An epic history of the Mongols as we have never seen them ― not just conquerors but also city builders, diplomats, and supple economic thinkers who constructed one of the most influential empires in history. The Mongols are widely known for one thing: conquest. In the first comprehensive history of the Horde, the western portion of the Mongol empire that arose after the death of Chinggis Khan, Marie Favereau shows that the accomplishments of the Mongols extended far beyond war. For three hundred years, the Horde was no less a force in global development than Rome had been. It left behind a profound legacy in Europe, Russia, Central Asia, and the Middle East, palpable to this day...
Publisher: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press (April 20, 2021) Pages: 384 pages ISBN-10: 0674244214 ISBN-13: 978-0674244214 ASIN: B08VF4PJ1M
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About the author: Marie Favereau is Associate Professor of History at Paris Nanterre University. She has been a member of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study, and a research associate for the Nomadic Empires project at the University of Oxford. Her books include La Horde d’Or et le sultanat mamelouk and the graphic novel Gengis Khan.
Note on Transliteration
This book includes many terms originating in non-English languages. Most of these terms have numerous acceptable English spellings. I have attempted throughout to prioritize both accuracy and legibility.
Spellings of persons’ names follow well-established English-language forms (e.g., William of Rubruck, Michael Palaiologos). The common spelling of Genghis Khan, however, is given here under its historically correct form of Chinggis Khan, a usage shared by most historians of the Mongol Empire. I use common Europeanized spellings of titles such as caliph and emir. Place names are also given in common anglicized forms when these are available (e.g., Caucasus, Herat). I sometimes reference current geographic terms (e.g., China, Europe) that may appear anachronistic in context; however, these terms are useful for orienting readers and hopefully won’t offend specialists.
For the spelling of Mongolian terms and names, I largely follow the system employed by Christopher Atwood in Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. These spellings are based on the Uighur-Mongolian script, as pronounced in the Mongolian language of the relevant time period. In some cases, however, I use more common forms (e.g., H ü leg ü instead of H ü le’ ü ). And in some cases Mongolian terms are given in their Turkic and Russian forms (e.g., tarkhan , yarlik), in accordance with common usage in the sources and in scholarship.
Arabic words and names have been transliterated according to the system used in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, except that I omit the dot diacritic (e.g., I use h instead of ḥ). In most cases the transliteration of Persian and Turkic words follows the same simplified system. Russian has been transliterated according to the system of the Library of Congress, without diacritics. For Chinese names I have employed the pinyin system.
A POWER OF A NEW KIND
T he Horde was neither a conventional empire nor a dynastic state, even less a nation-state. It was a great nomadic regime born from the Mongol expansion of the thirteenth century, an equestrian regime that became so powerful it ruled virtually all of today’s Russia, including western Siberia, for almost three centuries. The Horde was the most enduring regime of all those that descended from the Mongol conquerors. Yet, despite the rich evidence we possess about the Horde, it remains little understood. Far more has been written about the Ilkhanids, the Mongol rulers of the Middle East, and the Yuan, the dynasty inaugurated in China by descendants of Chinggis Khan. The fascinating tale of the Horde remains as though behind a veil.
This book reveals the Horde’s story, which begins in the East Asian steppe where, in the early thirteenth century, Chinggis Khan united the nomads—Mongols and other steppe peoples—and began building the largest contiguous empire in the world. Chinggis gave four of his sons each his own ulus, his own people, and territory in which to establish themselves. Key to this history is the inheritance of Jochi, Chinggis’s eldest and chief heir. Jochi was entrusted with the conquest of the steppe west of Mongolia, a vast region that reaches its ecological limits in Hungary. Jochi, however, slighted his father, and Chinggis stripped his priority to the throne. The consequences were profound. In the 1240s, after Jochi died, his sons, warriors, and their families moved to the temperate zone between the Volga-Ural region and the Black Sea where they established a new kind of Mongol administration, largely independent of the empire. The Jochid pioneers maintained Mongol practices but would never go back to Mongolia. In less than three decades, a few thousand people became hundreds of thousands, creating a sophisticated social organization able to sustain their own imperial formation. This multitude recognized itself as ulus Jochi and referred to their empire as Orda—the Horde.
