SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

H334 The Mongols and the Islamic World (I)

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3 of 4 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Full Year
This course will explore the impact of the rise of Chinggis Khan and the spread of his Empire on the Islamic world as recorded in the multitude of primary sources, literary, archaeological, and artistic, which have survived from the 13th and 14th centuries.  Often regarded as the scourge of the Muslim world, the Mongols in fact maintained a far more complex relationship with the Islamic world than has hitherto been acknowledged and the interaction between these supposed adversaries was more often positive and cooperative than aggressive and confrontational. Just as Muslims became major players in the administration and development of the Mongol Empire so too did Mongols become spokesmen and champions of Islamic causes and Muslim states.  One of the Mongol Empire's greatest legacies was its encouragement of the writing of history and today that whole period is regarded as a Golden Age of Historical chronicles and records.  Many of those historical documents, recorded in a plethora of languages ranging from Vietnamese to Georgian, Japanese to French, are available today in English translation.  Using primary sources whenever possible this course will chart and assess the development of the relationship between the 'Nation of Archers' and their Muslim neighbours.


  • Students enrol via the on-line Module Sign-Up system. Students are advised of the timing of this process via email by the Faculty Office.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to critically evaluate primary source material and to be able to assess the relative value of different source texts.  The student should feel confident and comfortable comparing and contrasting the wide range of historical analyses which these mediaeval texts have engendered.  An awareness of the current controversy surrounding the subject should be demonstrated and a personal view should at least be hazarded if not confidently argued.  Upon completing this course the student should be able to demonstrate how historical texts assist with our understanding of the past but should also be aware of the limitations and parameters of the various texts and other source material which is available.  Though much of the course involves working with mediaeval texts, the student should be able to utilise other primary source material including alternative literary texts such as poetry, to deepen their understanding of the era.  The students should be able to demonstrate their appreciation of the mediaeval personalities behind the sources along with their motivation and personal agenda, and the impact such figures had on events then and on the legacy of the period as a whole.  Students should be able to construct a dissertation or essays which reflect their grasp of the historical relevance of the period and an understanding of the dynamics of the principal actors and their relationship to the historians and sources upon which our knowledge is based.

  • To familiarise students with a current and unfurling controversy over the nature of Mongol rule.  This is a debate to which all students will have ample scope to contribute their opinions and the fruit of their own research.
  • To develop a familiarity with a variety of primary source materials concerned with Ilkhanid Iran, and the Islamic world and encourage students to seek out such material in support of their arguments.
  • To develop critical skills in analysing and evaluating texts, art work, and ‘tales’ as sources of political and social history.
  • To present students with the view of the Mongols as ‘cultural brokers’, and of the imperial states of Iran and China united under a Pax Mongolica and united by the Silk Road.
  • To critically evaluate the new theories on the nature of the Mongol empire and to compare and contrast these views with more traditional interpretations.
  • To see the emergence of the Il-Khanate in Iran in the wider context of the divided Mongol Empire, the Islamic world, and an awakening Europe.


One lecture and one tutorial for 20 weeks

Scope and syllabus

This course will enable students to understand an important period of transitional history when the much of Europe and Asia entered a period of globalisation and direct cultural, commercial and political contacts were made between east and west, Europe and the Far East.  It was a period of realignment and change, not least in the Islamic world which finally shed its Arab confines and became the multi-ethnic and multicultural religion which it remains today. With the advent of Hulegu and his armies, Iran also cast of the Arab shadow and once again assumed its ancient name, Iranzamin, and traditional borders. This course will also enable students to appreciate the other great historical conflict which has under run much of human history, the rivalry between the Steppe and the Sown.  It was the Chinggisids who successfully merged these two ancient cultures and for a brief period in time the Mongol rulers of Iran and China conceived a multicultural and multi-ethnic state spanning half of the globe.
Using primary source material, much of it now available in English translation, students will examine the rise and rule of the Mongol khans through the words of the empire’s administrators, observers, chroniclers, critics, victims, and even entertainers.  Though the focus will be on Iran and western Asia, the close relationship between the Il-Khanate the Yuan dynasty [1272-1370] of China will not be neglected.  
This course offers students the chance to study an important period of history which is currently undergoing intensive re-examination and radical re-assessment.  An extensive body of primary literary source material from Arabic, Armenian, Georgian, Turkish, Chaghetaid, Chinese, Uyghur, Mongolian, Persian, Latin, and other languages is available and much of it is accessible through English translation.  Art and archeology as well as less conventional literary sources such as poetry also offer the student of this period an opportunity to explore an enticing and absorbing subject from other angles.  

