The Mongol Empire: Genghis Khan and His Warrior Horde Dynasty

An empire arose in the steppes of Mongolia in the thirteenth century that forever changed the map of the world, opened intercontinental trade, spawned new nations, changed the course of leadership in two religions, and impacted history indirectly in a myriad of other ways.

At its height, the Mongol Empire was the largest contiguous empire in history, stretching from the Sea of Japan to the Carpathian Mountains.

Although its impact on Eurasia during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was enormous, the Mongol Empire’s influence on the rest of the world—particularly it’s legacy—should not be ignored.

A Brief History of the Mongolian Empire

The formation of the Mongol Empire was a slow and arduous process, beginning with the unification of the Mongol and Turkic tribes that dwelt in the Mongolian steppes.

Temüjin (1165-1227) emerged on the steppes as a charismatic leader, slowly gaining a following before becoming a nökhör (companion or vassal) to Toghril (d. 1203/1204), Khan of the Kereits, the dominant tribe in central Mongolia. While in the service of Toghril, Temüjin’s talents allowed him to become a major leader among the Mongol tribes.

Eventually, Temüjin’s increase in power and the jealousy it provoked among other members of Toghril’s supporters caused Temüjin and Toghril to part ways and ultimately to clash in battle. Their quarrel came to a head in 1203 with Temüjin emerging as the victor.

Temüjin unified the tribes of Mongolia by 1206 into a single supra-tribe known as the Khamag Mongol Ulus or the All Mongol State. In doing so, Temüjin reorganized the social structure by dissolving old tribal lines and regrouping them into an army based on a decimal system (units of 10, 100, and 1000). Furthermore, he instilled a strong sense of discipline into the army.

Although he had defeated all of his rivals by 1204, it was not until 1206 that Temüjin’s followers recognized him as the sole authority in Mongolia by granting him the title of Genghis Khan (Genghis Khan), meaning Firm, Fierce, or Resolute Ruler.[1]

Expansion of the Mongol Empire

Mongol power quickly extended beyond Mongolia, as the Mongols conquered the Tangut kingdom Xixia (modern Ningxia and Gansu provinces of China) by 1209.[2] In 1211 Genghis Khan invaded the Jin Empire (1125-1234) of Northern China.

Although these campaigns began as raids, as their successes increased the Mongols retained the territory they plundered after resistance ceased. Although the Mongols won stunning victories and conquered most of the Jin Empire by 1216, the Jin opposition to the Mongols continued until 1234, seven years after the death of Genghis Khan.[3]

Mongol expansion into Central Asia began in 1209, as the Mongols pursued tribal leaders who opposed Genghis Khan’s rise to power in Mongolia and thus constituted a threat to his authority there. With their victories, the Mongols gained new territory. Several smaller polities such as the Uighurs of the Tarim Basin also sought the protection of Genghis Khan as vassals.

Ultimately, the Mongols found themselves with a large empire, now bordering not only the Chinese states but also the Islamic world in Central Asia including the Khwarazmian Empire, which spanned over portions of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and part of modern Iraq.[4]

Initially, Genghis Khan sought a peaceful commercial relationship with the Khwarazmian state. This abruptly came to an end with the massacre of a Mongol sponsored caravan by the governor of Otrar, a Khwarazmian border town. After diplomatic means failed to resolve the issue, Genghis Khan left a token force in North China and marched against the Khwarazmians in 1218.[5]

After capturing Otrar, Genghis Khan divided his army and struck the Khwarazmian Empire at several points. With his more numerous army spread across the empire in an attempt to defend its cities, Muhammad Khwarazmshah II could not compete with the more mobile Mongol army in the field.

