The Great Mongolian Empire (1206-1368)

Figure 1.--The mamouth Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue is a 40-metre high tatue of a mounted Genghis Khan situated along the Tuul River at Tsonjin Boldog, 54 km east of the capital Ulaanbaatar. Here according to legend, Genghis found a golden whip. Genghis faces east towards his birthplace. The 36 columns representing the 36 khans from Genghis to Ligdan Khan. It was erected after the Soviet era and the fall of Communism (2008).

The Steppe people of central Asia have played a huge role in world history. How these nomads developed sophisticated tactics to rival and often ioverwealm the settled people in the Euro-Asiatic landmass is one of the great stoiries of history. They extorted vast wealth from Chinese empires through arange od expedients, including pillage, tribute, trade, and conuest. Often they primarily impacted China. The Mongols are but one of these peope, but by far the best known. This is because they not only invaded and conquered China, but struck west and entered Rurope. This occured just as Europe was emerging from the medieval era and as a result of the Renaisance enterijg the modern age. The Mongols came very close to ending that process. Hardened by the great central Asian steppe, the Mongols developed as superb horsemen and warriors. Temudjin united the Mongol tribes and was proclaimed Khan (1205). Genghis from his Mongolian homeland conducted a series of military cmpaigns with built the largest land empire in human history. Genghis led what was described at the time as the Mongol hordes. In fact the Mongol army commonly was smaller than the armies that they defeated. Although a relatively small population, the Mongols established the most extensive empire in history, streaching from Korea to Eastern Europe. Only the Japanese suceessfully defied the Mongols. The Mongols also conquered and influenced many of the major world powers, China, India, Persia, and Russia. The Mongol Empire eventually extend from the Pacific to Eastern Europe.

The Central Asian Steppe

Mongolia is located on the vast, grassy plains of central Asia. This has been the crucible for forming over millenia a war-like people. The savage nomadic warriors of the steppe that have played a major role in both European and Asian history. Perhaps it was the harshness of the environment that was the critical factor. Perhaps it was vast grasslands that provided the perfect range for horses, a critical element in warfare. And competition for resources meant that the steppe tribes have to developm military skills to survive. These war-like nomadic tribes frim central Asia have played amajor role in history, at times attacking west and at times attacking east toward China. The critical factor appears to have been China. When China was weak the central Asian nomads struck east and south at China. When China was strong, it deflected the central Asian tribes westward. It was pressure from these nomadic tribes that drove the Germans toward the Roman Empire, eventually overrunning it. At times the nomads have focused on the riches of nearby China. The construction of the Greal Wall was a response to their depredations. Most of what we know about the Mongols comes from the people they conquered because the Mongols were a pre-literate people.

The Mongol People

The Mongols were a nomadic people from central Asia. They inhabited the central Asian steppe. Their wealth for centuries was based in livestock, sheep, horses, cattle, camel, and goats. They lived in eastern Asia in and around modern Mongolia from ancient times. We are not sure as to their relationship to the Huns, another Central Asian people that emerged earlier out of the Central Asian steppe. The Mongols were Asiatic people of the Ural-Ultaic branch. After coming in contact with the Chinese, trade became increasingly important.

Nomad Threat

Steppe nomads during both the Han Dynasty (209 BC- 155 AD) and the Tang Fynasty (552-840 AD) cowed Cemperors wih threats or actual border invcusions and the sack of major cities. The emperors were frced to pay tribute in both precious metals and luxury goods. The nomads then sold much of this tribute on the Silk Road at considerable profit. The Silk oad became a source of emense wealth. The Chinese tribute thus strengthened the nomads as well as whet their appetite for more tribute and ultimately conquest. When China was weak the Steppe nomads moce east ito China, When China was strong, they mved west toward Europe.

