Mongols chasing an enemy

The Mongols were a confederation of tribes of mostly illiterate, nomadic horsemen that hailed from the steppes north of China, where nomadic tribes had lived for centuries. Early in their history they were a group of feuding tribes not much different from other feuding tribes on the steppe. According to legend they were created by the union of a blue wolf and deer (the blue wolf was the standard of Genghis Khan’s armies). The term Mongols can be used to describe the historical Mongols as well as modern Mongol ethnic group. [Source: Mike Edwards, National Geographic: Genghis Khan: December, 1996; After Genghis Khan: February 1997]

The Mongols were like a land-bound, Asian version of the Vikings, roaming far and wide, using horses instead of ships and conquering large swaths of territory. Under Genghis Khan, the Mongols were united and forged into a brilliant and efficient offensive fighting force that used swift cavalry charges to defeat any foe they faced and conquer the known world. Marco Polo wrote the Mongols were "of all of men in the world the best able to endure exertion and hardship and the least costly to maintain and therefore the best adapted for conquering territory and overthrowing kingdoms."

The Mongols arose from obscure origins in the recesses of Inner Asia to unify their immediate nomadic neighbors and then to conquer much of the Eurasian landmass, ruling large parts of it for more than a century. Emerging from a newly consolidated heartland north of the Gobi in the thirteenth century, the Mongols and their armies--made up of conquered peoples--thrust through western Asia, crossed the Urals, invaded the countries of Eastern Europe, and pressed on to Austria and the Adriatic. They also advanced through southwest Asia to the eastern Mediterranean and conquered the Chinese empire. Around the same time, they embarked on ambitious maritime expeditions against Java and Japan. The Mongols were phenomenally hard driving and ambitious for such a small group, and their accomplishments were considerable. Only the Mamluks of Egypt, the "divine winds" of Japan, and the Mongols' own legal tradition--the need to elect a new khan--halted the inexorable Mongol advances. [Source: Robert L. Worden, Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Mongol warrior

The Mongols seized half of Asia, threatened Europe and made China parts of its kingdom for more than a century and Russia for two centuries. At its peak the realm of the Mongols stretched from central Europe to China, from Siberia to the Indian subcontinent, encompassing nearly one-fifth of the planet and attracting Silk Road explorers no less than Marco Polo himself. To forge this massive empire, the Mongols slaughtered millions in a campaign of violence that would not be equaled until World Wars I and II in the 20th century. But not everything about the Mongols was negative. They opened up trade and the exchange of ideas between the East and West that could not have happened if Asia was divided into a patchwork of kingdoms.

Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Genghis Khan (ca. 1162–1227) and the Mongols are invariably associated with terrible tales of conquest, destruction, and bloodshed. This famed clan leader and his immediate successors created the largest empire ever to exist, spanning the entire Asian continent from the Pacific Ocean to modern-day Hungary in Europe. Such an empire could not have been shaped without visionary leadership, superior organizational skills, the swiftest and most resilient cavalry ever known, an army of superb archers (the "devil's horsemen" in Western sources), the existence of politically weakened states across Asia, and, of course, havoc and devastation. [Source: Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

Books: “The Devil's Horsemen, the Mongols and the Invasion of Europe” by James Chambers; "The Mongol Empire and Its Legacy", Amitai-Preiss, Reuven, and David O. Morgan, eds. Leiden: Brill, 1999; “The Mongols” by Stephen Turnbull; “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests” by Stephen Turnbull. René Grousset's “The Empire of the Steppes” provides a detailed historical analysis of Mongolian history from the Scythian period to the annexation of Mongolia by the Manchus. David Morgan's “The Mongols” (1986) provides a succinct account of the high point of Mongol history in the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries. A more general treatment of Mongol history in the context of general Asian history is in “East Asia: Tradition and Transformation” by John K. Fairbank, Edwin O. Reischauer, and Albert M. Craig. “The Minorities of Northern China” by Henry G. Schwarz and Russia and “The Golden Horde” by Charles J. Halperin provide useful information on Mongol integration into neighboring cultures. For those interested in original source material, The “Secret History of the Mongols,” translated by Francis Woodman Cleaves, should be consulted. [Source: Robert L. Worden, Library of Congress, June 1989]

Websites and Resources: Mongols and Horsemen of the Steppe: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; The Mongol Empire ; The Mongols in World History ; William of Rubruck's Account of the Mongols ; Mongol invasion of Rus (pictures) ; Encyclopædia Britannica article ; Mongol Archives ; “The Horse, the Wheel and Language, How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World", David W Anthony, 2007 ; The Scythians - Silk Road Foundation ; Scythians ; Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the Huns ; Wikipedia article on Eurasian nomads Wikipedia

Mongol Empire

Mongol military power reached its apex in the thirteenth century. Under the leadership of Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khan) and two generations of his descendants, the Mongol tribes and various Inner Asian steppe people were united in an efficient and formidable military state that briefly held sway from the Pacific Ocean to Central Europe. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989]

The Mongol Empire was the largest empire the world has ever known: at its largest extent it was twice the size of the Roman Empire and the territory conquered by Alexander the great. The only other nations or empire that rivaled it in size were the Soviet Union, the Spanish empire in the New World, and the British empire of the 19th century.

