Seeking Loyalty: the Inner Asian Tradition of Personal Guards and Its Influence in Persia and China

Thesis Type:

PhD dissertation


How did the rulers try to generate their own loyal retainers in pre-modern Asia? As an attempt to answer the question, the dissertation first focus on the Inner Asian institution of personal guards, who were personally attached and fostered by the ruler, with a special emphasis on the special emotional bond between ruler and personal servitors; and, second, the influence of this Inner Asian institution on the empire-building processes in East and West Asia. For the rulers of a tribally based society, it was a paramount concern to secure a loyal force which was detached from any tribal affiliations or local interest. I demonstrate that many successful examples of steppe rulers created personal guards from servile and foreign elements. I also analyze a special mechanism, called a tie of fosterage, which the steppe empires established to generate loyalty from the personal adherents.

In addition, the dissertation aims, in an effort to overcome the regionally structured format of Turco-Mongol history, to locate the significance of the Inner Asian politico-military institution of personal guards and of its evolution in sedentary societies, such as Persia and China, in the larger context of Eurasian history. For this purpose, I examine the Inner Asian tradition of personal guards in widely scattered regions from the Middle East to East Asia and throughout an extended length of period from the sixth to the fourteenth century. I juxtapose and compare the Inner Asian tradition of personal guards with other institutions based on Central Asian guards in the Tang, the Yuan, the Abbasid, and the Buyid dynasties and seek correlations and similarities among those systems.

Despite the divergence stemming from the different local contexts, my analysis shows that there was a strong influence from the Inner Asian tradition of personal guards on the imperial systems of the neighboring sedentary societies. With the study of the institution of personal guards, I attempt to show the interconnected nature of the imperial systems in Inner Asia, Persia, and China. At the same time, by demonstrating the steppe influence, my analysis suggests a corrective viewpoint to the current unbalanced images of nomad-sedentary cultural interactions.

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