Showing posts with label Mongolia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mongolia. Show all posts

Yuan Dynasty

Yuan Dynasty
Yuan Dynasty area in 1294

Yuan was the first non-Chinese dynasty to rule the entire area of the Chinese civilization (1279–1368). Kubilai Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan) proclaimed this rule in 1271, but because South China was not then under his control, historians did not formally recognize it as the ruling dynasty of China until the Southern Song (Sung) dynasty was destroyed in 1279.

Up to this time all dynasties had taken the name of the geographic region of its founder’s family. Since Mongolia was not part of China culturally, Kubilai chose Yuan (Great Originator), a word from the Chinese classic the Book of Changes.

Kubilai Khan (r. 1260–94) was the fifth grand khan of the Mongol empire, but his election was disputed and despite victory over his challengers, his leadership was never fully recognized, and he spent years fighting wars with his kinsmen.

Kubilai Khan, the greatest Yuan ruler, fought wars to enlarge his empire, unsuccessfully only against Japan and Java. He and his successors ruled directly over Mongolia, China (including Manchuria and Tibet), and indirectly over vassal states that included Korea, Burma, Siam, Annam (North Vietnam), and Champa (South Vietnam).

Mongol Caste System and Social Organization

Although Kubilai had a much greater appreciation of Chinese culture than his predecessors and many of his contemporaries in the clan of Genghis Khan, he did not read or write Chinese. Even though his conquest of Southern Song did not feature the wholesale massacres practiced by his predecessors, his regime was nevertheless one of military occupation with Mongols the chief beneficiaries.

The Mongol government divided the people into four castes or categories as follows: The first caste were Mongols, who enjoyed the highest positions and most privileges. The second caste were called se-mu (light-eyed) people, who were Middle Easterners, and other non-Chinese including Europeans such as Marco Polo.

Kubilai Khan
Kubilai Khan

The third caste were northern Chinese and assimilated nomads, and the fourth and lowest were southern Chinese from the conquered Southern Song lands (who were the most numerous group).

The Mongol rulers trusted their non-Chinese subjects precisely because they were not Chinese and were therefore unconditionally loyal; many served the Mongol masters as ruthless tax collectors and moneylenders. The most numerous group, the southern Chinese, were most distrusted and exploited.

Mongols strenuously resisted assimilation to Chinese culture. Many preferred to live in yurts (tents), even in the capital palace grounds, and trekked to Mongolia to hunt annually. Their love of hunting and riding resulted in huge areas throughout China being turned into pastures and hunting parks, their previous owners being evicted or enslaved.

Mongol cuisine consisted mainly of boiled or roasted mutton, washed down with huge quantities of koumiss (fermented mare’s milk). Alcoholism killed many in the ruling house prematurely.

The fate of the Yuan dynasty was closely tied to the effectiveness of its military. Mongols and their nomadic allies formed the elite cavalry, which was supported by land granted to the hereditary heads of the units. But because Mongols lacked managerial skills and abused the Chinese farmers, many fled, causing a drop in production, hence income.

Chinese formed the infantry units, which were distrusted; for example, Chinese units had to turn in their weapons after maneuvers. As Mongol military effectiveness declined, the accumulated grievances of the subject people led to widespread rebellions.

The official language of the Yuan government was Mongolian. A written script had been created for writing down spoken Mongol under Genghis Khan; it used the Uighur script. Early Mongols practiced shamanism, but Kubilai Khan became interested in Chan (Ch’an) Buddhism in his youth and then turned to Tibetan Lamaist Buddhism after he took over Tibet and came under the influence of a religious leader called Phagspa. Phagspa was called on to create a new script for writing Mongol, called the Phagspa script, which is still in use.

Kubilai’s adherence and patronage also led to the conversion of Mongols in Mongolia and China to become Buddhists of the Tibetan school. Kubilai and his successors also granted enormous favors and huge sums to Tibetan clergymen, who became widely hated by the Chinese for their abuse of power.

Kubilai and his successors gradually allowed their Chinese subjects to add Chinese-style government offices, modified from the Tang (T’ang) and Song model, though under Mongol supervision.

In 1315 the examination system was even reinstated, but with a quota system that gave half of the doctoral degrees to Mongol and se-mu candidates regardless of qualification; the number of officials who had passed the examinations never exceeded 4 percent.

Chinese were restricted to low, mainly clerical posts and received few promotions. For committing the same crimes, Chinese were punished more severely, and Mongols were given light punishment for crimes against Chinese.

Some of Kubilai Khan’s successors patronized Chinese arts and culture, became collectors of Chinese art, and endorsed the writing of the official histories of all three preceding dynasties, the Song, Liao, and Jin, as the Yuan’s legitimate predecessors. However, by and large the Mongols left Chinese intellectual life alone.

This allowed private academies to continue teaching Neo-Confucianism. A number of notable painters also continued along earlier traditions. Because few intellectuals found opportunities under the Yuan government, some took up unorthodox professions such as medicine, fortune telling, writing fiction, and developing operatic drama.

Economic Recovery and The Luxury Trade

Kubilai Khan began measures to restore aspects of the damaged economy and fostered trade. Thus he had the Grand Canal repaired and built and maintained roads. These measures were necessary to transport food and luxuries from southern China to supply his court in Dadu (T’a-tu), which had been capital city of the Liao dynasty and Jin (Chin) dynasty, which had been destroyed by earlier Mongol armies and he had rebuilt.

He also maintained a second capital, his headquarters from the days before becoming emperor. It was called Shangdu (Shang-tu), located 200 miles north of Dadu and close to the Mongolian steppes.

The annual trek of the court from one capital to the other, which was continued throughout the dynasty, was costly. Kubilai also established a postal service with 1,400 stations, 4,000 carts, 6,000 boats, and 50,000 horses.

