Friday, September 15, 2023

Review of The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World by Marie Favereau

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (03/09/2024)

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“The Mongols did not keep their elite hostages for life.  Rather, the Mongols trained their hostages both to lead and to obey, so that they could return home as vassals, ruling their homelands in the name of the khan – with his full support, including military assistant and proof of investiture.  Taking hostages was an old steppe diplomatic institution that processed outsiders into the nomads’ social systems and built long-term political relationships.” – Marie Favereau, Chapter 3: New Hordes, Page 105

“The khans did accumulate wealth – through the products of their personal domains, servants, herds, gifts, taxes, and war.  But trade served a different function.  It was not meant to enrich the khan, who did not actually engage in trade or seek profit, as he was above the human world.  Khans, could only give or receive; they did not buy but instead granted, which also is reflected in their demonstrative generosity.  No, trade was not intended to benefit the khan personally but rather to provide health for the empire and welfare for the people – health that was measured as much financially as spiritually, for circulation was intimately tied to the Mongol belief system.” – Marie Favereau, Chapter 3: New Hordes, Page 115

“The great irony is that authoritarianism did not yield authority.  In the Mongol world, fratricide could not go on producing effective politics, which was based on consensus rather than coercion.  A khan who had to coerce his ulus could never muster the unity necessary to collect his far-flung commanders and lead them in conquest, nor could he rely on the loyalty of distant and independent-minded officials.  Such a khan could neither expand his tax base nor obtain revenues from the people he nominally ruled, because he could not count on the backing of tax collectors and other administrators.  And without revenues, the khan could not uphold the imperatives of sharing and circulation – his sacred obligation and the foundation of the political order.” – Marie Favereau, Chapter 7: Withdrawal, Page 264


Is This An Overview?

Mongols were able to conquer a large section of the world, but Mongols were more than just conquerors.  Mongols were expert administrators, who were able to rule the vast empire.  Many regions were developed through their efforts.  Pillage was not the goal of the conquests, but to control production which would generate taxes for the Mongols. 

As more developed regions would produce more tax revenue, Mongols enabled regions productive capacity by connecting and protecting trade routes and other policies to enhance commerce.  Technology was invested in.  Science and art flourished.  Mongols utilized local laws and traditions.  Mongols were tolerant of different faiths.  The empire’s revenue was not for the benefit of the khans, but for the people and empire.  Mongols had a culture of sharing, circulation, and redistribution.  A culture that had egalitarian features, while also reinforcing social rank.  Khans did not accumulate wealth, but dispensed it to prove their worth to the people. 

Succession was hereditary to the heirs of Chinggis Khan, and meant to be tolerant of competitors.  But succession created tension.  Rather than settle disputes through violence, the groups would separate.  Mongols would relinquish claims on the throne to ensure peace.  Showing the resilience and flexibility of Mongol politics.  Four Mongol groups were formed after Chinggis Khan, with this book focusing on the group following Chinggis Khan’s eldest son, Jochi. 


What Was The Mongol Empire’s Political Structure?

This is a book about the Mongol Empire, focusing on the legacy of Jochi.  The empire after Chinggis Khan was led by Jochids, Chagatayids, Ögödeids, and Tuluids.  Each named after a Chinggis Khan son.  Jochi was the eldest son of Chinggis Khan. 

The title of Chinggis was indigenous, rather than given by another power.  A title that was used as a statement, that Mongol would not be subordinate.  The regime had to two goals, to make the ruling status inheritable to the descendants of Chinggis Khan, and to intergrade new members to expand their work force and army.  Descendants had the opportunity to become sovereign, but not all could rule.  Chinggis Khan’s lineage became known as the golden lineage. 

Jochi made an error in battle, and afterwards.  Jochi destroyed the city of Urgench, while it was supposed to be taken for its trade and intelligentsia.  When sharing the plunder, the shares were divided among the brothers, and none was given to Chinggis.  Chinggis was slighted, but forgave the sons.  Then, diluted Jochi’s claim to power, made sure that tax receipts were shared with other brothers.  Making Jochi an equal rather than chief heir.  Without a clear succession, and the alienation of Jochi, laid the foundations for autonomy.  Jochi still had claims to power, even without being heir.  Had exclusive rights to territories, and shares of revenues from sibling territories much like they had a claim on the revenues of Jochi territory. 

Jochi and those that followed Jochi moved to a region between Volga-Ural and Black Sea.  There they established a Mongol administration that was more independent than other Mongol regions.  The Jochid would maintain Mongol practices, develop a sophisticated social organization, and sustain their own imperial formation.  Known as ulus Jochi, or Orda, the Horde. 

Mongol groups were not identical, but shared economic strategies, social institutions, and political culture.  An ulus was the sovereign political community that included all people.  Based on a network of oboqs.  Groups whose members shared single, often legendary, ancestry.  Groups followed their own leaders, but unity was possible. 

