The Mongols!

EQ: How does where you live affect how you live?

(Before we get into the Mongols, let's get some historical context)

The Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE)

  • Fell due primarily to peasant rebellions and other internal weaknesses. China would fall into a period of political and social instability for the next several hundred years.

“Period of Disunity” (220-589 CE)

  • China faces nomadic invasion in the North, and the south is plagued by vies for power

The Sui Dynasty (581–617 CE)

  • Reunified china after a period of instability and expands its infrastructure and defense.

The Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE)

  • Could be called China’s “golden age” ---similar to that of the Gupta in India, and that of Ancient Greece --- due to it’s height of artistic and literary achievements, many of which we have come to recognize today as staples of Chinese culture (like porcelain). (Fun Fact: the first Chinese Empress, Empress Wu, ruled during this time. )

The Song Dynasty (907–1276 CE)

  • The Chinese Renaissance; characterized by many technological innovations (steel, magnetic compass, moveable type, paper money, numerous naval improvements, and gunpowder) which revitalized Chinese commerce. The Song Dynasty ended in the Northern Song (aka Jin Dynasty) in 1125, and ended in the Southern Song with a 1279 invasion by...wait for it...the Mongols.  

To sum all that this 1 minute recap

Now on to the Mongols!

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Rise of the Mongols

The Mongols were a group of loosely associated nomadic tribes from the Asian steppes. Each tribe, or clan, had independent loyalties, but the Mongol way of life was similar throughout: patriarchal in nature, emphasizing bravery in battle as well as strength, cunning, and horse riding abilities. The various Mongol clans were eventually united by Timujin (after which he was given the name Genghis Khan). Genghis Khan then sought out to conquer more of Asia.

Mongols as Conquerors

The Mongols were great warriors and conquerors for several reasons. First, their nomadic nature fostered incredible horse riding and archery skills, which proved incredibly useful, especially after the invention of the stirrup. Second, their emphasis on (clan) loyalty and bravery unified the Mongol warriors and created an environment in which ruthlessness was rewarded.

Indeed, the Mongols were feared conquerors. Many villages simply surrendered rather than face destruction. The Mongols did not (at least initially) follow the more diplomatic tactics of their classical empire predecessors. Instead, they found interrogation, fear, and biological warfare to be extremely effective strategies. Armed with much more rudimentary tools (that is, of course, until the Mongols discovered gun powder from the Chinese), the Mongols successfully conquered more land in a shorter amount of time than their classical counterparts (which is impressive when you consider the geographic scope of empires like Persia and Rome).

It is interesting to note that while the Mongols were incredibly feared, they are one of the few empires up to this point in history to support religious tolerance within the realm - the only other one was Persia.

While the Mongols were incredible conquerors, they were not good administrators. Vast empires had typically adopted the Persian model of governance. While the Mongols did divide the empire upon Genghis' death, there was no real centralized administration. Since their nomadic roots had not fostered administrative skills, the Mongols made use of conquered peoples' skills by relocating them to meet the needs of the various parts of the empire. (Persians were typically used as administrators.)

Fall of the Mongols

Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, ruled the Yuan Dynasty in China until he was overthrown by the Ming. Even though the other khanates would survive (for varying amounts of time depending on which part of the empire you're looking at), the end of this large portion of the empire signaled the end of the Mongol empire as whole.

EQ: How does where you live affect how you live?

CTQ: Why are Mongols "the exception" ?

Think about what you have learned about classical empires so far. What generalizations can you make about those empires? Now think about the Mongols. They broke the mold when it comes to empire building. Below is a video that highlights some specific ways in which the Mongols were "the exception". Watch the video, and then click on the button below for the next step.