Bryn Hammond's Reviews > Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire: A Cultural History of Islamic Textiles

Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire by Thomas T. Allsen
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Dec 22, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: steppe-history, website-widget

"Is the image of Mongols draped in gilded cloth that would gladden the heart of a Liberace really true?" - from the introduction. I like a scholar with a sense of humour.

Not only on exchange mechanisms, but the politics of clothes, the cultural ways Mongols used and understood clothes. Both felt from home and luxury textiles from abroad. A steppe chief's duty to distribute, to "feed and clothe". What garments meant to the Mongols: intimate gifts, straight off the back of the giver; traditional grants and spontaneous gestures; textiles as a lightweight wealth that fit into a nomad lifestyle. The symbolism of gold -- cosmological and ideological -- that made them love gold brocade; and the answer to the above question is, yes...

What's new in this book? Although the nomads' part in cultural transmission along the Silk Road has been recognised, Allsen believes their input hasn't: their own cultural traditions that led them to pick and choose, lend a weight of significance to certain commodities -- textiles, as the first example, so that these were what travelled. Islamic textiles, because the cultural worlds of the steppe and of Iran had much more of values in common or in sympathy, more coincidence of lifestyle, than the steppe and China. In the Mongols' case, the story is less about Chinese silk that travelled west than about Islamic luxury stuffs and craftmanship brought east. This is the place to read about transported artisans, on whose lives he collects what detail he can.
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