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Four Khanates of the Mongol Empire

Four Khanates of the Mongol Empire

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Chagatai Khanate (1226–1347) Edit

After Genghis Khan established appanages for his family in the Mongol Empire during his rule (1206–1227), his sons, daughters, and grandsons inherited separate sections of the empire. The Mongol Empire and Mongolian khanates that emerged from those appanages are listed below.

In 1226, the second son of Genghis Khan, Chagatai Khan established the Chagatai Khanate. At its height in the late 13th century, the khanate extended from the Amu Darya south of the Aral Sea to the Altai Mountains in the border of modern-day Mongolia and China, roughly corresponding to the defunct Qara Khitai Empire. Initially the rulers of the Chagatai Khanate recognized the supremacy of the Great Khan, but by the reign of Kublai Khan, Ghiyas-ud-din Baraq no longer obeyed the emperor's orders.

Il-Khanate (1256–1335) Edit

In 1256, Il-Khanate was established by the grandson of Genghis Khan, Hulagu Khan. Its core territory lies in what is now part of the countries of Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. At its greatest extent, the Ilkhanate also included parts of modern Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Georgia, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, part of modern Dagestan, and part of modern Tajikistan. Later Ilkhanate rulers, beginning with Ghazan in 1295, converted to Islam. In the 1330s, the Ilkhanate was ravaged by the Black Death. Its last khan Abu Sa'id died in 1335, after which the khanate disintegrated. The Ilkhanid rulers, although of non-Iranian origin, tried to advertise their authority by tying themselves to the Iranian past, and they recruited historians in order to present the Mongols as heirs to the Sasanians (224–651 AD) of pre-Islamic Iran.

Pax Mongolica: Trade and Traders in the Mongol Empire

Beginning in 1206 large parts of Eurasia came under the sway of the Chinggissid Mongols. In 1260 the united Mongol Empire came to an end and divided into four khanates ruled by the progenies of Chinggis Khan. The four khanates were the Yuan (centered at China), the Ilkhanate (Middle East), the Golden Horde (Russia and the Caucasus), and the Chaghadaids (Central Asia). These political entities remained connected under the broad umbrella of the institutions and worldview that originated in the steppe and one that was informed by Chinggis Khan’s rule. Essentially the periods of the united Mongol Empire (1206–1260) and of the four khanates (1260–1350) can be termed as the period of Mongol rule. The abiding allegiance to the Chinggissid legacy continued to find resonance for the far-flung imperial family well in to the mid-14th century and even later in certain parts of Eurasia. Under this united system of rule, trade came to occupy a special place and led to hitherto unprecedented exchanges and prosperity. Mongol Eurasia was able to transform micro economies into a coherent macro economy that relied on overland and maritime trade. These exchanges in large part were achieved through the building of physical infrastructure connecting China all the way to northwest Europe, and provision of capital. Along with overland trade, the Mongols were able to participate in and spur maritime trade in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean-Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean trade complex, even though they didn’t control all of it. The architecture essential for conquest proved important for trade and exchanges of goods, peoples, and ideas as well. Physical security, storage facilities, monetary policies, and the creation of markets and cities across the expanse of Mongol Eurasia enlivened trade. The historical accounts of this period describe cities overflowing with goods and riches along with transfers of a variety of technologies, providing a vivid picture of exchanges. The Mongols followed in the footsteps of a long line of nomadic empires that had been pivotal in the flow of long-distance trade and expanded it across Eurasia. Not only did they promote trade and patronize traders, they influenced the kinds of goods and technologies that were found on the Silk Road(s) at the time. The presence of a wide array of manufactured goods in large quantities signifies their role in the founding of production centers. While the Mongols were not traders themselves, the Khans were impressive in their understanding of the importance of trading networks and relied heavily on access to the information traders provided. From the very beginning of the empire traders filled the ranks of interlocutors and helped carve a space for bolstering exchanges in policymaking. Traders were close to the Khans and political elites and informed decision-making, often serving as emissaries, ministers, and administrators in the service of the Khans. Not only did traders provide the Khans with commodities, but they also served as money lenders, making them important partners to the Mongol state and the imperial family. The myriad relationships between the Mongol Khans and traders are testament to a deep partnership that brought to bear an exciting moment for Eurasia, making it possible to refer to the Mongol period as the first globalization.

Four Khanates of the Mongol Empire - History

The boy who would one day become Genghis Khan is born on the Mongolian steppes. Then called Temüjin, he was born son of Yesügei, a member of the royal Borjigin clan of the nomadic Mongol people.

After decades spent subduing uniting the tribes of the Asian steppes, Temüjin had finally coalesced most of them under his rule. In 1206, he called a Khuruldai, a council of Mongol chiefs. They appointed him Genghis Khan, meaning 'universal ruler' or literally, 'the person who rules all the land between the oceans.' This event is regarded as the beginning of the Mongol Empire.

