Monday, November 9, 2020

Review of The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford

This review is written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = History, Empires

Elaborate Description

This book shows a more complete history of the Mongol Empire. Many historical texts regarding Mongolian women, especially those of power, have either been defaced, torn from the pages, or just never had their story repeated. The way the history of the Mongol Empire is usually discussed, removes many of the reasons and lessons from the its historic impact. Weatherford shows the more complex and complete history of the empire and provides many glimpses of what history tried to remove, that the Mongol Empire would not have been possible without the Mongol Queens.

Out of all the clans on the Steppe, Genghis Khan Mongols became the most dominant. With many defeats and victories, Genghis Khan recognized the importance of merit and other cultures (foreigners). Merit was not based on gender or by class birth, merit was derived from the actions the person took; the most worth became the baatar (hero). To rule a large empire required more than just one main leader, the territory was distributed by merit. Genghis Khan could not rely on his four sons, which means a lot of the territories and power were bestowed on the daughters.

Due to Genghis Khan, Mongol culture became seeking a balance between Mother Earth and the Eternal Blue Sky, a balance of male and female as a guiding principle. The story behind some alter Mongol rulers’ loss of leadership was claimed due to a misbalance between the male and female virtues. Women were generally protectors of already conquered territories, they were Queens and made the political choses within the territories. Women were in charge of the commerce. The men were raiding and conquering new territories. As the men were at war, most of civilian life was determined by the women. When the women were married for political alliances, the women became the ambassadors to the Mongol, taking over clan’s political leadership and reporting to Genghis Khan. The role for men and women was described as an ancient division of labor by Genghis Khan.

Not only was the Mongol culture represented, but the vastly different lifestyle of the Steppe and urban civilizations. The nomadic way prevented many skills from being developed, and therefore there was great respect for people who could read and could do metalwork. Many needed products the Mongols could purchase, while other such perfume confused them. An urban center which the Mongol’s contested with for some time, ruled another, then coexisted with was China. As China developed more walls to prevent raids, they lost access to horses needed for war. China bought many horses from the Mongol’s in the black-market, as the Chinese officials (for a long time) did not want to trade with Mongols.

Mongols were able to win battles against armies much larger due organization of the army. Since horseback archery requires skill, not brute strength, women also joined some battles. Unlike the vast armies of China, each Mongol warrior owned one or more horses making the Mongols extremely mobile. Superior might may have been important, but many battles were won without Mongol raids. Cultural and religious tolerance of the Mongol’s caused many cities and clans to rise up against their leaders, and join the Mongol empire.

During the reign of Genghis Khan, there was rule of law and he was able to maintain political power. Laws were enforced without exception as to whom committed the crime. After Genghis Khan died, his sons and other clans started to vie for power. Since women had much of the power, they became the targets. The empire imploded with each brother trying to obtain more power. Although Genghis Khan was a great leader, he was a poor father whose children destroyed everything he built within two generations.

Although the Mongol empire reach its peak during the reign of Khubilia Khan, the internal struggle for power crippled the empire. Control of each clan became weak, and the many clans and foreign warlords seized power. Even as the men had taken power and property away from the women, they failed to fill the leadership and management roles. Over time, some women became influential and geared their sons’ to take power. It was not until Manduhai Khatun, a Mongolian Queen that the clans finally had a stable government. Manduhai is portraited as the savior of the Mongol people.

The book is directed at showing the impact of the Queens, they are not the only representatives of the empire and Weatherford presents as many powerful leaders as possible. This has a cost, that the book is mostly based on the direct descendants of Genghis Khan whom became the dominating clan, the Borijin clan. That creates a problem because when other different clans were powerful for a time, they are portrayed in mostly the antagonist role, without much explanation of how they came to power or what it did for Mongolia. Weatherford does express the general means of how a clan can gain power, but does not much detail other clans without intimate relations to the main clan.

Book Details

Edition ISBN:  9780307407160
Pages to read:   284
Publication:     2010
1st Edition:      2010
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5