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date: 23 October 2019

The Ilkhanate: Mongol Rule in Medieval Western Asia, 1256–1335

Summary and Keywords

Despite enduring years of adverse and highly critical propaganda and entrenched negative attitudes from both the scholarly world and the general public, the Mongols and successors of Chinggis Khan have continued to hold the world’s rapt attention and interest. However, the Chinggisids have in recent years and especially since 2001 and the publication of Thomas Allsen’s Culture and Conquest, benefited from a spreading positive re-evaluation by the academic community and revisionist researchers, which amounts to a fresh assessment of the Chinggisid domination of western Asia. It is now acknowledged that they enjoyed a constructive, generally positive relationship with much of the Muslim world. 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, and Jabal, to name a few. After Hulegu crossed the Oxus, c. 1254, he revived the idea of Iran, and the Ilkhanate essentially 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 nor 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 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 established Iranians once again as key regional players. Although the ruling family remained ethnically Mongol, the government was multiethnic, and the country was multicultural. In 1295, when the seventh Ilkhan, 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, and 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.

Keywords: Ilkhanate, Hulegu, Iran, Turkestan, Khitans, Khwarazmshah, Ghazan, Tusi, Maragha, Isma’ilis, Mongols, Mongol Empire

The Ilkhanate: Mongol Rule in Medieval Western Asia, 1256–1335Click to view larger

Figure 1. The Ilkhanate 1256–1335.

When the Muslim population of eastern Turkestan first became aware, c. 1216, of the Chinggisid armies massing on their eastern border and of their commander, Jebe Noyan, they experienced a flood of relief and gratitude, and they thanked God for his mercy and his love. “The arrow of [their] prayer hit the target of answer and acceptance.” The Muslims of the most north-easterly region of the Dar al-Islam knew then “the existence of [the Mongols] to be one of the mercies of the Lord and one of the bounties of divine grace.” They rejoiced that “the recitation of the takbir and the azan” would be permitted, that “each should abide by his own religion and follow his own creed,” and that the only price to be levied on the faithful of eastern Turkestan was the surrender to Jebe Noyan of the head of their oppressor and tormentor, the Naiman prince Kuchlug, who had dared to defy Chinggis Khan.1 The Muslims and other peoples of eastern Turkestan, which had formerly been under the sovereignty of the Qara Khitai, welcomed their Mongol liberators and, in 1218, willingly became the first Muslim province of the Chinggisid Empire. Subsequently, when Chinggis Khan chose to negotiate and exchange embassies with his new neighbor the Khwarazmshah rather than tread the path of warfare and hostility, his ambassadors were his new subjects, Muslim traders who now proudly represented the Great Khan’s interests as their own and proudly bore the Great Khan’s insignia as their own. The Khwarazmshah knew that the danger that now faced him was not merely the military might of an eastern warlord but the attraction of his subjects to an alternative leader and a replacement to his own sorry rule.

Chinggis Khan has for many years been presented as a blight on the Muslim world. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth, as a more recent biography of the Great Khan and other current studies recognize.2 Though his initial overture to the Khwarazmshah, c. 1218, turned into a prolonged and bloody tale of destruction and mayhem, when the Great Khan’s grandson, Hulegu, returned to the region, in 1254 after three decades of anarchy and confusion, he was welcomed as a king and a liberator. Hulegu recreated Iran as a fully functioning polity for the first time since the Iranian state along with the Sassanian ruling dynasty were destroyed by the Arab invasions of the 7th century, flying a Muslim flag. In 1258, Hulegu Khan established the Ilkhanate (1258–1335) and finally ended Arab hegemony over the Iranian plateau. He created a state that ruled the lands between the Oxus River and the Tigris-Euphrates valley, which has persisted until the present day.

The Khwarazmshah

The clash between the Khwarazmshah and the armies of Chinggis Khan is too well-known to need repeating in detail here.3 The Khwarazmshahs, former vassals and iqtadars of the Great Saljuqs (1055–1194), filled the political and military vacuum that had been left after the decline of the Saljuqs, especially following the death of Sanjar in 1157.4 In the process they alienated the Sunni caliph in Baghdad and their own Sunni ulema. So deep was the estrangement between Tekish Khwarazmshah (d. 1200) and al-Nasir (r. 1180–1225) that the caliph formed an unprecedented alliance with the infidel Qara Khitai state of eastern Turkestan, made up of exiles from northern China. Their liberal religious attitudes and their adoption of the appellation “The Wall” in reference to their role as protectors of the Dar al-Islam’s eastern borders against the “barbarians” beyond not only made the Qara Khitai acceptable allies but accounts for their inclusion in Persian Mirror for Princes as paradigms of virtue and justice.5 The Turko-Mongol Qara Khitai, forced into exile from their lands in northern China by the Jurchens, c. 1120, had arrived in Turkestan and were confronted by the Saljuq sultan Sanjar (r. 1084–1158). The sultan was defeated at the Battle of Qatwan in 1141, but the Khitans did not press their victory and instead settled and became admired and accepted rulers of the northeast corner of the Dar al-Islam. They were soon sucked into the intrigues and chicaneries of the region, but in ‘Ala al-Din Mohammad Khwarazmshah, a master of guile and sophistry, the Khitans had met their match. It was ‘Ala al-Din Mohammad Khwarazmshah who intrigued with the exiled Naiman prince Kuchluq against the Qara Khitai. Those machinations resulted in Kuchluq’s successful coup d’état and the replacement of the tolerant and popular rule of the Qara Khitai with Kuchluq’s brutal reign of terror and oppression.

With Kuchluq gone and eastern Turkestan the freshest province of Chinggis Khan’s growing empire, the Muslim merchants of the region enthusiastically approached the Khwarazmshah on behalf of their new Chinggisid master and proffered a rich array of goods and products with which they hoped to trade. The Khwarazmshah’s suicidal response, conveniently blaming his underlings for the murders of not only the first envoys but also of the second embassy carrying a personal message of goodwill and cooperation from the Great Khan himself, resulted in the tidal wave of destruction and annihilation that engulfed western Turkestan and northern Iran. Chinggis Khan reluctantly unleashed his armies in revenge for the deliberate and aggressive actions of ‘Ala al-Din Mohammad Khwarazmshah. “I am the Punishment of God,” he told the grandees of Bokhara, and he made it plain that it was the actions of their king that had resulted in this mayhem.6 Intriguingly, Sufi accounts of this avalanche of destruction sweeping through the region claim that the Sufi shaykh Najm al-Din, dressed in white robes, had led the savage armies of the Mongol hordes in divine judgment on the reign of the Khwarazmshahs.7 There was little resistance, and the defeated generals and soldiers were only too happy to surrender and join the Chinggisid revolution that was now sweeping Asia.

Chinggis Khan ordered the generals Jebe Noyan and Subodai Noyan to hunt down the Khwarazmshah and to conduct a reconnaissance of the Caucasus. The sultan had slunk off to Abaskun, a small island in the Caspian Sea, where he owned a castle.8 The generals left him there to die slowly from pleurisy while they continued their reconnaissance trip, an episode that ensured the Mongols a global association with barbarity, blood lust, cruelty, and ruthless brutality, a reputation they encouraged and sought as a tactic of war. The mere mention of their name was now enough to spread widespread panic and sometimes mass surrender, and tales of their supposed atrocities began to filter into the nightmares of Europe. In fact, after this notorious reconnaissance trip, the strategies and techniques of the Chinggisid forces continued to evolve and develop into more sophisticated and political practices, but this reputation for brutality became fixed and defining.


Following the traumatic assault on the kingdom of the Khwarazmshah, the whole region was left with a military commander charged with collecting taxes and preventing sedition directed against the Great Khans. Iran’s city-states pledged loyalty, and governors and basqaqs (shahnas, daraghuchis) were appointed. The region became a buffer zone, a forgotten peripheral province, where armies clashed, bandits ruled the highways, and people dreamed of better days. A succession of military governors reflected political machinations elsewhere in the empire, though in the mosques Friday prayers were often offered to Batu, the khan of the Golden Horde.9 The city-states of the Iranian plateau had not been united in a single polity since the Sassanian Empire had collapsed in the face of the Arab conquests of the 7th century. Their Arab masters had discouraged the idea of a Persian or Iranian identity and had emphasized regional independence. Iran as a single state had disappeared, and instead provincial autonomy gave rise to mini-states, city-states, and provinces, such as Khorasan, Sistan, Jibal, Azerbaijan, Fars, and Mazandaran. The region became ungovernable and a playground for warring armies, highway men, and outlaws. The Isma’ilis, from their impregnable and unassailable castles, dominated the area from Qohestan and the Elburz mountains, and they were able to terrorize the cities and the intercity highways with their fanatical followers, who often infiltrated the courts of the regional rulers, and their bands of armed raiders. Their strength lay in their propaganda, but this rumored power worked for both the Isma’ilis and their enemies. Exaggerations of their power and threat served their own ends but also the interests of their enemies, the Sunni establishment.

