Mobility, Empire and Cross Cultural Contacts in Mongol Eurasia

Ishayahu Landa

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Ishayahu Landa

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem / University of Bonn (since 2019)
Department of Asian Studies

Currently a faculty member of the University of Bonn (Department of Sinology). Starting with October 2019 working on his new project on the Great Chinggisid Crisis of the Mid-14 Century. The project is funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG).

ORCID ID: 0000-0001-5342-9175

Personal PhD Project: Imperial Sons-in-law in the Mongol Empire (13th -14th centuries) [written under the supervision of Prof. M. Biran, completed May 2019].

The imperial sons-in-laws of the Chinggisid clan (Mon. güregens) constituted one of the most important political and social institutions of the Mongol Empire. The importance of the güregens derived mainly from them holding key roles in the Mongol army and administration and creating a middle tier between the Chinggisids themselves and the "regular" commanders throughout the whole Mongol Eurasia. They were composed mainly of former tribal leaders, who often retained their tribal connections longer than other members of the Chinggisid elites, as well as subject rulers or their families (from Uighuria, Korea, Iran, Georgia etc.). I analyzed the matrimonial connections between the Golden Lineage, that of Chinggis Khan and his heirs, and other tribal and political groups, which constituted the multi-leveled networks of power and loyalty of Mongol Eurasia and served in their complexity as one of the main foundations of the Chinggisid rule. The research covered the history of the development of this institution both in the United Mongol Empire (1206-1260) and in the four successor Khanates (the Ilkhanate, the Chaghadaid Khanate, the Golden Horde and the Yuan dynasty), documenting the backgrounds of the various Chinggisidsʾ “in-laws” as well as their functions during the period of the 12th until the 14th centuries in those areas. I elucidated the objectives of marriage alliances, gender roles, as well as the comparative power of different loyalties – tribal, family, personal, and political – in Mongol Eurasia. This, in turn, provided the opportunity for a more in-depth understanding of the distribution of power under the Mongol rule. The research is of importance not only for the analysis of the successful pages of the Mongol conquests and rule, but also for the stages of their decline. In-laws, mostly military commanders, both Mongols and non-Mongols, played a decisive role in the crisis of the mid-14th century, which shook all of the Mongol states and led to the collapse of the Ilkhanate and Yuan China and to a severe crisis in the Steppe khanates. The research therefore presented a suitable platform for comparing how each of the four khanates handled the challenges of the mid-14th century. At the same time, it also opened up new perspectives for the research of post-Mongol Eurasia, as the in-laws were often the Chinggisid successors ‒ the most famous example is that of Tamerlane (r. 1370-1405 in Central Asia). Those “in-law dynasties” used their relation to the Golden lineage for extending their legitimacy, thereby manipulating and undermining the Chinggisid principle according to which only descendants of the Chinggisid family are entitled to be khans (the Oyirads since the Ming being a notable and surprising exception). An in-depth research of the matrimonial networks of the Mongol states clarified therefore the historical roots of the later political developments, the long-term influences of which can still be traced in today’s Central Asia. Last but not least, this project layed the basis for a research project on Chinggisid women, their statuses and roles in the history of the respective political entities (Oyirad Orghina Khatun of the Chaghadaid Khanate and Hajji Khatun of the Ilkhanate serving as examples). My MA research on the migration of the Oyirad tribe and its matrimonial connections with the Golden Lineage served as a case study for the broader analysis of the “güregen” institution in the Mongol Empire.

MA thesis: “Eurasian Migrations and Nomadic Identity: The Oyirad Tribe in the 13th-14th Centuries” (written under the supervision of Prof. M. Biran, completed 2013)

One of the more intriguing aspects of the Chinggisid conquest is the revolution it brought to the tribal world of Mongolia. Common wisdom says that Chinggis Khan reorganized Mongolia's tribal society in decimal military units thereby breaking many of the tribal ties that hitherto underpinned Mongol identity, replacing them with personal loyalty to the army commander and Chinggis himself. That said, a few of these groups held on to a semblance of their old identity throughout the Mongol period, and many of them re-tribalized when the Mongol empire began to teeter in the mid-1300s. Originally a forest tribe from north-western Mongolia, the Oirats (later known as the Zunghars or Qalmuqs) not only survived the imperial dispersion, but managed to become the Chinggisids‘ arch rivals in post-Yuan Mongolia. Against this backdrop, my thesis charted the migrations of the Oirat people: it followed the biographies of the Oirat people in the 13th and 14th centuries, in the United Empire, the four Mongol khanates and beyond, including the Oirat migration to Mamluk Egypt in the 1290s. It analysed Oirats' career patterns and illuminated the circumstances that enabled them to retain or reconstruct their tribal identity throughout the upheavals of the Mongol period.


Chinese modern and imperial history, Mongol history and etnography, Central Asian history, medieval history of the Islamic Western Asia, islamic theology, tribal genealogy of the Mongols, Caucasian (Armenian and Georgian) and Russian historiography of the Mongol period, Chinese calligraphy.


