Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Mongol Empire was an empire founded by Genghis Khan in 1206. Encompassing the majority of the territories from southeast Asia to eastern Europe, it was the largest contiguous land empire in world history and the second largest empire in total extent after the British Empire. Historically the time of Mongol Empire facilitated great cultural exchange and trade between the East, West and the Middle East during the much time between 13th century and 14th century. It laid the foundation for the preservation of Mongol culture and existence of Mongolia as a country. Mongol Empire was created as a result of a lot of skillful victories, brilliant political and economic organization and discipline.
Around 1300, it was already in a state of fracture of intra-political feud, accumulation of resources and money among the elite, loosing the organization of Genghis Khan. By the time of Genghis Khan's death, he divided the empire among his four sons, but eventually the separate khanates drifted away from each other (e.g. Golden Horde, Yuan Dynasty)
Genghis Khan, through political manipulation and military might, united the Mongol tribes under his rule by 1206. He quickly came into conflict with the Jin empire of the Jurchen and the Western Xia in northern China. Under the provocation of the Khwarezmid Empire, he moved into Central Asia as well, devastating Transoxiana and eastern Persia, then raiding into southern Russia and the Caucasus. While engaged in a final war against the Western Xia, Genghis fell ill and died. Through much hard work, Genghis had built an empire that in his mind was the heritage of the imperial house. Before dying, Genghis Khan divided his empire among his sons and immediate family, but as custom made clear, it remained the joint property of the entire imperial family who, along with the Mongol aristocracy, constituted the ruling class.
- By 1206 Temuchin dominated Mongolia and received the title Genghis Khan, thought to mean Oceanic Ruler or Firm, Resolute Ruler
- 1207, the Mongols began operations against the Western Xia, which comprised much of northwestern China and parts of Tibet. This campaign lasted until 1210 with the Western Xia ruler submitting to Genghis Khan. During this period, the Uighurs also submitted peacefully to the Mongols and became valued administrators throughout the empire.
- 1211, after a great quriltai or meeting, Genghis Khan led his armies against the Chin Dynasty that ruled northern China.
- 1219–1222 While the campaign above was still in progress, the Mongols waged a war in central Asia and destroyed the Khwarazmian Empire. Notable feature was that the campaign was launched from several directions.
- 1226, Invasion of the Western Xia, being the second battle with the Western Xia.
The Mongol military organization was simple, but sensible. The organization was based on an old tradition of the steppe, which was like today’s decimal system: the army was built upon a squad of ten, called an "arban"; ten "arbans" constituted a company of a hundred, called a "jaghun". Ten "jaghuns" made a regiment of a thousand – "mingghan". Ten "mingghans" would then constitute a regiment of ten thousand ("tumen"), which was the modern equivalent of a division.
The army's discipline distinguished Mongol soldiers from their peers. The forces under the command of the Mongol Empire were generally tailored for mobility and speed. To ensure mobility, Mongol soldiers were relatively lightly armored compared to many of the armies they faced. In addition, soldiers of the Mongol army functioned independently of supply lines, considerably speeding up army movement.
All military campaigns were preceded by careful planning, reconnaissance and gathering of sensitive information relating to the enemy territories and forces. The success, organization and mobility of the Mongol armies let them fight on several fronts at once. All males who were aged from 15 to 60 and were capable of undergoing rigorous training were eligible for conscription into the army.
Law and governance
The Mongol Empire was governed by a code of law devised by Genghis, called Yassa, meaning "order" or "decree." The stiff penalties it enforced made the Mongol Empire extremely safe and well-run; European travelers are said to have been amazed by the organization and strict discipline of the people within the Mongol Empire.
Under Yassa, chiefs and generals were selected based on merit, religious tolerance was guaranteed, and thievery and vandalization of civilian property was strictly forbidden. According to legend, a woman carrying a sack of gold could travel safely from one end of the Empire to another.
Genghis also demonstrated a rather liberal and tolerant attitude to the beliefs of others, and never persecuted people on religious grounds. This proved to be good military strategy, as when he was at war with Sultan Muhammad of Khwarezm, other Islamic Leaders did not join the fight against Genghis - it was instead seen as a non-holy war between two individuals.
