Gene Expression

Mongol

i-b6ecea18b22ad0cf2b7f42b9712cca5b-mongol.pngI noticed that Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan was watchable online on Netflix the other day, so I checked it out. I liked it. As any movie there were liberties taken with aspects of Genghis Khan’s biography, but I felt like most of them were true to the general outlines of what really happened. The main downside was the whole warlord-with-a-heart-of-gold element to his personality. I’m definitely looking forward to The Great Khan, the rumored sequel.

Comments

  1. #1 Eamon
    January 23, 2010

    I’d call the ‘Heart of Gold’ more than a downside – it requires too much suspension of disbelief regarding a man who murdered millions.

  2. #2 razib
    January 23, 2010

    it requires too much suspension of disbelief regarding a man who murdered millions.

    that’s probably false.

    1) most pre-modern states were weak

    2) most pre-modern estimates of army sizes, slaughters, etc. are almost all exaggerated, by enemies and the principals themselves

    3) take a look at the map of genghis khan’s empire. it was a relatively sparsely populated domain. it was in the second and third generations that the civilized world was conquered

    i suspect that genghis khan was not atypically brutal for a pre-modern autocrat. but, his mongol empire had negative consequences for china and the world of islam, and they were the ones who wrote most of the histories. as a point of contrast, caesar lays out his own genocide in the gallic wars, but he is remembered as a more complex and nuanced figure. the genocides were against “barbarians.” so he’s someone to emulate.

  3. #3 megan
    January 23, 2010

    If anyone wants to talk smack or cursory ill about the wave of Mongol emperors I suggest reading this book – “The Devil’s Horsemen” – The Mongol Invasion of Europe, James Chambers (1979 ISBN 0-689-70693-6
    [http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=The+Devil%27s+Horsemen&x=0&y=0 ]
    After reading it I’ve wondered many times how the modern world would’ve ended up under major Mongolian influence into the 1500-1800s as they were for their time vastly egalitarian of the sexes, multicultural in allowing the conquered right to worship(as pagan animists never set up a state religion), actually integrated and selected the best out of the peoples conquered to further rule and administration. It seems the right of throne succession tied to blood family/offspring and quick expansion preventing the imprinting of leadership rules/policy and administration as the main reason the Mongolian empire eventually collapsed, as with most rapidly expanding civilizations. One could say the Ottoman Empire ruling methods had vestiges of Mongol secular-like influence into the peninsula and Middle East’s more moderate spiritual Sufism and Ismailists. IMHO.

  4. #4 razib
    January 23, 2010

    After reading it I’ve wondered many times how the modern world would’ve ended up under major Mongolian influence into the 1500-1800s as they were for their time vastly egalitarian of the sexes, multicultural in allowing the conquered right to worship(as pagan animists never set up a state religion), actually integrated and selected the best out of the peoples conquered to further rule and administration.

    sexual egalitarianism is not atypical for many ‘barbaric’ peoples. the arabs were arguably much more sex egalitarian before they became ‘civilized’ (consider the role of khadija in muhammad’s life). the mongol attitude toward religious pluralism is arguably more typical for the period that european, and to a lesser extent muslim, exclusivism. the mongol arguments for religious tolerance do seem rather modern though, but i think that’s because the “modern” outlook is to some extent a “throwback.” as for mongol promotion by merit, this isn’t totally abnormal either. bureaucratic or military meritocracy was pretty normal in china and the muslim world, and the mongols in china actually suppressed a lot of the meritocratic aspects of the chinese bureaucratic system.

    not to deny some validity of your points.

    One could say the Ottoman Empire ruling methods had vestiges of Mongol secular-like influence into the peninsula and Middle East’s more moderate spiritual Sufism and Ismailists. IMHO.

    i think the idea that sufis and ismailis being moderate is false. the ismailis founded the fatimids and the assassins. they became more quietist only after they’d been crushed. as for ‘sufism,’ the term is vague. but many sufi orders doubled as military organizations. the safavids emerged out of a sufi order.

  5. #5 Eamon
    January 24, 2010

    Point taken Razib, I should have said ‘probably murdered many.’ There isn’t much on the web on his campagns, but the Khwarezmian one is reputed to have been particularly bloody.

  6. #6 John Emerson
    January 24, 2010

    The Chinese have integrated Genghis Khan and the Yuan dynasty into Chinese history. The Yuan History’s chapter on Genghis Khan gives no indication that he was murderous or even that he was not Chinese. Juvaini’s and Rashid’s histories were written under Mongol auspices and are pretty circumspect; the general angel is that he was Allah’s punishment for the sins of the Muslim rulers he destroyed. Juzjani’s Persian history, contemporary to GK, was written in India by a defeated enemy and is much more negative, but also recognized good points.

    Massacre was not as unusual in those days as we think. The difference with GK was that, #1, he was just more successful, winning almost every battle, and #2, he used massacre and devastation as policy, to protect his rear as he advanced further.

    The “heart of gold” part is real, but extremely selectiuve. In general he spared people and cities whom he believed would be useful to him and would not betray him. He also was generous and loyal of his underlings, though as time went on the ordinary Mongol shared less and less in the loot.

    My theory at this point was that the Mongols developed a military machine (combining steepe and Chinese methods) fighting against the Jurchen and Khitai (non Chinese ruling N. China) which was unstoppable for a generation. The Mongols won almost every battle for a few decades, often without significant casualties. The Egyptian Mamluks who finally stopped them were mostly Turkish refugees from the Mongols who combined traditional Middle Eastern warfare with steppe warfare.

    Mongol feminism is exaggerated. Women within the ruling class were relatively equal to men, but captive foreign women were slaves just like foreign men (and concubines.)

  7. #7 doug l
    January 24, 2010

    Thought the movie was great. IMDb indicates that the sequel is in ‘pre-production’, what ever that means. The specifics, such as IMDb might have, require a paid subscription which I’m not getting, but it wasn’t a commercial success and I’d read elsewhere that because of the incredible logistics with location and over 1500 horsemen (speaking several different languages) the Russian director wasn’t too hot to take on the next part. Never the less, it was produced by the Kazahkstan government who see in it their nation’s foundational story, and since they are still pretty well-off with revenue due to oil and other raw natural resources, even with the international downturn in the global economy,
    and considering the nation’s leader is something of a benevolent dictator, it seem the next part will be forthcoming barring any other unforseen complications. I hope so.
    Judging Ghengis Kahn by todays standards will always be an interesting debate but ultimately just that. Periods of barbarism seem to more the norm across human history, in my opinion, but we can hope that a better understanding of history, even if it seems to glorify some particularly nasty parts, might be better than pretending it didn’t happen, or that it might have been nicer if there were more gender equality or economic justice. Interesting times the must have been, as the old curse goes..