The international luxury trade prospered because the different branches of Genghis Khan’s family ruled from Korea to eastern Europe and imposed conditions that made travel and trade safe—historians call this the Pax Tatarica (Tatar Peace).

For example Chinese porcelain makers produced beautiful underglazed blue wares from the fine cobalt that was mined in Persia (Persia was ruled by the descendants of Kubilai Khan’s younger brother Hulagu Khan).

Sorghum, a new crop, was introduced and became an important food source for North China. However the prosperity under the Yuan government was spotty and largely superficial. Ineptitude and rampant inflation from fiscal irresponsibility and currency manipulation caused great harm to the economy and general impoverishment. Mongol and se-mu owned vast tracts of land, granted as appanage (fief) by Mongol rulers to their favorites, and reduced the people who worked for them to slavery.

Decline and Collapse

emblem of Mongolia
emblem of Mongolia
Kubilai died in 1294. He was predeceased by his heir and appointed a grandson his successor, called Temur Oljeitu, r. 1294–1307. There were no external wars during the ensuing 40 years, the mid-Yuan era. However instead of consolidation bitter succession conflicts destabilized the dynasty. Nine emperors followed one another in 39 years, most coming to power under dispute, and after armed conflicts.

Two were murdered while on the throne. Furthermore each change in ruler also resulted in bloody purges and policy reversals. Many of the disputes involved ethnic policy, whether to remain true to the nomadic heritage versus Sinicization, and relationship with the Chinese. Most of the short-reigning emperors were weak; several of them were children.

Toghon Temur Khan (r. 1333–68) was the last and longest reigning Mongol emperor, who assumed the throne at age 13. He was dogged throughout his reign by his disputed paternity, which cast doubt on his legitimacy. He relied on powerful ministers, the first of whom was called Bayan.

Bayan was anti-Chinese and sought to reassert Mongol authority by imposing strict segregation between Mongols and Chinese. He forbade Chinese to learn Mongol; confiscated their weapons, iron tools, and horses, in an attempt to forestall revolts; and forbade the performance of Chinese operas.

Finally he proposed solving the ethnic masalah by killing all Chinese with the five most popular surnames; that would have accounted for 90 percent of the population. Luckily by then the government had no ability to carry it out.

Floods, droughts, and plagues (possibly the Black Death brought to China by Mongol garrisons in the Middle East) overwhelmed the crumbling administration. Toghon Temur abandoned participation in the government, giving himself over to Lama Buddhist practices and debauchery.

In 1368 a successful Chinese rebel leader, Zhu Yuanzhang (Chu Yuan-chang), who had already established his headquarters and an administration in Nanjing (Nanking) south of the Yangzi (Yangtze) River, took Dadu. Before that Toghon Temur and his remaining court had fled to Mongolia, where he died two years later. Zhu became the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty.

Tului Khan - Mongol leader

Tului (or Tolui) Khan was the fourth son of Genghis Khan and his principal wife, Borte. He was a warrior and a heavy drinker and as his brothers he accompanied his father on campaigns and also commanded troops. To minimize tensions among them Genghis had divided his empire among his sons shortly before his death in 1227.

According to Mongol custom the oldest son is assigned lands farthest away from the paternal homeland. Since the eldest son, Juji, died six months before his death, Genghis gave Batu, eldest son of Juji, the westernmost conquest, which included Russia, called the khanate of the Golden Horde.

His second son, Chagatai Khan, received most of Central Asia. His third son, Ogotai Khan, received western China and parts of Central Asia and was nominated (subject to confirmation by the Mongol council, or kuriltai) khaghan, or khan of khans.

Tului was given the homeland, Mongolia (Mongol custom gave the youngest the paternal homeland) plus northern China and the bulk of the main Mongol military forces of over 100,000 men. His control of this force would greatly benefit the fortune of his sons as they competed for control of the inheritance of Genghis Khan.

In 1203 after defeating his former ally the Kerait confederation (another nomad group), Genghis took its leader Ong Khan’s two nieces as war booty. He kept one as a minor wife for himself and wed the other, Sorghaghtani Beki, to Tului.

She and Tului had four sons, Mongke Khan, Kubilai Khan, Hulagu Khan, and Arik Boke. Since Tului was away campaigning much of the time and died young of alcoholism, his wife was influential in raising her sons.

She is credited with raising them not only to be hunters and warriors as Mongol tradition dictated, but also to read Mongol in the newly created Uighur script, to be religiously tolerant (she was a Nestorian Christian because of her Keriat heritage), and to attend to administration.

Tului and his wife
Tului and his wife

After Tului died Ogotai Khaghan attempted to marry Sorghaghtani Beki or have his son marry her (under Mongol custom), thus uniting the two branches of the family. She was able to avoid marrying them, with the plea that she had to raise her sons.

She also obtained an appanage, or fief, in northern China in presentday southwestern Hebei (Hopei) province, which she supervised conscientiously. Her second son, Kubilai, also received an appanage, which he first entrusted to alien managers who abused the population. Later under Sorghaghtani Beki’s influence, he took a personal interest in it and improved its administration.

Ogotai died in 1241. His powerful widow became regent and maneuvered the Mongol leaders to elect her son Guyuk as the third khaghan in 1246. Guyuk died in 1248. In a succession struggle that followed Sorghaghtani Beki, with the support of Batu Khan of the Golden Horde, won election for her oldest son, Mongke, in 1251.

Mongke raised Tului posthumously to the position of khaghan and buried him next to Genghis Khan; he also ordered the official worship of Genghis Khan and the veneration of his father, Tului Khan. His younger brother, Kubilai Khan, followed Mongke as khaghan.

Toghon Temur Khan

Toghon Temur Khan
Toghon Temur Khan

Toghon Temur Khan was the last ruler of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1279–1368). He ascended the throne at age 13 in 1333 and ruled until 1368 when his dynasty collapsed. His Chinese reign name was Shundi (Shun-ti).

