By Study and Also by Faith  >  Heroic Legitimation in Traditional Nomadic Societies

Heroic Legitimation in Traditional Nomadic Societies

Heroic Legitimation in Traditional Nomadic Societies

David B. Honey

Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

It is a privilege to participate in the
scholarly rite of Festschrift production. It is even more of an honor when this participation contributes to
the celebration of the life and scholarship of one who has been an object of
personal veneration since young adulthood.

Of all the scholarly publications of
Dr. Nibley, the ones that I enjoyed the most were his contributions on
questions of steppe nomadism. After concentrated study on Chinese
historiography concerning the nomads both during and since graduate school, I
find that his works continue to be not only relevant, but indeed unique, in
their scope. For none has attempted, let alone succeeded, in setting the steppe
cultures in the context of ancient worldwide practices as Nibley has; nor has
anyone else who has delved into the origins of practices as varied as royal
hunts, taxing, and charitable contributions been able to trace such practices
with comparable energy and erudition to Inner Asian rituals.

Nibley’s most extended treatment of
nomadism came as part of his effort to elucidate the old world settings for the
Book of Mormon travels of Lehi and the Jaredites in his Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites.1 The World of the Jaredites sets the wanderings of the Jaredites in
both ecological and social environments. Ecologically, we see the vast
movements of hordes and herds across the steppes in great wagons as now
hunting, now herding, and again, now farming, the Jaredites seek a new home in
true steppe style. The terrain, the weather, the type and pattern of the daily
round of activities — it is all familiar to the student of nomadism.
Socially, we view the blood relations and blood oaths, the contention between
heroic khans, the sudden gathering and swift dispersal of the hosts, the
oriental intrigues and opulent largess that lay behind the rise of the great
men, and the more martial aspects of the “logistics of depredation”
(borrowing a phrase from Professor John Smith at the University of California
at Berkeley).

An earlier and more narrowly focused
work is “The Hierocentric State.”2 Here Nibley sets the
nomadic custom of the quriltai, or
election cum elevation ceremony, in
the framework of worldwide royal New Year assemblies. Although not dealing
exclusively with the steppe variations of this ritual theme, Nibley’s great
contribution to nomadic studies in this article, even above his exhaustive
examination of universal kingship and the role played by the king and his
ritual hunts, progresses, and palaces, is his identification of the origin of
this concept and these rituals as Central Asiatic. Only recently has the same
provenance, by way of the Aryans, been tentatively posited as a “working
“by Joseph Fletcher, an historian of the steppes.3

Nibley again uncovers the steppe origin
of widespread religiopolitical practices in his “Tenting, Toll, and
Taxing.”4 Again
we see vast movements across broad steppes, with the tent as holy center and
the royal progression taking center stage. The interrelationship between the
toll and tax on the one hand, and rite of passage and ritual combat on the
other, is ingeniously and convincingly portrayed.

The earliest of the Nibley nomadic
contributions is his study of the role played by the marked arrow in the
formation of the state. His “The Arrow, The Hunter, and the State”5 examines various
religious, political, logistic, and social functions of this ubiquitous
instrument. The importance of this study lies in the illumination it sheds on
the manifold uses of the arrow on the steppes. For it was not only the supreme
symbol of authority, but, as with the famous “Parthian shot,” or terrifying
whistling arrow of the Hsiung-nu, the chief means of enforcing a khan’s
commands or accomplishing his martial schemes.

About the only category of primary
sources that Nibley did not delve into directly was the Chinese historical
documents (although he did make good use of studies based on them, such as
those by McGovern or Wittfogel and Feng).6 The present notes are
based directly on these documents and their portrayal of nomadic legitimation
through the rise of great heroes. Heroic legitimation seems an appropriate
subject for a Festschrift dedicated
to one who has been many a Mormon scholar’s hero. It is offered as a small
token of appreciation for many years of instructive and pleasurable reading.

Heroic Legitimation in Traditional Nomadic Studies

The concept of legitimation among the
nomads is inseparable from the personal charisma and martial qualities of great
heroes.7 Many factors
go into defining a hero in nomadic terms: aristocratic lineage, sagacious
leadership, military prowess, loyalty-inspiring charisma, wealth or the promise
of it and attendant largess, and the sanction of divine approval or
appointment. Since the economic basis of nomadic society is almost entirely
grounded on the personal participation and productivity of every member of the
society, it follows that leadership roles in such a society are naturally
assumed by those most successful in the everyday logistics of nomadism. That
is, legitimacy is earned; if it is inherited, it must be maintained through
personal performance, lost through default, or shored up by a nonnomadic value
system which happens under acculturation such as islamicization or sinification.

Since personal performance is at the
heart of the maintenance, if not always the initial acquisition, of
legitimation in traditional nomadic societies, our discussion will proceed by
examining the various factors that constitute a legitimate leader in nomadic
terms. We will then examine the importance of these factors as exhibited
— and exploited — by traditional nomadic heroes in the formation
and maintenance of intertribal confederacies, states, and empires. This
discussion will focus on the patterns of succession followed by the Hsiung-nu,
üeh and Mongols.8

Personal Prowess

“Individualism” was the basis
of the ruling class in traditional Mongolian society; that is, individual effort
and achievement earned the respect of one’s fellows.9 It also garnered a
sufficiency of material goods which enabled a nomad ambitious for power to
point to himself as exemplar: following him would insure successful nomadizing,
provide a share in his personal fortune, and could even lead to opportunities
for pillaging. However, the test of performance was the key. No matter what,
the leader or potential leader had to be able “to acquire charisma through
10 The activity in question usually involved warfare. Several examples follow.

