Mongol Dynasty: The Contiguous Empire in History

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History of the Mongol Dynasty

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Mongol Dynasty” – this term might make us recall adjectives like barbaric, brutal, massacre, pillage, terror and so on. Although highly focused on warfare tactics, the Mongols or the Mongol dynasty was so much more than all of that. It was an empire where women had relatively more freedom than other contemporaries and the rulers were religiously tolerant. The history of the Mongol empire has a range of such unique tales to explore. If Genghis Khan founded the Mongol dynasty, his sons and grandsons took it forward. In this article, you will find some interesting facts about the Mongol dynasty. Before we move on that, let us get to know about the history of the Mongol dynasty, its three most prominent rulers, the nomadic lifestyle of the Mongols, the position of Mongolian women in the society, their religious beliefs, military tactics and skills.

So, without delaying any further, let us jump into the historic adventure of the Mongols!

Who are the Prominent Rulers of the Mongol Dynasty?

The prominent rulers of the Mongol Dynasty from the three generations are as follows:

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan (Or Chinggis Khan) was the founder of the Mongol dynasty in 1206. He was born Temujin and later acquired the name of Genghis meaning “universal ruler”.

Genghis Khan came to power after uniting the nomadic tribes of the steppes of Central Asia. The Mongol ruler rose to the ranks of a military commander and an emperor from humble origins. He is regarded as one of the military genii in the history of the Mongol empire and is infamous for spreading terror and causing severe bloodshed.

He showed no interest in conquering territories that supplied him with the things he wanted.

However, he was brutal in terms that he eliminated a heretical Moslem sect that instilled great terror amidst the populace.

Additionally, his ambition was proof that he wanted to establish what lord Tengri willed. It is quite likely that he had a vision that if he could unify such diverse clans and settle their disputes, he could become the “universal ruler” one day.

Genghis divided his empire into four khanates, each belonging to his sons, Jochi (predeceased Genghis Khan), Chagatai, Tolui and Ogedei.

Ogedei Khan (1186-1241)

Ogedei Khan, Genghis Khan’s third son became the ruler after him.

He ruled the Mongol empire from 1227-1241 CE. and was not that a great military commander and depended on the counsel of senior ministers and leaders. During the initial years of his reign, there was a lack of treasury which was filled with taxes collected from those conquered. This idea of acquiring taxes came from a senior minister of Ogedei, Yelu Chucai. Ogedei established Karakorum as his new capital.

Ogedei carried out his military campaigns gainst the Jin dynasty, the Koreans and the Song dynasty of southern China.

Ogedei Khan’s military conquests involved Western Asia including countries from Afghanistan to Georgia.

He conquered Eastern Europe by advancing towards Russia and Bulgaria. They fought the rulers of Poland and Hungary at the Battle of Legnica and the Battle of Mohi respectively. He died in 1241 out of a stroke or organ failure as a result of being a heavy drinker.

The sons of Genghis Khan died within four years of his death. Eventually, his four grandsons took over his kingdom. Kublai Khan was the most prominent ruler during that period. Gradually, his actions became a testimony to the fact that his ambition was paramount.

Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan was the son of Tolui and grandson of Chengis Khan who ruled from 1260-94.

The greatest extent of the territories that came under his administration stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Korean Peninsula. Some of the territories that came under his reign included China, Korea, Tibet, Manchuria, and eastern Mongolia.

Khanbalik (Beijing) was the capital during his times and Xanadu became the summer capital. He failed two invasions that he carried out in Japan.

Kublai Khan campaigned against the Song dynasty but the expedition was cut short by the death of his brother, Mongke Khan. After his brother’s death, Kublai Khan fought against his younger brother, Ariq Boke and declared himself the new Khan. The expedition against Song continued for many years with the Mongol empire finally emerging victorious in 1279.

Kublai Khan established the Yuan (Yuan meaning centre) dynasty in China as he was making attempts to be hailed with the prestigious title of a “Chinese emperor”.

He even converted to Tibetan Buddhism under the influence of his wife, Chabi and a Tibetan monk, Phags-pa-Lama. Kublai Khan encouraged international trade and offered several advantages to professions like merchants, doctors and astronomers.

Similar to Ogedei Khan, the cause of the death of Ogedei Khan is attributed to overindulgence in food and wine. The whereabouts of his tomb continue to remain shrouded in mystery.

After his death, the Mongol empire disintegrated and the rulers of the Mongol dynasty proved inefficient. Thus, the weakening of governance after Kublai Khan’s death brought about the decline of the Mongol empire.

Family tree of Genghis Khan

  1. Genghis Khan

Sons: Jochi, Chagatai, Ogodei, Tolui

Sons of Tolui: Mongke, Kublai, Hulagu, Ariq Boke

Son of Ogedei: Guyuk

Sons of Jochi: Batu, Berke

TEXT for image: Genghis Khan, Jochi, Chagatai, Ogodei, Tolui, Mongke, Kublai, Hulagu, Ariq Boke, Guyuk, Batu, Berke

Nomadic Lifestyle of the Mongol Dynasty

The Mongols were pastoral nomads of the Asian Steppe who derived bountiful benefits from herding animals, which included goats, sheep, horses, yaks and camels. They mainly consumed dairy products like milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter etc.

The material for the clothes was mainly derived from animal furs and included heedless boots, baggy trousers, jacket robe, conical hat with earflaps and cotton or silk underclothing. They also used leather for making canteens, skin bags etc. A squad of ten carried tents known as yurts. One can find these tents in the capital city of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar.

The Mongols had a large number of horses which they used for hunting and looting. Hunting was mainly carried out through a strategy known as the “nerge” where the game was driven into a smaller area before being killed by mounted archers.

These strategies were later adopted in warfare which turned out to be quite profitable.