The Horde was a flexible regime, able to adapt to internal changes and external pressures. The Horde was also wealthy and powerful enough to rule its neighbors and secure autonomy from the Mongol center. Jochid leaders recalibrated relations with the other descendants of Chinggis to maintain stability, and they kept control of the cities and trade routes between the Aral and Black seas, securing critical commercial avenues. Indeed, the Horde dominated Eurasian continental trade and, in the process, shaped the trajectories of Russia and Central Asia until the sixteenth century.
Historians know this mighty and influential regime as the Golden Horde or the Qipchaq Khanate, a reference to the Qipchaq people, prior inhabitants of the lands the Horde took over. These scholars increasingly have recognized the Horde’s historical significance and yet rarely have attempted fully to explain it. This book seeks to examine the Horde on its own terms, to grasp how this regime emerged, developed over the centuries, adjusting and transforming while keeping its nomadic character. Importantly, we need to put native concepts, such as ulus, sarai (sedentary cities the nomads built, including a major one called simply Sarai), khan (ruler), and beg (nomadic leaders) front and center to explain the Horde from within.
This book not only captures the obscured social and political nature of the Horde, it also reconsiders the Horde’s legacy—its impact on global history. In the second half of the thirteenth century, economic exchange intensified, integrating almost all of Eurasia. Today most historians have accepted the notion of a Mongol world empire, coalescing in one economic system the main subsystems of the Eurasian landmass, roughly divided into East Asia, the Islamic world, the Slavic world, and Europe. Under Mongol domination, faraway regions of the globe came into contact more than superficially and, for at least a century spanning the mid-1200s to the mid-1300s, these regions were linked in a common network of exchange and production. For the first time, people and caravans could travel safely from Italy to China.
Historians used to call this unprecedented commercial boom Pax Mongolica, the Mongol Peace, in reference to the post-conquest stability of the Mongol dominions and the far-flung exchange that stability enabled. Yet, as recent scholarship notes, relations among the descendants of Chinggis Khan were not peaceful. Nor was there peace, exactly, between the Mongols and the peoples they conquered. The notion of peace here should be understood more clearly as conquered peoples’ acceptance of Mongol domination. But we need not discard the concept just because the word “peace” is not entirely appropriate. Here I reexamine the Pax Mongolica as the Mongol exchange: a macro-historical phenomenon on par with such world-shaping phenomena as the Trans-Saharan trade or the Columbian exchange. Understood as the Mongol exchange, the global moment created by Chinggis Khan’s successors comes into focus.
The Mongol exchange is a monumental shift that facilitated the flourishing of art, the development of skilled crafts, and the progress of research in various areas such as botany, medicine, astronomy, measurement systems, and historiography. The increased production and circulation of manufactured objects, often driven by Mongol leaders themselves, is another major effect of this world phenomenon. Ceramics, manuscripts, textiles, music, poetry, weapons: the Mongols wanted everything to be produced and distributed inside their territories. The Mongols also imported goods and enacted policies to attract traders. The khans valued merchants, granting them lofty distinctions, legal privileges, and tax exemptions. Nomads invested in travel equipment, weaponry, and fashionable clothing, and they craved furs, leather, and imported luxury fabrics made of silk and cotton. The steppe had its understood social markers, some of which necessitated manufacture and trade: carrying expensive weapons indicated status; so did wearing jewels, belts, hats, fine robes, and leather boots. High-ranking women had a distinctive way of dressing and wore a conical headdress (ku-ku or boqta) as a widely recognized symbol of their status. The “Mongol fashion” made an impression on foreign travelers, who noted that many people, even Europeans, wanted to look like them.
