Reviews

The process of politogenesis that took place in the area of the Mongol Empire in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries entailed the permanent restructuring of pre-existent polities among groups composing new formations. The conquests of Genghis Khan, of his predecessors and contemporaries, generated continual uncertainty over the extent and limits of the “Great Mongol Ulus”. Genghis established an empire which developed in complexity as it encompassed an increasing variety of social and political forms and the term “Mongol” acquired an exclusive meaning and came to function as a politonym. The state modelling by ruling élites required effective mechanisms for the regulation of social practices and group relations. These structures required common identity to create the stability necessary for consolidation of mobile pastoral societies composed of disparate ethno-linguistic communities, especially in the wake of the expansion which started after 1189–1204. The confirmation of the existing order demanded constant recoding of the contents of the ulus which can be better understood, according to T. D. Skrynnikova, through analysing and reinterpreting two well-known designations of subordinate status: bo’ol and qarachu traditionally rendered respectively by “slave” and “commoner”. The adequate comprehension of these names in their historical context is crucial for correctly assessing mechanisms that secured corporate access to power for the members of Genghis’ Golden Kin (initially the clan of Borjigin). A central problem here is the exact representation of domination and submission between the entities absorbed into the Chinggisid realm is the distinction between the authority of the qaghan and that of his urugh-lineage as the corporate ownership of supreme power is a typical institutional feature of Mongol society.

In the absence of a bureaucratic apparatus corresponding relationships, beginning with social stratification (unequal distribution of rights, privileges, prestige, influence, duties, and property), were expressed mostly through the terminology of kinship: the interrelation of sections of the real or imagined community was reflected through (actual or fictitious) genealogical links between their leaders with particular importance attached to seniority and juniority (Turkic-Mongol aqa – odchigin). However, after the creation of a transcontinental imperial entity by Genghis Khan, the need for new types of legitimisation emerged which actualised the use of the notion of bo’ol marking socio-political integration on the basis of adoption of subaltern status by the conquered and thus serving to build an overarching scale of hierarchy across Central Eurasia. This vision, T. Skrynnikova argues, completes the trend predominant in Mongolian studies which parts from the basic meaning of “slavery” implicit in this designation. She re-examines set expressions in “The Secret History of the Mongols” and in Rashid al-Din’s “Collected Chronicle” composed of the term bo’ol [ötöle-bo’ol (bosoqa-yin, e’üten-nü bogol), unagan-bo’ol, ötegü-bo’ol], thoroughly differentiating their multiple nuances to indicate that they can be frequently interpreted as conveying the sense of suzerainty and devotedness rather than mastership and servility (bo’ols could become military leaders of élite units, perform the functions of princely tutors, intermarry with the royal family).

In this respect bo’ol could be synonymous with qarachu ― a social category which, under the powerful influence of the quasi-canonical “Mongolian Nomadic Feudalism” by B. Ia. Vladimirtsov, tended to be translated uniformly as “the mass of taxed population, ordinary tribesmen.” Here the author points out the possibility of enlarging the semantics of this word to encompass such meanings as “alien to the reigning house, non-Chinggisid, belonging to a subject ethnical group”. Most interesting is her citation of later Mongol sources (of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) which directly juxtapose the qaghan and the qarachu as two interdependent components of a sacred unity responsible for the stability of the universe. The author opts for the idea that the term qarachu was equally designed to mark subordinated nature of both units (lineages, groups, and polities) and their individual members. “Recasting the alien” (both non-Mongols and those Borjigin hostile to Genghis and his family) “into one’s own and widening the limits of latter,” as the author puts it, contributed to the flexible incorporation of heterogeneous ethnic clusters making the building of the Great Mongol ulus possible. On the other hand, the qarachu – bo’ol classification prevented non-Chinggisids from access to supremacy. Going across the logic of the state organisation as an indispensable element to complex societies (conventional in Soviet and in a considerable part of Post-Soviet scholarship), T. D. Skrynnikova stresses the comprehensive and efficient character of “pre-state” structures which were supplanted by borrowed or hybrid political structures (“state or pseudo-state”) developed by nomads for the government of subdued agricultural areas.

Timur Koraev, Moscow State University
CER: II-3.1.B-123