The Mongols From Traditions and Encounters

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Packet #14

Post Classical Era:

The Mongol Moment

In this Packet you will learn about:

  • The Mongols

    • From Traditions and Encounters

The Mongols:

  • For most of history the nomadic Mongols lived on the high steppe lands of eastern central Asia. Like other nomadic peoples, they displayed deep loyalt y to kin groups organized into families, clans, and tribes.

  • They frequently allied with Turkish peoples

  • During the early thirteenth century Chinggis (Genghis) Khan forged the various Mongol tribes into a powerful alliance that built the largest empire the world has ever seen.

  • The Mongols’ imperial venture brought the societies of Eurasia into closer contact than ever before.

  • They followed a native shaman cult as a religious form.

  • Their empire brought destruction along with vast interaction amongst peoples throughout Eurasia.

  • Chinggis Khan had a courier network that relayed news, information, and government orders. The network included relay stations and government orders.

  • The Mongols’ encouragement of travel and communication facilitated trade, diplomatic travel, missionary efforts, and movements of peoples to new lands.

  • Resemblance with other postclassical empires:

    • Centralized under great leaders

    • Military was key part of society.

    • Both needed to interact with others for trade

  • Differences:

          • Women were equal in Mongol society

          • Not tied in to a specific religious—religiously tolerant

          • Larger expansion

          • Smaller population

Political Organization:

  • Temujin (Chinggis Khan’s) policies greatly strengthened the Mongol people.

  • He called for displays of personal courage in battle, combined with intense loyalty to allies

  • He brought all the Mongol tribes into a single confederation and in 1206 an assembly of Mongol leaders recognized him by giving him the title of Chinggis Khan or universal ruler.

  • Earlier nomadic state builders had ruled largely through the leaders of allied tribes.

  • Because of his personal experiences, however, Chinggis Khan mistrusted the Mongols’ tribal organization

  • He broke up the tribes and forced men of fighting age to join new military units with no tribal affiliations.

  • He chose high military and political officials not on the basis of kinship or tribal status but, rather, because of their talents or loyalty to him.

  • The most important instituti on of the Mongol state was the army, which magnified the power of the small population.

  • I the thirteenth century the Mongol population stood at not even one million people—less than 1 percent of China’s numbers.

  • During Khan’s life, his army numbered only 100,000 to 125,000 Mongols, although allied peoples also contributed forces.

  • Yet they still conquered all of Eurasia.

The Horse:

  • Mongol forces relied on equestrian skills

  • Mongols grew up riding horses, and they honed their skills by hunting and playing competitive games on horseback. Their bows, short enough for archers to use while riding, were also stiff, firing arrows that could fell enemies at 700 feet.

  • Mongol horsemen were among the most mobile forces of the pre-modern world, sometimes traveling more than 162 miles per day to surprise an enemy.

  • Once he unified the Mongols, Khan set out to conquer the agricultural sedentary societies that surrounded him.


  • Chinggis Khan himself extended Mongol rule to northern China

  • The conquest of China began in 1211 c.e. when Mongol raiding parties invaded. Raids quickly became more frequent and intense, and soon they developed into a campaign of conquest.

  • By 1215 the Mongols had captured the capital near Beijing, which under the new name of Khanbaliq served as the Mongol capital in China. By 1220 the Mongols had established control over northern China.

  • The consolidation of Mongol rule in China came during the reign of Khubilai Khan. One of Chinggis Khan’s grandsons.

  • He unleashed ruthless attacks against the enemies

  • Khubilai Khan extended Mongol rule to all of China. He relentlessly attacked the Song dynasty in Southern China.

    • He proclaimed himself emperor and established the Yuan dynasty

From Strayer textbook:

  • The Mongols unified a divided China (Northern and the Southern Song Dynasty)

  • One ideas was to exterminate everyone in northern China and turn the country into pastureland for Mongol herds

    • This idea was rejected

  • Accommodated Chinese culture in ways of governing

    • Used Chinese administrative system

    • Gave a Chinese dynastic title—the Yuan meaning “great beginnings”

  • Built canals, lowered taxes patronized scholars and artists, limited the death penalty and torture supported peasant agriculture and prohibited Mongols from grazing their animals on peasants’ farms

  • The Mongols resisted assimilation to Chinese cultural traditions. They ended the privileges enjoyed by the Confucian scholars, and they dismantled the Confucian educational and exam system, which they had produced united generations of civil servants of the Chinese bureaucracy. They did not persecute Confucians, but they allowed the Confucian tradition to wither in the absence of official support. Meanwhile, to remain in good terms with subjects of different faiths, the Mongols allowed the construction of churches, temples, and shrines, and the even subsidized some religious establishments. They tolerated all cultural and religious traditions.

