Chapter 5. Nomadic Empires

• great empires of Euro-Asian continent in early decades of 13th century realised danger posed to them by arrival of a new political power in steppes of Central Asia: Genghis Khan [d. 1227] had united Mongol people.
• Genghis Khan’s political vision was to go far beyond creation of a confederacy of Mongol tribes, however, he had a mandate from God to rule world. Although a major portion of his lifetime was spent consolidating his hold over Mongol tribes, leading & directing campaigns into adjoining areas in north China, Transoxiana, Afghanistan, eastern Iran and Russian steppes.
• descendants of Genghis Khan travelled further to fulfill his vision and create largest empire world had ever seen.
• The 1236-41 campaigns of Batu, one of grandsons of Genghis Khan, devastated Russian lands up to Moscow, seized Poland and Hungary and camped outside Vienna.
• In 13th century, many parts of China, Middle East and Europe saw in Genghis Khan’s conquests of inhabited world ‘wrath of God’, beginning of Day of Judgement. It did seem that Eternal Sky was on side of Mongols.
• Mongols were a diverse body of people, linked by similarities of language to Tatars, Khitan & Manchus to east, and Turkic tribes to west. Some of Mongols were pastoralists while others were hunter-gatherers.
• Lush, luxuriant grasses for pasture and considerable small game were available in a good season.
• hunter-gatherers resided to north of pastoralists in Siberian forests.
• Agriculture was possible in pastoral regions during short parts of year but Mongols [unlike some of Turks further west] did not take to farming.
• Ethnic and language ties united Mongol people but scarce resources meant that their society was divided into patrilineal lineages; richer families were larger, possessed more animals and pasture lands.
• Groups of families would occasionally ally for offensive and defensive purposes around richer and more powerful lineages but, barring few exceptions, these confederacies were generally small and short-lived.
• Unlike Attila, however, Genghis Khan’s political system was far more durable and survived its founder. It was stable enough to counter larger armies with superior equipment in China, Iran & Eastern Europe.
• Although social and political organisations of nomadic and agrarian economies were very different, two societies were hardly foreign to each other.
• When Mongol lineages allied they could force their Chinese neighbours to offer better terms, and trade ties were sometimes discarded in favour of outright plunder.
• Chinese would then confidently assert their influence in steppe. These frontier wars were more debilitating to settled societies.

Career of Genghis Khan
• Genghis Khan was born sometime around 1162 near Onon River in north of present-day Mongolia. Named Temujin, he was son of Yesugei, chieftain of Kiyat, a group of families related to Borjigid clan.
• young Boghurchu was his first ally and remained a trusted friend; Jamuqa, his blood-brother [anda], was another. Temujin restored old alliances with ruler of Kereyits, Tughril/Ong Khan, his father’s old blood-brother.
• Through 1180s and 1190s, Temujin remained an ally of Ong Khan and used alliance to defeat powerful adversaries like Jamuqa, his old friend who had become a hostile foe.
• After defeat in 1218 of Qara Khita who controlled Tien Shan mountains north-west of China, Mongol dominions reached Amu Darya and states of Transoxiana and Khwarazm. Sultan Muhammad, ruler of Khwarazm, felt fury of Genghis Khan’s rage when he executed Mongol envoys. In campaigns between 1219 and 1221 great cities – Otrar, Bukhara, Samarqand, Balkh, Gurganj, Merv, Nishapur & Herat – surrendered to Mongol forces.
• Mongol forces in pursuit of Sultan Muhammad pushed into Azerbaijan, defeated Russian forces at Crimea and encircled Caspian Sea.
• Genghis Khan died in 1227, having spent most of his life in military combat. His military achievements were astounding and they were largely a result of his ability to innovate and transform different aspects of steppe combat into extremely effective military strategies.
• Mongols and Turks were good at riding horses, which gave their armies speed and mobility. They also got better at shooting arrows quickly from horseback by going on regular hunting trips that doubled as field manoeuvres.

