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Sunday, 26 February 2017

World History: The Mongols

Mongol Invasion of China
The Mongols have gone down in history as being some of the most fearsome warriors in history building an empire built on fire, blood, and destruction. Incidentally they have also become strangely admired as free nomads with John Wayne in 1956 starring in a movie around Genghis Khan called The Conqueror (incidentally Wayne played Genghis himself). How true is the view that the Mongol Empire was built by savage barbarians raping and murdering their way through Eurasia? Before we look at the Mongols we must first look at the world before the Mongols came onto the scene.

The Pre-Mongol World
Hsiung-nu depicted in the 14th Century
Prior to the rise of the Mongol Empire in what is now Mongolia nomadic herders migrated seasonally around an area of 100 miles. Nomadic herders sent their herds around this area following the seasons and grasses. However, the Mongols were not the first nomadic peoples to raid outside Mongolia. One such group was the Hsiung-nu who would later attack the Roman Empire under the name of the Hun. Mongolian society, according the Owen Lattimore, divided the clans (oboq) into ruling and subordinate clans where subordinated clans were under the protection of the ruling ones. To the south China was divided into three states: the Jin Empire in the North, the Sung Empire in the South, and the Hsi-Hsia in the North-West who were Tanguts from Tibet according to Chinese sources. In Persia a dynasty under 'Ala al-Din Muhammad II was expanding the Khwarazmian Empire. In Europe and the Middle East the Crusades were under way (please see here). In 1162 Temujin was born to Yesugei, leader of the Borjigin clan, but we know little of his early life due to the lack of written sources. According to The Secret History of the Mongols Yesugei was poisoned by Tatars when Temujin was nine. Within the first twenty years of his life he had seen corruption, alliances, hidden dealings, and was briefly captured by his father's enemies. When his father died his mother taught him and upheld the marriage contract with Börte. Women in Mongol society had more rights compared to their counterparts in China and Eurasia. After Börte was captured Temujin won notoriety by defeating his enemies. There began a process of unifying the tribes where he won support among the poorer and weaker clans by implementing a meritocracy in his leadership. By 1206 he had managed to unite or subdue the various warring tribes. He called a Khuruldai (council) to determine if he should be called 'the Great Khan' and those who supported him would go to show their support for him. After getting enough votes Temujin was granted the title 'Great Khan' and was henceforth called Chinggis or Genghis Khan.

Empire under Genghis
Genghis Khan
Conquests. The Mongol conquest began in 1209 when Genghis attacked the Hsi-Hsia and to the benefit of the Mongols the Jin refused to help the smaller kingdom. In the field the Mongols managed to defeat the Hsi-Hsia forces but being nomads they had no siege engines. As a result the Mongols had to resort to luring at fortress garrisons by feigning retreat. In 1210 they managed to subjugate the Hsi-Hsia, (although over ten years later they would return to permanently break them). After defeating the Hsi-Hsia they turned their attention to the Jin who had for generations been overlords of the Mongols. In 1211 the conquest of the Jin began and would end in 1234. The Jin sent a messenger to the Mongol forces who then defected and told the Mongols that the Jin army was waiting for them. During the invasion of the Jin the Mongols would massacre towns and cities which did not surrender, and then brought in Han Chinese soldiers and experts to help them. Despite the stereotype the Mongols would not ruthlessly massacre populations. They would offer them a chance to surrender and if they didn't they would massacre everyone. This would work out in the Mongol's favor as the fear of the massacres helped encourage settlements to surrender. In 1211 a deposed enemy of Genghis called Kuchlug usurped the throne of the Qara Khitai in Central Asia and began a war against the Khwarazmian Empire. Genghis's general Jebe was sent to conquer the region and in 1218 Qara Khitai fell. Wanting the benefits of the Silk Road (see here) a caravan was sent to the Khwarazmian Empire but was massacred leading to the Mongol invasion in 1219. The mobile Mongol forces spread the Khwarazmian army thin causing the Khwarazmian forces being slaughtered. The Muslim population saw this a punishment from God and Genghis reiterated this after conquering Bukhara announcing:
O people, know that you have committed great sins, and that the great ones among you have committed these sins. If you ask me what proof I have for these words, I say it is because I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.
Muhammad II fled from the Mongol conquests to an island in the Caspian Sea where he died from dysentery in 1220/1, and his son Jala al-Din was forced into exile in India after being defeated at the Indus River in 1221. After the defeat of the Khwarazmians Genghis returned to Mongolia to put down a rebellion several generals were sent west into the Caucasus and Russia. With a contingent of 20,000 the Mongols destroyed the Kingdom of Georgia, sacked a Genoese trade-fortress in Crimea, and attacked the Kievan Rus. At the Battle of Kalka River in 1223 the Mongols defeated a Kievan force which greatly outnumbered the Mongol forces, although they may have been defeated by the Volga Bulgars at the Battle of Samara Bend (it is not known if they were or not). When the Russians surrendered six princes were crushed to death as Genghis's general Subutai ate. When Genghis died in 1227 of a nosebleed in his sleep the Mongol Empire ruled from Kiev in modern Ukraine east China.