  • Still Harsh:

    • Hostility between the Mongols and their Chinese subjects

    • Mongols didn’t become Chinese or accommodate every aspect of Chinese culture

    • Forbidden City—royal family and court could continue to experience something of steppe life

    • Still lived a traditional life—preferred to live, eat, sleep and give birth in the traditional tents that sprouted everywhere.

  • By 1368, rebellions had forced the Mongols out of China

Mongols in Persia:

  • Conquest of Persia: first invasion led by Chinggis Khan 1219–1221; second assault under his grandson Hulegu 1251–1258

  • Massive impact of invasion

    • Very destructive

    • Shook faith: how could Muslims be savaged so badly by infidels?

    • Sacking of Baghdad in 1258 ended the Abbasid caliphate

      • More than 200,000 people massacred

    • Profound damage to Persian/Iraqi agriculture

  • Mongols were transformed far more in Persia than in China

    • Extensive use of Persian bureaucracy

    • Mongols in Persia converted to Islam on a large scale

    • Mongol elites learned some Persian

    • Some Mongols took up agriculture

    • Mongol dynasty collapsed in 1330s—ASSIMILATED, NOT DRIVEN OUT

Russia and the Mongols:

  • Mongol devastation of Russia 1237–1240

  • They did not occupy Russia, which the regarded as an unattractive land of forests, but they extracted tribute from the Russian cities and agricultural provinces. The Golden Horde maintained its hegemon in Russia until the mid 15th century when the princes of Moscow rejected its authority while building a powerful Russian state.

  • By the mid 16th century Russian conquerors had extended their control to the steppes

  • Russia was a number of independent principalities

  • The could not unite against Mongol threat

  • destruction of cities, widespread slaughter, and deportation of skilled workers

  • Russia was integrated into Mongol Empire as the Kipchak Khanate (Russians called it the “Khanate of the Golden Horde”)

    • but Mongols did not occupy Russia

    • remained on steppes north of Black and Caspian seas

    • collected tribute and heavy taxes; also raided for slaves

  • Russian princes and the Russian Orthodox Church flourished

    • Moscow became primary tribute-collector for the Mongols—hence the rise of Moscow

    • Mongol rulers of Russia were far less assimilated or influenced

    • Russian princes adopted Mongol weapons, diplomatic rituals, court practices, tax system, and military draft

    • Russians broke free of Mongol rule by the end of the fifteenth century

    • Divisions among the Mongols and the growing strength of the Russian state, centered now on the city of Moscow, enabled the Russians to break the Mongols’ hold by the end of the 15th century.


  • The Mongols provided financial backing for caravans, introduced standardized weights and measures, and gave tax breaks to merchants.

  • They secured the environment for merchants making the long distance form Central Asia to Europe/China.

  • Mongol trading circuit was central element in the larger commercial network

  • Mongol ruled China was the fulcrum of this vast system, connecting the overland route through the Mongol Empire

  • The beginnings of those international economic relationships that have played such a major role in the making of the modern world

  • The Mongols secured trade routes and protected passing merchants

  • Long distance travel became less risky

  • Eurasian trade routes served as highways for missionaries as well as merchants and diplomats. Sufi missionaries helped popularize Islam among Turkish people in central Asia.


  • Factions and infighting led to the demise of the Mongols.

  • Power struggles, imperial assassinations, and civil war convulsed the Mongol regime in China.

  • Epidemic disease hurt he Mongols. They unwittingly expedited the spread of bubonic plague. During the 1330s plague erupted in southern China. From there it spread throughout China and central Asia. In China depopulation and labor shortages that followed on the heels of epidemic plague weakened the Mongol regime.


  1. In what ways did the Mongol Empire resemble other empires, and in what ways did it differ from them?

  2. What are the main similarities and differences between Mongol conquest of Persia, Russia, and China?







Chinggis Khan

Khubilai Khan

Yuan Dynasty

Golden Horde

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