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The Mongol Empire

Updated on December 10, 2016
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The Mongol Empire, at the height of its power in the thirteenth century, was the largest land empire in history. It stretched from the Yellow Sea in the east to the Danube in the west and included areas of what is now the modern Russia, China, and Iran.

The origins of the Mongols are obscure. They were traditionally nomadic tribes who lived in felt tents called yurts and followed their herds of horses, cattle, camels, and sheep on an annual round of pasturage in the areas that are now Manchuria, Mongolia, and Siberia. The numerous, loosely organized, and constantly feuding Mongol tribes were first brought together as a unified nation under Genghis Khan (circa 1162-1227), who, because of his successes in tribal warfare, was proclaimed ruler of all the Mongols in 1206.

Genghis Khan

The nomadic Mongol tribes were a loosely organized confederation of peoples occupying the remote grasslands of Central Asia until in 1206 Genghis Khan was proclaimed the supreme ruler. He welded the tribes into a united and magnificently disciplined conquering force that fought with incredible courage and utter ruthlessness.Under Genghis Khan, every Mongol male was a soldier, skilful with bow and arrow and a consummate horseman. Moving with lightning speed, Genghis Khan led the Mongol armies on a path of successful conquest, first conquering China in 1215 and then, turning westwards, subduing all of Asia and moving towards East Europe. Genghis Khan specialized in siege tactics, using storming ladders to scale the walls of fortified cities, sandbags to fill in the moats and gigantic shields for protection.As well as being a brilliant leader and tactician, he was also a very skilled lawmaker and administrator. However, although his successors displayed the same military brilliance, they did not inherit his administrative genius.

Ogotai Khan

Under Ogotai, Genghis Khan's son and successor, the European conquests rolled on and it was only the death of this khan that saved all of Europe from falling to the Mongols.On the death of Ogatai, the leaders withdrew their armies and retired to argue the succession. Preoccupied with internal strife and jealousies, they did not return to complete the conquest of Europe.

Territories held at the height of the Mongol Empire
Territories held at the height of the Mongol Empire

Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, founded the Yuan dynasty in China, which lasted for the period 1279-1368. He was more tolerant than his predecessors and, under his rule, religious tolerance was upheld. Even while on some fronts the empire was expanding, however, a decline started after Kublai Khan's death in 1294, almost as soon as the empire had reached its peak. In the rapid growth of the empire, the superiority of the Mongol warrior was aided by the internal divisions and mutual suspicions among the leaders of the conquered nations, who never collaborated in combating the Mongol armies.Decline set in because the empire had become too big and unwieldy, without any kind of cultural unity. Lacking the administrative skill of Genghis Khan and with experience only in warfare, the khans following Kublai brought in officials from other races to govern. Initially a means of preventing rebellion, this tactic allowed corruption and incompetence to develop to such an extent that revolts increased and disintegration was rapid.

Highly Recommended Reading

These are fiction, but Conn Iggulden has recreated the birth of the Mongol Empire with known historical facts and weaved it together with attention catching story telling. It certainly makes you appreciate this era of history through new eyes.The movie Mongol is not associated with these books, but I've seen it and there was much in it that I liked. Though I thought the young Temujin (Genghis) was too chubby for the role (Temujin had a very hard life, as did most Mongols, but he would have been a tough kid and any bulk would have been muscle).

Re-emergence of Mongol power

The Mongol tradition of conquest continued with Timur, or Tamerlane, a Mongol leader not descended from Genghis but who proclaimed himself his heir. He fostered a resurgence of power in the late fourteenth century, bringing much of Asia again under Mongol domination. China then conquered the Mongol homelands.A Mongol state was established in India by a descendant of Timur, Babur, who founded the Mohammedan Mogul Empire in India in 1526. The Manchus conquered China and Mongolia in the seventeenth century and, under their rule, Buddhism became entrenched.Buddhism is credited with transforming the warriors into peaceful herders and priests. The herders continued the unchanging nomadic lifestyle until well into the twentieth century, irrespective of changes in political control.

Link between East and West

Although the Mongols were cruel conquerors, a number of long-term benefits accrued from their rule, the most striking being the increase in communications among the many conquered races. Roads connected Russia and Persia to East Asia and thus Europeans traveled to China. Marco Polo was an early adventurer along this route and the Chinese visited Europe and Russia. Europe probably gained most from the resulting cultural exchanges, with the advent of numerous Chinese inventions, such as paper, printing and gunpowder.The migrations of peoples fleeing before the Mongol hordes brought political and cultural change to a number of isolated and primitive regions. Much of the racial and cultural diversity of Europe stems from such mass migrations.The contemporary Mongolians, although retaining their cultural identity virtually intact, are politically subject to Russia and China.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Alfred the Great was the greatest - brain over brawn, reason over might. There's a reason why he is the only English king to be called "Great". He fought against the Danes, the DaneLaw, and united the Anglo-Saxon tribes. He is great because he created England, held the language, and the reason why we can read this exceptional and excellent lens!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      good work ;)

    • PamelaU profile image

      PamelaU 5 years ago

      A real hero of mine.

    • jackofclubs profile image

      jackofclubs 5 years ago

      Great lens! Love the map. I'm also a fan of Genghis Khan and created a lens like this, not as good though. You can check it out if you like to: http://www.squidoo.com/conquerors-we-remember-djin...

    • LisaDH profile image

      LisaDH 5 years ago

      I love the map. I don't think I've ever seen an image showing how far the Mongol empire reached. That's pretty impressive for that time!

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 5 years ago from Western Mass

      thanks for the intro to this historical empire

    • Dragon 40 profile image

      Ken McVay 6 years ago from Nanaimo, British Columbia

      Well done - thanks for doing a great job!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very informative yet concise lens. Kudos!

    • Surfer83 profile image

      Surfer83 6 years ago

      Interesting topics nice read =)

    • ChristyMarieKent profile image

      ChristyMarieKent 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this! This is a wonderful insight into an important historical period that many of us don't know enough about.

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      PhillipConte 6 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this lens. It is a concise account of historical events in that part of the world while the western world was adjusting to the reduction of Viking raids; the start of the Crusades and the Black Death that originated in China and swept across Asia, Africa and Europe. It's a small world.

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      NevermoreShirts 6 years ago

      Always a very interesting topic to read into - I've always found the Mongols fascinating.

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 6 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Fascinating subject, well described.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have read Bones of the Hill and this started us to read more on Genghis Khan.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      It is indeed fascinating history...what they have achieved during their time.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Mongols were fascinating! I absolutely loved Conn Iggulden books too.