The Il-khanids and Timurids (1256–1405)
After the sack of Baghdad, the Il-khanate, a Mongol successor state, rose to govern both Iraq and Iran, as well as parts of Armenia, Anatolia, northern India, and Afghanistan. (The title of Il-khan referred to the state being subordinated to the great khan.) After having kept it at arm’s length for the duration of a generation, the Il-khanid governors ﬁ nally submitted to Islam and gave up on their fruitless campaign to promote Buddhism in the Irano-Islamic region.
Under one of their ablest leaders, Ghazan (r. 1295–1304), the Il-khanids also began to repair the damage wrought by the Mongols’ earlier depredations, rebuilding irrigation works, reconstructing cities, and opening trade. They made alliances with the local notability in the region and began to rely on former administrators for assistance in local government.
As security returned, so did the revival of artistic inﬂ uences and literary and scientiﬁ c inquiry. The Chinese inﬂ uence in art (especially pottery) became particularly important in this period. These inﬂ uences included lotus and peony motifs and depictions of clouds and dragons. In addition, the writing of history became a critical and well-rewarded endeavor.
For instance, an inﬂ uential Mongol adviser, Ata Malik al-Juvaini (1226–83), who was the Farsi-speaking author of The History of the World Conqueror (which depicted the rise and rule of Genghis Khan), was employed as governor of Baghdad in 1260. Meanwhile, another famous historian, Rashid al-Din (1247–1318), wrote a compendia of historical works, using a variety of sources, including Chinese, Indian, European, Muslim, and Mongol (Lapidus 1988, 279).
The Il-khanids are best remembered for their trade policies, which made Tabriz (western Iran) one of the most important commercial capitals of the 13th century. Beneﬁ ting from the Pax Mongolica instituted in the aftermath of the Mongol invasions, Tabriz became the center of a trilateral trade network, between the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, and the Gulf and Arabia. Italian (Genoese and Venetian) merchants were especially important in Tabriz, exchanging “European cloth and linen for silk and other eastern wares” (Mathee 1991, 16).
The rise of this commercial center underlined the shift away from Baghdad and Cairo and the growth of an alternate market in Anatolia and the Black Sea ports.In 1336, beset by internal problems and the fact that it was ﬁ ghting on far too many fronts, the Il-khanid state, which had long broken up into smaller states, saw its vast territories assimilated by conquest into the growing empire of a Central Asian warrior from the east, Tamerlane, (Timur; 1336–1405). Although he claimed the mantle of Genghis Khan, Tamerlane was not, strictly speaking, a descendant of the Mongol warlord but a Mongol only by marriage.
Nonetheless, he replicated the Mongol system to a fault by embarking on a ferocious campaign of world conquest, invading and occupying Iran, northern India, Anatolia, and northern Syria. Like the Mongols before him, he again swept into Iraq and destroyed a society just beginning to recover from the wholesale onslaughts of Hulegu’s troops 98 years earlier.
Unlike Hulegu, however, Tamerlane’s empire was strictly Muslim, although only formally so. The religious climate at Tamerlane’s court in Samarqand (now in Uzbekistan) was characterized by the overwhelming contribution of Islamic brotherhoods, or tariqas, composed of Suﬁ s (Muslim mystics), who were to wield far more inﬂ uence over the populace than the more orthodox, shariainspired Muslim clergy.
While Tamerlane followed the Turco-Mongol practice of encouraging long-distance trade with friend and foe, even writing letters to King Henry IV of England, inviting him to pursue commercial interests with the Timurid Empire, his invasion of Anatolia and his capture of the seaport of Izmir in 1402 dealt a death blow to Tabriz’s fortunes (Knobler 2001, 102–103).
The trade of Asia, which had beneﬁ ted from Mongol protection and encouragement, now suffered as overland merchants, both Asian and European, deserted this newly insecure trade route and focused on ﬁ nding an alternative route to ship their goods. At Tamerlane’s death in 1405, just as he was reportedly on the point of marching on China, the instability of the Timurid Empire had become evident.