The Linchpin To The Mongolian Empire: Origins of the Mongol State (Part 2)

Control over the Stepps was vital in the legitimization of Chinggis Khan. However, he had to overtake Ong-Qan as the primary power in the region. As a result of Ong-Qan increasing his political power by creating a tribal confederacy. Thus, Chinggis Khan was not the first tribal leader to unify Mongolia. However, Chinggis Khan successfully took control of the Stepps because he did not simply establish a tribal confederacy. Timothy May stated “the tribal society of Mongolia had drastically changed from the time prior to Chinggis Khan accession to dominance.”(14) He understood that he needed to rely on the select few he trusted to unify and rule Mongolia.

Chinggis Khan did not simply conquer and maintain the Mongolian and Turkish tribes but also ensured their incorporation into the Mongol state after a conquest. As a result, individual tribes no longer existed after conquest. This occurred through Chinggis Khans ability to incorporate these tribes into the Minqan – the first method of organization used that were loyal to him – which created a new state that eliminated the tribal heritage of Mongolia. This was a vital step in establishing the Mongol Empire because “[t]he social features of the clan and tribe have not been entirely compatible with the requirements of imperial organizations.”(15) Therefore, the needs to transform the political, cultural, religious, and economic aspects were vital to the success of the Mongol Empire. Furthermore, Lawrence Krader stated “in order to have a durable state, a form of citizenship is necessary which is recognizable and comparable throughout the empire; taxation, tribute collection, military organization,…are needed for government of a complex state and social organization.”(16) The Mongol tribal heritage did not suffice these needs. As a result, the implementation of a syncretic process occurred. Chinggis Khan was interested in gaining wealth and power for his family. Thus, his family and political power were intertwined throughout the history of the empire. The new organization of Mongolia linked itself to the Chinggis Khan Family.

The new organization emerged linked to the Chinggis Khans family because all the other elite tribal leaders lost their political power. The tribal leaders lost their political power because they lost geographical control. In short, the ruling individual or group needed to remove the significance to legitimize their dynasty. This control aided geographical position to family ties. A sense of citizenship was fostered due to Chinggis Khan’s legitimization and centralization of power. In addition, the process of building a military organization over tribal units enabled there to be basic administrative structures to be built upon. Through this period, the formation of a tribal confederation required arising Mongol figure to control Orkhan Valley to legitimize his power.

The linchpin to geographical control was the Orkhan Valley. The regions significance is understood, but the exact reasons why are unclear. However, what is known is that whoever “acquired a political and spiritual focus that gave legitimacy to the tribe [or family] that held it.”(17) The significance of Orkhan Valley is uncertain, but it held political significance centered on the fact it provided the ruler with the resources and support necessary to rule the region. In addition, Larry Moses speculated that there are two reasons for the significance of the Orkhan Valley, which appear to be similar.

In his article, “A Theoretical Approach to the Process of Inner Asian Confederation,” Larry Moses discussed the two plausible explanations that appear to be similar, but there are minor differences. The first reason is that the people from the local tribes would declare their allegiance to the ruler who controlled the region because of the political and religious significance the region garnered from family traditions. Secondly, the surrounding tribes would accept the ruler as the regional leader.(18) The tribal leaders accepted the regional leader, but they would not accept a position of lesser standing. Furthermore, for a tribal leader to declare that another held a greater standing was a significant occurrence. The loss of the Orkhan Valley resulted in the invalidation of the ruler’s legitimization. For this reason, throughout Chinggis Khans rise to power, Ong-Qan attempted to gain control of Orkhan Valley. However, in time, Chinggis Khan defeated Ong-Oan putting himself in a position as the legitimate authority in the Steppes. The successors of Chinggis Khan benefited from the importance of geography declining.

The kin of Chinggis Khan benefited from the importance of the declining requirement of geography control. Chinggis Khan accomplished this by investing his bloodline with centralized power and removing other tribal elites. In addition, he possibly removed the Orkhan Valley factor in Steppe politics.(19) Although he increased the importance of family succession, he restricted the power of the Altan Uray, which prevented them from being the linchpin of power and leadership in the region. “In an attempt to counter the importance of his family, Chinggis Khan created another elite group [noyad] among his military commanders.”(20) In theory, the noyad served the altan uruy but in the end, they obeyed and advised the qayan – particularly Chinggis Khan and his successors.(21) The military is a significant factor in Mongol expansion, but the civil administration facilitated further expansion.

The success of the Mongol military enabled the quick conquest of regions, but the effective civil administration allowed further expansion. The development of the administrative structures evolved similarly to everything else in the empire. This is vital because the Mongols would not have been able to maintain expansion without it to keep the empire from collapsing under mismanagement. The redeeming feature is the empire not ceasing to share responsibilities with the military. However, this relationship enabled the military and civil administrative organization known as the tamma to control the newly conquered regions. Unfortunately, the tamma military was not effective at governing a region efficiently. Consequently, there was a need for an effective and efficient civil administration because the tamma’s attempt to operate a government withheld it from moving to new conquests. It is the implementation of a civil administration that allowed the tamma military to advance to conquer new regions and allowed them to become integrated into the empire that required a new ruling establishment.