Kubilai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty, ruled between 1279 and 1294. His son and heir predeceased him, and he appointed a grandson his successor, Temur Oljeitu, who ruled 1294–1307 and died without sons.

The throne then became disputed, with short-reigned rulers being deposed, murdered, or dying young from lives filled with alcohol and dissipation. Because of his youth Toghon Temur’s early years as emperor saw court intrigues and struggles for power. The most powerful man during 1333–40 was his chancellor Bayan.

Bayan’s goal was to restore the Yuan dynasty to its early glory by drawing a sharp line between Mongols and Chinese by forbidding Chinese to learn the Mongol language and banning intermarriages. He also banned Chinese from owning horses and iron tools, and, to combat opposition, he even proposed killing all Chinese bearing the five most common surnames.

Fortunately, by this time the government had insufficient resources to murder 90 percent of the total population who bore those surnames. In 1340 Bayan was ousted in a coup engineered by his nephew Toghto, who became chancellor.

Although now a grown man, Toghon Temur showed no interest in government, spending his time indulging in bizarre Lamaist Buddhist practices and general debauchery. Faced with a shortage of revenue he ordered printed huge amounts of inadequately backed paper money.

By the 1350s natural disasters combined with massive mismanagement had led to nationwide general uprisings as bandits, religious sectarians, and other dissidents ran amok, which the by now decadent Mongol military could not suppress.

The Yangzi (Yangtze) River valley first became the battleground of several Chinese rebel groups. Among them one leader of very humble origins, Zhu Yuanzhang (Chu Yuan-chang), emerged as a man of vision. In 1356 he seized Nanjing (Nanking) from the Mongols and made it his capital.

While this was taking place Toghon Temur continued his life of debauchery as Mongol princes intrigued and fought one another in northern China for control. Zhu left Nanjing in August 1368 heading north at the head of his army. Toghon Temur fled his capital Dadu (T’a-tu) on September 10, back to the steppes of Mongolia, and died two years later, in 1370.

Among his last recorded words were “My great city of Dadu, adorned with varied splendor; Shangdu [Shang-tu], my delectable cool summer retreat; and those yellowing plains, the delight and refreshment of my divine ancestors! What evil I have committed to lose my empire thus!”

Tibetan Kingdom

Tibetan Kingdom
Tibetan Kingdom

The Tibetan kingdom was at its height during the seventh and eighth centuries. After 842 a schism in the ruling lineage led to decline, decentralization, and civil wars. The Tibetan kingdom submitted to Genghis Khan in the early 13th century and formally acknowledged Mongol overlordship in 1247.

Records of the Shang dynasty in China (ended c. 1122 b.c.e.) mention a tribal people called the Qiang (Ch’iang) living in the borderlands of western China. They later moved westward into the Tibetan highlands.

Early Tibetan history is mostly gleaned from Chinese historical records, most notably the Dunhuang Records (Tun-huang Records). The rise of the Tibetan Kingdom was contemporaneous with the rise of the Tang (T’ang) dynasty in China; its capital city was called Ra-sa (later Lhasa).

In 641 Emperor Taizong (T’ang-tsung) of the Tang dynasty agreed to marry his kinswomen Princess Wenzheng (Wen-ch’eng) to the Tibetan ruler. She went with a huge entourage of attendants and Chinese artisans and introduced many aspects of Chinese civilization, such as paper and tea, to Tibet.

During the same period Tibetan rulers sent representatives to India to learn about Buddhism; they introduced to Tibet a written script derived from Sanskrit. Tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism from northeastern India was introduced to Tibet; it replaced and assimilated Tibetan shamanistic beliefs called Bon.

In 779 Buddhism became Tibet’s state religion, monastic lands became tax-free, and monks enjoyed the same status as nobles, both groups owning the serfs who tilled the land.

The Tibetan kingdom reached its zenith between 755 and 797. Its ascendancy coincided with the An Lushan (An Lu-Shan) Rebellion that rocked the Tang dynasty in the mid-eighth century, and its aftermath when Chinese power was reduced.

The rebellion compelled the withdrawal of Chinese garrisons from Central Asia, leading to the submission of some of the minor states in the region to Tibetan hegemony.

Tibetan power penetrated into Gansu (Kansu) province in northwestern China and threatened both the strategic Chinese outpost at Dunhuang and Hami and even the Chinese capital Chang’an (Ch’ang-an).

To contain Tibet, Tang China made peace with its other neighbors, the Uighur Empire in the north, the Arabs in the west, and the Nanzhao (Nanchao) in the south, after 787.

In 792 the Tibetan army was badly defeated by the Uighurs. In 821–822 Tibet made peace with both China and the Uighurs. By the mid-ninth century civil wars within the royal family and wars between powerful nobles and monks had fractured the Tibetan kingdom.

In the early 13th century Tibet surrendered to Genghis Khan and was thus spared Mongol invasion. In 1247 it acknowledged Mongol overlordship and paid taxes to the Mongol court but was not subjected to a Mongol occupation force.

Kubilai Khan converted to Tibetan Buddhism, greatly favored Tibetan monks, and encouraged his followers to convert. A Tibetan monk gave the Mongols a new written script called the Phagspa script named after its inventor; it replaced the earlier script based on Uighur.

Subotai - Mongol general


Subotai was probably the greatest Mongolian general of the period of Mongolian empire and played an important role in its establishment and expansion. He was likely from Uriyangqai, the region lying between the Onon and Kerulen Rivers, and came into the service of the young Mongol chieftain Genghis Khan (r. 1206–27) primarily through a long-term family association.

Subotai was an important member of Genghis Khan’s guards by the early part of the 13th century and had already distinguished himself in the latter’s service.

In 1204 Genghis Khan defeated the league formed against him by Tayang-qan of the Naiman, with the active participation of Subotai. The future khan’s enemies were now defeated or dead or had migrated out of Mongolia to flee his wrath.