For the Muslim population, their defeat went beyond simple military conquest; it seemed that God had forsaken them. Indeed, the Mongols cultivated this idea. After capturing Bukhara, Genghis Khan ascended the pulpit in the Friday mosque and announced:

O people, know that you have committed great sins, and that the great ones among you have committed these sins. If you ask me what proof I have for these words, I say it is because I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.[6]

Genghis Khan

Meanwhile, Muhammad II watched his cities fall one by one until he fled with a Mongol force in pursuit. He successfully eluded them and escaped to an island in the Caspian Sea, where he died shortly thereafter from dysentery. Although his son, Jalal al-Din (d. 1230) attempted to rally the empire in Afghanistan, Genghis Khan defeated him near the Indus River in 1221, forcing Jalal al-Din to flee to India.

The Khwarazmian Empire was now ripe for annexation but Genghis Khan kept only the territory north of the Amu Darya, thus not over-extending his army. He then returned to Mongolia in order to deal with a rebellion in Xixia which broke out while the Mongol leader was in Central Asia.[7]

After resting his army, he invaded Xixia in 1227 and besieged the capital of Zhongxing. During the course of the siege, Genghis Khan died from injuries sustained from a fall from his horse while hunting. Yet he ordered his sons and army to continue the war against Xixia. Indeed, even as he lay ill in his bed, Genghis Khan instructed them, “While I take my meals you must talk about the killing and the destruction of the Tang’ut and say, ‘Maimed and tamed, they are no more.'”[8]

The army that Genghis Khan organized was the key to Mongol expansion. It fought and operated in a fashion that other medieval armies did not, or could not, replicate.[9] In essence, it operated very much as a modern army does, over multiple fronts and in several corps but in a coordinated effort. Also, the Mongols fought in the manner of total war.

The only result that mattered was the defeat of enemies through any means necessary, including ruses and trickery. The famous traveler, Marco Polo, observed:

In truth they are stout and valiant soldiers, and inured to war. And you perceive that it is just when the enemy sees them run, and imagines that he gained the battle, that he has in reality lost it, for the [Mongols] wheel round in a moment when they judge the right time has come. And after his fashion they have won many a fight.[10]

Marco Polo

Empire after Genghis Khan

Ögödei (d.1240-41), Genghis Khan’s second son, ascended the throne in 1230 and quickly resumed operations against the Jin Empire, successfully conquering it in 1234. Although Genghis Khan had announced previously that he had been sent as the scourge of God, Ögödei promoted the idea that Heaven (Tengri the sky god) had declared that the Mongols were destined to rule the world.

Before invading a region, Mongol envoys delivered correspondence indicating that as Heaven had decreed that the Mongols were to rule the earth, a prince should come to the Mongol court and offer his submission. Any refusal to this request was seen as an act of rebellion not only against the Mongols but also against the will of Heaven.

This process was aided by a multi-ethnic bureaucracy staffed not only by Mongols, but in fact in large part by the educated elites from the sedentary conquered populations such as Chinese, Persians, and Uighurs. Thus the letters were translated and delivered in triplicate—each one being in another language so that there was a high probability that someone at the other court could read the letter.

Ögödei backed his intentions of world domination by sending armies out to multiple fronts. While Ögödei led his army against the Jin, another army conquered Iran, Armenia, and Georgia under the command of Chormaqan (d.1240). Meanwhile, a massive force under the leadership of Prince Batu (fl. 1227-1255) and Sübedei (1176-1248), the renowned Mongol general, marched west, conquering the Russian principalities and the Pontic and Caspian steppes before invading Hungary and Poland. While they did not seek to control Hungary and Poland, the Mongols left both areas devastated before departing, possibly due to Ögödei’s death in 1241.[11]

Ögödei’s son, Güyük, came to the throne in 1246 only after a lengthy debate over who would succeed his father. In the interim, Güyük’s mother Toregene served as regent. Once in power, Güyük accomplished little in terms of conquest as he died in 1248.

His wife, Oghul-Qaimish, served as regent but did little to assist in choosing a new khan. Her inattention led to a coup in which Möngke b. Tolui (d. 1250-51) seized power with the backing of most of the Genghisid princes in 1250.

