Igor de Rachewiltz: Of Tartar Princesses, Poets, and Great Khans of the Mongols

In this first episode of the Tianxia Podcast Series, we will take you to the Mongolian steppe with renowned Italian Mongolist Igor de Rachewiltz. As we will discover in our conversation, Igor began his academic career more than seventy years ago, as a pupil of the legendary Italian scholar Giuseppe Tucci. He started to learn Japanese and Chinese language and culture when he was only a teenager in Rome, before moving on to the study of Mongolian history. In the 1950s, he joined the Australian National University, eventually becoming one of the world’s leading authorities on Genghis Khan and Sino-Mongol cultural contacts in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Most notably, Igor spent decades translating the Secret History of the Mongols, a thirteenth century Mongolian account of the life of Genghis Khan, which he re-published earlier this year with Cedar Books in an open access edition edited by Professor J.C. Street of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Among other things, in this podcast we discuss Igor’s long-term fascination with the East, his family’s connections with the Golden Horde, his relationship with Ezra Pound, and his views of Genghis Khan and of the Mongol Empire at the time of Marco Polo. Sadly, on 30 July 2016, as we were finalising this podcast, Igor passed away. As such, this is probably his final public interview. We will remain eternally grateful for the time we were able to spend with him, for his intellectual generosity and his brilliant sense of humour. Although he was fond of remembering a time when scholarly work was grounded not in the impersonality of computers, but in real human relationships built through letters, camaraderie and jokes, he was always willing to share his work with new generations of scholars. We hope that this podcast will be an appropriate way to celebrate the life and work of an amazing scholar and great person. Vale, Igor.


1. [01:52] The Discovery of Asia
2. [11:16] The Orientalism of Ezra Pound
3. [23:39] The Secret History of the Mongols
4. [36:20] A Pax Mongolica?
5. [44:05] Genghis Khan, the Pope, and Julius Caesar
6. [49:34] Imaginaries of Genghis Khan
7. [57:10] An Archeological Mystery Solved

[ Download MP3  ]

Additional Resources:

– Igor de Rachewiltz, The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century, Shorter version edited by John C. Street, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2015. (Download PDF)
– Owen Lattimore, ‘Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Conquests,’ Scientific American, Vol. 209 No. 2, August 1963, pp. 54-69.
– John Man, Genghis Khan: Life, Death, and Resurrection, London: Transworld Publishers/Bantam Books, 2005. (Buy at The Book Depository)
– John Man, The Mongol Empire: Genghis Khan, His Heirs and the Founding of Modern China, London: Transworld Publishers, 2016. (Buy at The Book Depository)
– Laszlo Montgomery, ‘The Mongol Yuan Dynasty,’ The China History Podcast, 2016. (Part 1; Part 2)


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