Early Mongol History (10th-12th centuries)

The origins and early history of the Mongols are largely unknown. They were a pre-literate people and thus leftbno written record. The first written records come from the Chinese. In fact all early written records come from the people the Mongols attacked. Chinese histories first mention the Mongols (10th century). At the time, the they inhabited a large swath of northeastern Asian steppe (eastern Central Asia and much of northern Manchuria). Mongol legends claim that Grey Wolf and Beautiful Deer were the fathers if the Mongol people. The first non-legendary Mongol leader known to history is Bodonchar (about 970). It is his decendents that became the khan or titular leader of the Mongols. The khan, however, had little actual power. Real power rested in the individual clans and tribes, each of which had their own leaders. And their was constant warfare between these tribal and clan lords. The Mongols despite their internal disputes were emerging as a major regional power. China at the time was ruled by the Jurchen Tszing dynasty which overthrew the Liao. The Jurchens to control the Mongols would carry out punitive expeditions against the border tribes. A there was no real centralized Mongol nation, the Mongols were not able to effectively resist the Jurchen attaks. It is into this enviroment that a boy named Temüjin was born to Yesugey, a relative of the Mongol khan (1162).

The 13th Century

he Mongols in the 13th century were a nomadic people that were surrounded by agrarian civilizations with large, rich cities. Although much larger and technically advanced, these agrarian civilizations were vulnerable. China and the Calphiate were in decline and the Rus were not yet coaleased into a strong centralized state. The Mongols were able to take advantafe of this situation and relative woirld power vacuum to build a great empire and link the world as never before in a great trade network using the Silk Road.

Mongol Army

The Mongols in the West are also described as the "Mongol hordes", suggesting they gained their victories by overwealming numbers. In fact the Mongols often prevailed over much larger opposing military forces. They did, however, amass very large armies, probably up to 50,000-100,000, some report even larger forces. While the Mongols were a generally primitive nomadic people, they developed highly innovative military tactics. The Mongols developed very effective forms of battlefield communications (a system of horns and flags). This and the mobility provided by mounted warriors provided an element of speed that their opponents could not match. Mongol warriors traveled light and carried little in the way of supplies. They could survive on their horses' blood and a dried milk paste. Mongol units might move 10 days without stopping to camp and make fire to prepare food. Their mobility and endurance was a major factor in the Mongol's ability in many cases of defeating much larger armies. There were many other innovations. The Mongols had experienced subcommanders with the authority to make field decisions on the spot depending on battlefield conditions. This was critical for a military force based on light calvary. The mongol calvary were archers and light swordsmen. The Mongol calvary acted not unlike the German Panzers in World War II. They had the force to break through enemy lines and surround large infantry forces. The Mongols in contrast were never dependant on a supply trail, they lived on the land. They were more numerous and faster than any heavy calvary forces they encountered. This meant that they could choose when and where to strike and were able to better control their forces with their superior battlefield communications. The archers gave them the ability to strike opposing heavy calvary at a distance. The Mongols did not have metal armour, but rather silk clothing and padded protection which gave them greater fredom of movement and was surprisingly effective.


The Mongols were undeniably brutal. It was, however, not the kind of mindless terror that they is often attributed to them. The Mongols used terror as a weapon. Their effective use of terror is one factor in the incredible speed of theit victories in many campigns as after conquering China they moved west to Europe. A typical tactic when invading a country was to suround a city and demand its surrender. If the authorities refused, the Mongols would beseige the city. When it finally fell, they would sack the city and kill the population. Sometimes skilled artisan might be spared as well as a few survivors to attest to what happened. The Mongols would then burn the city as well surrounding fields. In some cases a monument of skulls might be errected as a warning to passerbys. Thus the Mongols acquired a fearsome reputations and many threatened peoples did no dare resist.

Military Campaigns (13th century)

The Mongols conducted some of the great and bloodiest military campaigns in history. The people assaulted by the Mongols often describes great hordes of warriors. In fact the Mongols often defeated much larger and heavier armed forces. Ghenghis began the Mongol and he and his generals oversaw many stunning campaigns. There were other campaigns after Gehgjis' death.

