Reviews

This work by P. Jackson is admirable.  Though exceptionally dense, it manages to remain easily accessible to non-specialists.  At the same time thanks to its innumerable erudite notes, it will come in useful to the researchers in the field of Mongol studies.  The latter will find here a number of references to primary sources and reference studies that lie at the basis of the book—the first synthesis on the relations between the Mongol Empire and the Latin West.  In twelve chapters the author recounts the history of the contacts between these two worlds, from the political and cultural viewpoints as well as in terms of mutual perceptions of the “Other”.

In the two first chapters (“Latin Christendom and Its Neighbour,” 8-30, 70 notes; “A World Empire in the Making,” 31-57, 108 notes), P. Jackson sets up the early thirteenth-century geographical and historical framework in Europe and in Eurasia.  At that time the Latin West was quite poorly informed on the Eastern lands of Islam, even less on the Mongols.  The latter’s advance towards Eastern Iran reactivated the legend on the famous ‘Prester John’, the origin of which lies in a 1146 narrative by Otto, Bishop of Freising in Bavaria (20-1).  The author provides some information on nomadic life in Inner Asia and on the tribal organisation of the Mongols in the beginning of the Genghis-Khanid period.  He then evokes the ideology of the Heavenly Mandate as it appears in diplomatic correspondences.  In the third chapter (“The Mongol Invasions of 1241-4,” 58-86, 151 notes), P. Jackson convincingly shows that the Latin West had been warned of this attack by the Dominican monk Julian of Hungary who had transmitted a letter enjoining the King Bela iv to submit himself (translation of the letter: 60-1).  The King of Hungary was then granting his protection to the Cumans/Qipchaqs whilst Batu, the Khan of the Ulus of Jöchi (also called ‘Golden Horde’) considered the latter as his subjects.  The author explains that the reason for the withdrawal of the Mongol troops in 1242 is the fact that the assault of the previous year against Hungary was a mere punitive raid, Europe being not a target.  In the aftermath of these Mongol incursions at the doors of Europe, the Pope Innocent iv decided to send missionaries for gathering information on the aggressor, and with the hope that he would convert to Latin Christianity.  The Pope had been reported that a lot of Mongols were Christians:  This piece of news strongly contributed to the reactivation of the legend about the Prester John (see the fourth chapter: “A Remedy against the Tatars,” 87-112, 152 notes).

The fifth chapter (“The Halting of the Mongol Advance,” 113-34, 87 notes) explains that after the sack of Baghdad in 1258, followed by the advance of Hülegü and his troops in Syria, the Franks had been divided as to the attitude to be adopted towards them, especially as to the appropriateness of an alliance with them against the Mamluks.  The Crusaders’ inner divisions facilitated the Mamulks’ victory over the Mongols at ‘Ayn Jalut in 1260.  P. Jackson stresses the instability of the Mamluk power in that period of time, and its further reinforcement thanks to this victory that marked the beginning of the reconquest of the Frankish states.  In a captivating sixth chapter (“Images of the Enemy,” 135-64, 157 notes) the author examines the image of the Mongols in the Islamic and Christian sources.  In both cases the chroniclers had to find an origin to this still unknown people.  Resorting to the sacred texts showed necessary.  The Bible as well as the Qur’an brought the awaited response:  The Mongols were the new Gog and Magog / Yajuj wa Majuj, the peoples of the Biblical cum Qur’anic eschatology.  A significant turn appeared after 1260, when at last some Frankish rulers accepted to collaborate with the Mongols of Iran, the Ilkhans, against the Mamluk Sultanate (chapter 9: “An Ally against Islam: The Mongols in the Near East,” 165-95, 157 notes).  Hülegü’s diplomatic overture in 1262 marked the beginning of an intense diplomatic activity between the Latin West and the Ilkhans.  After his father Abaqa’s “debacle of 1281,” Arghun was persuaded that the only means for defeat the Mamluks was an alliance with the West.  He sent no less than four missions to Europe, headed by Nestorian Christians, the most famous of whom are the monk Rabban Sawma and the Catholicos Yabhallaha iii.  The Papacy, however, was standing to its ground:  The Mongols’ conversion to Catholicism was the precondition for a cooperation of any kind.  

