NOMADIC EMPIRES-The Mongols
Sources to understand Mongol history
1. The steppe dwellers themselves usually produced noliterature, so our knowledge of nomadic societies comesmainly from chronicles, travelogues and documents producedby city-based litterateurs.
2. These authors often producedextremely ignorant and biased reports of nomadic life. Theimperial success of the Mongols attracted many travelers. Theseindividuals came from a variety of backgrounds – Buddhist,Confucian, Christian, Turkish and Muslim. Many of them produced sympathetic accounts and others hostile.
Social and Political Background of Mongols
1. The Mongols were a diverse body of tribal people, spoke similarlanguages.
2. Some of the Mongols were pastoralists while others were huntergatherers.The pastoralists tended horses, sheep andcattle, goats and camels.
3. They lived nomadic life in the steppes of Central Asiain a tract of land in the area of the modern state of Mongolia. This wasa majestic landscape with wide horizons, rolling plains, ringedby the snow-capped mountains, Gobi desert and drained by rivers and springs.
4. They were a humbler body of peoplethan the pastoralists, making a living from trade in furs of animals trappedin the summer months. There were extremes of temperature in the entireregion: harsh, long winters followed by brief, dry summers.
5. Agriculturewas possible in the pastoral regions but theMongols did not take to agriculture. The Mongols lived in tentsand travelled with their herdsfrom their winter to summer pasture lands.
6. Mongols had scarceresources. The richer families were larger, possessed more animals and pasturelands.
7. Periodic natural calamities – either unusually harsh, coldwinters when game and stored provisions ran out ,they conflicted over pasture lands and predatory raids in search oflivestock.
8. The scant resources of the steppe landsdrove Mongols and other Central Asian nomads to trade and barterwith their sedentary neighbours in China. This was mutually beneficialto both parties: agricultural produce and iron utensils from Chinawere exchanged for horses, furs and game trapped in the steppe.
The life and Career of Genghis Khan
1. Genghis Khan was born in1162 near the Onon Riverin the north of present-day Mongolia.
2. His original name wasTemujin, he was the sonof Yesugei, the chieftain of the Kiyatclan.
3. His father was murdered at an early age and his mother,Oelun-eke, raised Temujin, his brothers and step-brothers in greathardship.
4. Temujin wascaptured and enslavedfor many years.
5. Soon after his marriage, his wife, Borte,was kidnapped, and he had to fight to recover her.
6. During these yearsof hardship he also managed to make important friends. The youngBoghurchu was his first ally and remained a trusted friend; Jamuqa,his blood-brother was another.
7. Temujinbecame the dominant personality in the politicsof the steppe lands, a position that was recognisedat an assembly ofMongol chieftains, where he was proclaimed the ‘Great Khanof the Mongols’ with the title Genghis Khan, the ‘Oceanic Khan’or ‘Universal Ruler’.
Wars and Expansion of Mongols underGenghiz Khan
1. The first ofhis concerns was to conquer China, divided at this time into three realms:the Hsi Hsia dynasty in the north-western provinces,Chin dynasty ruled north China and the Sungdynasty in south China.
2. By 1209, the Hsi Hsia were defeated,the ‘Great Wall of China’ was breached in 1213 and long drawn-out battles against the Chin continued until 1234 butGenghis Khan was satisfied enough with the progress of his campaigns toreturn to his Mongolia
3. SultanMuhammad, the ruler of Khwarazm, executed Mongol envoys worried of Mongol invasion. In the campaigns between1219 and 1221 the great cities – Otrar, Bukhara, Samarqand, Balkh,Gurganj, Merv, Nishapur and Herat – surrendered to the Mongol forces.
4. Towns that resisted were devastated by Mongols. At Nishapur, where a Mongolprince was killed during the siege operation, Genghis Khan commandedthat the ‘town should be laid waste in such a manner that the sitecould be ploughed upon and not even cats and dogs should be left alive’.
5. Mongol forces in pursuit of Sultan Muhammad pushed intoAzerbaijan and defeated Russian forces. Another wing followed the Sultan’s son, Jalaluddin, intoAfghanistan and the Sindh province.
At the banks of the Indus, Genghis Khan considered returning to Mongolia through North India andAssam, but the heat, the natural habitat and the ill portents reportedby his Shaman soothsayer made him change his mind and he returned to Mongolia without touching India.
Causes for the success of Genghis Khan
1. His military achievements were astounding and they werelargely a result of his ability to innovate and transform differentaspects of steppe combat into extremely effective military strategies.
2. The horse-riding skills of the Mongols and the Turks provided speed and mobility to the army.
3. Their abilities as rapid-shooting archersfrom horseback were further perfected during regular huntingexpeditions which doubled chance of victory over the enemies.
4. The steppe cavalryhad always travelled light and moved quickly, but now it brought allits knowledge of the terrain.
5. They carried out campaigns in the depths of winter, treating frozenrivers as highways to enemy cities and camps.
6. GenghisKhan learnt the importance of siege. His engineers prepared lightportableequipment, which was used against opponents withdevastating effect.
The Mongols after Genghis Khan
1. We can divide Mongol expansion after Genghis Khan’s death into twodistinct phases: the first which spanned the years 1236-42 when themajor gains were in the Russian steppes, Bulgaria, Poland andHungary.