In some senses, manufactured objects were luxuries for the nomads, yet the nomads were not frivolous. Luxuries were vital to the Mongol political economy. Long-distance exchange and circulation of manufactured goods were not essential to subsistence, yet they were the backbone of the social order. Mongol economics relied on the circulation of these goods, in particular their redistribution from the khan to the elites to the commoners, a system that simultaneously reinforced social rank, created bonds of dependence, and gave even the least in society a reason to feel invested in the success of the regime. Steppe nomads further understood circulation as a spiritual necessity. Sharing wealth mollified the spirits of the dead, the sky, and the earth.
Across Eurasia, the Mongols enjoyed clear hegemony over the circulation of goods from the mid-thirteenth until the mid-fourteenth century, and while some of the Mongol regimes faltered in this period, the Horde continued to facilitate long-distance trade. The Mongols built dense economic connections from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea to China. This was due in part to their integrative policies: the Mongols welcomed new subjects into their societies, regardless of those subjects’ origins, religions, and ways of life. Even freshly defeated enemies were brought into the fold. The Mongols shrewdly combined state power—over treaties, currency issuance, taxation, supervision of roads—with liberal exchange policies. Although tributes were a key source of revenue, the Mongols provided tax exemptions in order to encourage commerce. And the Mongols approached partnerships fluidly, making alliances on the basis of common interest rather ethnic or religious affiliation—although they exploited such affiliations as well. In the 1260s the Jochid elite even converted en masse to Islam in order to win powerful friends and trading partners in Muslim-ruled lands. Berke Khan, the Jochid leader at the time, did not lack true religious conviction, but nor were he and his top advisors blind to the realpolitik benefits of their decision and nor did they scorn non-Muslim partners.
The Jochid conversion solidified links between Mongol imperialism and Mamluk Egypt, one of many relationships that made the Mongol exchange a global phenomenon. The Jochids also established trading relationships with Russians, Germans, Genoese, Venetians, Byzantines, and Greeks, and their trade network at times could reach as far as Flanders. In truth, the Columbian exchange should be seen in part as a legacy of the Mongol exchange, as historians have established that Christopher Columbus was looking for a quicker, safer route to India, possibly after he had heard of Marco Polo’s travels to the Mongol imperial center in the Far East. 3 The Mongol exchange, on this view, is not really a historical turning point from the medieval to the modern, although the Pax Mongolica tends to be perceived this way. Rather, the Mongol exchange transcends the separation between medieval and modern. The Mongol exchange bridges the gap between the ancient world’s Silk Road and the modern world’s Age of Exploration, transforming our historical perception of both.
We must distinguish between the Mongol exchange and the Mongol Empire, as they are not the same thing. Certainly it is important to note their mutual influence: how they produced each other, how they interacted with each another, and how they finally parted ways, as the dynamics and effects of the Mongol exchange lasted long after the collapse of the empire. One of the remarkable dimensions of the interaction between empire and exchange is that the empire did not disrupt the exchange. The Mongols interfered with the economic organization of their subjects and projected their power farther than any other imperial formations of their time. Yet the Mongols understood that control over craft production, currency, traders, harvests, and crops had to be flexible and supple, and respectful of the practices and traditions of dominated peoples. Thus, for instance, when Mongols conquered new territories, they usually minted coins that were familiar to the locals and were easily accepted in existing circuits of exchange. Furthermore, the Mongols did not try to extract value from subjects no matter the cost to the subjects—that is, the Mongols did not enslave their subjects and work them to death, as much later colonial regimes in the Atlantic world did. Rather, the goal of Mongol imperial oversight and intervention was to motivate and empower subjects to produce and trade across the empire, thereby enriching their Mongol overlords. Why was there no clash between globalization and empire building during the height of Mongol domination? This is a phenomenon that needs explaining, and I believe the explanation lies in the unique imperial policies of the Mongols.
