George Lane is Senior Teaching Fellow in the History of the Middle East and Central Asia at SOAS in the University of London. His previous books are Early Mongol Rule in Thirteenth-Century Iran, Genghiz Khan and Mongol Rule, Daily Life in the Mongol Empire and Silk Roads and Steppe Empires.
How did you become interested in Mongol History?
Pure chance but David Morgan being my BA and MA teacher helped considerably. I had been to Afghanistan and Iran in the 70s and I had also travelled around the area by motorbike so I was very easily able to visualise the events of the 13 century from my memories. Afghanistan had changed little in 700 years. In addition I knew Persian from my time living in those countries so I had immediate access to many of the primary sources.
Why should people want to find out more about the Chinggisids (Mongols)?
The Chinggisids initiated the world’s first experience of globalisation and opened up the east to Europe for the first time ever. Today with the collapse of the Soviet Empire the east has once again been opened up and there is much that the world experienced 700 years ago that can find parallels today.
What’s the most common misconception about the Chinggisids?
The academic world’s attitude to the Chinggisids has dramatically changed since about 2000. Those changes in attitude are only now filtering down to the world in general. The Chinggisid years were not an extended black hole or a period of destructive horror. Though Chinggis Khan’s advent into the sedentary world was initially accompanied by a great deal of death and destruction the negative aspects have been vastly exaggerated and the positive legacy has to a large extent been ignored or under-played. The latest biography of Chinggis Khan by Michal Biran describes Chinggis Khan as one of the makers of the Islamic world. The successors of Chinggis Khan opened up the world’s trade routes and initiated a prolonged period of cultural, intellectual, mercantile, and scientific exchange. They awoke a dynamic, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural empire which oversaw one of the world’s greatest periods of population movement which though initially forced later became voluntary as people’s aspirations grew and were inspired by contact with new and foreign cultures and people.
If you could take three books to a desert island, what would they be?
The complete works of Rumi and Shakespeare and E.G. Browne’s Literary History of Persia. ■