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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Cities of Nomads in Premodern Northeast Asia
2: A Tale of Two Cities in Mongolia – Mongol Period Karakorum and Khar Khul Khaany Balgas
Thursday, March 25, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of Bonn, Germany
Most collective volumes on urbanism keep silent on the eastern extremities of the Eurasian steppes, and yet, the Mongolian steppes harbor large, fixed habitation sites that came to life and declined again in line with large-scale political formations. How can we begin to characterize urbanism within this region, an area that is economically tied to pastoralism and mobile lifeways? Michael E. Smith (2016) provides an accessible framework to characterize the key factors for urbanism. Using this framework and based on new archaeological work carried out by Bonn University together with the Mongolian Academy of Sciences from 2017 to 2019, two Mongol period cities and their hinterlands will be described comparatively to approach this question. Karakorum, the first capital of the Mongol Empire, lies in the Orkhon valley and is of particular importance for the history of Mongolia. Unsurprisingly, it is probably the city best researched so far in Mongolia partly owing to a rich body of written sources. In contrast, Khar Khul Khaany Balgas, a contemporary city in the Khanui valley, was left mostly unstudied and offers therefor high potential for new insights. Are there common physical traits? What were their functions? Who lived in these cities? Going beyond the sites themselves, their incorporation and use of the hinterland will come into focus at different scales: the cities were in constant need of people, material resources, and foodstuffs. Through the discussion, a picture of these cities as not organically grown, but planned top-down as political cities, will emerge.