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The Mongols are an ethnic group that originated in what is now Mongolia, Russia, and China, particularly Inner Mongolia. They currently number about 8.5 million and speak the Mongol language. They form one of the 56 nationalities officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. There are approximately 2.3 million Mongols in Mongolia, 4 million Mongols living in Inner Mongolia, and 2 million Mongols living in neigboring provinces. In addition, there are a number of ethnic groups in North China related to the Mongols: the Daur, Buryat, Evenk, Dorbod, and Tuvin.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Military Innovation
3 Timeline of Conquest
4 Modern History


Though few in number (approximately 200,000 people at the height of their empire), Mongols were important in world history. Under the leadership of Genghis Khan, the Mongols created the largest land empire in world history, ruling 13.8 million mile² (36 million km²) and more than 100 million people. At their height, their empire spanned from Korea to Hungary, and included most of the lands in between, such as Afghanistan, Georgia, Armenia, Russia, Persia, and much of the Middle East.

The Mongols were a nomadic people who in the 13th century found themselves encompassed by large, city-dwelling agrarian civilizations. However, none of these civilizations were part of a strong central state. Asia, Russia, and the Middle East were either declining kingdoms, or divided city states. Taking the strategic initiative, the Mongols exploited this power vacuum and linked all of these areas into a mutually supporting trade network.

The Mongols were largely dependent on trade with the city-dwelling peoples, and raiding these villages when times were particularly hard. As nomads, they could not accumulate a surplus against bad times, or support artisans. When trade was reduced by the northern Chinese kingdoms in the 1200's, shortly after Genghis Khan rose to supremacy over the Mongol tribes, the Mongols repeated their tradition of getting their goods by looting Northern China.

Conquest, in the Khan's initial viewpoint, did not consist of subordination of competing cultures to the nomadic way of life, but rather in their looting and destruction. As a nomad, Genghis Khan is supposed to not have understood (or cared) of the supposed benefits in the city dwellers' way of life. This contrasts with their dependence on trade with the cities. However, the economic theories of these relationships still lay seven centuries in the future.

The Khan's initial plan of conquest was sacking all that was valuable, and then razing the city and killing the entire population, leaving only artists and human shields (for future campaigns) to survive. Different theories exist for why the Mongols were initially so extreme. Militarily, the Mongols were often far from home territory and greatly out-numbered, and wouldn't want to leave enemies in their rear. Psychologically, the Mongols were a nomadic people, and saw no use for a civilian population. Economically, destroying population centers gave the Mongols more room to graze their herds.

One such example is the capture of Beijing in 1215. Rather than adding the city to the Mongol Kingdom, he instead thorougly sacked the city for silk and other valuables.

As the Mongols grew more powerful, advisers convinced Genghis Khan to start building a vassal empire. If the city-dwelling peoples were allowed to continue their way of life, they could produce a surplus of food and goods, a portion of which could be paid to the Khan as taxes. Given the Khan's extraordinary success in his aggressive foreign policy, this wealth could be equally extraordinary. The Khan agreed, taking his tribute in tax, and saving countless lives and cultures in the process. Until 1225 they continued these invasions through Western Asia, into Persia and Russia.

In 1227, Genghis Khan died, leaving the Empire to his son Ogedei Khan. Ogedei Khan continued the expansion into Western Asia, also conquering Korea and Northern China. The armies of the Mongols had reached Poland and Egypt by 1241, and looked poised to continue, when Ogedei Khan died, leaving no clear successor. Mongol military leaders (who as descendants of Genghis Khan were possible heirs to the throne) rushed back to claim the thrown. Nearly a decade later, Mongka Khan, grandson of Genghis and nephew of Ogodai, took the throne, through the assistance of his mother Sorghaghtani Beki. By this time, the Western expansion had lost its momentum.

Various members of the Mongol Court, including Sorghaghtani Beki, were Nestorian Christians. While the court was nominally Buddhist and maintained a policy of being open to all religions, it was known as particularly sympathetic to Christians (which may have helped contribute to the legend of Prester John). In 1253 the court followed the suggestion from Crusader Kingdoms in Syria to attack the Muslim capitols of Baghdad and Cairo. Baghdad was conquered and sacked in 1258, with the city's Christians spared, and the Abbasid caliph killed. However, with the troops on the road to Cairo, Mongka Khan died in 1259. Much of the force returned home for the selection of the new leader, and Egyptian troops repelled the attack in 1260. This marked the farthest West the Mongol Empire would progress.

Kublai Khan quickly succeeded Mongka Khan, moved the court to Beijing, formed the Yuan dynasty, and re-started the invasion of China, in the first war with guns on both sides. After 18 years, Kublai Khan conquered both Northern and Southern China, forming the largest empire in history (as famously described by Marco Polo).

