Mongolia’s Secret History
 
If you endeavour, fate endeavours – Mongolian saying
 
Genghis: Sacred Tomb, Secret Treasure is a lively, well-sourced, account of key events, and themes, in early Mongolian history. It also provides a wealth of material about the traditions, and shamanistic belief systems, that colour life in the Mongolian countryside today.
 
The author, Robin Ackroyd, writes in his introduction: ‘I was pleased to encounter much that I had not heard of before, nor read about since … This became a cultural, historical, and linguistic adventure - as much as physical - and I trust I manage to pass on some of that enthusiasm.
A herdsboy with a horse, and a foal, in a region of forest and steppe in Khentii province, Mongolia. The foal is suckling on the mare. The boy has lost ten horses, and is trying to find them.
  
On the way to Burkhan Khaldun
Robin travelled to many places associated with Genghis Khan – or Chinggis Khan – and named in Mongolia’s most important work of literature, The Secret History of the Mongols, or Mongolyn Nuuts Tovchoo.

This early 13th Century text, rich in epic poetry and ancient lore, provides a vivid account of Genghis Khan’s rise to power, and his unification of the tribes of Mongolia - the ‘people of the felt-walled tents’ – in 1206.
 
The Secret History gives us important information about death, and burial, in medieval Mongolia, but it tells us very little about Genghis Khan’s death and burial. For that we have to turn to histories written in Persia, and in China - which were both ruled by the Mongols as their empire expanded - as well as to Mongolian chronicles from the 17th Century.
These Mongolian chronicles include the Erdeni-yin Tobchi or ‘Precious Summary’ by Sagang Sechen, the Altan Tobchi or ‘Golden Summary’ by Lubsandanzan (which also contains much of the Secret History), and the anonymous Altan Tobchi.
Charles Bawden, born in 1924, translated the anonymous Altan Tobchi into English, and his work was published in 1955. He also compiled a highly-regarded Mongolian-English Dictionary, published in 1997. The dictionary was planned as early as 1963, when Professor Bawden worked at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Prof Bawden’s professional library, a wonderful resource, is held at the Ancient India & Iran Trust, Cambridge.
Charles Bawden rests on an ancient stone turtle near the Erdene Zuu monastery in 1958. The monastery is near the old capital of the Mongol empire, Kharakhorum. Photo courtesy of the Ancient India & Iran Trust, Cambridge.
Charles Bawden’s photograph of a Mongolian woman and child, 1958. The Erdene Zuu monastery (Эрдэнэ Зуу хийд), dating from the 16th Century, and the Khangai mountain range (Хангайн нуруу), are in the background. Photo courtesy of the Ancient India & Iran Trust, Cambridge.
Charles Bawden, who was to become professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, riding a Bactrian camel in Mongolia in 1958. Photo courtesy of the Ancient India & Iran Trust, Cambridge.

In addition to building his own collection of books and maps, Robin Ackroyd made use of publications held at the Ancient India & Iran Trust, the University of Cambridge, the University of Leeds, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the British Library, London. He is most grateful to Prof Igor de Rachewiltz of the Australian National University, Canberra, for his helpful correspondence.
 
Prof de Rachewiltz’s translation and commentary, The Secret History of the Mongols, A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century, (two volumes, 2006), is to be recommended for its readability, and for the author’s depth and breadth of knowledge. A third, supplementary, volume of commentary was published in 2013. 
The writer Robin Ackroyd, centre, with Prof Dambyn Bazargür, left, and his colleague, Dambyn Enkhbayar, of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, at the Öglögchiin Kherem (Өглөгчийн Хэрэм) – Almsgivers’ Wall – archaeological site, Khentii. This is the site of the Chinggis Khan Expedition.
Robin Ackroyd is hugely grateful to the many Mongolians he met on his journey, and to those who have helped with his research. Their generosity of spirit, and their tremendous assistance, has made this book possible.
Genghis: Sacred Tomb, Secret Treasure contains extensive endnotes, with historical and academic references, and much new material by the author. The main text has been written so that these do not have to be relied on. They are there for completeness, and to hopefully help future researchers.
Robin Ackroyd also records, and translates, Mongolian phrases and proverbs.
 
