COURTS AND COURTIERS iv. Under the Mongols



iv. Under the Mongols

During the early stages of the Mongol presence Persia was ruled, on behalf of the great khan (qaḡan, qaʾan/qāʾān) in Mongolia, by military governors based in Azerbaijan and in Khorasan, but, with the coming of Hülegü (Hūlāgū) in 654/1256 and the establishment of the Il-khanid state, the country was once again the seat of a resident sovereign. Like their kinsmen in other parts of the Mongol empire, the il-khans followed a pattern of seasonal migrations in search of fresh pas­turage, and Rašīd-al-Dīn and Kāšānī, the “court” his­torians, have made it possible to trace most of their movements. In the winter the court often halted in Arrān, in Qarābāḡ and the Mūḡān steppe, or at Ūjān in the neighborhood of Tabrīz. Favored summer resi­dences included Ālātāḡ (Ala Dağ, northeast of Lake Van), where Hülegü built a palace (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, p. 90), Tabrīz, and Qarābāḡ. All these locations lay within a relatively restricted area in northwestern Persia, as dictated by the military threat from the Mongols of the Golden Horde in the Caucasus. But occasionally the il-khan wintered in Baghdad, in the so-called “palace of the catholicus,” according to ʿOmarī (pp. 91-92); and Abaqa and Öljeitü (Ūljāytū) also sometimes wintered in Māzandarān. It should be emphasized that palaces and cities—even new cities constructed by the il-khans, like Solṭānīya, planned by Arḡun (Arḡūn) and begun under Öljeitü in 706/1306-07—fit into this pattern, inas­much as they simply formed part of an annual itiner­ary. They were not “capitals” in the full sense. A vivid description of the formalities of striking and pitching camp and of the order of march was given by Ebn Baṭṭūṭa (II, pp. 125-28; tr. Gibb, pp. 342-44; tr. Mowaḥḥed, I, pp. 250-51), who visited the ordo (ordū “camp”) of Abū Saʿīd (q.v.) in about 727/1327.

As was the case with the Mongol qaḡans in the east, the court did not consist merely of the sovereign’s headquarters but also included an establishment (ordo) for each of his wives and adult children. The papal envoy John of Plano Carpini reported, in his Ystoria Mongalorum, that a prince’s camp was never broken up on his death but was entrusted to one of his women­folk (Van den Wyngaert, p. 115), and this rule seems to have applied to the princesses’ ordos in turn. They were heritable: The ordo of Hülegü’s chief wife, Doquz Ḵatun (Dūqūz Ḵātūn), for instance, passed on her death in 663/1265 to Abaqa’s wife Öljei (Ūljāī) Ḵatun, and Abaqa ordered his grandson, the future island-khan Ḡazan (Ḡāzān), reared in the ordo of his wife Boloḡan Ḵatun (Boloḡān Ḵātūn), which the prince was destined to inherit. At first such establishments were maintained in the traditional fashion of the steppe: They were supported by levies from the subject popu­lation, gifts (pīškaš),and shares of the war booty. But from the last part of Abaqa’s reign special provision seems to have been made for them. Under Arḡun they were allotted for their upkeep sums drawn on the revenues of particular provinces; and Ḡazan endeavored further to regularize matters by granting to each ordo a province (welāyat) from the injū (īnjū), or “crown” lands (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, pp. 536-38; idem, Tārīḵ-e ḡāzānī, pp. 329-31).

Occasionally a particular amir was designated as an inaq (īnāq “intimate”) of the sovereign; for example, Buqa (Būqā) under Abaqa and Aqbuqa (Āqbūqā) un­der Aḥmad-Tegüder (Aḥmad Takūdār) were so described by Rašīd-al-Dīn (Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, pp. 153, 190; idem, 1975, pp. 36-7, 57). According to ʿOmarī (p. 99), the inaqs were a private entourage (ḵāṣṣa) comprising the sons of amirs, but there may be some confusion here with the kešig (kešīktān), or guard, for Grigor of Akner (Blake and Frye, pp. 343, 345) reported that Hülegü was surrounded by a guards regiment made up of young Georgians and Armenians of noble birth. In any case it must be assumed that the principal courtiers were largely identical with the vizier and great military officers of state, notably the four omarāʾ-e olūs (commanders of the olūs) headed by the amīr al-omarāʾ (commander in chief), whose names appeared on Il-khanid decrees of the early 14th century (cf. also ʿOmarī, p. 93).

