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2 The Mongols and the Legend of Prester John

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Chapter Summary

This chapter briefly outlines the historical context in which the legend took shape, a prerequisite to understanding the evolution of the figure of Prester John in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Little is known about the Mongols prior to their entry into history at the time of their first conquests in the thirteenth century. The ancestors of Temüjin, the future Genghis Khan, belonged to the Borjigin clan. The division of power between Toghril Khan/Ong Khan and Temüjin could not last long. The struggles for power between the various tribal chiefs of Inner Asia are the background against in which the legend of Prester John took shape, with the supposed Christian king being identified with various successive rulers of the steppe. The historical basis that gave birth to the legend of Prester John was the defeat of Sanjar in 1141 by the founder of the Qara Khitai dynasty.

Keywords: Genghis Khan; Inner Asia; Mongols; Prester John; Qara Khitai dynasty; Temüjin; Toghril Khan



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