Locked behind their city walls, Iran’s various warlords continued to pay homage and lip service to the Great Khan far away in the East, at the same time often pledging loyalty and seeking legitimacy and recognition from the caliph in Baghdad. In Kirman, Hajib Baraq (d. 1234) swore allegiance to the Qa’an and was rewarded with the title Qutlugh Khan, but at the same time he insisted on his Muslim credentials and received recognition from Baghdad as the Qutlugh Sultan. In Herat after an adventurous and active youth spent campaigning in the marchlands of the east with the young Mongol princes who were part of a new generation of Chinggisid elite, Shams al-Din Kart (r. 1245–1278) was rewarded with the governorship of the city and its hinterlands, which covered much of Khorasan. In Kurdistan, Badr al-Din Lu’lu (d. 1259) pledged his support for the khans and his reverence for the caliph, but neither afforded him the security he needed. Likewise, in the province of Fars where the Salghurids ruled and other scattered cities and isolated strongholds local elites assimilated and were absorbed by young Turko-Mongol lords and noyat (pl. noyan, politico-military leaders). In Qazvin, a city that because of its vicinity to the Isma’ili headquarters of Alamut had suffered particularly harshly from punitive raids and attacks on its merchants, the ruling elite had decided that the anarchy the country had descended into could not continue, especially when they saw that lawlessness and misrule ceased once the mighty Oxus was crossed and the lands under the writ of the Great Khan were entered.10 After the horrors of the 1220s and the compulsory population movements, when families and even whole villages were forced into migration and exile, came three decades of hardship and dreadful disruption. Eventually, word began to filter back, and the stories were often encouraging. Merchants and travelers brought tales of Persians finding success and prosperity. They told stories of the sons of those emigrants achieving positions of power and influence, and the contrast with the sorry state of their homeland became obvious. The powerful Iftikhariyan family had been awarded a mandate to rule in recognition of the services they had rendered the Mongol princes who had stayed in the region. They had provided tutors and schooling for the four Toluid princes in particular, and when Mongke Khan, one of their former charges, seized the Chinggisid throne, they knew that the time was fortuitous and extremely opportune.11 When the coronation of the Great Khan Mongke was announced, the notables of Qazvin appointed a high-ranking delegation to petition the khan to enact change.

Qazvini Envoy

Hamdullah Mustawfi Qazvini, the historian, government official, and descendant of the Qadi (Islamic legislator) of Qazvin, the leader of the delegation that went to Qaraqorum from Qazvin, c. 1252, has recorded in detail the petition that was delivered to Mongke and the reaction of the new Qa’an to their words.

O illustrious and magnanimous Qa’an, we do not speak of a bridge made of stone (nagūyim pol az sang), or brick, nor a bridge of chains. I want a bridge of justice (khwaham pol az dad) over that river, for where there is justice, the world is prosperous. He who comes over the river Amu Darya finds the Qa’an’s justice, and on this side of the river there is justice and a path. On that side of the river, the world is evil, and some people become prosperous through injustice. When one passes over the river into the land of Iran, the world is full of injustice, enmity and oppression.12

The eloquent speaker continues with a tirade against the inept military governor, Baiju Noyan, who is accused of failing to provide protection against the reign of terror that the loyal residents of Qazvin have been forced to endure from the Isma’ilis. The Qadi of Qazvin then follows with a plea to the farr (majesty, grandeur) of the Qa’an to provide guidance and security and to extend the reach of his justice and peace, and on the prompting of Mongke, he chooses Hulegu as the most suitable man in that august company to lead an army to Iran,

This account is revealing for its very sympathetic portrayal of Mongke but also for the unusual public criticism and rebuke of a leading Mongol officer and high official, and it is indicative of the politics being played in the history books. Baiju Noyan was considered Batu’s appointee, and therefore Mustawfi is foreshadowing the post-Batu split between the House of Tolui and the House of Jochi.

Though widely reported, the Qazvini delegation’s request for military aid against the heterodox Isma’ilis is usually emphasized. Mustawfi, no doubt with insider knowledge, provides far more detail on the embassy and underlines the request for the appointment of a prince. Mongke had, of course, already decided to dispatch Qubilai to the east to complete the conquest of China and to send Hulegu west to consolidate his hold on the Islamic world, but Mustawfi demonstrates the Chinggisids’ diplomatic and political dexterity in attracting and co-opting allies. Hulegu’s march on the west was always controversial because Iran had already been unofficially claimed by the Jochids. Chinggis Khan had reputedly awarded the Golden Horde13 all the lands in the west “where Tatar hoof had trod,”14 and many of the daraghuchis and military governors owed their allegiance to Batu. Rashid al-Din reported that Mongke had sent his brother Hulegu off on his mission advising that his true purpose be kept secret until it became a fait accompli. Baiju was Batu’s man, and Rashid al-Din, despite praising Baiju’s actions in Baghdad,15 includes an account of his being upbraided by Hulegu for slothfulness and records his execution16 as hostilities broke out between the Jochids and Hulegu’s forces a few years after Batu’s death, in 1255.

Attack on Alamut

Hulegu’s first target were the Isma’ilis in the mountainous lairs from where they launched raids on unwary caravans and vulnerable cities and towns. The Sunni establishment also attributed assassinations and murders to the ever-present Isma’ili agents, who also spread their “vile and blasphemous,” and poisonously seductive, ideology that corrupted the weak and impressionable with honeyed words and corrosive promises.17 Iran’s Sunni ulema feared that the Chinggisids might forge a deal with the young imam Rukn al-Din, whose father had recently died, some said a victim of patricide. In the Isma’ili headquarters of Alamut, led by the world-famous scientist Nasir al-Din Tūsi, the resident scholars, who included Jewish notables from Hamadan, close relatives of Rashid al-Din, and the local community of poor Muslims, debated how best to confront the coming arrival of Hulegu, and it was unanimously decided that the young Ghurshah, Rukn al-Din, should be urged to surrender immediately and that the Chinggisid commander should be welcomed and afforded every cooperation.

The Isma’ilis holed up in their mountain retreats had posed a threat to generations of Iranian leaders both Persian and Turkish. They possessed no standing army, though there were sufficient fighters to repel attacks and protect their remote strongholds, so they used subterfuge, infiltration, and propaganda as their means of attack. The Isma’ilis would send disguised agents into their enemies’ camps and courts, and these concealed assassins would strike at the vulnerable commanders and leaders using poison or a dagger. These jihadists would often be blind to any personal danger and negligent of their own safety, so convinced were they that paradise was their inevitable reward. The stories of young men being kidnapped, drugged, and brought to “heavenly” gardens, where they would be entertained by beautiful women and warmed with wine and hashish with the promise that it was merely a taste of the paradise that would be theirs in reward for faithful service to the imam, have sometimes been dismissed as early examples of “Orientalism” inspired by Crusader stories and the tales of Marco Polo, but Mustawfi claims that remnants of such a garden was discovered when Hulegu sent Juwayni and others to search Alamut. An early collection of Arab stories, The Subtle Rose, also recounts this same old story, and a sketched version was also current in China based on the words of a messenger sent to brief Hulegu.18

There was a small pavilion in that place, whose black roof was as high as the sun or the moon. The courtyard was forty (cubits) by forty, and in it ten or twelve cabinets. In each cabinet, four sofas had been arranged, adorned with bracelets and emeralds. In the cabinets were tiles from Baghdad, which the Caliph had sent in great numbers. On every one of these Baghdadi tiles, pictures had been painted with a pen of scenes from near and far. Its ceiling was decorated from end to end with pictures, in every kind of colour and the painter had painted such scenes that it was decorated like a garden in spring. Everywhere it was beautiful to see and they had brought a master of craftsmanship to decorate it. No one had ever seen such a beautiful place and no one could have equalled it. The fida'is (Muslim warriors) remained near the great court, in that very pavilion, men filled with drugged passion, until their master called them out into the world. (p. 54)

Hulegu reduced that pavilion to its foundations, destroying that beautiful place at one sweep, and there only remained of its ruins for he brought into it a time of destruction. The buildings of the fortress he completely destroyed in his anger. The place had a savage fate, was destroyed and that was its end. (p. 55)

However, the real threats of the Isma’ilis were political ones and the attraction that their dawa (teachings), which were often espoused by their charismatic and passionate da’i (missionaries, proselytizers), held for the general population. Then as now the Isma’ilis provided and encouraged intellectual inquiry making educational facilities, libraries, and scholarships available to all. The young Rashid al-Din grew up in and near Alamut surrounded by theological debate; he had converted from Judaism to Sunni Islam as a youth and remained a theological scholar all his life. Tūsi originally entered the Isma’ili castles in Qohestan as a Twelver Shi’ite and only converted to Isma’iliism later, though he strenuously denied the allegation no doubt shielding himself liberally with taqiyya.19 The Isma’ilis also practiced charity, and they behaved very generously to the poor who lived in the vicinity of their castles. Their charismatic imams and their passionate and relevant message contrasted vividly with the dry and legalistic restrictive missives of the Sunni clerics, and the attraction of being initiated into a secret and exclusive sect, often clothed in racial images, was an added inducement. The Sunni establishment had been fearful that the Isma’ili leadership might broker a peace agreement with the Mongol rulers, which is why when Mongke became Qa’an, the Qazvini elite realized their opportunity to exploit the early contacts they had made with the Toluid princes and had then acted so decisively in dispatching their embassy to Mongke’s coronation.

Initially, the young though arrogant Isma’ili leader was received graciously by Hulegu, who was surprised at his youth, and he was even provided with a Mongol wife and comfortable quarters. It was at Rukn al-Din’s own insistence that Hulegu sent him eastward for an audience with Mongke, and it was Mongke’s angry reaction to this squandering of resources that had led to the issuance of an official edict resulting in the Ghurshah’s immediate execution and the subsequent massacre of the Isma’ili population in general, an edict which ultimately forced the Isma’ili community underground. Rukn al-Din was “kicked to a pulp and then put to the sword . . . and he and his kindred became but a tale on men’s lips.”20

The destruction of the Isma’ilis’ castles allowed Ata Malik to deliver one of his most famous soliloquys, in which he reflected on God’s reasons for surrendering the Islamic world into the hands of the Chinggisids. For Juwayni, “God’s secret intent” in sending the Chinggisids, but in sending Mongke Qa’an in particular, was essentially threefold.21 First, he had achieved the annihilation of the Isma’ilis, a divine blasphemy, a celestial insult and scourge on the Islamic world. Secondly, as foretold in the holy books, Islam would spread “even unto China,” and now Muslim communities and Muslim leaders were appearing throughout the Chinggisid Empire; and thirdly, though indeed power had been delivered into the hands of the Mongol khans, it was often exercised and executed at the hands of men like him: Muslims and believers.

