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date: 17 January 2019

Mongols in the Middle East

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.

Despite years of adverse and highly critical propaganda and entrenched negative attitudes, the Chinggisids have benefited, in recent years, from spreading positive re-evaluation. It is now acknowledged that they enjoyed a constructive, generally positive relationship with much of the Muslim world, and this article builds on this fresh assessment of the Chinggisid domination of western Asia. Relations with Iran were particularly strong, so much so that it was Iranians who invited Hulegu and the Chinggisid army to come to the west in 1254 and who actively cooperated in the establishment of the Ilkhanate. The state of Iran had ceased to exist after the Arab invasion of the region in the 7th century, and in its place Greater Iran became a collection of often warring statelets; Azerbaijan, Khorasan, Fars, Iraq al-Arab, Iraq al-‘Ajam, Sistan, Jabal to name a few. After Hulegu crossed the Oxus circa 1254, he revived the idea of Iran, and essentially, the Ilkhanate became the basis for what eventually became the modern state of Iran.

From 1220 to 1254, Iran had existed in a state of anarchy loosely under the control of Chinggisid military governors. Iran’s city-states were peripheral to an empire to which they paid taxes, but from which they derived few advantages or enjoyed any of the benefits to which their taxes should have entitled them. The delegation sent from Qazvin to Mongke’s coronation requested the Great Khan to send a prince of the blood to rule Iran and to replace the current, inept military governor. The delegation wanted Iran to be absorbed by the empire so that the country could benefit from joining a global community and a global market. Chinggis Khan had initiated the world’s first experience of globalization, and Iran wanted to be part of that experience. The Ilkhanate (1258–1335) was a Persian renaissance, and Iranians were established once again as key regional players. Though the ruling family remained ethnically Mongol, the government was multi-ethnic, and the country was multicultural. In 1295, when the seventh Il-Khan, Ghazan, ascended the throne and announced his submission to Islam, his act signified the union of Turk and Tajik, of steppe and sown, of Iran and Turan, of Persian, Chinese, and Turkish cultures, of the coronation of a king of and for all Iranians. It was immaterial whether his conversion was sincere or just politically astute. What was important was his proclamation of becoming a legitimate Iranian king duty bound to serve all his people whether Turk or Tajik, and that his reign was hailed as the start of a golden age as well as being a high point of relations with the Yuan regime in the east. The Mongols never left Iran, but simply assimilated.