Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Power, Politics, and Tradition in the Mongol Empire and the Ilkhanate of Iran

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Power, Politics, and Tradition in the Mongol Empire and the Ilkhanate of Iran

Article excerpt

Power, Politics, and Tradition in the Mongol Empire and the Ilkhanate of Iran. By MICHAEL HOPE. Oxford: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2016. Pp. x + 238. $90, [pounds sterling]60.

A large number of studies have recently appeared on various aspects of the history of the Mongol World empire as well as of the post-1260 Mongol oecumene, along with a focus on its component parts. In particular, the Ilkhanate successor state, in Iran and surrounding countries (ca. 1260-1335), has received a healthy amount of attention. We have now important discussions on a wide range of subjects from Ilkhanid history--intellectual and cultural developments, relations with the indigenous populations (Muslim and otherwise), the role of the local bureaucratic elites, religious interaction and conversion, economic history, international relations (with both other Mongol and non-Mongol states), military history--but lacking was a comprehensive examination of the flow of political events (although Boyle's long article from 1968 in vol. 5 of The Cambridge History of Islam was an excellent start), along with a reasonable attempt to explain their dynamics and underlying logic. This new book by Michael Hope has attempted to fill this gap.

The basic theme of Hope's study is that Mongol history, in the formative period of Chinggis Khan's reign (from the late 1100s to his death in 1227), the subsequent generation of the united Mongol empire (until ca. 1260), and the ensuing Ilkhanid state in Iran, underwent alternating phases of patrimonialist and collegial rule. In the former we find a powerful ruler, supported by loyal senior officers and bureaucrats; in the latter are weaker sovereigns and policy largely determined by a group of noyat (pi. of noyari), high-ranking officers who each commanded a division (tiimen) and worked more or less in concert. This group of influential grandees, along with the princes, was referred to as aqa-nar (sing. aqa, lit. "older brother"). As delineated by Hope, Chinggis Khan's rule was not surprisingly patrimonialist, while those of Ogodei (1229-1241) and Guyiik (1246-1248) were clearly collegial. Mongke (1251-1259), on the other hand, created a strong patrimonialist regime. His brother Hiilegu (reigning from ca. 1260 as a de facto independent ruler until his death in 1265) was unable to establish such a regime, and such were the reigns of his sons Abaqa (1265-1282) and Tegiider Ahmad (1282-1284). The latter's successor, his nephew Arghun, followed suit until 1289, when he launched a short-lived effort to establish his own authority, supported by the forceful if not always politic minister Sa'd al-Dawla. This determined attempt was cut short by the sovereign's death in 1291. The confused times during the reigns of Geikhatu (1291-1295) and Baidu (only several months in 1295), a heyday of renewed collegial rule, were ended by the energetic and strong Ghazan (1295-1304), whose reign was one of ever strengthening royal authority and reform to buttress it. However, Ghazan's early death returned hegemony to the senior amirs, and their preponderance characterizes the reigns of the last two Ilkhanids, Oljeitu (1305-1317) and Abu Sa (c)Id (1317-1335), both relatively weak rulers. Indeed, although this is not explicitly said by Hope, a look at the almost century and a half of Mongol history surveyed here in some depth shows that more often than not it was the collegial phase that was dominant. This, we are to believe, is how most of the time the Mongol World empire was ruled and expanded, and its successor state in the Near East survived and even prospered.

There is much that commends this book. It shows a lot of the nitty-gritty of internal Mongol politics in greater detail and scope than has previously been presented. Many Mongol senior commanders are known to students of Mongol and Ilkhanid history, and their roles are not really a secret, yet their jostling for power and maneuvers vis-a-vis the rulers and other members of the Chinggisid royal family over the entire span of the Ilkhanate period had not yet been presented with such care. …

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