Essence of Mongol-Christian Diplomacy in the 13th Century

Essence of Mongol-Christian Diplomacy in the 13th Century

By Martin Hall

Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ISA’s 50th Annual Convention: “Exploring the Past, Anticipating the Future” (2009)

Introduction: The ambition of this chapter is modest. In our book Essence of Diplomacy Christer and I drew on a huge array of historical examples in our effort to contribute to the theoretical development of the study of diplomacy. More often than not, we studied diplomacy in settings were there were already a history of relations. In those cases – such as the European ‘discovery’ of the Americas – were we did look at tabula rasa situations, there was a vast discrepancy in power among the different parties. Moreover, one of our central concerns in the book was to show how diplomacy is essential to the reproduction of international societies, even as these might be transforming. In this chapter I analyze a historical tabula rasa situation in which power was – at least in effective terms – more or less balanced, and in which an international society failed to materialize. In spite of a range of diplomatic missions from both parts, Latin Christendom and the Mongol Empire in the second half of the 13th century never institutionalized or ritualized any of the “three essential or constitutive dimensions of diplomacy: communication, representation, and reproduction of international society”. In this chapter, I ask myself why this was so.

In the first part of the chapter I briefly recapitulate the main theoretical thrust, and some of the main building blocks for theory building that Christer and I discuss in our book. The second section seeks to elaborate an anthropological theoretical dimension that is extant in Essence only in an embryonic form. Finally, the third section look at two periods – the 1240s and the 1260s – of relatively intense Latin Christian and Mongol exchanges of diplomatic missions. In the first period I look at the general exchange between the Pope and the Khagan, but in the second period I analyze only the particular exchange between the Pope and the Ilkhanate in the Near East. At this point in time the Mongol Empire was decentralized and marked by internal strife, and Latin Christendom had to have separate relations with the Ilkhanate in the Near East and the Golden Horde in Russia. I will confine myself to the Papal-Ilkhan relations.

Click here to read/download this article (PDF file)

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine