Kingship and Ideology in the Islamic and Mongol Worlds

Kingship and Ideology in the Islamic and Mongol Worlds

by Anne F. Broadbridge
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Cambridge University Press


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Kingship and Ideology in the Islamic and Mongol Worlds

What were the attitudes to diplomacy and kingship in the medieval Islamic world? Anne Broadbridge examines struggles over ideology in the Middle East and Central Asia from 1260 to 1405. She explores two very different ideological worlds: the Islamic world of the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt and Syria, and the Mongol world inhabited by the Golden Horde in Central Asia, the Ilkhanids in Iran and Anatolia, the Ilkhanids' successors, and Temür. The relationships among these rival rulers were often highly charged, and diplomatic missions were exchanged in an effort to promote each ruler's ideology. This was the first book to explore what it meant to be a monarch in the pre-modern Islamic world, and how ideas about sovereignty evolved across the period. This groundbreaking work will appeal to scholars of Middle Eastern and Central Asian history, Mongol history, and Islamic history, as well as historians of diplomacy and ideology.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780521174497
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 12/09/2010
Series: Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 250
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Anne F. Broadbridge is Assistant Professor in History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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Kingship and Ideology in the Islamic and Mongol Worlds

Cambridge University Press
9780521852654 - Kingship and Ideology in the Islamic and Mongol Worlds - by Anne F. Broadbridge


This study is an attempt to answer a series of questions about ideologies of rule in the medieval Middle East and Central Asia. What were the dominant ideas of legitimate kingship in this period? What specific choices did individual rulers make to legitimate themselves, and why? Who were the audiences they addressed? And to what extent did rulers’ attempts to buttress their claims of legitimacy affect their actions? An investigation of the ideological options available to rulers and the choices they made can reveal their assumptions about what truly mattered in a king, sultan or khan. As seen even in rulers whose power was built primarily on military strength, but who nevertheless struggled to justify themselves on loftier grounds, notions of kingship were not mere window-dressing for the reality of power, but rather inspired, shaped and constrained the decisions that rulers made.

The topic arises from a well-known historical context. In the thirteenth/seventh century a collection of warriors known as the Mongols appeared on the Central Asian horizon of the Middle East. The Mongols were sky-venerating Altaic steppe nomads with excellent archery skills, who rose to startling greatness under the charismatic leadership of Chingiz Khan. Possibly during Chingiz Khan’s lifetime, and certainly after his death,members of the Chingizid family believed they were favored by the Enduring Sky (möngke tenggeri), which had ordered them to institute universal rule over the entire world. The Mongol campaigns of conquest were thus in part an attempt to implement the orders of the Enduring Sky.

Despite the success of these conquests, by 1260/659 the Mongols themselves were caught in a destructive civil war, and their empire had divided into four independent states in China, Central Asia, Southern Russia and the Qipchaq Steppe, and Iran. Nevertheless, the uncompromising ideology of the imperial house dominated Central Asia and the Middle East into the fourteenth/eighth century. Thereafter, nomadic and sedentary rulers strove to craft new responses to the challenges of the Mongol legacy. Among the most successful was the warlord Temür (d. 1405/807), who gathered his own hordes, articulated his own vision and set out to “revive” Chingiz Khan’s empire and humble the non-Mongol world once again.

The importance of the Mongols to the history of this period is thus unmistakable. It was they who radically altered the political, military, economic and social situations in every area they reached, as their empire spread rapidly from China to Hungary and from southern Siberia to Tibet. Their nomadic lifestyle, their military superiority, their astonishing control over often miserable subjects, their extraordinary consumption and the changes they wrought to systems of world trade all left deep impressions. More subtly, the Mongols brought radical ideological changes to the rest of the world. In the medieval Middle East and Central Asia the dominant ideology of rule became that of the Mongols themselves, although only the imperial family could lay claim to power within it.

At the other end of the spectrum from the Mongols were the Mamluk sultans of Egypt and Syria, who ruled the central Islamic lands from their capital at Cairo for 267 years (1250–1517/648–923). The Mamluks were military slaves, and began their careers as young, often Turkish-speaking, captives brought to Egypt and Syria from the northern Black Sea coast or the Caucasus. Once arrived, they were converted to Islam and trained in military arts, then allowed to rise to positions in the military and in government, including that of the sultan himself. As a result, the Mamluks were entirely of nomad origin, but not themselves nomadic. The Sultanate was prosperous, with access to the silk road of Central Asia and control of the spice trade of the Indian Ocean. It was largely Muslim in population, overwhelmingly Muslim in culture and outlook, and enjoyed a clear political and ideological hegemony over the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the Hijaz region as well.

Although the centrality of the Mongols to the history of the medieval world is clear, the importance of the Mamluks to the Mongols is less obvious. Certainly on the scale of the Great Mongol Empire the Mamluks appeared as little more than recalcitrant rebels in an out-of-the-way corner. But for two Mongol states, the Golden Horde of Southern Russia and the Qipchaq Steppe (1241–1502/638–907) and the Ilkhanids of Iran and Khurasan (1258–1335/656–736), the Mamluks occupied a unique historical position. The sultans in Cairo were the first non-Mongols to intervene in the fractured politics of the Mongol Civil War in the 1260s/660s by allying themselves with the Golden Horde against the Ilkhanids, and also held off hostile Ilkhanid forces not once, but repeatedly. Later the Mamluks played a role in the histories of the Ilkhanid successor states, then kept Temür and his Mongol look-alike hordes at bay until he crushed them on his second try.

In contrast to the Mongols, the Mamluk ideology of legitimate kingship rested on a foundation of Islamic religious ideals, with the notion of Mamluks as military Guardians of Islam, Muslims and the Islamic holy cities as its cornerstone. This ideology of kingship was in part a response to the challenge of Mongol imperial legitimacy, and an attempt to circumvent the Mamluks’ ideological weaknesses in the face of the Chingizid model.1 But after the conversion of many Chingizid khans to Islam, the Mamluks’ role as Guardians of Islam slowly faded, while their position as sovereigns of the holy cities grew in importance. Muslim Mongols and their Turkic successors eventually sought to control these sites and appropriate Islamic notions of legitimate rule, and thus sparred symbolically and actually with the Mamluks.

This study investigates the major ideologies of kingship in the years 1260–1405/658–807 as they were expressed in the diplomatic contact between the Mamluks and the Mongol and Turkic groups that dominated the region: the Golden Horde and the Ilkhanids, the Ilkhanids’ successors in Iran and Anatolia, and Temür. It does not focus on rulers’ expressions of legitimacy to the internal audiences of their own subjects – that would be another book, or several. This study ends with the death of Temür in 1405/807, since his life and career represent a watershed in the influence of Mongol ideology. Although Temür cast himself squarely into Chingizid ideological norms, his empire-building led to the establishment of his own dynasty as a rival ideological force to that of Chingiz Khan, even though Temür’s empire was far more ephemeral. In addition, Temür’s reduction of the Mamluks to vassalage in 1402–03/805 was unprecedented in the history of the Sultanate, and effectively destroyed both Mamluk pretensions to sovereignty, and their image as Guardians of religion. The Mamluks later reprised many of their earlier ideological arguments, but only after rebuilding themselves laboriously from the ground up over a period of years. Thus although Temür’s troublemaking did not destroy Mamluk ideology for good, the damage he wrought marked a second watershed, this time for the Mamluks, and represents a worthy point of conclusion.


Ideally this study would take place through the investigation of historical sources in several languages: Arabic, the language of the Mamluk chancellery and chronicles; Mongolian, used in Ilkhanid and Golden Horde diplomacy; and Persian, the Mongols’ second diplomatic language, which was also used to write their histories. (Some later sources are composed in Turkish.) Such an ideal is impossible to realize, unfortunately, for the current state of the material is distinctly skewed. Most works are in Arabic, written in the Mamluk Sultanate, and predictably support the Mamluks and denigrate their antagonists. The Persian histories, written for the Ilkhanids, their successors or Temür, are far fewer, and compound the problem of their scarcity either by routinely implying that the Mamluks were unimportant, or by failing to acknowledge their existence. Nor do early Persian, Turkish or Mongolian sources remain from the Golden Horde. As a result, in places this study will present an abashedly Cairo-centric view of the ideological debate. The problems of the sources also appear in the periodization, which, for lack of alternatives, relates more closely to Mamluk ideological changes than to Mongol or Turkic ones. This study also relies in part on coins, inscriptions and, to a much lesser degree, deeds for pious endowments (waqf documents). Although these items often expressed rulers’ ideas of kingship, they tended to address the internal audiences of subjects, not the external audiences of other rulers. Therefore this study mentions those sources when they add to an overall understanding of the ideologies, or when the diplomatic evidence is sorely lacking (as in Chapter 5), but it does not pretend to be exhaustive in comparative numismatics, epigraphy or endowment studies.

The expression of rival ideologies through diplomacy developed and changed over five different phases. In the first phase (1260–93/658–93) the Mamluks created a model of kingship that rested squarely on the central concept of Mamluks as military Guardians of Islam and Muslims, which they used to combat the threat posed by the pagan Ilkhanids. The Ilkhanids in turn saw the Mamluk sultans as rebel slaves, whose insubordination against the divinely mandated Chingizid dynasty was intolerable. By contrast, in this period the Mamluk sultans and the khans of the Golden Horde developed cordial relations characterized by the notion of unity between the two sides: unity in opposition to the Ilkhanids and, frequently, unity in religion.

Next the Mamluks wrestled with the specter of Ilkhanid conversion to Islam (1295–1316/694–716). During this period, the newly Muslim ilkhans proclaimed themselves to be supreme Muslim sovereigns, while nevertheless maintaining their loyalty to Mongol imperial tradition. In response, the Mamluks developed the notion of a hierarchy of conversion, which allowed them to resist the Ilkhanids and proclaim their greater worthiness of Muslim rule, which they acquired by having professed the religion first.

The third phase (1317–35/716–36) witnessed the development of the concept of Muslim regional supremacy, which allowed the Mamluk sultan al-Nāṣir Muḥammad to proclaim his superiority as a Muslim ruler over the Ilkhanids despite their conversion and continued adherence to Islam. But the ilkhan Abū Saʿīd and his vicegerent Choban were equally eager to promote themselves as benign and pious Muslim patrons, and since this phase was marked by cordial relations between the Sultanate and the Ilkhanate, struggles over ideological supremacy moved to the ceremonial of the pilgrimage and Arabian affairs. Marriage alliances became an important arena for the expression of kingship during this period, especially through verbal sparring over the propriety of potential matches. At the same time Muḥammad and Özbek Khan of the Golden Horde inaugurated a new relationship of unity in religion, which was also bound – then badly strained – by matrimonial ties.

For the Mamluks, the fourth phase was one of regional sovereignty (1335–82/736–84) and a new emphasis on dynasty in legitimacy; by contrast, the ideological standby of Guardianship was allowed to decline. This phase began during the political disintegration of the Ilkhanate after Abū Saʿīd’s death, when many of the Ilkhanid successors became Mamluk governors in return for patronage and the promise of Muḥammad’s military support. At the same time, some Ilkhanid successors interacted creatively with the Muslim and Chingizid fusion left by the later Ilkhanids, while others turned to Islamic or pre-Mongol Turkic models to justify themselves. Then after Muḥammad’s death in 1341/741, his generally ineffectual successors continued his relations of sovereignty with their Mongol and Turkic allies and governors, even though the strength they projected had become hollow.

In the fifth phase (1382–1405/784–807) Temür tried to “restore” his own creative version of the Mongol Empire, which caused the Mamluks to respond by reviving the anachronistic notion of the “infidel” threat formerly presented by the Ilkhanids. During this phase Mamluk ideology returned to the notion of Guardianship, which was combined with the concept of regional sovereignty by the sultan Barquq to combat the military and ideological threat that Temür posed. However, both the sultan’s sovereignty and the ideal of Guardianship collapsed during the reign of Barquq’s son al-Nāṣir Faraj, when Temür took advantage of Mamluk political disarray to reduce the sultan to a tribute-paying governor in 1402–03/805.

The ideologies and the diplomacy

An ideology of kingship is the set of ideas by which a ruler defines himself as a sovereign. In the period under discussion, these ideas gave rulers models for their behavior, and helped them both assert the legality and legitimacy of their reigns, and maintain their claims to rule in the eyes of various, often overlapping audiences, frequently in opposition to the claims of others. No sovereign, no matter how well established or how much a parvenu, could resist the impulse to justify to others his actual control of lands, populations, resources and armies. Through these justifications we can see what individual rulers, their advisors and their subjects thought was important in the conception of a monarch. Nevertheless, rulers were not irrevocably bound by their ideologies – at times sovereigns sullied their images by contradicting the expectations of others for the sake of achieving specific goals. And yet even in these cases, rulers could not divorce themselves from the visions of sovereignty on which they modeled their conduct, and so always sought to rationalize their behavior, even if they did so poorly. In general, ideologies of rule were limited, conservative and slow to change. In the years 1260–1405/658–807, only a few models of sovereignty existed, which were often glaringly intolerant of one another. This intolerance appeared in the diplomatic exchanges among competing rulers, which was the most prominent arena both for expressing legitimacy, and for denigrating the claims of rivals.

Nomadic ideology

The most powerful new political entity of the thirteenth/seventh century was the Mongol Empire, from which emerged the dominant ruling ideology of the Chingizids. This model of kingship was straightforward. Like many other nomad aristocrats, Temüjin (later Chingiz Khan) began his political career by gaining followers through military prowess, diplomacy and charisma, and losing them when times were bad.1 Eventually, however, a series of fortunate escapes, auspicious predictions and lucky breaks suggested that the Enduring Sky (möngke tenggeri) was favoring Chingiz Khan through a divine mandate, and had granted him a special good fortune (the imperial su). Although historians still debate whether Chingiz Khan himself believed in this favor, ultimately his offspring did, and claimed furthermore that the divinely granted good fortune had passed to them. The imperial fortune became linked to the four sons borne by Chingiz Khan’s senior wife Börte: Jochi, Chagatai, Ögedei and Tolui, as well as to their descendants. In obedience to the will of the Enduring Sky, the members of Chingiz Khan’s imperial or “golden” family attempted to impose universal Chingizid rule on the world through a remarkable series of military campaigns in the early thirteenth/seventh century.2 In the ideological context of Chingizid expansion, any independent ruler intent on retaining his independence was a rebel against the golden family and the Enduring Sky. The merciless slaughter of such rebels was therefore necessary and good, since it both implemented the divine will and provided an object lesson for other would-be rebels. Among Altaic nomads the Chingizids’ simple yet forceful concept of a divinely favored dynasty appealed to enduring traditions of ancestor reverence and belief in sacred power or fortune (the su), while for sedentary peoples the Chingizid claim to divine support was underscored by the speed and success of the Mongol military campaigns – surely only a dynasty supported by God could conquer so much so fast.3

The divine mandate’s concepts of the imperial fortune and a heavenly command to institute universal rule not only continued after Chingiz Khan’s death and the accession as Great Khan of his third son Ögedei (d. 1241/639), but helped inspire the Mongol conquests of the 1230s/630s and early 1240s/640s. Despite its strength, however, the divine mandate ultimately served to divide the imperial family, not unite it. Since Chingiz Khan failed to leave a clear plan for succession after Ögedei, members from widely flung branches of the family could argue for their own inclusion in the terms of the divine mandate, to the detriment of Chingiz Khan’s and Börte’s four sons. Even among these four houses disagreement over the application of the imperial su was rampant, and struggles over control of the empire led to great division within the family. This was most apparent in the contentious scuffles to establish the Great Khans Güyük (r. 1246–48/643–45) and Möngke (r. 1251–59/649–57).

In an attempt to validate his control of the empire and hold the imperial family together, Great Khan Möngke presented himself as a traditionalist devoted to the example of his grandfather Chingiz Khan. This he did immediately after his coronation by purging his Chagataid and Ögedeid rivals on the grounds that they had opposed the will of the Mongol ruling majority, in contravention of Mongol law and Chingiz Khan’s example.4 Möngke then reunited what remained of the imperial family by reviving the Enduring Sky’s command to conquer, and called for two military campaigns – one to China under his brother Qubilai, and another to Iran under his brother Hülegü. This latter campaign had far-reaching consequences for Muslim rulers. In addition to the clear, uncompromising and universalist ideology of the divine mandate, the Mongols recognized forceful concepts of law, among them the decrees issued by Chingiz Khan himself, the yasa (jasaq).5 Therefore Möngke also portrayed himself as a purist and supporter of his grandfather’s legal ordinances in a deliberately tradition-oriented attempt to unify the family.6 Ultimately questions of law played an important role in ideology during and long after the Mongol period.

Mongol ideas of legitimacy reached overlapping audiences comprised of the Chingizids themselves, non-Chingizid Mongols and Turks, and sedentary subjects, including the vassal rulers of subdued populations. The Mongols spread the powerful concepts of the divine mandate and the importance of the golden dynasty in several ways: through written and verbal demands for submission from non-Mongol rulers, among them the Mamluks; through the summoning of vassal rulers to Mongol courts and through the “reeducation” of vassals’ hostage relatives. Some scholars furthered literate knowledge of the Mongols by writing treatises on them.7 To describe the effect the Mongols, their conquests and their ideology had on the non-Mongol world they dominated, Marshall Hodgson developed a unique vision of “Mongol Prestige.” Mongol prestige was based on non-Mongol awe of and respect for Mongol military might, thus the prevailing political idea of the period after Chingiz Khan’s conquests represented “an appeal to the greatness of Mongol imperial power.”8 At the same time, Hülegü’s execution of the Abbasid caliph al-Mustaʿṣim in Baghdad in 1258/656 during the Iran campaign signaled the destruction of the idea of a universalist Islamic empire. Thus subsequent claims to universal sovereignty and to legitimacy in the Islamic lands were grounded not in Islamic tradition, but in Mongol tradition, norms and genealogy.9 (The Mamluks were one noteworthy exception to this rule.)

The Mongol model remained dominant throughout Central Asia, the Iranian Plateau and Anatolia down to and well after the death of the last effective Ilkhanid ruler in Iran, Abū Saʿīd, in 1335/736. Thereafter nomadic, semi-nomadic and sedentary rulers attempted to express their own responses to the challenges of legitimacy and the Mongol legacy through a number of experiments in ideology. At first, non-Chingizid Mongol and Turkic warlords connected to the dominant ideology by portraying themselves as conservative protectors of Chingizid heritage. This they accomplished by marrying Chingizid princesses, ruling in the name of Chingizid puppets or swearing to uphold the yasa.10 Temür’s ideology began this way, although it later branched into a unique set of ideas when he claimed to be, first, protector of the Chagataid heritage, based on ancestral links between his own family and the Chingizid house, and then reviver of Chingiz Khan’s entire empire.11 Eventually post-Mongol Turkic rulers drew on older Turkic traditions to rival the Chingizid model. Muslim Turkic groups like the Ottomans and the Aq Qoyunlu took up the genealogical model of a favored dynasty, but replaced Chingiz Khan with noble Turkic ancestors.12 Turkic rulers also employed their own concept of good fortune and divine favor, qut (also Persian bakht or farr), which corresponded to the Mongolian su.13 Likewise, the concept of law as proclaimed by the ruler (dynastic law) appeared as the Turkic töre (törü or ture) and later the Ottoman kanun.14 Also impervious to change was the importance of lineage and dynasty as tools of legitimacy, which had mattered ideologically for centuries, and which was only emphasized by the Mongol and later Turkic focus on ancestors, and the consequent devotion to the Golden or other imperial families.15 But Middle Eastern rulers also experimented with dynastic adoption of non-Chingizids, where leaders with weak claims to rule linked themselves to defunct dynasties possessed of ideological power. Such rulers included the early Mamluks, who forged ceremonial ties to the Kurdish Ayyubids who had preceded them, and the Ottomans, who adopted the Turkish Muslim Seljuks of Anatolia (ca. 1071–1307/463–707).16 Among the Mamluks, Baybars (r. 1260–77/658–76) stood out for his ephemeral attempt to connect himself to the Seljuks during his brief occupation of eastern Anatolia in 1277/675.17

But where were Islamic ideas of kingship in all of this? During the years of Mongol shamanistic rule, and especially after the death of the caliph al-Mustʿaṣim in 1258/656, older, primarily Islamic models of legitimacy almost disappeared from view.18 Then they began a gradual resurgence, particularly when some Mongol sovereigns themselves converted to Islam and began to fuse the two traditions. This meant that they ruled both as divinely favored descendants of Chingiz Khan, and as Muslim sultans, advised by Islamic scholars. Mongol rulers were attracted to varied aspects of Islamic notions of kingship: Berke of the Golden Horde (r. 1257–66/654/5–63/4) explained his hostility to the Ilkhanid Hülegü as a desire to uphold Islam and avenge the Abbasid caliph, while Hülegü’s Muslim descendant Ghazan (r. 1295–1304/694–703), who was inordinately proud of his imperial Mongol

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Table of Contents

Introduction; 1. The ideology and the diplomacy; 2. The establishment of ideologies (1260-1293/ 658-93); 3. The age of Ilkhanid conversion (1295-1316/694-716); 4. The age of patronage and Muslim supremacy (1317-41/717-41); 5. Mamluk regional sovereignty and the post-Ilkhanid order (1335-82/736-84); 6. The Temürid invasions and the destruction of Mamluk sovereignty (1382-1404/784-807); Epilogue; Bibliography.

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