Mongol Eurasia and Its Aftermath, 1200–1500
I0. The Rise of the Mongols, 1200–1260
A0. Nomadism in Central and Inner Asia
10. Nomadic groups depended on scarce water and pasture resources; in times of
scarcity, conflicts occurred, resulting in the extermination of smaller groups and
in the formation of alliances and out-migration. Around the year 1000 the lands
inhabited by the Mongols experienced unusually dry weather with its attendant
effects on the availability of resources and pressures on the nomadic Mongol
20. Mongol groups were a strongly hierarchical organization headed by a single
leader or khan, but the khans had to ask that their decisions be ratified by a
council of the leaders of powerful families. Powerful Mongol groups demanded
and received tribute in goods and in slaves from those less powerful. Some
groups were able to live almost entirely on tribute.
30. The various Mongol groups formed complex federations that were often tied
together by marriage alliances. Women from prestigious families often played an
important role in negotiating these alliances.
40. The seasonal movements of the Mongol tribes brought them into contact with
Manicheanism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. The Mongols
accepted religious pluralism. Mongol khans were thought to represent the Sky
God, who transcended all cultures and religions; khans were thus conceived of as
universal rulers who both transcended and used the various religions of their
50. Nomads strove for economic self-sufficiency, but they always relied on trade
with settled people for certain goods, including iron, wood, cotton, grain, and
silk. When normal trade relations were interrupted, nomads tended to make war
on settled agriculturalists.
B0. The Mongol Conquests, 1215–1283
10. Between 1206 and 1234, under the leadership of Genghis Khan and his
successors, the Mongols conquered all of North China and were threatening the
Southern Song. During this period and onward to about 1265 the Mongol realms
were united as the khans of the Golden Horde, the Jagadai domains of Central
Asia, and the Il-khans all recognized the authority of the Great Khan in
20. When Khubilai declared himself Great Khan in 1265 the other Mongol khans
refused to accept him; the Jagadai Khanate harbored a particular animosity
30. Khubilai founded the Yuan Empire with its capital at Beijing in 1271; in 1279 he
conquered the Southern Song. After 1279, the Yuan attempted to extend its
control to Southeast Asia. Annam and Champa were forced to pay tribute to the
Yuan, but an expedition to Java ended in failure.
40. Historians have pointed to a number of factors that may have contributed to the
Mongols’ ability to conquer such vast territories. These factors include superior
horsemanship, better bows, and the technique of following a volley of arrows with a deadly cavalry charge. Other reasons for the Mongols’ success include
their ability to learn new military techniques, adopt new military technology, and
incorporate non-Mongol soldiers into their armies; their reputation for
slaughtering all those who would not surrender; and their ability to take
advantage of rivalries among their enemies.
C0. Overland Trade and the Plague
10. The Mongol conquests opened overland trade routes and brought about an
unprecedented commercial integration of Eurasia. The growth of long-distance
trade under the Mongols led to significant transfer of military and scientific
knowledge between Europe, the Middle East, China, Iran, and Japan.
20. Diseases including the bubonic plague also spread over the trade routes of the
Mongol Empire. The plague that had lingered in Yunnan (now southwest China)
was transferred to central and north China, to Central Asia, to Kaffa, and from
there to the Mediterranean world.
II0. Mongols and Islam, 1260–1500
A0. Mongol Rivalry
10. In the 1260s the Il-khan Mongol Empire controlled parts of Armenia and all of
Azerbaijan, Mesopotamia, and Iran. Relations between the Buddhist/shamanist
Il-khan Mongols and their Muslim subjects were tense because the Mongols had
murdered the last Abbasid caliph and because Mongol religious beliefs and
customs were contrary to those of Islam.
20. At the same time, Russia was under the domination of the Golden Horde, led by
Genghis Khan’s grandson Batu, who had converted to Islam and announced his
intention to avenge the last caliph. This led to the first conflict between Mongol
30. During this conflict European leaders attempted to make an alliance with the Il-
khans to drive the Muslims out of Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, while the Il-
khans sought European help in driving the Golden Horde out of the Caucasus.
These plans for an alliance never came to fruition because the Il-khan ruler
Ghazan became a Muslim in 1295.
B0. Islam and the State
10. The goal of the Il-khan State was to collect as much tax revenue as possible,
which it did through a tax farming system.
