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Searches for an Imaginary Kingdom

The trefoil of the Mouse-Hole

Lev Gumilev


15. Construction of Hypotheses

What is Wrong Here?

This book on searches for an imaginary kingdom has been written, but even the author looks at it with unconcealed surprise: there is so much not included.

To start with, the sources have neither been fully marshalled nor fully described. But then, had they been, there would have been no room for anything else and this would have been quite another book which would not have answered any of the questions troubling us. Even knowing who said what and when, we would not have been able to point out who had unwittingly made a mistake and where, or who was consciously concealing things with the veil of allegory. Our work would have been in vain.

The literature on the question has been very little used. A bibliography on all the subjects mentioned could amount to a list of many hundreds of articles and books. But it is impossible to make a single horse out of thousands of mice. The criterion of reliability is not to be found in words, but in facts, i.e. in historical events, in their connections and sequence, and both of these are in the book. The thread of historical regularity has run from the Turks to the Mongols over three centuries which have hitherto been a blank.

Yet even the history is depicted extremely unevenly. Many dramatic pages have been passed over. For example, would the reader not be moved by the unequal struggle of the small Turk-Shato tribe against China's many millions? This struggle was waged for the right of some to live and be themselves, and the aspiration of the others to save their country from nasty and hostile foreigners. Both sides were right in their own eyes and the problem, as we have seen, was resolved by force. One should write a whole book about this alone, not part of a chapter. Yes, of course, but then one would have to forget about the Mongols and Nestorianism.

{358} And the Khitan? ... Their history has something in common with the period of Peter the Great who, like Ye-lu Deguang, opened his country to foreign ideas and fashions. Of course, both country, people and period have little in common with eighteenth-century Russia, but then this, too, is interesting as it discloses the part played by setting and situation. Yet this is also only mentioned in passing in the book, since the fate of the Liao Empire is only a background for our subject, and we have looked at flourishing Liaodong from the Mongol steppe, battered by the winds.

The same should be said about the Tangut and the Uighurs, the Karluk and the Kipchak (Polovtsy). Their rich cultures, their passionate history, their unique cast of mind are not reflected in the book. There are only outlines, lacking colour and shade, a general background against which the ancient Mongols stand out boldly. Yet this is not a defect of the book, but a means calling the reader's attention to the fact that the history of these peoples is not exotica, not empty collecting of information (a sort of stamp collection), not a kaleidoscope, but a composite part of the grandiose tragedy of medieval world history.

In this spectacle we see a fierce logic of events, a pattern in the birth and death of peoples, a responsibility for the deeds of individuals, and that link between the history of mankind and of the biosphere of planet Earth which has so far escaped researchers both in the humanities and in the natural sciences. To find and fix this link is the true aim of my work and to this end I have looked at the material in a special way. Perhaps it is imperfect, but I know no other. My book is an experiment and one that does not always succeed straightaway. But even if 605 attempts are fruitless, the six hundred and sixth, the successful one, justifies all the effort.

Finally, the main theme itself, Central Asian Nestorianism, looks somehow without weight, even transparent. That is true, but that it how it was. Despite the extensive dissemination of Christian views throughout the Great Steppe, they did not cross the threshold which allows historical incarnation. Nestorianism did not make the final spurt, did not become a historical unity ... and it came to grief. Well, an interrupted process is for the historian a most interesting variant of historical development. Failure is no less a worthy object of research than success, the more so since the details disclosed have enabled us to explain certain important features concerning both Mongolia, and also ancient Rus`.

{359} So, we have answered the first question posed at the start of the book: what was there really?

And we have also found an answer to the second question: how are we to squeeze truth out of falsehood? The principle turned out to be simple: every author trying to convince his contemporaries of something must set out undoubted, truthful information for them, and then flavour it with the spice of tendentiousness. Consequently, the historian's task is to separate these two components, and this is called historical analysis.

Further on it becomes more difficult. For analysis to succeed one has to apply a panoramic and stereoscopic method, to fill in the obscure places with isolines, to look at the object with different degrees of approximation; in this complex way one can obtain a groundwork of reliable facts and synthesise the ethnic and cultural process, guided by the logic of events. But this result, too, we count as a semi-finished product. It is needed only to make clear to us the world's causal and sequential links after applying it to the laws of nature. Then this will be no longer simply a history of peoples, but a science of peoples or ethnology.



Although the term "ethnology" has frequently been applied in West European scholarship, this has always been done for different reasons, with different meanings; thus, in a sense it has remained lexically "vacant". Therefore, when the Geographic Society of the Soviet Union began work on generalising the problems of palaeoethnography and historical geography, [+75] it was proposed to use this term for a branch of knowledge including three mutually related problems: ethnogenesis, ethnogeographic classification and the relation between ethnos and the landscape. [+76]

The new perspective differs from that of all the disciplines contiguous with ethnology, for example, from ethnography which deals with the differences between proples, from sociology which is concerned with the forms of the social movement of matter, from history which deals with events and their links and sequence, from {360} physical anthropology which is concerned with the physical type of the various branches of mankind, i.e. races, and from evolutionary biology which looks at man as one of the mammals. Perhaps the closest to ethnology in this new sense is holocene palaeogeography, i.e. the study of the period in the earth's history when human activity is clearly discernible. In this perspective mankind is regarded as a certain covering of the planet Earth, [+77] or as part of the biosphere. [+78]

The concept of the "biosphere" was introduced to the scholarly world by V.I. Vernadskii to delimit the "inert" and the "live" forms of substance. According to Vernadskii, the biosphere consists of the totality of living organisms and the products of their activity, for example, free oxygen in the atmosphere. That living organisms are not in close contact with one another, but are separated by bits of inert matter, is, according to Vernadskii, unimportant, for even in the hardest body there is empty space between the molecules.