The Mongol conquest didn't take long. After expanding out of the Mongolian steppes at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Mongolian hordes moved quickly. Genghis Khan conquered Beijing in 1215, Central Asia and the present-day Ukraine in 1217, eastern Turkey in 1243 and Baghdad and much of the Middle East in 1258. The Mongols also campaigned and plundered in Poland, Hungary, Austria, Lithuania, Bohemia, and Germany, and sent chills down the spines of rulers in Vienna, Venice and Constantinople.

Mongol Empire in 1207

Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan expanded the Mongol Empire southward to the Persian Gulf, Burma and Vietnam and eastward to the Danube. With a little better luck he would have conquered Japan and Java as well. In China, he founded Beijing and established a dynasty that endured there for more than a 100 years. His descendants founded the Mogul Empire in India that lasted there for 350 years until 1876. The Manchu rulers of China were a Mongolian dynasty. The Turk also had links to Mongolia.

At its height in 1259, the Mongol empire stretched from Burma to Hungary, and encompassed nearly all of Asia and Russia, much of the Middle East, and parts of Europe. expanded into Burma and Vietnam but failed to conquer Japan and Java. The third Great Kahn Guyuk once said, "All empire from sunrise to sunset have been given to us, and we own them." Keegan wrote: No single sequence of campaigns by a single people before or since has ever subjected so large an area to military domination.

Modern Mongolia--the Mongolian People's Republic--comprises only about half of the vast Inner Asian region known throughout history as Mongolia. Furthermore, it is only a fraction of the great Mongol Empire of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries that stretched from Korea to Hungary and encompassed nearly all of Asia except the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia.

A DNA-analysis company in Britain made headlines by theorizing that many modern Caucasian males probably carry Genghis genes, because it was the warlord's practice to massacre the men in the territories he conquered and then impregnate the women.

Mongol History

Mongol was initially the name of a tribe roaming along the Erguna River. Moving to the grasslands of western Mongolia in the 7th century, the Mongols settled in the upper reaches of the Onon, Kerulen and Tula rivers and areas east of the Kentey Mountains in the 12th century. Later, their offshoots grew into many tribal groups, such as Qiyan, Zadalan and Taichiwu. The Mongolian grasslands and the forests around Lake Baikal were also home to many other tribes such as Tartar, Wongjiqa, Mierqi, Woyela, Kelie, Naiman and Wanggu, which varied in size and economic and cultural development. [Source: *|*]

According to Chinese sources: The Mongols came from the area around the east bank of ancient Wangjian River (present-day Eerguna River) in Inner Mongolia. "Mengwu" is the earliest Chinese name of "Mongolia". It first appeared in the Tang dynasty (618-907). "Mongol" initially was the name for one of the Mongolian tribes. At the beginning of the 13th century, the Mongolian tribe headed by Genghis Khan unified the other tribes in Mongolian area, and gradually formed a new ethnic community. Therefore, "Mongolia" became the name for a nationality instead of a tribe. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, ~]

Mongol Empire at its Peak in the late 13th century

Traditionally, the main issue in which conflicts arose was over land use. Much of the fighting between the Chinese and Mongols revolved around expansion by Chinese farmers into traditional Mongol grazing areas and pushing herders into inferior pasture lands.

History had traditionally been kept alive through oral epics, performed by nomadic bards, until writing was introduced in the Genghis Khan era in the 12th century. Much of what has been written about the Mongols was produced by people who came in contact with the Mongols—often enemies or hostile neighbors of the Mongols, who generally did not have nice things to say and were less than objective—not the Mongols themselves.

