Friday, September 18, 2009

The Mideast Heartland, Three Routes, and the Mongols

How integrated and interdependent much of the world had become became evident by the second half of the 1300s not, unfortunately, because of how well everyone prospered, rather because of how each region suffered effects of others’ disasters. It was the disaster rooted in China that the rest of the “world system” felt. With the Mongol conquests raging within and outward from the east, it was only by luck that the Christian and Muslim worlds were saved, first by the deaths of Mongol rulers and by the internal fighting between Mongol regions. When there was a stable ruler, there were stable and secure routes, but when there was not, the routes suffered--namely the northern route--and traders sought for alternatives. Soon fell the middle route, as well, much in part due to the fall of Baghdad, an epicenter of culture, trade, and religion, as it was crushed between the Crusaders and Mongols. Meanwhile, in the south, Egypt was forced to become increasingly militarized facing (as Baghdad) threats from both sides. Cairo flourished because the southern route through the Red Sea became the single connection between the two bodies of water central to the world system, with the Italians providing the much-needed stream of military manpower, thus drawing the center of power away from the East.

I find it interesting and I agree with Abu-Lughod that, "The most striking lesson is that the economic role of facilitator, depending as it does on an ability to enforce its control over a wide zone, is basically an unstable one, subject to chance political and demographic fluctuations" (182). The Mongols, after all, are a good example. They held, stabilized, and secured trade routes as they unified the great Eastern region and were able to calculate transport and regulate tolls. But as tribute became a basis for the state, they became what Abu-Lughod refers to as "parasitic." The Mongols had to rely on the skills and labor of the peoples they conquered, not practicing any themselves. The need to continue geographically expanding eventually led to their implosion when they could no longer conquer new peoples. These factors being inherent instability, according to Abu-Lughod, all is needed in a new shock that could destroy the system, which in the Mongols' case, was the Black Death.

It is simultaneously unnerving and fascinating to think of the precariousness of groups/nations/empires that, at their time seem unconquerable and stable. Who knows what the future will bring for what are currently the top power players in today's society? What could be the factor that could topple the West's regime? Examining how it has happened in history makes the prospect seem more plausible.


  1. I asked about the same thing in that who would know when or how the core countries now will start to tumble and fall. By reading about all these countries that once ruled everything and fell makes me wonder if core countries now will also have a chapter on the fall of a nation.

  2. I like that you questioned what will happen in the future with our society, because history repeats itself and is the only thing that can give us some indication of what may be in the cards for us and the world.