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The Great Khans and the Mongol Imperium

Genghis Khan / ℗ Pictures From History

The greatest joy for a man is to defeat his enemies, to drive them before him, to take from them all they possess, to see those they love in tears, to ride their horses, and to hold their wives and daughters in his arms.

Conquering the world on horseback is easy; it is dismounting and governing that is hard.

Genghis Khan (r. 1206-27)

In the 13th century a new and unexpected power exploded onto the Central Asian scene, rapidly conquering the entire length of the Silk Road from Chang’an in the east to Antakya in the west under a single empire for the first time in history, and producing as a consequence the last great flourishing of Silk Road trade before the latter’s decline and gradual disappearance in the 15th and 16th centuries. The engine for this new empire was Mongol expansion, and the man who made it happen was a nomadic ruler called Temujin, who would later assume the title Genghis Khan (1206-27), the name by which he would be remembered – with a shudder by settled peoples from Chang’an to Baghdad and Budapest, and with fierce pride by the nomadic Mongols.

Kublai Khan / ℗ Pictures From History

Temujin was born c.1162 not far from Ulaan Baaatar, the present capital of Mongolia. Despite enduring a difficult childhood and relative poverty, he showed remarkable will power and military ability, gradually increasing in power and defeating his clan enemies until, in 1206, he united the feuding Mongol tribes under his sole leadership as Great Khan. He lived for a further 21 years, during which time his armies conquered a great part of Asia including the Silk Road between China and the Caspian Sea. On his death in 1227, the Mongol Empire is estimated to have encompassed 26 million sq kilometres, an area about four times the size of the Roman or Macedonian Empires at their peak.

Three Mongol Empresses / ℗ Pictures From History

Despite his ruthless efficiency as a military commander, Genghis was remarkably enlightened in matters of religion and culture, allowing his many conquered subjects considerable freedom of choice. He also set the seal on another aspect of Mongol policy – the encouragement of commercial and trade relationships between the increasingly far flung corners of their empire. This enlightened policy caused a brief but dazzling resurgence of the ancient Silk Road, as all merchants and ambassadors carrying proper documentation and authority were permitted – indeed encouraged – to travel throughout the vast Mongol realm under Imperial protection. As a consequence, overland trade between Asia and Europe greatly increased. During the 13th and early 14th century this policy encouraged hundreds, perhaps thousands of Western merchants to travel the Silk Route to China, the most celebrated of whom was Marco Polo…

Pictures From History has assembled an extensive collection of images relating to the Mongol Empire, including the most comprehensive collection of portraits of Mongol Khans, emperors, empresses and royal consorts available on the web. To view more than 150 images, go to Pictures From History‘s GREAT KHANS page and click on any of the revolving images; to continue reading the above text, go to our GREAT KHANS AND THE MONGOL IMPERIUM page.

Forthcoming Titles – April 2012

℗ Pictures From History

The story of the Vietnam War, together with its less familiar adjuncts, the ‘Secret Wars’ in Laos and Cambodia, is complex, painful and difficult to understand.

Before open US involvement in Indochina began with the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in 1964, few Americans knew much at all about Vietnam. Following the Fall of Saigon to communist forces in 1975 and the final US withdrawal, few Americans wanted to know much about Vietnam – except that at last, and at a cost of 58,220 dead, 1,687 missing and 303,635 wounded, the terrible war was finally over.

Nearly four decades on and everything has changed. Vietnam – together with its once ravaged neighbors, Laos and Cambodia – is open for business, open for travel, and very much open to Americans, who are now welcomed as friends and allies.

The author is a foreign correspondent who has lived in Southeast Asia  for 25 years and who knows Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia intimately. He also leads regular tours of Indochina for Wilderness Travel in California. As a lecturer he has, over the years, struggled to make sense of the American involvement in Indochina and to explain the deeper and more complex reasons behind not just the ‘Vietnam War’, but behind the three Indochina Wars fought with France (1946-54), America (1964-75) and China (1979-80) – all inextricably and confusingly linked.

Understanding the Indochina Wars is the product of many years of research, travel and writing, and seeks to present the Indochina Wars in a detailed yet clear and comprehensible narrative. It is aimed at anyone seeking to understand Vietnam’s bloodstained history during the 20th century, but more especially at American – and other – visitors traveling to the intoxicating and wonderful region that is Indochina.

Ancient Chiang Mai Volume 5

© David Henley / CPA Media

Cognoscenti Books are pleased to release the fifth volume of their continuing series ANCIENT CHIANG MAI.

