Mongol invaders from the Central Asian steppe burst into relevance in the 1200s C.E. Driven by their leader, Genghis Khan, to conquer the largest land empire in history, the Mongols created mixed feelings throughout Eurasia. Some had an impressed attitude, admiring both the ability of the Mongols to organize and protect their empire, as well as their great wealth. However, others had a loathing attitude toward the Mongols, who were viewed as vicious and ignorant barbarians. Due to the great success of these conquering pastoralists, the attitudes of the people who encountered them were extremely diverse.
A document written by a common Mongol soldier involved in the conquests would give more insight into attitudes toward the Mongols. A rank-and-file soldier would allow a more complete analysis of insider attitudes about the Mongols, especially as there is only one Mongol viewpoint given by an elite man, the shaman of Genghis Khan himself, (Doc. 1). A powerful holy man would have received booty from conquest, creating a positive attitude, but it is not possible to tell if a common soldier felt the same way.
Some people had an impressed attitude toward the Mongols’ ability to organize and protect their territories. Many who felt this way spent time in the capital city, seeing the huge empire function firsthand. The idea that Genghis Khan was a bringer or order and peace is evident, as shown by the Khan’s shaman, (Doc. 1). However, the shaman may have been influenced by his elite position in contact with the Khan himself. Writing in a book that was public, he may have intentionally praised Genghis Khan as a peace-bringer, as it could help advance his own position in the eyes of the Khan. Not only native Mongols, but also European visitors viewed the Mongols as a well-organized, productive force. The Mongols had an impressive system of accountability in the military, (Doc. 3) and good law enforcement in the cities, (Doc. 5). These statements indicate the belief that Mongol government was both just and disciplined. Lastly, some Muslims also held the Mongols in esteem for their good government, describing how it was possible to travel far and wide in their territories without fear of robbery, (Doc. 8). People in contact with and conquered by the Mongols were not only impressed by their ability to organize and provide peace to their empire, they were impressed by the vast wealth of the Mongols, as well.
The wealth of the Mongols created an attitude of amazement. Describing great trees made of silver and courtly halls cloaked in gold, (Doc. 2) and painting expensive portraits of the well-fed Khan and his wife arrayed in jewels, (Doc. 6), many felt the Mongols were in charge of a rich empire. Only the very wealthy could afford such luxuries. Aniko, a portrait painter working for Kublai Khan, had a motive for portraying the ruler in a positive light because his job depended on producing a portrait that the Khan liked. Therefore, his portrayal may portray the Khan as more rich and powerful then was actually so. Despite this, it is clear that many felt the Pax Mongolica paved the way toward wealth and increased trade and wealth creation. Economic activity done without the fear of robbery was normal, (Doc. 8), and stability always increases an empire’s ability to trade and create wealth. In both organizational skills and great wealth, many felt impressed by the Mongols. Despite these positive attitudes, some still viewed the conquerors as ruthless, unintelligent war mongers. This attitude was surely colored by the fact that the Mongols were the most successful invaders of their day, whose conquests gained them many enemies. Juvaini, a Muslim Persian, felt that the Mongols were ruthless killers who did not value educated people, (Doc. 7). His attitude was one of clear loathing for a people that he viewed as the murderers of his people. Juvaini may be influenced also by the fact only a short period of time had passed between his writing and the Mongol conquest, making him more negative, as these events were fresh in his memory. Others agreed that the Mongols were barbarians. An Italian monk stated that they did not have a problem killing people, (Doc. 5). A bishop, holding two Mongols captive, expressed the same negative sentiments, describing the Mongols as unmannerly and with no religious beliefs, (Doc 4). The warfare of conquest required killing many people, causing some to feel that the Mongols were merely ignorant murderers. The bishop’s attitude, however, is influenced by his high position within the Catholic Church. As a believer in a monotheistic faith, he has little room for other religious viewpoints and, thus, may have had a negative attitude toward the animistic beliefs of the Mongols. The death and destruction caused by the Mongols caused some to have a negative attitude toward them.
The attitudes of various people toward the Mongols were diverse, from positive views of the Mongols as organized, productive, and wealthy, to negative views of the Mongols as destroyers of civilized life.