Throughout the empire, trade routes and an extensive postal system ("yam") were created. Many merchants, messengers and travelers from China, the Middle East and Europe used yam to have cultural exchange and a safer trade network.
Genghis Khan also created a national seal, invented a universal written alphabet, exempted teachers, lawyers, and artists from taxes, and outlawed all forms of torture and humiliation in the empire.
The citizenry had an extreme sense of dedication and loyalty to the empire, and especially to Genghis Khan himself.
Mongols prized their commercial and trade relationships with neighboring economies and this policy they continued during the process of their conquests and during the expansion of their empire. All merchants and ambassadors, having proper documentation and authorization, traveling through their realms were protected. This gave enormous surge to overland trade.
During the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, European merchants, numbering hundreds, perhaps thousands, made their way from Italy to the distant land of China – Marco Polo is only one of the best known of these. Well-traveled and relatively well-maintained roads linked lands from the Mediterranean basin to China. The Mongol Empire had negligible influence on seaborne trade, which was much larger, both in value and volume than the overland trade that passed through the territories under the control of the Mongol empire.
After Genghis Khan
The empire's expansion continued for a generation or more after Genghis's death in 1227 — indeed, it was under Genghis's successor Ögedei Khan that the speed of expansion reached its peak. Mongol armies pushed into Persia, finished off the Xia and the remnants of the Khwarezmids, and came into conflict with the Song Dynasty of China, starting a war that would last until 1279 and that would conclude with the Mongols' successful conquest of China.
Then, in the late 1230s, the Mongols under Batu Khan invaded Russia, reducing most of its principalities to vassalage, and pressed on into Eastern Europe. In 1241 the Mongols may have been ready to invade western Europe as well, having defeated the last Polish-German and Hungarian armies at the Battle of Legnica and the Battle of Mohi . However, at this point, news of Ögedei's death led to first the partial suspension of the invasion and then to its effective conclusion as Batu's attention switched to the election of the next Great Khan.
During the 1250s, Genghis's grandson Hulegu Khan, operating from the Mongol base in Persia, destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad and destroyed the cult of the Assassins, moving into Palestine towards Egypt. The Great Khan Möngke having died, however, he hastened to return for the election, and the force that remained in Palestine was destroyed by the Mamluks under Baibars in 1261 at Ayn Jalut.
When Genghis Khan died, a major potential weakness of the system he had set up manifested itself. It took many months to summon the kurultai, as many of its most important members were leading military campaigns thousands of miles from the Mongol heartland. And then it took months more for the kurultai to come to the decision that had been almost inevitable from the start — that Genghis's choice as successor, his third son Ögedei, should indeed become Great Khan. Ögedei was a rather passive ruler and personally self-indulgent, but he was intelligent, charming and a good decision-maker whose authority was respected throughout his reign by apparently stronger-willed relatives and generals whom he had inherited from Genghis.
On Ögedei's death in 1241, however, the system started falling apart. Pending a kurultai to elect Ögedei's successor, his widow Toregene Khatun assumed power and proceeded to ensure the election of her son Guyuk by the kurultai. Batu, though, was unwilling to accept Guyuk as Great Khan but without the power in the kurultai to procure his own election. Therefore, while moving no further west, he simultaneously insisted that the situation in Europe was too precarious for him to come east and that he could not accept the result of any kurultai held in his absence. The resulting stalemate lasted four years — in 1246 Batu eventually agreed to send a representative to the kurultai but never acknowledged the resulting election of Guyuk as Great Khan.
Guyuk died in 1248, only two years after his election, on his way west apparently to force Batu to acknowledge his authority, and his widow Oghul Ghaymish assumed power pending the meeting of the kurultai. But she could not keep the power. Batu again remained in the west but this time gave his support to his and Guyuk's cousin, Möngke, who was duly elected Great Khan in 1251.
It was Möngke Khan who unwittingly provided his brother Kublai with a chance to become Khan in 1260. Möngke assigned Kublai, to a province in North China. Kublai expanded the Mongol empire, and made several good military moves, putting him in the favor of his brother the khan.
