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.
Two gilded silver dragon figurines featuring detailed horns, eyes, teeth, and feathers have been discovered in a Xiongnu elite tomb in north-central Mongolia. The dragons bear obvious characteristics of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 9 CE). They are evidence of the cultural exchange and interaction between the prairie in the north and central China, as well as the high status of the Xiongu buried in the tomb.
Of course, the silver dragons were not the only rich items they were buried with: a trove of gold, silver, bronze, jade and wood artifacts have also been found.
GENGHIS Khan (aka Chinggis Khan, c. 1162/67-1227 CE) was the founder of the Mongol Empire (1206-1368 CE) which he would rule from 1206 until his death in 1227 CE. Born Temujin, he acquired the title of Genghis Khan, likely meaning ‘universal ruler’, and, after unifying the Mongol tribes, he attacked the Xi Xia and Jin states and then Song China. In the other direction, his fast-moving armies invaded Persia, Afghanistan, and even Russia.
Utterly ruthless with his enemies, countless innocents were slaughtered in his campaigns of terror – millions according to medieval chroniclers. Genghis Khan was, though, an able administrator who introduced writing to the Mongols, created their first law code, promoted trade and permitted all religions to be freely practised anywhere in the Mongol world. In this way, Genghis Khan built the foundations of an empire which would, under his successors, ultimately control one-fifth of the globe.
After Genghis Khan’s death, his united Mongol Empire quickly fragmented. One of the four main successors to the united Mongol Empire was the Khanate of the Golden Horde to the northwest. Its land today covers much of central and eastern Russia, as well as the south to the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea.
Also known as the Kipchak Khanate, and the Ulus of Jochi, it was given to Jochi, the eldest son of Genghis Khan. Unfortunately Jochi died several months before his father. So Jochi’s son, Batu Khan, got inherited the territory. Under the new khan, the Golden Horde khanate expanded into Europe, subjugating the Russian principalities as they swept eastwards.
The Golden Horde khanate flourished until the middle of the 1300s, after which it began to decline. And it really fell apart after the invasion by Timur in 1396. By 1400, the Golden Horde fragmented into a number of smaller khanates, three of the most important being the Khanates of Crimea, Astrakhan, and Kazan.