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The Mongol Empire: The State of the Research

The Mongol Empire: The State of the Research

By Michal Biran

History Compass, Vol. 11 (2013)

Mongol Empire - illustration by Keith Pickering / Wikicommons
Mongol Empire in 1259 – illustration by Keith Pickering / Wikicommons

Abstract: The study of the Mongol Empire has made enormous strides in the past two decades, and its most notable impact is the shift of seeing the Empire not only in national or regional terms but from a holistic perspective, in its full Eurasian context. This focus, credited mostly to the works of Thomas T. Allsen, also means that the scholarly literature now gives more space to topics that interest world historians such as the cultural, economic, religious and artistic exchanges that prevailed in Mongol Eurasia, or the legacy that the Mongol Empire left for the early modern empires. Simultaneously, the Mongols’ image begins to shift from the barbarian warriors obsessed with massacres and plunder, to the Mongols as active promoters of cross-cultural connections, who even brought about the transition from the medieval to the modern world. The paper reviews the major trends in the study of the Empire from world history perspective and argues that the nomadic civilization of the Mongols should be taken into account in world history surveys.

Introduction: In mid November 2012 Mongolia celebrated with great pomp the 850th birthday of Chinggis Khan (1162-1227). The celebrations included an international conference entitled “Chinggis Khan and Globalization.” While this was an impressive manifestation of the use of the Mongol Empire for constructing national identity, the conference’s title reflects the fascination of our globalised age with periods of early globalization such as Mongol rule in thirteenth and fourteenth century’s Eurasia. Indeed the study of the Mongol Empire has made enormous strides in the past two decades, and its most notable impact is the shift of seeing the Empire not only in national or regional terms but from a holistic perspective, in its full Eurasian context. This focus, credited mostly to the seminal works of Thomas T. Allsen, also means that the scholarly literature now gives more space to topics that interest world  historians such as the cultural, economic and religious exchanges that prevailed in Mongol Eurasia. Simultaneously, the Mongols’ image in the scholarly literature begins to shift from the barbarian warriors obsessed with massacres and plunder, to the Mongols as active promoters of cross-cultural connections, who even brought about the transition from the medieval to the modern world. Part of this new focus was enthusiastically embraced by world history textbooks, although these works often tend to relate to the Mongols more as a passive medium, the main contribution of which was the unification of a vast territory under one rule, and ignore the Mongols’ nomadic culture and its impact.

This short survey aims to point up major directions in the study of the Mongol empire in the last two decades, and suggest a few promising directions for future inquiries. First, however, a definition of the Mongol empire is called for:

In the early 13th century Chinggis Khan and his heirs created the world’s largest contiguous empire, that at its height stretched from Korea to Hungary. The Chinggisids not only conquered the whole Eurasian steppe, home of the nomads, they also united under their rule three other civilizations: the Chinese, its center and hinterland came under their rule by 1279; the Islamic, where they conquered the former center, Baghdad, in 1258, and even beforehand a large chunk of the eastern Islamic lands; and, since 1241, the Orthodox Christian, where they ruled only the hinterland not the Byzantine center. Moreover, as the only superpower of the thirteenth century, the Mongols had a noticeable impact even on regions and civilizations outside their empire, such as Japan, Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, the Arab Middle East and Europe, both western and eastern.

Click here to read this article from Academia.edu



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