The Problem of Imperial Relatives in Agrarian and Nomadic Empires

AHA Session 271
World History Association 4
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom G (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Matthew A. Vester, West Virginia University
The Audience

Session Abstract

A near universal dilemma faced by rulers of agrarian and nomadic empires throughout history was how to deal with the imperial relatives. On the one hand, the ruler’s relatives offered support, trust, and held common interests in the dynasty. Similarly, they produced capable heirs to ensure succession and continuity. On the other hand, they posed a threat to the ruler by obstructing policy, fermenting rivalry amongst each other, and challenging the throne. This dilemma was most acute at the founding of the dynasty, when the terms of settlement were not yet set and the positions of power not yet institutionalized. But the problem might also arise in the midst of a mature dynasty, especially if a system for the imperial relatives was not fully standardized and a succession crisis set off challenges for the throne. Either of these instances could lead to internal struggles, a breakdown in political order, or even civil war. Furthermore, the role or non-role of the imperial relatives in the state had far reaching consequences for the shaping of political and social orders, and, ultimately, the rule of empire.

While historians have long been interested in dynastic succession, to date, little work has been done on the role of imperial relatives and the problems they presented in the formation and operations of the agrarian and nomadic empires. As a result, we have an incomplete picture of the key struggles among the elites of these empires, and lack an understanding of the process of the formation of imperial organizations and operations. This panel addresses this gap by exploring how rulers of Eurasian empires dealt with their imperial relatives, and the consequences of those decisions. In connection with the conference theme of historical scale, the scope of the panel inquiry implicates the experience of different Eurasian empires in time and space. The panel explores the impact of imperial relatives in space across the Eurasian continent from France to China, and in time from the 11th to the 18th centuries. Each panelist will take up a separate region and highlight the particularities of an imperial formation according to the immediate political and cultural circumstances. But at the same time, we note convergences and similarities that link larger trends of historical development and human activity in the medieval and early modern world.

This panel will appeal to scholars of the particular regions under investigation, as well as those interested in the trends and developments of world empires in general. It will further attract historians concerned with the development of political activity and ruling strategies across humans societies.

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