Administration and Trade. A big reason why empires fall is that they cannot administer the territory that they've conquered. Unlike later empires, like the British and French, or even earlier empires, like the Roman, conquered peoples were readily brought into the administration and military. For example, Chinese soldiers were used as garrisons and infantry after the conquest of China ended, and Chinese experts were used. Thanks to Chinese experts the Mongols managed to adapt siege equipment and gunpowder, (possibly introducing gunpowder to Europe). Using the Silk Trade domestic and international trade was widely encourage, and the Uyghur script was adopted to help necessitate administration (and trade). The Mongols ruled an area covering 36,200,000 square kilometers, (14 million square miles), so an attempt to divide the empire into easier to rule segments was implemented. In 1206 everyone was placed in units of a thousand (mingan) for military and taxation purposes (which the clergy and poor were exempted from). Although in areas like China and Persia existing administrations were kept in place and re-appropriated for Mongol use. Law was enforced in the Mongol Empire with the kidnap of women being made illegal, and banditry being rigorously suppressed. It was said that one could walk across the Silk Road wearing gold and not be afraid of being attacked. With this came an efficient postal service creating one of the greatest postal services until the rise of industrialized societies.
Mongol Units
Military. In The Secret History of the Mongols (1227) the army was put at 105,000 although chroniclers outside the empire, such as Juzjani, often put this figure as being far higher. Juzjani stated that during the invasion of Khwarazm the army was between 700-800,000. Like with mingan the army was divided along jaghun (hundreds) and arban (tens). The keshik was also created which was a bodyguard. They became a training ground for generals and governors. Mongol tactics could be especially brutal. Some sources state that plague ridden bodies were catapulted over the walls of fortresses in Crimea, although this is debatable. Rape was prevalent. In 1253 Franciscan friar William of Rubruck estimated that Genghis Khan's descendants numbered 20,000 and today around 16 million people are descended from Genghis.

The Mongols were originally Tengrist, a shamanistic and animist religion, which was a rather tolerant religion. Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, said:
The Catholic Inquisition of Europe who defended nonsense by cruelty, might have been confounded by the example of a barbarian, who anticipated the lessons of philosophy and established by his laws a system of pure theism and perfect toleration.
Genghis and his descendants were tolerant of various religions and often consulted Buddhists, Christians, Taoists, and Muslims. One Taoist sage was Ch'ang Ch'un who became a major adviser for Genghis after he asked the sage about immortality, and he would later give his Taoist sect privileges. However, this tolerance should not be overstated. Genghis referred to Jews and Muslims as 'slaves' as well as forbidding Halal and Kosher slaughter. He also banned circumcision among Jews. Religious leaders were exempted from taxes, and, Genghis's successor, Ögedei, built shrines for several religions in the new capital of Khartoum. Successor states of the khanate adopted local religions. The Yuan Dynasty in China adopted Buddhism as the Golden Horde and Ilkhanate adopted Islam.

Successor States
When Genghis died in 1227 he split the khanate among his sons and grandsons. His second eldest son, Ögedei, inherited the Empire of the Great Khan which comprised East Asia and China. His youngest son inherited the Mongol homeland. Chagatai Khan, the third son, inherited Central Asia and the Middle East. Finally the sons of his eldest son, who died before Genghis, inherited the Blue and White Hordes in Russia which later merged to form the Golden Horde. Now we will look at the Mongols in the Middle East and China.