Ancient Mongolia and Eurasian Steppe

The home range of the early horsemen, the Eurasia steppe, is vast area of land that extends from the Carpathian mountains in Hungary to eastern Mongolia. Archeological evidence shows that people lived in Tuva and Altai regions of southern Russia, eastern Kazakhstan and western Mongolia in Paleolithic times. The Scythians roamed there from the 7th to 3rd centuries B.C., followed by the Huns in the 2nd century B.C. to A.D. 2nd century, the ancient Turks from th 6th to 12th centuries, the Uighurs in the 8th century and the Kyrgyz in the 9th century. In 1207 the region was conquered by Mongols under Genghis Khan.

Archaeological evidence places early Stone Age human habitation in the southern Gobi between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago. By the first millennium B.C., bronze-working peoples lived in Mongolia. With the appearance of iron weapons by the third century B.C., the inhabitants of Mongolia had begun to form tribal alliances and to threaten China. The origins of more modern inhabitants are found among the forest hunters and nomadic tribes of Inner Asia. They inhabited a great arc of land extending generally from the Korean Peninsula in the east, across the northern tier of China to the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic and to the Pamir Mountains and Lake Balkash in the west. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Archaeologists working in Outer Mongolia and Inner Mongolia in China have uncovered the remains of more than 100 walled towns and cities of settled people dating back as far as the 3rd millennium B.C. and found extraordinarily beautiful artifacts such as stone altars and jade dragons. Scattered around Outer Mongolia are burial stones organized in squares and circles. Some cover slab-lined tombs and are thought to date as far back as to 2000 B.C.

Marco Polo's route through Mongol territory

Around 1500 B.C., Mongolia became colder and drier—a climate more conducive to grasslands than crops—prompting a shift from a crop-based to livestock-centered society. Cattle was raised in areas where pastures were rich. Sheep were raised in areas where the pastures were sparser.

During most of recorded history, Mongolia and the Eurasian steppe has been an area of constant ferment from which emerged numerous migrations and invasions to the southeast (into China), to the southwest (into Transoxiana--modern Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, Iran, and India), and to the west (across Scythia toward Europe). By the eighth century B.C., the inhabitants of much of this region evidently were nomadic Indo-European speakers, either Scythians or their kin. Also scattered throughout the area were many other tribes that were primarily Mongol in their ethnologic characteristics. *

Marco Polo’s Theory on the Founding of the Mongols

“Chapter XLVI: Of the City of Caracoron” is about the foundation of the city of Caracoron (Karakorum), the first Mongol capital and Marco Polo's own theory about the rise of the Tartars (the Mongols). According to Marco Polo's account: “Caracoron is a city of some three miles in compass. [It is surrounded by a strong earthen rampart, for stone is scarce there. And beside it there is a great citadel wherein is a fine palace in which the Governor resides.] ‘Tis the first city that the Tartars possessed after they issued from their own country.[Source: “Book of Ser Marco Polo: The Venetian Concerning Kingdoms and Marvels of the East,” translated and edited by Colonel Sir Henry Yule (London: John Murray, 1903) Asia for Educators, Columbia University <|>]

“And now I will tell you all about how they first acquired dominion and spread over the world. Originally the Tartars dwelt in the north on the borders of Chorcha. Their country was one of great plains; and there were no towns or villages in it, but excellent pasture-lands, with great rivers and many sheets of water; in fact it was a very fine and extensive region. But there was no sovereign in the land. They did, however, pay tax and tribute to a great prince who was called in their tongue Unc Can, the same that we call Prester John, him in fact about whose great dominion all the world talks. The tribute he had of them was one beast out of every ten, and also a tithe of all their other gear. <|>

“Now it came to pass that the Tartars multiplied exceedingly. And when Prester John saw how great a people they had become, he began to fear that he should have trouble from them. So he made a scheme to distribute them over sundry countries, and sent one of his Barons to carry this out. When the Tartars became a ware of this they took it much amiss, and with one consent they left their country and went off across a desert to a distant region towards the north, where Prester John could not get at them to annoy them. Thus they revolted from his authority and paid him tribute no longer. And so things continued for a time.” <|>

Eurasian steppe

Mongol Timeline

3rd century B.C.: Iron weapons in use; Xiongnu invasion of China repulsed.
2d-1st centuries B.C.: Nomads expand west; pressure on China continues.
1st-2d centuries A.D.: Renewed attacks on China.
A.D. 317: Xianbei conquer northern China.
386-533: Period of Northern Wei Dynasty, established by the Toba in northern China mid-8th century; possible early Mongol links with Tibetan Buddhism.
916-1125: Period of Kitan Liao Dynasty, established over eastern ongolia, Manchuria, and northern China.
1038-1227: Tangut Western Xia Dynasty, established in northwestern China.
1115-1234: Jurchen establish Jin Dynasty in Manchuria, northern China.
1139-47: Jurchen defeat Mongols in Pamirs.

