Reviews

In this paper, the author discusses the concept of “tänggärism”, a significant notion of the Mongol ideology of the thirteenth-century conquest.  He writes (p. 3):  “According to Shamanism, Tänggäri is something like God, representing alone the supreme masculine power in the universe, ruling all natural and social phenomena on the earth.”  The author has been trying to identify similar concepts in the representation systems of the cultures with which the Mongols have been in contact.  As a consequence the Mongols’ Tänggärism is introduced as a synthesis of the symbolic theories of the steppe nomads—like for instance the good fortune (qut) of the Turks, that can be found in Chinese Confucianism (tien-min) and in the Iranian Manichean theories (the farnah, on the one hand, and the theory of light, on the other).  One should, however, consider these comparisons.  As a matter of fact the Chinggis-Khanid notion of suu (good fortune) differs from the Turkic qut, from the Old Persian farnah, and from the concept that, among the Chinese, introduces the Emperor as the Son of Heaven.  At the same time, the intense contacts between the Mongol and Chinese civilisations allow modern historians to suppose that the Mongols have for the most part inherited the Chinese imperial model.  The author bases his argument on different sources, in particular on letters sent by the Great Khans and the Ilkhans to the Latin West, as well as on Latin sources, like the travel account by William of Rubrouck, and on Oriental Islamic and Christian sources like the profane chronicle in Syriac by Bar Hebraeus.  Let us take note of a common mistake (p.8):  Bar Hebraeus was not a Jew converted to Islam.  The origin of this mistake comes from the fact that the name under which he is known in the East, Ibn al-Ibri, was translated in the West into Bar Hebraeus (“the son of the Jew”).  Numerous studies have showed that this interpretation is erroneous (see notably the most recent paper on this question: J. Fathi-Chelhod, “L’origine du nom de Bar ‘Ebroyo: une vieille histoire d’homonymes,” Journal of Syriac Studies 41/1 (2001), internet).  Besides, it is a pity that the author did not make the effort to resituate in their historical and cultural contexts the varied sources that have been quoted in the argumentation.  On the first hand, the concept of tänggärism has considerably changed since the time of Gengis Khan; on the second hand, it has been reinterpreted according to the confessional affiliation of different authors.  As a conclusion, the author introduces tänggärism as a prelude to a “globalisation” of the world.  He deplores that a majority of researchers has always insisted on the destructive aspect of conquests, instead as on the real and objective consequences of the creation of the Mongol Empire.  Such a conclusion does not correspond to the scientific production of the last two decades:  During this period of time, numerous researchers specialising on the Mongol Empire have been stressing the positive aspects of this political entity (see notably the works by Thomas T. Allsen, Community and Exchange in the Mongol Empire: A Cultural History of Islamic Textiles, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997; idem, “Ever Closer Encounters: The Appropriation of Culture and the Approportionment of Peoples in the Mongol Empire,” Journal of Early Modern History 1 (1997): 2-23; idem, Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001).

Denise Aigle, EPHE, Paris
CER: I-5.1.C-405