11. Mongol Eurasia - Newsome High School

Mongol Eurasia and its Aftermath
By Tracy Rosselle, M.A.T.
Newsome High School, Lithia, FL
Nomadic Empires,
Turkish Migrations and
Eurasian Integration
Mongol madness: a quick overview
Who were the Mongols?
 When were they a big deal?
 What did they do?
 Where did they do what they did?
Why are they so important to the second
period of World History, 600 – 1450 C.E.?
Who were the Mongols?
They were nomadic tribes
living on the grasslands of
the Eastern Steppe.
Constantly on the move,
always looking for food to
feed their horses (as well
as their sheep, goats,
camels and yaks), they
were the quintessential
They lived in yurts and fed
on bits of meat and
curdled mare’s milk.
A yurt was a round tent made with
sticks and felt, easily transportable to
fit the Mongol pastoralist lifestyle.
Who were the Mongols?
Males spent much of their
time on horseback – and
were quite adept with bow
and arrow.
The stirrup was invented
on the steppe in the
second century B.C.E.,
and the Mongols perfected
its use as a military
technology (a mounted
warrior could stand, turn
and shoot arrows behind
Who were the Mongols?
A Mongol army was like a moving city.
A cavalry of perhaps 10,000 was accompanied by an even
larger number of family members, horses and livestock.
When attacking, the warriors would leave the caravan,
separate into different groups, and attack on multiple
fronts (this “lightning strike” on horseback can be seen as
the precursor to the 20th century’s blitzkrieg).
Because they held that water was divine and must not be
polluted, they never washed  their filthy leather jackets
shone with grease, and their southern neighbors, the
Chinese, said the Mongols smelled so awful that no one
could come near them.
Who were the Mongols?
Women were responsible for the needs of the camp,
milked the livestock and treated the wounded.
Some women, allowed to ride horses and shoot
bows and arrows, also fought as warriors.
The status on Mongol women, in fact, was unusually
high by 13th century standards. They were not forced
to wear veils or bind their feet. And one of Genghis
Khan’s first acts as ruler was to outlaw the
kidnapping of women – one of the main reasons for
feuding on the steppes.
When were the Mongols a big deal?
If you’ve been paying attention, we’ve already
alluded to this. The Mongols became a big deal after
Genghis Khan came onto the scene.
Genghis Khan (sometimes spelled Chinggis Khan)
was born in 1162, and around 1200 he united the
Mongol people and established (with the help of his
descendents) the largest empire the world had ever
The Mongols played a key role in world history
during much of the 1200s and 1300s.
What did the Mongols do?
They ultimately conquered an
area that stretched from
Eastern Europe to the Pacific
Ocean … and it started with
this man.
Temujin was acknowledged by
the Mongols and their allies as
Genghis Khan (“supreme
leader”), named by The
Economist magazine in 1999 as
the “man of the millennium.”
What did the Mongols do?
Genghis Khan’s legend isn’t exactly squeaky clean
… but some historians are now suggesting he was
fairly progressive for his time.
At any rate, he and his armies terrorized much of
Eurasia. The ultimatum? “Submit and live. Resist
and die.”
The Mongols destroyed city after city, slaughtering
all who opposed them. In just a quarter century, all of
Central Asia was under their control.
What did the Mongols do?
“Man’s highest joy is in victory: to conquer one’s
enemies, to pursue them, to take what is theirs, to
make their loved ones weep, to ride their horses,
and to embrace their wives and daughters.”
“I have committed many acts of cruelty and had an
incalculable number of men killed, never knowing
what I did was right. But I am indifferent to what
people may think of me.”
– Genghis Khan
What did the Mongols do?
Genghis Khan – who was a gifted organizer and
strategist – wanted to rule the world … but climate
change may also have played a role in the sudden
Mongol ascendancy: A sharp decline in the mean
annual temperature may have caused less and
shorter grass to grow on the steppe, leading the
Mongols to raid settled societies.
When Genghis Khan died in 1227, the empire was
split into four khanates, or hordes, ruled by each of
his sons.