After the 1206 quriltai, political power was concentrated in the golden lineage, involving extended negotiations with elites.  Khan made decisions in assemblies.  Major decisions were not made without the Khan.  Quriltai was also an event when the khan would distribute positions, rewards, punishments, and missions.  This was a meeting in which foreigners were not allowed, to not share internal politics with them. 

The Horde was socially diverse and multiethnic, but the leadership came from dominant steppe clans, mostly Mongol subgroups.  They were called begs.  As the Horde became oligarchical, the begs gained power.  Begs ruled with the khans in a governing council.  Khan’s primacy was acknowledged by being descendent of Chinggis Khan, but that did not make a khan all-powerful.  They needed to associate with powerful begs. 

Administration had a hierarchy that was important to the Mongols, between seniors and juniors, but the hierarchy was subject to revision.  Commoners could be associated with prestigious lineages, but birth rank remained conspicuous.  Social hierarchy that also differentiated between long status and newcomers.  Mongol loyal servants were the keshigten.  The keshig collaborated with and served Jochids, but they were separate.  Intermarriage was rare, and did not lead to familial political alliance. 

Succession after Chinggis created political tension.  To avoid civil war and bloodshed, the groups divided.  Mongols were able to relinquish claims on the throne, to enable peace.  As the steppe was large, rivals could part amicably, and seek relative autonomy.  Even cooperate with the broader ulus.  Generally, when an empire breaks apart, the empire ceases to be.  That is not the case for the Mongol empire.  Mongol’s breaking apart was a show of resilience.  Showing mobility and flexibility of Mongol politics. 

Alliances could be made, but were fluid.  What was durable was vengeance, as blood feuds spanned generations.  Temüjin, who would become Chinggis Khan, gained influence when taking vengeance for the fall of Temüjin’s family. 

The political process was meant to be tolerant of successorship competitions.  But with each succession, the process became strained.  Defeated candidates no longer publicly renounced their claim to the throne.  Begs gained power when the khans Nogay and Toqto were in conflict.  Begs wanted to maintain the Mongol system that the khans threatened in different ways.  Özbek gained power through murder and political purges.  Purges that created a cycle of vengeance.


How Did Economics Influence Social Status?

The Mongol exchange changed the lives of a large part of the world.  In which people were conquered, and accepted Mongol domination.  An era in which various fields flourished such as economic, industry, art, medicine, and various sciences.  Mongols invested in technology and innovated the technologies they found.  Manufacturing production increased.  Imported products and attracted traders. 

Social status was dependent on manufacturing, for what was worn determined status.  Luxuries that were needed for the political economy, for social order.  Trade that was not necessarily for subsistence.  They relied on circulation and redistribution of goods to reinforce social rank, and create bonds of dependence.  Which also gave people a reason to invest into the success of the regime.  Circulation was also a spiritual necessity. 

Mongol society had generous leaders, because it would through their generosity that they proved their worth to the people.  Not just the leaders, but redistribution was for all social classes.  Khans did not accumulate wealth, but dispense it.  To keep the wealth in circulation, which brought in more resources than when retained.  Wealth that was meant for the health of the empire and welfare of the people, not for khan personally.

Mongols shared everything.  Redistributed resources, with more going to higher-status individuals.  Sharing also reinforced hierarchy, as inheritance ensured concentration of wealth.  Sharing system had egalitarian features, such as commoners got enough distribution to obtain material comfort.  Lending and borrowing of animals was common.   Although food production was distributed upward, poor herders could more easily sustain themselves. 

Pillage was not the goal of the conquests.  The goal was to encourage the conquered people to continue doing what they excelled at, and for Mongols to benefit through taxation.  Mongols used conquered people’s skills and capacities, and expanded their commercial networks.  Mongols were building long-distance trade, even during tumultuous times.  Mongols wanted production and distribution to occur within their territories.  Many different communities traded with the Horde.  They were sometimes allies, sometimes enemies. 

As trade depended on merchants, merchants were valued, and given legal privileges and tax exemptions.  Mongols knew that merchants could not be coerced or controlled, therefor they were seduced.  Placing light taxes on commercial transactions, and keeping merchants safe.  Mongols controlled trade routes, grasslands, and marketplaces. 

The focus of Mongol taxation was whatever a society produce in surplus.  When societies like Russia could not produce much food in surplus, their furs and crafted objects were used as payment.  Mongols were projecting power, but did not interfere with economic organizations.  Mongols did not extract value to the detriment of their subjects, but empowered them to produce which would have enriched the Mongols.  Mongols took into account economic, political, and cultural sensitivities.  As economic growth and political stability was important for the Mongols, the Mongols took their time changing the people’s habits.  Mongols were willing to invest time and effort. 