Liberation of Baghdad

Hulegu had entered Iran as a returning king, transforming a collection of provinces into a powerful polity for the first time in over six hundred years. When Hulegu crossed the Amu Darya and called upon the lords of Iran to rally to his flag, first for the assault on Alamut and then afterward on the march to Baghdad, he resurrected the idea of an Iran state again for the first time since the fall of the House of Sassan. When he built his capital in Maragha after the fall of Baghdad in 1258, he founded the reborn state of Iran, and that state has persisted almost continuously since then into the 21st century. Hulegu invited the regional rulers of Iran to join his armies marching on Alamut and again marching on Baghdad, and Iran’s kings and governors, maliks, and princes came or sent their minions in answer to the Ilkhan, Hulegu’s summons.

Hulegu Khan ordered decrees to be written and messengers dispatched to the rulers and kings of the provinces “I am setting out against the Heretics. If you send assistance in the form of troops and armaments and provisions and military supplies I will count it as a favour and your province will have peace and security, and if you neglect to do this when I become free from such concerns, I will deal with you and after that no excuses or apology will be acceptable.”

And in response they came; kings like the Atabek of Pars Muẓaffer al-Din Abu Bakr bin Sacd and the sultans of Rum ‘Uz al-Din and Rukn al-Din and the rulers of Khorasan and Sistan and Mazanderan and Kirman and Rustamdar and Sherwan and Gurjistan (Georgia) and Iraq and Azerbaijan and Arran and Lurestan and more, some accompanied by their own people.

And the remainder who did not come in person, sent brothers and relatives with armies, provisions, supplies, ceremony (takalluf-ha), servants, their allegiance, and gifts to serve their new king.22

These same armies marched on Baghdad and willingly oversaw the destruction of the Arab caliphate and the absorption of Iraq al-Arab into the new state of Ilkhanid Iran. Baghdad itself was no longer the golden city and pride of the mighty Abbasid caliphs. Baghdad had been in decline as a mercantile center for a half-century, and for the last few years it had been feeding on itself in an orgy of internecine bloodletting that pitted Shi’a against Sunni, while the city’s ineffective, weak, and indecisive ruler, the caliph Musta’sim (r. 1242–1258) prevaricated and hesitated until events had moved beyond his control.

Musta’sim had appointed two advisers to assist in the administration of his warring city: Ibn al-Alqami, a Shi’ite, and Mujahid al-Din Aybak, a Sunni who had designs on the caliphate himself. The two men hated each other and they poisoned the caliph’s mind with tales of treachery and distrust. Ibn al-Alqami advised a negotiated surrender and secretly wrote to Hulegu pleading his master’s cause, whereas Aybak insisted that the Shi’ite minister’s correspondence was treacherous and that God and the Sunni masses would never allow a barbarian infidel, an upstart from the steppe, to humiliate God’s own representative on earth. When Ibn al-Alqami arranged for wagon loads of treasure to be sent as tribute to Hulegu, the caliph intercepted the envoys and had the valuables returned to his golden halls.23 The caliph was so pathologically avaricious that he refused even to pay his own soldiers, as a local witness recorded: “He had not paid them their salaries and had dropped them from the military payroll.”24 He retreated to his library to sleep rather than face the approaching nightmare. Badr al-Din Lu’lu, the Kurdish governor of Irbil and Mosul and a nominal ally of Hulegu received word from the approaching ilkhan that he needed the governor to honor his pledges and to send “artlillery and siege materials” for the coming confrontation. Lu’lu also received word from al-Mustan’sim at the very same time, but the caliph was not requesting arms or even military advice or assistance; he was asking his neighbor to urgently send him “a company of musicians.” Lu’lu’s response was to “weep for Islam and its people.”25

Hulegu had no desire to destroy Baghdad. He wanted the cooperation of the caliph. He had been welcomed into Iran, and its people had flocked to his armies and united under his flag. His only military engagement had been with the Isma’ilis, and that appeared to have been a popular cause. Juwayni, who had accompanied Hulegu on his leisurely trek across Asia, and Qutb al-Din Shirazi, the scientist and commentator, had both remarked on the preparations and ample provisions designed to avoid inconveniencing the local population. “And every half farsang they had stacked so much flour and rice and necessities (staples) in bags of fine linen [that] everywhere great hills [of supplies] appeared.”26

During the siege of Baghdad, Hulegu had arranged an audience with some of the local clerics. He wished to know which they found more desirous, a ruler who though an infidel was just or an unjust ruler who was a Muslim. The leaned group of clerics agreed that the just infidel would be the better ruler and eventually Ibn Ta’us, the leader of the country’s Shi’ites, agreed to endorse a fatwa (Islamic legal ruling) to that effect. Iraq al-Arab’s Shi’ite community officially supported Hulegu and asked him for protection. In response Hulegu dispatched Chinggisid troops to Najaf and other Shi’ite centers to protect the local community. Ibn Ta’us was also assured that his property in Baghdad would be safeguarded, another indication that the infamous pillaging and destruction of Baghdad had been a more methodical and organized operation than has previously been suggested.

In fact, Shirazi’s contemporary account, which only came to light in the early 2000s, describes the fall of Baghdad in some detail and ascribes most of the fatalities to the pestilence that had so overwhelmed the city’s resources that it was forced to dump bodies in the Tigris. Even Hulegu was briefly incapacitated.

Another contemporary account details the experiences of the celebrated musician Ṣafi al-Din Urmawi, explaining how the gifted governor was able to safeguard his district by lavishly entertaining the Chinggisid commanders, including Baiju Noyan, with a gastronomical and musical feast.27 Bar Hebraeus, a beneficiary of Baghdad’s libraries after their transference to Tūsi’s Rasadkhana library in Maragha, provided an account of the vaq’eh (events), as the fall of Baghdad was euphemistically known, based on Tusi’s own definitive account, recorded as the final chapter of Juwayni’s history.28 He describes how specific buildings were spared from destruction, including churches, and how arrows were sent into the besieged city, informing “Archons (Christian priests), Alawiya, and scholars” that they could expect safe passage, although Tūsi’s Persian version includes shaykhs (respected, venerable older men) and saiyids(clerics who claimed descent from the Prophet’s family), suggestive of a broader range of exemptions, and Rashid al-Din includes qadis and noncombatants in general. Contemporary accounts of the vaq’eh agree that the siege of Baghdad was a traumatic and destructive event but not the apocalyptic catastrophe that later Arabic accounts often relished in evoking. The fetid, foul air generated by the spreading pestilence caused Hulegu to call a halt to the destruction and the reopening of the bazaars in a week hence, a command which would have been impossible to fulfill had the more dramatic accounts been even partially accurate.

As for the 400,000 books, sometime during these historic events, probably before the actual sacking of the city, they were transported to the small provincial town of Maragha, just south of Tabriz and a short distance west of the small inland sea of Urmiya, which Hulegu had chosen for his capital and where he allowed Tūsi to construct his famous seat of learning, the Rasadkhana, as a reward for services rendered to his new king. As well as “stealing” Baghdad’s libraries as the Mamluk historian Ṣafadi claimed, Ṭūsi “abducted” the young Ibn Fuwati, a trainee librarian who later became his chief librarian and compiler of a biographical dictionary of all the library’s celebrated international patrons.29 Ṭūsi was also furiously derided by Mamluk sources for misappropriating the waqf which had been used to finance the libraries.30 He shared the site of the Rasadkhana, sitting atop a hill on the outskirts of the town, with a Syriac church constructed for Bar Hebraeus that had been built into the sides of the hill using a number of old Buddhist caves. The Rasdkhana was eventually succeeded by Rashid al-Din’s Rab’ al-Rashidi in Tabriz, a seat of learning twinned with the Hanlin academy in the Yuan capital, Khanbaliq or Dadu (Beijing).31

Baghdad quickly revived and arose from its ashes cleansed and at peace, with Ibn al-Alqami at its helm, which debunked the accusations of treachery against him since the yasa (the law of the Eurasian steppe by whose precepts and strictures all Turko-Mongols lived) rewarded all traitors for whomsoever they had served and benefited, with death. He died in office after a very short time, and Aṭa Malik Juwayni, Hulegu’s personal adviser and historian was appointed governor in his place, while his brother Shams al-Din became Ṣahib Divan of the new Ilkhanid state. Although Maragha became the state capital, the ilkhan princes still maintained their individual ordus, as did other members of the Mongol elite, which gave them mobility and allowed them a degree of autonomy and power.32 Many of these noyat guarded this independence jealously and clung to the “old days” of unbridled Mongol ascendancy and steppe cultural supremacy.33 The southern Caucasus, including what is today eastern Turkey, and Kurdistan continued to be popular grazing land and the site for the elites’ urdus, their mobile tented cities, their sumptuous feasts of gorgeous silks and brocade for which the Chinggisids had an insatiable appetite.

Founding of the Ilkhanate

The publication of a Baydawi’s Niẓam al-tawarikh, a kind of “pocket” history of Iran’s ruling dynasties, first appeared early in Abaqa’s reign. It is a book that E. G. Browne has dismissed as a “dull and jejune little book,”34 and at first sight, its cliché-ridden summary of the kings and battles of Iranian history seems an unlikely work for a highly respected Sunni theologian whose usual publications were extremely heavy, serious religious tomes and commentaries on the hadith and Qor’an. In fact, Baydawi very deliberately gave his support for this short but very widely disseminated little book, which included in its last pages an account of the Ilkhanate, thereby giving the Sunni establishment’s recognition and endorsement of the new government. The section on the ilkhans steadily grew, and the final editions incorporated Oljaytu (r. 1304–1316), thus providing Sunni endorsement of Chinggisid rule in Iran.