Among those fleeing were a group of Naiman survivors led by Gücülük, and another group of Merkit led by their chief Toqto’a-beki. Since such groups could recuperate quickly, ally with others, and constitute a major threat to Genghis Khan’s new regime, it was vital to pursue them.

Charged with the task, among others, were Jebe, another talented Mongolian general, and Subotai, initiating at first a general reconnaissance, then an advance west, extending over a decade and a half.

In 1208 Juji, the oldest son of Genghis Khan, defeated the Merkit group in a great battle on the Irtysh River. Toqto’a-beki was killed but his sons, led by Qudu, took their father’s head with them and fled south into Uighur domains.

Merkit group
Merkit group

Sent in pursuit were Jebe and Subotai, securing the submission of the Bešbaliq Uighurs on the way, who participated in a battle against Qudu, who was weakened but escaped, on the banks of the Djem or Cem River (1209).

By that time the situation in eastern Turkistan, long ruled by the Qara-Khitan, was in flux, and the appearance of the Naiman Gücülük further unsettled things. He eventually seized power but even as a refugee constituted a major threat to the new Mongol regime.

Faced with a situation beyond their resources, Jebe and Subotai did what good Mongol commanders almost always did: They concentrated against the enemy more easily dealt with, Qudu, and kept the other under close supervision.

Subotai went after Qudu, and Jebe pursued Gücülük as far as he could into Qara-Khitan territory, without coming into conflict with the still powerful Qara-Khitan ruler. Satisfied that his enemy was no longer an immediate threat, Jebe then joined with Subotai to defeat the Merkit survivors once and for all.

By this time the Merkit were allied with a group of Qangli, a Turkic people, but they were all but destroyed in the battle (1209) at a site called Jade Valley, in the Chinese sources.

Unfortunately before they could return home, mission accomplished, the two Mongol generals encountered a new, unexpected enemy, the Khwarazm-shah Muhammad, and engaged in a clash with him, which was indecisive.

The Mongols withdrew after kindling fake campfires to mask their movements. In the wake of the advances of Jebe and Subotai, the Qangli and Qarluq, another Turkic people, submitted.

Recalled home, both Jebe and Subotai participated in the general assault on the Jin (Chin) dynasty (1125– 1234) in China, leading to the fall of the Jin central capital of Zhongdu (Chungtu) in 1215, the real beginning of Mongolian control in China.

Sent west again, the two Mongol generals protected Mongol interests there and participated in the selesai pursuit of Gücülük, leading to his death in 1218. Eastern Turkistan and large chunks of southern Siberia were under Mongol control, making the latter a serious threat to the Khwarazm-shah Muhammad.

War came soon after the famous Otrar Incident (1218), in which some merchants under the protection of the Mongol ruler were massacred at the orders of a local Khwarazmian official.

Faced with a general assault from, as was the Mongol custom, as many directions at once as possible, the Khwarazmian empire crumbled and the Khwarazm-shah, now a refugee, died on an island in the Caspian in 1220.

At the suggestion of Subotai, who with Jebe had actively participated in the campaign, the Mongols launched the greatest reconnaissance in force in history, an expedition through northern Iran, into the Caucasus, and then across the south Russian steppe, to link up again with other Mongol armies.

The expedition was a success, although Jebe died. On June 16, 1223, the two generals defeated a Russian allied force on the Kalkha River, the Mongols first encounter with a western power. Subotai participated as a senior commander in the selesai subjugation of Jin (by 1234).

Battle between Mongols and Russian allied force on the Kalkha river
Battle between Mongols and Russian allied force on the Kalkha river

Although already an old man by 1235, about 59, Subotai was now tapped for his greatest role of all, that of strategic commander for a generalized Mongol advance to secure the palimony of Juji’s sons, who by tradition, were to receive the most distant pastures of his father in the extreme west of the Mongolian world.

As part of this advance, Subotai participated in the Mongol destruction of Kievan Russia (1237–40) and then was called upon to plan an even larger assault, on eastern Europe, during 1241.

Advancing along multiple lines, with coordinated columns, the Mongols overwhelmed all their opponents although the Hungarians proved somewhat tougher than expected, even though the latter were only partially mobilized.

Only the death of Ogotai Khan (r. 1229–41), the successor of Genghis Khan, seems to have prevented an even wider advance. Returning home, Subotai spent his last years either in the Mongolian homeland or on the borders of China. His sons and grandsons continued to serve Mongol rulers, including those of China.

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan

Genghis or Chinggis Khan means “universal ruler.” He was born Temuchin, the son of a minor Mongol chief, and overcame early obstacles to conquer the greatest empire of the world to date, which he bequeathed to his sons. Some believe he was a greater military strategist than Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte.

At the time of his birth the varied people of the steppes (Turkic, Mongol, and others) lived in mutually warring tribes, raiding one another for animals and women and looting nearby sedentary populations. The harsh environment of the steppes where they lived provided little opportunity for agriculture, limiting the peoples to a nomadic lifestyle of herding and hunting.

His father, Yesugei, died of poisoning at the hands of foes when Temuchin was eight years old, en route home after betrothing him to a girl from his mother, H’oelun’s, tribe. H’oelun and her sons were cast out to fend for themselves after Yesugei died; thanks to Temuchin’s cunning and ruthless determination, they survived.

Eventually he married his betrothed, named Borte; received help from his father-in-law in establishing himself with followers and animals; and won allies. Borte was the mother of four sons (Juji Khan, Chagatai Khan, Ogotai Khan, and Tului Khan) and a daughter. Juji was born around the time his mother was rescued from captivity (she had been captured in a raid by Temuchin’s enemy), casting doubt on his paternity. These four sons became Temuchin’s principal heirs.

