The Legacy of Genghis Khan
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The Mongols in Iran
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By the mid-thirteenth century the Islamic lands beyond the Oxus River, which Genghis Khan’s forces had subdued earlier in the century, had slipped from Mongol control. Accordingly, the Great Khan (Genghis’s grandson) sent his brother Hülegü to consolidate and regain control of western Asia. Between 1256 and 1260 Hülegü conquered an immense territory including western Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Caucasus, and eastern Anatolia, which he now ruled on behalf of the Great Khan, assuming the title Il-Khan—meaning subordinate or lesser Khan.

The Ilkhanid empire was one of three vast principalities nominally under the authority of the Great Khan, who ruled first from Mongolia and, later, China. Of the three, which also included the Golden Horde in southern Russia and the Chaghatay in central Asia, the Ilkhanids maintained the closest ties to China. However, after the death of Khubilai Khan in 1294, the formal relationship between the Ilkhanids and the Great Khan or Yuan emperor was less strictly observed. The Ilkhanids’ adoption of Islam as their official state religion in 1295 must also have created a religious gulf with their Mongol cousins in China who had embraced Buddhism.

Even as the formal alliance between Iran and China lessened, cultural exchange flourished as luxury wares and artists traveled freely across the empire—a process that energized Iranian art with novel forms, meanings, and motifs that were further disseminated throughout the Islamic world. With the Ilkhanids’ conversion to Islam and acculturation to Persian customs and traditions came a remarkable patronage of arts and letters, encompassing written histories, sumptuously illustrated manuscripts, and brilliantly decorated architectural monuments.

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2Enthronement Scene with Red Table
Enthronement Scene with Red Table
Sindukht Manuscript detail

  Tent Hanging detail
5   Star and Cross Tiles detail
6   Gold Cup detail
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