Genhis' campaigns

The Mongols burst out of the Asian steppe at the beginning of the 13th century. The rise of the Mongols began in the East at the beginning of the 13th century. The Chinese decided to restrict trade with the Mongols, no doubt understanding that trade was helping to build a military threat to their north. Temujin united the various clans and was proclaimed Genghis Khan or Very Mighty King (1206). Genghis in 25 years proceeded to ammass the largest empire in world history. He conquered more teritory in 25 years than the Romans had in 500 years. [Weatherford] Before Geghis, the Mongols sought profit by rading cities in northern China or extracting tribute. The Chinese would launch punative raids to discourage these raids. As the Mongols grew in strength, tribute became more common. Genghis decided to wage war with the Jurchen dynasty to conquer China. He ordered his son Juchi to first strije north and conquer the tribes of what is now Siberia. This secured his norther border so he could concentrate on China. Ghenghis launched his attacks into China (1211). Khanbalik (Beijing) fell to Mongol armies commanded by Genghis (1215). With northern China conquered, Ghenghis turned west. He defeated the Kara-Kidans (Black Kidans), a Mongol people. Next Ghenghis attacked Khwarezm in what is now modern Uzbekistan and Afghanistan (1218) The Mongols swept across Transoxania taking many Khwarezmian cities (Urgench, Samarkand, Gherat, Merv, Bukhara and many other cities on the Silk Road). The Mongolian generals Jebe and Subedey moved further west (1221). They moved south around the Capian Sea and struck Persia (1221). Millions were killed in assault on Persia. Then they attacked into Christian nations (Georgia and Armenia) for the first time. Then the Mongols crossed the Caucasus Mountains and entered the lands of the Kievian Rus. Jebe and Subedey batteled the Rus on the river Kalka and decisively defeated them (1223). The two great Mongol generals then turned back and returned to tge Mongol hearland, crossing the Volga dominated at the time by the Bulgarians and than the Urals. Gengis Khan conducted the campaign against the Tangut in northern China (1226). Genghis died (1227).

After Genghis

Genghis left an emense land empire extending from Caucasus east to the Korean peninsula and from northern China to Siberia. His son Ögedey solidified control of the Mongol (1229). He continued the war with Jurchens south into China. The Mongols achieved victory after victory. The last Jurchen stringholds fell (1235). The Huralday authorized approved the western campaign and Batu, the grandson of Ghengis, was put in charge. He was assisted by General Subedey (1235). Thae campaign cobered thousands of miles and the Mongols conquered Russia (1237-40), The Mongols sacked important Russian cities (Kiev, Vladimir, Ryazan, and others). Batu moved west, defeating the Hungarians and Poles. Batu defeated a European army at Liegnitz (1241). He pilaged Hungary, Moravia and Bohemia in ruins abdcreached the Adriatic. It is at this time that Ögedey khan died. Messages arrived ordering the Mongol princes to return to Mongolia. This was the end of the western or European campaign. Batu turned east, but setteled in the Volga grasslands. This was the foundation of the Golden Horde. The Mongols had been known to the Chinese for some time. The western campaign introduced them to the Europeans. European countries dispatched emissaries to the Mongolian capital Karakorum to open diplomatic relations with the Great Khan. It was Mönh Khan who launched the Middle Eastern campaign against the Arabs. They sacked Baghdad and destroyed the Abbasid dynasty (1258). The Mongols twice attempted to conquer Japan. The first attempt failed with a great invasion fleet was destroyed by a typhoon (kamikaze). The second invasion fleet reached Japan, but suffered a rare battlfield defeat. Kublai Khan completes the conquest of China and rules as both Mongol Kahn and Chinese emperor (1260-94). Hulagu a grandson of Genhis established a khanate in Persia.

Government Struture

The Mongol Empire was organized on a hierarchical structure. The principal authority rested with the Great Khan, Genghis and his sucessors. There was a Grand Assembly--the Huralday. It functioned as a kind of consultative body to the Great Khan. This was incidentally the origins of the British Parliament. The Huraldy was composed of generals and nobels. Genghis gave relatives important functions. He appointed his stepbrother Shihihutug to oversee judicial functions. He appointed his second son, Tsagaaday, to efforce the great law--the Yasa.