From Temuchin to Genghis Khan

In complicated wars Temuchin and his allies won against tribes named the Naiman, Merkid, Oyirad, Tartar, Kereyid, and others, becoming master of the Mongolian plateau by 1205. A great council or khuriltai was convened in 1206 to signal the formation of a confederation at Burkan Khaldan, the holy mountain of the Mongols under Temuchin, and to give him the title Genghis Khan.

From this point on all his followers, regardless of tribal affiliation, were called Mongols. In Mongol ideology the elevation of Temuchin to Genghis Khan was blessed by heaven and therefore it was his right to conquer and to bequeath his conquests to his family.

Genghis Khan’s first great achievement was to organize his men into a unified army. He used the decimal system: Each 10-man group had a leader; 10 of these formed into a 100-man unit under a leader, and so on up, each commander being responsible for 10 men under him.

In time the Mongolian component of his army grew to between 105,000 and 129,000 men. As his empire expanded, subject peoples incorporated into his infantry and cavalry followed the same organizational rules. The Mongolian army did not possess weapons or technology superior to those of its enemies. Its superiority lay in its discipline, mobility, coordination, and maneuverability.

Records were necessary to administer his people, so in 1206 he ordered the creation a script for the Mongol language, and since the man designated for the task was an Uighur, he used the Uighur alphabet for that purpose. Genghis did not learn to read but ordered his sons to learn the written language.

He also promulgated a code of laws and regulations in 1206, called yasa or yasaq, that provided severe punishment, for example, the death penalty applied to murder, major theft, adultery, malicious witchcraft, and other offenses. The severity of the laws resulted in an obedient society, which visitors observed with awe.

Conquest of Xixia, Jin, and Khwarazm

Genghis Khan’s conquests began in 1209 and his first target was the Tangut kingdom to his southwest called Xixia (Hsi Hsia), leading his army personally. After withstanding a siege of their capital city the Xixia accepted peace terms: submission to Genghis Khan and a pledge to support him in future campaigns, and the king’s daughter given to Genghis as wife. After this demonstration of force two sedentary Turkic peoples, Uighurs and Qarluks, came to offer surrender. Both would go far under Mongol rule.

Genghis Khan’s next victim was the Jurchen Jin (Chin) dynasty in north China. He set out against it in 1211 with three of his sons and 50,000 cavalrymen. Although no longer the ferocious fighters of a century ago, the Jin still had a 150,000 strong cavalry of Jurchen soldiers and an infantry of 300,000 to 400,000 Chinese men.

Moreover the Jin Empire had over 40 million people, three million of whom were Jurchen, opposed to the Mongol nation of not much over a million people. In 1211–14 the Mongols devastated much of northern China and looted three of Jin’s five capitals, until Jin submitted to a humiliating peace. Among the captives taken during this campaign was Yelu Chucai (Yeh-lu Ch’u-ts’ai), a learned man of Khitan background who had served in the Jin government.

He would later play an important role in the government of Genghis and his son Ogotai that benefited their Chinese subjects. North China suffered enormously between 1214 and the selesai fall of Jin in 1234, the result of Mongol raids, uprisings against Jin, and war between Jin and Southern Song (Sung).

Meanwhile commanders under Genghis conquered the state called Khara Khitai, situated to the west of Mongolia, in 1218. This cleared the way for Genghis to march against Khwarazm (or Khwarizm), a Muslim state that included Afghanistan and northern Iran, in 1219.

It involved taking heavily fortified cities such as Harat and Samarkand, for which Mongols used the bloody tactic of using captured prisoners as human shields and moat fillers for their assaulting forces. By 1223 Khwarazm had been subdued and Mongol governors had been installed and garrisons put in place.

While his generals proceeded westward across the Caucasus and into western Eurasia, defeating the Russian princes, Genghis returned to Mongolia in 1225. There he planned the destruction of Xixia, which had earlier promised to supply Genghis with men and supplies in his future campaigns but had refused when he began his war against Khwarazm.

Never forgiving anyone who had betrayed him, Genghis personally led the campaign against Xixia in 1226, destroying cities and the countryside and wrecking the irrigation works that rendered the land cultivable, and besieging its capital. Genghis Khan died in August 1227 because of complications from a fall while hunting in 1225.

According to his wishes the war against Xixia continued until its destruction. His last orders were “The Tangut people are a powerful, good and courageous people, but they are fickle. Slaughter them and take what you need to give to the army.... Take what you want until you can take no more.” Genghis Khan’s body was returned to Mongolia; en route anyone who saw his cortege was killed.

He was buried on Burkhan Khaldun; the exact burial place was kept secret and has not yet been found. Before his death he had divided his conquests among his four sons, who were his principal heirs, and other relatives, and appointed his third son, Ogotai, his successor as Grand Khan, subject to confirmation by the Khurialtai.

The Brutal Military Leader

Genghis Khan was unequaled as a military leader and conquered the largest empire yet seen and with unprecedented cruelty. He was a shrewd strategist who used many means to achieve his goals. He was a good psychologist who used terror and precedence to induce his enemies to surrender because any city that resisted would be razed and its people killed. He was a good organizer who militarized his whole people and saw to the logistical side of campaigns.

He was adept at using spies and probing actions to take the measures of his enemies. He also used diplomacy to prevent his enemies from uniting or forming alliances. Finally he learned new military technologies and adapted to new needs, for example employing Middle Eastern siege engineers to help him take walled cities.

To Christian Europeans he was the anti-Christ and Scourge of God. China had never experienced such brutal conquerors, who threatened to turn the agricultural country into pastureland for their horses. He was especially cruel to cities and city dwellers.

In his sweep across north China in 1212–1213 over 90 cities were left in ruins. The Jin capital in modern Beijing burned for three months. Those persons his forces let live because they had skills became Mongol slaves or were allowed to return to their ruined homes to serve their new lords.