Under his reign, the Mongol armies were once again on the march. He and his brother Qubilai (d. 1295) led armies into the territory of China’s Southern Song (1126-1279), south of the Yangtze River, while Hülegü (d. 1265), another brother, led an army into the Middle East.

Hülegü’s forces successfully destroyed the Ismailis in 1256, a Shi’a group in northern Iran also known as the Assassins. The Persian chronicler, Juvaini, who also worked in the Mongol bureaucracy, reveled in the destruction of the much-feared Ismailis, who used assassination in order to intimidate and extend their influence in parts of the Middle East.

Juvaini wrote that “So was the world cleansed which had been polluted by their evil. Wayfarers now ply to and fro without fear or dread or the inconvenience of paying a toll and pray for the fortune of the happy King who uprooted their foundations and left no trace of anyone of them.”[12]

Hülegü then moved against the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. The Caliph, nominally the titular leader of Sunni Islam, refused to capitulate but did little to defend the city. The Mongols sacked Baghdad and executed the Caliph, ending the position of Caliph among the Sunnis in 1258. Hülegü’s armies invaded Syria, successfully capturing Aleppo and Damascus.

Hülegü however, withdrew the bulk of his army in 1259-60 after receiving news that Mongke had died during the war against the Song. Meanwhile, the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt struck the Mongol garrisons in Syria, defeating them at Ayn Jalut in 1260. As the Mongol Empire spiraled into civil war after the death of Mongke, Hülegü never recovered the Syrian conquests. Instead, a civil war with the Mongols in the Pontic and Caspian steppes (the so-called Golden Horde), and those in Central Asia, occupied much of his attention.

Due to the lack of a clear principle of succession other than being descended from Genghis Khan, warfare between rival claimants was frequent. Civil war erupted after Möngke’s death as two of his brothers vied for the throne. Qubilai eventually defeated Ariq Boke in 1265, but the damage to the territorial integrity of the Empire was great.

While the other princes nominally accepted Qubilai as the Khan of the empire, his influence dwindled outside of Mongolia and China. Qubilai and his successors, known as the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), found their closest allies in Hülegü and his successors. Hülegü’s kingdom, known as the Il-khanate of Persia, dominated Iran, Iraq, modern Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Central Asia was ruled by the Chaghatayids, the descendants of Chaghatay, Genghis Khan’s third son, although often they were the puppets of Qaidu, a descendent of Ögödei and rival of Qubilai Khan.

Meanwhile, in Russia and the Pontic and Caspian steppes, descendants of Jochi, Genghis Khan’s first son, held power. Their state was often referred to as the Golden Horde in later periods.

Since the Mongol Empire was the largest contiguous state in history, its impact on world history is incalculable as it impacted the pre-modern world in a variety of ways, both directly and indirectly. To discuss this impact, one could write a monograph, thus this discussion will be limited to an overview of only three areas: geography, trade, and religion.

Mongol Empire Maps and Geography

The Mongol expansion forever changed the face of Asia in terms of both political and human geography, beginning in Mongolia. Originally, the Mongols were but one tribe among several. Under Genghis Khan, all of the tribes were united into one new collective unit: the Khamag Mongol Ulus, or united Mongol nation, which then evolved into the Yeke Mongol Ulus or Great Mongol Nation or state, as the Mongols began to expand their empire.[13]

Furthermore, tribal identities were stripped away by disposing of old tribal elites and a new social organization was imposed that focused on the family of Genghis Khan, or the altan urugh. The Mongolian nation of the modern era exists today because of the rise of the Mongol Empire.

This fact is very evident when one visits Mongolia. One flies into Ulaanbaatar, the capital, at Genghis Khan Airport, drives down Genghis Khan Avenue, can change money at Genghis Khan bank and receive tögrögs with Genghis Khan’s face on every bill from one hundred to ten thousand tögrögs. And of course, one might stay at Genghis Khan Hotel, attend Genghis Khan University, and imbibe either ChiGenghisnggis Khan beer or one of the several fine varieties of Genghis Khan vodka.

