The Mongol Empire Essay

Genghis Khan (ca. 1162–1227) and the Mongols are invariably associated with terrible tales of conquest, destruction, and bloodshed. This famed clan leader and his immediate successors created the largest empire ever to exist, spanning the entire Asian continent from the Pacific Ocean to modern-day Hungary in Europe. Such an empire could not have been shaped without visionary leadership, superior organizational skills, the swiftest and most resilient cavalry ever known, an army of superb archers (the “devil’s horsemen” in Western sources), the existence of politically weakened states across Asia, and, of course, havoc and devastation.

Yet, the legacy of Genghis Khan, his sons, and grandsons is also one of cultural development, artistic achievement, a courtly way of life, and an entire continent united under the so-called Pax Mongolica (“Mongolian Peace”). Few people realize that the Yuan dynasty in China (1279–1368) is part of Genghis Khan’s legacy through its founder, his grandson Kublai Khan (r. 1260–95). The Mongol empire was at its largest two generations after Genghis Khan and was divided into four main branches, the Yuan (empire of the Great Khan) being the central and most important. The other Mongol states were the Chaghatay khanate in Central Asia (ca. 1227–1363), the Golden Horde in southern Russia extending into Europe (ca. 1227–1502), and the Ilkhanid dynasty in Greater Iran (1256–1353).

The Mongols were remarkably quick in transforming themselves from a purely nomadic tribal people into rulers of cities and states and in learning how to administer their vast empire. They readily adopted the system of administration of the conquered states, placing a handful of Mongols in the top positions but allowing former local officials to run everyday affairs. This clever system allowed them to control each city and province but also to be in touch with the population through their administrators. The seat of the Great Khanate in Dadu (Beijing) was the center of the empire, with all its pomp and ceremony, whereas the three semi-independent Central and western Asian domains of the Chaghatay, the Golden Horde, and the Ilkhanids were connected through an intricate network that crisscrossed the continent. Horses, once a reliable instrument of war and conquest, now made swift communication possible, carrying written messages through a relay system of stations. A letter sent by the emperor in Beijing and carried by an envoy wearing his paiza, or passport, could reach the Ilkhanid capital Tabriz, some 5,000 miles away, in about a month.

The political unification of Asia under the Mongols resulted in active trade and the transfer and resettlement of artists and craftsmen along the main routes. New influences were thus integrated with established local artistic traditions. By the middle of the thirteenth century, the Mongols had formed the largest contiguous empire in the world, uniting Chinese, Islamic, Iranian, Central Asian, and nomadic cultures within an overarching Mongol sensibility.

Genghis Khan’s grandson Hülegü (died 1265) subdued Iran in 1256 and conquered Baghdad, the capital of the ‘Abbasid caliphate, in 1258. Hülegü’s dynasty—the Ilkhanids, or Lesser Khans—ruled this area, called Greater Iran, until about 1353. After their rapid gain of power in the Muslim world, the Mongol Ilkhanids nominally reported to the Great Khan of the Yuan dynasty in China, and in the process imported Chinese models to better define their tastes. However, the new rulers were greatly impressed by the long-established traditions of Iran, with its prosperous urban centers and thriving economy, and they quickly assimilated the local culture. The Mongol influence on Iranian and Islamic culture gave birth to an extraordinary period in Islamic art that combined well-established traditions with the new visual language transmitted from eastern Asia.

Stefano Carboni
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Qamar Adamjee
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2003

The Mongol Empire Essay

The Mongol Empire although short-lived was one of the largest and most powerful empires ever on the face of the Earth, especially considering the time period. The Mongol Empire lasted for a mere 185 years, small in comparison to the Roman Empire, and yet in that short time it was able accomplish more than many countries, empires, or kingdoms could ever hope to. At its height the empire covered an area from modern day Korea, China, Russia, the Middle East, India, and all the land in between. However in many ways the enormity of the Mongol Empire is what would ultimately destroy it.

The official beginning of the Mongol Empire began in the year 1206 when Temujin was declared Genghis Khan and ruler of all Mongol people. Genghis Khan had been able to succeed in something that no other Mongol chieftain had ever been able to do, he united the Mongol people into one unifying force. The Mongol people had never known such unity, for many generations they had fought against each other but now they were fighting side by side against anything that would stand in there way. This unified Mongol force could and would destroy almost every opposing force that tried to go against the Mongols.

There were several things about the Mongol Empire that were quite unique, in my opinion their most surprising and advanced characteristic is that they were tolerant and actually supported outside religions. This is something that is almost never heard of in other empires of that time or any time for that matter. What is just as surprising is that many of the religions that were in the Mongol Empire hated each other and yet they fought with each other to expand the reach of the empire.

Despite what I have said about the Mongol Empire they were indeed ruthless, cruel, and power hungry. They destroyed everything that stood in their way and they killed a countless number of people to create their empire. To them everyone and everything was fair game for attack, which included armies, animals, woman, and children. They were great creators and destructors. More than once did they burn a town to the ground and kill everyone, in fact that was the exact fate of the Russian cities of Moscow and Kiev of which both were burned. As you go on reading you will discover that the Mongols were smart, ruthless, and evil all at the same time.

The Mongol armies were extremely successful despite being greatly outnumbered by almost every foreign army that they ever encountered. Time and time again the Mongols destroyed the opposing force even when they were outnumbered more than six to one as it was when they began the invasion of the Qin Empire. This was mostly due to their...

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