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The Mongol Empire

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The Mongol Empire

The Mongolians were once reserved and disparate nomadic tribes, grazing cattle and defending their kin from other tribesmen. Starting in 1162, that lifestyle would change with the birth of Genghis Khan. Unifying the Mongolian clans under one Khan, Genghis Khan used the expert horse-riding and archery skills of his warriors in successful conquests against China and the Middle East, establishing the Mongolian Empire as the largest contiguous land empire that the world has ever known.

The Mongol Empire: Timeline

Below is a general timeline of the Mongol Empire, spanning from its inception in the thirteenth century to the empire's fall at the end of the fourteenth century.

YearEvent
1162Genghis (Temujin) Khan was born.
1206Genghis Khan conquered all rival Mongolian tribes, establishing himself as the universal leader of Mongolia.
1214The Mongol Empire sacked Zhongdu, the Jin Dynasty's capital city.
1216The Mongols rode into the Kara-Khitan Khanate in 1216, opening the door to the Middle East.
1227Genghis Khan died and his territories were divided among his four sons. Genghis' son Ogedei becomes Great Khan.
1241 Ogedei Khan led conquests into Europe but died in the same year, causing a war for succession in Mongolia.
1251Mongke Khan became the undisputed Great Khan of Mongolia.
1258The Mongolians besieged Baghdad.
1259Mongke Khan died and another was for succession begins.
1263Kublai Khan became the Great Khan of a fractured Mongol Empire.
1271Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty in China.
1350General turning point date of Mongol Empire. The Black Death was spreading. The Mongols would go on to lose important battles and begin to split into factions or slowly dissolve into societies that they once ruled.
1357Ilkhanate in the Middle East was destroyed.
1368Yuan Dynasty in China collapsed.
1395The Golden Horde in Russia was ravaged by Tamerlane after multiple defeats in battle.

Major Facts about the Mongol Empire

In the thirteenth century, the Mongol Empire rose from divided tribes or horsemen to conquerors of Eurasia. This was due primarily to Genghis Khan (1162–1227), who unified his countrymen and directed them in brutal campaigns against his enemies.

The Mongol Empire,  Invasion Map, StudySmarterMap of Genghis Khan's Invasions. Source: Bkkbrad, CC-BY-SA-2.5,2.0,1.0, CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated, Wikimedia Commons.

The Mongol Empire as Brutal Conquerors

Many are quick to paint the Mongolians under Genghis Khan and his successors as savage slaughterers, barbarians from the Asian Steppe who only sought to destroy. That perspective is not entirely unfounded. When invading a settlement, the initial destruction of the Mongol horseback warriors was so severe that populations often took many years to recover.

The Mongols under Genghis Khan took cattle and women, struck fear into the lords of kingdoms across Eurasia, and were generally undefeated on the battlefield. Such was the brutality of the Mongol Empire upon invasion, that the many Mongolian warriors were often required to satisfy a specific tithe of kills to Genghis Khan, leading to the executions of thousands of captive citizens even after their land was taken.

The initial invasion of a territory by the Mongol Empire was not only destructive to its population. Culture, literature, and education were ravaged by Mongolian conquests. When Baghdad was invaded by the Ilkhanate in 1258, libraries and hospitals were completely ransacked. Literature was thrown into the river. The same happened in the Jin Dynasty, and many other places. The Mongols destroyed irrigation, defences, and temples, only sometimes sparing what could later be used to their benefit. Mongolian invasions had long-lasting, negative effects on their conquered territories.

The Mongol Empire as Clever Administrators

During his reign, Genghis Khan established a surprising precedent for his sons to follow during their own reigns. During his initial unification of Mongolia, Genghis Khan respected merit in leadership and battle above all else. The warriors of conquered tribes were assimilated into Genghis Khan's own, separated, and removed from their previous identity and loyalties. Enemy generals were often killed but sometimes spared due to their martial qualities.

The Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan, StudySmarterGenghis Khan becomes Great Khan, Wikimedia Commons.

Genghis Khan implemented this administrative ingenuity in his expanding Mongol Empire. The Great Khan encouraged trade through his kingdom, connecting kingdoms from Europe to China. He set up a pony express system to deliver information quickly and relocated useful individuals (mostly scientists and engineers) to where he needed them most.

Perhaps most fascinating was Genghis Khan's tolerance of various religions. Being an animist himself, Genghis Khan allowed for freedom of religious expression, as long as tribute was paid on time. This policy of tolerance, along with the fear of invasion, discouraged resistance among the Mongol Empire's vassals.

