Mapping the Mongol Empire

Mongol Empire

Mongol Empire

Project Overview: 

This project aims to offer ways of mapping the Mongol empire that highlight its role in generating inter-ecumenical travel and writing, as well as in developing new ways of visualizing its structures that do not depend on mapping conventions developed in succeeding nation states, particularly China and Russia.


The heart of the project is a gazetteer, which offers equivalences between place names for four script types: the Uyghur-Mongolian script, which was the dominant language of the Mongol empire, the Perso-Arabic script used in the southwestern part of the empire, the Chinese script used in the East Asian parts of the empire, and the Latin script used in Latin Christendom.

Through this project the Mongol empire as it was known to the Mongols will be reconstructed by using sources which directly or indirectly represent the Mongol imperial gaze. Careful attention to languages and source data will make the maps useful to those using sources related to the multi-cultural Mongol empire. Specific versions of the map will show exactly how the empire reshaped the geographical knowledge of East Asian, Perso-Arabic, and Latin Christian societies in the late Middle Ages.

For each script type a core region is defined. The gazetteer gives all versions of the toponyms in that area that are not written in that area’s script, that are known from sources dating from the Mongol empire. In other words, for East Asia, it gives all the attested examples of East Asian names found in Latin, Perso-Arabic, and Uyghur-Mongolian sources dating to the Mongol empire. For southwest Asia, it will give all the attested examples of Persian or Arabic names found in Chinese, Latin, and Uyghur-Mongolian sources dating to the Mongol empire. Similarly all toponyms attested in Mongol-empire era sources in the Uyghur-Mongolian script outside of Mongolia and Uyghuristan will be recorded. Finally the gazetteer will record all toponyms in the Mongol empire recorded in sources from the western Europe from the Mongol empire.

The gazetteer will aim to include all the toponyms found in Chinese-language sources from Yuan dynasty sources outside of East Asia, all toponyms found in Persian or Arabic sources outside of areas controlled by Islamic dynasties before the Mongol empire, all toponyms found in Uyghur-Mongolian sources from the empire outside Mongolia and Uyghuristan, and all Latin toponyms outside Europe found in sources derived from persons working in the Mongol empire.

The gazetteer will also record attested ethnonyms and regional names. Each gazetteer entry will include meta-data: source, language of the item, script of the item, derivation of the toponym (by definition being non-local it will usually be derived from some other language). Also noted will be the first scholar to make the identification and alternative identifications by other authorities.

Political boundaries

The map will also show the political subdivisions of the Mongol empire attested in the literature, such as the Jingshi dadian's classification of different levels of tributaries, and its attached map, the geographical organization sketched in Rashid al-Din’s opus, and the branches of family recorded in the 1304 peace agreement.

Eventually it is hoped that the map will separately mark the location of large concentrations of Mongol armies (tammachi), princely territorial appanages, revenue appanages, the location of aristocratic houses, and of client kingdom houses (hereditary rulers from before the Mongol conquest who retained their position.)

Project Team: 

Christopher Atwood, Indiana University - Bloomington, Director