Hulegu’s open court became a magnet for the politically ambitious and the powerful, among whom the Karts of Herat, the Armenian kings of Cilicia and Yerevan, the grandees of Qazvin, the atabegs of Yazd, and in particular the Qutlugh Khans of Kirman and their highly regarded queen, Terkan Khatun, who exploited her Khitan heritage and her popularity with her Persian subjects to ingratiate herself with Iran’s new royal family, were welcome visitors. Hulegu and his devout Christian wife, Dokuz Khatun, received many such visitors at their open audiences, and their accessibility, affability, generosity, and approachability have been well documented. Hulegu surrounded himself with the cultural and intellectual elite of his new country and indulged one of the defining institutions of the Chinggisids, which they had practiced from their days on the steppe—debate and intellectual jousting, a pastime that served as a form of entertainment, a process of education, a source of intelligence, and a method of understanding and anticipating their potential enemies and friends.35

The Ilkhanate enjoyed general support from the indigenous people. Certain groups, such as the Armenians and Kurds, and Khitan dynasties, such as the Qutlugh Khans of Kirman, were long-standing and natural allies. Individuals, such as the Persian Shams al-Din Kart of Herat, had grown up with Mongol princes and lords and had a natural affiliation with this new “global” elite, as did some of the Persian courtiers, epitomized by the Juwaynis.36 During the early, dark period that had seen the destruction of the Khwarazmshah’s crippled regime, population displacement occurred on a massive scale and a whole generation of the children of the old elite grew up under the protection of the Chinggisid ruling classes in the ordus that were scattered across the empire and in the company of the children of the many imperial vassals, great and minor alike. Whole villages of artisans were transferred to the far reaches of China and Mongolia, and as their parents continued to toil in the service of the khans, their children enlisted in the administration or trained in the keshig (the institution of the Imperial Bodyguard). A multiethnic, multicultural generation emerged, loyal to the Great khans, who believed in the Chinggisid revolution under whose umbrella they thrived. Like Juwayni, they understood God’s secret intent, and like Juwayni, they were happy to serve. In the kingdom of Dali (modern day Yunnan) Sayyid ‘Ajall (1211–1279), the Muslim grandson of a Khwarazmian general, served loyally as governor of the province, introducing the latest forms of agriculture and irrigation, building mosques and temples, and establishing free education for the people of the province because he believed in the imperial mission to bring civilization to those who might benefit from its fruits and produce. Today the people of Yunnan, many of whom are Muslim, still revere the memory of the Persian Sayyid ‘Ajall and his short but transformative period in office.37 In Iran people could only marvel and dream as ethnic Iranians prospered in the distant corners of this empire of which they were now an active part. Ṭūsi chief librarian Ibn Fowati records in his biographical dictionary how Chinese and even Mongolian were becoming popular second and third languages; that opportunists, adventurers, and entrepreneurs, as well as merchants and traders, were swelling the numbers of caravans heading east on the prospering Silk Road or the southern maritime Spice Route; and that Persian was even becoming a lingua franca for many of the cities and bazaars on the way.38

Two defining events of Hulegu’s reign were sparked by the death of his elder brother, in 1259. Taking advantage of the king’s absence after Hulegu had begun the long trek east for a major quriltai (a meeting of princes and leading khans) to decide on Mongke’s successor, the Mamluk sultan, Qutuz, launched an attack on Hulegu’s leading general, Ket Buqa, who was on patrol with a small army in Syria. The Mamluks won a decisive victory, and though it had no significant military or political implications, the Battle of Ayn Jalut, in 1260, was a major symbolic victory that heralded to the world that the Mongols were not invincible. It also left Syria a battleground for the coming decades into which kings, rulers, sultans, and generals would send their armies to campaign, exercise, and practice and absorb that excess energy they might otherwise have expended back home.

Hulegu never made it to the quriltai in Mongolia, but he supported his older brother Qubilai to be the new Great Khan over his younger brother, Ariq Buqa, who was the choice of the traditionalists. While Persian sources downplay the disagreements surrounding the succession, Mamluk and Caucasian sources describe a two-year civil war that resulted in the permanent fracture of the Chinggisid Empire. The empire split into two ideological camps with Yuan China and Ilkhanid Iran supporting a multicultural, multiethnic state fusing steppe and sedentary Turkish, Persian, and Chinese military and civilian culture, whereas Ariq Buqa became the figurehead of the traditionalists’ camp, who claimed that they were following a purer version of the state envisaged by Chinggis Khan and his Great Yasa. Ariq Buqa had formed a power base in Ogodai Qa’an’s capital, Qaraqorum, and the Chaghadaid and Ogodaid khans were joined by the powerful khans of the Qipchaq Khanate, or the Golden Horde, who had retained their sedentary culture and resisted assimilating with the Rus lords in their city strongholds.

Ariq Buqa succeeded only in dividing his cousins, and within a few years he was dead; the death was officially an accident, but it is widely assumed that he was poisoned in 1266 on Qublai’s orders. Ariq Buqa allied with Berke Khan of the Golden Horde and Alghu of the Chagatai Khanate. Ariq Buqa was elected at a quriltai held in Qaraqorum, whereas Qubilai had himself elected in Kaipeng, but Qubilai had the military might and the financial resources of China behind him, and Hulegu had also pledged his support, so the result was a forgone conclusion. Qaidu (1230–1301), Ogodai’s grandson, eventually raised Ariq Buqa’s flag on behalf of the Ogodaids, and he continued to be a very nasty thorn in Qubilai’s side for the rest of the Great Khan’s life. The Chinggis Empire was united only once after Mongke Qa’an’s death and for a very limited time, at the end of Timur Oljaytu Khan’s reign (r. 1294–1307) after a peace agreement was signed in 1304 by all the main khanates. The agreement followed Qaidu’s death in 1301 and recognized the Yuan emperor as the Great Khan, but it had little practical application and was completely redundant within a very few years.

Batu Khan of the Golden Horde had died before giving any opinion on Hulegu’s assumption of the throne in a united Iran. There had existed an unofficial assumption that Iran fell under the umbrella of the Jochids since their men had governed the territory, and it is said that Jochid ascendancy had even been recognized in Friday prayers. Chinggis Khan’s proclamation on the lands where Tatar hoof had trod came easily to the lips of Batu’s successors, and once Berke, a Muslim convert, had become comfortable on his throne against the wishes of both Qubilai and Hulegu, he began spoiling for a fight.39 Berke (r. 1257–1266) initially supported Hulegu’s advance, but there was personal ill feeling between the two rulers, and a general sense of grievance and resentment against Jochid arrogance festered on the ground among Hulegu’s noyat and administration.

If ever Hulegu nominated their [Jochid] forces for some task, they would openly say, “Since our troops do most of the work, let him, namely Hulegu, not threaten us.” They harboured sentiments of this kind and from time to time they would pass remarks. Factious persons exaggerated the situation and reported things to the king, and for this reason he grew angry with them. It was also the case that Berke’s shahnas and governors and his family held the choicest and best territories in Khorasan, ‛Iraq, Azerbaijan, Arran and Georgia, and used to say, “They are our injü that is, our private property. And on every possible occasion factious persons would say things to aggravate the situation.40

Berke used the suspicious death of three Jochid princes, Balaghai, Tutar and Quli, as the casus belli, and the execution of the caliph and the assault on the Muslim capital later added to those historical claims of land trodden by Tatar hoof and provided rich fuel for escalation. Berke then made an unprecedented alliance with a non-Chinggisid state against a fellow Chinggisid state, joining forces with the Mamluks of Egypt to challenge his cousins in Iran. Jochid khans and soldiers in Iran fled from the country; many found sanctuary in Mamluk-controlled territory, but others retreated to the mountainous regions in the east in what today is Afghanistan and regrouped as mercenaries, and outlaws, becoming known as the Negudaris or Qara’unas. With their striking Mongolian facial features, it is widely believed today that they are the distant ancestors of the Hazaras of Bamian and central Afghanistan.

From Mongke’s death until the dissolution of the Ilkhanate in 1335, Iran remained in a state of low-level war with its neighbors, including the Qara’unas and the sultanate of Delhi (1206–1526), until 1290 another Mamluk regime but in political union and commercial contact with Yuan China, with whom it maintained close economic, intellectual, and cultural ties despite the almost complete severance of their land links. The only safe physical passage tying Ilkhanid Iran to Yuan China was the perilous mountain road twisting high into the Pamirs and over the Karakorum pass into Kashmir and then into Tibet, where Hulegu and his descendants continued to control land. This was the road Marco Polo chose to tread in 1271, carefully avoiding the hostile lands dominated by the Chaghadaid khans to the north, the suspiciously unfriendly patrols of the Delhi sultanate to the south, and the ever-present danger of the lawless Qara’unas or Negudaris throughout the region. Marco Polo’s route follows the Wakkan corridor, that appendage in modern Afghanistan designed to separate the British and Russian empires with a buffer zone, mirroring the buffer zone between the Chaghadaids and the Delhi sultanate.