Middle East
1258 Siege of Baghdad
In 1251 Möngke Khan became the fourth Great Khan after seizing the khanate for himself. In 1252 he organised a council to plan the next conquest, which would be the Middle East. The Islamic judge of Qazwin begged Möngke for aid claiming that his citizens were under attack from Isma'ili Assassins (the same ones from Assassins Creed). He sent his brother, Hulegu, to end the Isma'ili Assassins and either have the 'Abbasid Caliphate submit or have them destroyed. The caliph refused to submit. In 1257 the Mongols destroyed the Assassins' base disbanding the order and the next year they attacked Baghdad. The caliph was wrapped in a carpet and dragged behind Mongol horses until he died (it was seen as a calamity to shed a holy person's blood) and destroyed the city. The House of Wisdom containing some of the greatest Isma'ili and Islamic texts were lost as the building was burnt to the ground. Baghdad had been one of the greatest cities in the world, comparable to Constantinople, Rome or Beijing, and it would not become a wealthy city again until the 1920s. Hulagu would found the Ilkhanate where he even tried to orchestrate a Franco-Mongol alliance. However, here the Mongol Empire showed signs of decline. As he was about to attack the Mamluks in Egypt he warred with the Golden Horde who wanted retribution for his murder of the caliph. In 1260 the Mamluks defeated the Ilkhanate in Syria at the Battle of Ayn Jalut handing the Mongols a major defeat. Thanks to this defeat the Mongols never managed to spread into North Africa. In the fourteenth-century the Ilkhanate collapsed through the population being ravaged thanks to the Black Death and wars against the Mamluks, and a supposed descendant of Genghis called Timur. In 1375 the Ilkhanate collapsed.

Kublai Khan
By 1234 the Jin Dynasty had been conquered and by 1279 the Sung had also been conquered. This conquest had been done by Kublai Khan who in 1271 declared himself Emperor of China. His new dynasty would be called the Yuan Dynasty. Kublai would 'sinicize' the empire by adopting Chinese culture. During this period Chinese ceramics went through a boom and expansion with the famous blue and white design 'Jingdezhan' ware of underglaze becoming widespread. Like the Ilkhanate and Golden Horde the Yuan Dynasty adopted Buddhism as well as Confucian practices. A social order was implemented with the Mongols at the top, then non-Mongols from the west, then 'Han' (Han Chinese, Jurchens, Koreans and Khitans), and at the bottom were the subjects of the Southern Sung dynasty. Marco Polo is supposedly to have visited China during the reign of the Yuan Dynasty, and if his writings are indeed correct (and not elaborate embellishments) he managed to serve in the Yuan court. The Yuan Dynasty continued on the Mongol expansion although they were categorical failures. Invasions of Vietnam and Burma led to massacres of the Mongol armies. Sea invasions also failed with a disastrous attempt to invade Java in 1293, and two to invade Japan in 1274 and 1280. The Japanese invasions failed both times thanks to a typhoon which have been called 'kamikaze' (divine wind). By the time of the Yuan Dynasty's collapse the rest of the Mongol khanates were either collapsing or were abandoned by the khanates as the Yuan Dynasty was seen as being 'too Chinese'. Famines and revolts caused decline of the Yuan Dynasty until 1368 when they were forced to the north when the Ming Dynasty was founded.

Decline of the Mongols
Like the Roman Empire the Mongol Empire declined thanks to overextension and poor administration. Although there was an efficient postal service connecting distant parts of the empire it was difficult for the Mongols to rule territory stretching from Hungary to Korea. The Great Khanate only really had one or two cities, including Karakorum, so this made administration extremely difficult. Decline was sped up by the divisions between the khanates themselves. As shown with the war between the Ilkhanate and the Golden Horde with khanates warring they could not form a stable empire. At one part under the founder of the Timurid Empire in Persia, Tamerlane, did the Mongol Empire seem able to unify. Tamerlane's conquests were bloody as he tried to recreate the unified Mongol Empire with his massacres being seen by some historians as a genocide with around 17 million people, or 5% of the world population, being killed. However, the Timurids never managed to gain much land outside Iran, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Slowly the khanates started to fall one by one. In 1688 the Yuan Dynasty finally collapsed, in 1438 the Golden Horde split into two which was further divided in 1441. Ivan the Terrible conquered two of the khanates that sprung from the Golden Horde in 1552 and 1554. The Crimean Khanate lasted until 1783 when conquered by Catherine the Great. 

The Mongols were an empire of paradoxes. Bringing religious toleration, an efficient postal service, and aiding in the return of the Silk Road the Mongols brought great benefits, but paradoxically they orchestrated massacres which can be considered genocides, helped spread the Black Death through the Silk Road and expansion, and saw the mass rape of women. They built few cities and buildings meaning they left little architectural legacies but their empire left a profound result regardless. Historian Hidehiro Okada argued that the greatest legacy of the Mongols in China was creating a unified state. Since the Mongol conquest with the exception of civil wars and foreign occupation China remained a unified state. Meanwhile, in eastern Europe their meritocratic system briefly spelled an end to feudalism. Mongols are just another paradox in history. Thank you for reading and next World History will be about the origins of Russia.

The sources I have used are as follows:
-The Mongols by David Morgan
-The Mongol Empire and its Legacy edited by Reuvan Amitai-Preiss and David O. Morgan
-'Central Asia: The Mongols 1206-1405' by Timothy May in The Great Empires of Asia edited by Jim Masselos

For a full list of the World History posts please see here

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