What Role did Women Have in Mongolian Society?

Although Mongolian society was patriarchal, the role of Women in Mongolian society was not limited to household chores, looking after children or entertaining guests. They often shared tasks that Mongolian men did like setting up camps or riding wagons etc.

This prepared them to help their warrior husbands while out on a military quest. Some of the Mongolian widows inherited property and often served as regents before a new Khan was appointed.

For an instance, Sorkhaqtani, widow of Tolui (Genghis’s son) insisted on the education of all her sons, took charge of the family and facilitated better trade and intellectual exchanges throughout the empire.

Thus, the women in Mongolian society enjoyed greater autonomy than other contemporaries in China and Persia.

Religious Beliefs of the Mongol Empire

The religious beliefs of the Mongolian people were a combination of Shamanism and animism, also called Tengrism. Animists believe that nature like fire, water, earth, mountains, storm etc possessed spirits.

Shamanists can enter into a trance and the spirit world to communicate with lost spirits, and predict future events. Two deities were mainly worshipped – Etugen ( Mother Earth) and Tengri (Blue Sky). Etugen is a Goddess of fertility and Tengri is the God that was believed to have granted the Mongol rulers a divine right to conquer the world. This powered Mongol rulers like Genghis Khan to conquer almost the entire of Asia.

Religious Tolerance of the Mongol Dynasty: The Mongol rulers, particularly Genghis Khan were highly tolerant towards other religions. For an instance, Ogedei (Genghis’s son) married a Christian and even built places of worship for different contemporary religions.

Moreover, religious leaders including Christians, Buddhists, Daoists etc were exempted from taxes until the end of the Yuan dynasty in 1368. Later, three khanates converted to Islam whereas the Yuan dynasty adopted Tibetan Buddhism as their religion.

What Skills did the Mongol Dynasty have?

The Mongol dynasty was skilled in horsemanship and bow shooting right from their childhood. They had incredible speed and efficiency which contributed to their military achievements. Since this has become their second nature, they mastered such skills as they grew up.

This is one of the reasons why the Mongol dynasty was so successful in its military campaigns.  Enemies were fearful of their speed more than ferocity. They covered vast stretches of land at a quicker pace and could subsist on meagre supplies of food while campaigning. They placed raw meat under their saddles to tenderize them as they rode.

Military Power and Strategies

The military of the Mongol empire mainly comprised cavalry and no foot soldiers. While travelling, each soldier had 3-4 horses which they used to ride in rotation. This was done to prevent wearing out the horses bearing men and to travel long distances.

The Mongols had several military strategies to fend off enemies. For example, while they launched a three-year campaign in Europe, they built a wall, sealed the gates and catapulted flaming rockets, pots of naphtha and grenades across the walls.

Their weapons mainly included maces, lances, sabres, daggers, leather shields, bows and arrows. The Mongols are the first to use gunpowder in battle as an explosive.

The Mongols did not travel with any commissary, supply wagons, siege engines and infantry. They built their essentials on the spot with the engineers’ corp.

Some of the strategies used by the Mongol rulers included feigned fighting, psychological strategies, hostage-taking, human shields and surprise attacks.

Were the Mongols Brutal Rulers?

The Mongols killed 1,747,000 in the battle of Nishnapur, 2,400,000 in Herat, 15 million in Central Asia and many more. The huge tally makes us necessarily conclude that the Mongols were brutal.

No one can deny the fact that there was much bloodshed but sceptics repeat that the huge number of city residents could have easily outnumbered and overpowered the Mongols.

Moreover, the Mongols comprising the weaker section of the population like women, children, and the elderly did not participate in the war to have invaded them.

However, it is estimated that nearly 11% of the global population was wiped out during or immediately after the Mongol invasions.

If the enemy refused to willingly surrender to the great Khan, what followed was much terror, panic and bloodshed. There are tales that the Mongols massacred multiples with the least amount of resistance.

Interesting Facts about the Mongol Dynasty

  • The time period of Mongol dynasty rule is from 1206 to 1368.
  • The Mongol people were illiterate so they memorized orders in their rhyme forms.
  • The yam or the messenger system provided different entitlements and water supplies to the armies and merchants that stopped by the rest stations.
  • Koumiss was a fermented mare’s milk that was an alcoholic beverage enjoyed by the Mongols.
  • The Mongols occupied Baghdad, Syria, Konya (Turkey), Isfahan and Iraq. Thus, they ruled continental Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
  • The Mongols had their three-year campaign in Europe comprising Russia and Ukraine.
  • The Mongols do not have any architectural wonders or political institutions to marvel at, but they essentially connected the east to the west through trade, embassies and travellers moving from Eurasia to the Far East.
  • One of the reasons behind the achievements of the Mongol dynasty is put forward by the English scientist Roger Bacon who argues that the Mongols succeeded by “means of science” and progressed so far “because they devote[d] their leisure to the principles of philosophy.”
  • The Mongols did not bury their deceased ones. Instead, they left them to the care of the “Eternal Blue Sky”.

The Final Thought!

History has plenty of men who were the greatest examples of military commanders of all time. We have Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte and also the founder of the Mongolian dynasty, Genghis Khan. Leaders such as these have made history because of their courage, strong demeanour and potential. The Mongols were successful because Genghis Khan left behind footprints that would be trodden by his successors. Throughout the historical tales of the Mongol dynasty, we get to see the loyalty Genghis Khan and his successors enjoyed among his followers. The Mongol rule ended in 1368 but Mongolians and the Chinese continue to revere these fearless men of the Mongolian dynasty to this date.

Why do you think Genghis Khan was religiously tolerant, unlike past rulers despite being a Tengrist? How would you define the Mongols in history? What do you think is the most important event in the history of the Mongol empire? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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