1196-1206: Temujin unites Mongols, assumes title of Genghis Khan.
1209-15: Mongols conquer south to Beijing, west to Lake Balkash.
1220-26: Southwest Asia conquered; invasion of Europe and China.
1227: Genghis dies.
1231: Korea invaded.
1235: Capital rebuilt at Karakorum.
1237-41: Expedition into Europe that was halted at Vienna with death of Ogedei.
1240-1480: Suzerainty over Russia established by Golden Horde; Conquest of Song China.
1260: Mongols defeated by Egyptian Mamluks.

1261: Khublai becomes great khan.
1274 and 1281: Unsuccessful attempts at invasion of Japan.
1279: Yuan Dynasty established in China.
1368: Yuan Dynasty destroyed; Mongols driven back into Mongolia.
1388: Chinese troops destroy Karakorum.
1391: Timur defeats Golden Horde.
1400-54: Civil war ends Mongol unity.

Deer stones

Early Mongols

Archeological finds established the Mongols as a distinct people as early as the second millennium BC. Ancient Chinese manuscripts mentioned Turkic-speaking people living in what is now Mongolia from the 4th century B.C. The name Mongol was first used in the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD).

Deer stones are ancient monoliths with images of deers and other animals carved on them. They were made between 1000 and 700 B.C., around the time that people in the steppe were becoming nomadic herdsmen. Many have images of deers. Some have images of the sun and the moon. Almost always face east towards the rising sun.

There are 450 deer stones scattered across northern Mongolia, particularly in Bulgan, Khovd and Ulaangom provinces, and in southern Siberia. The tallest are about five meters tall. They have been dated based on weapons and tools some of the figures carry. Some scholars think they are be memorials, usually associated with burial mounds and horse graves. William W. Fitzhugh, directors of Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center told the Washington Post, he thinks “they’re symbolic of of powerful chiefs and warriors.”

The relationship between the Deer Stone people and other people of the steppes is not known. The lived at around the same time as the early Scythians but were not Scythians. The Scythians. also were fond of deer images but their deers were quite different that the ones seen on deer stones.

Mongolian Studies specialist Christopher Atwood of Indiana University told the Washington Post, “Most probably what you had was an attractive and charismatic package of nomadic pastrorialism and a dynamic horse culture. A small elite [of deer stone people] conquers the Scythians and then lose their language and subsequently their culture.”

Up until the emergence of Genghis Khan in the 12th century, the Mongols were little more than a loose confederation of rival clans. When they emerged Mongolia was dominated by other groups such as the Scythians from the 7th to 3rd centuries B.C., followed by the Xiongnu-Huns in the 2nd century B.C. to A.D. 2nd century, the ancient Turks from the 6th to 12th centuries, the Uighurs in the 8th century and the Kyrgyz in the 9th century.

See Deer Stone People, Early Horsemen



According to Chinese historical records about 200 B.C., a warlike horse people from Mongolia called the Xiongnu (His-Ug.-nu. Hsiun-nu, or Hunnu) created a confederation of nomadic tribes of aggressive horsemen in an area along the border of China and Mongolia. In the 3rd century B.C. Xiongnu advanced on and displaced kingdoms in Western China. In the 2nd century B.C. they attacked northern China. The Great Wall of China was built to keep them out. Important Xiongnu chieftains included Tumen and Modun

The Xiongnu shot arrows from horseback and used swords and lances. They advanced as far as the Yellow River before being stopped. As part of a peace agreement with China's Han dynasty, the Xiongnu demanded tributes of silk, wine, rice, concubines and other luxuries. The transport of these goods from China to Central Asia marked the beginning large-scale use of the Silk Road.

The Xiongnu were the nemesis of the Han Dynasty Chinese. The Han built up the Great Wall and presented the Xiongnu with Han princesses as gifts but to no avail. The Xiongnu weakened the Han empire with repeated raids In 133 B.C. there was a great battle in which “the men and horses killed on the Han side amounted to over a hundred thousand.” Xiongnu in Chinese means “The State That Holds the Bows Beyond the Great Wall.”

The Xiongnu empire collapsed in the 1st century A.D. primarily because of disputes over succession. The Xianbei replaced the Xiongnu in Mongolia in the A.D. 1st century and gained enough influence that intermingled with the Han Chinese in China. The origin of the Xianbei is not known. They are thought to a mix of Turkic and Iranian clans. Xianbei in turn eclipsed by a succession of other horsemen: the Toba, Ruruan and Turks.

