Montesquieu

Nargum, Persian envoy to Muscovy, to Usbek in Paris


Of all the nations on earth, my dear Usbek, there is none that has sur­pas­sed that of the Tartars, either in glory or in the gran­deur of its conquests.1 That peo­ple is the true domi­na­tor of the uni­verse ; all the others seem to be made to serve it. It is equally the foun­der and des­troyer of empi­res ; at all times it has given to the earth signs of its power ; in all ages it has been the scourge of nations.

The Tartars have twice conque­red China,2 and they still hold it under their obei­sance.

They hold sway over the vast coun­tries that make up the empire of the Mogul.

Masters of Persia, they are sea­ted on the throne of Cyrus and of Gustaspes.3 They have sub­jec­ted Muscovy. Under the name of Turks they have made immense conquests in Europe, Asia and Africa, and they hold sway over these three parts of the earth.

And to speak of more dis­tant times, it is from them that have come almost all the peo­ples who over­threw the Roman empire.4

What are the conquests of Alexander, in com­pa­ri­son to those of Genghis Kahn ?

The only thing this vic­to­rious nation has lacked is his­to­rians to cele­brate the memory of its won­ders.

How many immor­tal acts have been buried in obli­vion ! How many empi­res which they foun­ded, whose ori­gins we do not know ? This bel­li­cose nation, focu­sed solely on its pre­sent glory, sure of conque­ring in all eras, had no thought for stan­ding out in the future by the memory of past conquests.

Moscow this 4th day of the moon of Rebiab I, 1715

The Tartars or Mongols are commonly presented as destroyers of civilizations : “The Asiatic Tartars have a strong inclination for war, and are reputed the best archers in the world. Their disputes generally end in the ravaging and desolation of the enemy’s country.” (Collier 1701). Montesquieu’s principal source here is doubtless the Histoire du grand Genghizcan (1710) by Pétis de la Croix ( 1622-1695).

Genghis Khan took Beijing in 1215, and his son Koublai unified China under his authority in 1279. The Mongol domination in China lasted until 1371. A new series of “Tartar” invasions (modern historians identify these invaders as Manchus), beginning in 1619, permitted establishment of their emperor in 1642, a child of six, Xun-Chi.

See letter 65.

Notably the Huns.