Animism: The religious belief that animals, plants, people, and inanimate objects or ideas possess a spirit.

History of the Mongol Empire

The Mongol Empire ruled Eurasia for much of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Its time in power and scale make its history as rich as it is complex. The rise of the Mongol Empire can be easily split between the time of Genghis Khan's rule, and the time in which his children inherited his once unified empire.

The Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan

The Mongol Empire formed in 1206 when Genghis Khan rose as Great Khan of his newly unified people, inheriting his name. (Genghis is a misspelling of Chinggis, which roughly translates to "universal ruler"; his birth name was Temujin). Still, the Khan was not satisfied with just the unification of the Mongol tribes. He set his eyes on China and the Middle East.

The history of the Mongol Empire is one of conquest.

The Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan Portrait, StudySmarterA portrait of Genghis Khan, who wasn't just satisfied with unification but wanted to conquer the world, Wikimedia Commons.

Conquest of China

The Kingdom of Xi Xia in northern China was the first to face Genghis Khan. After introducing China to the terror of a Mongolian invasion, Genghis Khan rode to Zhongdu, the capital of the Jin Dynasty in 1214. Leading a force of hundreds of thousands strong, Genghis Khan easily overwhelmed the Chinese in the fields. In attacking Chinese cities and fortresses, the Mongolians learned valuable lessons in siege warfare.

Conquest of the Middle East

First striking the Kara-Khitan Khanate in 1216, the Mongol Empire swept into the Middle East. Using siege weaponry and knowledge from their Chinese invasion, the Mongolians brought low the Khwarazmian Empire and Samarkand. The battles were brutal and thousands of citizens were slaughtered. Importantly, the Mongol Empire was exposed to the religion of Islam during these initial conquests; Islam would soon play a significant role in the history of the Mongol Empire.

The Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan's Sons

After Genghis Khan's death in 1227, the Mongol Empire split into four Khanates divided among his four sons, and later among their sons. Although still connected beneath the Great Khan Ogedei, this divisional separation would become real in 1260, when the separated Khanates became fully autonomous. Below is a chart of significant territories and their respective rulers that rose after Genghis Khan's death.

Territory Inheritor/KhanSignificance
Mongol Empire (much of Eurasia).Ogedei Khan Ogedei succeeded Genghis Khan as Great Khan. His death in 1241 sparked a war of succession in Mongolia.
The Golden Horde (parts of Russia and Eastern Europe).Jochi Khan/Jochi's son, Batu KhanJochi died before he could claim his inheritance. Batu Khan ruled in his stead, leading campaigns into Russia, Poland, and a brief siege of Vienna. Prominent until the fourteenth century.
The Ilkhanate (from Iran to Turkey).Hulegu KhanRulers officially converted to Islam in 1295. Known for architectural achievements.
Chagatai Khanate (Central Asia).Chagatai Khan Many wars with other khanates. Lasted until the end of the seventeenth century.
Yuan Dynasty (China). Kublai Khan Powerful but short-lived. Kublai led invasions into Korea and Japan, but the Yuan Dynasty fell in 1368.

The Decline of the Mongol Empire

With empire-wide divisions instilled after Genghis Khan's death, the Mongol Empire continued to flourish and conquer, just with increasing separation between the Khanates. With each decade, the Khanates assimilated into their territories, losing semblance of past Mongolian identities. Where Mongol identity was maintained, opposing forces and vassal states were growing in strength, such as the success of the Muscovite Russians against the Golden Horde in Russia.

The Mongol Empire, Defeat, StudySmarterA depiction of the Mongolian defeat at Kulikovo, Wikimedia Commons.

Additionally, the interconnectedness created by the Mongol Empire's infrastructure only helped to spread the Black Death, a disease that killed millions, in the mid-fourteenth century. The resulting population loss not only affected the Mongolian populations but also their vassals, weakening the Mongol Empire on every front.

There is no definitive year for the end of the Mongol Empire. Instead, it was a slow fall that can be traced back to Ogedei Khan's death in 1241, or even to Genghis Khan's death in 1227 with the division of his empire. The mid-fourteenth century was markedly a turning point. However, the spread of the Black Death and multiple huge Mongol military defeats, as well as many civil wars, diminished the power of the divided Khanates. The last distinct Mongolian states fell into obscurity by the end of the seventeenth century.

