THE Mongol Empire (1206-1368 CE) eventually dominated Asia from the Black Sea to the Korean peninsula following the initial conquests of its founder Genghis Khan (aka Chinggis, r. 1206-1227 CE), the first Great Khan or ‘universal ruler’ of the Mongol peoples. Genghis forged the empire by uniting the nomadic tribes of the Asian steppe and creating a devastatingly effective army based on fast, light, and highly coordinated cavalry. Expert horsemen and archers, the Mongols proved unstoppable, defeating armies in Iran, Russia, Eastern Europe, China, and many other places.
The descendants of Genghis each ruled a part of the empire – the four khanates – the most powerful of which was the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in China (1271-1368 CE), established by Kublai Khan (r. 1260-1279 CE). Eventually, the Mongols became part of the sedentary societies they had so easily overwhelmed and many converted from traditional shamanism to Tibetan Buddhism or Islam. This was a general symptom of the Mongols not only losing part of their cultural identity but also, too, their famed military prowess, as the four khanates all succumbed to damaging dynastic disputes and the armies of their rivals.
Although not famed for creating any lasting architectural wonders or political institutions, the Mongols did make the significant contribution to world culture of finally connecting the eastern and western worlds via expanded trade routes, diplomatic embassies and the movement of missionaries and travellers from Eurasia to the Far East.