Mo-tu, the founder of the Hsiung-nu
confederacy and its first famous Shan-yü (analogous to Khan; r. 209-174
B.C.), gained his position through his prowess as a field commander.11 Another Hsiung-nu
Shan-yü, An-kuo (r. A.D. 93-94), was not respected because he had earned
no reputation while he was still Worthy King of the Left (the heir to the
Shan-yü’s see); he only survived one year as Shan-yü until he
“brave” generals.12

After T’u-men (r. ca. A.D. 545-552)
assumed the throne of the T’u-chüeh, his state and position were both
expanded through victorious warfare.13 The Orkhon
inscriptions are full of the martial exploits of Bilgä Khagan,
Ilteris Khagan, Prince Kül, and Bilgä
Tonyukuk that substantiate their right to rule.14 The Mongols also
prized martial valor as one prerequisite for leadership. We need not cite specific instances here.15

Even more basic than military prowess
and renown was the ability to insure the economic survival of the group. The
early history of the T’u-chüeh provides an instructive instance of this:
The leader of the first horde, A-pang-pa, was stupid and ignorant; his state
was hence extinguished. His desolate descendants were saved by his grandnephew,
who gave them fire. Since he had saved them, they nominated him ruler.16 Another
T’u-chüeh, A-shih-na, was elected ruler by his brethren, even though he
was the son of a concubine, because he jumped the highest at the side of a
tree!17 Bilgä
Khagan boasted, “I gathered all the poor and destitute people together. I
made the poor people wealthy and the few people numerous.”18

Aristocratic Heritage and Legitimate

Privileged clans appear among the early
Scythians. The “Royal” Scythians dominated the other Scythians, and
considered them as slaves.19 John H. Kautsky defines the aristocracy as members of society who live off the
surplus produced by peasants. In the case of nomads, they must control a number
of villages in order to be aristocrats. For him, the origin of nomadic empires
was traceable to the founding of nomadic aristocracies by the
“superimposition” of a conquering ruling class on the peasantry.20 But this
interpretation does not account for the presence of aristocracies among native
nomadic states that had not conquered sizeable sedentary populations. A. M.
Khazanov has posited the provenance of aristocracies from other than economic
processes, in particular sociopolitical processes.21 These sociopolitical planes were most
likely structured on the basis of differing degrees of prestige inherited from
august ancestors, if the case of the creation of a noble line out of the
lineage of Chinggis Khan is any indication of general historical processes.

Chinggis was the fountainhead of Mongol
blue blood. William of Rubruck defined a member of the Mongol nobility as being
of the family of Chinggis, “who was their first father and lord.”22 Later manifestations
of Mongolian political entities found their basis of nobility in the imperial
lineage. The Kalmucks, for instance, considered their most honored noble clan
as descended from the Chinggisid line.23 Hence it would seem
that nobility was the residual honor inherited from ancestors who had earned
great distinction. High birth was then a matter of genealogical record or

Regardless of the origin of noble
clans, all nomadic societies seemed to have them.25 Among the Hsiung-nu,
the Hu-yen, Lan, and Hsü-pu families constituted the aristocracy, and
the Hsiung-nu bureaucracy was staffed only by members of these families.26 The clan of A-shih-na,
derived from its eponymous founder, was the most honored one of the early
T’u-chüeh.27 And the Mongols had hereditary nobility even before the rise of Chinggis Khan.28

The importance of noble birth to
support claims of legitimacy among nomads can be seen in the experience of
Nurhachi, the founder of Manchu power. The great persecution he endured at the
hands of other clan leaders during his rise has been interpreted by one scholar
as having been due to their jealousy that he was not of an orthodox line.29 Not only was noble
lineage crucial, but usually an essential element was filiation with the one
royal or legitimate line. In the case of the Hsiung-nu, the line that produced
the Shan-yü was the Luan-t’i clan.30 The T’u-chüeh’s
royal line was A-shih-na.31 The Mongol royal clan was Borjigin; it was termed the “golden
lineage” (altan urugh).32 The Mongol royal line
later on was further narrowed to include only the issue of Tolui, Chinggis’s fourth and youngest son by his principal wife.33

The Sanction of Heaven and the
Legitimation of Religion

Among the Mongols, “the
ideological device for consolidating a khan’s control was belief in Tenggeri or
Tengri (scribally, Tngri), the universal victory-granting sky-god,” writes
Joseph Fletcher. He believes that this concept was derived from the early
Aryans.34 Even though
the Hsiung-nu included the worship of heaven/sky among their pantheon, the
appearance of the term “Son of Heaven” as part of the official title
of the Shan-yü was a later borrowing and elaboration of the Chinese
custom.35 Direct
descent from heaven, then, was not necessarily part of the earliest manifestations of the Eurasian steppe belief in Tengerri, although belief in heaven-sanctioned power was.36

The belief in the legitimizing power
and conquering might of heaven is most clearly seen among the T’u-chüeh
and Mongols. The Orkhon inscriptions record the following on the debt owed by
the early Turkish nation to heaven:

I, the Heaven-like and Heaven-born
Turkish Bilgä Kagan . . . since Heaven was gracious, and since I was
granted with fortune, I succeeded to the throne. . . . By the grace of Heaven,
he took the realm of those who had a realm, and captured the Kagan of those who
had had a Kagan. . . . Due to the fact that Heaven granted strength, the
soldiers of my father, the Kagan, were like wolves, and his enemies were like