Over the past several decades, scholarship on the Mongols has developed tremendously. Thomas Allsen’s work is especially important. He was the first to demonstrate that the Mongol Empire must be understood as an integrative system beyond the regional divisions—the Chinese territory, the Middle Eastern territory, the Qipchaq steppe, and so on—that formed in the wake of Chinggis Khan. Drawing on Allsen’s work, a new generation of historians has reinterpreted the history and legacy of the empire. Masterfully conducted by Michal Biran, Nicola Di Cosmo, Peter Jackson, Hodong Kim, Timothy May, David Morgan, and others, new research demonstrates that a holistic view is necessary to understanding the functioning of the Mongol Empire. What happened in Qaraqorum, the Mongol imperial capital, resonated deeply in Sarai, the Jochid capital on the lower Volga River. (Readers should not be misled by terms such as “capital.” These cities were built and favored by the khans, but the khans did not live in them except during annual festivals and on other special occasions. As I detail throughout the book, khans lived on the road, migrating with their people and herds.)
Scholars have begun to sweep away old stereotypes of marauding plunderers showing instead that the Mongol Empire was a complex political, social, and economic entity resembling a federation or a commonwealth. Our challenge now is to combine the bird’s-eye view with a microhistory perspective of Mongol Eurasia. The idea of global microhistory is to connect the local and world registers, in order to deepen our understanding of both. The small scale, the voices of individual people and the scenes of their lives, provides details that inform worldwide history. The voices of individual people may be hard to track down, especially from early periods. But the task is not impossible, especially when the voices are those of the Horde—a well-documented case, if not one that has otherwise received comprehensive treatment.
Holism has shown us that the Chinggisid empire was full of mutual influences, as its various portions shaped each other. But that does not mean the empire was a monolith. Its diversity emerges in microhistorical accounting. The empire fostered several enduring nomadic regimes led by the Jochids, Chagatayids, Ö g ö deids, and Toluids, named for four sons of Chinggis Khan. Each of these regimes deserves to be studied separately, in detail. This study focuses on the Jochid regime—the Horde—illuminating its particular implementations of and departures from Mongol styles of rule and examining the longstanding effects of Jochid policies on global history.
While scholars have recognized that nomads could create complex political structures, scholars also have yet to fully grasp the nomads’ level of agency in the Mongol exchange, in particular the Horde’s impact on Eurasian geopolitics. Large questions remain. In what ways did the Mongols, the Horde in particular, shape the world around it? How were the Horde and other Mongols shaped by their encounter with the outside world? How did Mongol rulers adapt their inherited traditions of governance without losing their nomadic and historically anchored identities?
The Horde transformed as the world around it changed. As such, the Horde was also a product of the Mongol exchange. This raises the question of the weight of the Horde’s agency on the global system, especially on the so-called peripheries of northern Eurasia and Siberia. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of the Mongol integrative system lies in the rise of northern Eurasia, specifically Russia. The political and economic development of the Russian principalities under the Horde’s domination also enabled the Horde to grow out of the Mongol matrix. Russian vassalage was a relationship that influenced both partners—the Russians and the Jochids—decisively.
Much of the Jochid influence on Russia derived from the Horde’s trade policies, which helped to create the largest integrated market in premodern history, a network that connected the circuits of the Baltic, the Volga, the Caspian Sea, and the Black Sea in a single operative system, which was itself linked to Central Asia, China, the Middle East, and Europe. Against the enduring stereotype of parasitical nomads, we find that the Horde generated wealth. Consummate generalists, nomadic leaders repurposed military logistics to enhance long-distance trade, drawing on the army’s messenger system (the yam) to ship goods and commercial orders. And while the Horde and other Mongols were primarily herders, they also learned to manipulate their environment and exploit natural resources such as salt, medicinal herbs, and wood. They planted millet and organized extensive fish farming. They firmly controlled access to grasslands, trade routes, and marketplaces and enticed foreigners to trade near their headquarters. The Mongols also took advantage of the skills and capacities of those they conquered. Hordes expanded their commercial networks in part by taking over existing nexuses of craft and trade. The goal was not to pillage these locations—although the Mongols sometimes did pillage—but to encourage the inhabitants to continue the work at which they already excelled so that the Mongols could reap the rewards through taxation. Thus even if few Jochids settled in the subjugated port towns and salt-mining villages of the Black Sea region, the Horde benefited by taxing the merchants and producers plying their trades there. The result was dramatic, as the Horde filled in the gap between markets east and west, north and south, enabling a continental economic order.