2. The second phase including the years 1255-1300 led to theconquest of all of China, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
3. The Mongol military forces met with few reversals in the decadesafter the 1260s the original impetus ofcampaigns could not be sustained in the West.
4. There were two facets to this: the first was a consequence of theinternal politics of succession within the Mongol family where thedescendants of Jochi and Ogodei allied to control the office of the greatKhan in the first two generations.
5. The second compulsionoccurred as the Jochi and Ogodei lineages were marginalised by theToluy’s lineage. With the accession ofMongke, a descendant of Toluy, militarycampaigns were pursued energetically in Iran but asToluyid interests in the conquest of China.
Military Organisation under Mongols
1. Among the Mongolsall theable-bodied, adult males of the tribe bore arms: they constituted thearmed forces when the occasion demanded.
2. The unification of thedifferent Mongol tribes and subsequent campaigns against diversepeople introduced new members into Genghis Khan’s army. It included groups like theTurks,Chinese and Arabs who had accepted his authority willingly.
3. Genghis Khan worked to systematically erase the old tribal identitiesof the different groups who joined his confederacy. His army wasorganised according to the old steppe system of decimal units: in divisionsof 10s, 100s, 1,000s and 10,000 soldiers. He divided the old tribal groupingsand distributed their members into new military units. Any individualwho tried to move from his allotted group without permission receivedharsh punishment.
4. He divided the army into four units and they were required to serve under his foursons and specially chosen captains of his army units called noyan.
5. Thesoldiers who hadserved Genghis Khan loyally through grave adversity for many years were publicly honoured some of these individuals as his ‘bloodbrothers’ and others were givenspecial ranking as his bondsmen , a title that marked theirclose relationship with their master.
Political Organisation under Genghiz Khan
1. Genghis Khan assigned the responsibility ofgoverning the newly-conquered people to his four sons. These comprisedthe four ulus.
2. The eldest son,Jochi, received the Russian steppesand it extended as far west as his horses could roam.
3. The second son, Chaghatai, was given the Transoxanian steppe and landsnorth of the Pamir Mountain adjacent to those of his brother.
4. Genghis Khan hadindicated that his third son, Ogodei, would succeed him as the GreatKhan and on accession the Prince established his capital at Karakorum.
5. The youngest son, Toluy, received the ancestral lands of Mongolia. GenghisKhan envisaged that his sons would rule the empire collectively, and tounderline this point, military contingents of the individual princeswere placed in each ulus.
6. The sense of a dominion shared by the membersof the family was underlined at the assembly of chieftains, quriltais, whereall decisions relating to the family or the state for the forthcoming season campaigns, distribution of plunder, pasture lands and successionwere collectively taken.
Development in Trade and communication in Mongolia
1. Genghis Khan had alreadyfashioned a rapid courier system(yam) that connected the distant areasof his regime. Fresh mounts anddespatch riders were placed inoutposts at regularly spaceddistances.
2. For the maintenanceof this communication systemthe Mongol nomads contributeda tenth of their herd – eitherhorses or livestock – asprovisions. This was called thequbcurtax, a levy that thenomads paid willingly for themultiple benefits that it brought.
3. Once the campaigns had settled, Europe and Chinawere territorially linked with Mongolia. Commerce and travel alongthe Silk Route reached its peak under the Mongols but, the trade routeextended up to Mongolia.
4. Communication and ease of travel was vital toretain the coherence of the Mongol regime and travellers were given apass for safe conduct. Traderspaid the bajtax for the same purpose, all acknowledging thereby theauthority of the Mongol Khan.
5. Mongols waged their successful wars against China, Persia, Russia etc there was a strong pressuregroup within the Mongol leadership that advocated the massacre of allpeasantry and the conversion of their fields into pasture lands. But bythe 1270s, Genghis Khan’s grandson, QubilaiKhan appeared as the protector of the peasants and thecities.
Yasa(legal code of Genghis Khan)
1. yasa,the code of law that Genghis Khan was supposed to have promulgatedat the Assembly of Mongol Chieftains (quriltai)of 1206, has elaborated on the complex ways in whichthe memory of the Great Khan was fashioned by his successors.
2. In itsearliest formulation the term was written as yasawhich meant ‘law’,‘decree’ or ‘order’. Yasaconcern administrative regulations: the organisation of the hunt,the army and the postal system.
Situating Genghis Khan and theMongols in World History
1. For the Mongols, GenghisKhan was the greatest leader of all time: he united the Mongol people.
2. GenghisKhan freed them from interminable tribal wars and Chinese exploitation.
3. GenghisKhanbrought them prosperity, fashioned a grandtranscontinental empire and restored trade routes and markets thatattracted distant travelers and traders.
4. GenghisKhan ruled the diverse body of people and faiths. Although the Mongol Khans themselves belonged to a variety ofdifferent faiths – Shaman, Buddhist, Christian and eventually Islam they never let their personal beliefs dictate public policy.
5. The Mongolrulers recruited administrators and armed contingents from peopleof all ethnic groups and religions. Theirs was a multi-ethnic,multilingual, multi-religious regime that did not feel threatened byits pluralistic constitution.