However, this relationship enabled the military and civil administrative organization known as the tamma to control the newly conquered regions. Unfortunately, the tamma military was not effective at governing a region efficiently. Consequently, there was a need for an effective and efficient civil administration because the tamma’s attempt to operate a government withheld it from moving to new conquests. It is the implementation of a civil administration that allowed the tamma military to advance to conquer new regions and allowed them to become integrated into the empire that required a new ruling establishment.

The Minqan became the Mongols first ruling establishment but the government became more complex as the empire expanded. This development led to the tamma, which was the most important institution the Mongols used to rule.(22) In the early stage of the Mongol Administration, they were only concerned with the deployment of military units and obtaining wares to reward the individuals who partook in the raids and wars. The tamma were stationed on the fringes of the Mongol Empire.

The tamma were always on the borders of the Mongol Empire between the nomadic and sedentary cultures.(23) The stabilization of the regions led to the transformation of the empires structure.(24) Consequently, governors and their secretaries were sent and an administrator would replace the tamma commander. The administrative apparatus was a logical choice through the initial phase of conquest. However, the evolution of the empire and its goals required the administrative structure to evolve more. The developing civil administration was not to only be concerned with the military, but with the governance of the conquered regions as well. The keshik emerged from the administrative institution as head of their own office.

The keshik emerged from the administrative institution, as warlords became heads of administrative offices.(25) The keshik not only served as security but also was also responsible for the royal household and administration duties. The keshik were “initially comprised of nokod, or the companions and followers of Chinggis Khan, even after his death [they] still served as a training ground for not only generals but administrators as well.”(26) The important factor is they demonstrated their loyalty to the gayen when they served in the prior keshik. A member of the keshik would serve a term as an officer or administrator to maintain the good standing of the relationship. The keshik returned to their duties once the term was completed.(27) It is under Mongke that the Mongol administrative system underwent numerous reforms.

The Mongol Empires administration system undertook significant reforms under Mongke.(28) The reforms purpose was to lessen the burden the Mongol empire placed on the sedentary population. The Mongol empire undertook these reforms to help the sedentary population to seek, which benefited them in the end because of the opportunity of trade and agriculture. In addition, Mongke aspired to restore the imperial authority over the Chinggisids. As a result, damage to property decreased while people within war zones maintained and safeguarded economic growth, and the long-term possibility of conquered regions.(29) In terms of taxation, Mongke insisted that the Mongols would benefit in the long term in terms of taxation if they kept damage to a minimum. The Mongol Empires policy not to gain through plunder and preying resulted in the Mongols need to obtain fiscal resources by other means. As a result, the Mongol Empire created fiscal territories.

The division of territories into separate fiscal regions occurred to obtain and maintain control over the fiscal resources within the Mongol empire. During the reign of Guyuk the Mongol revenue districts were consolidated into three regions. However, Turkistan cannot be viewed like other regions – as a nomadic reservoir – because the populations across the Silk Road provided an abundant amount of wealth. Prior to the implementation of the tax system the Mongols regularly plundered wealth from the sedentary population. Furthermore, the implementation of the tax system resulted in the plundering of sedentary subjects to decrease. In the infancy of Mongol Society, tributes were a regular occurrence to illustrate the loyalty an individual had for a ruler, unlike a levy that was used to meet a particular need.(30) In time, the Mongol empire set a fixed rate tribute based upon possessions. However, when on conquest, it was common practice for the Mongols to demand goods or enforce levies to obtain what they needed from recent conquered regions. Nevertheless, the Mongols saw the benefits of converting to a regularized tax system.

During the reign of Chinggis Khan’s grandson, Ogedei, the tax system became regularized. Numerous censuses took place throughout the Mongol empire to implement a tax system. It is impossible to present the numerous censuses that occurred throughout the Mongol Empire. Therefore, the census in northern China will be used as the primary example. The census in Northern China took place between 1235 – 1236 by Ye-Lu Qu-Cai and Shigi Qutugtu. Ye-Le Quca determined that this best demonstrated the significance of the sedentary population to his nomadic rulers. The forecast of tax revenue resulted in the Mongols seeing the benefits of a tax system over plundering. As a result, Mahmud Yalavach in Central Asia incorporated this new method into pre-existing systems. The success of these reforms resulted in them being used for another ten years.

The success of the tax system reforms resulted in them continued until 1239-1240. The reforms concluded when the Mongols transferred Mahmud Yalavach to North China. Although his reforms were similar to Ye-Lu Eu-Cai’s they were different in some ways. Yalavach’s reforms became the standard for the whole Mongol Empire. Mahmud Yalavach’s tax system was based upon qubchir, which required adult males to pay a poll tax in cash. On the other hand, Ye Lu Qu Lai’s tax system followed the Chinese custom to assess the household possession, but a poll tax was included. In addition, the poll tax referred to as the qalan was imposed.(31)

By the mid thirteenth century, the reformed system combined local taxes and levies, which were applied two or three times a year; frequently applied two or three years in advance. There were also traditional taxes that were paid. For example, the agricultural tax, the nomads were exempted from and duties on trade. Perhaps, the most important facet of the tax reforms was the Mongol empire’s concentration of power. This occurred as the regional princes were bypassed for revenue to be collected by a representative of the Mongol central government. Since the founding of the Mongol Empire, they progressed tremendously but initially lacked the administrative skill.

