#SourceSaturday: The Secret History of the Mongols

“There came into the world a blue-grey wolf….his wife was a fallow deer.”

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    The Secret History is part creation myth, part family history, part regional history. There is some debate as to when it was written. Christopher P. Atwood dates it to 1264, during the reign of Kublai Khan.* Both the dating and the use of this text is complicated by the fact that the only extant version is in Chinese characters from over a century later. There are many translations now available, but Paul Khan’s is the most popular introduction to this unique text. His is based on Francis Woodman Cleaves’ translation, which is available free online here.  Equine historians, unsurprisingly, will find much of interest. Specialists in Mongol history will want to consult the original text, and likely also a modern equestrian fluent in the language; while tack, movement, and care all translate well, some terms (in particular coat colors) do not have firm analogs in English. For the non-specialist looking for summer reading or a view of a different type of horsekeeping and horsemanship, Khan’s version in an easy read.

*See Christopher P. Atwood, “The Date of the ‘Secret History of the Mongols’ Reconsidered,” Journal of Song-Yuan Studies, no. 37 (2007): 1–48.

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