With twelve articles originally published in 2009, subjects covered include the accounts of early travellers to Chiang Mai, the first cartography of the city, religious architecture of Chiang Mai and nearby Lamphun, accounts of the Mon Kingdom of Haripunchai, Marco Polo‘s link with the Lan Na Kingdom, and Luís Vaz de Camões’ 16th century description of the ‘Cannibal Gueos’.

For a preview of this book,  please go to: Ancient Chiang MaiVolume 5.

For a related collection of rare and colourful images, go to Pictures From History‘s Chiang Mai and the Lan Na Kingdom page and click on any of the images.

Pictures From History signs Representation Agreement with Lebrecht Photo Library

December 14, 2011: PICTURES FROM HISTORY announces the signing of a new representation agreement with LEBRECHT PHOTO LIBRARY.

As a new boy on the block, Pictures From History  – based in Chiang Mai – Thailand – is very pleased to announce the signing of a mutual representation agreement with the long-established London-based photo library Lebrecht Music and Arts.

Lebrecht Photo Library is the world’s largest resource for images of music and the creative arts from antiquity to 21st century, with access to more than five million images. The picture library was set up in 1992 by sculptress and specialist librarian Elbie Lebrecht. Initially based on an archive of classical  music images, it has expanded to represent a growing number of private collections and photographers working in the field of music, the performing arts and general arts. Its collection now extends to 170,000 images, and public institutions represented include the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the Royal Academy of Music.

It seems pretty clear what Lebrecht can offer Pictures From History, including wide representation across Europe and North America, as well as advice and expertise in the online photo library industry, and we are very grateful to Elbie Lebrecht for offering us this wonderful opportunity.

In return, Pictures From History offers Lebrecht Photo Library access to its unique and expanding collection of historical images embracing the arts and culture of East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East, as well as wider representation across Asia, Australasia and the Middle East.

Forthcoming Titles – February 2012

℗ Pictures From History

The Tacuinum Sanitatis is a medieval handbook on Health and Well Being. First printed in Europe in 1531, it was aimed at an educated secular readership and offered concise and sensible advice on how to live a long, healthy and enjoyable life.

Four handsomely illustrated manuscripts of the Tacuinum survive, all produced in Lombardy and now housed, respectively, at libraries in Rome, Vienna, Paris and Liège.

The Latin text describes in detail the beneficial and harmful properties of plants and foodstuffs, as well as considering social, physiological and psychological aspects of wellness. Following established medieval principles, it sets forth six essential elements for mental and physical well-being:

  • Sufficient food and drink in moderation
  • The importance of fresh air
  • Regular alternating periods of activity and rest
  • Regular alternating patterns of sleep and wakefulness
  • Maintaing balance of the Humours or Four Temperaments
  • Positive and Negative effects of states of mind

The Tacuinum hypothesises that Illness results from imbalance of these elements, therefore a healthy life should be lived in harmony.

Interestingly, the Medieval European Tacuinum is based on an earlier Arabic work, the Taqwim al‑sihha تقويم الصحة  or ‘Maintenance of Health’, an eleventh-century Arab medical treatise by Ibn Butlan, a Christian physician of the Abbasid Period who practiced in 11th century Baghdad. Ibn Butlan‘s Maintenance of Health deals with matters of hygiene, dietetics, and exercise, emphasizing the benefits of regular attention to personal physical and mental well-being.

Still more fascinating, Ibn Butlan‘s study rests in large part on the seminal work of the 1st century CE Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist Dioscorides, author of De Materia Medica, a five volume encyclopedia and pharmacopeia examining in detail the medicinal properties of herbs, plants, vegetables and other foodstuffs that was written in Asia Minor between 50 and 70 CE.

The Tacuinum, therefore, represents more than 1,500 years of accumulated medical knowledge from Ancient Greece, the Islamic Golden Age and Medieval Europe. Although the ‘Four Temperaments’ hypothesis is rejected by modern science, the common sense approach and good advice of the Tacuinum as a Guide to Health and Wellness rings down through the ages and and is of surprising contemporary relevance.

Cognoscenti Books has assembled a unique collection of almost 150 beautiful and rare images from the works of Dioscorides, Ibn Butlan and the Tacuinum Sanitatis that can be viewed at Pictures From History‘s MEDIEVAL HEALTH page by clicking on any of the revolving images.

Pictures From History joins BAPLA

PICTURES FROM HISTORY is proud to have been accepted by BAPLA, the BRITISH ASSOCIATION OF PICTURE LIBRARIES AND AGENCIES, as an accredited member.

BAPLA is the trade association of UK based photographic image suppliers, commercial picture libraries and agencies. The association was formed in 1975 with founding members: Getty Images, Robert Harding World Imagery, Aspect Picture Library, FLPA – Images of Nature, Camera Press, BBC Photo Library, Ardea, Rex Features and Redferns Music Picture Library.

Pictures From History / Pictures From Asia are online image resources twinned in a single online library. Pictures From History specialises in historical images from Asia, especially the Far East, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Central Asia. We also hold growing stock coverage of the Middle East, Africa, parts of Latin America, Religion and Antiquity.

Pictures From Asia covers essentially the same areas, but specialising in contemporary images from Asia with emphasis on History and Culture.

We also specialise in historical image research and commissioned photo shoots across Asia and beyond.

Traders of the Golden Triangle

© David Henley / CPA Media

During the latter half of the twentieth century the little-known and often lawless region where Laos, Burma, Thailand and China meet has become known and widely romanticised as ‘The Golden Triangle’. Originally a Western designation applied to the region because of its wealth in jade, silver, rubies, lumber, rare animal products and, above all, opium, the name has stuck and is today accepted both in Chinese and in Thai.

By reputation, by very definition, the area is off the beaten track. The home of drug warlords, arms dealers, insurgent armies, latter-day slave traders and plain, old-fashioned bandits, it is also the home of an extraordinarily wide range of colourful ethnic minorities, many still only partly known and understood, and a veritable Tower of Babel linguistically.

In recent years the defeat of communist insurgencies in Thailand and Burma, coupled with the lowering of the Bamboo Curtain in China and Laos as both those countries slowly switched to free trade, has opened some parts of the Golden Triangle to the outside world for the first time in decades.

Other areas—most notably Burma’s Wa States—have never really been open. Even during the British Raj the area remained sealed off, closed to outsiders. And for good reason: the ‘Wild Wa’ were head-hunters who lived in all-but-impregnable thorn-stockaded villages. The only way in was by a narrow, winding tunnel, pierced with narrow slots which ensured the uninvited could be pierced with spears as they wormed their way in. Heads were taken to ensure the abundance of the harvest, and prominently displayed near the frontiers of Wa territory. Hardly surprisingly, people stayed away.

People stayed away; yet there was one exception. The rugged, indomitable Yunnanese Chinese known to the Burmese as Panthay, and to the Thai and Lao as Haw, were—and to some extent still are—the Masters of the Golden Triangle.

36,500 words, Bibliography

For a preview of the book, please go to: Traders of the Golden Triangle.

Ancient Chiang Mai Volumes 1 to 4

© David Henley / CPA Media

Cognoscenti Books are proud to release the first four volumes of their continuing series ANCIENT CHIANG MAI.

We started researching, writing and photographing articles for the series in 2005, publishing one article a month in the local Chiang Mai magazine Guidelines. Under the gentle but firm tutelage of that journal’s editor, our friend and colleague Geoffrey Walton, we have managed to maintain this schedule and are now in the process of completing our 84th ‘Ancient Chiang Mai’ article.

We have now decided to publish the first part of the series, comprising articles 1 to 48, in a set of four volumes covering the period 2005 to 2008. Each volume contains 12 separate essays with a total length of around 18,000 words per volume. Subjects covered are diverse and widespread, ranging from ancient temples, cities and settlements, through the accounts of traditional chronicles and early visitors, to religion – mainly but not exclusively Theravada Buddhism – and the region’s many ethnic groups.

Although called Ancient Chiang Mai, the series extends to cover the whole of Northern Thailand, encompassing the former Mon Kingdom of Haripunchai, which flourished between the 8th and 12th centuries CE and was based on the venerable city of Lamphun some 40km south of Chiang Mai, as well as the provinces of Lampang, Phrae, Nan, Chiang Rai, Phayao and Mae Hong Son.

The area is home to the Khon Mueang or Northern Thai – the predominant population since the 10th century CE – as well as to many other peoples including Karen, Hmong, Lisu, Mien, Akha and Lahu ‘hill tribes’ and ethnic Chinese. It is the most culturally diverse region in Thailand, and is immensely rich in history, tradition and customs.

© David Henley / CPA Media

The beautiful old walled city of Chiang Mai, set amid the forested mountains and fertile valleys of northern Thailand, is the historic capital of the former Lanna Kingdom. More correctly spelled Lan Na, the name means ‘One Million Rice Fields’ in Thai. Founded in 1296 by King Mangrai the Great, it did not become fully part of Thailand until 1939, and even today the region retains a distinctly different character, with its own language, culture, cuisine and even temperament. Although around 40 times smaller than Bangkok, with perhaps four percent of the Thai capital’s population, Chiang Mai remains the nation’s cultural capital, as well as its most attractive and historically significant city.