Ilkhanid Overview

The Ilkhanate developed through three periods. The first period, from 1258 until 1282, saw Iran enjoy relative political stability, economic growth, and cultural blossoming underpinned by a sense of spiritual liberation as the restraints of an authoritarian ulema and domineering caliphate were replaced by an upsurge in Sufi schools and charismatic religious teachers flooding the whole region. In 1282, the reign of Ahmad Tegudar witnessed dissent and fatal weaknesses appear in the ruling elite. The military objected to Ahmad’s unilateral, ill-conceived approaches to the Mamluks of Egypt, his relegation of authority to his mother, and his intimacy with a drugged and deluded qalandar, Hasan Mengli.41 Though Arghun Khan imposed a strong government, the fault lines between the traditionalists and the cosmopolitan Chinggisid Perso-Mongol elite persisted, and when economic calamity threatened following the introduction of paper money, it was only the seizure of power by the young Ghazan Khan in 1295 that saved the Ilkhanate from disaster. The instability of the second period, 1282–1295, gave way to the so-called Golden Age as Ghazan converted to Islam and was proclaimed the Ilkhan, king of all Iranians whether Turk or Tajik, Muslim or infidel. The Ilkhanate never went into decline. Abu Sa’id, the last ilkhan, died without heir, and his death saw the collapse of the regime as Iran descended into chaos.

Abaqa Khan (r. 1265–1282) has enjoyed a good press. Among others, he married the poet Padeshah Khatun, daughter of the celebrated Terkan Khatun of Kirman and Marie, the Byzantine emperor’s daughter, who later built the still-standing Church of Mary of the Mongols in Istanbul. He oversaw a period of internal stability and prosperity despite continuing tensions on his borders as the conflict with the Mamluks and the Jochids of the Qipchaq Khanate was joined by the Chaghadaids. However, Abaqa saw the defeat of Berke in the Caucasus, and thereafter the war between the Jochids and the Ilkhanate simmered on but rarely boiled over. Likewise, on the Chaghadaid frontier, the brutal military opportunist, Baraq Khan, invaded Khorasan in 1270 but was unable to discern the various strings that his clever puppet masters were stretching and playing to their different tunes. Although Abaqa played along for time as he gathered his armies to march east toward Herat, Shams al-Din Kart, ruler and loyal Persian governor of Herat, fawned and feted the oafish warlord in the hopes that help was on its way. Meanwhile, the would-be Great Khan Qaidu manipulated the hapless Baraq to his inevitable downfall, ignoble defeat, and death, leaving the Ogodaid prince master of Turkestan and a real threat to the Qa’an Qubilai. For Abaqa, however, these distant machinations eliminated the immediate threat from his northeastern border and provided him with an excuse to rid himself of a troublesome vassal, Shams al-Din Kart.42

Instability, 1282–1295

Following Abaqa’s death, in 1282, Ahmad Tegudar (r. 1282–1284) proved too weak and fickle to rule effectively. As already mentioned, his disregard of the military; his murder of his brother, Qongqurtai, Ghiyath al-Din, the Saljuq Sultan of Rum and others in early 1284; his ill-advised possibly perfidious contacts with the Mamluks; and his scandalous association with Hasan Mengli that had outraged the ulema ensured support for his nephew Arghun. However, those disruptive two years at a formative period in the Ilkhanate severely weakened the nascent government and instability ruled for the next decade.

Although Arghun was strong and capable, he appointed as his prime minister a shrewd and skillful politician whose own insecurities undermined the minister’s legacy. Sa’d al-Dawlah (1240–1290) was Jewish, and he surrounded himself with family members and other Jews. He was efficient and strict and rooted out corruption among the noyat and the Persian elite, and in the process, he made many enemies who were able to use his religion and his clear nepotism against him. When Arghun fell sick, his enemies moved against the minister, and the inherent religious bigotry of the people proved a powerful weapon. “These apish Jews are done away and shent” applauds the administrator and historian Wassaf, thanking Taghachar Noyan whose “flashing falchion on their flesh did feed” for ending Arghun’s rule.

Arghun was succeeded by his brother Gaykhatu (r. 1291–1295), who was supported by the scheming Taghachar, a shadowy figure who reputedly had the blood of three ilkhans and many others on his hands. Taghachar Noyan was involved in the overthrow and very probably with the execution of Ahmad Tegudar. He facilitated the murder of Sa’d al-Dawlah after reputedly finishing off the paralyzed and terminally ill Arghun, and then he turned on Gaykhatu when that ilkhan became an embarrassment, to briefly assist the Ilkhan Baydu, before finally joining the Muslim commander Noyan Nowruz and his instatement of Ghazan Khan.

The political in-fighting and administrative shenanigans corrupting the Ilkhanate were inflamed by the economic crisis that exploded in the country after the short-sighted and nearly disastrous decision to introduce paper money, the chao, to Iran following the successful model then being used in Yuan China. Despite being advised by the capable and experienced ambassador Bolad Chingsang (d. 1313), recently arrived from Qubilai’s court, Gaykhatu was forced to abandon the experiment to avoid complete national bankruptcy and total economic breakdown. Gaykhatu, a man whose dissolute nature appalled even the Mongol courtiers, who felt that neither their daughters nor their sons, wives, or young officers were safe from his lechery, had also compounded the chao fiasco by excessive personal spending and criminal wasting of funds.

Golden Years, the Third Period, 1295–1335

Ghazan Khan (1295–1304) deserves much of the praise that is lavished on him simply for successfully snatching the throne back from the edge of political, economic, and social chaos and placing the Huleguid crown on a strong and forceful head. Arghun had shown political short-sightedness in failing to curb Sa’d al-Dawlah’s nepotism, but those other three ilkhans, Ahmad, Gaykhatu, and Baidu were unqualified, unfit, and unable to assume the responsibilities of kingship. Ghazan accepted the challenge and acted decisively declaring himself ruler of Iran and king of all his subjects both Turk and Tajik. He began with a bankrupt economy.

No money remained in the treasury because in that year (1295) in the course of eight months three rulers had succeeded to the throne and twice in the far corners of the empire there had been large military expeditions, inevitably demands for payments in advance and extraordinary levies were made and mavashi had been taken at the rate of 20% in most of the tax districts, especially in Fars.43

The final decades of Ilkhanid rule has often been celebrated as a Golden Age, and the accolades have been credited to Ghazan’s conversion to Islam. Ghazan was able to unite Iran as a Muslim sultan. Many of his supporters depict him as having abandoned his Mongol heritage and embraced the culture and faith of his Persian Muslim subjects. Ghazan’s detractors claim that his conversion was a political ploy and his profession of faith lacked sincerity and that both were part of a cynical maneuver to ensnare Noyan Nowruz, whom he shortly afterward murdered. Both views of Ghazan fail to capture the truth behind Ghazan’s enthronement and rule and the significance of this final phase of the Ilkhanate.

Ghazan Khan declared himself the sovereign of a united Iran, the king of Tajik and Turk, the monarch of all his subjects whether Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, or Shaman. Ghazan understood the vital importance of ending the conflicts that had almost destroyed the unity and undermined the stability of the country. The Ilkhanate had recaptured the glories of Iran’s imperial past and helped to secure the future of the House of Tolui. Ghazan realized that without a common national identity and shared national goals, the drift into anarchy that had begun during the reign of Ahmad and reached a chaotic peak as Gaykhatu’s administration crumbled would irreparably continue. Rashid al-Din’s detailed account of Ghazan’s speeches, thoughts, intentions, and reforms present an imperial shahanshah (traditional form of Persian kingship) leading a nation into a new era. He sat upon an Iranian throne and wore an Islamic crown while in his hand he wielded a Chinggisid sword. Ghazan was determined to rule a united nation and was determined to represent all his subjects whether Turk or Tajik, and he and his two successors succeeded in healing many of the wounds that had nearly destroyed his great-grandfather Hulegu’s initial vision. His title reflected his nation.

Padshah of the World, Shahanshah of Earth and Time, Sovereign Lord of the Kings of Iran and Turan, Manifestation of the Copious Grace of God, the Visible Sign of Islam and the Faith, a Jamshid, Dispenser of Justice, Animator of the Custom of World Domination, the Elevated Banner of Sovereignty, Bestower of the Carpet of Justice, an overflowing Sea of Compassion, King of the Domains of Monarchs, Heir to the Chinggisid Throne, Shadow of God, Defender of the Faith of Allah to the Ends of the Earth and Time.44

Rashid al-Din’s preface wallows in the adulation of a king with “fortune before and luck behind, impeccability in his heart and victory at his side” but who also has a courtier such as he by his side. The praise that Rashid al-Din showers so liberally on the sovereign is very probably a discreet form of self-flattery.

Ghazan identifies himself with his fellow Mongol lords and shares their disdain for the Tajiks and takes pleasure in trammeling them, but he concludes, after explaining to his audience of Mongol lords and noyat, how much more profitable they are as tax generators, that “they too are human beings like us. Since God has entrusted them to us, and we will be made to answer for them, . . . their curses and imprecations will be answered, and one should consider that well.”45

Ghazan sought to revive and stimulate the economy, hence his overhaul of the tax laws, which were regulated and rationalized.46 Rents were lowered and tied to wages, and corruption was targeted throughout the administration. The yam, the much-heralded postal and intelligence-gathering system, typified the reforms that Rashid al-Din oversaw. No longer could any swaggering warlord, brazen official, or arrogant courtier make use of the generous provisions available to those authorized to use the institution known as the yam. Outside the smallest townships, along the busy highways, were established caravansaries that provided food, lodging, fresh horses, messengers, and entertainment for those claiming to be traveling on government business or in possession of a paiza (an official medal that served as a passport), and the considerable expenses involved in the upkeep and functioning of this vital institution fell on the hard-pressed and very resentful locals. Henceforth, only officially appointed ilchis (government messengers and ambassadors) on government business would be allowed access to caravanserais and the paiza were reissued and refashioned with the aim of preventing misuse and illegal transference. Weights and measures were regularized, and the bazaar was scrutinized. Shar’iah law did not replace the yasa, but Iran was now officially a Muslim country, so while alcohol was not banned public drunkenness was punished, and though brothels remained legal, forced prostitution was vigorously prohibited. Agriculture was encouraged. Certainly, Rashid al-Din demonstrated a healthy interest in flora and fauna, crop diversification, agronomy, and irrigation, and he enacted what was for a steppe-based ruling elite a revolutionary law that awarded taxation concessions to those who utilized uncultivated land, repaired irrigation systems, and repopulated abandoned farmlands.

