Karakorum, capital city of the Mongol Empire, was truly cosmopolitan, with both visitors and workers from cultures across half the globe. Despite its distance from the Silk Road, it became an international center of politics and trade.
Merchants and ambassadors from distant lands mingled with artisans, scribes, and laborers. Take a look at some of the clothing, jewelry, and more that you’ll view within the exhibition.
Iron with silver inlay 1279-1368, Yuan Dynasty, China Collection of Vahid and Kathy Kooros
One of Genghis Khan’s greatest inventions was the passport, called a paizi. It promoted trade by guaranteeing safe passage for merchants, who were issued official passport medallions.
To simplify exchange, Genghis introduced currency. Coins bearing the Khan’s name were minted in many cities across the empire and paper money was adopted from China. The Mongols began to deal in currency rather than goods.
Silk and cotton 19th-20th century National Museum of Mongolia
Traders brought to Karakorum luxurious silks from China and precious stones from the Middle East. Men and women—both commoners and nobles—wore elegant costumes made of silk and cotton.
Accessories included leather boots, silk hats, belts, and pouches for snuff bottles. Women also wore jewelry made of gold, copper, brass, and precious stones. Traditional Mongolian costumes today still include many of these items.
Cotton and iron 19th-20th century National Museum of Mongolia
Mongol warriors traditionally practiced shamanism, or Tengerism, which focused on worship of the Eternal Blue Sky. Genghis Khan surrounded himself with shamans who not only foretold the future but also strengthened his reputation.
But the Khans also extended religious freedom to all denominations in the belief that the support of religious leaders would foster good relations with the people. Karakorum itself held Christian churches, Buddhist temples, and Islamic mosques.
Gold alloy 13th-14th century Karkorum Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences
Foreign craftsmen fabricated jewelry and other decorative metalwork. Using gold, silver, copper, and semi-precious stones such as agate and turquoise, they created bracelets, earrings, headdresses, belt ornaments, and hair ornaments.
This bracelet shows a combination of both zoomorphic and geometric designs, and would have been decorated with semi-precious stones such as agate and turquoise, which are now missing.