The Monguls

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What did the ancient Mongols do?

The ancient Mongol empire controlled more land than any other empire and included a very wide range of cultures, peoples, and religions. Everyone knows the name of Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan) and his reputation as a fierce warrior and brutal conqueror. What you may not know is that he was a very savvy politician. His political skill not only created this tremendous empire, but also saved his people from destruction. He established the system that preserved their lives and their way of life. He and his successors took the system he set up and used it to spread their influence far and wide. So, the Mongols owe Chinggis Khan a debt of gratitude for preserving their lives and culture.

We modern Westerners also owe him and his people respect for connecting the inhabitants of Western Europe with Asia and all the many benefits of trade and interaction that brought to the world. The Mongols preserved order in the areas they conquered which made it possible for traders to travel safely. This was called Pax Mongolica and was very significant in fostering contact between Europe, China, and all the lands in between. The disintegration of the Pax or Peace is part of the reason that Europeans were motivated to seek out sea routes to China, since it was no longer safe to travel overland. So, in a sense, you can say that the Mongolians are responsible for Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas!

Another thing you may not know about Chinggis Khan: he was not as brutal as he has been depicted. He would usually send emissaries ahead to invite a group of people to ally with him or to give him whatever he was seeking. If they agreed, they were typically required to give a certain number of warriors and some goods to the Mongols. If they refused, his warriors would attack mercilessly. However, they typically left women and skilled artisans to continue productive work, rather than totally destroying an area. This is different from some later conquerors who would completely annihilate opponents and their territory.

Why did the Mongols pursue such extensive conquests?

This geography is an important part of the answer to the question: Why did the Mongolians invade their neighbours?

To answer this question, we have to know something about how Mongolians lived in the 1200s. Because of their geography, Mongols were usually herders and nomads. Define nomad. Why would herding require nomadism?

Mongolians had to be able to move frequently in order to find pasture for their animals, primarily sheep, so they needed mobile housing. They made (and still make) felt from wool and use this felt to make the tent-like rounded houses called ger, or yurts by the Russians. Ger can be set up and taken down quickly and packed to be moved. [4-minute video of contemporary Mongolian felt-making and setting up a ger: http://ragcha.com/mujaan/shorts.html Click on “Making felt”] Note the horse pulling the felt in order to compact and flatten it.

Facts about gers: http://www.chaingang.org/yurtquest/FAQ.html Many more pictures of gers: http://www.chaingang.org/yurtquest/pics.html

You can see that nomadic life isn’t easy. For one thing, it requires cooperation which binds people together, since they depend on each other to help them sustain life. At the same time, this kind of climate and terrain will not provide enough food in any one area to support a large population. This encourages the development of small tribal groups, people who can depend on each other but who do not have too large a footprint on the environment, since they will survive best when they are not all together. If a herd gets too large, it will destroy the grassland and not be able to graze in one place.

Also, this climate makes it difficult to accumulate a large enough surplus that you could afford to pay someone else for services. For one thing, you would need to move everything you owned. It was not...
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