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AccueilAbstracta IranicaVolume 444. Histoire, Période Musulmane4.1. Histoire médiévaleMatthieu Chochoy. De Tamerlan à G...

4. Histoire, Période Musulmane
4.1. Histoire médiévale

Matthieu Chochoy. De Tamerlan à Gengis Khan. Construction et déconstruction de l’idée d’empire tartare en France du XVIe siècle à la fin du XVIIIe siècle

Michael Hope
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Matthieu Chochoy. De Tamerlan à Gengis Khan. Construction et déconstruction de l’idée d’empire tartare en France du XVIe siècle à la fin du XVIIIe siècle. Leiden: Brill, 2021, xiv, 317 p. ISBN 9789004499010

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1This book examines the Tartar empire as a case study for the production and transmission of knowledge in 16th-18th century Europe. Beginning in the 1640s, Matthieu Chochoy follows the evolution of a French school of Orientalism focusing upon the Tartars, the nomadic people of the defunct Mongol empire. He shows that intellectual and social shifts inside France (such as the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, and Colonialism) shaped knowledge of this ephemeral and largely imagined community. Changes in the conception of the Tartar empire are traced across three distinct periods: Part I begins with the creation of the Tartar empire as a potent ally against the expanding Ottoman empire in the French imagination (1236-1640); Part II looks at the expansion of interest in the Tartar Empire as the search for commercial partners intensified and as Louis XIV looked to project his power abroad (1640-1730); and Part III analyses the renunciation of the idea of Tartary with the advent of new ethnographic and cartographical studies, which revealed the Tartars to be a number of separate linguistic, cultural, and political groups. In each section of his book Chochoy highlights the tension between existing schools of thought and the introduction of new information. Indeed, the book is most concerned to show how conceptual paradigms were adopted, challenged, and then abandoned over the course of the long seventeenth century.

2These three phases can be seen in Chochoy’s exposition of early French writing on the yasa, a body of laws attributed to the founder of the Mongol empire, Chinggis Khan (r. 1206-1227). Pierre Vattier (1623-1667), the first author to translate an Arabic source on the Tartars into French in the seventeenth century, compared the yasa to the Ten Commandments, providing the Tartars with an heir of virtue and sophistication in the minds of his French readers. Chochoy notes that Vattier wrote for an audience who, with the possible exception of Tamerlane, were unfamiliar with the history of the Tartars. He therefore simplified his subject matter by drawing comparisons with Western historical and biblical precedents to make them seem like appropriate political and commercial allies (pp. 142, 238). Vattier’s research was taken up by François Pétis de La Croix fils (1653-1713), who attempted to reconstruct the yasa as a body of law, similar to those promulgated by other great rulers, such as his patron Louis XIV, to whom his book was dedicated (p. 239). Yet the shift away from rulers and gods to nations as the chief agents of historical change prompted the likes of Montesquieu and Voltaire to either ignore the concept of the yasa entirely or to downplay its significance. Indeed, Chochoy suggests that Voltaire actively avoided mention of the yasa in order to emphasis the supposed despotism and savagery of the Tartar Empire (p. 241). These examples suggest that authors were obliged to situate their work in existing knowledge about the Tartars and their role in world history. New information that could not be reconciled with these standards of taste and convention was typically omitted.

3De Tamerlan à Gengis Khan will attract the interest of historians of Orientalism and Central Asian history alike. The book builds upon existing scholarship into the European historiography of Central Asia by situating the works of prominent early translators and historians in the context of popular cosmography, early mercantilism, and linguistic studies. Yet Chochoy also highlights the significant role that the idea of a Tartar Empire played in shaping French interactions with the wider world during the age of exploration. He convincingly demonstrates that the Tartar Empire served as a repository for ideas about a largely unfamiliar part of the world and therefore helped to shape the trajectory of French colonialism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

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Michael Hope, « Matthieu Chochoy. De Tamerlan à Gengis Khan. Construction et déconstruction de l’idée d’empire tartare en France du XVIe siècle à la fin du XVIIIe siècle »Abstracta Iranica [En ligne], Volume 44 | 2022, document 2, mis en ligne le 30 novembre 2022, consulté le 01 octobre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Michael Hope

YONSEI University, Seoul, Korea

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