The invasion of the Western Xia Dynasty was ordered by Genghis Khan with the aim of gaining both plunder and a vassal state. The full-scale invasion started in 1209 following a series of raids across the preceding 4 years. After nearly a year long seige of the capital, the Tangut emperor Li Anquan surrendered in January 1210. For nearly a decade, the dynasty remained a vassal state, aiding the mongols in their war against the Jin. However in 1219, taking advantage of the mongols attack of Khwarezmia, they attempted to break away from the Empire. Angered by this betrayal, Genghis Khan ordered a second invasion which systematically wiped out the Western Xia Dynasty ending in 1227.

In 1211 about 50000 Mongol horsemen invaded the Jin Dynasty. The Jin had an army of 150000 but many defected to their opponents. They retreated, allowing the Mongols to take first the Western capital, then the Eastern capital and finally forced them into a humiliating treaty to save their central capital, modern day Bejing. Nonetheless, they retreat to their Southern capital, leaving much of their northern land to the Mongols.

The Khitai besieged Almaliq, a city belonging to t he Karluks, a vassal of the Mongols. Genghis Khan dispatched a force under the command of Jebe and Barchuk, 2 of his best commanders. Weakened by their recent war with the Khwarezmian empire, the Qara Khita were easily defeated in less than 2 years.

The invasion commenced when the leader of the Khwarezmian Empire, Muhammed II, killed a peaceful merchant envoy. The Mongols retaliated swiftly, conquering the entire empire in just 2 years.

Mongol troops penetrate into southern Russia and into Crimea, defeating multiple small armies before retreating back to Mongolia.

Genghis Khan dies durin the fall of Yinchuan, the capital of the Western Xian Dynasty. Multiple causes have been attributed to his death, with the real reason unknown. Some possibilities include death in combat, through illness, falling off his horse or a hunting accident. His body was said to be buried near where he grew up in the Mongolian plains, but the exact location remains unkown.

Genghis' grandson Ögedei is elected leader at a Khuruldai, fulfilling his fathers wishes. During Ögedei's rule, the empire would expand in all directions, penetrating into India, Korea and as far west as Europe. Besides conquest, his reign would see the start of the bureaucratization of the Mongol Empire.

Compared to the previous invasion, this was much closer, with both sides finding success in specific battles. In the end, it was the Mongols strategy of cutting off their enemies food supplies together with the help of the Song Dynasty in the South that ended the Jin Dynasty.

The Western part of the empire, known as the Golden Horde, decimates the Bulgars, a people living in what is now European Russia. They also defeat the Kievan Rus, Cumanians and Alanians.

Batu Khan, grandon of Genghis Khan and founder of the Golden Horde, invades Eastern Europe. With the operations planned by the legendary general Subutai, the Mongols defeated the forces of fragmented Poland, the kingdom of Hungay and Georgia as well as raiding into Croatia, the Latin Empire and the Second Bulgarian Empire.

Ögedei Khan dies while hunting after drinking heavily. Batu is called back from his campaign to be present for the selection of the new Great Khan. In all probability, it is this accidental death which stops the Mongols invasion of Europe.

Ögedei Khan's widow, Töregene, rules the empire by common consent. Her son, Güyük, becomes Khan in 1246.

Güyük's started his reign with the execution of many of the previous administrations officials. He proved a surprisingly effective ruler, pursuing minor campaigns against the Song, Persians and Georgians. On the way to a confrontation with Batu in 1248, he died of an unknown cause. Güyük Khan dies in 1248. His wife, Oghul Qaimish, rules for 3 years as reagent.

Möngke Khan, another of Genghis' grandsons, is elected Great Khan by a Khuruldai in 1258. He will be the last Great Khan to have his capital in Mongolia. He will also be the last to be a true Great Khan. After him, with the empire split into 4 khanates, there could never be a universal ruler.

The city, situated in modern-day Iraq had for centuries been the centre of the Abbasid Caliphate. While it was no longer the capital at the time of the siege, it still held much symbolic significance. It was immensely rich and home to around 1 million people. This event is said to have marked the end of the Islamic Golden Age.

The Mongols take over much of present-day Syria and begin the invasion of the Song dynasty. Möngke Khan dies during a siege of a provincial town in Sichuan, China.

Ariq Böke and Kublai, both brothers of Möngke, each hold a kurultai proclaiming them Great Khan. Kublai halts his invasion of the Song to march north and defeat his brother. Kublai takes the Mongolian capital Karakorum in 1261 and wins the initial battles. Despite this, it takes several years before Kublai's blockade of food, increasing allies among other Khanates and superior numbers made Ariq Böke surrender. Kublai pardons him, but he dies a few years later under mysterious circumstances.

