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.
A grandfather and his granddaughter in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, People’s Republic of China, 1932.
The grandfather is smiling broadly, the granddaughter looks… a little less excited.
The tomb are called “the pyramids of China” by locals. But anyone who has seen pictures of ancient Egypt’s pyramids would be underwhelmed. About 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) to the west of the modern city of Yinchuan, lies the enormous burial complex of the Western Xia dynasty. The burial complex is quite large, with the tombs taking up 40 square kilometers, or 25 square miles. The sheer size of the complex is a testament to the power of its long-ago empire.
The Western Xia dynasty existed from the 1000s to the 1200s, before it was annihilated by the up-and-coming conqueror, Genghis Khan, because the Western Xia refused to aid him in their conquest of Khwarezm (on the far left of the map). Genghis Khan systematically destroyed Western Xia cities, slaughtering its population, destroying all its written records, and its architecture and cultural artifacts as well. He did his job well: until the 1900s, historians were unaware that Western Xia had existed! When put into context, the imperial tombs become impressive simply for surviving.
When first built, the tombs were more impressive. They were surrounded by two layers of walls, with watchtowers, pavilions, and halls for sacrifices. The mounds themselves had five or seven stories, each story covered with colorful glazed tiles. But the buildings are unrecognizable now. And with the tiles lost to time, the tombs’ inner earth is exposed to the elements. The last survivors of an empire wiped from the map, slowly fading over the centuries, until they, too, are gone.
Toghon Temür was installed as the tenth emperor of the Yuan dynasty in 1333, aged just 13 years old. He is also remembered as the last Khagan (khan or emperor) of the Mongol Empire. A series of natural disasters occurred in his reign, and he helped things go downhill by being especially interested in mixing pleasure and religious matters – such as practicing obscure sexual/magical rites from Tibet. Unsurprisingly he was deeply unpopular. Even his son plotted to overthrow him!
But in the end, it was native Chinese rebellions that did him in, the last and most successful of which is today known as the Red Turban Rebellion. Toghon Temür was forced to flee China for the Mongolian steppes, where the Yuan retained control, and the Ming were installed as the next (ethnically Chinese) dynasty in China.