The sources on the Mongols are just as
explicit, and much more numerous. A prayer offered to heaven by Chinggis
himself at an early stage in his career has been preserved by Rashid al-Din.
Temujin sought heaven’s aid in the following words: “If you know that my
intention is just, send me power and victory from above and order that your
angels, men, peris and spirits above give me their aid.”38 An angel, in fact, did
appear in the guise of an eagle and revealed the yasa or Mongol legal code to Chinggis, according to the account of Grigor of Akanc’.39 It was the will of God that this yasa be imposed upon the people of the world so that order could be maintained.40

It was crucial to Chinggis’s plans that
his fellow tribesmen recognize him as the recipient of heaven’s mandate.
Numerous portents and signs served to signify this fact.41 The fact that Chinggis
was miraculously protected from arrows and endured severe wounds without
succumbing was proof enough of heaven’s favor to the less spiritually attuned
of his fellows; and his unfailing success in battle virtually guaranteed it.42 They were thenceforth
determined to carry out heaven’s will and assist Chinggis in gaining sway over
the whole world.

This, then, was the great ideological
element behind the Mongols’ grand scheme of conquest; it sustained the drive
for conquest in the face of innumerable foes stretched over vast distances of
the Asian continent. Neither were the Mongols ashamed to proclaim their sacred
calling to the world. Indeed, it formed the cornerstone of their foreign
policy: ambassadors were dispatched with the proclamation to submit to heaven’s
will or be swept away.43 From the point of view of states vulnerable to the Mongol might, this ideology
provided a welcome rationale for submitting. It also helped to rationalize the
victory of the “barbarian” Mongols over the superior civilization of of the Islamic East.44

Often the legitimacy that communication
with heaven can confer was claimed by a nomadic ruler through alliance with a
powerful shaman, or by his assumption of the role of shaman himself. The
election of A-shih-na as ruler of the T’u-chüeh because he jumped the
highest at a tree must be seen in this light, for when “a shaman climbs up
a tree . . . he ascends symbolically to the highest heaven.”45 His physical prowess
at the sacred spot, then, exhibited his spiritual fitness. Chinggis himself
deposed the shaman Teb Tenggeri because he was a rival for the instructions
— and hence the favor — of heaven.46 The religious role
exercised by Chinggis Khan, including his function as a shaman, was so powerful
that after his death he was made to continue in it as the head of a cult.47 The presence of an
assisting shaman, or the exercise of this role by the leader himself, then, was an important element in obtaining legitimacy among the nomads.48

On a broader social level, organized
religion also had a role to play in the legitimizing effort of nomad
conquerors. The Mongols, for instance, made use of each of the religions they encountered
to buttress their claims of legitimate rule.49 But organized
religion, as opposed to shamanistic beliefs and practices, was usually only
politically useful after the initial conquest of a sedentary people had
occurred; its adoption was therefore part of the process of acculturation
(e.g., islamicization or sinification) even if the initial motivation for doing
so was to assist in the consolidation of authority. This subject, then, is best treated in the context of acculturation, not legitimation.50

The Rise of Nomadic Supratribal Leaders

One important characteristic of nomadic
empires is their ephemeral existence. The main factor in this ephemerality lay
in the element of personal leadership, the foundation of such empires. Joseph
Fletcher has succinctly explained this in the following manner:

Steppe empires came into existence only
through the efforts of individual aspirants for the office of supratribal
ruler. . . . Being the ruler’s creation, a steppe empire — as opposed to
a confederation — depended for its existence upon his person. When he
died, it ran a risk of collapse. . . . The continuation of an empire therefore depended heavily upon the ruler’s person, much less upon his office.51

The rise of a nomadic leader to the
supratribal level seems to have been a series of stages in the process of
acquiring renown through successful depredation. The experience of Temujin’s
rise as narrated in the “Secret History” is the best example.52 But as it is a
drawn-out, detailed account, the experience of the Turkish Khagan
Ilteris cited in
medias res
from the Orkhon Inscriptions will reveal more than any
individual passage from the Mongol history:

My father, the kagan, went off with
seventeen men. Having heard the news that [Ilteris] was
marching off, those who were in towns went up mountains and those who were on
mountains came down [from there]; thus they gathered and numbered to seventy
men. . . . Having gone on campaigns forward and backward, he gathered together
and collected men; they all numbered seven hundred men, [my father the kagan]
organized and ordered the people who had lost their state and their kagan . . .
in accordance with the rules of my ancestors. He [also organized there] the
Tolis and the Tardus [peoples], and gave them a yabgu and a sad.53

The fact that
Ilteris was already a Khagan certainly helped in his
recruitment. But this prestige only garnered seventy men (up from an initial
seventeen). It was his campaigns that gained him an increasing amount of
followers. He later organized his people and those he had absorbed according to
the prescribed procedures, probably out of the desire to legitimize his actions
through hoary precedent more than any need for organizational efficiency.