Mongol Economy

The Mongolian people became heavily involved in trade. as nomadic people, there was a limit to the wealth they could produce. There were not cities in the Mongol homeland. A nomadic way of life could notg support grrat cities. Of course ithout cities there can be no dedicated artisans and great art. As a trading people there was virtually no limit to the wealth that could be accumulated. Thus the economy of the Mongols became depedent on trade with settled agrain spcities as well as controlling the trade routes between these civilizations. This was especially true because north and west of the Great Wall, the Mongols set astride the legendary Silk Road.

Silk Road

The Silk Road played a major role in the Mongols rise to power and the maintenance of their empire. The Mongols defeated imperial Chines armies with sophisticated tactics. They extorted great wealth from Chinese emperors by pillage and tribute demands. There were also profits from border trade and the sale ofluxury goods through the Silk Road. There was a long history of Central Asian nomads threatening China. This was the reason that the Great wall was built. Nomads during the Han dynasty (209BC-155AD) and the Tang dynasty (582-840AD) pilaged major Chinese cities and carried out border incursions. The luxury goods that flowed from China could be sold on the Silk Road for immense profits. This is part of the reason that the Mongols were able to conquer a huge empire. The Pax-Mongolica imposed in the 13th and 14th century created security conditions on the Silk Road thar increased the volume of trade.

Marco Polo

One of the most informative accounts of Mongol life comes from the Ventian merchnat's son Marco Polo. It is difficult to assess just how accurate all of his acounts are, but they are generally much more accirate than many other contemprary descriptions of the Mongols. Polo offered a detailed historical account of Mongol life and the history of the Mongol Empire. The location of the burial was a state secret. Those who chanced on funeral cortege were put to death that they might serve the Khan in the after life. Polo writes that 20,000 people wre out to death in association with Mangu Khan's funeral. Plo describes Mongol life on the vast steppes central Asia. He tells of felt-covered yurt drawn by oxen and camels. He provides fascinating details of household customs. He explains that it was women who did most of the daily work. He claims that men occupied themselves principally with "hunting and warfare and falconry". Polo indicates that the Mlongols were polygamous. There apparently was no set limit. When a man died, his eldest son married his father's wives, except for his mother. Mongol men might also acquire his brother's wives if he died. He also mentioned koumiss, fermented mare's milk, which he thought "very good to drink".


The Mongol achievement is astonishing. The Mongols at a point in history made war on or occupied China, Japan, Russia, Eastern Europe, and Persia. Only the death of Ghenhis caused to turn bavk from Germany and only a Typhoon prevented them from conquering Japan. Assessing the Mongols is a chalenge. Any assessment must understand the axiom that history is written by the victors or in this case, the literate people with whom they came in contact. Writers of the day saw the Mongols as a people sought only the destruction of the civilizations they confronted. Some claimed that the Genghis Khan sought to destroy the civilizations of his conquered opponents, destroying their cities and converting the lands to pasture for his horses and livestock. This seems to contradict the reliance of the Mongols on trade. Modern historians have argued that were advantaged to the Mongols and the Khan in allowing conquered peoples to live an continue producing, as the Khan could claim a portion of that production in taxes and tribute as well as befit from the trade between civilizations. [Beki]

Imperial Policies

The Mongols practiced many policies which are key elements of Western society. There was religious tolerance which was unknown at the time in Christendom. The Mongols made no effort to change the religion of the people that they conquered which eliminated a possible source of conflict. China was the first country conquered by the Mongols. There was no effort to dstroy Chinese society, certainly not to introduce Mongolian life to the much more adavanced Chinese civilization. The Mongols only sought to firmly establish their rule. The peace and stability they brought often made a conquered society more propsperous than before the Mongol conquest. The Mongols practiced free commerce. [Weatherford]


The traditional Mongol religioin was Shamanism, but many became converted to Buddhism, an import from India over the Silk Road.


Discussions of the Mongol Empire normallu focus primarily on military matters and conquests. The importance of the Mongol conquests is not limited to the military. A major result of the creation of their vast empire was an expansion of pan-Asian trade. Not only did thids have economic consequences, butbit alson affected the arts. The Mongols coveted luxury goods. They not only took these goods in booty, but they relocating artisans. This brought artisans from all over Eurasia in contact and theresult was a cross-ferttlization that had a profound impact on art.


