Genghis Khan United the Mongol Tribes and Began the Mongol Expansion
Genghis Khan united the Mongol tribes under his leadership and created the largest land empire in history.
Under the leadership of Genghis Khan, the armies of the united Mongol tribes swept across Eurasia. Within just a few decades, Genghis Khan and his grandsons created a vast empire that stretched over 5000 miles and spanned from Eastern Europe to the Pacific coast in China. As their empire expanded, the Mongols defeated the old power structures (governments) that had dominated Eurasia for hundreds of years. But Mongol dominance did not last. Within 100 years, the Mongols had lost most of their vast territory outside North and Central Asia.
The causes of the Mongol’s rapid success: Genghis Khan’s armies were the best trained, experienced, disciplined, and fast-moving in the world. They also possessed some of the newest warfare technologies, including flaming arrows that exploded and gunpowder projectiles and cannons. The expansion of his armies was rapid. Within just a few decades, much of Eurasia was under his control. Genghis Khan’s armies first conquered Northern China and the other pastoral nomads of Central Asia before turning their sights on the Middle East. Following Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, his successors added Western Russia and Southern China to the long list of peoples conquered by the Mongols.
The Mongols Created the Largest Land Empire in History
The Mongol Empire stretched from the Pacific Coast of China to Eastern Europe. The Mongol Empire only stayed united under one leader until the death of Kublai Khan in 1294. After that, the empire split into fragments (khanates), each ruled by a different khan (leader).
The Mongol Empire was the largest land empire in history. This massive empire had two phases of governance:
A politically centralized empire united under the leadership of one great khan.
The empire fragmented into several pieces called khanates, each ruled by a different khan.
Phase 1: the united Mongol Empire
Under Genghis Khan and his immediate successor, his third son Ogedei, the Mongol empire stayed united. The Mongols established their capital city in Karakorum in modern Mongolia. The Mongols established no bureaucratic state that ruled over the whole of the united Mongol Empire. Instead, the Mongols managed local regions using governing systems that were in place before their conquests.
Governance in the united empire: Genghis and Ogedei appointed Mongols to manage conquered regions.
The following were typical features of early Mongol governance.
- Mongol leaders controlled the upper levels of government.
- Local could advise Mongol leaders or manage the lower levels of government administration.
- In some areas, local princes could rule if they swore allegiance and paid tribute to the Mongols.
Political impacts of Mongol expansion: As the Mongols conquered territory across Eurasia, they destroyed many old ruling powers.
Significant political changes included the following:
- Conquest of non-Mongol Central Asian pastoral peoples
- Destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate in the Middle East
- Conquest of China and the collapse of the Song Dynasty
Phase 2: the fragmented khanates
The end of the 13th century brought enormous change to the Mongol Empire. The united Mongol force led by a Great Khan fragmented into multiple, more minor, though still significant, political systems known as khanates. These Khanates included:
- the Golden Horde in Northcentral Asia and Eastern Europe
- the Chaghatai in Central Asia
- the Ilkhanate in the Middle East
- the Yuan Dynasty in Eastern Asia
The descendants of Genghis Khan governed the khanates. The leaders of the khanates were sovereign (independent leaders) within their territories.
The Collapse of the Mongol Khanates and the End of Mongol Influence
Mongol influence and power in the khanates were never popular with native peoples. During the 14th century, revolts by native populations removed the Mongols from power in China and the Middle East. The Russians also removed Mongol influence from Eastern Europe and Russia.
The Mongol Empire collapsed as quickly as it expanded. Within just a few decades, Mongol power rapidly declined. Because different khans led each khanate, the collapse did not happen at once. Instead, separate khanates weakened and collapsed independently. By the start of the 14th century, only the Golden Horde survived, although in a weakened state.
The collapse of the Mongol Ilkhanate
The first Mongol khanate to collapse was the Ilkhanate in 1335, when Sultan Abu Sa’id died without a male heir to the throne. A dynastic power struggle and civil war broke out, resulting in the khanate’s fragmentation into several micro-khanates. Turkish forces from Central Asia under the command of Timur swept in and conquered the region. Following the collapse of the Ilkhanate government, the Mongols integrated into the Persian population.
The collapse of the Mongol Yuan dynasty
Mongol rule over the whole of China lasted just 90 years, ending in 1368. By the end of Kublai Khan’s long reign (1260-1294), periodic revolts against Mongol leadership took place across China to protest government corruption, banditry, and piracy. Anger was particularly fierce amongst the vast peasantry (agriculture workers) on which most of the tax burden fell. As open rebellions against the Mongol ruling class broke out, Confucian scholars spread anti-Mongol messages. In 1368, fearing for their safety, Mongol elites escaped China back to Mongolia, ending Mongol rule in China.
The collapse of the Golden Horde
The Golden Hord outlasted most other khanates, not officially ending until 1502. However, the khanate started weakening as early as 1380 when Moscow defeated them at the battle of Kulikovo Plain. Throughout the 14th century, the Golden Horde slowly broke into smaller khanates, weakening its power further.