After an aspirant for the position of
supratribal leader had demonstrated his success as a battle commander, he was
able to offer himself as the leader
to follow in everambitious exploits that needed the concerted effort of the
tribes. As “ecologically, no social organization was needed above the
level of the tribe,”54 these supratribal exploits transcended the mundane humdrum of mere ecological
existence and entered the realm in which the stuff of epics was formed and
heroes forged. Indeed, the desire to duplicate the great deeds recited of the
heroes of the traditional epics must be one of the most important factors for
aspiring to the position of supratribal leader, whether Hsiung-nu
Shan-yü, Turkish Sad, or Mongol Khan, and leading his hordes to glorious conquest.55

Just as the supratribal organization
came into being for other than solely ecological reasons, such as warfare on a
large scale, so it was that only through such activities were both the
rationale and raw materials for the continuation of the supratribal
organization maintained. Thomas Allsen explains that external war was an
essential counterweight to the “centrifugal tendencies” of nomadic
life and offered the possibilities of booty, grants of land, increased annual
stipends, and advancement in rank for the princes and commanders who
participated along with the supreme leader.56 Indeed, warfare was
such an essential element in the raison
of nomadic confederacies and empires that Joseph Fletcher considered
the decimal organization of military command as one of the two devices, one
structural and one ideological, for unifying and expanding such political entities.57

Let us now conclude our discussion of
nomadic legitimation by examining the process of succession to the highest
office, that of steppe emperor, among the Hsiung-nu, the T’u-chüeh, and
the Mongols.

Nomadic Succession

The question of succession lies at the
heart of the problem of legitimation in nomadic societies. This is because the
many factors that impact on the success of an individual’s claim to legitimacy
— personal prowess, aristocratic birth and legitimate lineage, the
ideological role of Tenggeri and the function of shamans, and the rise of
supratribal leaders — combine into a showdown of power politics in which
ideological arguments must face the threat of having to be backed up with
military might. This is also true because the continuance of a particular
political body depends upon the successful legitimation of the new ruler. For
nomadic successions were often the occasion for bloody outbreaks of civil war;
opportunities for actual combat and demonstrations of field generalship are, it
is true, good tests for determining the fitness among rival claimants for
rulership.58 But if
in these internecine struggles the winning faction fails to persuade the
followers of the loser of the legitimacy of its victory, then the latter will
often go elsewhere and found a separate political entity.59 The process of
succession, then, must legitimize the new ruler in order to insure the
political and social survival of a nomadic supratribal entity.

There were two traditions of succession
in nomadic societies, patrilineal and lineal, both based upon hereditary ties
of kinship. All qualifying factors such as personal prowess and birthright
being equal, the decisive element in choosing between patrilineal
(father-to-son) and lineal (brother-to-brother) succession was the principle of
tanistry, which principle, explains Joseph Fletcher, “held that the tribe
should be led by the best qualified member of the chiefly house. At the chief’s
death, in other words, the succession did not pass automatically, in accordance
with any principle of seniority such as primogeniture, but rather was supposed
to go to the most competent of the eligible heirs.”60 The same was true of
succession on the supratribal level.

Sometimes a particular strain of nomads
utilized either patrilineal or lineal modes of succession, with tanistry again
deciding who among the preferred generation should succeed. The early
Hsiung-nu, on principle, opted for patrilineal, especially primogenital,
succession.61 The
aberrations from the mode of patrilineal/primogenital succession occur chiefly
toward the end of the Hsiung-nu empire. With the split into Northern and
Southern empires (caused by a succession dispute),62 lineal succession
occurred almost exclusively, perhaps due to the immense influence of
Hu-han-hsieh, for at his deathbed he made his sons promise to transmit the
throne lineally among themselves.63 After Shan-yü
Hsiu-li (r. 128-140), various families vied in setting up their own candidates;
it was not until seven years later that Chu-chu again established a line that
maintained itself through regular succession, mostly through primogeniture,
until the office of Shan-yü was done away with by Ts’ao Ts’ao in 216.64

The same tension that existed among the
Hsiung-nu between the competing modes of lineal and patrilineal succession was
present among the T’u-chüeh, as the following extended quotation will

When T’a-pa (d. 580) was about to die
he spoke to his son An-lo, saying: “I have heard that in terms of intimacy
of relationship nothing exceeds that of father and son. [However], my elder
brother was not close to his son and hence entrusted the throne to me. When I
die, you must yield to Ta-lo-pien [An-lo’s older brother; he eventually founded
the Western T’u-chüeh].” After he expired, all [the great ones]
within the state were about to set up Ta-lo-pien, but the masses would not
agree since his mother was of low birth. An-lo was veritably of the nobility,
and had been all along venerated by the T’u-chüeh. Sheh-t’u was the last
to arrive; he spoke to all within the state, saying: “If you establish
An-lo, then I will lead my brothers in serving him; if you establish
Ta-lo-pien, I will surely remain on guard within my own territory and await you
with sharp swords and long spears.” Sheh-t’u was the eldest and was
furthermore heroic; none within the state dared resist him. In the end they then set up An-lo as the successor.65

Besides showing that patrilineal
succession was the preferred method among the T’u-chüeh,66 the above story also
illustrates the importance of both personal prowess and high birth to qualify one for an office that is obtained by inheritance.67

Among the early Mongols, both
patrilineal and lineal succession took place, because, as pointed out by Thomas
Allsen, the Mongols made an attempt through “bloody tanistry” (called
“common consent” by Marco Polo) at succession through nomination of
the best qualified candidate.68 These elections took
place at general gatherings of nobility called quriltai, especially convened for such a purpose.69 Temujin received the
epithet of Chinggis to go along with his newly bestowed title of Khan at a quriltai convened on the Onon river in
1206.70 The
best-known Mongolian succession assembly was, however, the one of 1245 that
elected Güyüg; Plano Carpini was in attendance and left as
detailed a description as could be expected from an outside observer.71 Notwithstanding this
nod toward democratic participation, the quriltai ceremony seemed to have been a pro forma procedure that merely confirmed the candidate who had emerged as the consensus
choice either through behind-the-scenes maneuvering or open conflict. Again,
the crucial factors were the personal qualities of the candidates themselves
and how these qualities translated into influence. As H. Desmond Martin
explains, even “if able to voice their opinions in open council, the
amount of influence the imperial family and aristocracy were able to exert
varied greatly according to circumstances and the personality of the reigning
khagan.”72 In
most nomadic cases, the personality and prowess of the candidates were,
finally, even more important than the wishes of a late leader.