Great Khans

The great Mongol khans are known to history. It was Genghis in the early 13th century that established the great Mongol Empire. That Empire for about 150 years was the dominant world power.

Gengis Khan (1162-1227)

It was Grennhis was established the Mongol Empire. The rise of Genghis and his conquests is one the great historic epics of world history. The Mongols at the time of Genghis Khan did not have a written language. Thus there are no written Mongol accounts describing his tactics and policies. A key policy was to slaughter those who dared resist him. Estimates vary, but 15 million people are believed to have been slaughtered in Genghis' conquest of central Asia. [Weatherford] Some modern historians believe that Genghis never intended to create a great world empire and that his conquests were based on trade and trade issues. Genghis Kahn or Temujin united the warring tribes and the Mongols becoime historically important for the first time. Under his command Mongol armies conquered northern China, Azerebaijan, Georgia, northern Persia, and other Asiatic countries. While Genghis was still allive, his grandson Batu conquered Russia and Poland. Genghis' death causes the Mongol armies to retrat back to Asia rather than pressing on into Western Europe.

Ogadai Khan (1229-41)

Ogadai was Genghis' son. Ogadai liked his father continued to deal harshly with those who resisted the Mongols. After defeating the Russians (1224), Ogadai had Prince Mstislav and his two sons wrapped in felt rugs. They were then stuffed under the floorboards of Ogadai's tent. The three slowly were crushed to death as Ogadai and his chiefs sang and danced to celebrate their great victory.

Guyuk Kahn (1346-48/49)

Guyuk / Guyeg was Ogadai's son and grandson of Genghis. He reigned only 2 years.

Kaidu Kahn (1251-59)

Kaidu was another grandson of Genghis.


The throne was given to Mongke / Mönh, a shrewd politician who maintained relations with the Roman Catholic pope and European kings. It was Mönh who launched the Middle Eastern campaign against the Arabs. The army traveled from Mongolia to Iran and Syria. The Mongols captured Baghdad and set up an entire new dominion (1258). .Mongke is said to have organized a religious debate in 1253 among Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists, obstensibly to assist the Khan in selecting a religion for his empire. The debate was described by a Frascisab monk, William of Rubruk. The religious scholars during breaks in the debates were served the traditional Mongol beverage, fermented mare's milk. After a while they sucumbed to the alcohol. Apparently the debates degenerated into the Christians singing, the Mudslims shouting Koranic verses, and the Buddhists meditated. [Weatherford]

Kublai Khan (1260-94)

Kublai /Hubilay Khan was the granson of Genghis. Kublai not only was the Mongol Kahn, but he completed the conquest of southern China and became emperor. He also annexed Korea. It was Kublai's court that Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta described. Polo leaves us with a particularly engaging description of Kublai. His reign was the longest of all the great khans. . Vietnam and Burma recognized the overlordship of the Great Khans now the emperors of China. Kublai's attempts to conquer Japan failed. Two emense fleets were destroyed. His moved his court from Karakorum to Beijing and founded the Yuan dynasty (1279). This established the northrn city of Beijing as the capital of China. The Mongol Empire under Kublai covered most of the Eurasian continent--the greatest empire in human history measured in lanf area. The empire consisted of four dominions that were beginning to develop separate identities. The principal locus of power was the great khan’s realm (Mongolia and China). The other dominions were the Golden Horde (Russia and Urals), the Chagatay realm (Central Asia), and the Ilkhan kingdom (Iran and the Middle East). Kublai proved to be the last effective Great Khan.

Temur Oljaitu Khan (1295-1307)

Temur Aljaitu was the grandson of Kublai Khan. He inherited the Mongol Empire at its peak (1300), streaching from the Pacific Ocean west to the Mediterrean Sea including China, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Russia.

