Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7ccbd9845f-hl5gf Total loading time: 0.733 Render date: 2023-02-01T07:42:13.871Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Part I - Beyond Warfare: Armies, Tribes and Lords

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2020

Matthew S. Gordon
University of Miami
Richard W. Kaeuper
University of Rochester, New York
Harriet Zurndorfer
Universiteit Leiden
Get access


Image of the first page of this content. For PDF version, please use the ‘Save PDF’ preceeding this image.'
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Bibliographical Essay

The topic of violence in Inner Asian history has long been neglected, partly because of a general absence of detailed studies in this field, and partly because of the much greater attention paid to the Mongol conquest, whose brutality and savagery have been documented in numerous medieval chronicles from Russia to Armenia, Hungary and the Middle East. A contribution that includes the arc of Inner Asian history in the period in question, but with a focus on war rather than violence, is Cosmo, Nicola Di (ed.), Warfare in Inner Asian History (500–1800) (Leiden: Brill, 2002). The classic book by Grousset, René, The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1970), includes various episodes of war and violence. Much has been written about the military aspects of the nomadic invasions by popular writers, such as Hildinger, Erik, Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia, 500 B.C. to 1700 A.D. (New York: Sarpedon, 1997). Also typical of this literature is Chambers, James, The Devil’s Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe (New York: Atheneum, 1985), which includes a chapter entitled ‘The Fury of the Tartars’. More scholarly is the study of the Mongol conquest of China by Desmond Martin, H., The Rise of Chingis Khan and His Conquest of China (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1950) which includes detailed information on military matters. More recently, of note is the book by Timothy May on Mongol military history, The Mongol Art of War: Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Military System. (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2007).

A seminal essay on steppe violence is Fletcher, Joseph Jr, ‘Turco-Mongolian Monarchic Tradition in the Ottoman Empire’, Harvard Ukrainian Studies 3 (1979), 236–51. Here Fletcher theorised the similarity between the nomadic system of violent succession and the system known as ‘bloody tanistry’ in the Celtic world. Timothy May is also the author of an essay on military training of steppe nomads, reaching beyond the Mongol period, The Training of an Inner Asian Nomad Army in the Pre-modern Period’, Journal of Military History 70.3 (2006), 617–35. The question of the Inner Asian warrior in several literatures, from antiquity to the Middle Ages, was first discussed by Sinor, Denis, ‘The Inner Asian Warriors’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 101.2 (1981), 133–44.

An excellent guide to primary sources for the Mongol impact on Europe is Schmieder, Felicitas, Europa und die Fremden: Die Mongolen im Urteil des Abendlandes vom 13. Bis in das 15. Jahrhundert (Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 1994), in particular chapter III. Several primary sources mention the violence inflicted by the Mongols on their European victims, such as those contained in Archdeacon Thomas of Split, History of the Bishops of Salona and Split, ed. Perić, Olga et al. (Budapest: Central European University, 2006), and Anonymous, Magistri Rogerii Epistola in miserabile carmen super destructione regni Hungariae per Tartaros facta, ed. Bak, J. M., Rady, M. and Veszprémy, L. (Budapest: Central European University, 2010).

Bibliographical Essay

The secondary source scholarship devoted at least in part to the dynamism in relations between Chinese rebel insurgencies of the ‘medieval’ or ‘middle imperial’ centuries (roughly the ninth to fourteenth centuries) and the armies of the imperial state as instruments in quashing them has surged markedly of late, with this chapter profiting appreciably from this. With respect to the ninth-century situation, by far the most illuminating of these emergent works here drawn upon is Tackett, Nicolas’s The Destruction of the Medieval Chinese Aristocracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2014), which will assuredly serve as an inspirational beacon for all future studies on its namesake subject generally and on the disruptive influence of the rebel qua ruler Huang Chao (d. 884) in particular. An additional recent work of importance is A Portrait of Five Dynasties China: From the Memoirs of Wang Renyu (880–956) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) by Glen Dudbridge. Despite focusing more fully on the ensuing, intensely divisive period of Five Dynasties (907–60) that succeeded the Tang dynasty (618–907), through the compelling retrospective insights afforded by his diaries, the roving scholar-official Wang Renyu, via Dudbridge’s lucid translation and interpretation, conveys across time to us the devastating impact of Huang Chao, whose tenure as a fleetingly victorious usurper intersected with Wang’s own birth and earliest formative years.