Xiongnu sites have been excavated by archeologist in Mongolia. Once sit called Gua Dob is near Ulaan Baatar.

Uighurs, Kyrgyz and Qidan

The Uighurs---descendants of nomads who trace their heritage back to the Uighur knanates, which ruled an area stretching from the Lake Baikal in southern Siberia to the Karakoram more than 1,000 years ago and are regarded as the first Turkic people to settle down---took control of an area in present day western Mongolia in A.D. the 8th century and left behind their ancient script, which used to write the Mongol language until the arrival of the Russians. The Uighurs helped the Tang defeat a rebellious general and put down an internal revolt. In A.D. 840 they were driven from Mongolia by the Kyrzyg.

Khitan horsemen

The Kyrgyz are believed to have descended from the nomadic "Yenisey Kyrgyz," from the Yenisey River area in central Siberia. They established ties with the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) in China and were mentioned in the 8th century Orkhan inscription. They occupied their lands in what is now northwestern Mongolia until they turn were driven off these lands by the Qidan in the 10th century.

A Mongolian horse clan, the Qidan (Kitan, Khitan, Khitaon), conquered much of northeast China around 900 A.D., and later built an empire that stretched from the Sea of Japan to Central Asia. Skilled artisans from conquered states, during Qidan rule, created elaborate funerary items such as yurt-shaped urns, gold burial masks, painted wooden coffins and detailed tomb guardians that incorporated Taoist, Buddhist and Shamanist elements. The Qidan frequently fought with other Mongol tribes. In the 11th century the Qidan were weakened and ultimately defeated in 1122 by the Jin dynasty of China and their allies the Jurchen (the future Manchus), who were in turn were overpowered by Genghis Khan's clan in the early 13th century.

Possible Reasons for the Mongol Conquests

A 13th-century Persian historian wrote of the Mongol campaigns: "With one stroke a world which billowed with fertility was laid desolate, and the regions thereof became a desert, and the greater part of the living, dead, and their skin and bones crumbling dust, and the mighty were humbled and immersed in the calamities of perdition."

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “There has been considerable speculation about the reasons for the Mongol eruption from Mongolia, and though there is no scholarly consensus on specific reasons, many have pointed to the causes of ecology, trade disruptions, and the figure of Genghis (Genghis) Khan. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University <|>]

“Ecology: In the period from 1180-1220, Mongolia experienced a drop in the mean annual temperature, which meant that the growing season for grass was cut short. Less grass meant a real danger to the Mongols' animals, and, since the animals were truly the basis of the Mongols' pastoral-nomadic life, this ecological threat may have prompted them to move out of Mongolia. <|>

“Trade Disruptions: A second reason often mentioned is the attempt by Mongolia's neighbors in north and northwest China to reduce the amount of trade with the Mongols. Since the Mongols depended on trade for goods that they desperately needed — such as grain, craft, and manufactured articles — cessation of trade, or at least the diminution of trade, could have been catastrophic for them. The attempts by the Jin dynasty, which controlled North China, and the Xia dynasty, which controlled Northwest China, to reduce the level of trade that the Mongols could expect, created a crisis for the Mongols. Unable to obtain goods that they so desperately needed, the Mongols' response was to initiate raids, attacks, and finally invasions against these two dynasties. <|>

Genghis Khan's Personal Mission: A third explanation has to do with Genghis Khan himself, in particular his shamanic beliefs. It is said that Tenggeri, the sky god of the Mongols, gave Genghis the mission of bringing the rest of the world under one sword — that is, bringing the rest of the world under the shamanic umbrella — a mission that may have motivated Genghis to begin his conquests. Whatever the explanations, they all gravitate around the figure of Genghis himself. Thus it is important to see what Genghis' policies led to and to analyze his life and career.” <|>

Importance of Mongol Tribal Bonds and Organization

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The major lessons that Genghis Khan learned from the hardships of his early years (his father's untimely death forced his mother to eke out a survival for the family in the harsh desert lands of Mongolia) convinced him that no one could survive in the daunting landscape of Mongolia without maintaining good relations and seeking help on occasion from one's allies. Genghis's earliest experiences thus convince him of the importance of forging alliances. One's anda (blood brother) pricked his finger and mixed blood with one to forge a blood brotherhood. Genghis found many andas, and his blood brothers, realizing his superior abilities and his charisma, would often join under his banner. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University <|>]

Mongol siege

“Early in his rise to power, Genghis attempted immediately to break down the tribal groups that joined him, because he felt that loyalty in the tribal group would belong to the tribal leader rather than to himself. He wanted to eliminate any feeling of tribal identity and convert it to a Mongol identity — a unit that would be much larger, greater than that of the tribe, wherein the loyalty would remain with him, rather than with a tribal leader. Thus, when a tribe did join him, he quickly dispersed its members through the various units that he controlled. <|>