The Mongol Empire - Key takeaways

  • Genghis Khan led Mongolia into unification and later foreign conquest, establishing the Mongol Empire in 1206.
  • The Mongol Empire was brutal in warfare but smart in its administration of captured territories, providing important Eurasian infrastructure and religious tolerance to their vassals.
  • After Genghis Khan's death in 1227, the Mongol Empire was divided into territories among his four children.
  • Over years of civil wars and separation, the Khanates became distinct, autonomous societies from a unified Mongol Empire.
  • The Black Death, infighting, rising resistance from vassal territories, and cultural assimilation into captured territories led to the end of the once-mighty Mongol Empire.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Mongol Empire

The Mongol Empire started in 1206, with the unification of the disparate Mongolian tribes underneath Genghis Khan.

The Mongol Empire lasted until the 14th century, though many smaller, separated Khanates survived into the 17th century.

The Mongol Empire fell due to a combination of factors: the Black Death, infighting, rising resistance from vassal territories, and cultural assimilation into captured territories.

The Mongol Empire ended in the 14th century, though many smaller, separated Khanates survived into the 17th century.

The Mongol Empire declined due to a combination of factors: the Black Death, infighting, rising resistance from vassal territories, and cultural assimilation into captured territories.

Final The Mongol Empire Quiz

Question

What was significant about the size of Genghis Khan's empire? 

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Answer

He established the largest land-based empire in human history.

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Question

What was Mongolian society like before Genghis Khan rose to power?

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Answer

Many disparate, rival clans. 

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Question

What more accurately describes a raid by Genghis Khan?

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Answer

Brutal. Many citizens were executed and their lands plundered. 

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Question

Define meritocracy. 

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Answer

A system of appointed officials based on their merit, or proven capabilities 

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Question

How did Genghis Khan die? 

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Answer

He fell from his horse in 1227 and died of resulting injuries. 

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Question

What was Genghis Khan's first primary target after unifying Mongolia? 

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Answer

Xi Xia

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Question

What happened to the Silk Road after Genghis Khan had conquered much of Eurasia? 

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Answer

Trade was reinvigorated.

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Question

Which of Genghis Khan's descendants established the Yuan Dynasty? 

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Answer

Kublai Khan 

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Question

What Chinese technology did Genghis Khan implement in his conquests after attacking the Jin Dynasty?

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Answer

Siege Weaponry 

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Question

Describe Genghis Khan's tolerance of religions among his many subjects.

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Answer

Genghis Khan allowed for freedom of religious practices, as long as tribute was paid. 

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Question

From what Mongolian territories did the Golden Horde develop? 

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Answer

The western territories, around Eastern Europe and Russia.

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Question

Which of Genghis Khan's sons was planned to inherit the western territories, but never lived to do so?

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Answer

Jochi Khan

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Question

Why did Batu Khan turn away from his siege of Vienna? 

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Answer

His uncle Ogedei Khan's death caused a succession war in Mongolia that he wanted to partake in. 

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Question

Where was the capital of the Golden Horde located? 

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Answer

Sarai

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Question

What was the Black Death? 

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Answer

An infamous 14th-century plague that devastated Eurasia, killing hundreds of millions of people.

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Question

How was the Black Death able to spread so easily within the Golden Horde? 

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Answer

Because of the interconnectedness of the Golden Horde's territories through trade routes.

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Question

What was NOT a contributing factor to the downfall of the Golden Horde? 

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Answer

Failed invasion of France

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Question

Which Golden Horde Khan established Islam as the official religion of the Golden Horde? 

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Answer

Uzbeg Khan

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Question

What was NOT a vassal state or territory of the Golden Horde? 

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Answer

Byzantium

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Question

Name a possible explanation for the meaning of the Golden Horde's name. 

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Answer

Golden, based on the color of Batu Khan's tent OR Golden, based on the Mognolian cardinal directions (with golden meaning center)

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Question

Which dynasty did Kublai Khan establish in China?

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Answer

Yuan Dynasty

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Question

What lifestyle did the Mongols lead in the Middle Ages?

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Answer

Nomadic

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When did the Mongol Empire fragment into four parts?

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Answer

1294

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Question

Who established the Mongol Empire?

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Genghis Khan

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What was the name of a major Eurasian trade network in the Middle Ages?

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Silk Road

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When did Russia defeat the Golden Horde?

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1480

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What is the name of the annual tax that the conquered people paid to the Mongol Empire?

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Tribute

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Who popularized Chinese culture among the Europeans in the Middle Ages?

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Answer

Marco Polo

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Question

Who established the Timurid Empire in Central Asia?

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Answer

Tamerlane

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Question

Who ruled over the northwestern part of the Mongol Empire?

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Answer

Golden Horde

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