8 August 2016

The Mongol empire of the 1200s remains a sort of anomaly to this day. Their unconventional war tactics and nomadic way of life defied all other empires that were in existence at the time. However, their strategies proved extremely successful, and they were able to establish the largest empire the world had ever seen in a mere 20 year span. The unification of Asia (excluding India) under the strict rule of the Mongols brought about a period of relative peace and of economic improvement.

While there were some negative factors due to Mongol reign, such as the spread of the black plague, they were far overshadowed by the improvements experienced by Asia as a whole. The main reason for the initial success of the Mongols was their style of warfare. Being a nomadic tribe, they relied heavily on horses to maintain their land, and became extraordinary horsemen. Horses were not heavily used in combat in the rest of Asia, giving the Mongols an advantage over their enemies.

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Document 1 shows the extent of the Mongol empire at its height, which further goes to prove the effectiveness of these new strategies.

Documents 2 and 3 attest to the potency of Mongol raids. Document two describes the very organized military structure of generals and captains ruling over the rest of the army. It also describes the severe consequences suffered if the warriors were to abandon the battle. This requirement to fight until the end of the battle made the Mongols formidable opponents, and the fear they caused in their opponents was only augmented by tactics such as mental warfare, and the uncanny ability to easily adapt to any defense that was put in their way.

This mental warfare is described in document 3, where it is said that the Mongols would completely surround the city they were attacking in order to appear much larger in number that they actually were. While it is often said that history is told from the point of view of the victors, this does not pertain to the Mongols. Being illiterate, they could not keep records, and instead relied on the efforts of their subjects to keep the empire running smoothly.

This also means that all primary accounts of Mongol raids were from the point of view of the captors, who did not take kindly to being slaughtered. Documents 4 and 5 demonstrate this very idea, describing in detail the ferocity and aggression of the Mongols, and how they killed without any sort of remorse. Document 6, on the other hand, gives a much more unbiased point of view, being that is was written in the late 1900s by an outside source. This document describes the improvement of Asia as a result of the Mongols.

Economies everywhere were boosted, infrastructure improved, and the arts flourished. These facts directly contradict the views of the scholars and rulers of the time period, who were only able to experience Mongol rule in time, instead of being able to look back on their rule and see all of the overarching effects of the unification of Asia under the Mongols. Another argument that can be made against the barbarism of the Mongols is the fact that they had a very strict set of laws.

Documents 7 and 10 both give examples of some of these laws against adultery, theft, and murder. These strict societal regulations are a continuity from the military strategies practiced by the Mongols, and helped to contribute to the overall success of the empire. Another key to the Mongol’s success was their ability to communicate with the entirety of the empire relatively quickly. Document 8 describes the network of horses and outposts across all of Asia that allowed riders to ride from one end to the other almost without stop.

Communication over a vast distance is a difficult feat to accomplish, but it is necessary to maintain a functioning empire. The Romans and their empire used roads built by slaves to get from one end to the other, but the principle was the same. This ability to effectively regulate a large territory lead to the revival of the silk road trading network that had moved to the Indian Ocean basin. The Mongols provided security across Asia, making trade and the spread of culture easier than ever. Because of this, economies everywhere exploded with an influx of new, commoner-friendly goods.

The reopening of the network also caused the spread of one of the most devastating epidemics in history, the black plague. The plague affected Europe heavily, wiping out 1/3 of the population. Despite this disaster, however, the revived silk roads improved much more than they destroyed. Document 9 describes another cultural aspect of Mongol life that was radically different than other societies of the time. The acceptance of (almost) all religions was a belief held by the Mongols that created a much more peaceful society than an empire forced into believing the same religion.

When conquered territories are allowed to preserve their traditional ways of life, they are less likely to see the conquerors as an oppressive force and want to revolt. The Khan during the time Document 9 was written was Mongke Khan, who compared different religions to the different fingers on a hand. While all look different and behave in different ways, they all are part of one greater whole, the hand, which represents the one true God. While one such document does not exist, a letter from Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan as he is more well known) would be give extremely beneficial insight into Mongol life.

It would give an opposing viewpoint to the letters and documents of the conquered, and possibly contradict many of the accusations regarding the relentlessness of their conquests. However, no such document exists, since the Mongols were illiterate and never developed their own system of writing. Another type of document that would be useful which actually could exist is a document from the point of view of a European merchant. This type of document would give insight into how the Mongols were perceived by an empire that was not conquered, and was both benefitted and harmed by the Mongols.

It would be interesting to see how a merchant felt about the Mongols after they improved his industry, but also caused the spread of the black plague. In conclusion, the Mongol empire was one of the most effective empires the world had ever seen during their time in power. They were rather progressive in their tolerance of other religions, and their general disregard of patriarchy. They also revived the silk roads, which benefitted the economy of all empires that were involved. While the spread of the black plague was a direct result of the Mongols, this is far outweighed the continuing implications of their rule in Asia.

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