Whereas under communist rule the great Mongol leader was denigrated as a feudal oppressor, today he is more ubiquitous than Michael Jordan as an advertisement prop in the 1990s. Furthermore, Genghis Khan is not only the father of the country but many—including academics and politicians—view Genghis Khan as the reason why Mongolia has successfully transitioned into a democratic state. In the eyes of many Mongolians, the framework for democracy was created by Genghis Khan by having his successors elected.[14]

One may quibble with this view: in fact, the Mongol khans were chosen only from the descendants of Genghis Khan. However, what is important is that this idea succors the Mongolian population and helps rationalize a new form of government, thus giving it legitimacy and a quasi-historical foundation.

A more apparent legacy of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire on Mongolia is the creation of a writing system. Although illiterate himself, Genghis Khan imposed a written language upon the Mongols. Having seen the value of writing among the Naiman, one of the tribes he defeated in 1204, Genghis Khan ordered that a Mongolian script be instituted.[15]

This script was adapted from the Uighur script, itself based on Syriac learned from Nestorian Christian missionaries, and written vertically.[16] It remained in use in modern Mongolia until the twentieth century, when it was replaced with a modified Cyrillic script by the Communist government, but remains the written form of Mongolian today in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China. Since the fall of communism in Mongolia, there has been a discussion of reviving it there. However, seventeen years later it still has not supplanted the Cyrillic.

The Mongol expansion also caused the movement of other tribes, primarily Turkic, setting off large-scale migrations and spreading Turkic culture. Some of this was through the machinations of the Mongol Empire, while other migrations were attempts to avoid the Mongols.

While some Turks, such as the Kipchaks of the Pontic and Caspian steppes, moved into Hungary and the Balkans, others, primarily Oghuz Turks, moved into Anatolia or modern day Turkey. A strong Turkic presence existed in Anatolia since the eleventh century, but the new influx of Turks eventually led to the Turkicization of the many areas of the Middle East and Central Asia.

Among those groups that moved into the region was the Osmanli, who established the Ottoman Empire in the fourteenth century. They entered Anatolia after fleeing from what is now Afghanistan during the Mongols invasion of the Khwarazmian Empire.

While much debate continues among scholars on the impact of the Mongols on the origins of the Ottoman Empire, there are a few who argue that many of the institutions of the early Ottoman state were based on Mongol practices.[17] This appears as a logical premise since the Mongols dominated Anatolia until the fourteenth century. Indeed, the Osmanli state emerged in the vacuum caused by the collapse of Mongol authority in that region.

Later Turkic nations also emerged from the Mongols, such as the Tatars of Crimea and Kazan. The Tatars were direct offshoots from the collapse of the Golden Horde in the later fifteenth century. Both the Kazakhs and Uzbeks trace their origins to the Golden Horde.

The Uzbeks, named after Uzbek Khan, the ruler of the Golden Horde during its Golden Age, also came from the splintering of the Golden Horde. The Kazakhs, in turn, split from the Uzbeks and remained a primarily nomadic people until the twentieth century, whereas the Uzbeks settled in the more urban areas of Central Asia in the sixteenth century.[18]

For a brief period, the Uzbeks established an empire that was a contemporary of the Ottomans, the Safavids of Persia, and the Mughal Empire in India. Indeed, the Mughal Empire gained its name from the Persian word for Mongol—Mughal. Its founder, Babur, was a descendant of the Central Asian conqueror Timur-i Leng (Tamerlane) but also traced his lineage back to Genghis Khan through his mother. And of course, one should not forget the Hazaras, who dwell in Afghanistan.

While the Hazaras have been viewed as a lower class ethnicity by the more dominant Pashtun, Uzbek, and Tajik populations in the modern era, they are the remnants of a Mongol regiment that was stationed in the region. Hazara in Persian means one thousand, which was the basic unit size of the Mongol army.

