Eurasian Dimensions of the Great Chinggisid Crisis

Comparative Case Studies from and beyond China
Wednesday
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room A

  • Ralph Kauz, Chair
  • Ishayahu Landa, “When the Chinggisids Were (Almost) No More: A Comparative Perspective on the Military Elites’ Transition in China and Iran around the Chinggisid Crisis”
  • Johannes Lotze, “Chinggisid Reverberations: Language Contact and Conflict in the Yuan–Ming Transition”
  • Marie Favereau, “How Did the Golden Horde Survive the End of the Mongol Empire?”
  • Qiao Yang, “Knowledge in Transition: Local Divination Schools in the Fourteenth Century”
  • Michal Biran, Discussant

The mid-14th century shook the Chinggisid rule in Eurasia. The period, known as the ‘Great Chinggisid Crisis’ (ca. 1330s–1370), a major transition phase in Eurasian pre-modern history, entailed the end of two Chinggisid khanates, the Ilkhanate and the Yuan dynasty, while the two others, the Jochid and the Chaghadaid domains, went through a series of transformations. Coinciding with the beginning of the ‘Little Ice Age’ and the dispersion of the Black Death across the continent, these processes ushered in a qualitatively different time period, characterised among others by a decline in the real power of the Chinggisid family. New political actors rose, basing their power on legitimacy concepts in accordance with or contrary to the principles of the Chinggisid rule. These developments were not purely political, but resonated in the social, religious and cultural spheres, influencing the Eurasian societies of the mid-14th century, and paved the ground for the formative periods of the ‘early modern’. The panel approaches the Crisis’ impact on the political, diplomatic, ideological, military and scientific spheres from an interdisciplinary perspective, centering on China, but including comparatist prospects. It highlights the importance of the Crisis and contextualises the specific historical changes in the broader transcontinental framework of the Crisis history.

Ishayahu Landa, “When the Chinggisids Were (Almost) No More: A Comparative Perspective on the Military Elites’ Transition in China and Iran around the Chinggisid Crisis.

The political transition developments that shook the Chinggisid rule in the Ilkhanate (in the 1330s) and in the Yuan domains (1350s–1360s) ended with the collapse of both imperial spaces in 1335 and 1368 respectively. This paper delves into the history of the two Chinggisid khanates’ military elites in the decades around these years. Its aim is to map and analyse the change the military top layers of both khanates underwent during the Crisis, highlighting their composition and geographical dispersion. In both cases the discussion will concentrate on the frontier areas beyond the imperial capitals. In the Ilkhanid and post-Ilkhanid case the talk will focus specifically on the Caucasus beyond Tabriz (mainly on the border areas with the Jochid ulus in the north), on Khurasan (centred in Tus and Mashhad) and on the Artuqid dynasty in Mardin, in south-eastern Anatolia. With regard to the Chinese case the paper will discuss the change of the military elites during the Yuan-Ming transition in the frontier zone between China proper and the northern Steppes in today’s Inner Mongolia, as well as in Liaodong (today’s Chinese Northeast) and in the border areas between the Yuan and Chaghadaid domains in the West (Western Gansu and Uyghuristan, today’s Xinjiang). The comparison allows for multiple perspectives on the complex dynamics between breakage and transition in the Crisis and early post-Crisis decades.

Johannes Lotze, “Chinggisid Reverberations: Language Contact and Conflict in the Yuan–Ming Transition”

Chinggisid rule bequeathed upon Eurasia not only new political entities but also a less immediately visible reality: language contact, the emergence of new institutions for translation, and unprecedented forms of comparative linguistic consciousness. The Ilkhanid historian Rashid al-Din (1247-1318), for example, orchestrated a ‘world history’ compilation based on a highly multilingual corpus of sources in Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, Turkic, Mongolian, Latin, and Indian languages. Notably, such literary traditions did not stand monadically side by side but were subjected to comparative thinking, as seen in Rashid al-Din’s cross-examination of Mongolian dialects or in the Yuan/Ming calligrapher Tao Zongyi’s 陶宗儀 juxtaposition of Chinese, Khitan, Old Uyghur, and Phagspa scripts. Focusing on the first decades of the early Ming empire (est. 1368), this paper argues that certain Ming ‘innovations’, such as the Siyi guan 四夷館 translation bureau and its yiyu 譯語 (bilingual glossaries), can only be properly understood as a continuation of Mongol-sponsored or Mongol-inspired scholarship. But there were clear breaks, too: formerly one part of a larger Mongolian-Chinese-Persian trinity, Chinese was now reinstalled as the imperial language. How did the Ming founders negotiate the needs for continuity with the past and a break from it in the multilingual world they inherited? Are their ‘multilingual artefacts’ imitations of Mongol prototypes or something else altogether?

Marie Favereau, “How Did the Golden Horde Survive the End of the Mongol Empire?

In the 1260s the lineage of khans stemming from Batu, son of Jochi and grandson of Chinggis Khan, ended. Historians still disagree on what happened. Political assassination of pretenders, the Black Death, and tension among the begs over the possible election of a candidate from another Jochid branch have been offered as explanations for the crisis that dominated the political life of the Golden Horde for almost twenty years. Yet, suddenly at the end of the 1370s, the Jochid political system stabilized and the Golden Horde began to flourish again. This paper intended to provide a new and more comprehensive explanation of the bulqaq—as the contemporaries called these years of anarchy in the upper echelons. Reevaluating all internal and external factors, it shows that the collapse of the Toluids and the end of the Mongol empire had serious consequences for the Golden Horde. Until then, the khans had married princesses who had close connections to Mongolia, China, and Iran. In the second half of the fourteenth century, the khatuns’ personal networks contracted, and so did their political and economic power. Arguing that the major consequence of the bulqaq was not the extinction of the main lineage of khans, but the Golden Horde’s adaption to profound geopolitical change, this paper offers to analyze the Jochids’ social and political responses to the crisis as an inherent feature of the shape-shifting regime of the Golden Horde.

Qiao Yang, “Knowledge in Transition: Local Divination Schools in the Fourteenth Century

During the Mongols’ rule in China (1271–1368), local divination schools were systematically established throughout the state. These institutions, based on the model of Confucian schools, aimed to manage local diviners and prepare candidates for practicing astral sciences in the court bureaucracy. I will examine the continuity and change in the local divination schools during the transition period to Ming (1368–1644). I will examine the influences on local institutionalisation of astral education. I will further address the changes in status, staff and content of these institutions over the transition period, within the context of the interplay between empire and knowledge, and the bureaucratisation of knowledge.

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Room A
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Comparative Case Studies from and beyond China