State Formation and Periodization in Inner Asian History

State Formation and Periodization in Inner Asian History

By Nicola Di Cosmo

Journal of World History, Vol. 10: 1 (1999)

Abstract: The history of empires created by inner Asian peoples bears direct relevance to the conceptionalization of world history down to the early modern period, as their impact on surrounding civilizations resulted in long-lasting demographic, economic, and political changes.  This essay explores the basic mechanisms of state formation in inner Asia and presents an argument for the periodization of inner Asian history based on the incremental ability of inner Asian empires to extract from outside sources the wealth necessary for the maintenance of political and military state apparatus.  On this basis, the essay proposes a four-phase periodization, including ages of tribute empires (209 BC – AD 551), trade-tribute empires (551-907), dual administration empires (907-1259), and direct-taxation empires (1260-1796).

Excerpt: The juggernaut of the Mongol conquest, with its commercial, political, and cultural implications, is a historical event dazzling enough to make virtually all scholars agree that it was a watershed event in both world history and inner Asian history. For the Russian orientalist Barthold, the Mongol conquest of central Asia was a natural turning point, one that allowed for the creation of an original synthesis of Muslim-Persian and Chinese-Mongol cultures, and which eventually produced the cultural efflorescence of central Asia under the Timurids. A division between pre-Chinggisid and Chinggisid political traditions is a widely accepted concept in the history of central Asia. Monogls are also given pride of place in a broader debate involving historians of China and world historians. Janet Abu-Lughod regards the Mongol conquest as an important element in the thirteenth-century world system, as it favoured the transit of goods and merchants from Europe to China. Adshead refers to the Mongol conquest as an “explosion” the effectively ignited “world history” and it compares it to a “big bang.” The centuries after the Mongol conquest are divided into a phase of “activity” of central Asia in world history, and one in which it became “passive,” with a demarcation line drawn in the mid-seventeenth-century.

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