However, by the early 14th century, the prominence of trade, and a possible cooling of the world's climates, led to worldwide outbreaks of plague, which encouraged revolt and invasion. Mongols quit China around 1360, and the Turks (among others) carved out their gains throughout the 14th century. The Chinese invaded Mongolia, and by the 17th century, the Qing dynasty fully incorporated Mongolia into its empire, forming the states of Outer Mongolia and a more Sinocized Inner Mongolia.

Military Innovation

The western expansion was a success for the empire until 1241 (see Wahlstatt). As they encountered the peoples of Europe, the Mongols with their advanced way of warfare were unstoppable. The Mongols used (and by doing so, introduced) several revolutionary military ideas to European combatants.

Thus, when light cavalry meets heavy cavalry, the lighter, more numerous, faster moving, bow using, well-articulated light cavalry will usually defeat mounted knights - the cream of European military power.

If a Mongol soldier was struck with an arrow, it penetrated the skin and sank into the flesh. However, the silk was not cut but pulled into the wound. Mongol doctors could easily pull an arrow from the wound, because it was wrapped in silken cloth. This reduced the chance of infection and made cleaning and dressing the wound easier, hopefully returning the skilled warrior to combat more quickly.

This simple procedure saved many lives. In a prolonged conflict, the Mongols retained more battlefield veterans than their opponents. This usually resulted in a situation where an army of veteran Mongols faced a conscript peasant army, with disastrous results for the Mongols' opponents.

Since their way of warfare was superior (articulated veteran light cavalry) they could not be bested in combat. The traditional solution to this problem is to attack the opponents' supply tail (food, fields, water, etc.). However, their city-dwelling opponents were tied to a supply tail, not the Mongols.

This doctrines assured their victory against foes throughout their history. The closest modern analogue is the modern aircraft carrier, with its ability to bring an entire city of warriors next door to an opponent on short notice, strike at them, and retreat away, without the possibility of pursuit.

First, the Mongols would provide an opportunity to surrender, usually on favourable (certainly to the Mongols) terms. These offers were typically dictated to the first major population center in a new territory.

If the offer was refused, the Mongols would sack the city, execute the entire population (save a handful of skilled workers), and burn the city and the surrounding fields to the ground. They would often construct an edifice of cleaned skulls outside the walls of the destroyed city to serve as a reminder of their passage.

Finally, they would allow a few survivors to flee, to spread terror throughout the countryside. By first offering favourable (or at least acceptable) terms for surrender, and then invariably completely destroying any resistance, it is argued that Mongols forestalled most combat with invaded peoples. The Mongols quickly developed a reputation of being unstoppable, genocidal opponents. After the initial victories, and proof of the Mongols good intentions, it became more difficult for rulers to convince their people to resist an invasion.

Timeline of Conquest

The Mongols attempted two unsuccessful invasions of Japan. The first invasion fleet was utterly destroyed by a typhoon (kamikaze) in 1281. The Mongolian fleets survived the typhoon the second time but the landed troops, starved because their provisions had been lost in the typhoon, were annihilated by Japanese infantry and samurai.

Other Mongol defeats include their invasion of Java, and south East Asia (Modern day Vietnam). The tropical climate proved unsuitable to cavalry, and while Vietnam was made a vassal state, Java remained autonomous much to the fury of Kublai.

Modern History

In 1921, Outer Mongolia revolted with Russian support, forming modern Mongolia. A Communist government was formed in 1924. The USSR defended Mongolia from Japanese invasion. However, the Mongolian Communist party, for reasons both practical and philosophical, enacted an often brutal if not entirely effective sweeping of Mongolian tradition, working against the Buddhist religions, clan-ism, and script, and for collectivism (as opposed to the traditional nomadic lifestyle). Mongolia aligned itself with Russia after the Sino-Soviet split of 1958. In 1990 the Communist government was overthrown, and by 1992 Mongolia established a parliamentary government.

Inner Mongolia forms an autonomous state within China. Han Chinese have been massively re-settled there, and are the dominant ethnic group, and China places many of the same cultural restrictions on Mongols as did Soviet Mongolia. However, Mongols are exempt from the government's one-child policy, and the PRC officially promotes the Mongol language.

Chinese ethnic groups
Achang - Bai - Blang - Bonan - Buyi - Dai - Daur - De'ang - Dong - Dongxiang - Drung - Evenki - Gaoshan - Gelao - Gin - Han - Hani - Hezhen - Hui - Jingpo - Jino - Kazakh - Kirghiz - Korean - Lahu - Lhoba - Li - Lisu - Manchu - Maonan - Menba - Miao - Mongol - Mulam - Naxi - Nu - Oroqin - Pumi - Qiang - Russian - Salar - She - Shui - Tajik - Tatar - Tibetan - Tu - Tujia - Uighur - Uzbek - Wa - Xibe - Yao - Yi - Yugur - Zhuang