Extending Vernadskii's idea and developing his approach, we distinguish the anthroposphere within the biosphere, i.e. the biomass of all people together with the products of their activity: technology, dwellings, domestic animals and cultivated plants. The anthroposphere, however, is not monolithic, but a mosaic. The over-extensive diffusion of man, occupying almost all of the planet's dry land, is related to a greater ability to adapt than that of other mammals, and this, in its turn, has modified the species. Collections of persons have been created which, when they arose, were linked with particular natural conditions, though each of them later underwent its own history. We call such a collective an ethnos, and we study these as a specific form of the existence of the species Homo sapiens in historical conditions. Ethnogenesis is the study of the causes of the rise and disappearance of ethni, while ethnic classification is the study of the degrees of proximity between the ethni themselves, which is essential to generalise the enormous and varied material, and which has no analogies in methods and perspectives in the humanities.

Ethnic history, as we have just seen, does not replace social {361} history, but only complements it, filling the vacuum inevitably formed with the strict application of merely a single perspective.

Here the final question arises: why is all this necessary to us? Let ethnology find its application in archaeology, [+79] physical geography, [+80] ethnogeography, [+81] even in soil science; [+82] but how can it be useful in criticising literary sources, in a matter with which the most humanitarian branch of knowledge in the world - language and literature - is concerned? It is essential that we answer this sensible question.

As we have already seen, reading historical narrative sources does not mean we understand them. Yet without understanding the ideas and attitudes of their authors, criticism of their constructions is impossible. Consequently, we should become like the ancient Mongols who listened in their yurts to the Secret History of their fathers and elder brothers from the mouth of the reciter. But how are we to achieve this, how are we to reach a medieval level of understanding if we receive the very best information on the period from a source which is itself unclear to us? A dead end or, more truly, a vicious circle.

But if we do not approach the reading of the source as ignoramuses, but with a definite stock of historical analogies, general knowledge of the period, a certain, even though very approximate, conception of the psychology and philosophy of the medieval Asian peoples? Then we shall have pegs on which to hang questions about the degree of reliability of the source, and we shall be able to extract some, certainly incomplete, information from it. Yet it will extend our horizon, make our conceptions more precise and allow us to return to the text again, but at a higher level. And so we gradually penetrate further, round by round, into the nuances which had hitherto escaped us.

But while ethnology, thanks to its natural history methods, can come to the help of the study of sources where pure, humanitarian language and literary studies give up, it is itself extremely concerned to obtain reliable information from the ancient sources. This information is the diet of ethnology. But food should be of good quality, {362} and the information obtained from the sources should be reliable. It was for the sake of this high aim that we undertook our difficult journey through the clefts in chronology and the debris of variant readings in the authors" versions. One would like to think that the labour expended will be of use to scholarship, even to the extent of extending the possibility of historical criticism. Perhaps we can even hope for something more: a retrospective restoration of the course of events resulting from the disclosure of the mechanism of their inter-relationship?

As the palaeontologist reconstructs the appearance of the dinosaur from two or three bones, as the climatologist with the data of two or three meteorological stations makes a weather forecast with increasing accuracy year by year, as the geologist from a few outcrops or sections determines the extent of sedimentary rocks, so the historian, using ethnological methods, can describe the creation and destruction of a great or small empire, principality or free town. Now, as well as the usual codification, he has to hand a method of "empirical generalisation" which V.I. Vernadskii has claimed is as reliable as actually observed fact. [+83] Let us try to apply this method to our material.


An Attempt at a Review

Let us try to return to the origin of the rumour about the Kingdom of Prester John. As we have no direct evidence, let us proceed by reasoning. To whose advantage was this rumour? Who could start and disseminate it? Whom did they wish to deceive and why?

Naturally, we shall find no text with the answers to these questions. People were not at all stupid in the middle ages and left no documents compromising themselves. It remains to use the method of criminology - cui bono.

Let us recall that the rumour about Prester John reached Germany from Syria, from the Christians there. So we may immediately exclude the whole of Western Europe since it was it that was deceived. The whole Muslim world also falls out of consideration because there was no sense in the Arabs and Seljuks providing new incursions on the part of the Franks by encouraging their hopes of help from the east. In the Orthodox countries the tale of an eastern {363} Christian kingdom evoked no enthusiasm, if only because Nestorians were the enemies of Byzantium and allies of the Arab caliphs. Byzantine politicians could take account of reality, however unpleasant, but they had no concern to dream up nightmares. East Central Asia is also excluded for it could enter nobody's head there that the Kara-Khitan khanate could be the leader of Near Eastern politics. There remains only Syria itself and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

In the 1130s the Kingdom of Jerusalem was in a flourishing state, with which not a single state in Europe could compare. Free trade enriched not only the Italian towns, Pisa, Genoa, Venice, but also the bastion of the Jerusalem crown, the knightly Orders of Saint John and of the Templars, as much as the princes of Antioch and Edessa.