Coin use tended to be seasonal, and followed trade fairs and tax collection.  Coins were issued when needed, and only a khan could determine legal tender.  When coins were needed, anyone could just bring in silver to the mint.  There was a fee that the khan would take.

Mongols preferred tents which were warm and intimate, over sedentary residences.  As Mongols camps could be extended, they could accommodate additional people and different occupations.  The camps security impressed visitors, along with how respectful the people were toward each other.  The camps lacked fights, along with no large scale thieves. 

Mongols did develop cities to answer increasing sedentary populations, and for a center of trade, religion, and manufacturing.  To advance political and economic goals.  Mongols did not use cities are administrative centers, as they ruled on horseback.  They were expert administrators, with an administration system that lasted longer than the empire. 

Women owned the household, as the husbands needed to visit their different wife’s and their homes.  Women held decision making power, within all social classes. 


How Did Mongols Change Other Peoples, And How Did Other Peoples Change The Mongols?

Mongols had an integration policy, to welcome new subjects into their society, no matter their background.  Alliances were based on common interest rather than other basis.  Mongols were flexible in their policies and respected local laws.  Settling disputes with respect to local laws.  Jochids did not impose their values of land on sedentary people.

Absorption of defeated people was needed for growth.  The Jochids cajoled and threatened vassals.  Accommodating and exploiting sedentary workers.  Enslaved some while let others live their lives.  Took part in their craft.  Some conquered people noticed little change, but had to pay taxes. Others were incorporated.

Rejecting Mongol control was perilous, while cooperation was profitable.  There were rebellions, such as when the Merkit and Naiman decided to go against the Mongols.  These were not outsiders to be defeated and assimilated, but had pledged to assimilate and then reneged.  No mercy would be given to the rebels.

Mongols had the concept of Tengri.  Tengri was the sky, God, and everything that stood out.  The life force of warriors.  Veneration bound the groups together, with exclusion form collective rituals meant banishment from social life. 

Horde identity was fluid, and continuously evolving.  Using nomadic traditions, but adapting and departing when needed when faced with challenges that needed different solutions.  Jochid converted to Islam for political and commercial partners in Muslim regions.   Even as they became Muslims, they also practiced law and spiritual values of the steppe.  Islam became a source of collective identity.  Islam gave Jochids legitimacy to their independence.  Generally, Tengri and Allah were the same.

Islam brought legitimacy to the khan, along with allies for an intra-Mongol conflict.  Although there was no religion strife, the Muslim support for the Jochids was to contest Toluids Christian support. 

Tammachi were garrison troops that established preliminary administration and coercive structure.  Reading the region for long-term occupation. 

Mongols appointed people to represent their interests, to obtain their tax revenue.  Taking census, verifying accounts, and controlling payment delivery.  Mongols trained hostages to lead and obey, to return as vassals.  


How Did Mongol Empire Effect The Environment?

Mongols were nomadic and herders, who therefore knew how to use the environment.  Mongols feared and respected the ecosystem.  Horde needed to be mobile, to ensure sufficient grazing while preventing damaging the steppe ecology.  But also had to converge for political meetings.  Political meetings were scheduled when subsistence was more easily met.  Herding was used more for political control, than herding efficiently. 

Jochids took hold of the fertile regions.  Rejecting Jochid was to reject was to reject food supply.  Increased population required grazing at scale, which required more labor.  Labor that came from captives. 


What Were Mongol Empire’s Military Capabilities?

Used army controlled messenger system called yam.  Yam stations were an army controlled communication networks, that enabled quick communication.  With the yam network, they could rule a vast empire.

Military units were composed of different clans, to limit opportunities of solidarity and rebellion.  Defeated warriors were absorbed and distributed with the Mongol society.

Mongol custom for warfare was to provide a ritualized exchange with adversaries before battle.  A form of psychological warfare, with diplomatic means that terrify.  Meant to offend while giving them a last chance to surrender.  After the adversaries were provoked and reciprocated the anger, therefore justifying the Mongol riotousness in the endeavor as the offended party.

When the Mongols were outnumbered, they used captives to make their numbers appear bigger, which would encourage the opposition to surrender without a fight.  Mongols would display captives outside besieged cities and abuse them, to demoralize the city’s population.  Mongols would use the captives as shields. 

Mongols excelled at sieges and open battles.  Their opponents, such as the Bulgars and other later, knew this.  They developed strategies to prevent engaging the Mongols on these terms. 

Mongols decapitated prince’s heads, to show as proof that the death was true, and to accelerated submission of the people.

When met by unfavorable conditions, such as local resistance and muddy terrain, they changed their plans. 

The Mongols had exceptional scouts, knowing location of enemies and their strengths and weaknesses.  Opponents such as the Russians, had trouble identifying the location and number of Mongols. 