“Genghis Khan's organized units were based on the principle of ten. He organized his people into units of ten, a hundred, a thousand, and ten thousand, and the head of a unit of ten thousand would have a strong personal relationship with Genghis himself. That kind of loyalty was to be extremely important in Genghis's rise to power and in his ability to maintain authority over all the various segments of his domain. <|>

“Genghis's military tactics showcased his superiority in warfare. One particularly effective tactic Genghis liked to use was the feigned withdrawal: Deep in the throes of a battle his troops would withdraw, pretending to have been defeated. As the enemy forces pursued the troops that seemed to be fleeing, they would quickly realize that they'd fallen into a trap, as whole detachments of men in armor or cavalries would suddenly appear and overwhelm them.

How Such Small Group Succeeded

How did such a small group succeed? According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “One answer to this question is that the Mongols were adept at incorporating the groups they conquered into their empire. As they defeated other peoples, they incorporated some of the more loyal subjugated people into their military forces. This was especially true of the Turks. The Uyghur Turks, along with others, joined the Mongol armies and were instrumental in the Mongols' successes. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University <|>]

“A second explanation is that the rest of Asia was declining at this point. China at this time was not a unified country — in fact, it was divided into at least three different sections, all of which were at war with one another. Central Asia was fragmented, and there was no single leader there. As for Russia, it was only a series of fragmented city-states. And after four centuries of success, the Abbasid dynasty in Western Asia had by this time lost much of its land. <|>

“By 1241, Mongol troops had reached all the way to Hungary but had to withdraw that very year because of the death of Ögödei, the Great Khan. The Mongol elite returned to Mongolia to select a new Great Khan, but they were unsuccessful in their efforts to form a consensus on the matter. For the next 19 years, there would be a variety of disputes over who was the most meritorious of Genghis Khan's descendants and who ought to be the next Great Khan.” <|>

Military Importance of Mongol Horses

Morris Rossabi wrote in Natural History: ““Genghis Khan and his descendents could not have conquered and ruled the largest land empire in world history without their diminutive but extremely hardy steeds...A Chinese chronicler recognized the horse’s value to the Mongols, observing that “by nature they [the Mongols] are good at riding and shooting. Therefore they took possession of the world through this advantage of bow and horse.” [Source: “All the Khan’s Horses” by Morris Rossabi, Natural History, October 1994 =|=]

The Mongols prized their horses primarily for the advantages they offered in warfare. In combat, the horses were fast and flexible, and Genghis Khan was the first leader to capitalize fully on these strengths. After hit-and-run raids, for example, his horsemen could race back and quickly disappear into their native steppes. Enemy armies from the sedentary agricultural societies to the south frequently had to abandon their pursuit because they were not accustomed to long rides on horseback and thus could not move as quickly. Nor could these farmer-soldiers leave their fields for extended periods to chase after the Mongols. =|=

“The Mongols had developed a composite bow made out of sinew and horn and were skilled at shooting it while riding, which gave them the upper hand against ordinary foot soldiers. With a range of more than 350 yards, the bow was superior to the contemporaneous English longbow, whose range was only 250 yards.

“Genghis Khan understood the importance of horses and insisted that his troops be solicitous of their steeds. A cavalryman normally had three or four, so that each was, at one time or another, given a respite from bearing the weight of the rider during a lengthy journey. Before combat, leather coverings were placed on the head of each horse and its body was covered with armor. After combat, Mongol horses could traverse the most rugged terrain and survive on little fodder. =|=

Mongol Historical Sources

History had traditionally been kept alive through oral epics, performed by nomadic bards, until writing was introduced in the Genghis Khan era in the 12th century. Because the Mongol Empire was so vast the Mongols were written about in many languages by numerous chroniclers of divergent conquered societies, who provided a wide range of perspectives, myths, and legends. Much of what has been written about the Mongols was produced by people who came in contact with the Mongols—often enemies or hostile neighbors of the Mongols, who generally did not have nice things to say and were less than objective—not the Mongols themselves. Because many foreign accounts are about the Mongol invasions and were written by the conquered, the Mongols often are described in unfavorable terms, as bloodthirsty barbarians who kept their subjects under a harsh yoke. Mongol sources emphasize the demigod-like military genius of Chinggis Khan, providing a perspective in the opposite extreme.

