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date: 19 January 2021

Pax Mongolica: Trade and Traders in the Mongol Empirelocked

  • Prajakti KalraPrajakti KalraCentre for Development Studies, University of Cambridge

Summary

Beginning in 1206 large parts of Eurasia came under the sway of the Chinggissid Mongols. In 1260 the united Mongol Empire came to an end and divided into four khanates ruled by the progenies of Chinggis Khan. The four khanates were the Yuan (centered at China), the Ilkhanate (Middle East), the Golden Horde (Russia and the Caucasus), and the Chaghadaids (Central Asia). These political entities remained connected under the broad umbrella of the institutions and worldview that originated in the steppe and was informed by Chinggis Khan’s rule. Essentially the periods of the united Mongol Empire (1206–1260) and of the four khanates (1260–1350) can be termed as the period of Mongol rule. The abiding allegiance to the Chinggissid legacy continued to find resonance for the far-flung imperial family well in to the mid-14th century and even later in some parts of Eurasia. Under this united system of rule, trade came to occupy a special place and led to hitherto unprecedented exchanges and prosperity. Mongol Eurasia was able to transform micro economies into a coherent macro economy that relied on overland and maritime trade. These exchanges in large part were achieved through the building of physical infrastructure connecting China all the way to northwest Europe, and provision of capital. Along with overland trade, the Mongols were able to participate in and spur maritime trade in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean-Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean trade complex, even though they didn’t control all of it. The architecture essential for conquest proved important for trade and exchanges of goods, peoples, and ideas as well. Physical security, storage facilities, monetary policies, and the creation of markets and cities across the expanse of Mongol Eurasia enlivened trade. The historical accounts of this period describe cities overflowing with goods and riches along with transfers of a variety of technologies, providing a vivid picture of exchanges. The Mongols followed in the footsteps of a long line of nomadic empires that had been pivotal in the flow of long-distance trade and expanded it across Eurasia. Not only did they promote trade and patronize traders, they influenced the kinds of goods and technologies that were found on the Silk Road(s) at the time. The presence of a wide array of manufactured goods in large quantities signifies their role in the founding of production centers. While the Mongols were not traders themselves, the Khans were impressive in their understanding of the importance of trading networks and relied heavily on access to the information traders provided. From the very beginning of the empire traders filled the ranks of middlemen and helped carve a space for bolstering exchanges in policymaking. Traders were close to the Khans and political elites and informed decision-making, often serving as emissaries, ministers, and administrators in the service of the Khans. Not only did traders provide the Khans with commodities, but they also served as money lenders, making them important partners to the Mongol state and the imperial family. The myriad relationships between the Mongol Khans and traders are testament to a deep partnership that brought to bear an exciting moment for Eurasia, making it possible to refer to the Mongol period as the first globalization.

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