The eighth chapter (“From Confrontation to Coexistence: The Golden Horde,” 196-234, 183 notes) deals with the complex relations between the Ulus of Jöchi and the Eastern European kingdoms.  It is followed by a chapter devoted to the events that shook these regions until the reign of Timur—whose assaults were first perceived as a return of the first Mongol invasions.  The chapter 10 (“Mission to the Infidel,” 156-89, 178 notes) concerns the missions sent to Asia by the Papacy.  The author observes that the Catholic clerks who participated in them were not enough numerous to exert an influence other than superficial.  Besides, the Nestorian Church (also called the “Church of the East”) was very present and active.  The attempts for converting the Mongol elites, like for instance the Princess Sorqatani, Qubilai’s mother, had no tangible result, the Christian Mongols remaining faithful to their ‘Eastern’ Church.  By far the most significant chapter of the volume, the eleventh (“Traders and Adventurers,” 290-388, 212 notes) depicts the opportunities offered by the Mongol Empire for intense commercial activities on a very large scale.  The author notably stress the Crimea’s and the Black Sea region’s strategic role, and the local activity of Italian (mainly Venetian) merchants.  The twelfth chapter (“A New World Discovered?,” 329-57, 127 notes) studies the narratives written in the east and in the West on the confrontation between the Latin Christendom and the Mongol Empire.  It convincingly shows that despite mutual misunderstandings, the two worlds opened themselves to each other.

This wonderful book is still completed by seven maps (pp. xxviii-xxxiv) and three appendixes.  The quantity of sources, manuscript and printed, that have been consulted for its redaction is truly impressive (pp. 372-84), as well as the bibliography of modern works (pp. 384-400).  In the eleventh chapter the author could indeed have more insisted on the significance of long-distance commerce.  The Mongols have developed caravan routes linking the Pacific Ocean with the Eastern Mediterranean (cf. Th. Allsen, “Ever Closer Encounters: The Appropriation of Culture and the Apportionment of Peoples in the Mongol Empire,” Journal of Early Modern History 1 (1997): 2-23, esp. 20-3).  Archaeological discoveries have showed that Russia benefited from the development of trade after the initial destructions (J. Martin, “The Land of Darkness and the Golden Horde: The Fur Trade under the Mongols, xiii-xiv Centuries,” Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique 19/4 (1978): 401-21).  In Saray-Berke, the capital of the Golden Horde, the great traders used to live in a neighbourhood of their own, encircled with a wall in order to protect their goods (ibid., 414).  Some bibliographical complements can also be provided, for instance recent research works on the yasa/jasaq (note 45 p. 53: D. Aigle, “Le ‘grand yasa’ de Gengis-khan, l’Empire, la culture mongole et la sharī‘a,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 47/1 (2004): 31-79; ibid., “Loi mongole vs loi islamique: Entre mythe et réalité,” Annales: Histoire, Sciences Sociales 5/6 (2005): 971-96), or about the functions of the darugha (p. 44: cf. G. Doerfer, Türkische und mongolische Elemente in Neupersischen, Wiesbaden, 4 vols., 1963-1975, 1: 319-23; in Persian sources the term basqaq, of Turkic origin, is often employed as an equivalent to the word darugha; a good discussion of the terms basqaq, darugha and tamma can be found in D. Ostrowski, “The Tamma and the Dual-Administrative Structure of the Mongol Empire,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 61/2 (1998): 262-277.  On Shamanism among the Mongols (p. 44), the works by R. Hamayon are a reference (see in particular: La chasse à l’âme: Esquisse d’une théorie du chamanisme sibérien, Nanterre: Société dethnologie, 1990).  The discussion (p. 149-50) on the myth of origin of the Mongols could have taken profit from the research by the reviewer on this subject (cf. D. Aigle, “Figures mythiques et histoire: Réinterprétations et contrastes entre Orient et Occident,” Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée 89-90 (2000): 39-71; ibid., “Les transformations d’un mythe d’origine: l’exemple de Gengis Khan et de Tamerlan,” ibid.: 151-68).  The reference work on Bar Sawma’s mission (p. 188, note 38) is the annotated and commented translation by P. Giorgio Bordone, Storia di Mar Yahballaha et di Rabban Sauma: Un orientale in Occidente ai tempi di Marco Polo, Turin, 2000.  The small reserves notwithstanding, P. Jackson’s book will remain for long the reference work on this captivating subject of medieval relations between so different worlds that could benefit from the openness that the Mongol Empire has been encouraging between the Far East, the world of Islam and the Latin West.

Denise Aigle, EPHE, Paris
CER: I-3.1.B-174