Josephine van den Bent, ASH PhD candidate, will defend the dissertation entitled 'Mongols in Mamluk Eyes. Representing Ethnic Others in the Medieval Middle East' supervised by Prof. Guy Geltner and Prof. Maaike van Berkel.
This dissertation analyses the representation of the Mongols in the Mamluk sultanate of Egypt and Syria, c. 1250-1350 CE, the development of which took place against a complicated background. While the Mongols of the Ilkhanate were the Mamluks’ primary enemy, the Golden Horde was their most important ally. The Mamluks themselves, former military slaves, were predominantly of Turkic descent and were therefore considered to be closely related ethnically to the Mongols – some even were Mongols themselves. Given these circumstances, representations of the Mongols, a key Other for Mamluk era authors, were far from straightforward and unanimous.
This dissertation emphasises how contemporary scholars were involved in processes of ethnic identification, categorisation and othering. By incorporating the Mongols into existing scholarly traditions, authors explained their (perceived) physical and mental characteristics, and by focusing on Mongol cultural elements (origin stories, laws) writers stressed their un-Islamic ways. They developed a discourse on the Mongols that generally tied in with the concerns and programme of the Mamluks. Different images were created for different groups of Mongols, with Islam playing a key role: the Ilkhanids were depicted as infidels even after their conversion to Islam; the Muslim credentials of the Golden Horde were emphasised even when its rulers were pagan. In a similar way, Mongols within the sultanate could be considered an integrated part of the Mamluk elite. Representations of the Mongols were thus actively constructed and used for various purposes in response to, and in interaction with, the sultanate’s complex ethnic and political contexts.