Bryn Hammond's Reviews > The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens by Jack Weatherford
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Jan 10, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: steppe-history, website-widget

This is, or has, both speculative history and history told as story--as per his first on the Mongols, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Perhaps I found more quibbles with this one. For instance, his dissolute Ogodei doesn't square with the kindly drunk portrayed in Juvaini Genghis Khan: The History Of The World Conqueror--on which grounds and similar, I thought the good/evil contrast between Genghis' daughters and his sons too strongly put. Nor did I believe the 'war on women' concept. It's true that Mongols' foreign wives, from tribes and peoples who had once been conquests, were soon left with the government to themselves. Did they believe in Mongol values, Genghis' values? It seems they contributed to what quickly became a brawl for family power, Genghis' innovations forgotten. This gist of the story I go along with, but again and again I felt 'too strongly put' or I scrawled a question mark next to the text.

I thought the book too much about queens... true, 'Queens' is the title. But had we seen them against a background of ordinary Mongol women, had women's status been examined, then they wouldn't have stood out as so exceptional, and I think the 'war on women' idea might fall apart. Why? The 13th century was an age of queens, not just at Kara Korum but in Mongol-occupied or Mongol-allied territories--because steppe values spilt over, more so than they ever had. Before the 13th century, Liao and Western Liao had a history of queens in charge, upon which the Mongols drew, and even women in politics in settled states, Tangut and traditional Song China, seemed to say, 'If she can in Liao, I can.' Given this, I don't understand where an anti-woman attitude came from. I need that explained. It isn't like it was there before--before the innovations of Genghis--to rear its ugly head again when he was gone. If there was a mother-son tug of power, I've read about a pattern in Tangut and in Liao, where widows, left in charge, do not want to hand on to sons once they come of age and the battle's on, that mothers often won (these were part-steppe societies in the couple of centuries before the Mongols).

Still, this is a massively valuable book, just like his other, since Mongol queens weren't talked about in the streets before Jack Weatherford.

For a book that looks at women in steppe societies, and has more on the lives of ordinary women (as much evidence as can be scraped together) and women of power in the lead-up to the Mongols, see: Women of the Conquest Dynasties: Gender and Identity in Liao and Jin China. A book on Western Liao, The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, tells of further innovations, indeed the first women khans. If Genghis tried to institute power for his daughters, these were the examples he had to follow.

I'd better footnote what I say on the spillover of steppe attitudes to women into settled territories: Early Mongol Rule in Thirteenth-Century Iran: A Persian Renaissance displays this in the west.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
January 10, 2012 – Shelved
January 10, 2012 – Shelved as: steppe-history
October 26, 2012 – Shelved as: website-widget

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim Martin Did women in roles such as perhaps shaman have a different status in steppe society or in Mongol or Mongol-influence society, maybe not ordinary women but perhaps (or were they?) women in power?


Bryn Hammond Ordinary women too had a very different time of it in steppe and settled societies. So in Liao "the sexes weren't segregated; girls rode, shot and studied with boys." When they start life this way, everything's different.


message 3: by HBalikov (new)

HBalikov Can you recommend any book on the Khazar steppe society from before the 10th Century?


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