By the peak of its power in the first half of the 13th century, the Mongol Empire, founded by Genghis Khan and expanded by his successors, had conquered vast territories, including China, the Middle East, and the countries of Eastern Europe.
From the second half of the 13th century, the empire disintegrated into separate ulus, and the state gradually fell into decline, lasting less than 100 years. However, this did not stop the Mongol Empire from making its way into history textbooks and occupying the minds of specialists who publish books about it every year.
How did the Mongols manage to conquer the whole world, and why did they, like a roller, sweep across Asia and Europe without encountering any worthy resistance? There are several reasons for this.
Their warriors were trained in the craft of war from a young age
Unlike in Europe, where there were no permanent armies and wars were fought mainly with mercenaries, in Mongol Empire, both boys and girls were trained in horseback riding, bow, and edged weapons from their early years.
There were constant competitions between them in track and field athletics, shooting, hunting, and horse racing. By the time they reached adulthood, they had mastered the martial arts and could hit a rival on the gallop with an arrow from several meters away.
Mongol warriors were among the best in the world, and there were few armies that could match them.
They were tolerant of all religions
In the 13th century, religious intolerance was rampant in Europe and Asia. Crusades were organized in which Christians killed Muslims and vice versa. As a result, it wasn’t easy to come to terms with each other, and leaders resorted to diplomacy only in extreme cases.
The main religion in Mongolia was shamanism, which placed the forces of nature above all else. The Mongols did not see the need to spread their faith, much less impose it on the conquered nations, which the followers of mono-religions usually did. Moreover, they did not forbid and even supported local religions, allowing them to hold rites and live according to their beliefs if they did not contradict the Mongolian law.
Since the people of that time were not based on the state but religion, it did not matter to them what country to live in, as long as they were allowed to follow their beliefs. This tolerance policy enabled the Mongol Empire to reduce the risk of revolt greatly.
The Mongolian laws were in many ways better than the local laws
When the Mongols invaded a country – they introduced their law, destroying the previous power structure, including the punishment system. In many states, the law was much stricter than in the Mongol Empire, and the common people welcomed the relaxation of the laws.
In addition, the conquest removed all nobles from power and installed new ones who had earned their position through achievement rather than descent. This ensured that the new administration was loyal to the conquerors. In fact, under the Mongols, anyone, even an ordinary shepherd with talent, could become a general.
This rule applied to everyone, even members of Genghis Khan’s family. Khan could take his post only by winning the vote. If a person tried to usurp power by becoming Khan, not by voting, he faced the death penalty.
They used terror tactics skilfully
The Mongols, contrary to popular belief, were not savages from the steppes who could only slaughter the population of the cities. They were cunning diplomats. They did carve up towns, but everyone was doing at the time. The only difference was that the Mongols did this infrequently and sometimes released people from destroyed cities to spread the word around.
People were quick to spread fear by spreading tales of the atrocities of the conquerors, and towns, fearing a repeat of this fate, often surrendered without a fight. In addition to terror tactics, the Mongols also employed a tactic of leniency – giving pardons to those who quickly conquered.
Many voluntarily passed under the protectorate, realizing how fearsome the Mongols were in anger and how loyal they were in submission.
The Mongol Empire was a war machine for the whole world
As we have said above, most of Europe’s armies were made up of mercenaries – usually from the same countries. Of course, only the same-nationals. The percentage of Mongols in the military was quite small, and its main part was made up of conquered peoples, such as Tatars, Chinese. Unlike the Europeans, the Mongols skillfully used the potential of the conquered territories, mobilizing the combat-ready population for further military operations.
The Mongol army was superior in tactics and military trickery
When faced with the Mongols, there was little Europeans could do against them, for they fought differently than they were used to in Europe and Asia. The Mongols used the ‘hit and run’ tactic, using small mobile cavalry units that struck from several sides, demoralizing the enemy troops and breaking them into small groups. The cavalry would then finish off those who did not flee the battlefield.
At the beginning of the battle, the Mongols preferred to fire from a long distance, and when the enemy formation was broken, they finished off the warriors in close combat. The Mongols also used encirclement tactics, encircling armies. Due to their mobility, Mongol warriors on horseback could outflank the advancing army, trap it on all sides, deprive it of supplies, and force it to surrender.
They had a reliable communication system
Before the Mongol Empire, even popular trade routes, such as the Silk Road were dangerous for merchants and travelers. Having conquered the territories through which this and other routes passed, the Mongols encouraged trade and watched out for safety. A man could walk safely from one point of the empire to another, knowing that he would not be robbed along the way. And if they did, the harsh Mongolian laws would catch up with the criminals.
Thanks to this, the Mongol Empire grew rich financially and culturally. In addition, placing way stations on the caravan routes could quickly transmit information and request reinforcements.
They made extensive use of spies
In many European and Asian countries, espionage was considered an unworthy occupation, which was disgusting in its dishonesty. But the Mongols understood that all this was just silly prejudice and actively used spies for reconnaissance. Spies would infiltrate cities, inspect the situation, and, if the capture were not dangerous, the army would set out to assault.
Spies were also used for reconnaissance before the battle. Unlike other armies, for which the enemy’s position, their numbers, and other parameters were unknown, the Mongols knew even which side to approach to inflict the maximum damage.
They embraced new ideas
While Europe had followed long-standing traditions, even seeing how their armies were inferior in technology, the Mongols took the best from conquered peoples and adapted it to their own needs. Since the conquest, the Mongols had advanced far, introducing siege weapons, new tactics, administrative methods, and even writing into their armies. Anything more effective was easily replaced by obsolete, even if the ancestors had used it for centuries.
They had an elaborate supply system
As we mentioned above, the Mongols took care of the security of the trade routes. They, therefore, had a reliable food supply system, which greatly increased the range of the army. In addition, the Mongols relied more on livestock farming, whereas in most countries in Europe and Asia, the main source of food supply was agriculture. The disadvantages of this supply were the relatively small volume, the inability to preserve provisions for long periods, and the limited winter operations.
The Mongols led their armies with cattle, which gave milk and meat. Even after traveling a thousand kilometers, they knew that they would have provisions.