20. In the short term, the tax farming system was able to deliver large amounts of
grain, cash and silk. In the long term, over-taxation led to increases in the price
of grain, a shrinking tax base, and, by 1295, a severe economic crisis.
30. Attempts to end the economic crisis through tax reduction programs coupled
with the introduction of paper money failed to avert a depression that lasted until
1349. Thus the Il-khan domains fragmented as Mongol nobles fought each other
for diminishing resources and Mongols from the Golden Horde attacked and
dismembered the Il-khan Empire.
40. As the Il-khan Empire and the Golden Horde declined in the fourteenth century,
Timur, the last Central Asian conqueror, built the Jagadai Khanate in central and
western Eurasia. Timur’s descendants, the Timurids, ruled the Middle East for
C0. Culture and Science in Islamic Eurasia
10. In literature, the historian Juvaini wrote the first comprehensive account of the
rise of the Mongols under Genghis Khan. Juvaini’s work inspired the work of
Rashid al-Din, who produced a history of the world that was published in a
number of beautifully illustrated editions. Rashid al-Din, a Jew converted to
Islam who served as adviser to the Il-khan ruler, was a good example of the cosmopolitanism of the Mongol world. The Timurids also supported notable
historians including the Moroccan Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406).
20. Muslims under Mongol rulership also made great strides in astronomy, calendar-
making, and the prediction of eclipses. Their innovations included the use of
epicycles to explain the movement of the moon around the earth, the invention of
more precise astronomical instruments, and the collection of astronomical data
from all parts of the Islamic world and China for predicting eclipses with greater
30. In mathematics, Muslim scholars adapted the Indian numerical system, devised
the method for indicating decimal fractions, and calculated the value of pi more
accurately than had been done in classical times. Muslim advances in science,
astronomy, and mathematics were passed along to Europe and had a significant
effect on the development of European science and mathematics.
III0. Regional Responses in Western Eurasia
A0. Russia and Rule from Afar
10. After they defeated the Kievan Rus, the Mongols of the Golden Horde made
their capital at the mouth of the Volga, which was also the end of the overland
caravan route from Central Asia. From their capital the Mongols ruled Russia
“from afar,” leaving the Orthodox Church in place and using the Russian princes
as their agents. As in other Mongol realms, the main goal of the Golden Horde
was to extract as much tax revenue as possible from their subjects.
20. Because Prince Alexander of Novgorod had assisted the Mongols in their
conquest of Russia, the Mongols favored Novgorod and Moscow (ruled by
Prince Alexander’s brother). The favor shown to Novgorod and Moscow
combined with the Mongol devastation of the Ukrainian countryside caused the
Russian population to shift from Kiev toward Novgorod and Moscow, and
Moscow emerged as the new center of the Russian civilization.
30. Some historians believe that Mongol domination had a negative effect on Russia,
bringing economic depression and cultural isolation. Other historians argue that
the Kievan state was already declining when the Mongols came, that the over-
taxation of Russians under Mongol rule was the work of the Russian princes, that
Russia was isolated by the Orthodox church, and that the structure of Russian
government did not change appreciably under Mongol rule.
40. Ivan III, the prince of Moscow, ended Mongol rule in 1480 and adopted the title
B0. New States in Eastern Europe and Anatolia
10. Europe was divided between the political forces of the papacy and those of the
Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Under these conditions, the states of Eastern
Europe—particularly Hungary and Poland—faced the Mongol attacks alone.
20. The Mongol armies that attacked Europe were actually an international force
including Mongols, Turks, Chinese, Iranians, and Europeans and led by Mongol
generals. The well-led “Mongol” armies drove to the outskirts of Vienna,
striking fear into the hearts of the Europeans; but rather than press on, the
Mongols withdrew in December 1241 so that the Mongol princes could return to
Mongolia to elect a successor to the recently deceased Great Khan Ogodei.
30. After the Mongol withdrawal, Europeans initiated a variety of diplomatic and
trade overtures toward the Mongols. Contact between Europeans and Mongols
increased through the thirteenth century and brought knowledge of geography,
natural resources, commerce, science, technology and mathematics from various
parts of the Mongol realms to Europe. At the same time, the Mongol invasions and the bubonic plague caused Europeans to question their accepted customs and
40. The rise and fall of Mongol domination in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries
was accompanied by the rise of stro