Accepted Paper:

Climate Change and the Medieval Central Eurasian State: The Response of the Golden Horde  


Uli Schamiloglu (Nazarbayev University)

Paper long abstract:

This paper builds upon the author's proposal that the Golden Horde state began to experience climate change around the 1280s. The medieval period of warm and wet climate began to end at that time, followed by the transition to a period of dryer (and cooler) climate in the western territories of the Golden Horde. Although it would be centuries before the height of the "Little Ice Age" and the "Maunder minimum" of reduced sunspot activity (1645-1715), the impact nonetheless began to be felt very quickly by the Golden Horde.

The author now argues that climate change may also be a primary or secondary factor in a series of changes in the western territories of the Golden Horde. The author has already noted elsewhere that the expansion of grain production around Ükek (present day Uvek, near Saratov) could be a result of shifting patterns of precipitation. (The increased demand for grain in the Black Sea trade is also a response to climate change in SW Europe.) In the Golden Horde, in addition to the growing role of Ükek, we also see the transfer of the capital from Saray Batu to Saray Berke located further north along the Volga River. This could be a result of changing trade patterns, but arguably it can also be linked to changing environmental conditions along the lower Volga region. From this perspective, it is also possible that the political struggles among the Golden Horde élite in the last two decades of the 13th century can be connected not only to changing patterns in trade, but to changing environmental conditions affecting nomadic populations as well.

Finally, the most famous result of climate change would be the creation of environmental conditions favorable to the spread of various diseases, especially the infamous pandemic known as the Black Death (caused by the bacillus Yersinia pestis) from the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau to the territory of the Golden Horde in the late 1330s (or earlier?). Of course, the Black Death would arrive in Kaffa in 1346, after which it spread to the Middle East and Europe. As the author has argued elsewhere, the Black Death resulted in a wide range of catastrophic transformations in the territory of the Golden Horde state, just like elsewhere in the Middle East and Europe. More recently it has been proposed that smallpox was yet another disease which affected the Golden Horde in the mid-14th century.

Panel HIS-06
New Approaches to the Mongol Empire