Later, though, when he began to rule and abide by more Chinese laws, his brother, Möngke, was persuaded by his advisors that Kublai was becoming too Chinese and would become treasonous. After meeting in person and several diplomatic moves on Kublai's part, they were at peace. Möngke kept a closer watch on Kublai from then on until his death campaigning in the west. After his older brother's death, Kublai placed himself in the running for a new khan against his younger brother, and, although his younger brother won one election, Kublai won another, staged in a less traditional place. Kublai was soon known as Kublai Khan.
He proved to be a good conqueror, but critics said he dwelt too long in China. When he moved his headquarters to Peking, there was an uprising in the old capital that he barely staunched. He focused mostly on foreign alliances, and opened trade routes. He dined with a large court every day, and met with many ambassadors, foreign merchants, and even offered to convert to Christianity if this religion was proved to be correct by 100 priests.
However, as his eyes strayed from the Mongol empire he ruled and towards cultural exchange with Europe, the war-ravaged Mongol masterpiece he had worked so hard to expand began to decline, and only his returning attention saved it from a swift fall. Although turmoil always happened when a khan died, even as the empire grew larger, khans were still elected in the traditional manner. The decaying empire sagged when Kublai Khan died, and it rotted through after Kublai's successor failed to maintain the Pax Mongolica policy. After Kublai died in 1294, his heirs failed to maintain the Pax Mongolica and the Silk Road closed. Already during the reign of Kublai Khan, the empire was in the process of splitting into a number of smaller khanates.
Inter-family rivalry (compounded by the complicated politics of succession, which twice paralyzed military operations as far off as Hungary and the borders of Egypt, crippling their chances of success) and the tendencies of some of the khans to drink themselves to death fairly young (causing the aforementioned succession crises) hastened the disintegration of the empire.
Another factor which contributed to the disintegration was the decline of morale when the capital was moved from Kharakhorum to modern day Beijing by Kublai Khan, because Kublai Khan associated more with Chinese culture. Kublai concentrated on the war with the Song, assuming the mantle of ruler of China, while the more western khanates gradually drifted away.
Some of these descendant empires include the Mongol-founded Yuan Dynasty in China, the Golden Horde that controlled Central Asia and Russia and the Ilkhans who ruled Persia from 1256 to 1353. Of the later, their ruler Ilkhan Ghazan was converted to Islam in 1295 and actively supported the expansion of this religion in his empire.
The Mongol Empire was the largest contiguous empire in human history. The 12th and 13th century, when the empire came to power, is often called the "Age of the Mongols". The Mongol armies during that time were extremely well organized. The death toll (by battle, massacre, flooding, and famine) of the Mongol wars of conquest is placed at about 40 million according to various sources. However, modern studies of the Mongol Empire also give focus to aspects beneath the surface of events like military campaigns, conquests and imperial expansion.
Tamerlane tried to unify the Mongol Empire, but the identity of the empire transpired to the lesser Mongol khanates, and the unification of all the tribes of Mongolia, which made possible the emergence of a Mongol nation and culture. Modern Mongolians are proud of the empire and the sense of identity that it gave to them.
Some of the long-term implications of the Mongol Empire include:
- The Mongol empire has always been given credit for expanding the frontiers of China and imparting political unity to China, a unity which China never lost.
- During the period of the Mongol empire large military reorganization and distribution of local tribal population happened in Central Asia. Since the collapse of the USSR, in a number of present day Central Asian nations, Mongol and quasi-Mongol figures such as Tamerlane have been accorded important status, and have become important symbols of national identity rather than mere "feudal oppressors".
- Persia became Iran with almost the same boundaries as the modern Iran. The Persian language got ascendancy over Arabic in Iran.
- Some historians attribute the origins of the Emirate of Osman, the nucleus of the later Ottoman Empire, to the Mongol empire.
- Russia rose to prominence during this time because Russian rulers were accorded the status of tax collectors for Mongols.
- Europe’s knowledge of the known world was immensely expanded by the information brought back by ambassadors and merchants. When Columbus sailed in 1492, his mission was to reach Cathy, the land of the Genghis Khan. Some research studies indicate that the Black Death, which devastated Europe in the late 1340s, may have reached from China to Europe along the trade routes of the Mongol Empire.
- The Mongol Empire set an example of religious tolerance. A number of principles by which the empire was ruled continue to be emulated in modern times, and form the basis of several principles of modern democratic states.
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