Constant war with the Muslims and Greeks was seen by the Frankish and Norman lords as a normal condition outside of which there would be no place for them in life. War, particularly small and constant wars, was their element. Of course, this war could not bring decisive victory over Islam, but the knights did not strive for this, since for each one of them complete victory would bring nothing but a small amount of the spoils of war. Income from the frontier trade would be much greater.

In the fifty years since the First Crusade, the knights had become accustomed to dealing with Muslims and began to see in them people worthy of admiration and imitation. Their distant homeland seemed to become a wild, provincial land, and the illiterate Norman or French barons seemed brutish, boring and thick. Compared with the Arab emirs - poets and warriors - they were just that. [+84]

But in Europe they expected something quite different from their eastern outpost. To the French and Germans it seemed just a bit more pressure and the whole of Persia, the whole of Egypt would fall beneath the hooves of the knights" horses. But in 1144 there was a thunderclap - the Turks took Edessa. The Holy Land seemed under threat. They had to go to the rescue. Bernard of Clairvaux persuaded Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany to take up the cross and the Second Crusade slowly began to be prepared.

The knights and barons in Jerusalem understood splendidly that the Turks were enemies, but, not without reason, they doubted {364} whether the French and Germans were friends. Power belongs to him who has force and, if the French and German forces were to have appeared on the shores of the Jordan and the Orontes, the barons of Jerusalem and Antioch would have been compelled to become obedient servants. This they wanted least of all.

Yet it was also inexpedient to refuse help to repulse the Turks. The very best way out for the Kingdom of Jerusalem was not to direct the Crusaders` forces to Palestine, but directly to Mesopotamia from where the danger threatened. But how could the French and German kings be tempted to exchange an easy campaign in a rich country for an arduous war in deserts scorched by the sun? That was when the rumour about the troops of a pontiff-king allegedly standing on the banks of the Tigris reached Europe. Any commander understands that to unite with an ally and take one's opponent in a pincer movement is a guarantee of complete and easy victory. The author of the invention, composed with talent and successfully distributed, was concerned that the crusading kings should avoid Palestine and took steps towards that end, using disinformation. He was not able to foresee that two years later the offensive of the two most powerful monarchs in the Catholic world would misfire even in Asia Minor (1147) and the pitiful remnants of the levy of knights would beg the lords of Jerusalem for food and shelter, and not dictate to them their will. That is the explanation which may be put forward as most probable, although there is no certainty that it is the only correct one. But where there can be no direct proof, one can either avoid answering the question, or reach a conclusion on the basis of indirect considerations. We assume the second is more honest.

Now, in connection with our observations made against a broad historical background, let us think about where the legend of the excessive savagery and fierceness of the thirteenth-century Mongol warriors came from. As we have been persuaded, this legend did not correspond with reality, for although the Mongols cannot be called good-natured, the Crusaders, Mamluks, Khwarizmians and Jurchen conceded nothing to them in ferocity. Yet such a legend existed even in the thirteenth century and so we can seek, if not the author, at least the milieu where it arose and the aims it pursued.

Chinese historians were not biassed in this way. They drily and impartially communicated the wonders of heroism and ferocity performed equally by Jurchen and Mongols, without expressing {365} sympathy for one or the other. War was in the Far East always taken so seriously that mercy to prisoners was regarded as a betrayal of the state. [+85] Against the background of endless wars with Huns, Turks, Khitan, Tangut and Jurchen, Mongol tactics did not strike the Chinese chroniclers as anything special, standing apart from the common run of events and the customs of war. Moreover, the Mongols won their fiercest battles not against the Song, but against the Jurchen who had themselves only just shown the Chinese what slaughter of the peaceful population meant. Therefore, despite the general Chinese hatred of nomads, it never occurred to the Chinese that the new enemy could be reviled merely for the fact that he won more victories than the former one had.

In the Near East the Armenians wrote a great deal about the Mongols, but they sympathised with them as allies and so maintained a loyal tone. The Russian chroniclers had a negative attitude to the Mongols, but their works had little impact on Western Europe in the thirteenth century, so the legend we are now concerned with did not come from Russian mouths. Moreover, the anti-Tatar mood in Rus` became active in the fourteenth century, after the khans of the Golden Horde had turned to Islam; and this did not happen at once, but only when Mamai formed a coalition with the Catholics against Orthodox Moscow. In the thirteenth century there had been a military alliance of the Horde and Rus` and there had been many fewer causes for mutual bitterness.

The Muslims had the most hostile feelings to the Mongols, both in conquered Iran and in victorious Egypt. Everything about the Mongols irritated the Muslims: the Ilkhans` protection of Nestorianism, the destruction of mosques, the prohibition of ritual washing and, finally, there was something of the traditional enmity of the sedentary agriculturalist for the nomadic herder. Cain was angry that Abel had given him what for. Yet it remains strange that the West Europeans acquired the viewpoint of their bitterest enemies; after all, the Mongols (after the death of Guyuk) intended no harm to Germany, Italy or France. Yet it was Western Europe where the Mongols were hated most of all.