While new groups formed from the Mongol armies and the Mongol invasions set off a number of migrations of nomads across Eurasia, the devastation caused by them cannot be ignored. Although much of the data in the sources concerning the number of people killed during the Mongol conquests is exaggerated, it does reflect the reality that thousands died, and the Mongols were not above depopulating an area if the people rebelled, or if destruction simply suited their purpose.

The map of Asia by 1500 looked much different than it did in 1200. Indeed, the states that grew out of the dust of the crumbling Mongol Empire owed their existence to the Mongols in one form or another. Indeed, it was the Mongols who took the divided Han Chinese realms and forged them into a coherent realm. In Central Asia, Babur ultimately founded a new empire in India once it became clear he would never rule from Samarqand again.

Iran rapidly came under the control of the Safavids, who received early patronage in the late thirteenth century from the Mongol court in Tabriz. Meanwhile, the Ottomans filled the Mongol vacuum in Anatolia. The Mamluk Sultanate, who owed the stabilization of their state to resisting the Mongol threat in the thirteenth century, still ruled Egypt and Syria, but soon they too became Ottoman subjects.

Meanwhile, in what is now Russia, Moscow was becoming a rival to the power of a much fragmented Golden Horde. Indeed, in many aspects, Moscow was simply another khanate that came out of the Jochid Ulus[19] (more popularly known as the Golden Horde) along with those of Crimea, Astrakhan, Kazan, Sibir, and various other nomadic groups that roamed the steppe.

Three hundred years later, Russia ruled them all but owed a considerable debt to Mongol military and governmental influences in achieving this dominance.[20] Meanwhile the Mongols, although they still maintained the Genghisid lineage as a basis of authority and rule, had reverted to internal squabbles and internecine warfare.

Mongolian Trade and Knowledge

Among the most significant legacies of the Mongols was their concern with trade and their respect for knowledge. From the beginnings of the Mongol Empire, the Mongol Khans fostered trade and sponsored numerous caravans.

The very size of the Mongol Empire encouraged the wider dissemination of goods and ideas throughout Eurasia, as merchants and others could now travel from one end of the empire to another with greater security, guaranteed by the Pax Mongolica.

Items and inventions such as mechanical printing, gunpowder, and the blast furnace made their way west from China. Other commodities, such as silk, could be purchased at lower prices as the travel and security costs decreased.

Artistic ideas, knowledge of history, geography, and sciences such as astronomy, agricultural knowledge and medicinal ideas also traveled east to west and returned. Mongol rulers, regardless of location, were open to medical treatments according to Islamic, Chinese, Tibetan, Indian, and of course shamanic practice.[21]

While many trade items originated in China, Chinese culture also received new ideas and goods in the forms of influence in art, theater, and advances in science and medicine. One such example is the use of cobalt blue dyes in ceramics, which originated in the Ilkhanate and was used to decorate tiles used in the domes of mosques.

The artisans in the Yuan dynasty soon began using this technique to decorate ceramics in China.[22] In addition, because of the slow yet steady Turkicization of Central Asia, Turkic cuisine infiltrated not only the aforementioned areas but China as well, although many of the recipes found in China were consumed for alleged medicinal properties in connection with traditional Chinese medicine.

This food included pasta, as the Turks themselves readily adopted and adapted Middle Eastern cuisine. While it is popular to say that Marco Polo brought spaghetti back to Italy from China, in reality, both Italy and China acquired it from the Middle East.[23]

Yet that Italian adventurer, Marco Polo, impacted trade in other ways. The publication of his travels fired the imagination of many Europeans. Yet as the Mongol Empire and its successors continued to disintegrate, the Pax Mongolica—which was never completely peaceful—collapsed. This led to the trade routes becoming insecure once more.

In turn, this led to an increase in prices due to tariffs and the cost of protection. The rise of the Ottoman Empire also impacted Italian merchants conducting business in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. With these restrictions, western desire for the luxury goods and spices of the east grew, encouraging an Age of Exploration.