Kublai knew the only way his Chinese subjects would allow his rule was to accept Chinese customs. He was proclaimed emperor and named his empire the Yuan Dynasty. He embraced the cultural and political norms of the country, although he sought to limit the power of local leaders and centralize power onto himself. During his lifetime, the Yuan dynasty flourished as a rich, unified and militarily powerful state. Kublai dies in 1294.

The successors of Kublai Khan gradually lose all influence over the other Mongol khanates. By becoming Chinese emperors and adopting its traditional culture they became estranged to other Mongol factions. The reigns of later emperors were short and and marked by rivalries and intrigues. With the failure of their government to respond to a series of natural disasters in the 1340's, there was growing public discontentment. This culminated in a series of rebellion starting in the 1350's.

Rebels overthrow the Yuan dynasty in 1368. They establish the Ming dynasty, expelling the last Yuan emperor, Toghon Temür, who died 2 years later. The Yuan dynasty retreated to the Mongolian plains where they ruled for another 60 years as the Northern Yuan dynasty until they were finally defeated by the Later Jin dynasty in 1645.

With the Yuan Dynasty fallen, the remaining Khanates were left to fend for themselves. The Ilkhanate had already disintegrated into several states after the death of its last ruler, Abu Sa'id, in 1335. The Golden Horde was divided into over 7 individual Khanates during the 15th century and these were all defeated during the early 16th century. The Chagatai Khanate fractured into many smaller states during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Despite the political fragmentation of the Mongol Empire into four khanates (Yuan dynasty, Golden Horde, Chagatai Khanate and Ilkhanate), nearly a century of conquest and civil war was followed by relative stability in the early 14th century.

The division of the Mongol Empire began when Möngke Khan died in 1259 in the siege of Diaoyu Castle with no declared successor, precipitating infighting between members of the Tolui family line for the title of khagan that escalated into the Toluid Civil War.

Administrative Reform in the Mongol Empire

Möngke was generally a popular ruler of the Mongol Empire he met debts, controlled spending, conducted a census, and protected civilians.

Learning Objectives

Choose the best summary of Möngke’s achievements

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • After Ögedei’s death, Genghis Khan ‘s descendants Güyük and Batu Khan fought about who would rule until Batu Khan’s death, at which point Genghis’ grandson Möngke took control.
  • Möngke was generally a popular ruler. He generously met all Güyük’s outstanding debts, an unprecedented move.
  • Möngke also forbade extravagant spending, imposed taxes (which incited some rebellions), and punished the unauthorized plundering of civilians. He established the Department of Monetary Affairs and standardized a system of measurement.
  • Möngke conducted a census of the Mongol Empire and its land.

Key Terms

  • ingot: A block of steel, gold, or other metal oblong in shape and used for currency.
  • Department of Monetary Affairs: Möngke established this body to control the issuance of paper money in order to eliminate the overissue of currency that had been a problem since Ögedei’s reign.

From Ögedei’s death in 1241 CE until 1246 CE the Mongol Empire was ruled under the regency of Ögedei’s widow, Töregene Khatun. She set the stage for the ascension of her son, Güyük, as Great Khan, and he would take control in 1246. He and Ögedei’s nephew Batu Khan (both grandsons of Genghis Khan) fought bitterly for power Güyük died in 1248 on the way to confront Batu.

Another nephew of Ögedei’s (and so a third grandson of Genghis Khan’s), Möngke, then took the throne in 1251 with Batu’s approval. In 1255, well into Möngke’s reign, Batu had repaired his relationship with the Great Khan and so finally felt secure enough to prepare invasions westward into Europe. Fortunately for the Europeans, however, he died before his plans could be implemented.

The Mongol Empire Under Möngke

Möngke’s rule established some of the most consistent monetary and administrative policies since Genghis Khan. In the mercantile department he:

  • Forbade extravagant spending and limited gifts to the princes.
  • Made merchants subject to taxes.
  • Prohibited the demanding of goods and services from civilian populations by merchants.
  • Punished the unauthorized plundering of civilians by generals and princes (including his own son).

In 1253, Möngke established the Department of Monetary Affairs to control the issuance of paper money. This new department contributed to better econimic stability including:

  • Limiting the overissue of currency, which had been a problem since Ögedei’s reign.
  • Standardizing a system of measurement based on the silver ingot.
  • Paying out all debts drawn by high-rank Mongol elites to important foreign and local merchants.

Möngke recognized that if he did not meet his predecessor’s, Güyük’s, financial obligations, it would make merchants reluctant to continue business with the Mongols. Like many other rules around the world at this time, his hope was to take advantage of the budding commercial revolution in Europe and the Middle East. Ata-Malik Juvaini, a 13th-century Persian historian, commented on the virtue of this move, saying, “And from what book of history has it been read or heard…that a king paid the debt of another king? ”

The Mongol Empire’s administration followed a trend that was occurring in the Western Europe, in which kings and emperors were finding efficient ways to manage their administrative and legals systems and fund crusades, conquests, and wars. From 1252–1259, Möngke conducted a census of the Mongol Empire including Iran, Afghanistan, Georgia, Armenia, Russia, Central Asia and North China. The new census counted not only households but also the number of men aged 15–60 and the number of fields, livestock, vineyards, and orchards.

