The Mongol invasions successfully created the largest empire ever seen, covering the vast bulk of the Asian?

The Mongol invasions successfully created the largest empire ever seen, covering the vast bulk of the Asian land mass. Given the relatively small number of Mongols, how did they succeed in conquering the much larger civilizations of the Muslims, Chinese, and the other peoples of Asia? What are some of the effects of the Mongol conquests? How did the Mongols rule China?

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  • 3 years ago
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    They were able to conquer so vast a territory for a number of reasons. The first is that they acted like a modern army. They promoted based on talent, not on noble status. Just because you were a prince didn't mean you would command anything. The Mongols organized their army on a basic decimal system, with squads of ten up to army groups of ten thousand. They were very maneuverable, and could cover vast distances in a single day, since the entire horde moved on horseback (up to 150 miles). They were extremely well disciplined, and acted as a single unit, rather than sought personal glory in individual combat like other fighters of the period.

    The Mongolian warrior was superior to the European and Muslim fighters of their day for a number of reasons in addition to their speed and maneuverability. They had an entire arsenal of different arrows, including those that were designed to pierce flesh, while others with soft lead shafts to shoot into a shield, weighing it down so the person would have to drop it. Other arrows would emit a high pitched whistle, or thick smoke, or fire, or exploded (they did have gunpowder, but didn't use cannons yet.), or were covered in dung and disease, etc... Their compound bows made of wood, bone and sinew would deliver these arrows with deadly force and accuracy.

    The Mongols also had superior armor. They used toughened leather over a loose silk shirt. The silk shirt is what was impressive. The worst damage that an arrow does is when it is removed from the wound. It's barbs catch on the flesh, and cause much more damage getting pulled out than when going in. Because silk is tougher than steel when wet (including with blood), it carries into the wound without being pierced itself, wrapping around the arrowhead. So the arrow can be removed without catching, and without killing the person. Silk is also resistant to bacterial growth, so it is far more sterile than cotton.

    The effects of the Mongolian conquest are immense. They unified the Asian continent, and ended the Silk Road trade route in favor of established roads with a postal service. They communicated across the entire empire, and established the first paper currency economy backed by the Khan's silver. It was the largest contiguous land empire in history, although in overall square miles, the British Empire was larger, but not by much. The Mongols destroyed the Islamic Caliphate, and there has been no centralized Islamic authority since. They ended the Muslim Golden Age, destroying much of what was great, though ironically the Ilkhanate (one of the four Khanates, or "nations" within the overall Empire) would eventually convert to Islam itself about a century after it was conquered. The invasions in Europe knocked out the burgeoning period of Scholasticism, since everyone thought the world was coming to an end. This nearly happened toward the end of the Mongolian invasions, when they were attacking the city of Caffa on the Black Sea in 1347. They threw some of their dead over the walls as a form of germ warfare. Some infected people escaped, travelled to Sicily, and set in motion events that we remember as the Black Death.

    I'll keep this brief: In China Kubilai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty, establishing his imperial city in modern day Beijing. The Forbidden City is built on the remains (and the design) of his former palace. The Mongols ruled China the way they ruled everyone else: as an overlord who used the threat of overwhelming force to extract good behavior and riches from the ruled. It lasted until it was overthrown by the Ming in the 15th century.

    One interesting point about this period. Marco Polo's account has been questioned in the past, in part because people have scoffed at the idea a foreigner would get a court appointment so prestigious, stationed in the presence of the Khan himself. In actuality, there was an office known as the Office of the Colored Eyes. Mongols and Chinese all have dark eyes. They prized light colored eyes as "living jewels", and Polo was from Northern Italy, so had blue eyes. The Khan would have wanted Marco Polo's eyes looking at him as a form of decoration, which gives credence to the claim he spent a lot of time with the Khan.

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