For the purpose of enhancing our knowledge on the subsequent rebellion led by Fang La (d. 1121) at the close of the initial or Northern Song dynasty (960–1127), we have long had to depend principally on two seminal articles published in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies by the scholar Kao Yu-kung [Gao Yougong] in the 1960s – namely, his ‘A Study of the Fang La Rebellion’, HJAS 24 (1962–3), 17–63 and ‘Source Materials on the Fang La Rebellion’, HJAS 26 (1966), 211–41. However, to this monographic and still essential scholarship in English on Fang La may now be added several studies that are more broadly focused on the history of Chinese sectarian violence as a whole. These works advance our understanding not merely of Fang La but also of traditional Chinese religious heresy, violence – whether perpetrated by the populace or exacted against it in reaction by the state – and the inextricable and frequently combustible relationship between the two. Notable among these later studies are Violence in China: Essays in Culture and Counterculture edited by Lipman, Jonathan N. and Harrell, Stevan (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990); Popular Religious Movements and Heterodox Sects in Chinese History by Hubert Seiwert, with Ma Xisha (Leiden: Brill, 2003); Heterodoxy in Late Imperial China edited by Liu, Kwang-Ching and Shek, Richard (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2004); and The Sinister Way: The Divine and the Demonic in Chinese Religious Culture by Richard Von Glahn (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004). However, newer still are those works that specifically facilitate our appreciation of the historical context that spawned the insurrection of Fang La as well as the numerous would-be similar uprisings that arose to shape and, from the standpoint of the state, plague China’s late medieval age. Two prime examples of this growing fund of illuminating secondary literature are Emperor Huizong (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014) by Ebrey, Patricia Buckley and The Reunification of China: Peace through War under the Song Dynasty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015) by Peter Lorge.

Bibliographical Essay

Violence by armies or soldiers off the battlefield has not been a field of research in its own right for the region and periods under study so far, and there is no source genre dealing directly with violence. This violence has, however, been treated in general histories such as the Cambridge History of Iran (in particular, vols. ivvi) and also in many histories treating individual dynasties; see Peacock’s studies of the Seljuq empire quoted in Tor, Deborah G., Violent Order: Religious Warfare, Chivalry, and the ᶜAyyār Phenomenon in the Medieval Islamic World (Würzburg: Ergon, 2007) Manz, Beatrice, The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); and Manz, Power, Politics and Religion in Timurid Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), for the late fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries. For the Mongol period, see Morgan, David, The Mongols (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986). The standard reference for the Mongols in the Muslim world is Jackson, Peter, The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017). A case study of siege warfare and massive destruction during Timur’s campaigns is Aubin, Jean, ‘Comment Tamerlan prenait les villes’, Studia Islamica 19 (1963), 83122.

Another approach to the problem has been through regional history. Several studies of individual regions of Iran are relevant, among them Durand-Guédy, David, Iranian Elites and Turkish Rulers: A History of Isfahan in the Saljuq Period (London: Routledge, 2010), and Aigle, Denise, Le Fārs sous la domination mongole (Paris: Association pour l’Avancement des Études Iraniennes, 2005). Local lordship, including violent lordship, is treated in Paul, Jürgen, Lokale und imperiale Herrschaft im Iran des 12. Jahrhunderts: Herrschaftspraxis und Konzepte (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2016).

Sources used in this chapter, in Arabic and Persian, come from diverse genres: narrative sources, that is, universal chronicles, regional and dynastic histories and individual biographies (in both Arabic and Persian) as well as hagiography (in Persian). Hagiography is particularly rewarding because it offers insight into the ways ‘ordinary’ people felt about lords and armies. I have discussed the methodology of using hagiography in Hagiographische Texte als historische Quelle’, Saeculum 41.1 (1990), 1743 and in ‘Histoires de Turcs dans l’hagiographie persane pré-mongole’, in Schiltz, Véronique (ed.), De Samarcande à Istanbul: étapes orientales. Hommages à Pierre Chuvin II (Paris: CNRS Editions, 2015), pp. 193204. Drafts and copies of official letters (most of them in Persian) are important because they give the official point of view: telling people not to do something may mean that this was current practice. Geography (in Arabic) has given some elements. Some types of sources are absent because they do not exist or at least are no longer extant: documents from legal practice, court records and so forth. Fiction and poetry have not been used but could possibly yield interesting results; the laments about large-scale destruction wrought by the Ghuzz in Khurasan were the subject of an elegy by Anwari, a twelfth-century panegyrist; the poem was translated into English by William Kirkpatrick as early as 1785 and has since then been known as ‘The Tears of Khorassan’ (for references, see de Bruijn, J. T. P., ‘Anwarī’, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. ii (1986), pp. 141–3).

