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Mongol Studies, number 1 December, 2012

Table of Contents Preface/Table of Contents........................ 3 Matthew Schneider

Ghengis Khan.......................................... 4 Faelan Lundeberg

The Military Success of the Mongols...... 4 Faelan Lundeberg

Steppe Horse Technology........................ 6 Matthew Schneider

The Secret History................................... 9 Faelan Lundeberg

The Mongolian Queens........................... 9 Heather MacPhail

Policy and Rule of the Mongols.............. 11 Faelan Lundeberg

Ibn Batutah.............................................. 11 Sho Ya 小家 Voorthuyzen

Religion under the Mongols.................... 12 Sho Ya 小家 Voorthuyzen

Top: Mongol helmets, Metropolitan Museum of Art Opposite above: Modern depiction of Mongol warrior Mongol.Horde.jpg On the Cover: the steppe of Kazhakstan Kazakhstan_in_the_early_spring.jpg



he creation of the Mongol Empire is one of the defining moments in world history. For the first time, the central Asian steppes were united under one political unit, providing a corridor of transmission between east and west. Goods and ideas could now travel at ease throughout the Eurasian continent, via the great central plains. Considering the international import of this phenomenon, it is perhaps ironic that relatively little research is undertaken into the society which enabled this transfusion, namely the Mongols, lords of the Steppe. Often seen as a barbaric anomaly quickly absorbed into more powerful cultures and worldviews, Mongol culture was in truth distinct, proud and ancient. This issue seeks to present a fuller picture of the Mongols as a distinct people: where they came from, and how they achieved success. The Mongol military overcame seemingly impossible odds due to an advanced system of organization. This was inherited from a much older steppe mounted warrior tradition based on the bow and the horse, stretching back into antiquity. Mongol women flaunted the traditions of the ‘more civilized’ subjugated nations, to become mighty queens and warriors in their own way. Finally, Mongol religious policy was remarkably enlightened, and speaks to a culture of curious intelligence and philosophy. The articles here presented examine the Mongols as their own people, and not as a passing factor impacting higher valued civilizations. Matthew Schneider Editor


Ghengis Khan Faelan Lundeberg Genghis Khan was born in 1162 to the chief of the small Stone Wolf Clan (Weatherford,10). Legend has it that he was born holding a clot of blood the size of a knuckle bone in his right hand, a sign of things to come. He was named Temujin, after an enemy warrior his father had killed shortly before his birth (The Secret History of the Mongols, 14). After his father died in battle when Temujin was nine, he, his mother and his siblings were cast out of the tribe to live as outcasts, the lowest form of life in Mongolia. They survived by scavenging what they could out on the steppe and Temujin is even said to have murdered his half brother in an argument over food (The Secret History of the Mongols, 19-21). As a young man Temujin entered the service of Jamuka, a powerful Khan. While relations were initially amiable, eventually Temujin absconded with a large number of Jamuka’s soldiers and people. After this point the two became bitter enemies. Both became set on uniting the fractious Mongol tribes. Both would offer defeated enemies two choices, join them or die. Eventually this rivalry came to a head in what was the largest battle in Mongolia’s history. Temujin emerged victorious and was named Genghis Khan (The Great Khan). At age forty four Genghis Khan had established undisputed control over the warring Mongol tribes and led them out of the steppes and into history.

A copy of a fourteenth century Chinese painting of Genghis Khan. This is the closest thing we have to a contem-


porary image of The Great Khan and even the original was painted a hundred years after his death. From the British Museum. the_collection_database/search_object_details. aspx?objectid=268707&partid=1&output=People%2f!!% 2fOR%2f!!%2f140779%2f!%2f140779-1-7%2f!%2fGengh is+Khan%2f!%2f%2f!!%2f%2f!!!%2f&orig=%2fresearch%2fsearch_the_collection_database%2fadvanced_search. aspx&currentPage=1&numpages=10

The Military Success of the Mongols: An Evaluation

than enough to punch through the thickest armour with ease (Chambers, 57). The Mongols also had a distinctive way of drawing the bow using the thumb rather than the forefinger.

