chinggis khan -- 10/25/22

Today's selection -- from Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference by Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper. The Mongol Empire was perhaps the largest in history. Whereas the Romans created their Mediterranean empire over four centuries, Chinggis Khan and his direct descendants created theirs in seven decades.
"In the middle of the thirteenth century, a vast and devastating conquest transformed the world of empires. In 1206, an assembly of tribal leaders in Mongolia proclaimed Chinggis Khan their sovereign. By 1241, Mongol troops had devastated Kiev, defeated Poland, conquered Hungary, and, under the fearsome Khan Batu, were advancing on Vienna. Thirty-five years later, Chinggis's grandson Khubilai Khan captured the Song dynasty's capital in China. Cities, kingdoms, and empires fell or surrendered to this apparently invincible force, which for the first and possibly last time united Eurasia from China to the Black Sea under the rule of a single family.

The locations of the Mongolian tribes during the Khitan Liao dynasty (907–1125)

"Vienna was spared only because Batu learned of the death of Great Khan Ogodei, Chinggis's successor, and returned to Mongolia to select a new leader. Baghdad was not so lucky. In 1258, Mongols under Chinggis's grand­son Hulegu sacked the city and killed the caliph. The Byzantine ruler of Trebizond on the Black Sea got the lesson and, like the Seljuk Turks, agreed to subordinate himself and his domain to the Mongol emperor. Over­whelmed by the Mongols' war machine, surviving rulers were soon send­ing ambassadors to the courts of Mongol khans, and in a few decades the sheltering sky of Mongol empire offered safety and rewards to merchants, clerics, scholars, artisans, and officials.

"The empires established by Mongols were not long-lived, at least when compared to Rome or Byzantium. What makes Mongols count in world history are the connections they made across Eurasia and the imperial technologies they adapted, transformed, and passed on to later polities. … 

"The Romans created their Mediterranean empire over four centuries; Chinggis Khan and his direct descendants made a much larger Eurasian empire in seven decades. What kind of society could master the challenge of long­ distance war and transform Eurasia with its scattered peoples into a web of material and cultural exchange? It may seem paradoxical that a nomadic people could rule over rich cities and long-established civilizations in China and central Asia, but the economy of pastoral nomadism and the political practices of earlier Eurasian empires gave the Mongols a well-stocked tool kit for empire."


Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper


Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference


Princeton University Press


Copyright 2010 by Princeton University Press


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