The term Mongol itself is often a misnomer. Although the leaders and core forces of the conquerors of Eurasia were ethnic Mongols, most of the main army was made up of Uralo-Altaic people, many of them Turkic. Militarily, the Mongols were stopped only by the Mamluks of Egypt and by the Japanese, or by their own volition, as happened in Europe. In their increasingly sophisticated administrative systems, they employed Chinese, Iranians, Russians, and others. Mongolia and its people thus have had a significant and lasting impact on the historical development of major nations, such as China and Russia, and, periodically, they have influenced the entire Eurasian continent. [Source: Robert L. Worden, Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Mongol Literature

Letter from Kubla Khan to the "King of Japan"

History had traditionally been kept alive through oral epics, performed by nomadic bards, until writing was introduced in the Genghis Khan era in the 12th century. Because the Mongol Empire was so vast the Mongols were written about in many languages by numerous chroniclers of divergent conquered societies, who provided a wide range of perspectives, myths, and legends. Much of what has been written about the Mongols was produced by people who came in contact with the Mongols—often enemies or hostile neighbors of the Mongols, who generally did not have nice things to say and were less than objective—not the Mongols themselves. Because many foreign accounts are about the Mongol invasions and were written by the conquered, the Mongols often are described in unfavorable terms, as bloodthirsty barbarians who kept their subjects under a harsh yoke. Mongol sources emphasize the demigod-like military genius of Chinggis Khan, providing a perspective in the opposite extreme.

The most well known Mongolian work is The Secret History of the Mongols. A Chinese copy was found by a Russian diplomat in Beijing a 1866. An original Mongolian copy has never been found. Much of what is known about the Mongols comes from this book, which has been dated to A.D. 1240. Its author is unknown.

Describing a traditional storyteller reading from one of the Mongol classics at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York, Edward Rothstein wrote in the New York Times, “In one of the final events of the recent, a lone Mongolian bard named Burenbayar came onstage and chanted “The Secret History of the Mongols.” He had memorized the 13th-century text during long hours grazing animals on the steppes of Central Asia. And as is true of many ancient sagas, he sang of arms and the man — that is, of warfare and heroism. [Source: Edward Rothstein, New York Times, August 6, 2007]

“His subject was Genghis Khan, a conqueror of many peoples who was both barbarically ruthless and soulfully sentimental, reveling in revenge by tearing out an enemy’s heart and liver with his bare hands while also forgiving, again and again, the bloody treachery of an envious childhood friend. He was at all times a warrior whose goal was conquest and whose demands could not be assuaged, except by victory. Almost every culture has such figures in their past, men like Odysseus, King David, Muhammad and Aeneas, whose triumphs were often attained through extreme, horrific battle. Such founding figures often also display powerful streaks of sensitivity and elevated vision along with prophetic abilities; on their broad chests and battle-readiness rest the later triumphs of their civilizations. But warriors don’t have to display such qualifying attributes; throughout history they are revered. “

Three Greatest Mongol Historical Works

At the beginning of the 13th century, the Mongols created their written language. After that, various kinds of written works in history and literature appeared, one after another, and some of them were handed down to the present. The most famous ones are “Mongol Secret History”, “Mongol Golden History”,”Mongol Headstream”—which together are called the “Three Greatest Historical Works”. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, ~]

page from the "Secret History of the Mongols"

“Mongol Secret History” is also called “Yuan Dynasty Secret History,” or “Yuan Secret History.” In the Mongol language, it is called "Manghuotaniuchatuobuchaan". The author is unknown. The book was finished around the middle period of the 13th century. As to the exact year, some say that it was finished in 1228 (Heavenly Stem Five, Earthly Branch One), and others say it was 1240 (Heavenly Stem Seven, Earthly Branch One), and still others say 1252 (Heavenly Stem Nine, Earthly Branch One) and 1264 (Heavenly Stem One, Earthly Branch One). It is the first and greatest historical and literary work written in Mongolian. There are 282 sections in the book, which can be divided into 12 or 15 volumes. This chronological historical work describes all kinds of events that happened on the Mongolian Grassland, including the legends of Genghis Khan, according to the oral stories of the Mongols. At the same time, it depicts Mongol society, politics, economics, class relations, Genghis Khan's life story and historical facts during the rule of Wokuotai (Öködei, Ögödei, the third son of Genghis Khan). ~

