Introduction to the Mongol Conquests (1200–1400)

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Introduction to the Mongol Conquests (1200–1400)

In the early thirteenth century, an empire arose on the steppes of Mongolia that forever changed the map of Eurasia as well as the nature of warfare itself. The Mongol Empire stretched from the Sea of Japan to the Carpathian Mountains at its height, making it the largest contiguous empire in history.

The Mongol empire began with the unification of the nomadic tribes of Mongolia by Genghis Khan (1165–1227) in a series of wars from 1180 to 1206. These twenty-six years were the most difficult in the career of the great Mongol leader, but he succeeded and created a single nation—known as the Yeke Mongol Ulus, or Great Mongol Nation—from the warring tribes.

The Mongols expanded south in 1209, conquering Xi Xia (the modern Chinese provinces of Ningxia and Gansu). Then, in 1211, Genghis Khan invaded the Jin Empire of northern China. Although he had conquered most of the Jin Empire by 1216, the Jin continued to resist the Mongols for almost two more decades.

While the war raged in China, the Mongols expanded into Central Asia, pursuing tribal leaders who opposed Genghis Khan’s rise to power. Eventually, the Mongols bordered the empire of Khwarazm, a vast state whose territory included Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and part of modern Iraq.

A trade dispute in 1218 initiated a war between the two empires. In one of the most brilliant campaigns in history, Genghis Khan divided his army and struck Khwarazm at several points, overrunning the nation by 1224. Immediately afterwards, Genghis Khan returned east to deal with a rebellion in Xi Xia, keeping only the territory north of the Amu Darya. In the course of crushing the rebellion, Genghis Khan died in 1227.

Ogodei (1185–1241), Genghis Khan’s second son, ascended to the throne in 1230 and finished the conquest of the Jin in 1234. Meanwhile Mongol forces invaded Iran, Armenia, and Georgia, bringing those regions under their control. An immense force marched west in 1238 and conquered the Russian principalities before invading Hungary and Poland in 1240. Although they devastated both regions, they withdrew in 1241 upon hearing of Ogodei’s death.

Guyuk, the son of Ogodei, came to the throne in 1246, after a lengthy regency by his mother, Toregene, but he died after a two-year reign. His wife, Oghul Qaimish, served as regent until a coup brought Mongke (1208–1259), the son of Genghis Khan’s fourth son, to power. After ten years of inaction, with Mongke the Mongol armies were once again on the march. His brother Kublai invaded the Song empire in south China while another brother, Hulegu, marched into the Middle East.

The Mongol Empire unraveled with the death of Mongke in 1259 and the eruption of civil war. Kublai prevailed in 1265, but the damage was done. While the other khanates grudgingly accepted Kublai as the ruler, his influence outside of East Asia was limited. The empire split into four distinct states consisting of the Great Khanate in East Asia, the Il-Khanate in the Middle East, the Chaghatayid Khanate in Central Asia, and the Golden Horde, which stretched from Russia to modern Kazakhstan.

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Introduction to the Mongol Conquests (1200–1400)

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Introduction to the Mongol Conquests (1200–1400)