Möngke also tried to create a fixed poll tax collected by imperial agents, which could be forwarded to the needy units. He taxed the wealthiest people most severely. But the census and taxation sparked popular riots and resistance in the western districts and in the more independent regions under the Mongol umbrella. These rebellions were ultimately put down, and Möngke would continue to rule.

Expansion and Khanates

At the death of Genghis Khan in 1226, the empire was already large enough that one ruler could not oversee the administrative aspects of each region. Genghis realized this and created appanages, or khanates, for his sons, daughters, and grandsons to rule over in order to keep a consistent rule of law. Möngke’s administrative policies extended to these regions during his reign, often causing local unrest due to Mongol occupation and taxation. Some khanates were more closely linked to centralized Mongol policies than others, depending on their location, who oversaw them, and the amount of resistance in each region.

Painting of the Battle of Mohi in 1241: Möngke might have been present at this battle, which took place in the kingdom of Hungary, during one of the many Mongol invasions and attacks that expanded the Mongol Empire.

It should also be noted that the vast religious and cultural traditions of these khanates, including Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Orthodoxy, and Buddhism, were often at odds with the khanate rulers and their demands. Some of the most essential khanates to exist under Möngke’s administrative years included:

  • The Golden Horde, which contained the Rus’ principalities and large chunks of modern-day Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, Belarus, and Romania. Many Russian princes capitulated with Mongol rule and a relatively stable alliance existed in the 1250s in some principalities.
  • Chagatai Khanate was a Turkic region which was ruled over by Chagatai, Odegei’s second son, until 1242 at his death. This region was clearly Islamic and functioned as an outlying region of the central Mongol government until 1259, when Möngke died.
  • Ilkhanate was the major southwestern khanate of the Mongol Empire and encompassed parts of modern-day Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey and the heartland of Persian culture. Möngke’s brother, Hulagu, ruled over this region and his descendants continued to oversee this khanate into the 14th century.

Möngke’s Death

Möngke died while conducting war in China on August 11, 1259. He was possibly a victim of cholera or dysentery, however there is no confirmed record of the cause of his death. His son Asutai conducted him back to Mongolia to be buried. The ruler’s death sparked the four-year Toluid Civil War between his two younger brothers, Kublai and Ariq Böke, and also spurred on the division of the Mongol Empire.


The climate of Central Asia became dry after the large tectonic collision between the Indian Plate and the Eurasian Plate. This impact threw up the massive chain of mountains known as the Himalayas. The Himalayas, Greater Khingan and Lesser Khingan mountains act like a high wall, blocking the warm and wet climate from penetrating into Central Asia. Many of the mountains of Mongolia were formed during the Late Neogene and Early Quaternary periods. The Mongolian climate was more humid hundreds of thousands of years ago. Mongolia is known to be the source of priceless paleontological discoveries. The first scientifically confirmed dinosaur eggs were found in Mongolia during the 1923 expedition of the American Museum of Natural History, led by Roy Chapman Andrews.

During the middle to late Eocene Epoch, Mongolia was the home of many Paleogene mammals with Sarkastodon and Andrewsarchus being the most prominent of them.

Homo erectus possibly inhabited Mongolia as much as 800,000 years ago but fossils of Homo erectus have not yet been found in Mongolia. Stone tools have been found in the southern, Gobi, region, perhaps dating back as much as 800,000 years. [3] Important prehistoric sites are the Paleolithic cave drawings of the Khoid Tsenkheriin Agui (Northern Cave of Blue) in Khovd province, [4] and the Tsagaan Agui (White Cave) in Bayankhongor Province. [5] A neolithic farming settlement has been found in Dornod Province. Contemporary findings from western Mongolia include only temporary encampments of hunters and fishers. The population during the Copper Age has been described as "paleomongolid" in the east of what is now Mongolia, and as "europid" in the west. [4]

The Slab Grave culture of the late Bronze and early Iron Age, related to the proto-Mongols, spread over Northern, Central and Eastern Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Northwest China (Xinjiang, Qilian Mountains etc.), Manchuria, Lesser Khingan, Buryatia, Irkutsk Oblast and Zabaykalsky Krai. [6] This culture is the main archaeological find of the Bronze Age Mongolia.

