Il-Khanate (1256–1335/56)



Created as a result of MÖNGKE KHAN ’s 1252 decision to send his brother HÜLE ’ Ü (1217–65) to the Middle East, the resulting Il-Khanate dynasty suffered from hostility on three fronts and severe social conflicts.


Until 1252 the Mongols’ great khan, the Jochid GOLDEN HORDE , and the other princely lines shared rule over the area from Afghanistan to Turkey. The great khan appointed governors and confirmed client kings, but always with the prior approval of the Jochid ruler on the Volga. No member of the imperial family resided in this area, but many had appanages in the area and appointed representatives to guard their interests. Two TAMMACHI , or permanent garrison armies, occupied the area, one based in Afghanistan and the other based in Azerbaijan and Armenia. Neither was commanded by a member of the imperial family. In 1252 Möngke appointed his brother Hüle’ü to campaign personally in the Middle East, thus upsetting this balance. RASHID – UD – DIN FAZL – ULLAH claims that Möngke secretly intended from the beginning that Hüle’ü would stay permanently in the Middle East despite public plans for Hüle’ü to return at the end of his mission.

As soon as he crossed the Amu Dar’ya, Hüle’ü took the Azerbaijan area for himself, ordering Baiju Noyan, commander of the tammachi troops there, to relocate to Anatolia. After his conquest of Baghdad in February 1258, Hüle’ü began calling himself Il-Khan, or “obedient khan,” implying a status as a deputy or viceroy of the great khan Möngke, despite the public statement that Hüle’ü would return to Mongolia. Thus, when Möngke Khan died in August 1259, Hüle’ü’s status was unclear. By 1260 criminal accusations leveled against Jochid princes in Hüle’ü’s service strained relations with the Golden Horde rulers, and in 1262 a complete purge of the Jochid princes and Hüle’ü’s support for QUBILAI KHAN in his conflict with ARIQ – BÖKE brought open war with the Golden Horde. Nevertheless the special contempt shown toward the Il-Khans by the rulers of the Golden Horde and CHAGHATAY KHANATE demonstrated the khanate’s latecomer status.


The administration of the Il-Khans centered on the khan elected at a QURILTAI (assembly). Like previous Turkish dynasties in Iran, the Mongol dynasty did not have a fixed succession rule. Stable succession thus depended on consensus among the great commanders ( NOYAN ). As in the Yuan dynasty, a threefold ethnic class distinction of the conquest elite, the subject class, and an intermediate mixed class permeated government. The division of the first two classes, often summarized as “Mongols and Muslims,” was as much cultural, social, and political as strictly religious. Mongol meant the nomadic military class and Muslim the native sedentary Iranian and Iraqi population. The intermediate class was specialists and royal clients who were either foreign (Turkestanis), non-Muslim (Assyrians, Armenians, Jews), or both ( UIGHURS , Chinese). Ghazan Khan’s reign eliminated the intermediate class’s previous power. The core of the Mongol class was the khan’s household, consisting of his own keshig, or imperial guard, and intimate servitors and the palace-tents ( ORDO ) of his wives with their affiliated estates. These estates, or injü ( INJE ), constituted the khan and his family’s private demesne, in contrast to the dalai, or state lands. The keshig was divided into four three-day shifts, and from 1291 on the four shift chiefs, three of whom were drawn from the Mongol great noyans, countersigned all decrees of the khan with their black seals. Among the chief noyans, the families of Elege of the JALAYIR and Su’unchaq of the Suldus were the most prestigious. The OIRATS of Diyarbakir, frequent QUDA (marriage allies) of the khans, remained a discrete tribal body. Outside the court was the Mongol army, organized by the traditional DECIMAL ORGA – NIZATION and clan affiliations. Opposite these Mongol noyans was the financial administration, staffed by Persian Sunni Muslim clerks and headed by one or two viziers (always two after 1295), the senior of whom handled the supreme red seal, or al tamgha. Nevertheless the Mongol and Persian orders were not hermetically sealed. The great noyans had their own appanages administered by Persian clients, provincial commanders and governors frequently colluded, and the senior vizier himself served in the keshig as the head of the khan’s personal three-day shift. 233 By 1305 a number of autonomous client kingdoms had been turned into provinces, and Ghazan Khan’s reforms of 1300 created for the first time a single coinage and standard of weights and measures. By the dynasty’s end the Il-Khan regime had eight directly administered provinces of the center, in addition to the semi-independent viceroyalties of Khorasan and Anatolia. In addition to the universal qubchiri, or poll tax, the eight central provinces paid “divan dues” based on traditional agricultural taxes, while the center’s 20 main cities paid separate tamgha, or commercial tolls. Major cities and the provinces received a (usually) Persian malik (governor) who handled finance and administration, a Mongol emir, or noyan, who commanded the troops, and a DARUGHACHI (Persian, shahna) of the Mongol or intermediate class. Assignment of important provinces (particularly GEORGIA , Diyarbakir, and Iraq) as camping grounds for princes offered a further layer of supervision. The Il-Khanate practiced the traditional muqata‘at, or tax-farming system. The treasury drew up contracts specifying the total amount of taxes paid and the deductions the tax farmer could take for expenses. Maliks of major provinces were usually concurrent tax farmers, subcontracting the taxes in districts and villages. Theoretically, the tax farmer could not collect more than the contracted amount, but supervision was lax and over collection rife. The eager attention the Il-Khans usually paid to reports from ayqaqs (informers) about untapped or embezzled revenues put constant upward pressure on taxes and made the tenure of governors and viziers exceedingly uncertain—all but one of the viziers under the Il-Khans were executed with torture on charges of embezzlement, treason, or both. Hüle’ü stored the booty of his conquests of 1256–58 in a tower by Lake Urmia, but by Sultan Ahmad’s reign (1282–84) the tower had partially collapsed, and the remaining treasure was shared out as coronation gifts. From then on the treasury was carried in the khan’s ordo in chests. Except under diligent khans such as Ghazan Khan, treasury procedures were lax and embezzlement routine. Unbudgeted drafts on outlying provinces hindered financial planning, and random seizures by messengers (elchi) damaged the economy. These problems peaked in the 1290s. Ghazan Khan’s reforms did curb the abuses, particularly of the messenger system, but did not eliminate the constant pressure for more revenue.


The immigrant Mongols, composed of the tammachi (garrison) armies dispatched in the 1230s to Afghanistan and to the Armenia-Azerbaijan area, as well as Hüle’ü’s new army, constituted the Il-Khan’s military core. Nevertheless once counted and incorporated into the decimal organization, designated military households in the settled population also supplied infantry and cavalry that served under Mongol commanders in garrisons or the field. The theoretical reserve of the Il-Khan’s army added up to 30 tümens (each nominally 10,000), although tümens averaged perhaps only 40 percent of paper strength. In reality the largest battlefield force ever mobilized was about 70,000 men. Thus, the Il-Khans had enough troops only to confront one of their three major enemies—Egypt, the Golden Horde, or the Chaghatayids—at a time. The court equipped and provisioned at most one out of five army units, leaving remoter units, Mongol or native, to feed and equip themselves. Even so, the Il-Khanid army was better armed than the larger Chaghatayid and Golden Horde forces. In addition to the Mongol units, Georgian cavalry participated in virtually every battle, and the client kingdoms of Lesser Armenia and Seljük Turkey in the west and Kerman and Fars in the east also supplied troops for major campaigns.

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