When the Mongol horses reached the azure Adriatic, Frederick II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Sicily, expressed the opinion that it would be good to use them as allies in {366} the struggle against the Papal throne; but in 1241 the Mongols left and the Emperor's idea was forgotten. Yet the nuance of political attitude is important: antipathy to the Mongols did not arise among the Ghibellines. The Most Christian King of Europe, Louis IX, the Holy, sent an embassy to Elchidei-noyan, and later the French crown attempted to establish contact with the Ilkhans - so, it was not a French affair. The Papal throne was entirely engrossed in its struggle for existence. In the mid-thirteenth century it survived only thanks to the help of Charles of Anjou and was then dependent on the French crown; so, it is scarcely possible to talk of independent decisions by the Popes at the end of the thirteenth century. Even if at this time they took a particular line, this means it was suggested to them by someone. But leaving out Germany and France, as well as England, Aragon and Castille who were not concerned with the Mongol problem, we encounter the last influential Catholic state -the Kingdom of Jerusalem where the Templars and the Order of Saint John shared power. It was precisely these paladins of the Holy Sepulchre who felt the extreme need to explain to the Christian world (i.e. Catholic Europe) why they had assisted in the defeat of the Nestorian commander Kit-Buka and thus condemned their own fortresses, the bridgehead of Christian aggression in the Near East, to fall to the Mamluk sabres. Every normal European politician could and even must have asked them after 1260 why they had committed their betrayal. Then the answer was invented: the Mongols, allegedly, were fiends from hell, much worse than the Muslims and in general than anyone else.

We have seen with what gullibility medieval Europe accepted the tale of the Kingdom of Prester John. Here, though, was an interpretation of events which appeared to the inhabitants as still more worthy of belief. Polish and Hungarian refugees in 1241-2 certainly recounted the horrors that had befallen their countries; the Russian emissaries of Mikhail of Chernigov and Daniil of Galich poured oil on the flames, while those who could speak to the contrary, for example, the Byzantines and the Cilician Armenians, were themselves regarded in Western Europe as schismatics and enemies of "Christianity".

Of course, the critically thinking and widely informed impartial historian should have compared the sacking of Baghdad or Damascus with the devastation wrought by the Crusaders in Constantinople, yet had he done such work, no one would have {367} supported him in disseminating it in the Middle Ages they did not like to hear the bitter truth about themselves. Apart from that, it was clear to all Catholic knights, without any proof, that when they conquered the impious descendants of Hagar and the Greek schismatics, this was not a crime, but a heroic deed, the knights were unable even to conceive sharing their deserts with the Mongols, were they threefold Christians. Therefore, that part of the information which confirmed the Western world in the consciousness of its own pre-eminence was selected for extensive use and the second conscious he by the Templars was a success.

But here I hear the reader protest "It can't be! This is the author's invention! Why should we disbelieve the well informed contemporaries, the Templars, but believe a twentieth-century historian?" All right, reader, let us sort it out in the most usual way by comparing the facts.

In 1287 the Ilkhan Argun, searching for allies against the Mamluks, sent a Nestorian cleric, the Uighur Sauma, to Western Europe, commissioning him to urge the Catholic kings to a new crusade. Sauma visited Byzantium, Naples, Rome, Pans and Bordeaux, the domain of the English king Everywhere he was accepted as an honoured and welcome guest. He was taken round the churches and tombs of the saints as ambassadors are now taken round the Louvre or the Hermitage Philipp IV and Edward I verbally promised help and an alliance with the Mongols, the Nestorian was invited to church and the English king received communion from his hands. Even Pope Nicholas IV allowed Sauma to celebrate the eucharist and on Palm Sunday gave him communion from his own hands. [+86]

This was in the spring of 1288, but on 27 April 1289 Tripoli fell and the evacuation of Europeans from Palestine began. That was when the same pope sent Montecorvino to China, and we have seen why. The coincidence in dates speaks for itself.

It would be odd to suppose that the surviving Crusaders took the blame for their defeat on themselves To condemn the pope and the kings for their situation would be extremely stupid, even dangerous. So then the second story was created, no less fantastic than the first about Pope John. In the course of the two decades when the {368} wandering round Europe (1289-1307), it became popular version which everyone ceased to doubt, so surprising as that 700 years later the legend of the ire of the Mongols is dear to the European's intel-fact that the majority of medieval conceptions have thrown out and are now regarded as curiosities. We out the dog-headed men or the Amazon women, mongolophobia is an invention of the same order. It is the distorted knowledge of an incidental object is attitude to it, i.e. the question passes from the sphere the area of emotion and as a consequence a sober les impossible.

Templars were wandering round Europe (1289-1307), it became the usual and popular version which everyone ceased to doubt.

But this is not so surprising as that 700 years later the legend of the exceptional nature of the Mongols is dear to the European's intellect, despite the fact that the majority of medieval conceptions have been reviewed, thrown out and are now regarded as curiosities. We smile reading about the dog-headed men or the Amazon women, but then, naive Mongolophobia is an invention of the same order. It is even worse, for the distorted knowledge of an incidental object is replaced by an attitude to it, i.e. the question passes from the sphere of knowledge to the area of emotion and as a consequence a sober approach becomes impossible.

An attempt at interpretation

It seems inexplicable that the Russian chroniclers tell us nothing about the Nestorians at the court of the Mongol khans, while the Chinese, Muslim, Armenian monophysites and Catholics write about this in great detail and readily. Ignorance on the part of the Russians is excluded. Yaroslav Vesvolodich and his son Andrei were at Guyuk's headquarters when it was full of Nestorians. Aleksandr Nevskii became Sartak's sworn brother and he was surrounded by Nestorians. In Mongke's reign, when Nestorians were in power, Russian craftsmen went to Karakorum for work. In brief, they could not but see and know that nomad Christians existed.