1. Reprinted in Hugh
Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, the World of
the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites,
vol. 5, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book
and F.A.R.M.S., 1988).

2. Hugh Nibley,
“The Hierocentric State,” Western
Political Quarterly
4 (1951): 226-53.

3. Joseph Fletcher,
“The Mongols: Ecological and Social Perspectives,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 46
(1980): 11-50; see also discussion at n. 34 below.

4. Hugh Nibley,
“Tenting, Toll, and Taxing,” Western
Political Quarterly
19 (1966): 599-630.

5. Hugh Nibley,
“The Arrow, The Hunter, and the State,” Western Political Quarterly 2 (1949): 328-44.

6. Karl A. Wittfogel
and Feng Chia-sheng, History of Chinese
Society: Liao (907-1125).
Transactions of the American Philosophical
Society, n.s. vol. 36. (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1949);
and W. M. McGovern, The Early Empires of
Central Asia
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939).

7. The term
“hero” is used in the sense of an actual exemplar, living or dead, of
cultural values, not as a mythical embodiment of national ethos who performs a
ritual function. On the nomadic hero as living exemplar of steppe cultural
norms, see Fletcher, “The Mongols,” 14.

8. The Hsiung-nu
first confronted China ca. A.D. 210; they remained formidable enemies for much
of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220); the T’u-chüeh were an early
Turkish kingdom, ca. 552-651; the Mongols conquered during the thirteenth

9. Lawrence Krader,
“The Origin of the State among the Nomads of Asia,” in Pastoral Production and Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 229. It was also the basis of
one’s standing in the community, however low. For example, the Hsiung-nu, the
T’u-chüeh, and the Mongols all were said by the Chinese to “abase
the old and weak and value the young and strong.” Composite translation
based on Han shu 94a.3743 [Peking punctuated edition of the twenty-four dynastic
histories (Peking: Chung-hua shu-chü, 1959-77); hereafter, all
references to the dynastic histories will be to this edition] [parallel text of
the Shi chi, tr. Burton Watson, Records of the Grand Historian, 2 vols.
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 2:156]; Chou shu 50.909 [tr. Liu Mau-tsai, Die chinesischen Nachrichten aus Geschichte der Ost-Turken (T’u-kue), 2 vols. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1958), 1:8]; and Chao Hung (1195-1246), Meng Ta pei lu 15a [in Wang Kuo-wei,
ed., Meng-ku shih-liao ssu-chung
(Peking: Ch’ing-hua hsüeh-hsiao yen-chiu so, 1926)]. The
connection between health/age and performance is obvious. With regard to
individual achievement as a leadership quality, compare the observations of
Nikolai Muravev, a nineteenth-century Russian traveler among the Turkmen, cited
in A. M. Khazanov, Nomads and the Outside
tr. Julia Crookenden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984),
175; and Marco Polo, The Description of
the World,
tr. A. C. Moule and Paul Pelliot (London: George Routledge and
Sons, 1938), par. 77 on p. 193. Cf. also Ammianus Marcellinus, XXXI, 2, 25.

10. Khazanov, Nomads, 167.

11. Han shu 94a.3753; Watson, tr., Grand Historian, 2:165.

12. Hou Han shu 89.2954.

13. Chou shu 50.908; Liu, Die chinesischen Nachrichten, 1:6.

14. For instance,
Talat Tekin, A Grammar of Orkhon Turkic (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968), 275-77, translates an early
inscription that records in chronological order the campaigns of Bilgä
Khagan when he was 17, 18, 20, 22, 26, 31, 33, and 40 years old.

15. For instance, in
his History of the Mongols, in
Christopher Dawson, ed., Mission to Asia (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), 19, John of Plano Carpini records
that Chinggis, “a mighty hunter before the Lord . . . went into other
territories and any men he could capture and get to join his band he did not
let go again. He drew men to himself of his own nation and they followed him as
their leader in all kinds of wrong-doing.” The wrong-doings which Carpini lists
after this all have to do with warring and plundering.

16. Summarizing Chou shu 50.908; Liu, Die chinesischen Nachrichten, 1:5; and Pei shih 99.3286 (tr. Uchida Gimpu et
al., Kiba minzoku shi — seishi
Hokuteki den,
3 vols. [Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1971-73], 2:66).

17. Chou shu 50.908; Liu, Die chinesischen Nachrichten, 1:6. See
text on pp. 569-70 of the present study for the religious significance of this

18. Tekin, Orkhon Turkic, 262.

19. Herodotus, IV,
20. John H. Kautsky, The Politics of
Aristocratic Empires
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1982), 54, suggests that the Scythian people themselves were but “a
seminomadic aristocracy which dominated the settled and agricultural
masses.” This view had been put forward much earlier by W. W. How and J.
Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 2
vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912), 2:427.

20. Kautsky, Aristocratic Empires, 63, 49. See 52-56
for his discussion of the origins of the aristocratic class among conquest
states of nomads; chapter 4 of his work treats in general the theme of the
origin and development of aristocracies.

21. Khazanov, Nomads, 148. Philip C. Salzman,
“Inequality and Oppression in Nomadic Society,” in Pastoral Production and Society, 429-46,
discusses the nonpastoral (i.e., nonnomadic) sources of social inequality.

