December 2, 2014
Characteristics of Decline for a Nation in Gentlemen of the Road
The 950AD chronicle, Gentlemen of the Road, provides evidence of the Khazarian era of decline. Throughout the novel Michael Chabon shows a decentralized government, weak military, and internal strife in Khazaria. In the chronicle leaders are overthrown, government officials have low security, invaders are welcomed into Khazaria, and rebellions. These characteristics lead to what is believed to be a declining nation in the novel.
The first characteristic of Khazaria’s decline shown in the book is a decentralized government. This characteristic is a major issue for the Khazarians because without a centralized and powerful government they cannot be led properly into an era of prosperity or be safe from threatening sources. The novel has many examples of this characteristic such as the Bek of Khazaria being overthrown, two government officials not working together for their nation, and the Bek justifying intruders rampaging through the country. The first issue with decentralized government is Buljan, the new Bek in the novel, overthrowing the old leader, Filaq’s father, to gain power. In the book, the mahout explains to Amram and Zelikman that a general, Buljan, ambushed the stripling’s father and sold his family as slaves and to brothels and killed the rest of his relatives (Chabon, 24-25). This explains how Buljan brutally revolted against the leader before him and, with the exception of Filaq, attacked his entire family. A second example of decentralization from the story is when the current Bek allows a large group of invaders to become rather strong in Khazaria. Buljan says that his predecessor allowed Muhammadans too many privileges, which let them become too strong in the country, which means he can allow the Rus to stay in Khazaria (137). This supposedly justifies Buljan to give strength and overlook the problems being created by the Rus invaders. The last reason for Khazaria’s decentralized government in Chabon’s novel is the ongoing issues between the two government leaders, the Kagan and Bek. During a conversation between Amram, Zelikman, and the Kagan, several points are brought up about the Bek’s ignorance and disobedience of the Kagan. These include his execution of five hundred troops, ignoring a flag of truce, and the murder of Filaq’s family (168). These examples clearly show when Buljan went against the Kagan’s orders and did what helped his plans the most.
A second major characteristic of decline shown in the chronicle is a weak Khazarian military. This is one of the larger issues in Khazaria because without a strong army, the leaders and overall government will not be able to protect their people from the Rus or other invaders. One example of this characteristic is when the Khazarian army does not act in favor of each other and separate into two sides. After a commander dies, the rest of the captains can’t decide whether to chase and conquer the Rus or to make their journey back to Atil and face consequences of their disobedience of Buljan (82). This disagreement creates more issues for the already struggling army. Another issue regarding the military is the captains disagreeing to the point of fights. One specific fight was between two of the remaining captains who began to argue until their soldiers tried to separate them. The second captain eventually runs into the first captain’s sword, killing himself (83). This was a result from the previously mentioned argument, once again showing that the army is so weak they cannot even protect themselves from each other, much less from outside sources. A final example of a weak military in Khazaria according to The Gentlemen of the Road is when Amram, Zelikman, and Filaq find the leader, the Kagan, of Khazaria. This shows that Khazaria has low security even for majorly important leaders in their country. In the novel, the two men and the young stripling