Beginning with Christopher Columbus, westerners began searching for new routes to China and India, particularly to the court of the Khan, even though a Mongol Khan had not sat on the throne since 1368. Thus, the Mongols indirectly led to European exploration and the intrusion of Europeans into Asia.

The Genghis Legacy and Religion

Prior to their expansion into the sedentary world, religiously the Mongols were what one would term shamanistic, although some Nestorian Christians did exist. John de Plano Carpini, a Papal emissary to the Mongols in the 1240s, adequately summed up their religious beliefs at the time.

According to Plano Carpini, “They know nothing of everlasting life and eternal damnation, but they believe that after death they will live in another world and increase their flocks, and eat and drink and do the other things which are done by men living in their world.”[24]

In addition, a cult surrounding the personage of Genghis Khan emerged. His tremendous success in establishing the empire gave him the status of demi-god. This in itself was not unusual, as the steppe nomads venerated ancestral spirits. Yet Genghis Khan’s prestige impacted the Mongols in another fashion as a descent from him became the primary component in establishing legitimacy as a ruler throughout much of Central Eurasia.

The Genghisid lineage was the basis of many dynasties. Russian princes in Muscovy, as well as Central Asian rulers, often forged their genealogies to trace their lineage back to Genghis Khan. In Mongolia, the Genghisid principal had a dramatic impact on religion.

Virtually all of the elite in Mongolia traced their lineage back to Genghis Khan, thus it was difficult for one prince to ascend over others in order to become the leader of the majority of Mongols. The princes often needed to find other ways of legitimizing power.

Altan Khan (1543-1583) did this by establishing ties with the leader of the Yellow Sect in Tibetan Buddhism. In addition to linking Altan Khan as the reincarnation of Qubilai Khan, this Buddhist leader was revealed to be the reincarnation of Qubilai’s own Buddhist advisor, ‘Phags-pa Lama. Obviously, being the grandson of Genghis Khan was much better than simply being yet another descendent.

Although as other Mongol princes did not flock to Altan Khan, it is rather evident that not everyone was convinced by this revelation. In any case, Altan Khan and the Buddhist Lama exchanged titles. The reincarnated ‘Phags-pa Lama legitimized Altan Khan’s authority while Altan Khan bestowed the title of Dalai Lama upon him (officially making him the third Dalai Lama).[25]

The new Dalai Lama, with the aid of Altan Khan’s troops, became the pre-eminent figure in Tibet. This courtship of Buddhist figures also led to the conversion of Mongolia to Buddhism in the sixteenth century.

The Mongols also had a significant impact on Islam. As already mentioned, the foundations of the Ottomans and Mughals, two great Islamic Empires in the early modern period, may be viewed as offshoots of the Mongol Empire. The Safavid Empire is also linked back to the Mongols, although more indirectly.

In addition, the Mongols conquered several Muslim states and ended the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad in 1258. The city of Baghdad was transformed from a major city into a provincial backwater, and the institution of the Caliph—which was meant to be the spiritual and, if possible, temporal leader of the Islamic world—ended as well.

Several rulers maintained the presence of a puppet Caliph afterward, but the institution was not revived with any credible authority until the nineteenth century with the Ottoman Sultan serving as the Caliph. Yet while Baghdad lost its standing as the center of learning and prestige in the Islamic World, a new center arose in Cairo.

As the capital of the Mamluk Sultanate and an enemy to the Ilkhanate, the Mamluk Sultans posed as the defenders of the religion. Since 1260, then, Cairo has remained the most influential center of learning and culture in the Islamic world.

Even while this was occurring, the Mongols gradually converted to Islam. While wholesale conversion did not ensue, and at times, non-Islamic rulers came to the throne, the process gradually continued until all of the Mongolian-Turkic groups who dominated the Mongol states converted to Islam, thus extending it beyond the sedentary regions of Western and Central Asia and into steppe regions where Islam had previously had little influence.