In some documents, however, there are unambiguous disclosures. In 1245, at the Lyons Council, the Metropolitan of Kiev, Petr Akerovich, stated in answer to questions about the Tatar faith: "They believe in a single lord of the world . . . [this might be understood as Mithraism, though the definition might equally refer to Christianity - LG] . . . God and his son in heaven, but Chirkhan on earth [This is not Mithraism for certain, nor Bon and not the Black Faith, since the second hypostasis of all of these is female - LG]. Each morning they raise their hands to heaven in honour of the creator [the Nestorian way of prayer, while the Orthodox put their hands together on their chest- LG]. If they eat, they throw the first piece into the air in honour of the creator, if they drink, they pour part onto the ground [this is not a religious, but an 'ethnographic' ritual - LG]. They say that their guide is Saint John."

{369} There is no doubt that the Metropolitan of Kiev knew no less than any of his contemporaries about Nestorianism, but the information about this has not survived in the Russian chronicles or the lives of the saints, but in Rerum Britannicarum mediaevi scriptores. [+87]

A second text is of quite a different nature. These are answers of the Metropolitan see to questions from Feognost, Bishop of Sarai, dated about 1269. "Question. Is it proper, after blessing the bread and the wine, to carry them from place to place and perform the liturgy with them? Answer. It is proper since there is need. Wandering people [ nomads - L.G.] have no place of rest; but take care with fear and trembling to place them in a clean place and perform the service with them." [+88]

This is dealing with the form of church service for nomads. But for which ones? The Orthodox Alans (ancestors of the Osetians) and the wanderers (ancestors of the Cossacks) lived sedentary lives; the baptised Polovtsy fled from the Mongols to Hungary and Galicia. There remain only the alien Mongol warriors, i.e. the Nestorians. But could an Orthodox bishop allow heretics to take communion? Canonically, no. But let us try to glance at history.

In the first half of the thirteenth century, the Orthodox and Nestorians were enemies, but Berke's revolution (1257) and his persecution of the Nestorians, supporters of his rivals, Sartak and Ulagchi, undermined the significance of the Nestorian community as a political force. Under Mengu-Timur relations between the Golden Horde and the Ilkhan Hulegu, who had protected Nestorianism, deteriorated. The Nestorians in the Golden Horde were isolated and, we may imagine, began to visit Orthodox churches. No special union was needed. The unification of Christians within the Sarai eparchy, it seems, took place gradually as a natural process.

Is it not in this historical modification that the solution to the conspiracy of silence lies? At first, down to 1257, when the Nestorians were a force, the Orthodox wanted to write badly of them, but did not dare. Then, when the Orthodox church and the khan's authority had reached agreement, and the humbled Nestorians had ceased to be dangerous, it became more {370} advantageous to attract them to one's side rather than remind them of the Council of Ephesus in 431, since when so much had passed. Times had changed, and different relations between people had come about.

In the thirteenth century everyone needed faithful Tatars, and in the understanding of the time "faithful" meant "of the same faith". Just as in the twelfth century the Torks, Black Cowls and Berendei sought the protection of the princes of Kiev, so the Christian Mongols must have clung to the southern border of the Russian land and kept quiet about former differences. If our general ideas are correct, their descendants should have remained there. And they are; these are the frontier smallholders (pdnodvortsy), Christians bearing Turkic names. They were never Muslim because the Tatars converted from Islam to Christianity are called converts (kryasheny); we shall speak below, in another connection, of the Tatar heroes who emigrated from the Horde.

As distinct from the preceding hypothesis, this ethnogenetic one can partly be checked and made more precise by ethnographic work carried out from a particular viewpoint and subject to an aim set in advance. In order to solve any problem it must first be posed. This is the sense of any hypothesis.

An Attempt at Generalisation

Now, knowing the real history of east Central Asia we shall ask: could a state founded, like the caliphate, on the confessional principle have been created there in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries? Yes it could. In its structure it would recall [+89] the Turkic and Uighur kaganates, but, perhaps, would be more stable and less aggressive. It would be a third variant of Christian culture and would easily be perceived as an achievement of Europe and the Near East, in constant opposition to Song China. Its economics would be based on a combination of the nomadic herding and oasis agriculture of Uighuria; transit caravan trade would flourish in it, {371} but the possibility of distant military campaigns would not arise because the "people of long will" would not have come to power, their rivals, the Naiman, Kerait and Merkit, would have been victorious.

Who hindered this natural course of events? Chinggiskhan and his Mongol veterans who did not build on the clan and tribal, but on the military organisation which, by its very nature, decided all the external political, cultural, ideological, social and economic problems by the long spear and the sharp sabre.

He was undoubtedly a gifted man and his comrades in arms possessed courage, but it is clear that the Mongols managed to win four external wars (against the Polovtsy, Jurchen, Khwarizmian Turks and Tangut) not so much as a result of Chinggiskhan's personal qualities, as from a deep crisis, more precisely a turning point, affecting the whole of Europe, the Near and the Far East in the thirteenth century. A feature of the period was the loss of psychological and ethological (behavioural) themes which had an extremely adverse effect on social and external policy problems. Speaking in general terms, this expressed itself in personal interest being placed higher than the collective one, and from this two consequences arose inertia and dissension. In different regions this feature manifested itself in different ways according to the local circumstances.