2014 - 2019: PhD Studies. Topic of the dissertation: "Imperial Sons-in-law in the Mongol Empire (13th-14th centuries)" (Department of Asian Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem). PhD awarded in May 2019, official ceremony - June 2019.

2016: Summer School in Chinese Digital Humanities, Leiden University, 6-9 July (led by Prof. Hilde De Weerdt).

2010 – 2013: MA Degree in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. Academic curator – Prof. Michal Biran. Title of the MA thesis: “Eurasian Migrations and Nomadic Identity: The Oirat Tribe in the 13th-14th Centuries”. Graduated with Honors.

2011 - 2012: A year of Chinese language study in the Beijing Language and Culture University 北京语言大学 (sponsored by the CRC – Chinese Research Council – of the People Republic of China).

2007 - 2010: BA Degree in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and Eastern Asia Studies, Chinese Department (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem). Graduated with Honors.


Papers in academic journals

1. "Stone Epigraphy in the Service of Chinggisid Imperial Culture: Geography, Patterns and Limits of Use," Central Asiatic Journal 65 (2022), pp. 1-42.

2. "'Loyal and Martial' until the End: The Qonggirad Princes of Lu (鲁王) in the Yuan Political Architecture," Monumenta Serica 68:1 (June 2020), pp. 137-167.

3. "Reconsidering the Chinggisid Sons-in-law: Lessons from the United Empire," Chronica 18 (2018), pp. 212-225.

4. "From Mongolia to Khwarazm: The Qonggirad Migrations in the Jochid Ulus (13c.-15c.)," Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée 143 (October 2018), pp. 215-231.

5. "Türaqai Güregen (d. 1296-7) and His Lineage: History of a Cross-Asia Journey," Asiatische Studien - Études Asiatiques 71:4 (Nov., 2017), pp. 1189-1211.

6. "New Light on Early Mongol Islamization: The Case of Arghun Aqa’s Family," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series 28:1 (2018), pp. 77-100.

7. “Imperial Sons-in-law on the Move: Oyirad and Qonggirad Dispersion in Mongol Eurasia,” Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi, 22 (2016), pp. 161-198.

8. "Oirats in the Ilkhanate and the Mamluk Sultanate in the Thirteenth to the Early Fifteenth Centuries: Two Cases of Assimilation into the Muslim Environment," Mamluk Studies Review, 19, 2016, pp. 149-191.

Chapters in collections

9. „The Islamization of the Mongols“, in Timothy M. May und Michael Hope (Hg.), The Mongol World (Routledge, May 2022), S. 642-661.

10. „The Strategic Communication between the Yuan Imperial Capitals and the Northern Macro-Regions: The Fragile Stability of the Empire“, in: Jan Bemmann, Dittmar Dahlmann, Detlev Taranczewski (Hg.), Core, Periphery, Frontier – Spatial Patterns of Power (Bonn: Bonn University Press, 2021), S. 187-258. DOI: 10.14220/9783737012386.187.

Reviews, Encyclopedia entries and Shorter Publications

11. "Manghīt tribal groups", Encyclopaedia of Islam THREE (2020-02), DOI: 10.1163/1573-3912_ei3_COM_36162.

12. „Some General Remarks of Classical Chinese in Israel“, in: Li Wen und Ralph Kauz (Hg.), Teaching Classical Chinese. Zum Unterricht des Klassischen Chinesischen. 文言文教学學 [ORIENTIERUNGEN, Themenband 2019] (Gossenberg: Ostasien Verlag, 2021), S. 17-31.

13. „Ögödei“, Encyclopaedia of Islam THREE (2022-06). DOI: 10.1163/1573-3912_ei3_COM_45988.

14. Review: „Thomas O. Höllmann, China und die Seidenstraße. Kultur und Geschichte von der frühen Kaiserzeit bis zur Gegenwart. München, Beck 2022. 454 S., 80 Abb., € 34,–.“ in: Historische Zeitschrift 315:3 (2022), S. 605-607.

15. Review: „Márton Vér, Old Uyghur Documents Concerning the Postal System of the Mongol Empire (Berliner Turfantexte XLIII). 263 pp. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2019. ISBN: 978-2-503-58417-1. EUR 55,00 excl. tax.“, in: Zentralasiatische Studien 48 (2020), S. 505-508.

16. Review: „Bettine Birge. Marriage and the Law in the Age of Khubilai Khan: Cases from the Yuan dianzhang“, in: ORIENTIERUNGEN: Zeitschrift zur Kultur Asiens 30 (2018), S. 270-275.


„Pandemische Phänomene und die Stabilität der Herrschaft: Der Fall des mongolischen Eurasien des 14. Jh.“, 34. Deutscher Orientalistentag, Berlin, 12.-17.09.2022.

„Weather, Hunger, and the Resilience of an Empire: Some Thoughts on the Last Decades of the Yuan Dynasty“, 24th Biennial Conference of the European Association for Chinese Studies (EACS), Olomouc, 24-27. März 2022.

„Multilingualism and Multiscriptism in Mongol Eurasia’s Numismatics“, Mixing Languages and Scripts: Material from Manuscripts and Inscriptions, CSMC Hamburg, 19-21. Mai 2022.

