|Module 1: Overview of Mongol Rule
By now, we have learned about the traditional “Destruction” narrative as well as the revisionist “Stimulus” narrative. We also just learned about the Rise of the Mongols. This module explores the contents of the stimulus narrative; if the Mongols truly did create as much as they destroyed, what did they create? The sources below address some of these “contributions.”
Source 1: Map of Mongol Empire
A map of the Mongol Empire circa 1260, by which time it had fragmented into four Khanates: one ruled by Khubilai Khan in the East (also called the Yuan Dynasty); another in Central Asia (identified in this map as the Chaghadai Khanate); the third, the Khanate of Persia (called the "Ilkhanate"); and the "Golden Horde" in Russia.
Source 2: Introduction to Mongol Contributions
Perhaps most importantly, the Mongol empire inextricably linked Europe and Asia and ushered in an era of frequent and extended contacts between East and West. And once the Mongols had achieved relative stability and order in their newly acquired domains, they neither discouraged nor impeded relations with foreigners. Though they never abandoned their claims of universal rule, they were hospitable to foreign travelers, even those whose monarchs had not submitted to them.
The Mongols also expedited and encouraged travel in the sizable section of Asia that was under their rule, permitting European merchants, craftsmen, and envoys to journey as far as China for the first time. Asian goods reached Europe along the caravan trails (earlier known as the "Silk Roads"), and the ensuing European demand for these products eventually inspired the search for a sea route to Asia. Thus, it could be said that the Mongol invasions indirectly led to Europe's "Age of Exploration" in the 15th century.
Source 3: Pax Mongolica
The Mongols promoted inter-state relations through the so-called "Pax Mongolica" — the Mongolian Peace.
Having conquered an enormous territory in Asia, the Mongols were able to guarantee the security and safety of travelers. There were some conflicts among the various Mongol Khanates, but recognition that trade and travel were important for all the Mongol domains meant that traders were generally not in danger during the 100 years or so of Mongol domination and rule over Eurasia
Source 4: Foreign Contact and Exchange
So it is no accident that Marco Polo reached China during this era [also see Key Figures in Mongol History: Marco Polo]. And also no accident that Ibn Battuta, the great Islamic traveler from Morocco, also reached China during this time, and that Rabban Sauma, a Nestorian Christian from the area around Beijing, reached Europe and had audiences with the kings of England and France and the Pope.
From the Mongol period on, then, we can speak about a Eurasian — if not a global — history, in which developments in one part of Europe would have an impact not only in Europe but also in Asia, with the same being true for Asia. And if we remember that Christopher Columbus was actually looking for a new route to Asia when he landed in America — and that one of the few books he had with him was Marco Polo's account of his travels in Asia — we could even say that global history begins with the Mongols and the bridge they built between the East and the West.
Source 5: Supporting Trade
The Mongols always favored trade. Their nomadic way of life caused them to recognize the importance of trade from the very earliest times and, unlike the Chinese, they had a positive attitude toward merchants and commerce.
The Confucian Chinese professed to be disdainful of trade and merchants, whom they perceived to be a parasitical group that did not produce anything and were involved only in the exchange of goods. Mongols altered that attitude and in fact sought to facilitate international trade [also see The Mongols in China: Life for Merchants under Mongol Rule].
In China, for example, the Mongols increased the amount of paper money in circulation and guaranteed the value of that paper money in precious metals. They also built many roads — though this was only partly to promote trade — these roads were mainly used to facilitate the Mongols' rule over China.
Source 6: Status of Merchants
Under Mongol rule, merchants had a higher status than they had in traditional China. During their travels they could rest and secure supplies through a postal-station system that the Mongols had established.
The postal-station system was, of course, originally devised to facilitate the transmission of official mail from one part of the empire to another. Set up approximately every 20 miles along the major trade routes and stocked with supplies of food, horses, and lodging, the stations were an incredible boon to all travelers, whether they were traveling for business or otherwise.
Under the Mongols, merchants also had the benefit of not being faced with confiscatory taxation, as was the case during the rule of the traditional Chinese dynasties.
Support for trade characterized not only Mongol policy in China but their policy throughout their domains. In Persia the Mongols granted higher tax breaks and benefits to traders in an effort to promote commerce. The Mongols even tried to introduce paper money into Persia — though this would become merely a failed experiment. Nonetheless, the attempt indicates the desire of the Mongols to provide additional assistance to traders.
Source 7: Artisans
The Mongols did not have their own artisan class in traditional times because they migrated from place to place and could not carry with them the supplies needed by artisans. They were thus dependent upon the sedentary world for crafts, and they prized artisans highly.
For example, during Chinggis Khan's attack on Samarkand, he instructed his soldiers not to harm any artisans or craftsmen. Craftsmen throughout the Mongol domains were offered tax benefits and were freed from corvée labor (unpaid labor), and their products were highly prized by the Mongol elite.
Source 8: Status of Artisans
The Mongols provided artisans with a higher status than was the case in many societies.
Traditional Chinese officials, for example, had prized the goods made by craftsmen but accorded the craftsmen themselves a relatively low social status. The Mongols altered this perception of craftsmen and offered them special concessions and privileges [also see The Mongols in China: Life for Artisans under Mongol Rule].
In addition, the Mongols in China established a tremendous array of government offices to supervise the production of craft articles. About one half of the 80 agencies in the Ministry of Works during the Mongol era dealt with the production and collection of textiles. There were also offices for bronzes, and offices of gold and silver utensils.
Source 9: Religious Tolerance
The Mongols had a benevolent attitude toward foreign religions, or at least a policy of benign neglect.
Their belief in Shamanism notwithstanding, the Mongols determined early on that aggressive imposition of their native religion on their subjects would be counter-productive. Instead, they sought to ingratiate themselves with the leading foreign clerics in order to facilitate governance of the newly subjugated territories. They even offered tax benefits to the clerics of Buddhism, Islam, Daoism, and Nestorian Christianity in order to win the support of those religions.
What other civilizations were “brought together” by the Mongol Empire? (You’ll have to use prior knowledge here)
What is the Pax Mongolica?
What does the author of Source 4 mean when s/he says that “global history begins with the Mongols”?
How did Mongols seek to support merchants?
How did Mongols seek to support artisans?
Why do historians say that the Mongols were religiously tolerant?
When you join your collaboration group, tell your peers about:
The Map and why historians might say that “global history begins with the Mongols”
Mongol support of merchants and artisans
Mongol Religious Tolerance