Chagatai Khanate

Chagatai Khanate
Chagatai Khanate

Genghis Khan (c. 1167–1227) had four sons by his principal wife, Borte. The eldest son, Juji, and second son, Chagatai, were such fierce rivals that Genghis decided to bypass both in favor of his third son, Ogotai Khan as his successor khaghan (Grand Khan), and all of his sons agreed with his choice.

Genghis also assigned territories to each son to govern, although all would acknowledge the leadership of the khaghan and cooperate with him in expanding the Mongol Empire. Juji received land farthest from the paternal homeland—the western territories that would include Russia and eastern Europe; his followers were called the Golden Horde.

Chagatai received west Turkestan, the Tarim Basin, and the western Tian Shan (T’ien Shan) region. Ogotai received Dzungaria and part of Central Asia, while the youngest son, Tului, received the Mongolian homeland. This arrangement was confirmed just before Genghis Khan died in 1227. Two years later the Kuriltai (council of nobles) elected Ogotai the next khaghan.

Chagatai’s allotment, which was enlarged later, also included the Ili River valley, Kashgaria, Turfan and Kucha in present-day northwestern China, and Transoxiana, including the towns of Samarkand. These disparate lands became known as the Chagatai Khanate. Except for the oasis towns most of the khanate was steppe land inhabited by various nomads, most of Turkic ethnicity.

Chagatai was a warrior and also a staunch upholder of Mongol traditions. Genghis had appointed him guardian of the Mongolian law code called “Yasa” which he had sternly administered. Chagatai and his successors kept up a seminomadic lifestyle, changing from winter to summer camp as the seasons dictated.

Whereas the Mongol realms under Kubilai Khan and his heirs in China, the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), and the il-khanate of Hulagu Khan and his successors in Persia and the Middle East had fixed boundaries, rich resources, large sedentary populations, and long established traditions of governance, the Chagatai Khanate had shifting boundaries, tribal populations with weak state institutions, and relatively sparse resources.

Chagatai statue
Chagatai statue

It was hemmed in by other Mongol dominions ruled by branches of Genghis Khan’s descendants in three directions—the Yuan dynasty, the Il-Khanate, and the Golden Horde in Russia. The only direction for expansion was into Afghanistan and India. Beginning in the 1290s Chagatai Khanate forces took control of eastern Afghanistan from which they raided northwestern India.

In 1303 an expedition of 120,000 men besieged Delhi for two months and devastated a wide area. Another force of 40,000 horsemen returned to India in 1304 but was defeated and 9,000 prisoners were trampled to death by elephants. A similar fate befell the men of the last attacking army in 1305–1306.

Not able to expand outward the heirs of Chagatai were constantly embroiled in wars and rivalries of the other three branches of the family, and among themselves. Although the Chagatai Khanate was poor in resources, its central location along the Silk Road allowed it to collect abundant taxes and tolls. Frequent wars and predatory policy toward trade and sedentary people often resulted in the breakdown and ultimately decline in international trade by land routes.

Major differences and incompatibilities divided the eastern and western halves of the khanate. The western part, originally part of the Khwarazm kingdom, was Islamized, urbanized, and more advanced than the eastern region, which was more pastoral, nomadic, and animistic. Lacking a cohesive government, each went its own way.

Chagatai died in 1242 and was succeeded by his grandson Kara Hulagu. Interference by the khaghan and involvement by the Chagatai Khanid rulers in the dynastic struggle of other branches of the family resulted in many upheavals.

Leaders of the Chagatai Khanate became involved when Mongke Khaghan died in 1259 and a succession struggle erupted between his brothers Kubilai and Arik Boke; they sided with the winner Kubilai. Later they supported Kaidu Khan, a grandson of Ogotai, who challenged Kubilai for the throne of the khaghan. The destructive wars continued until Kaidu’s death in 1301.

Although Kubilai won against his rivals, the unity of the Mongol Empire was fractured forever, and even though the Chagatai rulers were not in contention for overall leadership, their central position in the line of communications between the different branches of the family played a significant role in the breakdown of unity of the Mongol Empire.

The frequent civil wars and changes of rulers (there were 30 khan up to 1230) fatally weakened the central authority at the expense of local leaders. As the Chagatai Khanate was disintegrating in 1369, there rose in Samarkand a Mongol-Turkic leader who claimed descent from Genghis Khan.

His name was Timurlane (Tamerlane), meaning Timur the Lame. His military career that ended with his death in 1403 would replicate that of his famous ancestor. In the 14th century Chagatain rulers converted to Islam, the religion of many of the Turkic peoples they ruled. The official language of the khanate was changed from Mongolian to Chagatai Turkic. It continued to be used in the region they ruled until modern times.

Ogotai Khan

Ogotai Khan
Ogotai Khan

Ogotai Khan was the third son of Genghis Khan and spent most of his early life campaigning. Realizing the implacable enmity between his first and second sons, Juji and Chagatai Khan, Genghis decided in 1219 to bypass both for supreme leadership of the Mongols after his own death in favor of Ogotai.

He reconfirmed this decision before his death in 1227. Ogotai was confirmed as the Mongols’ second khaghan (grand khan) by the khuriltai of Mongol leaders in 1229 and established Karakorum on the upper reaches of the Orkhon River as his capital, surrounding it with a defensive wall.

True to his martial heritage Ogotai began his reign with massive campaigns to expand the Mongol empire, amassing four armies. One marched westward to conquer the steppelands of central Eurasia and the Russian principalities, across the Ural Mountains, and the Volga River.

Led by the old warrior Subotai and Batu (Juji’s son), its goal was to secure and enlarge the inheritance of the sons of Juji (who had predeceased Genghis Khan).

A second army’s goal was to complete the conquest of Khwarazm, which includes modern Iran, then onto the Middle East and Asia Minor. A third army took on Korea, which had been conquered earlier but had revolted against the unbearable conditions of Mongol rule.