In Western Europe the economy grew rapidly and there were the means to maintain the surplus military who, until the early thirteenth century, had been sent packing to the land overseas (Palestine) In the thirteenth century knights and townsmen were involved in the wars of Guelphs and Ghibellines, princes and towns, of knights and condottieri with one another and between themselves not for the sake of elevated though illusory principles, but for personal gain. Forces, enormous for the time, counterbalanced one another within the system or construction itself, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Latin Empire were then lost, deprived of support from the centre. The competition of Epirus and Nicaea, the splitting off of Trabzon, the egoistic policy of the Serbs and Bulgars restrained even the victory of the Byzantines. All of them were united by hatred for the Frankish aggressors, yet the war dragged out for more than half a century because each one wanted to benefit at the others` expense and so hindered achieving their common aim. The situation in Rus` was no better The author of the Lay of Igor's

{372} Host depicted it laconically and aptly: "Anguish spread over the Russian land; abundant sadness flowed through the Russian land. And the princes themselves brought dissension on themselves, and the pagans themselves with their victories raced into the Russian land ..." [+90] And it is true that had there been no mutual dissension, there would have been no Tatars in Vladimir, Germans in Yur'ev or Lithuanians in Polotsk! But it is impossible to persuade anyone to sacrifice himself for his country. People either do this or do not. In thirteenth-century Rus` according to the same Lay of Igor's Host, inertia (the egoism of laziness and indifference) was added to dissension (the egoism of advantage), and these disappeared only towards the end of the fourteenth century. Then Russia, reborn like a phoenix in place of Rus` that had perished, rapidly took an upturn.

The same thing took place in the Near East where the Sunni, Shi'ites, Qarmatians and Ismailites, as well as the Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Persians had so weakened one another by mutual war that the small army of Chormagan and Hulegu seized Iran and Iraq without great effort. It was not the local inhabitants who halted the Mongols, but Baybars` Mamluks; the Kipchak bought in the Crimean slave markets, i.e. the same steppe dwellers as the Mongols themselves.

In China about eighty million industrious and well-to-do people lived, and about a million poor nomads in the eastern Mongol ulus. It is evident that without the deep internal disintegration of China, the causes of which were mentioned above, the Mongols would not have been able to achieve complete victory. The conquered were no less responsible for this than the conquerors.

The brutality of the victorious Mongols was, of course, terrible, but no less terrible were the bestialities of the Jurchen in China, the Seljuks in Armenia, the Crusaders in the Baltic and in Byzantium. Such were the times.

It is of interest to note that all four wars listed and a fifth, the war against Southern China begun in 1237, i.e. ten years after Chinggis-khan's death, were from the point of view of the Mongols themselves blood vengeance, since in the thirteenth century the demoralised feudal lords were accustomed to kill emissaries and this seemed to the artless Mongols to be monstrous treachery. It was the killing of emissaries which served as the excuse for the offensive {373} against the Chinese Song Empire which fell by 1280. For the first time, the whole of China had been conquered by foreigners.

Despite the fact that the Mongol dynasty had taken the Chinese name Yuan, used the Chinese language in administering the many millions inhabiting the regions south of the Great Steppe, and even continued certain traditions of Chinese external policy (the aspiration to conquer Indochina which had begun in the Qin period, i.e. in the third century B.C.), the Mongols did not fuse with the Chinese and failed to form a single people. They were separated not only by the blood shed in battle, but also by a deep ethnic and psychic difference, an active unwillingness to become similar to one another.

In the perspective we are concerned with, we should place the Mongol Yuan Empire in a line with the Jurchen Qin and the Toba Wei. Even the causes and nature of their fall are similar, which indicates a historical pattern. The Mongol monarchs were obliged to maintain large military forces in China to keep order there, and since these forces consisted of Mongols, Kipchak, Alans and even Russians, constant military service was a heavy burden on these peoples. The greater part of the male population of Mongolia served for life in garrisons established in China. As a result, a movement of population to the south took place and the northern regions of Mongolia became deserted. This completely unavoidable process coincided with penetration by Russians into the Far East. [+91] Ancient Rus`, contiguous with the Golden Horde, successfully achieved mutual understanding and the establishment of frontiers by a series of treaties equally beneficial to both sides: the Mongols left the Russians the forest areas they did not need, the Russians agreed to provide the Mongol army with volunteers who did not get on with the princes of the house of Rurik and preferred a military career in the forces led by the baskaks. There the road was open to wealth and rank.

Tanmachi or baskaks were officers of the Mongol army who were commissioned to enlist men in the conquered country, to form a detachment and fulfil the orders of the commanders. [+92] Obviously, the Mongol officer took only volunteers because he was alone with his soldiers and, in the opposite case, would immediately have been {374} killed. The Mongols knew how to bind those who had voluntarily submitted to themselves. Marco Polo explains it thus: " ... the people seeing that the rule is good and the king gracious willingly went to him". [+93] Perhaps for this, perhaps for other reasons, the Mongols found enough people to complement their army in all regions of their ulus. Berke-khan sent Russian soldiers to Kubilai's forces [+94] but, of course, prior to their split in 1260. The exchange of subjects for war service between sections of the Mongol empire also took place in the fourteenth century. Ozbeg, khan of the Golden Horde, as a Chinggisid, had large land holdings in China from which he drew income. But then he supplied soldiers from his ulus, Russians and Yasy (Osetians), for the imperial guard in Beijing. The "Guard regiment of Russians famed for its fidelity" [+95] was formed there in 1330. The regiment was stationed north of Beijing and in peacetime the military colonists supplied the emperor's table with game and fish. [+96] The corps, called the "As force" in China, was distinguished by its skill in riding and archery and defended the Yuan dynasty from Chinese rebels in 1350, [+97] after which it is not mentioned. It seems the remnants of the Russians mixed with the eastern Mongols and dissolved into them.