The Golden Horde included modern-day Russia, and
Mongol rule here in part explains why Russia lagged
the rest of Europe as it modernized in later centuries.
What did the Mongols do?
Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai Khan later ruled
all of China, conquering the Song in the South and
founding the Yuan Dynasty.
Kublai Khan wasn’t true to his Mongol roots, finding
the luxurious life of Chinese emperor to his liking.
He encouraged trade by inviting foreign merchants
to visit China, even as the minority Mongols and
majority Chinese kept their separate cultural
What did the Mongols do?
The Mongols adopted different tactics in the different
lands they ruled.
In Russia, they occupied the prime pastureland of the
steppes north of the Black Sea, mounting raids and
exacting tribute from Russian cities rather than
occupying the heavily forested land.
In Persia, they allowed Persians to continue
administering the ilkhanate as long as they delivered
tax receipts and maintained order, and they even
assimilated to Persian cultural traditions.
In China, they stood aloof from their subjects and
brought in foreign administrators, neglecting the native
administrative talent.
What did the Mongols do?
One foreign visitor to Mongol China was the
Venetian trader Marco Polo, who arrived at
Kublai Khan’s court around 1275 and
journeyed throughout China for 17 years.
Although some doubt he ever visited China
(he failed to mention tea, acupuncture and
foot binding), Marco Polo related his
extensive journeys to China’s cities and
called it the greatest civilization in the world.
What did the Mongols do?
Kublai Khan failed in his bid to conquer Japan, and
his armies suffered humiliating defeats in Southeast
His successors were faced with disgruntled and
overtaxed Chinese subjects, and the Mongols were
finally kicked out in 1368.
Khanates elsewhere fell apart too … largely because
the Mongols had learned the customs of the
conquered, losing their taste for war and slaughter in
the process.
Where did they do what they did?
We’ve already mentioned the Mongol Empire
touched much of the Eurasian continent, but this
map might help to visualize it.
Why are the Mongols so important?
This empire touched nearly all the major
civilizations of the day.
Despite the ruthless nature of their initial
conquering, the empire was relatively
peaceful thereafter.
The mid-1200s to the mid-1300s is
sometimes called the Pax Mongolica.
Why are the Mongols so important?
Cultural diffusion, greater traffic along the
Silk Roads and a keener interest elsewhere
for all things Chinese truly made the world a
smaller place.
The Mongols – largely illiterate and
“uncivilized” themselves – facilitated an
unprecedented cultural diffusion.
Why are the Mongols so important?
They also helped make
possible the transmission in
the mid-1300s of the
Bubonic Plague (a.k.a.
Black Death or Great
Mortality), which began in
China and ultimately killed
one-quarter to one-third of
the population of Western
Europe and the Middle East.
The Mongol legacy
The Mongol period rebalanced the major societies of
Europe and Asia.
The safe passage of merchants, missionaries, artists
and entertainers points to a key fact: Thanks to the
Mongol openness and their facilitation of knowledge
exchange, the technology gap between East Asia
and Western Europe began to close.
The Mongol legacy
Impact on China:
Hostility toward outsiders deepened, and
defensive barriers were refortified to prevent
future invasions.
Impact on Russia:
Russians turned from a regional people to a
more expansionist and aggressive people.
The Mongol legacy
Impact on Japan:
By facing down two Mongol invasions (one
thanks to a “divine wind,” a typhoon that
destroyed the Mongol fleet), the Japanese
began to think of themselves as superior to
the Chinese … and this sense of superiority
and isolation would figure greatly later in
world history.
The Mongol legacy
Impact on Western Europe:
The Europeans were lucky not to have
been invaded by the Mongols, and
they were clearly the leading
beneficiaries of the Mongol era.
They were good at imitating, at
seeing the possibilities of new
technologies and exploiting them to
the fullest. And the two they
exploited the most were
gunpowder and printing.
Meanwhile, prior to the Mongols …
Other nomadic peoples had existed and exerted
great influence throughout Eurasia as early as
classical times.
The Xiongnu confederation dominated central Asia and
was a threat to Han China from the third to the first
century BCE.