Associated with the Il-khanid court were a number of officials who were periodically referred to by contem­porary authors like Rašīd-al-Dīn; the functions of certain of them were described more systematically by Naḵjavānī, who wrote slightly later, in the mid-14th century, under Jalayerid rule (II, pp. 29-35, 53-72, 105-08). The yurṭči (yūrṭčī) was charged with setting up the royal encampment and with allotting pastures to the various ordos; the job of steward was performed by the baδuṛči (bāvoṛčī); the büke’ül (bokāvol), origi­nally a food taster, became responsible for overseeing the commissariat; the čerbi (čerbī)acted as chamber­lain; the šüküṛči (šūkūṛčī)held the ceremonial parasol; the quščis (qūščīān) were falconers; the yasaδul (yasā’ol/yasāvol)was marshal; the bularquči (bolārqūčī)oversaw lost property; and the aḵtači (aḵtājī) was master of the horse. Judicial func­tions were delegated to the yarḡu, presided over by the yarḡuči (yarḡūčī or amīr-e yarḡū), who naturally dis­pensed Mongol, rather than Islamic law (Lambton, pp. 83-89). Attached to the court were also bitikčis (bitīkčīān), or scribes, whose relationship with the administrative machinery headed by the vizier and other officials is unclear. And lastly there are refer­ences to ev-oḡlans (īw-oḡlān/ān), or “pages,” prob­ably slaves, who were employed in various capacities, including missions to collect income (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, pp. 167, 228, 254, 290, 335; idem, 1957, pp. 43, 80; idem, Tārīḵ-e ḡāzānī, pp. 12, 62, 127).

Prior to the reign of Ḡazan, when the Il-khans (apart from Aḥmad-Tegüder) were still pagan, it must be assumed that assemblies and etiquette followed lines similar to those described by observers like Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck at the qāgan’s court in Mongolia. At a general council, or quriltai (qūrīltāy), for the election of a new qaḡan, once agreement had been reached, the princes and nobles removed their hats, slung their belts around their necks, took the successful candidate by each hand and had him raised up on a piece of felt before performing the triple genuflection, or čök (Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, I, pp. 147, 207; tr. Boyle, I, pp. 187, 251-52; Simon of Saint-Quentin, pp. 90-92). The same procedure was appar­ently observed at the election and enthronement of an il-khan, as in the cases of Aḥmad-Tegüder in 681/1282, Arḡun in 683/1284, Öljeitü in 703/1304, and Abū Saʿīd in 717/1317, though in time the felt was superseded by a throne (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, pp. 169-70, 198-99; idem, 1957, pp. 45, 62; Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, pp. 66, 122-23).

Feasting (toy, ṭūy) followed an election but occurred on other occasions also: The monarch’s birthday was celebrated at the il-khan’s court in the same way as that of the qaḡan in the Far East, and so was the advent of the new year according to the Turco-Mongol calendar (Vardan, p. 300; Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, p. 352; idem, Tārīḵ-e ḡāzānī, p. 143). Certain feasts were fixed, for instance, the one early in June at which all the white mares were consecrated and the first qumiz (qomīz, fermented mare’s milk) of the year was consumed (William of Rubruck, in Van den Wyngaert, p. 302). During such celebrations, includ­ing the election of a new sovereign, the Mongol nobles wore clothes of a different color each day (Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, I, p. 147; tr. Boyle, I, p. 186; Vardan, pp. 300­-01; Plano Carpini, in Van den Wyngaert, p. 117; William of Rubruck, in Van den Wyngaert, p. 306). Special formalities were observed for visitors to the court. The qams, or shamans, “purified” them by making them pass between two fires; gifts brought for someone who had died were treated similarly (William of Rubruck, in Van den Wyngaert, p. 301). Members of the “religious classes” were exempted from per­forming the triple genuflection before a sovereign; hence the Armenian chronicler Vardan Arawelci, being a priest, was exempt at Hülegü’s court in 1264 (p. 301).

