History of Iran: Mongols and Il Khanid

This is part of a series of an overview of Iranian history–please refer to my posts of 5.10, 5.11 and 5.19.


After unifying the various Mongol and Turkic forces in Central Asia, Genghiz Khan conquered much of Asia in the 13th century. The destruction in some areas was unprecedented (the destruction of Merv is still considered to be the deadliest ever conquest of a city), but also with the Mongol Empire came a regional stability that allowed a flowering of trade routes, including the ones followed by Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta (imagine, only one visa required!). In Iran, Genghiz Khan’s grandson Hulagu Khan founded the Ilkhanate dynasty. The disintegration of the Ilkhanate kingdom in the mid-14th century brought with it a series of minor rulers over now Iran, until the conquests of Tamerlane from now Uzbekistan in the 15th century. Tamerlane’s dynasty was even more fleeting, largely over by the reign of his grandson.

When one thinks of Mongols one may think of barbarians on horses, nomadic people whose thirst for violence and pillaging was greater than any appetite for civilization or culture. However, by the time of the establishment of Ilkhanid control over now Iran, the Mongols had adopted much of the civilization of the areas they had conquered, commissioning great Islamic art as well as spreading Chinese art forms in western Asia.

In Iran it is possible to see many relics of the Mongol and Ilkhanid periods, including two true wonders, both commissioned by Sultan Oljeitu (1280-1316), the great-grandson of Hulagu Khan. The Ilkhanid Sultan from 1304-1316, Oljeitu was first baptized a Christian, but later converted to Buddhism, Sunni Islam and then Shiite Islam, showing the great diversity of religious belief in the Mongol domains and the difficulties that the Mongols had in choosing which religion to adopt.

One Oljeitu-reign masterpiece is the prayer hall that he commissioned for the Friday Mosque of Esfahan, now called the Oljeitu chamber.

The most memorable part of the chamber, and one of the single most impressive art works in all of Iran, is the stucco mihrab.

Another Oljeitu masterwork is his tomb (by some accounts originally built for the bodies of the earliest Shiite Imams, which he wanted to bring from Iraq), a stupendously large domed mausoleum in the Ilkhanid capital of Soltaniyeh, now a few hours west of Tehran. The building, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, remains the largest brick dome in the world and one of the earliest examples of a double dome, prefiguring such buildings as the Taj Mahal.

Upstairs gallery of the Oljeitu Mausoleum. The patterns on the back wall are said to resemble Mongolian textiles.

Perhaps most immediately evoking the Asian-ness of the Mongols is their pottery. Clearly handed down from a Chinese tradition, pottery of the era, though presumably made in now Iran, feature faces that are clearly east Asian.

8 thoughts on “History of Iran: Mongols and Il Khanid

  1. This blog I just read was very useful and carried a lot of information. The information that has been used was all very correct and if i ever needed it I could get all i needed from it.

  2. The article was very effective in explaining the opinion that most people had on the appearance of the Mongol which was among the lines of brutal and barbarian like. It also did an exceptional job of explaining their partial legacy of some of the things they did. It did well in showing examples of art they did.

  3. The Mongol empire accomplished many great things during the reign. The Mongols attacked furiously with blood on their mind. The Mongols adapted to the cities that they conquered by the spread of religion. The Mongols attacked on horses and had a creative war strategy.

  4. The Mongols had many amazing achievements during their reign of power. They had great war fare strategies. They let people have whatever religion they want. Genghis Khan had many descendants.

  5. This blog shows the great history of Mongolian and Iranian pottery and their great stucco mihrab. Also it shows pictures of the Olijeitu Mausoleum being repaired.

  6. This is a very informative and helpful blog. All of the artwork in these pictures are very intriguing. My favorite of all the artwork is the stucco mihrab. It is incredible to me how detailed this work is even though it was made in a less advanced time period.

  7. Mongol lifestyle is much different than some believe, many when they think mongols they think of nomadic people on horses and with a primitive tone. Mongols conquered so much land during its time ruling between the king and his child and grandchild. Much of mongols lifestyle is what they accepted they were peaceful people that accepted people from all religions and regions to their clan.

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