Ghazan’s more superficial administrative reforms, which allowed him to present Ilkhanid Iran as an Islamic state, were embraced by his Muslim population and the ulema, but they had little impact internationally. Ghazan and his successors, his brother Oljaytu (r. 1304–1316) and his nephew Abu Sa’id (r. 1316–1335), continued to be viewed as ilkhans and vassals of the Great Khan in Khanbaliq, and the Mamluks of Cairo refused even to acknowledge their conversion to Islam. Yuan China continued to be a solid political ally and significant economic partner, and the relationship reached a peak during Ghazan’s reign. This was partially due to the strong personal relationship between the Yuan ambassador to the Ilkhanid court, Bolad Chingsang (c. 1240–1313), who had been a career diplomat and highly regarded Yuan official before his appointment to Iran in 1283, and Rashid al-Din, the Muslim convert from an influential Jewish family from Hamadan. As a result of this friendship the solid ties between the cultural and educational institutions of the Rab’ al-Rashidi in Tabriz and the Hanlin academy in Khanbaliq were further developed and strengthened.47 Tragically, many of the literary works of Rashid al-Din have been lost, including work to which Bolad undoubtedly contributed, though Bolad’s most famous contribution, the text of secret Mongol historical texts, such as the Altan Debter, has been preserved in Rashid al-Din’s historical collection.

Islam under the Ilkhans

Doubts have been cast on the later ilkhans’ commitment to Islam because of their failure to pursue peace with their Muslim neighbors, the Mamluks. This ideological battle has been recorded in the theological works of two contemporaries, Rashid al-Din and Ibn Taymiyyeh (1263–1328), the jihadist whose fiery words continue to inspire Islamic radicals today.48 Ibn Taymiyyeh rejected any possibility that a Mongol infidel could ever embrace Islam, but Ghazan considered his own royal heritage as possessing sufficient prestige to represent an Islamic state and believed that an outlaw regime headed by brigands who did not even know their own fathers was an insult to the ‘umma (Muslim community). Although Ghazan made no claim to the caliphate, he saw himself as a far more suitable guardian of the Islamic world than the slave soldiers of Cairo. Ghazan maintained good relations with his own ulema just as his infidel father and forefathers had, and his conversion had certainly been presided over by a qualified and recognized Shafi’i cleric, Shaykh Sadr al-Din Ibrahim b. Sa’d al-Din al-Hammuya, though Ghazan was generally considered to be a Hanafi Sunni. Sadr al-Din had married the daughter of the former governor of Baghdad and adviser to Hulegu, Ata Malek Juwayni. Ghazan had been initiated and instructed in his adopted religion by some illustrious and highly respected clerics, but we have no real insight into his soul.

The differences among the Sunni theological schools and even among Islamic sects were far more fluid than they are today. Individual shaykhs whose hours were filled with theological discourse and argument might appreciate the subtleties and shades of meaning that differentiated these bickering cliques, but for the most part the believers had only the vaguest sense of what they believed. The common man still clung to the tales and mysteries of his forefathers, and for many their identifying sect was merely the banner to which they attached their own version of folk Islam. It is known that Shaykh Sadr al-Din al-Hammuya had been strongly influenced by well-known Shi’a apologists, and it is clear from the words attributed to Ghazan that his view of the world was splashed with Shi’ite hues, such as his dreams of meeting the imams Husayn and Hasan, and his stated commitment to the ahl a-bayt.49 Sufis, most famously Safi al-Din, the eponymous founder of the Safavid order of Sufis, were welcome at the royal ordu as they always had been. Again, the influence of Sufi Islam is not difficult to uncover and its significance should not be exaggerated.

Most people at this time were not schooled in the intricacies of theology but now that Ghazan had opened his court to the ulema and had himself taken on the burden of appointing individual qadis (Islamic judges), there was a resurgence of Islamic debate and a reheating of Muslim rivalry. It was in this heated atmosphere that Oljaytu officially rejected what his advisers had called the perpetually squabbling schools of Sunni Islam and embraced Shi’ism, which accorded much more with his own political view of the world. A disgruntled general, Qutlughshah, famously complained to Oljaytu about the confusing number of contradictory dogmas plaguing the Sunnis and about which they were forever arguing.50 Another amir, Taramtaz, explained the situation in ways that ensured Oljaytu’s enthusiastic adoption of the creed. He compared Alids to those who believed in the laws of monarchical succession and depicted the Sunnis as viewing power to be the preserve of the ulema. The Shi’ite, in accordance with the “yasa, after Chinggis Khan’s [death], would raise his uruq [family] in his place, and the Sunni sect would consider an amir as deserving of his place.”51 A similar explanation of Sunnism is recorded as having been laid before Ghazan to which he responded that “the qaraju [common people] have imposed this view to serve their own purposes. The true madhhab [Sunni school of Law] is the one belonging to the descendants of Muhammad.” The position of shahanshah accorded well with the ilkhans, and the ideology of the imamate was something they could easily relate to and identify with. However, though the poisonous factionalism had once again entered the Iranian court, the culture of the steppe prevented its toxic fumes from enveloping or overcoming its ruling elite.


Instead, the final decades of the Ilkhanate allowed the Muslim ilkhans to consolidate their rule, hold their borders, and strive toward unity. The young Abu Sa’id ascended the throne as an easily influenced youngster (b. 1305, r. 1316–1335), and he was unable to prevent the intellectual and political giant Rashid al-Din’s appalling fall from grace and death at the hands of cynical court intriguers and connivers, which allowed the rise of the powerful amir, Chuban, a devout Muslim, honored military strongman, and husband of the young ilkhan’s sisters, Sati Beg and Dowlandi Khatun, whose sons and daughter soon helped him dominate central and regional administrative networks.52 Chuban continued his military successes, begun in Ghazan’s reign, with a defeat inflicted on Sultan Uzbek (b. 1282, r. 1313–1341) of the Golden Horde in 1319 and again in 1325, and a routing of the Chaghadaid prince Yasa’ur, in Khurasan. He confirmed his central position in Iran and his value to the ilkhan by his suppression of a rebellion of the amirs, ending the long, drawn-out conflict between the old-guard Mongol warlords and the reformers that had haunted not only the Ilkhanate but the Yuan administration as well.

However, Choban succeeded chiefly in alienating Abu Sa’id, whose growing resentment of his able commander-in-chief was mixed with anger at the arrogant misbehavior of his sons, in particular Dimashq, who was rumored to have strayed too deeply into the royal harems. In addition, the young king had also fallen deeply in love with Chuban’s beautiful, very talented, and politically astute daughter, Baghdad Khatun.53 The scandalous tale that unfolded would have suited the lurid pages of the tabloid press but was hungrily reported in various sources. Chuban was executed, his sons destroyed, and Baghdad Khatun, after a forced divorce and a royal marriage, established her own power base within the court. But unfortunately, she lost her hold over Abu Sa’id, whose eye had fallen on her niece, Delshad Khatun. She took her revenge with the help of her former husband, Big Hasan; the two of them conspired to poison the ilkhan, whose early death in 1335 precipitated the end of the Ilkhanate and the rapid descent of Iran into chaos and violent anarchy. Baghdad Khatun was quickly blamed for regicide and executed, though Big Hasan lived to make a stand in the civil war that engulfed the country as leader of the Baghdad-based Jalayrid dynasty (1336–1432), which he founded with his wife, Delshad Khatun, the widow of Abu Sa’id.54

Arpa Ke’un

It is sometimes claimed that the last ilkhan was Arpa Ke’un (r. 1335–1336), who was a descendant of Tolui through his youngest son, Ariq Buqa (d. 1266). He was chosen for his lack of ostentation, solid military links, pragmatism, and determination to eliminate corruption from political life. For his coronation, he donned a Russian felt hat in place of a golden crown and a simple waistband in place of a turquoise belt. Unfortunately, though he succeeded admirably, he lacked political acumen and stepped on too many sensitive toes. He created too many enemies and made far too few friends, and his first act, the execution of the popular Baghdad Khatun, was also his first mistake. Interestingly, Arpa Ke’un was not a practicing Muslim, and he was possibly even an infidel. But after he had pledged to endorse Shar’iah law and not to act against the interests of Muslims, in a declaration given to his prime minister, Ghiyath al-Din, the son of Rashid al-Din, he was given wide political support and endorsement.55 Not so surprising. The Qara Khitai had been infidels, Hulegu never pretended to be a Muslim, and all the ilkhans maintained a good relationship with their Muslim subjects and the ulema.

The Ilkhanate collapsed in 1335, but not following an economic decline or a period of political upheaval or moral decay; in fact, the opposite could be argued, that the Ilkhanate collapsed at its peak. The rumbling conflict between the “old guard,” those noyat who still hankered after the days when the traditions of the steppe and the supremacy of the yasa went unchallenged and the words and ways of the Mongol lords could not be challenged by the wiles and guiles of sweet-tongued Persian administrators. The quriltais of yore where the noyat could challenge and influence the laws of the land had been submerged in the complexities of a Persian Islamic regime headed by an autocratic shahanshah, but the confrontations had climaxed early in the reign of Abu Sa’id (1316–1335), and the resulting political stability had even allowed a peace to be declared between the Mamluks of Egypt and the Ilkhanate. The collapse of the Ilkhanate occurred simply because Abu Sa’id had died without a male successor. He was poisoned by a jealous wife, and the center could not hold.