Through the syncretic nature of Sufism, the Dar al-Islam grew under the Mongols—an interesting reversal of the initial Muslim view that when “The Scourge of God” first appeared Islam was at an end.

Thus the Mongol Empire indirectly aided in the creation of the Dalai Lama by focusing power and legitimacy of rule in the Genghisid princes. Meanwhile, they hastened the decentralization of religious authority in the Islamic world by ending the ‘Abbasid Caliphate. The rise of Sufism and the Mongols’ own use of Islam for political purposes as well as sincere conversion, led to the expansion of Islam throughout much of Asia.

Mongol Empire Implications for World History

Finally, the Mongol Empire remains in the popular consciousness. If not always properly understood, its image remains as terrifying as it did when Genghis Khan first ascended the stairs to the pulpit of the mosque in Bukhara. Numerous examples exist, but two lesser-known serve well to illustrate this.

The first is the rise of a motorcycle gang known as the Mongols, who sought to rival the Hell’s Angels.[26] Perhaps what best fulfills the image of the Mongols as the “Scourge of God,” depending on your views on disco music, was the emergence of the German disco group Dschingis Khan in 1979, which achieved a modicum of popularity with hits such as “Dschingis Khan”, which was Germany’s entry in the Eurovision contest in 1979, and “The Rocking Son of Dschingis Khan”.[27] Perhaps the latter explains the true story of why Genghis Khan chose Ögödei over his brothers as his heir.

The Mongol Empire, in many ways, marked a crossroads in World History. As the largest contiguous empire in history, it united Eurasia in a fashion that has not been repeated. As such, actions within the empire rippled across the rest of Asia and Europe whether through trade, warfare, or religious affairs. Furthermore, as the Mongols ended several previous dynasties and led to the creation of new power centers, the Mongol Empire may be viewed as a catalyst for change from the pre-modern era to the modern era.


1 Igor de Rachewiltz, “The Title Cinggis Chan/Chaghan Re-examined”, in Gedanke und Wirkung: Festschrift zum 90. Geburtstag von Nicholaus Poppe, ed. W Heissig and K. Sagaster (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1989), pp. 281-98. Previously, it was assumed that Genghis Khan meant Oceanic Ruler, based on early twentieth century attempts to link it to the Turkic word, tenggis which translates as “sea or ocean”.

2 Xixia was a state dominated by the Tangut, a Tibetan people, although the population of the state consisted of Turkic nomads as was as ethnic Han Chinese.

3 The Jin Empire was founded in 1125 when the Manchurian Jurchen tribes invaded and conquered the Liao Dynasty (916-1125). The Jurchen, a semi-nomadic people, took the dynastic name of Jin or (Golden) and ruled northern China until the Mongols conquered the Empire in 1234.

4The Khwarazmian Empire came into existence in the 12th century. After the Seljuk Empire, which had dominated much of the Middle East in the eleventh and twelfth centuries collapsed, the governors of Khwarazm, located south of the Aral Sea, around the modern city of Khiva, became independent. Sultan Muhammad II (1200-1220) expanded the empire to its greatest extent. The dynasty was Turkic in origins and had strong marital ties to the Qangli Turks in Central Asia.

5 V. V. Bartold, Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion, (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Pub., 1992), 400-401; Henry Schwarz, “Otrâr”, CAS 17 (1998): 8; Thomas Allsen, “Mongolian Princes and Their Merchant Partners, 1200-1260”, Asia Major 2 (1989), 92; Minhâj Sirâj Jûzjânî, Tabaqât-i-Nasirî, 2 Vols, edited by ‘Abd al-Hayy Habîbî, (Kâbul: Anjuman-i Târîkh-i Afghânistân, 1964-65), 650-651; Minhâj Sirâj Jûzjânî, Tabakât-i-Nasirî (A general history of the Muh,ammadan dynasties of Asia), 2 Vols., translated from the Persian by Major H. G. Raverty, (New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corp., 1970), 966.

