By Curtis Wiemann

Nearly half a century and half a world away from the event of Chinggis Khan’s coronation in 1206 CE, a Persian historian named ada-Malik Juvaini set pen to paper and recorded the conquest of his people at the hands of the armies of the Mongol Empire. The Mongols had fallen upon his nation, the Kwarismian Empire, with a vengeful fury after a Persian governor rashly robbed a Mongol caravan. “They came, they sapped, they burnt, they slew, they plundered, and they departed,” wrote Juvaini. “All that has been written in this chapter is summed up in these words.”[1]

The reach of the Mongol Empire, by the death of the World-Conqueror in 1227 CE, stretched from the frontier of the Eurasian grasslands to the heart of the Islam civilization. While the Temur Frontier and the Mardu Horde represent the Mongol’s spiritual traditions and military practices most prevalent at the center of their empire upon the plains of central Asia, the Abzan Houses more closely represent the extent of their conquered realms, worlds away from the unforgiving steppe. In the Abzan, one can see echoes of Islamic civilization under Mongol rule, as well as long-held Mongol traditions of ancestral veneration.

The Ilkhanate and the Abzan Houses


The Mongol conquests in the Muslim world took place in two waves over a generation. By 1261 CE, the descendents of Chinggis Khan set up a permanent occupation presence in the Persian realm stretching from Baghdad eastwards, thus establishing the Il-Khanate[2] of Hulegu Khan, grandson of the World-Conqueror.

The Ilkhanate was a realm that had much in common with the territory of the Abzan Houses. Like the people throughout the Mongol Empire, the Ilkhans and their Muslim subjects had to contend with a hostile environment which shaped their society. Where the Mardu and Temur depended on a nomadic lifestyle to pursue elusive food resources, the Abzan and Ilkhanate relied upon walled cities and irrigated farmland to feed their people. Water was a precious resource to the people of the desert on Earth and Tarkir alike, but, in the urban centers of Islamic civilization under Mongol rule, hanging gardens and terraced farms gave evidence to the perseverance of their culture amid the hardships of their environment. The Abzan reverence of water and endurance both echo the values of a culture shaped by the desert and tempered by hostility from exterior foes.

Caravans across the Desert

While the Abzan Houses and Mongol Ilkhans might have owed their survival in the desert to walled cities and water control, their prosperity flowed from trade across the trackless wastes. Although the Mongols wrought untold devastation upon the peoples of the Persian kingdom, they introduced perhaps the greatest land trade network known anywhere on Earth. The Abzan Salt Road makes reference to this fabled highway of trade: the Silk Road.

From 1261 CE until the late 14th century, the world from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean answered to a single economic authority – the Golden Clan of Chinggis Khan’s descendants. Once upon a time, merchants like the ill-fated Mongol caravan of 1218 CE, and the equally unfortunate trade clan of Anafenza (, had to rely upon the mercy of various petty rulers and warlords along established trade routes. Now they were free to go about their business under the protection of the greatest military force on Earth.

For Abzan and Mongol caravaneers the secret to success laid not only in mere military might but in patience and provisions. The yasaq law code of Chinggis Khan established a fortified highway connecting their territory from end to end, complete with postal stations and rest stops where merchants and dignitaries could re-provision from their journeys. Marco Polo, upon his visit to Yuan China, remarked that this trade route was “a thing done on the greatest scale of magnificence that ever was seen. Never had emperor, king, or lord, such wealth as this manifests!”[3] Merchants of the Abzan Houses and Ilkhanate states similarly relied upon trade as a source of prosperity and went to great lengths to protect and supply their merchants and armies across the vast and inhospitable territories of their respective realms.

The Clan, the Family, and the Ghosts of the Dead

More than trade routes and cities however, the Abzan share with the Mongol peoples in the Ilkhanate and throughout their Empire a vital importance placed upon the family and a supernatural faith in their loyalty to the clan beyond death. The tradition of kin-trees in the Abzan realm is a practice which would be readily understood by Chinggis’ people. In medieval Mongol tradition the spirits of ancestors continued to inhabit the mantle of their family home, protecting their descendents from harm and granting good fortune to their clan long after death. Visitors to the Mongol Empire found it extremely easy to insult their hosts by stepping upon the threshold of a clan’s home – they risked disturbing the spirits of revered ancestors who dwelt within.

This role could also be more direct in the case of a powerful and charismatic ancestor like Chinggis Khan. After his death in 1227 CE, the World-Conqueror became more than a founding ruler to the Mongol peoples. His word in life became law after death, and his spirit – as well as the Sky Banner of his clan, their representation similar to an Abzan kin-tree – became synonymous with the Empire he founded. In a sense, Chinggis Khan was revered as a common ancestor and protector to all the medieval Mongol peoples, bringing them into one nation where they had known no unity before. For the Mongols and Abzan alike, the sacred importance of the ancestors beyond death reflected a reality about their lives: the family could be trusted and relied upon in times of need. According to legend, Chinggis’ mother took him and his brothers aside after their abandonment on the steppe and showed them a bundle of sticks, snapping them one by one but failing to break them altogether.[4] The lesson for the Abzan and Mongols alike could not be more clear: without one’s family, one could be broken; together with the clan, they were invincible.

[1]    Ada al-Malik Juvaini, The History of the World Conqueror, 107.

[2]    Il-khanate means, essentially, “lesser khanate.” The il- prefix refers to the Persian realm’s obedience to the central Mongol authority of the Yuan Dynasty, ruled by Khubilai Khan. That same il- prefix shows up in a similar context in Magic, too – look at the il-Kor and en-Kor from the old Exodus set!

[3]    Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo, trans. Harry Yule (London: John Murray, 1920)

[4]    Paul Kahn, ed. The Secret History of the Mongols.

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