Mongols attacked villages and small fortifications before focusing their siege unto a capital.  Without surrounding support, capitals lacked supplies therefore could not hold out for long.  The Mongols took the supplies for themselves, that was also used when moving to the next target.

Mongols fought during cold-weather, used cold-weather warfare.  Mongols attacked when their opponents were unprepared, and were ready to retreat when needed.  Adapted to climactic differences, moved to hospitable terrain.  Mongol warfare season was opposite of Russian.  Russians used peasants, who were able to fight in spring and early summer as they worked on the field afterward.  Russians were not expected to fight during the coldest months, as they stayed indoors.  The Mongols fought during the cold season, while retreating in the late spring and summer for milking season. 


How Did The Jochid Effect Russia?

For various people, taxation was more acceptable than violent domination.  Russians understood that Mongol regime would be more stable than their own.  Russia began to develop under Mongol rule.  It was Mongol protection, politics, and trade policies that developed Russia.  Jochid influenced Russia by connecting and integrating market.  By letting Russian landowners to keep their domains intact, Mongols meant to share rewards of their conquests.

The Jochid relied on the Russians to collect the taxes.  Mongols gave the clergy tarkhan status.  Exempting them from taxation, and military conscripts.  In return, the clergy legitimized the Mongol regime. 

When Mongol rule was dissipating, Russians leadership sought for sovereignty.  Russians used their Christian religion against the Muslim and foreign influence.  The people did not necessarily want to remove the Mongols.  Religion, citizens, and their economy were developed because of the Mongols.  It was through the Mongols that Romanovs were able to consolidate power. 


Why Did Mongol Influence Decline?

During the 1350s, there was a period of bulqaq, anarchy.  Facing plague, rebellions, and succession struggles.  With many threats, the Mongols used their strategy of retreating.  Not as a reflection of panic, but of strategic withdrawal.  Less of an ejection from the region, but to focus their efforts on facing dangerous adversaries. 

During the 1340s-1350s, Mongols were abandoning cities due to plague, the Black Death.  The plague traveled further than before, because of Mongol activities.  Mongol movements, ecological changes, and trade connections brought more interactions between humans and other animals with more people.  Mongols already knew how to respond to contagious diseases, which included quarantining people.  Regions were facing not just epidemics, but also natural disasters.  The public held the Mongols responsible.  For mismanaging resources.   

Even with ecological struggles, bulqaq was a succession struggle.  The khans were purging their competitors.  Khan’s purges prevented a strong ruling class, which opened them to rebellion and other forms of strife.  Birdibek did more damage in a short time than the plague had.  Birdibek eliminated every competitor for the throne, which horrified his own people.  Political assassinations provoked retaliation, which created cycles of revenge due to Mongol culture of seeking vengeance.  As the Mongol Empire became more authoritarian, less people were willing to support the Mongol Empire. 

As the empire was dissipating, Mongol influence was reduced, but did not disappear.  Some regions did break away.  Other Regions took part in the Mongol system rather than seek to destroy it. 



As a cultural history with diverse details, there can be difficulty in keeping track of who did what, and the names and function of social institutions.  As political alliances shifted frequently, it can be difficult to follow the political spheres of influence. 

There are parts of the book that provide many details on a few events, while other parts provide a quick succession of sequences of events.  Tracking the sequence of events can be difficult, but the implications of the events are provided.


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What was the goal of the Mongol conquests?
•How did the Mongols mange the empire?
•What economic policies did the Mongols use?
•How did Mongols treat their conquered people?
•How were leaders chosen?
•Why did Mongol groups split? 
•What was the significance of the Chinggis title?
•What is Jochi’s relationship to Chinggis? 
•How did Jochi offend Chinggis Khan? 
•What is an ulus?
•What is a quriltai? 
•Who are the begs?
•How did Mongols define social status?
•What culture did Mongols have?
•How did Mongols treat merchants? 
•What tax did Mongols collect? 
•What legal tender was used? 
•What was the role of women? 
•What is Tengri? 
•Why did Jochid convert to Islam? 
•What warfare strategies did the Mongols use? 
•How did Mongols use captives?
•How did Mongols negotiate before military conquest?
•How did Jochid effect Russia? 
•What was the period of bulqaq?
•How did plague effect the Mongols?
•How did the Mongols treat the environment? 
•What is the yam network? 
•How did Mongols take Georgia? 
•What happened to the Qipchaqs? 
•How did power change during Qubilai’s reign?
•What happened when the Mamluks and Jochids made an alliance? 
•Did the Mongols use biological warfare? 
•What happened in the conflict between Mongols and Muhammad of Khwarezmian Empire?

Book Details

Edition:                First Harvard University Press
Publisher:             The Belknap Press [Harvard University Press]
Edition ISBN:      9780674278653
Pages to read:       310
Publication:          2022
1st Edition:           2021
Format:                 Paperback 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5