But who were those Russians who simply left their native land and went to serve the conquerors? It would seem, given the town assembly (veche) system of the northern towns and the constant intake into the retinues in the southern principalities, that every energetic youth would find himself a place in life. So it was, but not quite! Both in the towns and in the princes` estates gold-domed Orthodox churches stood. Priests and monks strictly saw to it that those granted the prince's trust did not participate in ritual games, did not sacrifice to the wood spirits and did not engage in witchcraft. Apart from that, they took account of attendance at services and observance of church rituals so that the actual pagan, only reckoned to be baptised, could not rely on moving up the ladder of service either with the prince or in the town.

But the Mongols were not concerned about one's confession of {375} faith, except, of course, when someone of another faith took part in politics which were controlled by communities which had formed in the Great Steppe. There there were Nestorians, Buddhists, Muslims, but the Orthodox-Russians, Osetians. baptised Polo vtsy - were obliged to stick to the khan who fed and defended them. Therefore, they increased the extraterritorial army of Kubilai and his heirs, conquered Southern China, Burma and Annam for them, heroically, though unsuccessfully, fought in Japan and Java and ensured the victory of the house of Yuan in the civil war against the Nestorian Mongol princes Arik-Boke and Nayan. [+98] Probably, among tropical jungles they recalled their native birch groves and steppes covered with fragrant wormwood, but return to their homeland was difficult, long and, the main thing, without promise. A distant land had swallowed up the newcomers and this freed the hands of the bishops, abbots and princes who had avoided potential and still more terrible competitors.

Yet the Mongol and German incursions into the Russian lands (1231-42) had shown that the princes" retinues and town levies were inadequate to defend Orthodoxy. Of course, the talented {376} commanders Aleksandr Nevskii and Daniil of Galich several times severely defeated the Catholic knights, but one has to win wars, not battles. But then historical fate came to the aid of Rus`.

The Nestorian party in East Asia suffered a final defeat and its members could not count on the mercy of their furious enemy. They had to save themselves! But where? Beyond the border they were hated as Mongols, in Buddhist and Muslim regions as Christians, in Mongolia itself as rebels. It was possible to hide from the khan's anger only among those of the same faith within their state. That means in Rus`! They only had to avoid saying that they were not Orthodox. No one would try to drag it out of them. So the departure for Rus` of Tatar heroes began, men who from childhood had learnt to shoot at full gallop from a taut longbow and to hack aslant from shoulder to waist with a light sabre.

Such specialists in military affairs were a godsend for the princes and the church. They were welcomed with open arms, married fine ladies and were immediately given posts in the forces. A Tatar reaching Moscow in winter was granted a fur coat, if he arrived in summer a princely title. One could trust them without worry. Their retreat was cut off, especially after 1312 when Ozbeg introduced Islam into the Golden Horde and executed all those refusing to betray the faith of their fathers. No contacts could arise between the newcomers and popular movements. The West was to them as alien as China had been in Asia.

And the Golden Horde? It began to grow weak, for it had sent from its orbit its best fighters and loyal subjects. Ozbeg, in accepting Islam, converted his headquarters into a capital of merchants and began to rely on the population of the Volga towns to whom the name "Tatar" was attached. The steppe dwellers in the east began to be called Kazakhs, and those in the west Nogai. Both, by the very force of circumstances, were in opposition to the central government which changed from a khanate into a commonplace Muslim sultanate. The inertia of former greatness helped the energetic rulers Ozbeg and Janibeg maintain the system for a certain time, but in 1357 Janibeg perished at the hands of his own son, Berdibeg, and the "great revolution" began, a rapid leapfrogging of khans elevated to the throne and thereupon killed which resulted in the temnik Mamai, not a Chinggisid, becoming the actual head of the Golden Horde. He headed the western uluses.

Mamai was an intelligent politician. He understood that without {377} allies and a rear it was impossible to create a firm situation. The Chinggisids and their supporters were his natural enemies, but the Orthodox church which headed Russian social opinion in the fourteenth century stood on the side of the overthrown but legal dynasty. In the Crimea the Genoese needed Mamai's friendship for unhindered trade in Eastern Europe. They had money, and behind them stood the growing might of Catholic Western Europe. Mamai changed the traditional policy of the Horde in protecting the Russian lands from the advance of Catholicism and concluded an alliance with the Lithuanian prince Jagailo and the Genoese in the Crimea. Dmitrii Donskoi's victory at the battle of Kulikovo, unexpected by the whole world, delayed the Lithuanians" decisive offensive against Moscow; and Edigei's victory over Vitovt on the Vorskla in 1399 confirmed the success. It enabled the Moscow princes to mount a counter-offensive against the threat from the west which was much more dangerous than the clashes with the Volga and Don nomads, who had finally lost any trace of unity.

Of course, relations between Russians and Turks in the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries were not unclouded, but this was unavoidable in a period of feudal dismemberment. Did inter-princely strife, for example, the enmity between Moscow and Tver", really produce less harm than the quarrels with the steppe tribes, for example, the Nogais and the Tatars of the Horde? These were, however, disagreements within a single system, a single culture, a single country. And had it been otherwise, would Russian travellers really have been able to pass with their insignificant forces across the enormous expanse of Siberia and the Far East?