“Mongol Golden History” is chronological history written by the a famous Mongolian scholar, Luobizangdanjin. The book was finished around the end of the Ming dynasty and the beginning of the Qing dynasty in the 17th century. Regarded as the most complete history of the early Mongol, it tracks the history of the Mongols from ancient times to the late Ming and the early Qing period. The first part of the book re-records 233 of the 282 sections of the “Mongol Secret History”, and updates it with insights and discoveries that occurred after “Mongol Secret History” was written. The second half of the book makes use of books like “Essentials of Golden History” (See Below) and constructs a thorough record and supplement of Mongol history from Wokuotai to the late Ming and the early Qing period. This book has a Tibetan Buddhist slant as the author was a firm believer in that religion. The book is regarded as an important work in studying Mongolian history, especially that of the Ming dynasty. “Informative Golden History” is also translated into “Essentials of Mongol Golden History”, Aletan Tuopuchi, to distinguish itself from “Essentials of Golden History” (author unknown), generally called “Great Golden History.” ~

“Mongol Headstream”, originally named “Hadun Wenjiaosunu Eerdeni Tuopuchi” in the Mongolian language, is a chronological history of The Mongols. The book was written in Mongol by Sanangchechen, who was an Ordos Mongol scholar, in the first year of the reign of Chinese Qing Emperor Kangxi (1662). Keerke The next year, it was translated into the Manchu language, and then into Chinese, and was named “Mongol Headstream” There are eight volumes in this book: the first two describe the general situation of Buddhism in India and Tibet; the rest record the history of The Mongols. The author referred to seven major sources in both Mongol and Tibetan language, including 1) “Original Meaning of the Essential Sculptures,” 2) “History of the Reign of Khans,” 3) Sublime Annulus Imperial Edict of Dharma History,” and 4) “Ancient History of Mongolian Khans”. He combined information from these sources his own experience and knowledge to write the book, which covers the origin and spread of Buddhism, the origin of The Mongols, the stories of the kings in Yuan and Ming dynasty, among other things. The narratives on Dayan Khan and Anda Khan are especially informative. Although there are some questionable interpretations on the origin of the Mongols and also some mistakes in the events and years, the book is still considered a great contribution to the study of Mongolian history, literature and religion, especially during the Ming and Qing dynasty. ~

Contributions by the Mongols

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Most Westerners accept the stereotype of the 13th-century Mongols as barbaric plunderers intent merely to maim, slaughter, and destroy. This perception, based on Persian, Chinese, Russian, and other accounts of the speed and ruthlessness with which the Mongols carved out the largest contiguous land empire in world history, has shaped both Asian and Western images of the Mongols and of their earliest leader, Genghis (Chinggis) Khan. Such a view has diverted attention from the considerable contributions the Mongols made to 13th- and 14th-century civilization. Though the brutality of the Mongols' military campaigns ought not to be downplayed or ignored, neither should their influence on Eurasian culture be overlooked.[Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University <|>]

“The Mongol era in China is remembered chiefly for the rule of Kublai Khan, grandson of Kublai Khan. Kublai patronized painting and the theater, which experienced a golden age during the Yuan dynasty, over which the Mongols ruled. Kublai and his successors also recruited and employed Confucian scholars and Tibetan Buddhist monks as advisers, a policy that led to many innovative ideas and the construction of new temples and monasteries. <|>

“The Mongol Khans also funded advances in medicine and astronomy throughout their domains. And their construction projects — extension of the Grand Canal in the direction of Beijing, the building of a capital city in Daidu (present-day Beijing) and of summer palaces in Shangdu ("Xanadu") and Takht-i-Sulaiman, and the construction of a sizable network of roads and postal stations throughout their lands — promoted developments in science and engineering. <|>

“Perhaps most importantly, the Mongol empire inextricably linked Europe and Asia and ushered in an era of frequent and extended contacts between East and West. And once the Mongols had achieved relative stability and order in their newly acquired domains, they neither discouraged nor impeded relations with foreigners. Though they never abandoned their claims of universal rule, they were hospitable to foreign travelers, even those whose monarchs had not submitted to them. <|>

“The Mongols also expedited and encouraged travel in the sizable section of Asia that was under their rule, permitting European merchants, craftsmen, and envoys to journey as far as China for the first time. Asian goods reached Europe along the caravan trails (earlier known as the "Silk Roads"), and the ensuing European demand for these products eventually inspired the search for a sea route to Asia. Thus, it could be said that the Mongol invasions indirectly led to Europe's "Age of Exploration" in the 15th century. <|>

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Mike Edwards, National Geographic: Genghis Khan: December, 1996; After Genghis Khan: February 1997; National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC, Comptom’s Encyclopedia, Lonely Planet Guides, Silk Road Foundation, The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin; History of Arab People by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong (Modern Library, 2000); and various books and other publications.

Last updated February 2019

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