The Mongol Explosion out of Central Asia


The creation of the Mongol World Empire was interaction of an unprecendented form between steppe and sown. Inland from the pre-eminent society, China, lived the pre-eminent nomadic pastoralists, the Mongols. It was these nomadic pastoralists that was to form the largest contiguous land based empire of world history.


Who were the Mongols (Mongghols)?

The Mongols were very similar to other tribal groups inhabiting the eastern sphere of the steppe of Eurasia (modern day Mongolia). They formed a tribal confederation, of which they were only one of a number. There were the Xiongnu, also in the Mongolian region, the Scythians in the Black/Caspian Seas region and the Tatars (Tartars), which was a term that although inaccurately, came to be used to represent all nomadic pastoralists.


These people gained their power from their mobility, and so steppe empires emerged, but fragmented very quickly because they were difficult to maintain. There was constant feuding and conflict between and within tribal confederations. It was within this constant feuding that Chinggis Qan (Genghis Khan), originally known as Temujin (1155/67-1227) emerged. It is believed that his father, leader of one tribe in the Mongol confederation, was murdered by other tribes when he was 13 and it was his efforts to get revenge and take back his birthright that lead to the power that he gained. He was to lay the foundations (the powerr base) which enabled his successors to form the empire. He consolidated his authority, which he extended to non-Mongol tribes like the Kereit, Merkit and the Naimon tribes. He was very adept at political manoeuvering as well as military. By 1206 he controlled an area not too dissimilar to modern Mongolia. At this time he holds a Quriltai (an assembly), which was a meeting of senior chiefs, which is where he gains his title - Chinggis Qan. He claims authority on behalf of Tenggri, the universal sky god, and this mandate to rule, he enforced through military conquest.


Chinggis Qan's campaigns

1214-1215 into North China, against the Xi Xia (Hsi Hsia) and the Jurchen Jin (or Chin). Initially these were raids of plunder, not conquests. After they captured Zhongdu (Jin capital, present day Beijing), they destroyed it, showing their aggressive military power and sending the message that non-submission renders destruction. Some states like the koreans understood the message and merely submitted.


1218-1223 into Central Asia (present day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, northern Afghanistan and northern Iran) against the empire of the Khwarazm Shah, the people of which were ethnically Turk, but muslim. Because the Mongols envoys were killed in this region, the Mongols conquered and destroyed it. In 1220, they captured of Bukhara & Samarkand. After this they had a combined Mongol/Turkic army that could campaign further into the steppe. In 1227, Chinggis died on campaign against Xi Xia. At this time, geographically the empire was about as big as the roman empire but was still basically a steppe empire.


Usually when a key leader dies, however, there is a succession dispute and the empire fragments because of the belief that the right to inherit authority has to be proven and there is inevitable competition for power. This was called bloody tanisty. To couner bloody tansity, Chinggis devised a system of territorial allocation, where there was an equal partition of spoils as well as an equal partition of authority. Qaraqorum (Karakorum) became a great city during this time and the Mongol heartland develops and grows.

Chinggis Qan's sons:

  1. Jochi (Western regions - modern Russia)
  2. Chaghadai (Central Asia)
  3. Ogodei (Great Qan 1229)
  4. Tolui (Mongol heartland)


Later campaigns:

1240-42 into Europe. 1240 was a very successful year, because the mongols decimated the largest European armies without too much difficulty. It was originally planned to conquer all the lands to the west, but in 1242 the Great Qan Ogodei died and under Mongke, the new Great Qan, son of Tolui, grandson of Chinggis, it was decided that western Europe was too poor and unimportant to bother about.


1258-1260 into the Middle East 1258 sacked Baghdad (the capital of the islamic world), which marked the end of the Abbasid Caliphate. On 3 Sept. 1260, the Mongols were defeated at Ayn Jälüt by Mamlük forces (Egypt). This was significant because it marked the end of the "explosion". It was a turning point in the expansion of the Mongol World Empire. From then on, Persia was their regional base and the middle-east was left alone.


1260s-1279 into China. Once they took China, campaigns became more sporadic and less of a feature of the Mongol empire. Instead they concentrated on consolidating authority. There was a massive empire under one political jurisdiction.


  1. Song dynasty (960-1279)
  2. Qubilai Qan (Khubilai Khan r.1279-1294)
  3. Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)


Possible reasons for Mongol success