22. William of
Rubruck, The Journey of William of
in Dawson, ed., Mission to

23. Lawrence Krader, Social Organization of the Mongol-Turkic
Pastoral Nomads
(Hague: Mouton, 1963), 134.

24. The function of
genealogies among nomadic societies, according to Khazanov, was to
“legitimize social inequality” (Khazanov, Nomads, 142). See also Caroline Humphrey in Pastoral Production and Society, 235-59.

25. Even the Huns had
them, despite Ammianus Marcellinus’ comments to the contrary, Otto
Maenchen-Helfen, The World of the Huns (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 198-99. For the existence and
general outlines of nomadic aristocracies, consult Eberhard, China und seine westlichen Nachbarn (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1978), 269-70; Khazanov, Nomads, 148-52; and Fletcher, “The
Mongols,” 16-17. For a detailed treatment of the Mongol aristocracy, see
B. Ya. Vladimirtsov, Le régime social
des Mongols,
tr. Michel Carsow (Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1948), 89-100.

26. Han shu 94a.3751; Watson, Grand Historian, 2:163; for aristocratic
office holders among the Hsiung-nu, see Yamada Nobuo, “Formation of the
Hsiung-nu Nomadic State,” Acta
Orientalia Hungarica
36 (1982): 575-81.

27. Pei shih 99.3285; Uchida et al., Kiba minzoku shi, 2:65.

28. Meng Ta pei lu 2b (in Wang, ed., Meng-ku shih-liao); Krader, “Origin
of the State,” 227; Michael Prawdin, The
Mongol Empire: Its Rise and Legacy
(London: Allen and Unwin, 1952), 43.

29. Wada Sei, Taashi kenkyu — Manshu hen (Tokyo:
Toyo Bunko, 1955), 603-12.

30. Han shu 94a.3751. By the third century
A.D., the Tu-ku clan produced the royal line of Hsiung-nu Shan-yüs (Chin shu 97.2550).

31. See n. 27 above.

32. Fletcher,
“The Mongols,” 19. On this lineage see Igor de Rachewiltz, tr.,
“The Secret History of the Mongols,” Papers on Far Eastern History 5-18 (1971-84), commentary on par.
42; Paul Ratchnevsky, Cinggis-khan:
sein Leben und Wirken,
Münchener Ostasiatische Studien Bd. 32
(Munich: F. Steiner Verlag, 1983), 13, n. 56; Paul Pelliot and Louis Hambis,
eds. and trs., Histoire des campagnes de
Gengis Khan,
Tome I (Leiden: Brill, 1951), 118-20; and Sechin Jagchid and
Paul Hyer, Mongolia’s Culture and Society (Folkstone, England: Dawson, 1979), 247.

33. Thomas T. Allsen, Mongol Imperialism (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1987), 37-41; and Herbert Franke, From Tribal Chieftain to Universal Emperor
and God: The Legitimation of the Yüan Dynasty
(Munich: Bayerische
Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1978), 22-24.

34. Fletcher,
“The Mongols,” 30. Nibley, “The Hierocentric State,” should
be consulted for confirmation of Fletcher’s hypothesis. For Chinese and
Christian contributions to the concept of universal empire, see Berthold
Spuler, The Muslim World, Part II: The
Mongol Period,
tr. F. R. C. Bagley (Leiden: Brill, 1969), 5; and H. Franke, From Tribal Chieftain to Universal
18. For references to modern scholarship on the nomadic belief in
Tenggeri see Fletcher, “The Mongols,” 31, n. 13; and for this ancient
name (Tenggeri), see Sir Gerard Clauson, An
Etymological Dictionary of Pre-Thirteenth Century Turkish
Clarendon Press, 1972), 523b-24a.

35. See Hsieh Chien,
“Hsiung-nu tsung-chiao hsin-yang chi ch’i liu-pien,” Bulletin of the Institute of History and
42/4 (1971): 571-614, for the Hsiung-nu religion. Han shu 94a.3751 indicates the Hsiung-nu
borrowing of the Chinese title “Son of Heaven.” For another Chinese
influence on the title of the Hsiung-nu see David B. Honey, “Sinification
and Legitimation: Liu Yüan Shih Le, and the Founding of Han and
Chao,” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1988, 43-44, n.

36. Khazanov, Nomads, 239, n. 2.

37. Tekin, Orkhon Turkic, 261-62, 265-66. Cf. Mori
Masao, “The T’u-chüeh Concept of Heaven,” Acta Asiatica 24 (1981): 55.

38. Quoted in V. A.
Riasanovsky, Fundamental Principles of
Mongolian Law
(Tientsin, 1937), 89. Compare the prayer recorded in de
Rachewiltz, “Secret History,” 103; and John Andrew Boyle, The History of the World Conqueror by
‘Ala-ad-Din’ Ata-Malik Juvaini,
2 vols. (Manchester: Manchester University
Press, 1958), 1:80-81.

39. Robert P. Blake
and Richard N. Frye, “History of the Nation of Archers (the Mongols), By
Grigor of Akanc’,” Harvard Journal
of Asiatic Studies
12 (1949): 333 (11:5-14).

40. Blake and Frye,
“History of the Nation,” 301 (4:40). On the yasa of Chinggis, see Boyle, History
of the World Conqueror,
1:23-26; Dawson, Mission to Asia, 25; and Riasanovsky, Mongolian Law, 25-35 for discussion, and 83-86 for a collation of
thirty-six extant articles from the code.

41. Cf. de
Rachewiltz, “Secret History,” 121. The “Secret History” is
full of references to the power of heaven as aiding Chinggis or his lineage; as
a sampling, consult paragraphs 80, 187, 199, 201, 203, 206, 208, 224, 240, 256,
267, and 275.

42. Riasanovsky, Mongolian Law, 27-28; Fletcher,
“The Mongols,” 31; and Franke, From
Tribal Chieftain to Universal Emperor,

43. On the political
aims of the Mongols consult Dawson, Mission
to Asia,
43-44. On the Mongol letters demanding submission, see E. Voeglin,
“The Mongol Orders of Submission to European Powers 1245-1255,” Byzantion 15 (1940-41): 378-413. For the
place of heaven’s will in the ideology of the Mongols and as a motivation for
conquest, see Igor de Rachewiltz, “Some Remarks on the Ideological
Foundation of Chingis Khan’s Empire,” Papers
on Far Eastern History
7 (1973): 21-36; Fletcher, “The Mongols,”
30-31, 34; and Franke, From Tribal
Chieftain to Universal Emperor,
14-18. For heaven as the same motivating
factor in the Ch’i-tan goal of world conquest, see Wittfogel and Feng, History of Chinese Society, 112. For
general back-ground consult Nibley, “Hierocentric State,” 244-47.

44. Juvaini did
ascribe the invasion and investment of Islamic civilization to divine will. On
this consult Boyle, History of the World
1:xxxiii, xxxv; and Juvaini’s expressions in ibid., 1:23-24, 39,
and 144. Juvaini, of course, was not the only Islamic apologist to voice these
sentiments. See, inter alia, the Zij-i-Ilkhani of Nasirad-Din Tusi, cited
in Boyle, The Mongol World Empire 1206-1370 (London: Variorum Reprints, 1977), 27:245-46. Cf. also Constantin D’Ohsson, Histoire des Mongols, depuis Tchinguiz-Khan
jusqu’a Timour Bey, ou Tamerlan,
4 vols. (Le Haye et Amsterdam: Les Frères
Van Cleef, 1834-35), 1:392-93.

45. Manabu Waida,
“Notes on Sacred Kingship in Central Asia,” Numen 23 (1976): 179-90; 181. The Mongols also included trees as
part of their shamanistic rites of kingship; see Paul Pelliot, Notes on Marco Polo, 3 vols. (Paris:
Imprimerie National, 1959-73), 2:627-37.

46. See the discussion
in Fletcher, “The Mongols,” 18, 34-35.

47. On Chinggis as
shaman, the Tabaqat-i Nasiri of Juzjani
Minhaj al-Din records, “Every now and again he used to fall into a trance .
. . and that state of trance used to be similar to that which had happened to
him at the outset of his rise” (quoted in Boyle, Mongol World Empire, 22:181); cf. William of Rubruck, The Journey of William of Rubruck, 121.
The fundamental study on Chinggis as shaman remains Iwai Hirosato,
“Chingisu Kan no sokui to fugeki ni tsuite,” in Toyoshi ronso (Kyoto: Toyoshi
Kenkyukwai, 1950), 107-30. For the cult of Chinggis, see N. Pallisen, “Die
alte Religion der Mongolen unter der Kultus Tchingis-Chans,” Numen 3 (1956): 178-229; and Sechin
Jagchid, Essays in Mongolian Studies, Monograph 3 (Provo: David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, Brigham
Young University, 1988), 299-321; cf. also Tsy Zamtsarono,
“Kul’t Chingisa v Ordose iz puteshestvia v iuzhnuiv Mongoliiv v
1919,” Central Asiatic Journal 6
(1961): 194-234.

48. On the
“shamanistic structure” of kingship in Inner Asia, see Manabu,
“Sacred Kingship,” and Iwai Hirosato, “Chingisu Kan no sokui.”

49. Franke, From Tribal Chieftain to Universal Emperor, 7.

50. In China,
acculturation translates into the process of sinification. For an analysis and
historical survey of this process, see Honey, “Sinification and
Legitimation,” chap. 3. For a parallel process, see Speros Vryonis, Jr., The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia
Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971).

51. Fletcher,
“The Mongols,” 21, 22; cf. Douglas L. Johnson, The Nature of Nomadism, Department of Geography Research Paper No.
118 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1969), 13. The same is true of modern
autocracies; see, for instance, Andrew E. Janos, “Charismatics and
Constitutions: The Politics of Succession in Non-Western Societies,” Journal of International and Area Studies 1 (1986): 115-33.

52. For other primary
sources on the rise of Chinggis more concise than the “Secret
History,” see Meng Ta pei lu 3a-b (in Wang, ed., Meng-ku shih-liao);
Dawson, Mission to Asia, 5:18-22;
Polo, Description of the World, par.
65-66 (pp. 162-65); and Boyle, History of
the World Conqueror,

53. Tekin, Orkhon Turkic, 265. The seventeen
original men of Ilteris, it should be pointed out, possibly
played the role of a personal retinue of a leader. Sometimes they became anda or sworn brothers, which custom,
according to Owen Lattimore, extended the principle of blood kinship among
these adopted brethren and hence strengthened their bonds of loyalty; Owne
Lattimore, Studies in Frontier History,
Collected Papers 1929-58
(London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 533. On
this personal following of chiefs and aspirants for supratribal office, see
Vladimirtsov, Le régime social des
95ff; Beatrice F. Manz, “The Ulus Chagatay before and after
Temur’s Rise to Power: The Transformation from Tribal Confederation to Army of
Conquest,” Central Asiatic Journal 27 (1983): 88; and Fletcher, “The Mongols,” 20.