“When the Chinggisids Were (Almost) No More: The Yuan Military during the 14th-Century Crisis”, 2022 Annual Conference of the AAS, Honolulu, 24-27. März 2022.

“Chinggisid Coinage in Mongol Eurasia,” Multilateral Dynamics between the Mid-dle East and Asia in the Mongol Era, Jerusalem, 15. Dezember 2019.

“The ‘Global North’ of the Eurasian Steppe in the Aftermath of the “Mongol Moment”: A Reassessment of the Geopolitical, Ethnical and Religious Developments,” Nomads and Their Neighbours in the Middle Ages: 8th International Conference on Medieval History of the Eurasian Steppe (MeN), Sofia, November 20-23, 2019.

“The Strategic Communication between the Yuan Imperial Capitals and the Regional Powers at the Empire’s Northern Frontiers,” “Core, Periphery, Frontier – Spatial Pat-terns of Power,” International Conference of the SFB 1167 “Macht and Herrschaft – Premodern Configurations in a Transcultural Perspective”, Bonn, March 28-30, 2019.

“Between Loyalty, Chinggisid Principle and Self-Aggrandisement: Regional Jochid Elites in “The Times of Troubles” (1359-1390),” 2019 Annual Conference of the AAS, Denver, March 21-24, 2019.

"The Nestorian Guardians of the Yuan Borders: Recollecting the History of the Önggüd Princes of Zhao," 22nd Biennial Conference of the European Association for Chinese Studies (EACS), Glasgow, August 29 - September 1, 2018.

"'Uniting “the People of Nine Tongues': Stone, Paper and Metal Usage in the Service of the Mongol Imperial Culture," 声と文字とをデザインする ――コミュニケーション帝国としてのモンゴル ―― Designing Voices and Letters: The Mongols as an Empire of Communication, International Symposium at the Chuo University, Tokyo, July 1-2, 2018.

"Transcontinental Migrations in the Mongol Age and the Transformation of the Eurasian Ethnic Landscape as a Case Study in the field of Global History," The Twenty-Second Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ), International Christian University, Tokyo, June 30–July 1, 2018.

“Filial to the Dynasty and to Buddha: Buddhist, Confucian, and Tribal Elements in the Identity Formation of the Yuan Qonggirad In-laws in the Sino-Steppe Border Zone,” The 14th Biennial Conference of Asian Studies in Israel, Jerusalem, May 23-24, 2018.

“The New Tribal Military Elites in the Service of the Yuan: The Qipchaq Case,” Migrations in Mongol Eurasia: People, Ideas, Artefacts, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, December 18-20, 2017. On this conference I also organised a separate panel “Marriages and Marriage Policies in Chinggisid Eurasia: Patterns and Frameworks”.

"Genealogy between History and Text: The Digital Humanities’ Quest in Researching Multi-Generational Chinggisid Intermarriages in Mongol Eurasia", 8th International Conference of Digital Archives and Digital Humanities 第八屆數位典藏與數位人文國際研討會 (DADH 2017), Taipei, November 29 - December 1, 2017.

"Loyal and Martial” until the End: The Forgotten History of the Yuan Princes of Lu", Second Conference on Middle Period Chinese Humanities, Leiden, September 14-17, 2017.

"Reconsidering the Chinggisids' Sons-in-law: Lessons from the United Empire", Sixth International Conference on the Medieval History of the Eurasian Steppe, Szeged, Hungary, November 23-25, 2016.

"Serving two Khans: Oyirads between Qubilai Khan and Arigh Böke", Asia in Motion: Horizons of Hope (AAS-in-Asia 2016); Doshisha University, Kyoto, 24-27 June, 2016.

"Staying Loyal to the Losing Party: Some New Remarks Concerning the Oyirad Tribe in the Yuan and post-Yuan Realms", The 13th Biennial Conference of Asian Studies in Israel, Tel Hai, 18-19 Mai, 2016.

"Oyirads in the Ilkhanate and the Mamluk Sultanate in the 14th Century: Two Patterns of Assimilation into the Muslim Environment", Second Conference of the School of Mamluk Studies, Liège University, 25-28 June, 2015.

"Imperial Sons-in-law on the Move: Oyirad and Qunqirat Dispersion in Mongol Eurasia", Asia in Motion: Ideas, Institutions, Identities (AAS-in-Asia 2015); Academia Sinica (Taipei), 22-24 June, 2015.

"Early Mongol Islamisation in Khurasan: The case of Arghun Aqa's Family", The Second Biennial Simposia Iranica, Cambridge University, 8-9 April 2015.

"Tribal Identity and Tribal Migration in Mongol Eurasia: the Oyirad Case", WOCMES 2014, Ankara, 18-22 August, 2014.

"The Oirats in the Ilkhanid State: Vicissitudes of the Destiny of the Tribe through the Lenses of the Prosopographic Research”, The Annual 37th Conference of The Middle East and Islamic Studies Association of Israel, Tel-Aviv University, June 6, 2013.

Membership in the scientific associations

Association for Asian Studies (AAS)

European Association of Chinese Studies (EACS)

Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (DMG)

Royal Asiatic Society (RAS)