The Huns were among the nomads whose migrations
helped topple the western Roman Empire.
The White Huns destroyed the Gupta state in India.
Turkish peoples ruled a large central Asian empire from
sixth through the ninth centuries, with the Uighur Turks
even seizing the Tang capital for a time in the midseventh century.
Nomadic society
Consisted of two classes: nobles and
Nobles did little governing, since clans and tribes
were self-sufficient and generally not amenable to
outside interference … but would exert absolute
authority over their forces when at war.
 Nobility was fluid: passed to heirs but could be
lost if leadership skills weren’t adequate (and
commoners, likewise, could rise to noble status
with courageous conduct in war).
Nomadic life
The aridity of the climate and the nomadic lifestyle of
following seasonal migratory cycles limited the
development of human societies in central Asia.
They lived mostly off the meat, milk and hides of
their animals.
Only at oases could agriculture of any kind take
place, which meant that only small-scale cultivation
of millet or vegetables took place.
Migratory habits and the lack of intensive agriculture
thus meant large-scale craft production (i.e., pottery,
leather goods, iron weapons and tools) was
Nomadic religion
Earliest religion of the Turkish peoples revolved
around shamans, who were religious specialists said
to have the supernatural power of communicating
with the gods and nature spirits.
But by the sixth century CE many Turks had
converted to Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity or
Manichaeism … a fact that, coupled with their
prominence in Eurasian trade networks – they often
led caravans across central Asia – led to the
development of a Turkish written script.
Turkish conversion to Islam
In the 10th century, Turks living near the
Abbasid empire converted to Islam, which
had a profound influence once Turkish
peoples began moving into settled societies
in large numbers – especially in Anatolia and
northern India.
The boundaries of the Islamic world
expanded along with the political and military
influence of Turkish peoples.
Turkish empires:
Persia, Anatolia and India
Turkish peoples living around the borders of Abbasid
Persia slowly became integrated into that settled
society so that by the mid-11th century large
numbers of Saljuq Turks served in the Abbasid
armies and eventually came to overshadow the
The last two centuries of the Abbasid state: the
caliphs mere figureheads as real authority held by
the Turkish sultans (“chieftains”).
Turkish empires:
Persia, Anatolia and India (cont.)
Saljuq Turks also moved into Byzantine Anatolia in
large numbers by the 11 century.
Many peasants there, embittered by their Byzantine
overlords, saw the Saljuqs as liberators rather than
The Turks set up their own political and social
institutions, taxed the Byzantine church and
welcomed converts to Islam, giving them new
political, social and economic opportunities.
By the time the Ottoman Turks finally seized
Constantinople in 1453, Anatolia was a Turkish and
Islamic land.
Turkish empires:
Persia, Anatolia and India (cont.)
Meanwhile, the Turkish Ghaznavids of Afghanistan,
led by Mahmud of Ghazni, began plundering
northern India.
When they decided to settle into a permanent rule
there by the 13th century, the Ghaznavid Turks
established the Delhi Sultanate.
They were harsh foes of Buddhism and Hinduism,
encouraging conversion to Islam as they destroyed
shrines, temples and monasteries.
Tamerlane the Whirlwind
After the Mongols, a central Asian
Turk named Timur – modeling
himself after his hero Genghis Khan
– put together a short-lived empire
that deeply influenced surviving
Turkish Muslim states in India,
Persian and Anatolia.
Because he walked with a limp,
contemporaries referred to him as
Timur-i lang – “Timur the Lame,”
which, in English, became
Conquerors, not governors
Tamerlane was much like Genghis Khan in
that he was a great military leader and
strategist … a conqueror, ill-suited to
administer a polity for the long term.
He did not create an imperial administration;
instead, he ruled through tribal leaders who
were allies, relied on existing bureaucratic
structures and simply received taxes and
The Human Story (James C. Davis)
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern
World (Jack Weatherford)
Traditions & Encounters: A Global
Perspective on the Past (Bentley & Ziegler)
World History (Duiker & Spielvogel)
A Brief History of the World, Lecture 16 –
The Mongol Years (Peter N. Stearns)