Week 1 Outline of course:  Objectives, material, background, sources
The Chinggisida and their impact on the world and the Islamic World in particular
Week 2 1206 and the making of an Empire
Week 3 The Dissolution of the Mongol Empire.
Week 4 The Ascension of Möngke Khan and the Rise of the Tuluids.
Week 5 Hülegü Khan and his journey west along the Silk Road
Week 6 The Qara Khitai
Week 7 The Ismācīlīs
Week 8 The Fall of Baghdad
Week 9 Men of the Pen & Historians of the Il-Khanate
Week 10 East-West Trade: the Silk Road, the Spice Route, & Tea and Horse Road
Week 11 Islam and the Ilkhans
Week 12 The Ilkhanate and the Mamluks
Week 13 The Ilkhanate & Europe
Week 14 Ghazan’s Reforms
Week 15 Enemies at the Gates
Week 16 The Sultanate of Rum & Emergence of the Ottomans
Week 17 The Later Ilkhans China & Iran: Culture and the Silk Road
Week 18 Successor States
Week 19 Timur, Aq Qoyunlu and the Qaraqoyunlu
Week 20 The Toluid Mongols: the Legacy

Method of assessment

Exam (60%) and 3 x Coursework (40%)

Suggested reading

  • BAR HEBRAEUS, The Chronography of Bar Hebraeus, Gorgias Press, 2003
  • DMYTRYSHYN, Basil, Mediaeval Russia: a source book 900-1700, Portland State College, 1973
  • JUVAINI, ALA-AD-DIN ‘ATA-MALIK tr. John Andrew Boyle, The History of the World Conqueror, Manchester, 1997
  • JUZJANI, Tabaqat-i Nasiri, ed. Habibi, , A., 2 vols, Kabul, 1963-4. , trans. H.G. RAVERTY, Tabaqat-i Nasiri, 2 vols, New Delhi, rpt.1995
  • KHWANDAMIR tr..Thackston, W.M.,  Habib’s-Siyar vol.3 The Reign of the Mongol and the Turk, Genghis Khan - Amir Temur, Harvard University, 1994.
  • KIRAKOS,  tr. Robert Bedrosian, ‘Kirakos Ganjaks’i’s History of the Armenians’, Sources for the Armenian Tradition, New York, 1986.
  • LEWIS, B., (ed & tr) Islam 2 vols, OUP, 1987
  • MUSTAWFĪ, HAMDULLAH, Zafarnameh, tr. L.J. Ward, PhD thesis, Manchester University, 1983
  • PLANO CARPINI, JOHN OF, The Story of the Mongols Whom We Call the Tartars, tr. & intro. Erik Hildinger, Boston, 1996
  • RASHID AL-DIN, Jami’ al-Tavarikh, 4 vols, Tehran, 1994.  tr. Thackston, W.M, Compendium of Chronicles, Harvard University Press, 1999
  • ROSSABI, MORRIS, The Mongols and Global History, A Norton Documentary Reader, W.W. Norton & Company, New York/London, 2011
  • RUBRUCK, WILLIAM OF, tr. P. Jackson and ed. P. Jackson with D.O. Morgan, The Mission of Friar William of Rubruck. His journey to the Court of the Great Khan Möngke, 1253-1255, London, 1990.
  • RŪMĪ, most works of poetry and prose are available in translation and Persian as are many other poets of the Ilkhanid period.
  • SIMON DE ST QUENTIN, Histoire des Tartares, ed. J. Richard, Paris, 1965.
  • SKELTON, R.A., MARSTON, T.E., and PAINTER, G.D. (eds and trs), The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation, New Haven, 1965.
  • VARDAN, ‘The Historical Compilation’ Dumbarton Oak Papers 43, 1989
  • VASSAF, Tahrir-i Tarikh-i Vassaf, ed. Ayati, , A., Tehran, 1968.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules