208. A Mongol Silver Spouted Vessel

Bearing the Tamgha of Möngke Khan (1209–1259)
Mongol Empire, 1251–1259
Size: 26.5 cm long with spout

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Möngke Khan’s tamgha was a thunderbolt, a most fitting emblem for the conqueror of both the Song Dynasty and the Abbasid Caliphate. It is engraved on this bowl on the inside wall below the spout, and is familiar from his silver coinage. There is another detail of the decoration that strongly suggests that this bowl was the personal property of Möngke. Engraved inside are three rabbits in a circle, with three ears between them but so arranged that each rabbit appears to have both its ears. When he was 11 years old, Möngke’s grandfather Genghis Khan took him and his brother Kublai on their first hunting trip near the Ili River, where they killed a rabbit and a deer. Following Mongol custom, Genghis Khan smeared fat from the dead animals on his grandsons’ middle fingers. The engraved decoration around the outer rim, under the spout and around the rabbits is typically Mongol. The silver loop once riveted under the spout is missing. The vessel was probably used for pouring milk. 

Möngke was the eldest son of Genghis Khan’s teenage son Tolui and his wife Sorghaghtani. The shaman Teb Tegri Khokhcuu predicted a great future for him, and gave him his name, meaning ‘eternal’ in the Mongolian language. Proclaimed Great Khan of the Mongol Empire at the Kurultai in 1251, he had to face down determined opposition from other Mongol clans. He gave supervisory powers to his brothers Kublai and Hulagu in China and Iran. It was to his court at Karakorum that the French king Louis IX dispatched William Rubruck, to seek an alliance against the Muslims. He was received on 24th May 1254, and among what the Great Khan told him he recorded this:

‘We Mongols believe in one God, by Whom we live and die. Just as God gave different fingers to the hand, so has He given different ways to men. To you God has given the Scriptures and you Christians do not observe them.’ He explained that God had given the Mongols their shamans. Möngke offered Louis IX his cooperation but warned all Christians that ‘If, when you hear and understand the decree of the eternal God, you are unwilling to pay attention and believe it ... and in this confidence you bring an army against us – we know what we can do.’

There are two similar silver spouted vessels in the State Hermitage Museum, published in The Treasures of the Golden Horde, St Petersburg, 2000, nos. 11 and 12. 

Remarkably, the famous brass ‘wallet’ made in Mosul, c. 1300, for a Mongol noblewoman, now in the Courtauld Gallery, London, shows a silver bowl of exactly this type being used in the banqueting scene that decorates its lid.

The report of the scientific examination by Striptwist Laboratory is available.