The present rather voluminous publication constitutes the proceedings of an international colloquium held in June 2003 in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The articles collected by the Editor demonstrate that the Mongol Empire created by Genghis Khan, the widest in the history of Eurasia, was a period of intense intercultural contacts, not only within the empire itself, but also with neighbouring countries and regions. The book is divided into five main sections: “Culture and Commerce in the World Mongol Empire;” “Lifestyles at the Courts of the Ruling Elite;” “The Arts of the Book in Ilkhanid Iran;” “The Arts and Artistic Interchange;” and “State and Religion in Ilkhanid Iran.” We shall deal here only with those contributions that are of the direct concern of the Central Eurasian Reader.
Devin DeWeese (“Cultural Transmission and Exchange in the Mongol Empire: Notes from Biographical Dictionary of Ibn al-Fuwatî,” 11-29) provides a rich material on diverse fields of intercultural exchange. Ibn al-Fuwati (born in Baghdad in 1244) enjoyed access to the libraries of the Ilkhans in Baghdad itself and Maragha, and could collect a great amount of information from the most diverse sources. It is for instance interesting to observe that in his writings non-Muslim rulers like Möngke, Hülegü and Chaghatay are attributed Arabic honorific titles (laqabs). Isn’t Hülegü is endowed with the laqab of malik al-ard (‘King of the Earth’)? At the same time, such a title is in perfect accordance with the Mongols’ ideology of conquest, and it is mentioned in the correspondences sent by Hülegü to the last Ayyubid ruler of Syria for requesting his submission. D. DeWeese remarks (p. 17) that the inclusion of these laqabs “signals an interesting assimilation of the Mongols into a world defined and understood in terms of Islamic cultural norms.” Interesting data are also extracted from Ibn al-Fuwati’s biographical dictionary on the languages and writing systems in use in the Mongol Empire. On the basis of the articles of amirs mentioned in the Jami‘ al-tawarikh by Rashid al-Din, Judith Pfeiffer (“Reflections on a ‘Double Rapprochement’: Conversion to Islam among the Mongol Elite during the Early Ilkhanate,” 369-89) shows that conversion to Islam was a long process, which begun around 1250, viz. before the conquest of Iran. The available documentation widely proves that Sufi shaykhs played a major role in this phenomenon. Moreover in the Mongol armies Turkic Muslim contingents were pioneers in the veneration of these shaykhs. The reader will find (p. 374) a table elaborated on the basis of the information provided by Rashid al-Din, extremely telling in terms of the percentage of amirs who were converted under each ruler: only 6.8% under Hülegü; 10.4% under Abaqa; 11.5% under Tegüder Ahmad; 13% under Arghun; 30.4% under Geikhatu and only 21% under Ghazan Khan. These conversions were confirmed by later sources, notably by the Hindustani historians of the Mongol period. In “The Keshig in Iran: The Survival of the Royal Mongol Household” (135-64), Charles Melville demonstrates that this guard (keshig) was one of the most durable legacies of the Genghis Khan period. The author first depicts how was elaborated the formation of the keshig under Genghis Khan (136-8) on the basis of the translation and comment by Igor de Rachelwitz of the Secret History of the Mongols (139-41). His study of the Ilkhanid case shows that the persistence of this “royal guard” contributed towards the preservation of the regime’s Mongol character. The article by Mark Kramarovsky (“Jochid Luxury Metalwork: Issues of Genesis and Development,” 43-50) demonstrates that the first generation of Mongol invaders has transmitted ancient Far Eastern artistic features to the future territories of the Golden Horde. However, according to M. Kramarovsky, this influence was there more ephemeral that in Iran. By the way, the study by Dietrich Huff (“The Ilkhanid Palace at Takht-i Sulayman: Excavation Results,” 94-110) confirms this Chinese influence. This palace, well described by Mustawfi Qazwini in his Nuzhat al-qulub, was constructed on Abaqa’s order on the ancient Sassanid site of Takht-i Sulayman, in Mongol Sughurluq. During several excavation campaigns, archaeologists have revealed a strong influence of Chinese iconography in the palace’s decoration (103). Dickran Khymjian (“Chinese Motifs in Thirteenth-Century Armenian Art: The Mongol Connection,” 303-24) also demonstrates that Chinese dragons and phoenixes found in the decoration of Takht-i Sulayman were also adopted in Armenian art. Last, after a number of publications on Mongol military history John M. Smith (“Hülegü Moves West: High Living and Heartbreak on the Road to Baghdad,” 111-34) offers a detailed study of Hülegü’s campaigns. He proposes a new, convincing vision of the Mongols’ advance: Contrary to all that has been written on the subject, Mongol soldiers were not accompanied by their families and their droves.
This dense and very rich volume is still completed by an abundant bibliography (pp. 459-502), by numerous reproductions of miniatures, of diverse artefacts, of manuscript fragments, coins, etc. (506-44), and by an index (645-52). Other, non reviewed articles: Little Donald P., “Diplomatic Missions and Gifts Exchanged by Mamluks and Ilkhans,” 30-42; Kauz Ralph, “The Maritime Trade of Kish during the Mongol Period,” 51-67; Fragner Bert G., “Ilkhanid Rule and Its Contributions to Iranian Political Culture,” 68-82; Shiraishi Noriyuki, “Avraga Site: The ‘Great Ordu’ of Genghis Khan,” 83-93; Blair Sheila S., “Calligraphers, Illuminators, and Painters in the Ilkhanid Scriptorium,” 167-82; Hillenbrand Robert, “Erudition Exalted: The Double Frontispiece of the Epistles of the Sincere Brethren,” 183-212; Simpson Marianna Shreve, “In the Beginning: Frontispieces and Front Matter in Ilkhanid and Injuid Manuscripts,” 213-47; Wright Elaine, “Patronage of the Arts of the Book under the Injuids of Shiraz,” 248-68; Sims Eleanor, “Thoughts on a Shahnama Legacy of the Fourteenth Century: Four Inju Manuscripts and the Great Mongol Shahnama,” 269-88; Bloom Jonathan M., “The Transformative Medium in Ilkhanid Art,” 289-302; Watson Oliver, “Pottery under the Mongols,” 325-45; Saliba George, “Horoscopes and Planetary Theory: Ilkhanid Patronage of Astronomers,” 357-68; Fitzherbert Teresa, “Religious Diversity under Ilkhanid Rule c. 1300 as Reflected in the Freer Bal‘ami,” 390-406; Soudavar Abol-A‘la, “The Mongol Legacy of Persian Farmans,” 407-24.