ELČĪ (īlčī), envoy, messenger, or official traveling on government business during the Mongol period and thereafter. The Mongols were especially insistent on the sacrosanct status of ambassadors, especially their own; and the murder of an elčī, together with the ill-treatment of two others, helped precipitate Čengīz Khan’s (q.v.) invasion of the Sultan Moḥammad Ḵᵛārazmšāh’s empire in 616/1219. The Mongol empire, being of unparalleled size, inevitably required an elaborate communications network if it was to function effectively. During the time of Čengīz Khan, elčīs had made ad hoc exactions of remounts and provisions as they traveled around on official business. A regular system, the yām, was set up in 631/1234 during the reign of the Great Khan Ögedei (624-39/1229-41). Post stations were established at regular intervals throughout the empire, from which elčīs could draw whatever was necessary (Histoire secrète, pp. 256-57; Rašīd-al-Dīn, ed. Blochet, pp. 42, 49; tr. Boyle, pp. 55, 62). They carried tablets of authority (paiza) varying in form according to their status. According to the Persian sources, the system was much abused by elčīs. Jovaynī (ed. Qazvīnī, III, pp. 76-77; tr. Boyle, II, p. 599) recounts how in the 650s/1250s Möngke (Mangū) attempted to reduce the burden on the countryside imposed by the exactions of traveling elčīs by laying down clear instructions as to their behavior. Rašīd-al-Dīn (ed. Blochet, p. 312; tr. Boyle, p. 219) adds that merchants had been using the official facilities, which they were now forbidden to do. Möngke’s reforms evidently had no more than a temporary effect, at least in Persia. The misbehavior of elčīs was among the many abuses tackled by Ḡāzān Khan in his program of administrative reforms. Prior to Ḡāzān’s accession in 694/1295, if Rašīd-al-Dīn is to be believed, elčīs traveled with anything from 200 to 1,000 attendants. They were in the habit of stopping caravans and even commandeering the horses of army officers, government officials, and qāżīs. Bandits would take advantage of this practice, masquerading as elčīs in order to rob travelers they had succeeded in stopping (Baku, p. 480). The ill-repute of elčīs as a class and the consequent lack of cooperation they encountered interfered with state business insofar as genuine elčīs abroad on important missions were also delayed. Ḡāzān laid down detailed provisions intended to put a stop to such abuses (Rašīd-al-Dīn, pp. 483-85; Tārīḵ-e Waṣṣāf, p. 387), though as usual in the case of his reforms, it is difficult to know what practical effect, if any, this had. The malign reputation of elčīs survived the Mongol regime: Clavijo (p. 189) records how, during the reign of Tīmūr, their approach was dreaded by villagers and townspeople, “for with the arrival of ambassadors they know that a black day is on them.” The term continued in use during the Safavid and Qajar periods. See also ČĀPĀR.


Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail, see “Short References”):

Ruy González de Clavijo, tr. G. Le Strange as Narrative of the Spanish Embassy to the Court of Timur at Samarqand in the Years 1403-1406, London, 1928.

Doerfer, Elemente II, pp. 203-7.

Histoire secrète des Mongols, ed. L. Ligeti, Budapest, 1971.

Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ II, ed. E. Blochet, Leiden and London, 1911; tr. J. A. Boyle as The Successors of Genghis Khan, New York and London, 1971.

(David O. Morgan)

Originally Published: December 15, 1998

Last Updated: December 13, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VIII, Fasc. 4, pp 344-345