Deer stones (also known as reindeer stones) and the omnipresent kheregsüürs (small kurgans) probably are from this era other theories date the deer stones as 7th or 8th centuries BC. Deer stones are ancient megaliths carved with symbols that can be found all over central and eastern Eurasia but are concentrated largely in Siberia and Mongolia. Most deer stones occur in association with ancient graves it is believed that stones are the guardians of the dead. There are around 700 deer stones known in Mongolia of a total of 900 deer stones that have been found in Central Asia and South Siberia. Their true purpose and creators are still unknown. Some researchers claim that deer stones are rooted in shamanism and are thought to have been set up during the Bronze Age around 1000 BC, and may mark the graves of important people. Later inhabitants of the area likely reused them to mark their own burial mounds, and perhaps for other purposes. In Mongolia, the Lake Baikal area, and the Sayan and Altai Mountains, there are 550, 20, 20, and 60 known deer stones respectively. Moreover, there are another 20 deer stones in Kazakhstan and the Middle East (Samashyev 1992) and 10 further west, specifically in Ukraine and parts of the Russian Federation, including the provinces of Orenburg and the Caucasus, and near the Elbe River (Mongolian History 2003). According to H.L. Chlyenova, the artistic deer image originated from the Sak tribe and its branches (Chlyenova 1962). Volkov believes that some of the methods of crafting deer stone art are closely related to Scythians (Volkov 1967), whereas Mongolian archaeologist D. Tseveendorj regards deer stone art as having originated in Mongolia during the Bronze Age and spread thereafter to Tuva and the Baikal area (Tseveendorj 1979).

A vast Iron Age burial complex from the 5th-3rd centuries, later also used by the Xiongnu, has been unearthed near Ulaangom. [4]

Before the 20th century, some scholars assumed that the Scythians descended from the Mongolic people. [7] The Scythian community inhabited western Mongolia in the 5-6th centuries. In 2006, the mummy of a Scythian warrior, which is believed to be about 2,500 years old was a 30-to-40-year-old man with blond hair, was found in the Altai Mountains, Mongolia. [8]

In historical times Eurasian nomads were concentrated on the steppe lands of Central Asia. [9] Furthermore, it is assumed that the Turkic peoples have always inhabited the western, the Mongols the central, and the Tungusic peoples the eastern portions of the region. [9]

By the 8th century BC, the inhabitants of the western part of Mongolia evidently were nomadic Indo-European migrants, either Scythians [10] or Yuezhi. In central and eastern parts of Mongolia were many other tribes that were primarily Mongol in their ethnologic characteristics. [10]

With the appearance of iron weapons by the 3rd century BC, the inhabitants of Mongolia had begun to form clan alliances and lived a hunter and herder lifestyle. The origins of more modern inhabitants are found among the forest hunters and nomadic tribes of Inner Asia. They inhabited a great arc of land extending generally from the Korean Peninsula in the east, across the northern tier of China to present-day Kazakhstan and to the Pamir Mountains and Lake Balkash in the west. During most of recorded history, this has been an area of constant ferment from which emerged numerous migrations and invasions to the southeast (into China), to the southwest (into Transoxiana—modern Uzbekistan, Iran, and India), and to the west (across Scythia toward Europe).

The area of modern Mongolia has been inhabited by groups of nomads since ancient times. The ancient population had a nomadic and hunter lifestyle and lived a fairly closed life. [ citation needed ] While most of Central Asia had a fairly similar nomadic lifestyle where moving in and around national boundaries and mixing with different settlements was common, the situation in the Mongolian steppes was unique because migration was limited by natural barriers such as the Altai Mountains in the west, the Gobi Desert in the south and the freezing wastelands of Siberia in the north, all unsuitable for nomadic-based living. These greatly limited migration, although they also kept out invaders. The clans in Mongolia only allied with other Mongolian clans, with which they shared the same language, religion, and way of life. This would later be a huge advantage in uniting the people in Mongolia against the threat of the expanding Chinese empires. There were repeated conflicts with the Chinese dynasties of Shang and especially Zhou, which had begun conquering and enslaving the Mongolic people in an expansive drift. During the Warring States Period (475–221 BC) in China, the northern states of Zhao, Yan, and Qin had begun to encroach into and conquer parts of southern Mongolia. By the time the Qin dynasty had united all of China's kingdoms into one empire in the 3rd century BC, the Xiongnu confederacy had formed in the Mongolian plains, transforming all of the independent clans into one single state that reassured their safety and independence from an expanding Qin.

Xiongnu state (209 BC–93 AD) Edit

The establishment of the Xiongnu empire in Mongolia in the 3rd century BC marks the beginning of statehood on the territory of Mongolia.

The identity of the ethnic core of Xiongnu has been a subject of varied hypotheses and some scholars, including Paul Pelliot and Byambyn Rinchen, [11] insisted on a Mongolic origin.

