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PhD defence

Mongol Loyalty Networks

  • T.X. Jones
Tuesday 24 January 2023
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


  • Prof. G.R. van den Berg


This dissertation focuses on the creation of loyalty networks in the Mongol Empire and its successor states during the 13th and 14th centuries. It uses the framework of ‘categories of loyalty’ to examine how political actors made loyalty decisions. These categories can be broadly divided into two types: ideal loyalties and loyalties of self-interest. This work shows how these loyalties interacted, and how people explained their decisions, as well as how contemporary historians framed these actions. It analyses the methods in which Persian historians in particular talked about loyalty, the language they used and the Turco-Mongol customs which they sought to explain. This study indicates how these historians made use of Mongolian words in Persian in order to elucidate the actions of their rulers, giving us a glimpse into the complex world of Mongol ritual and ceremony, as well as Mongol rulers’ expectations of their subjects.

The thesis goes on to show how Turco-Mongol custom was adapted through the actions of the founder of the empire, Chinggis Khan, who created new institutions and ideals which competed with existing norms, such as the törü, the unwritten divine law passed down through various steppe empires. It contends that these new institutions, which arose out of necessity, gave the Mongol Empire its youthful vigour when they worked in tandem, but also provided avenues for political actors to create their own loyalty networks, which contested with each other and served to break down the unity of the Mongol Empire.

Finally, this study analyses one of the successor states to the Mongol Empire, the Ilkhanate of Iran (1265-1335 CE), and how the loyalty networks there adapted to the new situation of being faced with several hostile, but genealogically related, Mongol states. It contests many of the recently posited views about the propagandistic efforts of the most famous Ilkhanid historian Rashīd al-Dīn, using the categories of loyalty to show how Turco-Mongol elites undermined the rule of the Chinggisid family in Iran. The assertion of non-Chinggisid power would pave the way for later rulers such as Temür, who created the Timurid Empire (1370-1506), to create their own states, which paid lip service to Chinggis Khan and his family, but ruled on their own terms. This study of loyalty gives us a better understanding of steppe cultures and the social dynamics which underpinned them. Through it we gain a viewpoint of the intrinsic mechanisms of power, stability and adaptation in Eurasia.

PhD dissertations

Approximately one week after the defence, PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

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