Finally Ogotai and his younger brother Tului Khan led a force to finish the conquest of the Jin (Chin) dynasty in northern China. They took the Jin capital Kaifeng (K’ai-feng) in 1233; the last Jin emperor committed suicide in 1234 and all northern China came under Mongol rule.

Subotai’s army had the most spectacular success, conquering the Turkish tribes of the Russian steppes, all the Russian principalities except Novgorod, the Ukraine, Poland, Moravia, and Hungary. They were at the gates of Vienna before withdrawing in 1241 on the news of Ogotai’s death. The army sent to conquer the Middle East added western Persia and the Caucasus to Mongol control.

Coronation of Ogotai Khan

Korea submitted in 1259. Ogotai also made administrative reforms to centralize the administration to ensure his control over the Mongol lords and the efficient gathering of taxes and tribute from his sedentary subjects.

Thanks to a remarkable non-Mongol adviser Yelu Chucai (Yeh-lu Ch’u-ts’ai) reforms were begun in northern China that ended the brutal looting and massacre of the population on the premise that working people paid more taxes than expeditions could gather.

After the campaign against Jin, Ogotai returned to Karakorum and abandoned himself to a life of pleasure, hunting and drinking so heavily that an official was appointed to count the amount of wine he drank daily.

Ogotai Statue

His second wife, Toregene, moved quickly to consolidate her authority even before he died while on a hunting trip; he was buried in Jungaria in his personal appanage (fief).

According to Mongol custom his widow, Toregene, became regent until the khuriltai elected a new ruler. Her goal was to ensure the election of her son Guyug as the next khaghan, despite much opposition by other branches of the Mongol royal house. After four and half years she succeeded.

Mongol Rule of Russia

Mongol invasion
Mongol invasion

The almost 250-year Mongol rule over Russia was precipitated by two separate invasions. Following a successful invasion of the Caucasus in 1221, the Mongols invaded a small part of Russia in 1222.

Although a small contingent of the Mongol army succeeded against the ruling princes, they did not establish control over Russia and instead disappeared into the steppe. It was not until 1237 that a sizable Mongol army commenced its invasion of Russia proper, to which all of Russia fell and came under the dominion of the Golden Horde.

Having conquered the Muslim empire of the shah of Khwarazm, Jalal-ad-Din Mengubirdi, otherwise known as Sultan Muhammad II, Genghis Khan charged his capable generals Jebe and Subotai to march through the hazardous Caucasus Mountains in the direction of Russia.

The Caucasian tribes, the Alans (Ossetians), the Circassians, and the Lezgians, together with the Polovsti, formed an alliance and put up a fierce resistance to the Mongol invaders on the southern Russian steppe in 1221. The first battle between the Mongols and Caucasian alliance proved indecisive, but Jebe and Subotai had no intentions of withdrawing from the engagement.

Instead the Mongol generals resorted to using the strategy of divide and conquer. Jebe and Subotai persuaded their nomadic brethren, the Polovsti, to remain neutral by reminding them of their common Turkic-Mongol fellowship and also by promising to share with them the spoils of victory over the Caucasian tribes.

With the success of the subtle diplomacy, the generals returned to battle the Caucasian tribes with greater ferocity and overwhelmingly crushed the stubborn resistance.

The Mongol generals then turned against the Polovsti, who, in defeat, fled in the direction of Galacia and Kiev and appealed to the Russian princes—Mstislav Staryi of Kiev, Mstislav Udaloi of Galacia, and Vladimir of Suzdal—for intervention.

Two sets of crucial factors persuaded the Russian princes to join forces to help the Polovsti. First Prince Mstislav Udaloi was obliged to help because Kotian, the khan of the Polovsti, was his father-in-law.

And second according to the Novgorodian First Chronicle, the Mongols were unknown to the Russians—they did not know where they came from, what religion they practiced, or what language they spoke.

Mongol vs Russia
Mongol vs Russia

Fearing that the Mongols would grow stronger if they did not intervene, the princes Mstislav and Vladimir I (Vladimir the Great), together with the Polovsti, forged the Russo-Polovsti alliance.

In early 1222 the Mongols received news of the Russo-Polovsti alliance and sent a 10-member diplomatic envoy to negotiate with Princes Mstislav and Vladimir. The Mongols claimed to have no desire to war with the princes and did not harbor any intentions to conquer their lands or cities.

In the manner similar to the way they isolated the Polovsti from the Caucasian tribes, the Mongol diplomats urged the princes to defeat the Polovsti and take the spoils of victory for themselves and offered to enter into a peace treaty with the Russians. The princes, suspecting a Mongol trick, executed the diplomatic envoy, an act that was considered by the Mongols to be unforgivable.

A strong Russian-Polovsti army of 30,000 soldiers amassed on the Dnieper. Outnumbered by more than 10,000, Jebe and Subotai ordered the Mongol army to retreat. They dispatched a second diplomatic envoy to meet with the Russians and reproached the Russians for the murder of the first delegation.

The second envoy returned unharmed and carried a message for the Mongol army—the Russians feared that, after conquering the Polovsti, the Mongol army would attack them. Hence, they would only be happy if the Mongol army returned to the steppe.

As the main Mongol army retreated from the forest, its rearguard kept a watchful eye on the Russian mobilization. War-hardened and accustomed to being outnumbered, Jebe and Subotai managed to evade the Russians for more than nine days.

This contrasted sharply with the attitudes of the Russian princes. The Russian army lacked strategic coordination because Mstislav of Galacia and Mstislav of Kiev disputed over the ways to engage the Mongol army.

In pursuit of the Mongol army, the Russians were led farther and farther into the steppe and away from their supply lines. Prince Mstislav of Galacia, accompanied by Daniil of Volhynia, commanded the first Russian battle with the Mongol army, defeating the Mongol rearguard at the east of the bend in the Dnieper.

Wanting to claim the glory all for himself, Prince Mstislav Udaloi decided to pursue the main Mongol army. Without informing the rest of the Russian army or waiting for reinforcements to arrive, the prince took his army, the Volynian and Polovsti soldiers, across the river Kalka.

Overconfident from his victory over the Mongol rearguard, Prince Mstislav failed to consolidate his defenses after crossing the Kalka and fell into a Mongol trap.

The Mongol retreat was a strategy aimed at isolating the army commanded by Prince Mstislav of Galacia from those commanded by Prince Mstislav Staryi of Kiev, which was concentrated some distance away from the river Kalka.

In mid-June 1222 Jebe and Subotai seized the advantage and ordered an all-out assault on the Russian front and flanks. Prince Mstislav of Kiev watched from the western banks of the Kalka as the Mongols launched a ferocious attack against the forces of Mstislav of Galacia.

As the Polovsti fled and confusion set in within the Russian ranks, the army of Prince Mstislav of Galacia, unable to maneuver effectively in the marshy terrain, was cut into pieces. The prince, along with the wounded Prince Daniil of Volhynia, a small remnant of his troops, and what remained of the Polovsti, managed to escape.

Realizing that a hasty retreat from a swift army is guaranteed to be fatal, Prince Mstislav of Kiev ordered his forces to fortify themselves on a commanding hilltop. But before the prince could securely establish his defenses, Jebe and Subotai attacked.

After three days of ferocious Mongol assault, Prince Mstislav of Kiev surrendered on the condition that he and his army would be permitted to return to Kiev unharmed. The Mongol army accepted, but, as soon as the Russian army disarmed, Prince Mstislav of Kiev was executed and his forces slaughtered.

Fearing that the Mongols would cross the Dnieper, Prince Mstislav of Galacia and his remaining forces destroyed all the ships. The forces of Jebe and Subotai never crossed the Dnieper and, instead, returned to join the main Mongolian army stationed in the steppes east of the Syr Darya River. Thus by the end of 1222 the first invasion of Russia ended as swiftly as it had begun.

In the winter of 1237, well after the death of Genghis Khan in 1227, the Mongol army returned. In the context of a greater invasion of Europe, the Mongol army, headed by the veteran Subotai, amassed some 150,000 to 200,000 warriors.

The large army crossed the frozen Volga and attacked the Russian eastern principality of Riazan because it was considered the weakest. As the Mongol army advanced, Prince Roman rushed to Suzdal to ask Prince Yuri for help, which was denied.

Instead Grand Prince Yuri suggested that the four princes of the vassal state, Princes Yuri, Oleg, Roman, and Yaroslav, end their squabbling and join forces against the Mongols. After defeating the Russian army at Riazan, the Mongol army constructed a wooden palisade that encircled the town capital of Riazan.

After five days of bitter fighting, Riazan was finally captured. The trapped princes and their families were executed, the young women and nuns were systematically raped, and the entire population was massacred.

In the winter of 1237–38 Batu Khan and his army sacking Suzdal
In the winter of 1237–38 Batu Khan and his army sacking Suzdal

In the winter of 1237–38, under the command of Batu Khan, the Mongol army attacked Suzdal and its capital Vladimir. Although his territory and its city came under siege, Grand Prince Yuri did not intervene.

Batu Khan targeted Novgorod while Subotai attempted to draw Grand Prince Yuri into battle. Novgorod, particularly the fortress of Torzhok, fought and resisted the forces of Batu Khan.

The ensuing battle lasted two weeks, enough time for an early spring to arrive. The spring thaw flooded most of the southern terrain and made it impossible for Batu Khan to advance. Batu Khan was forced to abandon his siege on Novgorod and retreat to the southern steppe.

Batu Khan stabbed Prince Michael of Chernigov to death for his refusal to do obeisance to Genghis Khan's shrine in the pagan ritual.
Batu Khan stabbed Prince Michael of Chernigov to death for his refusal
to do obeisance to Genghis Khan's shrine in the pagan ritual.

In March 1238 Grand Prince Yuri and the Suzdalian army perished at the decisive battle against Subotai on the river Sit. With the strongest section of Russia conquered within several months, the Mongolian army sacked the state of Chernigov.

Through the summer of 1239 and for one and a half years, the Mongol army rested and sought comfort in the lush steppeland of western Ukraine, in preparation for another campaign.

In summer 1240 the Mongol army resumed their offensive against Russia. The cities of Chernigov and Pereyaslav were captured. On December 6, 1240, Batu Khan arrived with his army at Kiev to reinforce the Mongol vanguard commanded by Mongke Khan.

After Dimitri, the governor of Kiev, had executed the Mongol ambassadors, the Mongol army stormed the city. Apart from the cathedral of Saint Sophia, the entire city was leveled and its population exterminated.

By 1242 the Mongol army had captured all of Russia. Batu Khan chose Old Sarai, in the lower Volga, to establish the headquarters of the Mongol dominion over Russia, which became known as the Golden Horde.

The Golden Horde, as a center for the Mongol administration of Russia, endured for almost 250 years. A daruga handled Russian political affairs and the collection of an annual tribute.

Invasion of Russia by the Golden Horde
Invasion of Russia by the Golden Horde

To become eligible to take office, Russian princes had to journey to the Golden Horde to pay obeisance to Mongol overlords. Contented with being overlords, the Mongols never established a dynasty in Russia.

Occasionally, Russian military units had to serve alongside the Mongol army. Despite an attempt by Prince Dimitri of Moscow to wrestle Russia from Mongol control in 1330, they managed to rule and exact tribute for a further century.

Ivan III of Moscow finally broke Mongol rule over Russia in 1480. Failing to check the emergence and rise of the Muscovite state, the seed of modern Russia, the Mongols ceded control.