The first significant appearance of nomads came late in the 3rd century BC, when the Chinese repelled an invasion of the Xiongnu (Hsiung-nu in Wade–Giles romanisation) across the Yellow River from the Gobi. A Chinese army, which had adopted Xiongnu military technology—wearing trousers and using mounted archers with stirrups—pursued the Xiongnu across the Gobi in a ruthless punitive expedition. Fortification walls built by various Chinese warring states were connected to make a 2,300-kilometre Great Wall along the northern border, as a barrier to further nomadic inroads.

The founder of the Xiongnu empire was Toumen. He was succeeded violently by his son Modu Shanyu, who then conquered and unified various tribes. At the peak of its power, the Xiongnu confederacy stretched from Lake Baikal in the north to the Great Wall in the south and from the Tian Shan mountains in the west to the Greater Khingan ranges in the east. In the 2nd century BC the Xiongnu turned their attention westward to the region of the Altai Mountains and Lake Balkash, inhabited by Indo-European-speaking nomadic peoples, including Yuezhi (Yüeh-chih in Wade–Giles), who had relocated from China's present-day Gansu Province as a result of their earlier defeat by the Xiongnu. Endemic warfare between these two nomadic peoples reached a climax in the latter part of the 3rd century and the early decades of the 2nd century BC the Xiongnu were triumphant. The Yuezhi then migrated to the southwest where, early in the 2nd century, they began to appear in the Oxus (the modern Amu Darya) Valley, to change the course of history in Bactria, Iran, and eventually India.

In 200 BC, the Han dynasty of China launched a military campaign into the territory, attempting to subjugate the Xiongnu. However the Xiongnu forces ambushed and encircled the Han Emperor Gaozu at Baideng for seven days. Emperor Gao was forced to submit to the Xiongnu, and a treaty was signed in 198 BC recognising all the territories to the north from the Great Wall should belong to the Xiongnu, while the territory to the south of the Great Wall should belong to the Han. In addition, China was obliged to marry princesses and pay annual tribute to the Xiongnu. This "marriage alliance" was far from peaceful, as Xiongnu raids into the fertile southern land never ceased. During the period of Emperor Wen, Xiongnu raids advanced into China Proper, ravaged and even besieged near its capital Chang'an. This continued for 70 years until the reign of Emperor Wu, whose massive counteroffensives devastated the Xiongnu and sent them towards the road of decline.

The Xiongnu again raided northern China about 200 BC, finding that the inadequately defended Great Wall was not a serious obstacle. By the middle of the 2nd century BC, they controlled all of northern and western China north of the Yellow River. This renewed threat led the Chinese to improve their defences in the north, while building up and improving the army, particularly the cavalry, and while preparing long-range plans for an invasion of Mongolia.

By 176 BC, domain of the Xiongnu was 4,030,000 km 2 (1,560,000 sq mi) in size. [12] Xiongnu capital (Luut Dragon) located on the beach Orkhon River, Central Mongolia. [13]

Between 130 and 121 BC, Chinese armies drove the Xiongnu back across the Great Wall, weakened their hold on Gansu Province as well as on what is now Inner Mongolia, and finally pushed them north of the Gobi into central Mongolia. Following these victories, the Chinese expanded into the areas later known as Manchuria, Mongolia, the Korean Peninsula, and Inner Asia. The Xiongnu, once more turning their attention to the west and the southwest, raided deep into the Oxus Valley between 73 and 44 BC. The descendants of the Yuezhi and their Chinese rulers, however, formed a common front against the Xiongnu and repelled them.

During the next century, as Chinese strength waned, border warfare between the Chinese and the Xiongnu was almost incessant. Gradually the nomads forced their way back into Gansu and the northern part of what is now China's Xinjiang. In about the middle of the 1st century AD, a revitalized Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220) slowly recovered these territories, driving the Xiongnu back into the Altai Mountains and the steppes north of the Gobi. During the late 1st century AD, having reestablished the administrative control over southern China and northern Vietnam that had been lost briefly at beginning of this same century, the Eastern Han made a concerted effort to reassert dominance over Inner Asia. The concept of Mongolia as an independent power north of China is seen in the letter sent by Emperor Wen of Han to Laoshang Chanyu in 162 BC (recorded in the Hanshu):

The Emperor of China respectfully salutes the great Shan Yu (Chanyu) of the Hsiung-nu (Xiongnu). When my imperial predecessor erected the Great Wall, all the bowmen nations on the north were subject to the Shan Yu while the residents inside the wall, who wore the cap and sash, were all under our government: and the myriads of the people, by following their occupations, ploughing and weaving, shooting and hunting, were able to provide themselves with food and clothing. Your letter says:--"The two nations being now at peace, and the two princes living in harmony, military operations may cease, the troops may send their horses to graze, and prosperity and happiness prevail from age to age, commencing, a new era of contentment and peace." That is extremely gratifying to me. Should I, in concert with the Shan Yu, follow this course, complying with the will of heaven, then compassion for the people will be transmitted from age to age, and extended to unending generations, while the universe will be moved with admiration, and the influence will be felt by neighbouring kingdoms inimical to the Chinese or the Hsiung-nu. As the Hsiung-nu live in the northern regions, where the cold piercing atmosphere comes at an early period, I have ordered the proper authorities to transmit yearly to the Shan Yu, a certain amount of grain, gold, silks of the finer and coarser kinds, and other objects. Now peace prevails all over the world the myriads of the population are living in harmony, and I and the Shan Yu alone are the parents of the people. After the conclusion of the treaty of peace throughout the world, take notice, the Han will not be the first to transgress. [14]

The identity of the ethnic core of Xiongnu has been a subject of varied hypotheses and some scholars, including A.Luvsandendev, Bernát Munkácsi, Henry Howorth, Rashpuntsag, [15] Alexey Okladnikov, Peter Pallas, Isaak Schmidt, Nikita Bichurin and Byambyn Rinchen, [16] insisted on a Mongolic origin.

There are many cultural similarities between the Xiongnu and Mongols such as yurt on cart, composite bow, board game, horn bow and long song. [17] Mongolian long song is believed to date back at least 2,000 years. [18] Mythical origin of the long song mentioned in "Book of Wei (Volume 113).

In AD 48, the Xiongnu empire was weakened as it was divided into the southern and northern Xiongnu. The northern Xiongnu migrated to the west. They established Üeban state (160–490) in modern Kazakhstan and Hunnic Empire (370s–469) in Europe. The Xianbei that were under the Xiongnu rebelled in AD 93, ending the Xiongnu domination in Mongolia.

Recent excavations of Xiongnu graves at the site Gol Mod in the Khairkhan of Arkhangai province, discovered bronze decorations with images of a creature resembling the unicorn and images of deities resembling the Greco-Roman deities. These discoveries lead to a hypothesis that the Xiongnu had relations with the Greco-Roman world 2000 years ago. [19]

Xianbei state (147–234) Edit

Although the Xiongnu finally had been split into two parts in AD 48, the Xianbei (or Hsien-pei in Wade–Giles) had moved (apparently from the east) into the region vacated by the Xiongnu. The Xianbei were the northern branch of the Donghu (or Tung Hu, the Eastern Hu), a proto-Mongol group mentioned in Chinese histories as existing as early as the 4th century BC. The language of the Donghu is believed to be proto-Mongolic to modern scholars. The Donghu were among the first peoples conquered by the Xiongnu. Once the Xiongnu state weakened, however, the Donghu rebelled. By the 1st century AD, two major subdivisions of the Donghu had developed: the proto-Mongolic Xianbei in the north and the Wuhuan in the south.

The Xianbei gained strength beginning from the 1st century AD and were consolidated into a state under Tanshihuai in 147. He expelled the Xiongnu from Jungaria, and pushed the Dingling to the north of the Sayans, thus securing domination of the Mongolic elements in what is now Khalkha and Chaharia. [20] The Xianbei successfully repelled an invasion of the Han dynasty in 167 and conquered areas of northern China in 180.

There are various hypotheses about the language and ethnic links of the Xianbei and most widely accepted version suggests that the Xianbei were a Mongolic ethnic group and their branches are the ancestors of many Mongolic peoples such as the Rouran, Khitan and Menggu Xibei, who are suggested to be the proto-Mongols. [21] The ruler of the Xianbei state was elected by a congress of the nobility. The Xianbei used woodcut tallies called Kemu as a form of non-verbal communication. Besides extensive livestock husbandry, the Xianbei were also engaged on a limited scale in farming and handicraft. The Xianbei fractured in the 3rd century.

The Xianbei established an empire, which, although short-lived, gave rise to numerous tribal states along the Chinese frontier. Among these states was that of the Toba (T'o-pa in Wade–Giles), a subgroup of the Xianbei, in modern China's Shanxi Province.

The Wuhuan also were prominent in the 2nd century, but they disappeared thereafter possibly they were absorbed in the Xianbei western expansion. The Xianbei and the Wuhuan used mounted archers in warfare, and they had only temporary war leaders instead of hereditary chiefs. Agriculture, rather than full-scale nomadism, was the basis of their economy. In the 6th century, the Wuhuan were driven out of Inner Asia into the Russian [ clarification needed ] steppe.

Chinese control of parts of Inner Asia did not last beyond the opening years of the 2nd century AD, and, as the Eastern Han dynasty ended early in the 3rd century AD, suzerainty was limited primarily to the Gansu corridor. The Xianbei were able to make forays into a China beset with internal unrest and political disintegration. By 317 all of China north of the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang) had been overrun by nomadic peoples: the Xianbei from the north some remnants of the Xiongnu from the northwest and the Chiang people of Gansu and Tibet (present-day China's Xizang Autonomous Region) from the west and the southwest. Chaos prevailed as these groups warred with each other and repulsed the vain efforts of the fragmented Chinese kingdoms south of the Yangtze River to reconquer the region.