In the years of chaos and anarchy that followed the fall of the Ilkhanid regime, Iranian commentators looked back wistfully. Viewing it in hindsight and admittedly from a rather bleak landscape, these chroniclers declared the Ilkhanate to have been a “Golden Age.” However, Hulegu and his successors had succeeded in reviving the idea of Iran after seven centuries, and that idea persisted and resisted all attempts to stifle and submerge it in the tumult of the sea of competing identities, ethnicities, and religious communities that surge throughout the unstable region.

The Ilkhanate: Mongol Rule in Medieval Western Asia, 1256–1335Click to view larger

Figure 2. Post-Ilkhanid Iran.

Sourcing the Ilkhanids of Iran

The Mongol centuries, the thirteenth through the fourteenth, when Chinggisid khanates ruled much of Asia, became a golden age for the writing of history. Not only was the writing of historical chronicles officially sanctioned and financed by the Chinggisid administrations of Yuan China and Ilkhanid Iran, but individual observers, commentators, and wordsmiths were aware of the tumultuous times in which they were living, and they understood that they were witnesses to a reshaping of the world. These historical accounts appeared in the guise of universal histories, local histories, inscribed stela, verse, mirror for princes, and even short commentaries and random notes, and they also appeared in a wide range of languages reflective of the many lands and people who were intimately affected by the mass migration of people, upheavals of political systems, reworking of social networks, and disruption of so many different lives as the world’s first experience of globalization took root. Chinggis Khan and his sons initiated mass population movements and international trade on a global stage, and the records from those revolutionary centuries are still being unearthed, examined, and analyzed.

Although Chinggis Khan, a nomadic ruler from the Eurasian steppe lands, led his people into the wider world, few records of his rule were kept in his native tongue, which only acquired its own script after the establishment of his empire. The one extant Mongolian chronicle, The Secret History of the Mongols, was originally written down in Uyghur and in phonetically valued Chinese characters; it was a manuscript that had linguists scratching their heads for generations.56 Chinggis Khan and his inner circle quickly gathered around them recruits and volunteers from the settled world who were employed in the army of administrators needed to manage the cities and towns and endless arable lands and rolling steppe that were falling under the Mongol army’s sway. In fact, within a few years of Chinggis Khan’s 1206 election as supreme leader, the term Mongol was becoming a misnomer. Not only were ethnic Turko-Mongols becoming a minority in the military as defeated soldiers were absorbed by the victorious army, but the burgeoning bureaucracy was overwhelmingly composed of Khitans, Uyghurs, Chinese, Persians, Armenians, Arabs, Russians, and a growing host of non-Turko-Mongols. Though his subjects continued, and were proud, to call themselves Mongols, for the modern historian the term Chinggisid is preferable in terms of accuracy of meaning and to avoid confusion.

Persian soon became an imperial lingua franca, and Persian chronicles dominate the histories. Ata Malik Juwayni (d. 1283) was a personal adviser to the Great Khan’s grandson Hulegu, and the first Ilkhanid governor of Baghdad to have been brought up and educated in the royal ordus, mobile cities, which traveled with their regal prince throughout the wide lands of the empire. Juwayni became an inspiration for other Iranian historians, and under the Ilkhan Ghazan (r. 1295–1304), his vizier Rashid al-Din was commissioned to write the world’s first universal history. The great statesman composed his Compendium of Histories to ensure that the triumphs and legacy of the Chinggisids would not be forgotten. Another government official, Hamdallah Mustawfi Qazvini, wrote a geographical survey of Greater Iran and beyond, as well as a history of various classes of great and eminent men of the time, including the ilkhans, caliphs, sultans, the ulema, governors, and even poets, with examples of their work.57 His greatest work was a universal history encompassing the whole of the Ilkhanate set in verse. Unfortunately, his skills as a poet did not match his prowess as an historian, and the book, the Zafarnama, was ignored and almost forgotten despite its undisputed historical value. Wassaf, a bureaucrat from Shiraz, wrote what he considered a continuation of Juwayni’s history, but though his work is of great historical value, it is most famous for the excruciating verbosity of its language, and an English translation has not yet appeared.58 An important chronicle appeared a few years after the collapse of the Ilkhanate that was written under the patronage of the Jalayrids of Baghdad. Ahari’s history of the leaders of the Ilkhanate and the Jochid or Qipchaq Khanate looks wistfully back on the days of the ilkhans as do other histories of this period, such as Amuli’s Tarikh-i-Ruyan and Sayfi’s Tarikhnama-ye-Herat, all written after 1335 from an Iran that had again fallen into chaos. Local histories also abounded during this period, and Kirman, Yazd, Tabriz, Shiraz and Herat all enjoyed history’s recognition.

The Ilkhanate was a golden age of Persian poetry, and verse is an unexpected and often rewarding source of history. Satirists such as Pur Baha and Obayd Zakani are a rich source of historical insight, and their biting satire is generally aimed at the corruption of the clergy. Pur Baha had powerful patrons in the Juwaynis, which did not stop him from bitterly complaining about the heavy taxation of the period; Obayd Zakani felt his patrons, the Muzaffarids of Shiraz, could protect him from those his pen abused. Arguably, the most famous poet of this era is Jalal al-Din Rumi of Konya, who for many years was also an influential cleric whose advice was sought by the ordinary citizens and the local elite.59 His sermons and correspondence with, among others, the Parvana Mu’in al-Din, the governor of eastern Anatolia, offer great insights into the social and political attitudes of the day. The most convenient guide to the literature of the time and its historical relevance is the redoubtable E. G. Browne and his remarkable, highly recommended Literary History of Persia, which, though written in the early 20th century, remains an indispensable key to medieval Iran’s history.

Possibly because of the constantly changing site of Iran’s capital, from Shiraz to Isfahan to Baghdad to Maragha to Tabriz to Ray to Sultaniya, its national libraries have suffered from constant depletion and destruction, and the chronicles make numerous references to books and manuscripts that have been lost to war, theft, and history. Fortunately, long-forgotten manuscripts continue to unexpectedly appear. The Safina ye-Tabrizi compiled by Abu Majd, c. 1322, was unearthed in near-perfect condition after centuries of gathering dust, presumably under someone’s bed.60 The Akhbar-i-Moghulan penned by Qutb al-Din Shirazi, the scientist and colleague of Nasir al-Din Tusi, was found in perfect condition in a stack of manuscripts dating from the 13th century.61 It was a collection of notes and observations on the early Ilkhanate up until 1282, and it served as one of the sources of Rashid al-Din’s great history.

Mongol studies has taken off since 2001, and the publication of Thomas Allsen’s seminal study, Culture and Conquest, which transformed academic attitudes to the Chinggisids, questioned their characterization as the ultimate “bad guys” of history. He convincingly showed that Chinggis Khan and his successors led their own revolution and built their own empire for their own aims and reasons, and that the Persians, Chinese, Caucasians, and so many others enthusiastically followed and advised them and supported their goal of empire building, not world destruction. Allsen’s book coincided with an exhibition in New York and Los Angeles organized by Linda Komaroff that instantaneously dispelled any notion that the Chinggisids were cultural pariahs or brutish and unsophisticated.62 Collections of research papers edited by Komaroff, Amitai and Biran, Pfeiffer, Morgan, and Amitai, in addition to new Cambridge encyclopedias, are rapidly filling up library shelves as researchers realize that the world’s first experience of globalization needs a complete review and a comprehensive reassessment.

New books specific to the Ilkhanate include monographs by Lane, Early Mongol Rule, and Michael Hope’s Power, Politics, and Tradition. Stefan Kamola’s monograph, a collection of essays edited by Akasoy and Burnett, and an extremely important work by Dorothea Krawulsky all deal with Rashid al-Din. However, all these books were trumped by the publication in early 2017 of Peter Jackson’s definitive study The Mongols and the Islamic World. This awesome work investigates every nook and cranny of the Chinggisids hold and influence in western Asia, and it floats this ship of knowledge on a deep sea of historiography, modern and medieval. Disagreements over details are swamped by the scale of Jackson’s successful endeavor, and he deserves the applause, which he will be reaping for many years to come.

The digital world has certainly not been neglected by Mongolists. Numerous websites can be found on all aspects of the Mongol world. The Encyclopaedia Iranica is expanding far more rapidly online than in its print edition; it remains an invaluable source for many aspects of the Ilkhanate and should be a first port of call when detail is needed. Columbia University’s website The Mongols in World History is an excellent starting point. William of Rubruck left a detailed account of his travels, and he places the Chinggisids in a much wider context. His account is now available on an excellent interactive website titled William of Rubruck’s Account of the Mongols. Likewise, the traveler Ibn Battuta, whose journeys took him as far as China but included a sojourn in Iran, See. One site that is often overlooked but is overflowing with out-of-copyright books and publications is, which is worth consulting regularly for new additions and uploads. Another site specializing in Armenian texts but also has a wealth of other links to historical sources, including those connected to the Mongols and Caucasia is hosted by Robert Bedrosian whose PhD dissertation was on the Armenian world during the Saljuq and Mongol invasions. See.63

David Morgan, the grandfather of Mongol studies, continues to contribute regularly to the field. His overviews of Mongol historiography are comprehensive and should be a compulsory launching site for students and researchers alike. Even the annotated bibliography in his Mediaeval Persia continues to be a useful guide to the primary sources available but his review of the field available in his own classic, The Mongols, and in Amitai and Biran’s recent book.64

Discussion of the Literature

Anyone embarking on the study of the Mongols should buy and always carry a copy of Thomas Allsen’s Culture and Conquest, a book that transformed our attitude to the Chinggisids. A useful overview of the subject should include I. B. Tauris’s Short History of the Mongols which puts the various khanates and historical figures in context. For the Ilkhanate in particular, there is now available the definitive study of the western Mongol world, Peter Jackson’s magisterial The Mongols and the Islamic World, which covers both the history and the historiography of the Islamic world under Chinggisid rule in great but very readable detail. In case of any lingering doubts that the Chinggisids were really not the monsters of myth, an accompanying tome should be Linda Komaroff’s Legacy of Genghis Khan, whose glorious illustrations dispel any suggestion that the Chinggisids were cultural pariahs. Her follow-up compilation of papers by a variety of leading Mongolist scholars, Beyond the Legacy of Genghis Khan, provides a spectrum of post-2001 Mongolist thinking and research and has a generous serving of chapters on Greater Iran.

