The Mongol Storm: Making and Breaking Empires in the Medieval Near East by Nicholas Morton - review by John D Hosler

John D Hosler

How to Halt a Horde

The Mongol Storm: Making and Breaking Empires in the Medieval Near East


Basic Books 419pp £25

‘You have no deliverance from our swords, no escape from the terror of our arms … Your prayers against us will not be heard.’ Hulegu, grandson of Genghis Khan and leader of the Ilkhanate domains, minced no words in this missive to the enemies of the Mongols. As is well known, the 13th century featured an array of stunning Mongol conquests across Eurasia that resulted in the creation of the largest contiguous empire in history. In The Mongol Storm, Nicholas Morton, an associate professor at Nottingham Trent University, offers a new history of this phenomenon, concentrating on the westward Mongol conquests that ultimately produced Hulegu’s empire in the Near East. Although certainly not the first word on this subject, The Mongol Storm provides a different and revelatory approach that scholars will find thought-provoking and casual readers will enjoy.

The ‘medieval’ world as traditionally conceived consisted of the states of Europe, Byzantium and the Near East, with the nomadic Mongols typically treated in textbooks and surveys as peripheral: inconvenient outsiders who caused trouble for a while but were not really part of the main course of events. Morton breaks with convention by instead putting them at the centre of the picture. The presence of Mongol armies – or even the possibility that they might arrive this year or next – guided much political decision-making, not just in regions proximate to their lands but also around the eastern Mediterranean.

Morton claims that ‘fear of the Mongols was a very real force in Near Eastern geopolitics’. Many writers find the effective intertwining of geopolitics and narrative history a challenging, if not impossible, task. The ground Morton covers here is impressive. Across twelve chapters, he provides contextual histories of

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