© David Henley / CPA Media

The authors, both British, have lived in Chiang Mai for more than twenty years together with their Thai families, and consider Chiang Mai to be their home. Both foreign correspondents – one a writer, the other a photographer – they work as a close team. In 1993 they set up Crescent Press Agency, now CPA Media, and in 2010-11 they established an online image library, Pictures From History, specialising in historic and contemporary pictures of Asia, as well as Cognoscenti Books.

© David Henley / CPA Media

As some small repayment for the city and region they love – for Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand – in 2005 they began writing a monthly article entitled ‘Ancient Chiang Mai’. Now in its seventh year, the series examines in an eclectic, informative and hopefully entertaining way the history, culture and traditions of Chiang Mai and of its graceful and friendly people, the Northern Thais.

© David Henley / CPA Media

We intend to publish a second collection of articles, numbered 49 to 84 and covering the years 2009 to 2011, in three further volumes early in 2012.

Meanwhile the series ANCIENT CHIANG MAI will continue, and we hope to publish a new volume annually, at the end of each year.

For previews of these books, please go to: Ancient Chiang MaiVolume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4.

For a related collection of rare and colourful images, go to Pictures From History‘s Chiang Mai and the Lan Na Kingdom page and click on any of the images.

Angkor, Eighth Wonder of the World

© David Henley / CPA Media

For much of the second half of the 20th century Cambodia was racked by war and famine. Considered a ‘sideshow’ in the Second Indochina War, or Vietnam War, the country was nevertheless invaded by both North and South Vietnam, bombed to smithereens by the United States, strewn with landmines and lethal weapons of every kind, and—worst of all—ruled, between 1975 and 1979, by Pol Pot’s genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

Things were so bad that the very name ‘Cambodia’ became synonymous with pain and suffering. Yet it was not always like this. Before its rice fields were stained with blood in the mid-1960s, Cambodia was celebrated as a land of fertile tranquillity where a predominantly Buddhist people continued the myriad artistic and cultural traditions of the old Khmer Empire—the first high civilisation in Southeast Asia, exemplified by the extraordinary temple of Angkor Wat, surely the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Finally returned to peace, Cambodia has striven over the past 20 years to rebuild both its economy and its image in the eyes of the world. Central to this endeavour is tourism, which the Phnom Penh government spares no effort in promoting. At the heart of this programme is the great temple complex at Angkor, which has been painstakingly cleared of landmines and is currently undergoing massive and very extensive restoration.

Angkor has to be seen to be believed. It is the largest religious site in the world and, beyond doubt, the major cultural and historical attraction in all of Southeast Asia. Even if one considers the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the Mayan pyramids or Machu Picchu, it is still arguable that there exists any ancient site of comparable magnificence elsewhere in the world.

20,000 words, 57 contemporary images, 7 historic images, 2 maps

For a collection of almost 400 historical and contemporary images of Angkor, go to Pictures From History‘s ANCIENT ANGKOR page and click on any of the revolving images. For a preview of the book, go to: Angkor: Eighth Wonder of the World.

Mandate of Heaven

℗ Pictures From History

The title Emperor of China in Chinese, Huángdì – refers to any sovereign of Imperial China reigning between the founding of China, united by the King of Qin in 221 BCE, and the fall of Yuan Shikai’s short-lived Empire of China in 1916. When referred to as the Son of Heaven – Tiānzǐ – a title that predates the Qin unification and includes the legendary dynasties, the Emperor was recognized as the ruler of ‘All Under Heaven’ – that is, the entire world. Notionally, such rulers enjoyed the ‘Mandate of Heaven‘.

Chinese civilization originated in various regional centers along both the Yellow River and the Yangtze River valleys in the Neolithic era, but the Yellow River is considered to be the Cradle of Chinese Civilization. The written history of China can be found as early as the Shang Dynasty (c. 1700 – c. 1046 BCE),   although ancient historical texts such as the Records of the Grand Historian (ca. 100 BCE) and Bamboo Annals assert the existence of a legendary Xia Dynasty before the Shang. 

The conventional view of Chinese history is that of alternating periods of political unity and disunity, with China occasionally being dominated by Central Asian peoples, most of whom were in time assimilated into the Han Chinese population. Cultural and political influences from many parts of Asia, carried by successive waves of immigration, expansion, and cultural assimilation, are all part of the modern culture of China.

Pictures From History has assembled an unparalleled collection of images relating to Imperial China, including the most comprehensive collection of portraits of Chinese emperors, empresses and royal consorts available on the web. To view the nearly 500 images, go to Pictures From History‘s MANDATE OF HEAVEN page and click on any of the revolving images; to continue reading the above text, go to our IMPERIAL DYNASTIES OF CHINA page.