«The Most Singular People on Earth»
The reader of Lettres Persanes is struck by the author’s excitement at the spectacle of the nomad empires in Central Asia and his astonishment at the extent of the Tartar conquests. In fact Montesquieu compared them favourably with those of Alexander the Great and went on to say that what this «victorieuse Nation» lacked in order to hold its deserved place in the panorama of universal history was merely a historiographical tradition able to «celebrer la mémoire de ses merveilles». In saying so he also pointed out the limits of any manifestation of the power of a state or nation that had no cultural or literary tradition that could record its memory. Since the French edition of the Histoire généalogique des Tatars by Abu al-Ghazi was first published in 1726, Montesquieu could not have known about it when he was writing the Lettres Persanes. But he would probably not have changed his opinion, considering his rather harsh comments about this book. It was not in fact the text so much as the many and accurate notes that caught his attention and led him to write a long summary which stood him in good stead when he wrote the Esprit des Lois, testifying to a significant development in his interest in the history of the Central Asian nomads.