To supplement these rich studies, there is a growing abundance of primary sources in English translation, including Juwaynī’s classic history told from the heart of the empire enjoying its peak and now Wheeler Thackston’s three-volume extravaganza, Classical Writings of the Medieval Islamic World, published by I. B. Tauris, which groups together the chronicles of Rashīd al-Dīn, Khwandamīr, and Mirzar Haydar Dughlat. Along with that set of classics, Morris Rossabi’s collection of translated extracts from primary sources, The Mongols and Global History, widens the range of sources. One last classic that must find pride of place in any library on the Chinggisids is E. G. Browne’s Literary History of Persia, especially volumes 2 and 3. Even though he presents very traditional and unabashedly anti-Chinggisid views, he can be forgiven because of his services to Persian literature and in recognition of the merits of this classic work. As a final suggestion, I would recommend the inclusion of the prose and verse works of those esteemed Persian poets Sa’dī of Shiraz and Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, both of whom thrived and prospered under the umbrella of Ilkhanid protection.


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(1.) Alā al-Dīn Juwaynī and ‘Atā’ Malik. Tārīkh-i-Jahān Gushā, ed. Mizra Muḣammad Qazvīnī (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1912–1937), 1:49–50; trans. John Andrew Boyle (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997), 66–67.

(2.) Michal Biran, Chinggis Khan: Maker of the Muslim World (London: Oneworld, 2007). See also George Lane, “Tale of Two Cities: The Liberation of Baghdad and Hangzhou and the Rise of the Toluids,” Central Asiatic Journal 56 (2012–2013): 103–132.

(3.) See Vasilij V. Barthold, Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion, 4th ed. (London: E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Trust, 1977); and Paul Ratchnevsky, Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1993).

(4.) Holders of an iqta’, a tax-generating concession, granted by the Sultan.

(5.) A genre of medieval literature serving as instruction manuals for young princes and rulers that used historical anecdotes as role models. See Encyclopaedia Iranica, “Mirror for Princes.”

(6.) Juwayn and Qazvini, Tārīkh-i-Jahān Gushā, 81; trans., Boyle, 105.

(7.) See Devin DeWeese, “Stuck in the Throat of Chinggis Khan,” in History and Historiography of Post-Mongol Central Asia and the Middle East, ed. Judith Pfeiffer and Sholeh A. Quinn, Studies in Honor of John E. Woods (Weisbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2006), 23–60.

(9.) On this confusing period in Iran’s history, see Peter Jackson, “Dissolution of the Mongol Empire,” Central Asiatic Journal 22, no. 3–4 (1978): 186–244.

(11.) Mustawfi, Nizhat al-Qulb, ed. and trans. Guy Le Strange, The Geographical Part of the Nuzhat al-Qulub, GMS 23, 2 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands, 1915–1919): I (text), II (translation), 798–800.

(12.) Mustawfi, Zafarnāmah, 1165; trans. Ward, Zafarnāmah of Mustaufī, vol. 2; 5–6, 1999 facsimile edn. p. 1165; trans. Ward, 5–6.

(13.) More correctly, the Great Horde, the Qipchaq Khanate, or the Jochid Khanate.

(14.) Juwayni and Qazvini, Tārīkh-i-Jahān Gushā, vol. 1, 31; trans. Boyle, 42.

(16.) Rashīd al-Din, Rashiduddin Fazlullah Jami ‘u’ t- Tawarikh, 210, 993.

(17.) See Juwayni in particular for a diatribe against the Ismā’īlīs, Juwayni and Qazvini, Tārīkh-i-Jahān Gushā, vol. 3, 140–150; and Boyle, 639–647.

(19.) Taqiyya is a Shi’ite doctrine that allows one to deny one’s faith in the face of danger or the threat of death. Various interpretations of appropriate usage and application have often resulted in a liberal attitude to resorting to the shield of taqiyya.

(20.) Juwayni and Qazvini, vol. 3, 277; trans. Boyle, 724–725.

(22.) Quṭb al-Dīn Shīrāzī and Īraj Afshār, eds. Akhbār-i Mughulān dar Anbāneh-ye Quṭb, Qum, Iran: Library of Ayatollah Mar’ashī, 2010; trans. George Lane, The Mongols in Iran: Quṭb Al-Dīn Shīrāzī’s Akhbār-i-Moghūlān (London: Routledge, 2018), 23–24.

(23.) A caliph is the representative of the Prophet on earth, the leader of the faithful (umma), head of the Sunni ulema (clergy); the caliphate is his office.

(25.) The quotations are from Ibn Tabataba, Al-Fakhri: On the Systems, trans. Whitting, 43.

(26.) Shīrāzī, and Afshār, Akhbār-i Mughulān, trans. Lane, Mongols in Iran, 24.

(27.) See Michal Biran, “Music in the Mongol Conquest of Baghdad: Ṣafī al-Dīn Urmawī and the Ilkhanid Circle of Musicians,” in The Mongols’ Middle East: Continuity and Transformation in Ilkhanid Iran, ed. Bruno De Nicola and Charles Melville (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016), 133–154.

(28.) Literally, “the events”; vaq’eh was used as a euphemism for the fall of Baghdad in 1258.

(29.) See Gilli-Elewy, “al-Ḥawādiṭ al-ǧāmi’a”; Melville, “Ebn Fowatī,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 8. Fasc. 1, December 6, 1997, updated December 6, 2011, 25–26.

(31.) See Thomas Allsen, Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 72–80.

(32.) Ordus are Mongol encampments, which by Hulegu’s time resembled enormous mobile cities composed of vast tents and yurts sewn and woven from rich tapestries and brocades of silk, silver, gold, and jewels. Clustered around the major khans’ yurts would be workshops and kitchens and banqueting halls for the feasts and debates that occurred frequently, and around them were the bazaars and habitations of the court followers.

(33.) “Noyan” is a title; it is usually translated as “general” but is possibly closer to “amir” or “lord.” The noyat are the military elite, the lords and generals of the empire.

(34.) E. G. Browne, Literary History of Persia (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1920), 3:100; for a serious assessment of this chronicle, see Melville, “From Adam to Abaqa.”

(36.) See George Lane on Ata Malik Juwayni, Encyclopaedia Iranica, XV/1, 63–68, available online.

(37.) Descendants of Sayyid ‘Ajall remained among the Yuan administrative elite. See George Lane, Encyclopaedia Iranica, s.v. Lane, “Sayyid ‘Ajall,” and Lane, “Phoenix Mosque”; and Khwandamir is a maternal descendant of Sayyid ‘Ajall.

(38.) See Devin DeWeese, “Cultural Transmission and Exchange in the Mongol Empire: Notes from the Biographical Dictionary of Ibn al-Fuwatī,” in Beyond the Legacy of Genghis Khan, ed. Linda Komaroff (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006), 11–29.

(39.) See Juwayni and Qazvini, vol. 1, 31; trans. Boyle, 42.

(40.) Shirazi; trans. Lane, Mongol News, 39–40.

(41.) Ibn Bazzaz, edited by Ghulam Reza Tabataba’i Majd, 217–218; and Judith Pfeiffer, “Reflections on a ‘Double Rapprochement’: Conversion to Islam among the Mongol Elite during the Early Ilkhanate,” in Beyond the Legacy of Genghis Khan, ed. Linda Komaroff (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006), 383–384.

(42.) Michal Biran, “The Battle of Herat (1270): A Case of Inter-Mongol Warfare,” in Warfare in Inner Asian History, ed. Nicola Di Cosmo (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002), 175–220.

(43.) Waṣṣāf, Tarikh-i-Wassaf, Tārīkh-i-Waṣṣāf, facsimile edition(Tehran: Ketāb-khāna Ibn Sīnā, 1959), 326.

(44.) Cited in Allsen, Culture and Conquest, 32.

(45.) Rashīd al-Din, Rashiduddin Fazlullah Jami ‘u’ t- Tawarikh, 1444.

(46.) See Allsen, Culture and Conquest, 75.

(47.) On these two giant figures, see Allsen, 63–80.

(49.) The term ahl a-bayt means “People of the house,” descendants of the Prophet; Rashīd al-Din, Rashiduddin Fazlullah Jami ‘u’ t- Tawarikh, 1358–1359.

(51.) Qashani, Tārīkh-i Ūljaytū, 99.

(53.) Mustawfi, Zafarnama, 1462, 1470, 1471; trans. Ward, vol. 2, 648, 666, 669.

(54.) Melville, Encyclopaedia Iranica, s.v. “Chopanids.”

(55.) Tabrizi, Abū al-Majd Muḥammad b. Mascūd (compiler), Safina ye Tabrizi, facsimile edn. (Tehran: University of Tehran, 1381), Shamsī/2003.

(56.) Igor de Rachewiltz, The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006).

(57.) Mustawfi, Nizhat al-Qulub.

(59.) See Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, Discourses of Rumi, trans. A. J. Arberry (London: Routledge, 1995); and also the chronicler of his Sufi order, al-‘Aflakī.

(62.) Linda Komaroff and Stephano Carboni, eds. Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002).

(63.) Bedrosian’s vast original site came under cyberattack and can no longer be accessed. In response, he uploaded his library.

(64.) David Morgan, The Mongols, 181–206; and Reuven Amitai and Michal Biran, Nomads as Agents of Cultural Change: The Mongols and Their Eurasian Predecessors (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015), 271–282.