6 Ata Malik Juvaini, Genghis Khan: The History of the World Conqueror, translated by J. A. Boyle, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997), 105.

7Juvaini, 139.

8 Igor de Rachewiltz, editor, The Secret History of the Mongols, Brill’s Inner Asian Library, vol. 7/1, (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 196-200.

9For a more thorough discussion of the Mongol army, see Timothy May, The Mongol Art of War, (Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, 2007).

10 Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo, translated by Henry Yule, (New York: Dover Publications, 1993), 263.

11For more on the debate as to why the Mongols withdrew from Hungary, see Greg S. Rogers, “An Examination of Historians’ Explanations For the Mongol Withdrawal from East Central Europe,” East European Quarterly 30 (1996): 3-27.

12 Juvaini, 725.

13 Chuluuni Dalai, Xamag Mongol Uls (1101-1206), (Ulaanbaatar: Shux Erdem Kompani, 1996), passim; David Morgan, The Mongols, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), 90; Isenbike Togan, Flexibility and Limitation in Steppe Formations: The Kerait Khanate and Chinggis Khan, (Leiden: Brill, 1998), passim.

14 Paula Sabloff, “Why Mongolia? The political culture of an emerging democracy,” Central Asian Survey 21/1 (2002): 19-36. There are those who do not agree with Sabloff’s findings or interpretation. Also see Andrew F. March, “Citizen Genghis? On explaining Mongolian democracy through ‘political culture’,” 22/1 (2003): 61-66. While some of the criticisms are valid, the main remains is that many Mongolians do see a historical tie between present day democracy and their nomadic and imperial roots. Regardless of the historical accuracy, it remains an important construct in their historical imagination.

15 Paul Ratchnevsky, Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy, translated and edited by Thomas Nivison Haining, (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992), 95.

16 The Nestorians were Eastern Christians, considered heretics by the Eastern Orthodox at the Council of Ephesus in 431, who followed the teachings of 5th century monk, Nestorius. Whereas the Eastern Orthodox Church stated that Christ was of two natures, human and divine, bound in one person with a single will, the Nestorians believe that the two natures were not bound in one body. The Nestorian faith slowly spread across Asia and gained some popularity in Central Asia and even in Mongolia. The script that the Mongols eventually adopted is ultimately derived from the Syriac script brought by the Nestorians.

17 Rudi Lindner, “How Mongol were the early Ottomans?”, in Reuven Amitai-Preiss and David Morgan (eds), The Mongol Empire and Its Legacy, (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 282-9.

18Martha Brill Olcott, The Kazakhs, 2nd ed., (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1995), 3-9.

19 The territory assigned the Jochi, Chinggis Khan’s eldest son.

20 See Donald Ostrowski, Muscovy and the Mongols: Cross-Cultural Influences on the Steppe Frontier (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), passim.

21 Thomas Allsen, Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), passim; Paul D. Buell, “Food, Medicine and the Silk Road: The Mongol-era Exchanges,” The Silk Road 5/1 (2007): passim.

22 Allsen, passim.

23For more on this topic see Paul Buell, “Mongol Empire and Turkicization: The Evidence of Food and Foodways”, in Amitai-Preiss and Morgan (eds)The Mongol Empire and its Legacy, (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 200-223; Buell, “Food, Medicine and the Silk Road: The Mongol-era Exchanges”, passim.

24 John de Plano Carpini, “History of the Mongols” translated by a nun on Stanbrook Abbey in The Mongol Mission, edited by Christopher Dawson, (London: Sheed and Ward, 1955), 12.

25 Charles R. Bawden, The Modern History of Mongolia, (New York: Praeger, 1968), 28-30.

26 “Laughlin Shootout: Signs told of melee in making”, Las Vegas Review Journal (Las Vegas), 30 April 2002. Accessed December 3, 2007.

27 Both songs can be accessed via Youtube or other internet video libraries. “Dschinggis Khan” can be accessed at The “Rocking Son of Dschingis Khan” video may be viewed at

By Timothy May

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