2 February 2024

The Battle of Kulikovo (1380), between the armies of the Golden Horde and those of several Russian principalities.

” The horde. How the Mongols changed the world” (The Horde), by Marie Favereau, translated from English (United States) by the author, 432 p., €25, digital €17.

Ritually, historians justify the writing of their works by a gap to be filled. With Marie Favereau, the argument is not a posture, so much her book The horde can be seen as the central, but surprisingly missing, piece of a famous puzzle: the Mongol Empire. Books on the latter are indeed legion, but they are generally centered on the great Genghis Khan and on the states founded, after his death, in 1227, by the Yuan, in China, or by the Ilkhans, in the Middle-East. East. Almost nothing on the Golden Horde of Jochi (or Djötchi), eldest son of the conqueror, a political structure that was nevertheless centuries old and which included, between the 13e and the XVe century, Kazakhstan, Russia and much of Eastern Europe (especially Ukraine).

That the Jochide Empire remained in the shadows can be explained by several reasons, which Marie Favereau brilliantly explores. Of course, there is the very disgrace of Jochi (c. 1182-1227), whom his father removed from the succession and who had to leave to carve out a new kingdom. The function that the khans (rulers) of the Horde assigned to the written word didn’t help either. Neglecting the writing of great founding stories in favor of diplomatic or commercial treaties, they abandoned the narration of their conquests to those who suffered from them, leaving, like the Vikings, the dark image of bloodthirsty and destructive looters. But the originality of Marie Favereau’s proposal lies elsewhere: according to her, our forgetting of the Golden Horde is above all due to our inability to conceive today that an empire could have been nomadic.

In fact, for us sedentary people, an empire is certainly characterized by its vastness, its longevity and the number of peoples it brings together, but it necessarily has one or more administrative centers, as well as a limited territory that the emperor intends both defend and extend. In this respect, our horizon of reference is the Roman Empire and it is therefore easier to understand why Yuan China, also Mongol, but whose bureaucratic organization so greatly amazed Marco Polo in his time, received more light. Marie Favereau nevertheless manages to convince us, page after page, that the remarkable longevity and extension of the Horde were due, on the contrary, to the flexibility conferred on it by nomadism. “In line with the daily life of the Mongols, this organization was always on the move”she wrote.

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