The Horde’s social, political, and economic systems were products of both continuity and change. All were in fact processes, malleable and subject to adjustment as circumstances dictated. Most basically, day-to-day life involved movement, as hordes rarely stayed long in one place. The nomads migrated across their territories, following seasonal changes to ensure their herds’ access to pasture and their own access to suitable campsites. The seasons also dictated when the Mongols made war. Foreign policy, a critical dimension of Mongol-led globalization, was in constant flux. The Jochid khans were especially agile in their diplomacy, forming a complex web of multilateral relations driven by trade and shifting alliances. Mamluk Egypt, Byzantium, Poland-Lithuania, Muscovy, Venice, and Genoa were all involved in commercial exchanges with the Horde; all were at times its allies and at other times its enemies. What looks like political inconsistency was in fact calculated strategy. Even identity was a fluid process, as the Jochids turned to Islam while still embracing the law and spiritual sensibilities of the steppe—law and sensibilities that were themselves the products of generations of development.
The wonder is that the Horde managed to maintain a distinctive social and political order devoted to assimilation and globalization. How? How did it adopt others and adapt to them? How, as the central Mongol Empire collapsed in the second half of the thirteenth century, did the Horde keep alive a system of commercial exchange driven by Mongol methods of governance? Even the best-documented works on the Black Sea trade and the Horde have not properly answered these questions.
“Horde,” when it was applied to the people of Jochi, was an old word for a new regime. The term itself has a long history that can be traced back to the time of the early Han in China (207 BCE –9 CE ). Most historians equate the Mongolian term orda with a khan’s court and his main military headquarters. Wherever there was a khan or other nomadic leader—whether the great khan, the ruler of the Mongol Empire; the khan of the Horde or another ulus; or the chiefs heading each of the migratory masses in a given ulus or territory—there was a horde. To the Mongols themselves, “horde” had a wide and complex meaning. A horde was an army, a site of power, a people under a ruler, a huge camp. These meanings did not exclude one another; in concert, they captured the sense that the regime was coextensive with its mobile people. A horde did not have to be in one place in order to govern itself or sedentary subjects; hordes migrated, dispersed, and gathered anew, all while exercising control. Mongols embedded mobility into their strategies of rule, as I discuss in detail in chapter 3.
Much of the literature about the Horde—and other Mongol regimes—uses the word “khanate” to denote the imperial formations that emerged from the Mongol Empire. This term comes from the Persian khānāt. Struggling to understand the alien political institutions the Mongols created, Persian administrators coined “khanate,” modeling it on their own “sultanate.” Persians thus emphasized the position of the khan. But while the khan was a leading figure, each regime was a collective power. Jochi’s ulus, Tolui’s ulus, and all the other uluses were jointly ruled. They had a single overarching leader who also led his own horde, while other hordes within the ulus had their own administrators. Major decisions were made by the khan in consultation with advisors and elites, including the administrators of the hordes the khan did not oversee directly. And the ulus’s wealth was shared among all its people, albeit unequally. Given the distributed nature of authority in Mongol society, terms such as “horde” and “ulus” are more useful in describing nomadic power formations than is “khanate.” And many contemporaries writing about Mongol rule did use the term “horde” to name this changeable sort of empire built on mobility, expansion and assimilation, diplomacy, and trade. A power of a different kind required a different kind of name.
