FROM A BYZANTINE PERSPECTIVE, ANALYSE THE STRATEGIC, POLITICAL, RELIGIOUS AND ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS OF THE MONGOL ALLIANCE. Arguably one of the most extraordinary events in history, the creation of the Mongol Empire which – by the early C14 – extended from the Balkans and Carpathian mountains to the Pacific Ocean and from the Northern Russian forests to Mesopotamia, profoundly influenced the history of Eastern Europe [Meyendorff, M. 1989. P37]. This essay will investigate the strategic, political and economic aspects behind the Byzantine Empires’ alliance with the Mongols that was formed in 1263 [Sicker, M. 2000. P132] under Michael VIII, and ended when the Horde plotted to attack Constantinople in 1341 [Jackson, P. 2005. P203]. Firstly, the investigation will examine factors including tributes between the two nations, discussing both examples and why tribute was a necessary ritual. The second part of the discussion will focus upon religious aspects of the alliance, the significance the alliance had on Byzantine policy towards Russian lands, and just what trading opportunities evolved from the union.
After re-establishing Imperial Byzantine rule, Michael VIII Palaiologos was keen to consolidate favourable relations with the Golden Horde and the Ilkhanate. The Ilkhanate was the Mongol Khanate established in Persia in the C13 and was considered a part of the Mongol Empire. During the alliance, much tribute was exchanged between the two nations, as well as military aid and collaboration, and marriage ties. In terms of gifts, Cutler’s ‘Gifts and Gift Exchange as Aspects of the Byzantine, Arab, and Related Economies, P257’ explores how the Mongols ‘were ready to propose grand designs that could come about if triggered by the right gifts’. Indeed, the Mongols had a reputation for coercing tribute and gifts from conquered subjects, as well as neighbouring lands they threatened to invade. For instance, in 1289, when Ilkhan Arghun proposed an alliance to Philip the Fair, Ilkhan promised to deliver Jerusalem in return for rare gifts – like precious stones and falcons – from the lands of the Franks [Cutler, A. 2001. P257].
It was therefore not surprising to see the Byzantines subject to the same treatment. For the Byzantines, situated as they were on the border with the Mongol Dominions of modern day Turkey (then the Seljuk Turks), presenting gifts unto the Mongols was a means of effectively ‘buying’ peace with their warmongering neighbours [Cutler, A. 2001. P256]. Marriage also played a part in tribute. For example, in 1263 – in order to put an end to conflict between the Mongols and Byzantines – Michael VIII offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to Nogai Khan, while also signing a treaty with Berke of the Golden Horde. Tribute still followed after the treaty, in the form of expensive fabrics and jewels – and it was from this time onwards that the Byzantine court maintained a favourable alliance with both the Golden Horde and the Ilkhantate. This practice of securing allegiance via marital ties was to manifest itself many other times in the future.
It is also certainly worth investigating the religious implications that ensued with the Byzantine-Mongol alliance. With the news of the death of Mangu Khan (or Mongke), Hulagu was forced to abandon his aggressive plans involving the capturing of Jerusalem to the South. The Mongols themselves in this area of their Empire were mostly Nestorian Christians. As French historian Grousset comments: ‘Hulagu led the Nestorian Turks of Central Asia on a real ‘yellow crusade’ against Islam’ [Grousset, R. P100]. Perhaps, as Jean Richard sees it, the Eighth Crusade under Louis IX would have met with success with the reoccupation of the Holy Land if it had been supported militarily by the Byzantine-Mongol alliance [Richard, J. 1999. P424]. Certainly, it could be argued that the Byzantine-Mongol alliance was seen by other nations as a ‘stepping stone’ or a ‘foothold’ into the Holy Land....
References: Sicker, M. The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquests to the Siege of Vienna. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. P132, 133
Vasiliev, A. History of the Byzantine Empire, 1958. Volume 2. Illustrated. University of Wisconsin Press. P600
Richard, J. The Crusades 1071-1291. 1999. Cambridge University Press. Illustrated. P424
Browning, R. The Byzantine Empire. 1992. 2nd ed. Revised, Illustrated. CUA Press. P259, 260.
Meyendorff, J. Byzantium and the rise of Russia: a study of Byzantino-Russian relations in the fourteenth century. 1989. St Vladimir 's Seminary Press. Reprint, Illustrated. PP36, 37, 48-49, 158
Jackson, Peter. The Mongols and the West, 1221-1410. Pearson Longman, 2005, P203, 361
Saunders, J. The History of the Mongol Conquests. 2001. University of Pennsylvania Press. Illustrated.
Meyendorff, J. Byzantium and the rise of Russia: a study of Byzantino-Russian relations in the fourteenth century. 1989. St Vladimir 's Seminary Press. Reprint, Illustrated.
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