The expansion of the Mongols from 1206 to 1279 and the division in 1294

The Mongol Empire (1206-1294) was a vast multicultural empire and the largest land empire in history. Although the Mongols were a Tengri nomadic people from present-day Mongolia, their empire encompassed various cultures and religions, and Tengrism, Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism were all major religions in the empire. The capital Karakorum had Buddhist shrines, Tengri temples, Christian churches, and Muslim mosques, and the Mongols ruled an empire extending from Korea to the east to Poland and Turkey in the west, touching both the East China Sea and the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea. Genghis Khan, the empire's founder, organized a military system as well as several new technologies and laws, and he is regarded as one of the greatest conquerors in history. His sons and grandsons expanded his empire from the Caspian Sea (where he left it on his death in 1227) to the Black Sea in 1241 after conquering much of Russia and Eastern Europe. However, this vast empire fragmented into the Chagatai Khanate, Ilkhanate, Golden Horde, and the Yuan dynasty after the death of Kublai Khan in 1294.



A ger, the traditional Mongolian dwelling

The Mongols were a people from East Asia that lived in present-day Mongolia, northern China's Inner Mongolia region, and parts of Russia. The Mongols were a nomadic people, taught to ride horses and shoot bows efficiently while they were young. The Mongol people were pagan, adhering to Tengrism, a collection of pagan faiths that the Cumans, Mongols, and other steppe nomads followed. The shamans, spiritual people who told stories of gods and legends, held high titles in Mongol society. The Mongols lived in tribes on the steppes of Mongolia and northern China, and they bordered the vast Gobi Desert, where there was not much population or settlement.

Mongol swords

The Mongols were fierce warriors, and they were well-versed in both the arts of archery and sword combat. The Mongols had some Chinese-influenced swords and daggers, and they would use these in close combat such as during cavalry charges, when they were too close to use their bows to fight their enemies. The Mongols severed noses, ears, or heads after battle to mark how many warriors they killed in battle, as slaying several enemies was an honor for a warrior to have.

Mongol horsemen

The Mongols mostly fought on horseback, as their status as a nomadic society meant that they relied on horses for moving around with their tribe, for helping them with work in the fields, for transport during hunts, and for cavalry during fights (initially between clans, but later between the Mongol army and their enemies). Most Mongol horsemen were cavalry archers who could later dismount and fight the enemy on foot; the archers could shoot an enemy up to 300 yards away due to extensive training. Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire, was known to be a great horseman and warrior.

Mongol armor

Mongol warriors carried banners on large poles called a tug, which would be the replacement of flags. They used yak or horse tail hairs with varying colors, with white being flown during peace or black during war. Their armies carried black banners, with their soldiers wearing scales of chain mail, hard leather, or iron as their armor in battle. They also wore plumed helmets that covered not only the tops of their heads, but also their ears and the sides of their heads and necks. Mongol infantrymen were equipped with melee weapons and shields, while their horsemen had shields as well as either spears or bows, depending on if they were heavy cavalry (used for cavalry charges) or light cavalry (used for harrying the enemy with arrows). The Mongol tribes' militaries were based around their clans, but Genghis Khan reorganized the infrastructure of the Mongols into an arban of 10 men, a zuut of 100 men, a mingghan of 1,000, and a tumen of 10,000, each containing soldiers led by a delegate chosen by the khan himself.

Unification of Mongolia

Genghis Khan statue

The Mongols were united under the rule of a man named Temujin, who led his tribe against the other tribes. He gathered large armies by welcoming the defeated tribes into his army; one time, he was shot by an archer during a battle. When the captured archer was brought before him after the battle, Temujin promoted him as a reward for his skills and bravery in battle. He forgave the defeated, and he adopted the name "Genghis Khan", meaning "universal ruler". Genghis Khan united the Mongols as well as the neighboring nomadic peoples such as the Uyghurs


Genghis Khan overseeing a siege

The Mongol Empire on Genghis Khan's death

Genghis Khan's first campaigns were against the Xi Xia (Western Xia dynasty) and the Great Jin (Jurchen dynasty of northern China), two conqueror dynasties of China. In 1214 he seized the Jin capital of Zhongdu (Beijing), which became his new capital. His armies ravaged China, but he did not invade the southern Song dynasty; he instead continued his expansion to the west, and he conquered the Kara-Khitans and Kirghiz. In the later 1210s he campaigned in Central Asia against the Khwarezmian Empire (Anushtiginids) and conquered much of their empire, and he seized Samarkand and Merv from his enemies. In 1221 his armies defeated the Cumans and Russians at the Battle of Kalka River, and he sacked Vladimir, Ryazan, Moscow, and other Russian cities. He died in 1227, and his sons and grandsons continued his campaigns. They invaded eastern Europe in 1238, taking Kiev and conquering the Ukraine, and in 1241 they invaded Poland and Hungary. At the Battle of Liegnitz, they destroyed a Polish and German army, and that same year they destroyed the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohi. Both times, they killed several rival nobles, and they expanded into Europe. In 1257, Hulegu Khan invaded the Middle East, conquering Persia and Mesopotamia from the Abbasid Caliphate. He massacred the Hashshashin order of murderers, and in 1258 he sacked Baghdad, killing 850,000-2,000,000 in a bloody massacre of all inhabitants except for the Christians, who were viewed by the Mongols as allies.

A Mongol ballista

The Mongols' fortunes abruptly ended with the death of Mongke Khan in 1259, as the Mongol leaders were recalled to Mongolia to sort out the successor. In China, Kublai Khan claimed the leadership, while other leaders such as Ariq Boke had other ideas. In 1261 the Mongols in Syria were attacked by the Mamelukes of Egypt, who defeated them at the Battle of Ain Jalut and repulsed their invasion of the region. Eventually, Kublai Khan wrested power and conquered China by 1279 after the Fall of Xiangyang and the Battle of Yamen, and he also launched invasions of Korea, Japan, and Burma, with only his invasion of Korea succeeding. Korea became a vassal state, and the Mongols reached their extent by the time of his death in 1294. However, the Mongol Empire fragmented after his death. The Middle East became the Ilkhanate's territory, Russia became the Golden Horde's lands, Central Asia became the Chagatai Khanate's territory, and Kublai Khan's empire in East Asia became the Yuan dynasty (also called the "Empire of the Great Khan"). The Mongol empires fell one-by-one; the Ilkhanate fell in 1353, the Yuan fell in 1368, the Golden Horde fell in 1502, and the Chagatai Khanate fell in 1680. There were states ruled by people who claimed that they were successors of the Mongol Empire, such as Timur's Timurids that ruled the Middle East from the 1370s to 1405 and Babur's Mughal Empire that ruled India from 1526 until their fall from power in 1707 and their deposition in 1858. The Mongol people, however, continue to have a culture similar to their origins, with many Mongolian farmers continuing to ride horses, live in camps, and have skills in archery.


A Mongol shaman's clothes

The Mongol people were pagan, but as the empire expanded, they gained subjects of various other faiths. Some of their first conquests in China brought them in control of a large population of Buddhists, while their conquests in Central Asia and the Middle East increased the population of Muslims in their empire. Islam was adopted as the state religion of the Ilkhanate, and it was also a common belief for several Mongols in the western parts of the empire. Christianity was spread across the empire by merchants from places such as Venice and Genoa, and Kublai Khan was presented with a Bible by Marco Polo. Karakorum, the capital, had places of worship from several different religions. Christianity and Islam were religions spread mainly by traders that came from wealthy regions and proselytized several Mongols along the routes, while Buddhism was a religion that joined the Mongol Empire when the Mongols conquered their lands (the Buddhists were not proselytizers like the Christians and Muslims). Judaism was a minor religion in the empire, common in the Middle East among ethnic Jews but uncommon among Mongols or people not of Jewish descent.


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