The term “horde” entered Persian, Arabic, Russian, and all European languages following the Mongol conquests, and it is widely used today to denote a large crowd of unruly or uncontrollable people. This usage is a distant echo of “horde” as it appears in medieval sources written by travelers, many of them religious men otherwise accustomed to sedentary lives. These observers saw the Mongol power as brutal yet socially constructive. Foreign witnesses admitted the difficulty they faced in grasping who the Mongol newcomers were and what they wanted, and often travelers were scared by what they encountered. From these medieval accounts, permeated by the awe and fear of their authors, we get the modern sense of a horde as a powerful and frightening mass.
When discussing the people of Jochi, I used the term they used for themselves—Horde, with a capital H. I also use the Mongolian appellation ulus Jochi. “Ulus” bears various meanings in the medieval sources, but mostly it refers to the peoples descended from and conquered by Jochi, Chagatay, Ö g ö dei, and Tolui, the four sons of Chinggis and his chief wife, B ö rte. In the course of his conquests, Chinggis came to rule many subjects, whom he bequeathed to his heirs. These peoples included warriors and their families, craftsmen, merchants, and farmers. They were nomads, including Mongols and other steppe dwellers, and sedentary peoples. All these people comprised an ulus. Although historians may translate “ulus” as “state” or “empire,” according to contemporaries, an ulus was not primarily a territorial entity but instead bore the sense of a sovereign political community. Ulus Jochi, then, refers the descendants of Jochi together with all their subjects—whether nomadic subjects who fully assimilated, such as the Qipchaqs or Mongols of non-Jochid lineages, or sedentary subjects who maintained a separate ethnic identity, such as the Russians.
As such, ulus differs from horde. A horde is more precisely a nomadic regime or power. An ulus, by contrast, encompasses the people—both the sovereign and all his subjects. The historian and anthropologist Lhamsuren Munkh-Erdene points out that, in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century sources, the meaning of ulus was close to that of the common Mongolian word for people, irgen. “The Medieval Mongol ulus was a category of government that was turned into a ‘community of the realm’ and as such it was assumed to be ‘a natural, inherited community of tradition, custom, law and descent’, a ‘people’ or irgen,” he writes.
The Horde was socially diverse and multiethnic, but its leadership came from a core of dominant steppe clans, most of them Mongol subgroups: Qonggirad, Kiyad, Qatay, Manghit, Saljut, Shirin, Barin, Arghun, and Qipchaqs. The heads of these groups bore the title of beg. As the Horde became increasingly oligarchic in the late thirteenth century, power devolved from the khan to the begs, the nomadic leaders who joined the khan in a governing council . The begs acknowledged the khan’s primacy because he was a descendent of Chinggis Khan’s eldest son, Jochi. But that status did not make a khan all-powerful. To be elevated on the felt rug—the procedure for enthronement—an aspirant had to associate himself with powerful begs. Similarly, to rule effectively, a khan needed the begs on his side. They supported him and, if he failed, deposed him. This was especially the case after the 1350s, during and following a period known as the bulqaq — anarchy. In the course of this period, several pretenders to the Jochid throne struggled to take and keep power. While they foundered, the locus of authority shifted definitively to the begs. They maintained the Horde’s governing traditions, sought to elevate new khans who could rule in the image of Chinggis and his descendants, and pursued power for themselves.
No single study has heretofore treated the Horde as a case of effective empire building, but historicizing this specific form of collective power is essential for understanding post-Chinggisid steppe societies and the nomads’ role in Eurasian history. I hope that this book will serve as a model for grasping the impact of nomadic empires on world history—and that the book will help readers rethink the conventional view of empires as invariably sedentary powers. Historically, sedentary powers have indeed erected powerful empires, often dominating nomads in the process. But nomads have also established sovereignty over sedentary peoples. By capturing the notion of a moveable state, this book offers a new perspective on collective power and on the fascinating shapes it can take.