The Mongol Empire between Myth and Reality

Studies in Anthropological History


In The Mongol Empire between Myth and Reality, Denise Aigle presents the Mongol empire as a moment of contact between political ideologies, religions, cultures and languages, and, in terms of reciprocal representations, between the Far East, the Muslim East, and the Latin West. The first part is devoted to “The memoria of the Mongols in historical and literary sources” in which she examines how the Mongol rulers were perceived by the peoples with whom they were in contact. In “Shamanism and Islam” she studies the perception of shamanism by Muslim authors and their attempts to integrate Genghis Khan and his successors into an Islamic framework. The last sections deal with geopolitical questions involving the Ilkhans, the Mamluks, and the Latin West. Genghis Khan’s successors claimed the protection of “Eternal Heaven” to justify their conquests even after their Islamization.

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Denise Aigle (EPHE, CNRS UMR “Orient & Méditerranée”) has published monographs, edited volumes and many articles…on Mongols and Iran, including Le Fars sous la domination Mongole. Politique et fiscalité (Leuven, Peeters, 2005).
"The Mongol Empire between Myth and Reality, by Denise Aigle, provides a welcome contribution to scholarship concerning cross-cultural interaction and the Mongol Empire.[…] Aigle’s collection of essays highlights the fact that the evolution of myths and the manipulation of information concerning the Mongol Empire have their own unique history. It is one that is worthy of thorough consideration, in order to better understand the complex geopolitical struggles that characterized this period in Eurasian history." – Donna Hamil, in: Terrae Incognitae 48/2 (September 2016)
"D. Aigle livre une méthode rigoureuse de critique textuelle, qui repose sur la prise en compte des différentes strates et stratégies d'écriture. Les apports de l'ouvrage dépassent donc largement le cadre des études mongoles pur offrir à l'historien médiéviste un cadre méthodologique et conceptuel, pour tenter de démêler le mythe de la réalité ce qui en fait un livre de référence." – Anne Troadec, in: Oriente Moderno 96 (2016)
"In this collection of articles, some new and some updated, Aigle’s research reaches a much wider audience and deservedly so. Perhaps France’s leading scholar on the Mongol Empire, she examines the intellectual frontier between the Mongols and the Islamic world and Western Christendom in terms of political ideology, religion, and culture and explores how the ideas that so often existed between myth and reality shaped understanding between the parties. The work is arranged thematically, allowing Aigle to discuss how this intellectual frontier changed over time and demonstrating the metamorphosis of the intellectual frontier between the Mongols in the Middle East and their neighbors. [...]. In this much-needed work, Aigle simultaneously studies the mind-set of the Mongols and other societies while establishing that none was tied to a stagnant and unchanging perspective. A superior display of scholarship.Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above." – T. M. May, in: Choice, July 2015

“In The Mongol Empire between Myth and Reality: Studies in Anthropological History, Denise Aigle takes the problem of how we know what we know about the Mongols seriously, and endeavours to highlight the complex layers of interpretation of the past and transmission of historical writing about the Mongol Empire….The book stands as a major contribution to our understanding of the production of knowledge about the Mongols, and a reminder that historical sources are produced by individuals who seek to render the past and present understandable in terms that are culturally familiar.“
Patrick Wing, in Bulletin critique des Annales islamologiques (31), 2016

"This is an unexpected and refreshing historical study of the Mongol Empire by a scholarly commenator whose analysis is worthy of attention."
George Lane in: BSOAS (2016)

List of illustrations
List of maps
List of dynastic tables
Notes on transliteration
List of abbreviations



Chapter One. Mythico-legendary figures and history between East and West

Chapter Two. The Mongols and the legend of Prester John

Chapter Three. The historiographical works of Barhebreaus on the Mongol period

Chapter Four. The historical taqwīm in Muslim East


Chapter Five. Shamanism and Islam in Central Asia. Two antinomic religious universes?

Chapter Six. The transformation of a myth of origins, Genghis Khan and Timur

Chapter Seven. Mongol law versus Islamic law. Myth and reality


Chapter Eight. From ‘non-negociation’ to an abortive alliance. Thoughts on the diplomatic exchanges between the Mongols and the Latin West

Chapter Nine. Hülegü’s letters to the last Ayyubid ruler of Syria. The construction of a model


Chapter Ten. Legitimizing a regicide monarch. Baybars and the Ilkhans

Chapter Eleven. The written and the spoken word. Baybars and the caliphal investiture ceremonies in Cairo

Chapter Twelve. The Ghazan Khan’s invasion of Syria. Polemics on his conversion to Islam and the Christian troops in his army

Chapter Thirteen. A religious response to Ghazan Khan’s invasion of Syria. The three ‘anti-Mongol’ fatwās of Ibn Taymiyya

Epilogue. The Mongol empire after Genghis Khan

Genealogical Tables

All interested in the history of the Mongol empire, the relations between Ilkhans and Mamluks, and the memory of the Mongols in East and West.
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