Tuoba, a faction of the Xianbei, established the Tuoba Wei empire beyond Mongolia proper in northern China in 386. By the end of the 4th century, the region between the Yangtze and the Gobi, including much of modern Xinjiang, was dominated by the Tuoba. Emerging as the partially sinicized state of Dai between AD 338 and 376 in the Shanxi area, the Tuoba established control over the region as the Northern Wei (AD 386-533). Northern Wei armies drove back the Rouran (also referred to as Ruru or Juan-Juan by Chinese chroniclers), a newly arising nomadic Mongol people in the steppes north of the Altai Mountains, and reconstructed the Great Wall. During the 4th century also, the Huns left the steppes north of the Aral Sea to invade Europe. [ dubious – discuss ] By the middle of the 5th century, Northern Wei had penetrated into the Tarim Basin in Inner Asia, as had the Chinese in the 2nd century. As the empire grew, however, Tuoba tribal customs were supplanted by those of the Chinese, an evolution not accepted by all Tuoba. Tuoba Wei existed until 581.

The Mongol Empire

The Mongol Empire was formed in 1206 by Genghis Khan. Starting out as a confederation of small nomadic tribes, it quickly expanded across Eurasia. They conquered the Jin, Western Xia and Song Dynasties in China, along with the Khwarazmian Empire and various nations across Russia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. By 1240, they were in Poland and Hungary, on the doorstep of Europe. Only a freak accident stopped them from decimating the continent. By the early 1250s, the Mongols had already eclipsed the Roman Empire at its greatest extent. It had taken less than half a century to conquer more land than Rome did in millennia.

The Empire continued to grow, reaching its maximum in 1279. It should be noted that although it is still counted as a single empire, it was at this point divided into 4 khanates. These khanates occupy numbers 9, 19, 40 and 42 in the standings. At its height, the Mongol Empire was the biggest contiguous empire in world history. This means it was the largest empire that ever operated on a single landmass. This is opposed to the British Empire which operated globally, rather than just on Eurasia.

Greatest Extent of the Mongol Empire by Astrokey44

The Achievements of Pax Mongolica

The situation changed with the Pax Mongolica. As the Mongols controlled the entire length of the Silk Road, they were also able to impose their authority on it. Indeed, Genghis Khan and his successors promoted the use of the Silk Road, and were serious about maintaining the safety of the Silk Road for travelers. For instance, permanent army garrisons were placed along major routes, and patrolling this vast area was possible thanks to the size and mobility of the Mongol army. The safety of the Silk Road during the Pax Mongolica is often illustrated by the saying that a maiden with a gold nugget in her hand could travel across the empire without being harassed.

Mongol riders with prisoners. Illustration of Rashid-ad-Din's Gami' at-tawarih. ( Public Domain )

International trade flourished as a result of the Pax Mongolica, and luxury goods traveled between East and West. One of the steps taken by the Mongols to further encourage this trade was to put in place a single system of trade tariffs and taxes. Prior to the Mongol conquests, each state controlling the different parts of the Silk Road would have had its own system of trade tariff and taxes, making it less convenient for merchants. Moreover, the Mongols established a postal system, called the Yam, which enabled letters and messages to be carried swiftly over long distances, making communication much easier.

Letter from Mongolian ruler Oljeitu to King of France Philippe le Bel, in 1305. (PHGCOM/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

It was not just goods that traveled along the Silk Road, but ideas and technology as well. It is well-known that the Silk Road allowed Buddhism to enter China during the Han Dynasty, and the use of this route by missionaries continued during the Pax Mongolica. Thanks to the Mongols, Tibetan Buddhism made its way into China and Mongolia, Islam spread into Eastern Europe, and Nestorian Christianity saw a revival in Eurasia. Whilst some of the Monfol khans converted to the faiths they encountered, others maintained their traditional religion. Nevertheless, in both instances, the Mongols did not impose their religious practices on their subjects, and religious freedom was enjoyed by their people.

Persian miniature depicting Ilkhanate ruler Ghazan's conversion from Buddhism to Islam. ( Public Domain )

Think about

From Temüjin to Genghis Khan

Describe the social relation in the traditional societies of the Asian steppe.

What explains Temüjin’s success as a military leader?

Which administrative reforms did Genghis Khan undertake?

What are the challenges of creating a nomadic empire?

Why was the Mongol victory over the Khwarazmian Empire a pivotal event?

How was the Mongol army organized? What made it so successful?

Describe some of the battlefield tactics employed by the Mongols.

Why did the Mongols never invade Europe?

How did the Mongol empire come to be divided? Give a brief description of its constituent parts.

How did the Mongols eventually come to occupy China? Which challenges did the Mongols face when ruling the country?


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