There is relatively little information on court cer­emonial in the Persian sources of the Il-khanid period, though Rašīd-al-Dīn described at some length a feast held by Ḡazan at Ūjān in the summer of 701/1302. The il-khan sat upon a golden throne studded with gems, dressed in cloth of gold, wearing a jeweled diadem (tāj)and a magnificent girdle; the royal ladies (whose participation in public ceremonies was one of the distinguishing features of the Mongol period), the princes, and the courtiers were also luxuriously attired and rode on splendid horses. The feasting was fol­lowed by consultation on new military appointments and troop dispositions on various fronts (Rašīd-al­-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, pp. 346-49; idem, Tārīḵ-e ḡāzānī, pp. 137-40). These occasions fur­nished an opportunity for lavish displays of generosity by the il-khan: Rašīd-al-Dīn reported that on one occasion Ḡazan distributed 300 tümens (tūmān) of gold and twenty thousand richly embroidered garments (Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ III, Baku, pp. 393-94; Tārīḵ-e ḡāzānī, pp. 184-85).


R. P. Blake and R. N. Frye, “The History of the Nation of the Archers by Grigor of Akancʾ,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 12, 1949, pp. 299-399.

Doerfer, II, pp. 217-19, s.v. īnāq (no. 668), and III, pp. 120-21, s.v. čūk (no. 1141).

Ebn Baṭṭūṭa, Toḥfat al-noẓẓār fī ḡarāʾeb al-amṣār wa ʿajāʾeb al-asfār, tr. M.-ʿA. Mowaḥḥed as Safar-­nāma-ye Ebn Baṭṭūṭa, 2 vols., Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.

Ḥāfeẓ-e Abrū, Ḏayl-e jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ-e rašīdī, ed. Ḵ. Bayānī, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.

Abu’l-Qāsem ʿAbd-Allāh Kāšānī, Tārīḵ-e Ūljāytū Solṭān, ed. M. Hambly, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.

A. K. S. Lambton, Continuity and Change in Medieval Per­sia, London, 1988.

Idem, “Marāsim 3,” in EI2 VI, pp. 521-29.

C. P. Melville, “The Itineraries of Sultan Öljeitu 1304-16,” Iran 28, 1990, pp. 55-70.

Moḥammad b. Hendūšāh Naḵjavānī, Dastūr al-kāteb fī taʿyīn al-marāteb, 3 pts. in 2 vols., ed. ʿA. ʿA. ʿAlīzāda, Moscow, 1964-76.

Šehāb-al-Dīn Abu’l-Abbās Aḥmad b. Fażl-Allāh ʿOmarī, Masālek al-abṣār fī mamālek al-amṣār, ed. and tr. K. Lech, Wiesbaden, 1968, pp. 85-102.

Rašīd-al-Dīn, Geschichte der Iḷḫāne Abāġā bis Gaiḫātū, ed. K. Jahn, 2nd ed., the Hague, 1957.

Simon of Saint-­Quentin, Historia Tartarorum, ed. J. Richard, Paris, 1965.

Spuler, Mongolen 4, pp. 217-20, 227-31, 278-­80.

A. van den Wyngaert, ed., Sinica Franciscana I. Itinera et Relationes Fratrum Minorum Saeculi XIII et XIV, Quaracchi [Florence), 1929.

Vardan Arawelci, tr. and ed. É. Dulaurier as “Les Mongols d’après les historiens arméniens,” JA, 5e série, 16, 1860, pp. 273-322.

(Peter Jackson)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: November 2, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 4, pp. 364-366

Cite this entry:

Peter Jackson, “COURTS AND COURTIERS iv. Under the Mongols,” Encyclopædia Iranica, VI/4, pp. 364-366, available online at (accessed on 30 December 2012).