Bibliographical Essay

Contamine, P., War in the Middle Ages, trans. from French original of 1980 by M. Jones (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), is the only work on the whole period. Southern, P. and Dixon, K., The Late Roman Army (London: Routledge, 1996) summarised work on the Roman army. The difficult subject of the transition from Rome to the ‘medieval’ world pioneered by Bachrach, B. S., Merovingian Military Organization 481–751 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972) has now been illuminated by Halsall, G., Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, 450–900 (London: Routledge, 2003), showing how the armies of the old empire transformed into ethnic groups. Petersen, L. I. R., Siege Warfare and Military Organization in the Successor States (400-800 AD) (Leiden: Brill, 2013) suggests that Europe, Byzantium and Islam all inherited Roman traditions, emphasising the links between Roman and Carolingian armies. Bachrach, B. S., Early Carolingian Warfare: Prelude to Empire (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001) and Charlemagne’s Early Campaigns (768–77) (Leiden: Brill, 2013) on Carolingian warfare argue for large armies and continuity with the Roman world, contrary to Halsall, G. and Reuter, T., ‘Plunder and Tribute in the Carolingian Empire’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 35 (1985), 7594 and ‘The End of Carolingian Military Expansion’, in P. Godman and Colins, R. (eds.), Charlemagne’s Heir: New Perspectives on the Reign of Louis the Pious (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 391405. On Carolingian decline see France, J., ‘The Military History of the Carolingian Period’, Revue Belge d’Histoire Militaire 26.2 (1985), 81100, reprinted in Warfare, Crusade and Conquest in the Middle Ages (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2014); and for Germany, D. S. Bachrach, Warfare in Tenth Century Germany (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2012). France, J., Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusade 1000–1300 (London: UCL Press, 1999) covers the high medieval period, but perhaps the finest insights come from Gillingham, J., ‘Richard I and the Science of War in the Middle Ages’, in Gillingham, J. and Holt, J. C. (eds.), War and Government in the Middle Ages (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1984), pp. 7891; William the Bastard at War’, in C. Harper-Bill, J. Holdsworth and J. Nelson (eds.), Studies in History Presented to R.Allen Brown (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1986), pp. 141–8; War and Chivalry in the History of William the Marshal’, in Cos, P. and Lloyd, S. (eds.), Thirteenth Century England II (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1988), pp. 113. Smail, R. C., Crusading Warfare 1097–1193 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956; 2nd edn 1995) is the foundation book for the crusades, but Ellenblum, R., in Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) and Crusader Castles and Modern Histories (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), has updated our view of crusader settlement. Vale, M., War and Chivalry: Warfare and Aristocratic Culture in England, France, and Burgundy at the End of the Middle Ages (London: Duckworth, 1981) provides an introduction to late medieval warfare, while Rogers, C., War Cruel and Sharp: English Strategy under Edward III, 1327–1360 (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2014) discusses new tactics, and specialist aspects are considered by DeVries, K., Infantry Warfare in the Early Fourteenth Century (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1996) and Purton, P., A History of the Early and Late Medieval Siege, 2 vols. (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2010). On gunpowder Hall, B. S., Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997) is vital.

Bibliographical Essay

Most sources central for studying Viking history are translated and collected in Somerville, Angus A. and Andrew MacDonald, R. (eds.), The Viking Age: A Reader, 2nd edn (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), which however does not distinguish clearly between contemporary texts and those produced much later in the Middle Ages, notably the Icelandic sagas composed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

The modern study of Viking history began with Sawyer, P. H., The Age of the Vikings (London: Arnold, 1962; 2nd edn, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1972), which set the Vikings and their violence in their proper historical context, bringing a sense of proportion to the subject. Sawyer was also innovative in his use of numismatic evidence to expand our understanding of the Vikings.

Although many written sources have become better understood in recent decades, real advances of knowledge have mainly come through archaeological investigations. Roesdahl, Else, The Vikings, 2nd edn (London: Penguin, 1998) summarised many of these advances. Stefan Brink with the collaboration of Neil Price (eds.), The Viking World (London: Routledge, 2008) is a valuable collection of brief and up-to-date thematic essays on all aspects of Viking history and culture, written by experts. Many essays focus on archaeological materials, while others deal with written sources.

While an older, romantic image of uniquely violent Vikings survives in some recent treatments, the path opened by Sawyer has been followed by most recent examinations of the Vikings. Notable among them are Sawyer, Peter (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), Donald Logan, F., The Vikings in History, 3rd edn (New York: Routledge, 2006) and Winroth, Anders, The Age of the Vikings (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014). Specifically focused on violence, but uncritical, especially in its attitudes towards the Icelandic sagas, is Hjardar, Kim and Vike, Vegard, Vikings at War (Philadelphia: Casemate, 2016).

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats