At the start of the 12th century a brilliant military leader called
Borjigin Temüjin united the nomadic tribes of Mongolia and proclaimed
himself Genghis Khan; The Supreme Ruler of Mongolia.
By the time of his death some 20 years later the Mongol Empire stretched
from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan; or most of modern day China
and Central Asia. It grew larger still in the century and a half that
followed, finally becoming the most expansive empire ever to exist, with
borders in Siberia, Europe, Arabia, the Indian subcontinent and
Southeast Asia. No army could better the Mongol’s military tactics,
sophisticated weaponry and relentless savagery; The Mongols didn’t just
overthrow empires, they obliterated them. Fear would prove as potent a
weapon as any sword or arrow. It emptied towns and brought kings to
The empire faced a problem from within though. The unity Genghis
cultivated between Mongol clans was rapidly eroding under the rule of
his descendents, The Khanates. These sons and grandsons of Genghis had
each inherited a portion of the empire’s frontier: The Il-Khanate saw
over the Middle East, The Golden Horde had Russia, Ukraine and the
Caucasus and the Chagatai Khanate ruled Central Asia.
Their constant rivalry and refusal to accept the legitimacy of the new
Great Khan led to political chaos and bloody civil wars, just as the
Mongols faced ever-greater resistance to their ongoing conquests -
famously at Ain Jalut, 1260 against the wily Mumluks of Egypt, renown
for also smashing the crusaders, and then against Đại Việt (Vietnam),
who quashed all three Mongolian invasions, ending at the Battle of Bạch
Đằng, 1287 where the entire Mongol navy was drowned. Meanwhile Hindustan
(India) not only resisted Mongol invasions but also embarked on
incursions of their own into Mongol territory.
It would take much longer for the shattered remnants of the Novgorod
Republic (Russia), Rus’ (Scandinavia) and the timid Byzantines to defy
the Mongols, but eventually they found the nerve too.
Could the Khanates have ever unified and overthrown The Great Khan, or
were their divisions too deep and The Great Khan too powerful? Even if
such a battle had taken place, would it not just have given the Mongol’s
many enemies an opportunity to crush the empire forever?