Monday, April 29, 2013




 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 their knees.

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?


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