Final Chines khans

The khans that followed Kublai were not effective rulers. They proived incapable of administering and mintaining the emense empire that Genghis and his descendents had created. The Mongols were a small group in relation to China and the other dominions. Revolts began to occur and provinces to secede. The Golden Horde founded by Batu severed ties with the Great Khan (1312). Chagatay was taken over by the natives (1340s). The Mongols in Petrsian were radually absorbed into the native population. Wth the The imperial khanate in China slowly declined as the Chinese people began to rise up. The Chinese mutiny spelled the end of the Mongolian Empire. Khan Togoon-Tömör and his Mongol followers fled China for the Mongolian hearland (1368).

The Golden Horde

Genghis' grandson Batu defeated Russian and Polish armies, but after the death of Gengis retreated back to Asia (1227). On the way back from Eastern Eureope, Batu conquered Bulgaria, Wallachia, and Moldavia. He then formed an independent Mongol state on the lower Volga. This was esentially a division of the vast Mongol Empire which after Genghis' death increasingly focused on China. The Golden Horde was also known as the Empire of Kipchack. It was a khanate, theoretically owing aliegance to Mongol khan. The Golden Horde extracted tribute and was able to command military support from the Russians. The Goldern Horde by the 14th century had broken up into khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and the Crimea, although the chronology is not known with any precission. Soon after the fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks, the Crimean khanate became subject to the Turks (1475). The Russians freed themnselves from subject people of the Golden Horde with Prince Dimitry's victory at Kulikovo (1480). Tsae Ivan the Terrible conquered Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1554). This was important because they dominated the lower Volga, an important trade route.


The Mongol armies subdued the Russians in 3 years. Russian armies were cut to pieces. The Mongols laid siege to Kiev, the most powerful city in Russia (1240). The city was given a choice, yield and be forgiven or resist and cruely perish. Kiev chose to resist. It was totally destroyed by the Mongols. Princes of the many principalities were taken for ransome. Russia was made part of the largest land empire in history. The Mongol armies were largely composed of eastern Turkish tribesmen and thus the Russians came to call the Mongols the Tartars. The Mongols never sought to rule conquered territories, only to obtain tribute. The princes of Russia were converted to undelings paying tribute. They would come cap in hand which woukd be used to feed horses. After this humiliation they would pay their tribute. THe Mongols would give the prince bringing tge largest tribute the title the Grand Prince of Vladamir. Moscow in the time of Kiev was a small trading outpost. Because of the location, Moscow prospered and grew. The princes of Moscow learned to gain the Mongol's favor. Miscow in the 1300s increased in size around a central fortress known as the Kremlin. Ivan I began collecting the eansome from neigboring principalities for the Mongols. Russia at the time was divided into more than 50 principalities. Gradually as the princes of Moscow grew in power, they chafed under Mongol dominion. An internal power struggle among the Mongols or Tartars of the Golden Horde. Prince Dimitry of Muscovy refused to pay when the Tartars demanded an increased tribute. Moscow was by this time the dominant principality in northeastern Russia. Prince Dimitri assembled a great army and along the Don fought the first battle with the Mongols that began the process of liberation that was to take 100 years. Dimitri defeated the Tatars at the Battke of Kulikovo (1380). This in effect established the independence of Muscovy. This was the first significant Russian victory over the Tartars. The battle site was near the Don River. As a result, Prince Dimitry was given the honorific Donskoy after this battle.

Tartar Empire

Another major divsion of the Mongol Empire was the Tatar or Middle Mongol Empire. Genghis left the Tartar Empire to his son Jagatai ( -1242). It was made up of Sungaria, Transoxiana, Afghanistan, and part of Chinese Turkestan.

Persia (1256-1349)

Hulagu, a grandson ofv Genghis Khan conquered Persian and founded the Il-khan dynasty (about 1256). The most noted ruler was Ghazan Khan (ruled 1295-1304). The last of the dynasty was Nushirwan (ruled 1344-49).


Genghis' great empire was not sustainable. His army was based on spartan wariors able to sleep on the steppe and travel long distances under very difficult conditions on a minimum of supplies. Once having conquered the more sophisticated cultures of Asia and the Middle East, Mongol warriors were transformed. They began to want the good life of palitable food and pleasant living conditions. This inevitavly sapped their martial spirit. The Mongols were overthrown by the Ming in China (1368). The Ottomon Turks reduce the Crimean khanate to tribute (1475). The Russians free themselbes from the Golden Horde (1480). Baber established the Mogul Empire in India (1526). Tsar Ivan the Terrible conquered Kazan (1552) an Astrahan (1552). After the 16th century, the Mongols were no longer an important force in world history. The Mogul Emperor still was a force in India when the British arrived in the 18th century. The last Mongol ruler, the Emir of Bukhara did not fall until 1920 when hev was ousted by the Red Army.