From the beginning of the Mongol Empire, the Mongol leadership faced the challenge of having a lack of administrative skills. In order to do this the Mongols took control of the sedentary administrative reservoirs for the functions of governance. The Mongols routinely used locals that were willing to ally themselves as administrators. The people used had to have language skills and knowledge of the regions customs. The Mongols traditionally required individuals to master the uighur script for advancement in the administrative sphere. However, this sometimes resulted in the promotion individuals who did not have previous experience in China and Persia. It became common practice for the Mongols to replace “local elites, whose status was validated by mastery of indigenous literacy and cultural traditions, with those who possessed the inclination and skills outside their own cultural and linguistic milieu.”(32) In short, an individuals loyalty to the Mongol Empire became more important then skill. It was common for the Mongols to allow native rulers to keep their authority in their regions.

The Mongols regularly allowed the native rulers to keep their authority in their regions.The Mongols did this to accomplish two things. First, the Mongols would give foreign rulers a chance to take part in the empire to avoid unnecessary military actions. Secondly, the Mongols lack of administrative experience resulted in them wanting to incorporate people who had those talents.(33) This is one example of the Mongols not inventing anything new but simply assimilating the best parts of the cultures they conquered. As a result, it is not shocking that the secretariats emerged from the regions that handled the fiscal administration.

The echelon of the Mongol government saw the secretariats emerge from the fiscal administrative regions. By this point, the majority of the senior officials were Mongols. However, during the time of Mongke’s there were a few Uighors – people that had administrative experience. Consequently, making it possible for them to rule there own empire. It is understood that the Mongols were now capable of transferring military control over regions to new civil administration. The civil administrators steadily took control of the conquered regions and incorporated them into the empire. This transfer of control was vital because military control led to the regions civil and administration being mishandled for the benefit of the tamma military. In addition, the transfer of power became vital in the development of the civil government. Although this transfer occurred is still unclear. However, it is possible to gain an understanding of this process.

It is possible to gain an understanding of this process through a tammaci named Chormaqan – he was the first military tammaci stationed in the Middle East.(34) The information available illustrates the decrease of his power because of civil administrators and the concern of Ogodei Khan. However, analyzes of information pertaining to related events illustrates that his decrease in power was a planned element in the transfer from military to civil administration.(35) Although this can be unclear, the historical events clearly outlay the truth.

The historical facts expose the true nature of these events include four central ideas. The “Chormagan Noyan, general and conqueror of Iran and Transcaucasia; Chin-Temur, governor of Khwarazm; Dayir Noyan, a tammaci who invaded Ghor, and was possibly subordinate to Chormagan; and Korguz, a civil administrator sent by Ogodei Khan to oversee the collection of taxes in Chormagan’s territory.”(36) An overarching understanding of these events illustrates that the transfer of power was not east. Furthermore, the governance of the Mongol Empire is complicated due to shaping the spheres of power for the civil and military administrations.

End Notes

14 Timothy May “Governance: The Rise and Expansion of the Mongol Empire, 1185-1265.” PhD diss., (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004), 190.

15 Lawrence Krader, “Qan-Qagan and the Beginning of Mongol Kingship,” Central Asiatic Journal 1 (1955): 95.

16 Ibid.

17 Larry Moses, “A Theoretical Approach to the Process of Inner Asian Confederation.” Etudes Mongoles 5 (1975): 115-16.

18 Ibid., 115-16.

19 May “Governance,” 194.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Paul D. Buell, “Kalmyk Tanggaci People: Thoughts on the Mechanics and Impact of Mongol Expansion,” Mongolian Studies 6 (1980): 47, 45.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid., 47.

25 May “Governance,” 138.

26 Ibid.

27 Thomas T Allsen, “Guard and Government in the Reign of the Grand Qan, Mongke, 1251 – 1259,” Harvard Journal Asiatic Journal, 46 no. 2 (1986): 517-18, 54; Thomas T Allsen, Mongol Imperialism (Berkley: University of California Press, 1987), 100.

28 Ibid., 80-82.

29 Ibid., 85.

30 H. F. Schurmann, “Mongoliann Tribulary Practices of the Thirteenth Century,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 19 no. ¾, (1956): 311.

31 Cf. Allsen, Mongol Imperialism, 147-48; Morgan, The Mongols, 101.

32 Thomas T. Allsen, “Ever Closer Encounters: The Appropriation of People in the Mongol Empire,” Journal of Early Modern History 1 (1997): 7-8.

33 Allsen, Mongol Imperialism, 63-64.

34 May, “Governance,” 150.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.


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