54. Fletcher,
“The Mongols,” 14.

55. Oral epics
constituted the chief means of preservation and transmittal of traditional lore
among the nomads as well as the primary sources for sedentary historians. For
instance, both Hsiung-nu and Hsien-pi epics were incorporated into Chinese
historical accounts, with expected retouching (Owen Lattimore, Inner Asian Frontiers of China [New
York: Capitol Publishing and American Geographical Society, 1951], 464-65; and
K. H. J. Gardiner and R. R. C. de Crespigny, “T’an-Shih Huai and the
Hsien-pi Tribes of the Second Century,” Papers on Far Eastern History 15 [1977]: 14). For an evaluation of
traditional Turkish epics, see Nora K. Chadwick and Victor Zhirmunsky, Oral Epics of Central Asia (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1969), esp. 79-95, for “individualism” in
the heroic poems; and Faruk Sümer et al., The Book of Dede Korkut: A Turkish Epic (Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1972). A very complete introduction to Mongolian heroic epics,
including an extensive bibliography, is Walther Heissig, Die mongolischen Heldenepen — Structur und Motiv, Reinisch-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vorträge G
237 (Düsseldorf: Westdeutscher
Verlag, 1978). For the six traditional theories on what set the nomadic
empires, particularly the Mongols, in motion, see Fletcher, “The
Mongols,” 32-39; and Uchida Gimpu, Hokku
Ajiashi Kenkyu,
2 vols. (Kyoto: Dobosha, 1975), 1:1-27, with emphasis on
the Hsiung-nu.

56. Allsen, Mongol Imperialism, 78.

57. Fletcher, “The
Mongols,” 29-30; the ideological device was the belief in Tenggeri.

58. On this point see
Fletcher, “The Mongols,” 28.

59. As two prominent
examples, wars of succession were responsible for splitting both the Hsiung-nu
empire (into northern and southern halves ca. 55 B.C.) and T’u-chüeh
(into eastern and western sections ca. A.D. 582). Theophylactus Simocatta, History VII, 8, 8-10, records a typical
attempt at a coup among the Avars. Jack Goody, ed., Succession to High Office (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1966), 5, includes such a partitioning of territory and duplication of the
supreme office among the possible solutions to the problem of succession.

60. Fletcher,
“The Mongols,” 17.

61. Uchida Gimpu, Kyodo-shi kenkyu (Kyoto: Sogensha,
1953), 12, 14.

62. The split into
northern and southern halves has been discussed in McGovern, The Early Empires of Central Asia, 169-70; and H. H. Dubs, History of the
Former Han Dynasty,
3 vols. (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1933-55), 2:190-96.
See further Lin Kan, Hsiung-nu shih, rev. ed. (Huhhot: Inner Mongolia People’s Publishing House, 1979), 100-119; and
Uchida, Hokku Ajiashi kenkyu, 2:210-19.

63. According to the
medieval commentator Hu San-hsing, cited in Hou
Han shu chi chieh
(reprinted Peking: Chung-hua shu-chü, 1984),

64. Treated by
McGovern, Early Empires of Central Asia, 169-71; Honey, “Sinification and Legitimation,” 18-22, recounts the
decline of the office of Shan-yü among the Southern Hsiung-nu until

65. Sui shu 84.1865; Liu, Die chinesischen Nachrichten, 1:43. The
same incident, with minor variants, is recorded in Pei shih 99.3290; tr. Uchida et al., Kiba minzoku shi, 2:74-75.

66. Among the first
eight T’u-chüeh rulers (until the split into eastern and western hordes),
succession passed from father to son three times, from brother to younger
brother twice, and once from granduncle to grandnephew (according to the
Chinese accounts). Among the eighth/ninth-century Uighurs, primogenital
succession was preferred; Colin Mackerass, The
Uighur Empire According to the T’ang Dynastic Histories
University of South Carolina Press, 1972), 192-93.

67. For the interplay
of birthright versus tanistry among another group of nomads, the Hsien-pi,
consult T’ang Ch’ang-ju, Wei Chin Nan-pei
Ch’ao shih lun-ts’ung hsü-pien
(1959; reprinted Beijing: Sanlien
shu-tien, 1978), 138.

68. Allsen, Mongol Imperialism, 218-19, n. 4; Polo, Description of the World, par. 65 (162).
Plano Carpini stated that formal election by the quriltai was written into the yasa by Chinggis (Dawson, Mission to Asia, 25).

69. There is little
concrete evidence that earlier nomads had formal assemblies like the Mongolian quriltai other than passing references
such as “they unitedly set him up” and the like.

70. On this famous
occasion, consult the following: Ratchnevsky, Cinggis-khan, 82-87; Pelliot, Notes on Marco Polo, 1:295-96; René Grousset, Conqueror of the World, tr. Marian McKellar and Denis Sinor (New
York: Orion Press, 1966), 166-70; and B. Ya. Vladimirtsov, The Life of Chingis Khan, tr. Prince D.S. Mirsky (1930; reprinted
New York and London: Benjamin Blom, 1969), 63-66.

71. Plano Carpini, in
Dawson, Mission to Asia, 61-64; and
summarized in Spuler, The Mongol Period, 15.

72. Martin, Rise of Chingis Khan, 314. In the case
of the quriltai convened to name
Chinggis’ successor, it had no choice but to confirm the heir he had already
chosen before his death, his third son Ögödei. For the succession to Chinggis,
see the extended discussion in D’Ohsson, Histoire
des Mongols,
2:8-13; cf. Vladimirtsov, Life
of Chingis Khan,
149-51; and Allsen, Mongol
18-19, 37-38, 46.