world In the name of the tenggerif The Secret History mentions Heaven’s mandate to Genghis Khan only once, in words spoken by the shaman Kokochii (Teb Tenggeri). The context is to rule over the Mongol ulus, i.e. the steppe nomads and not over the whole world. 7 The references to Heaven in the Secret History do not show that Genghis Khan’s foundation of the Mongol empire was due
to a heavenly decree. Rather, they serve primarily to retrospectively legitimize a human act,8 but some researchers pointed out a religious inspiration of Mongol expansion.

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Very good information.

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Shah Sharaf Barlas


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