These give an insight into the traditional Mongolian way of life, and should be of use to travellers.

Two eminent scholars of Mongolian history die within two weeks

1st September 2016

   
THE world of Mongolian scholarship has lost two of its most distinguished academics within the space of a fortnight.
Professor Igor de Rachewiltz died, aged 87, at the end of July, and Professor Charles Bawden died, aged 92, in August.
    
Professor Charles Bawden (April 22 1924 - August 11 2016) Emeritus Professor of Mongolian, University of London, and translator of the Altan Tobchi.
Professor Igor de Rachewiltz (April 11 1929 - July 30 2016) historian, philologist, and translator of the Secret History of the Mongols.
    
Prof de Rachewiltz translated the Secret History of the Mongols into English, with an extensive commentary.

The work was first published in instalments from 1971-1985 in the Australian National University’s (ANU’s) Papers on Far Eastern History.

The Secret History was published as two volumes in hardback in 2004, and in paperback in 2006.

It really was a magnum opus, and was diligently revised by Prof de Rachewiltz according to the latest scholarship. In 2013 a third, supplementary, volume of commentary was published.

A free-to-access e-book version of Igor de Rachewiltz’s translation, edited by Prof John. C. Street of the University of Wisconsin, appeared in 2015. This omitted the commentary, but retained explanatory footnotes. The aim was to reach a broader audience, while remaining close to the spirit of the original.

Prof de Rachewiltz was born in April 1929 in Rome, Italy, where he later studied.

He came from a noble family. His Tatar great-grandmother claimed to be a descendant of Mongol nobility. She used to refer, in Russian, to Chinggis Khan as ‘grandfather’ - дедушка.

Prof de Rachewiltz earned his PhD, in Chinese history, at the Australian National University, Canberra, in 1961. He went on to publish extensively on the political and cultural history of China and Mongolia in the 12th-14th centuries.

Prof de Rachewiltz continued to work in spite of suffering a mild stroke in 2013. Most recently he was translating, with Professor Li Narangoa of the ANU, the Tibetan-Mongolian epic Geser Khan, based on a block print, from 1716, of the Mongolian text.

Professor de Rachewiltz was generous with his time and knowledge.

He was fluent in Italian, English, and French. He could read Latin, Classical Greek, Spanish, German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian.

In 2007 he was awarded the Order of the Polar Star [Алтан Гадас одон] of the Mongolian Republic.

That year he donated his 6,000 volume professional library to the Ferdinand Verbiest Institute in Leuven, Belgium. However he often found himself in need of the academic material he had donated, because of his continued work.
    
Charles Roskelly Bawden, born in April 1924, taught Mongolian at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, from 1955 until 1984. He was promoted to Professor of Mongolian in October 1970.

Charles Bawden was known for his comprehensive Mongolian-English dictionary, first published in 1997. It contains the results of over 30 years of scholarship.

Professor Bawden followed the principle of Father Antoine Mostaert, author of the great Dictionnaire Ordos, in excluding everything which appeared uncertain.

In 1955 he translated into English, with critical notes, the 17th century anonymous Mongolian chronicle Altan Tobchi [Алтан Товч].

The Secret History, which dates from 1228 or 1240 – a year of the Rat – is the earliest work in the Mongolian language. The Altan Tobchi is the next earliest surviving work.

Prof Bawden also wrote The Modern History of Mongolia (London, 1968), and Mongolian Traditional Literature, an anthology (London, 2003). 
 
He donated his library to the Ancient India & Iran Trust, Cambridge. He, too, was awarded the Order of the Polar Star.
 
Professor de Rachewiltz and Professor Bawden each visited Mongolia, where they met prominent Mongolian scholars.

This obituary, in Mongolian, also appeared on the Arslan website:




















   
Writer: Robin Ackroyd
September 1 2016