India: Mogul Empire (1526-1707)

Baber or Zahir ud-Din Mohammed (1483-1530), a descendents of Genghis Kahn and Tamerlane, was a child warrior King at age 11. He began raids into India for booty (1519-24). He defeated the Sultan of Delhi, taking both Delhi and Agra (1526). Baber founded India's famed Mogul dynasty (1526-1707). He greatly expanded the domininions that hd been held by the Sultan of Dwlhi. The Moguls were an Islamic dynasty which governed India for more than 200 years. The Moguls reformed government and promoted the arts. One of their major accomplishments was uniting India. The greatest Mogul ruler was Baber's grandson Akbar (reigning 1556-1605). Akbar significantly expanded the boundaries of the Empire. India was a great challenge for the Islamic Moguls. The subcontinent was populated by a largely Hindu people. Not only did the Mogul's encounter a largely alien religion, but dizzing variety of languages and traditions. Akbar's genius was not only his military conquests but his his toleration toward Hindus, and Christians. Akbar also promoted the arts and learning. The resulting artistic flowering is one of the glories of India, expressed in painting, glass, and carpets. The last of the Mogul rulers was Aurangzeb ( -1707). Unlike Akbar Aurangzeb was intolerant of other religions, resulting in Hindu uprisings which drained the royal treasury. Aurangzeb's descendents were unable to retain control over relbelious provinces and the territory of the Mogul's steadily shrank in the 18th century. The British and French thus encountered a deeply divided India with a large number of independent principalities. There was no strong central authority capable of effectively resising the Europeans. The British prevailed in a series of land engagements and by the late-18th cenbtury were in a dominant position. The last Mogul was Bahadur Shah II, who began his reign during 1837. He participated in the Sepoy Mutiny (1857) against the British and was subsequently expelled.


The Pax Mongolica in Central Asia promoted Western access to China paving the way for the movement of Chinese technology west to the more primtive European countrues. The Arabs and Muslim kingdoms in Central Asis had stood between China and the West. The Mongol Empire lived on trade and during its brief existenance Chinese technology flowed West along with Chinese luxury products. As the Mongol Empire declined, Europe was again cut off from access to China. Arab traders did not totally cut off the Wst from China, but the increased number of middlemen and the increased diffivultirs of transit mean huge increases in prices. This occurred at the same time the Renaissance began in Europe and improved technologies wwere permitting the great European voyages of discovery which would permit the Europeans to go around the Arabs to reach the spice islands and China.


Western authors have varied in their assessment of Genghis Khan and his successors. Notably many of the favorable reports came from Western Europe which the Mongols did not reach. Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales (1391) called Genghis a "nobel king". He wrote, "there is nowhere in no region so excellent a lord in all things". Marco Polo when he returned from China described Kublai in glowing terms. The Arab geographer Ibn Battuta wrote about the wealth and advanced technology of China under Kublai. Samuel Coeridge without first hand information wrote glowingly about Kublai. Other authors sych as Voltaire have stressed the pilage and death associated with Genghis. Voltarie in The Orphan of China described Genhis as a "destructive tyrant ... practiced in the trade of blood" who "lays the fertoile fields of Asia to waste". Generally the view of the Mongols in the West as blood-thirsty savages has become the dominant image. Several scholars in recent years have begun to build a more balanced view of the Mongols. This has been aided by the dechiohering of a work by an anonymous 13th centiry writer of the socalled SecretvHistory of the Mongols. The opening of Mongolia with the disolution of the Soviet Union has opened additional sources of information.



Weatherford, Jack. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (Crown, 2004), 312p.


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Created: August 31, 2003
Last updated: 12:49 AM 3/31/2009