SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

H434 The Mongols and the Islamic World (II)

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
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.  The students will be able to demonstrate their ability to work and research alone and their competence in dealing with raw material and fashioning such resources into a prolonged piece of coherent and relevant writing.

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  Many of those historical documents, recorded in a plethora of languages ranging from Vietnamese to Georgian, Japanese to French, are available today in English translation.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.

This course makes extensive use of the primary sources for which this period is justly famous and students will be encouraged to make full use of the scanned texts in English translation which will be provided both on-line and from DVDs which will be made available.  Wherever and whenever possible primary sources will be referred to and utilised and students will be encouraged not only to acquaint themselves with this material but to critically assess the various texts in relation to the emerging narratives.

While the Iranian Ilkhanate will be central to the course, the Ilkhan’s relationship with their Mongol cousins in the north and their fraternal allies in China will not be neglected especially since the Chinggisids did much to promote Islam in China and elsewhere.  The great cultural divide caused by the Toluid coup d’état which eventually split the Empire will be analysed from sources originating from opposing sides in the war as well as from neutral sources from the sidelines such as the Armenians,.

The emphasis of this course will be on utilising primary sources and helping students realise exactly how and from what we form our knowledge of the past.  The Chinggisids formed the world’s largest ever contiguous empire and each of the states that they absorbed seemed to be fully aware that world changing events were afoot and that they were part of that change.  In recognition of such earth transforming upheavals an array of chroniclers and historians began dutifully recording the changes to which they were witness and as a result we are left today with detailed descriptions of the rise and triumphs of Chinggis Khan and his successors in Chinese, Persian, Mongolian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Latin, Russian, Georgian, Armenian, Arabic, Turkish, Tibetan, even English and more.  This plethora of material allows for plentiful opportunity to critically assess these sources through comparison and contrast and students should learn that these chronicles teach us as much about the chroniclers themselves as about the subjects they describe.

As well as these numerous literary sources the Chinggisids left their mark on the arts, on architecture, on social traditions, on sculpture, ceramics and business practices and commercial trends. In China steles often served as the sources for later chronicles, and inscriptions from various sources including tombstones and buildings have also served as unexpected mirrors of the past.  Iran underwent a cultural renaissance during the first decades of Ilkhanid rule and the period is referred to as the golden age of Persian verse.  But just as famous are the magnificent miniatures produced at that time and these beautiful paintings tell their own stories and narratives independently of the words which they accompany. This course aims to expose students to as many potential primary sources as possible and will encourage students to make use of these alternative sources of knowledge in their essays and presentations.

Most people have a vague impression who Genghis Khan was and what the Mongols were supposed to have done but little curiosity for more knowledge.  All students are extremely surprised about just how fascinating the Mongols turn out to be and their own unexpected absorption in the subject. This course is guaranteed to create a class hungry to discover more and awake to the potential of history to rejuvenate and enliven the past while providing inspiration for the present.


  • 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 and should be able to present their understanding, and conclusions in a prolonged and coherent 10,000 word dissertation.  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 which reflects 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.

Scope and syllabus

Together with H334, his 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 in great depth one aspect of 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.  

Method of assessment

 Coursework 100%

Suggested reading

  • Allsen, Thomas. 2001. Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Bar Hebraeus. 2003. The Chronography of Gregory Ab'l Faraj the Son of Aaron Hebrew Physician Commonly Known as Bar Hebraeus Being the First Part of His Political History. Piscataway, NJ 08855-6939. USA : Gorgias Press, 2003.
  • Biran, Michal. 2007. Chinggis Khan. Oxford : Oneworld Publications, 2007. p. 182. 13:978-1-85168-502-8.
  • Buell, Paul D. 2003. Historical Dictionary of the Mongol World Empire. Lanham, Maryland, Oxford : The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003.

  • Jackson, Peter. 2009. Studies on the Mongol Empire and Early Muslim India. Farnham : Variorum/Ashgate, 2009.


  • Juwaynī, Ata Malik 'Ala al-Dīn. 1997. Genghis Khan: The History of the World Conqueror. [ed.] John A. Boyle. [trans.] John A. Boyle. 2. Manchester : Manchester University Press, 1997. introduction David Morgan.
  • Jūzjānī, Minhāj al-Dīn 'Uthmān. 1995. Tabakāt-i-Nāṡirī: a General History of Muhammadan Dynasties of Asia. [trans.] Major H.G. Raverty. Calcutta : The Asiatic Society, 1995. p. 1595. Vol. 2.
  • Komaroff, Linda, [ed.]. 2006. Beyond the Legacy of Genghis Khan. Leiden & Boston : Brill, 2006.
  • Lane, George. 2003. Early Mongol Rule in Thirteenth-Century Iran: A Persian Renaissance. London : RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.
  • Morgan, David. 2007. The Mongols. 2. Oxford : Blackwell, 2007.
  • Thackston, Wheeler. 2012. Classical Writings of the Medieval Islamic World: Persian Histories of the Mongol Dynasties: Mirza Haydar Dughlat, Khwandamir, Rashīd al-Dīn Hamadānī. London : I.B. Tauris, 2012.


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