The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire
By Jack Weatherford
Published in 2010
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
This fascinating book really changed my perception of the Mongol era. The history of the Mongol and steppe nomad treatment of women is fascinating. On one hand, this book describes a semi-matriarchal society where women control vast trade empires. On the other, there are horrible incidents where thousands of women are raped, stripped naked, and forced to fight each other to the death for the entertainment of soldiers.
Another interesting aspect is that of historiography.
There are dozens of books, documentaries, and movies that have been made about the lives and times of Chinggis Khan. Very few cover the later Mongol period, after the empire fractures in 1241.
The latter 2/3s of the book cover the period of time from 1242 until 1509 when women seize control of the various fragments of the empire, and enjoy mixed success in maintaining the progress made by Chinggis Khan and his successors.
Mongol society is constantly confronted with the paradoxes of reproduction by forcible rape and matriarchical management of society. It is a society where the worst atrocities committed against lower class women are ordered on the whims of higher class women.
Mongol society is almost impossible to classify as either pro or anti-woman by modern women's rights standards. The atrocities committed against women are very hard to understand for moderns living in a more civilized age. The power exerted by women is somewhat familiar in our world, although it is far less ubiquitous than the influence of women during this time.
I appreciate that Weatherford makes a serious effort to take a nuanced view. The book neither glosses over nor exaggerates either the pro or anti Mongol side. Instead, Weatherford understands that practices differ by time and place within the vast collection of post-Mongol states.
This is by far one of the most interesting books that I have read about the Mongol empire. If there is only a single book that someone would read about the Mongols it would be this one.
Most of my articles are book reviews, but I also write about many other topics.