A Few Words to the Reader

Now, probably, the attentive reader regards the book and its author with astonishment. Well, who behaves like that, putting forward a well thought out construction as an aphorism? It's simply uneconomic! Would not it be better to write three monographs instead of three "attempts", to supply them with an apparatus of references, notes, tables and to crown oneself with the laurels of bibliographic erudition? And the main thing, now that the guiding thought has been formulated, is that one only needs a little assiduity and blank paper.

True, but then the basic idea for the sake of which this small book {378} has been written would be lost. The author has striven to show that understanding events and accumulating them are different things. The moment of enlightenment does not precede studying the problem and does not crown it, but lies somewhere in the middle, a bit nearer the beginning. If no sparks have been struck between the scholar and his material, there can be no synthesis. Searches in the proper sense of the word start later, for it is only worthwhile searching when you know what you are looking for. Usually the creative factor is concealed - it is much quieter so, and the author leads the reader from the known to the unknown new matter by a selection of quotations from ancient sources and a strictly logical argument. This is the way I, too, have proceeded till now; but this time, as I finished my "steppe trilogy", I wanted to disclose the "trade secret", because in this book more attention has been given, not to a legendary kingdom that never existed, but to the means of understanding a fine branch of knowledge - history.


[+75] See Doklady otdelenii i komissii Geograficheskogo obshchestva SSSR, fasc 3, Etnografiya, L., 1967.

[+76] L.N. Gumilev, "Etnos i landshaft".

[+77] Yu.K. Efremov, "Landshaftnaya sfera nashei planety".

[+78] V.I. Vernadskii, Khimicheskoe stroenie biosfery zemli i ee okruzheniya. On the application of Vernadskii's ideas to historical geography, see L.N. Gumilev, "Khazariya i Terek".

[+79] L.N. Gumilev, "New data on the History of the Khazars", 61-103.

[+80] L.N. Gumilev, "Les fluctuations", 331-6.

[+81] L.N. Gumilev, "Istoki ritma kochevoi kul'tury", 85-94.

[+82] A.G. Gael`, L.N. Gumilev, "Raznovozrastnye pochvy", 11-20.

[+83] V.I. Vernadskii, "Biosfera", 19.

[+84] See Usama ibn Munkyz, Kniga nozidaniya, 208f.

[+85] L.N. Gumilev, Khunnu, 136.

[+86] N.V. Pigulevskaya, Istoriya mar Yabalakhi III i rabban Saumy, 89-93.

[+87] Vol. 36, 386-9; vol. 70, 272-3.

[+88] Pamyatniki drevnerusskogo kanonicheskogo prava, part 1, Russkaya istoricheskaya biblioteka, VI, No. 12, SPb., 1908; A.N. Nasonov, Mongoly i Rus`, 136.

[+89] In the study of history the subjunctive is considered inadmissible, and this limits its ability to ascertain facts It is generally accepted in the natural sciences, since causes are explained by their consequences For example, if no processes of decomposition had taken place in the sun, it would have cooled over so-and-so many years Ethnology is a natural science and, so, there is no shame in our using a method accepted in all the natural sciences.

[+90] "Slovo o polku Igoreve", 18.

[+91] Rubruk mentions a Russian craftsman in Karakorum (Puteshestvie v vostochnye strany Piano Karpini i Rubruka, 143).

[+92] A.N. Nasonov, Mongoly i Rus`, 16-17.

[+93] Kniga Marko Polo, 85.

[+94] G.V. Vernadskii, Nachertanie russkoi istorii, 82.

[+95] Xuan zhong wuluosi hu wei qin juan. See G.V. Vernadsku, Opyt istorii Evrazii, 96.

[+96] G. Vernadsky, The Mongols and Russia, 123.

[+97] Shan Yue, Ocherki istorii Kitaya, 348.

[+98] John of Marignolli, legate of Pope Benedict XII, met these people in the Yuan empire when he was in Khanbalik from 1342 to 1346 With khan Tokalmut (Chinese Shun-di) He was the last papal emissary who crossed the Gobi in those times and visited the last "Great Kaan", who received him very kindly Marignolli writes that "the Alans rule the eastern lands of the empire [and there were more than thirty thousand of these Alans - L.G.], Christians, both true [Catholics - L.G.] and only nominally so [Orthodox and Nestorians - L.G.], and they call themselves slaves of the pope and are ready to give their lives for the Franks" (Ya in Svet, Posle Marko Polo, in , 1968, 196) Yet they refused to lay down their lives for their khan and on encountering the forces of the Chinese rebels in 1351 they turned the rear Evidently life in a strange land surrounded by hostile native inhabitants did not have a favourable influence on their military prowess But this change in their ethnic character and the stereotype of their conduct could not arise merely as a result of circumstances. We know many isolated ethni who remained stable even in less favourable conditions But here the split among the "Alans" themselves, which was effected by Montecorvino's activities must have weakened their resistance to the influence of their environment R. Khennig (Nevedomye zemli, in, 232) shows unconcealed lack of respect of Marignolli's information He notes that the latter chatters a lot about minor matters, but leaves out what is important But it is this lack of critical perception by the papal legate that is useful for us, since his naive bias cannot contuse the contemporary historian Even the scant information he gives us about the Christians in the Yuan empire shows that it was the stab in the back by Montecorvino which had deprived the Far Eastern Christian community of viability and made it defenceless before Buddhism and Islam which, at the end of the fourteenth century, divided the Nestorian inheritance.


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