Mongols after Genghis Khan
• We can divide Mongol expansion after Genghis Khan’s death into two distinct phases: first which spanned years 1236-42 when major gains were in Russian steppes, Bulghar, Kiev, Poland & Hungary. second phase including years 1255- 1300 led to conquest of all of China [1279], Iran, Iraq & Syria. frontier of empire stabilised after this campaign.
• Mongol military forces met with few reversals in decades after 1203 but, quite noticeably, after 1260s original impetus of campaigns could not be sustained in West.
• With accession of Mongke, a descendant of Toluy, Genghis Khan’s youngest son, military campaigns were pursued energetically in Iran during 1250s.
• suspension of Mongol expansion in West did not arrest their campaigns in China which was reunited under Mongols.

Social, Political & Military Organisation
• Among Mongols, and many other nomadic societies as well, all able-bodied, adult males of tribe bore arms: they constituted armed forces when occasion demanded.
• Mongol tribes and subsequent campaigns against diverse people introduced new members into Genghis Khan’s army complicating composition of this relatively small, undifferentiated body into an incredibly heterogeneous mass of people.
• Genghis Khan worked to systematically erase old tribal identities of different groups who joined his confederacy.
• Genghis Khan divided old tribal groupings and distributed their members into new military units.
• new military contingents were required to serve under his four sons and specially chosen captains of his army units known as noyan.
• In this new hierarchy, Genghis Khan assigned responsibility of governing newly conquered people to his four sons. These comprised four ulus, a term that did not originally mean fixed territories.
• Genghis Khan had indicated that his third son, Ogodei, would succeed him as Great Khan and on accession, Prince established his capital at Karakorum. youngest son, Toluy, received ancestral lands of Mongolia.
• Genghis Khan envisaged that his sons would rule empire collectively, and to underline this point, military contingents [Tama] of individual princes were placed in each ulus.
• Genghis Khan had already fashioned a rapid courier system that connected distant areas of his regime.
• Mongol nomads contributed a tenth of their herd – either horses or livestock – as provisions. It was known as quaker tax, a levy that nomads paid willingly for multiple benefits that it brought.
• All classes of people, from elites to peasantry suffered. In resulting instability, underground canals, known as qanats, in arid Iranian plateau could no longer receive periodic maintenance. As they fell into disrepair, desert crept in.
• Communication and ease of travel were vital to retain coherence of Mongol regime and travellers were given a pass [paiza in Persian; gerege in Mongolian] for safe conduct. Traders paid baj tax for same purpose, all acknowledging thereby authority of Mongol Khan.
• From Genghis Khan’s reign itself, Mongols had recruited civil administrators from conquered societies.
• Mongol Khans trusted them as long as they continued to raise revenue for their masters and these administrators could sometimes command considerable influence.
• By middle of 13th century, sense of a common patrimony shared by all brothers was gradually replaced by individual dynasties each ruling their separate ulus, a term which now carried sense of territorial dominion.
• gradual separation of descendants of Genghis Khan into separate lineage groups implied that their connections with memory and traditions of a past family concordance altered.
• Persian chronicles produced in Il-Khanid Iran during late 13th century detailed gory killings of Great Khan and greatly exaggerated numbers killed.

Conclusion: Situating Genghis Khan and Mongols in World History
• In 1300s, many people who lived in towns in China, Iran, and Eastern Europe were afraid of and didn’t like hordes from steppes. And yet, for Mongols, Genghis Khan was greatest leader of all time. He united Mongol people, freed them from endless tribal wars and Chinese exploitation, gave them wealth, built a great empire that stretched across continents, and reopened trade routes and markets that attracted people like Marco Polo from Venice.
• Although Mongol Khans themselves belonged to a variety of different faiths – Shaman, Buddhist, Christian & eventually Islam – they never let their personal beliefs dictate public policy.
• Mongol rulers recruited administrators and armed contingents from people of all ethnic groups and religions.
• nature of documentation on Mongols – and any nomadic regime – makes it virtually impossible to understand inspiration that led to confederation of fragmented groups of people in pursuit of an ambition to create an empire.
• Mongol empire eventually altered in its different milieus, but inspiration of its founder remained a powerful force.
• Today, after decades of Soviet control, country of Mongolia is recreating its identity as an independent nation.

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