Faelan Lundeberg In Western popular imagination, we tend to picture the Mongols as a vast horde spilling out of the barren steppes in vast numbers to rape and pillage the civilized world. In fact, the Mongols were almost always vastly outnumbered by their enemies, being a relativity small tribal group. Instead, the Mongols won their series of spectacular victories due to an incredibly complex and efficient military organization, the likes of which the world had never seen before and would not see again for centuries. One of the most important factors in the Mongols’ success was the Mongols themselves. The tribes of Mongolia lived in one of the most inhospitable environments on earth. The general scarcity of resources and harsh living conditions led to nearly constant infighting among the tribes (Chambers, 53). In these harsh conditions only the strong survived, and a man’s place in society was based wholly around his ability to ride and fight. Mongol children were taught to ride at age three and to shoot at age five. This custom has persisted in Mongolia to this day (Martin, 19). While the Mongolian population was relatively insignificant in comparison to that of the China, Russia, or any of the other areas they conquered, virtually every Mongolian man between fourteen and sixty could be mobilized at a moment’s notice for military service (Martin, 21). Once the warring tribes of Mongolia were unified, Genghis Khan had a large pool of some of the best and toughest fighters in the world from which to make his army. When the Mongol hordes spilled out of the steppes into the “civilized world,” they did so with a few key advantages. One of these advantages was the small steppe ponies of Mongolia, which were faster and hardier than anything in Europe or Asia, and were able to literally run circles around their enemies. Their reliance on horses gave the Mongols unprecedented mobility. It also allowed them to eat on move: Mongol horsemen would mix horse blood and mare’s milk for sustenance on campaign (Chambers, 58). Another important advantage was the Mongol recurve bow, which was a true feat of engineering. While small and portable enough to be fired from horseback, the Mongol bow packed a punch disproportionate to its size. To put the power of the Mongol bow in perspective, the English longbow that devastated the French knights at Agincourt generally had a pull of roughly seventy five pounds. The Mongol recurve could easily reach one hundred and sixty, more What really set the Mongols apart from any of their contemporaries was their organization. Armies were supplied by a system of quartermasters, and officers regularly checked equipment to make sure it was always in pristine condition. Mongolian cavalry was divided into heavy and light detachments. Light cavalry generally wore little or no armour and fought primarily with the bow. They scouted for the armies, disrupted enemy formations, and were capable of using their bows from horseback with devastating effect. Heavy cavalry were heavily armoured and fought primarily with long lances and shields. They also all carried a side arm of their choice, usually a sword, axe, or mace. The Mongols used their heavy cavalry as shock troops to charge and scatter enemies already weakened and demoralized by the light cavalry archers (Chambers, 58). Mongol armies were based around a system of tens. An army would consist of several tumens, independent units of ten thousand mounted men. Each tumen would be made up of ten regiments of a thousand men, and so on down the line to the arban, a squad of ten men (Chambers, 54). This solid chain of command had much more in common with


modern armies than the primitive military organizations of the Middle Ages. This was made possible by Genghis Khan’s institution of meritocracy in his army. Units voted for their own officers, allowing some of the Mongols’ best leaders to rise through the ranks, particularly Subedei.

Contemporary Chinese illustration of Subedei. Subudei.jpg Subedei Bahadur, known alternately as Subedei the Brave or Genghis Khan’s Dog of War, began his life as the son of a blacksmith and a member of the Reindeer people, an insignificant Mongol clan living along the Onon River (Chambers, 8). During Genghis Khan’s rise to power, Subedei had made a name for himself at age 17 by riding into the camp of one of Genghis’s enemies and feeding them false information. He then rode in Genghis Khan’s camp, introduced himself, and swore fealty to the new Khan, handing him an overwhelming victory (ibid). Over the next five decades, Subedei rose through the ranks to become the supreme military commander (Orlok) of the Mongol War Machine, making him the poster child for the Mongol sys-


tem of meritocracy. Despite the fact that he remained illiterate throughout his life, Subedei was a true warrior scholar who brought an intellectual dimension to the brutal and unsophisticated warfare of the middle ages. Subedei also set himself apart from his contemporaries by refusing to lead from the front. Instead he would find a vantage point overlooking the battle where he could direct and coordinate their movements with flags and banners. Subedei was an expert at battlefield deception and almost always managed to outmaneuver and crush his enemies. The results speak for themselves. Subedei remains the only invader in history to conquer and subdue Russia, and he did it in the dead of winter with just one hundred thousand men (Chambers, 78-79). Shortly afterward, he crushed both the armies of Hungary and Poland on consecutive days (Chambers, 8891). Despite the fact that by the end of his career Subedei was blind in one eye and so obese he had to be pulled into battle in an iron chariot, (Weatherford, 137) he remained an unrivaled military genius until the end of his days. The Mongols were true innovators and were experts in incorporating new technologies into their armies. They were particularly adept at incorporating siege engines from China and the Islamic World into their armies (Chambers, 64). In addition, they selectively bred their ponies with Arab and European war horses, making them even more effective (Chambers, 57.) In order to help recoup their losses, the Mongols incorporated other nomadic steppe peoples into their armies, such as the Uighurs, Kipchaks Turkmen, and Kazaks (Martin, 13). The Mongols also quickly became aware of the importance of espionage. They set up an incredibly intricate web of spies and informers that stretched from Peking to London, which they used to great effect (Chambers, 43). The Mongol’s were aided in this by their silent ally in Europe, The Republic of Venice. The Venetians faced stiff economic completion from its eastern rivals, so they passed on valuable intelligence to the Mongols. In exchange, the Mongols wiped out Venice’s competition in the east and granted the Venetians rights to trade in their empire (Chambers, 28). Ultimately once one understands the sophistication of the Mongol war machine, their fantastic success ceases to be surprising and starts to seem inevitable. While on paper, their victories against numerically superior enemies seem fantastic, in reality, no one from China to Poland ever really stood a chance

Works Cited: Chambers, James. The Devil’s Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe, New York: Atheneum, 1985. print. Martin, H. Desmond. The Rise of Chingis Khan and his Conquest of North China, New York: Octagon Books, 1971. print. Weatherford, Jack. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004. print. The Secret History of the Mongols (ca. 1227) Trans. Paul Kahn. San Francisco: North Point Press, 2004. print.

The Developement of Steppe Horse Technology Matthew Schneider The Mongol warriors of Genghis Khan and his successors are widely viewed as the most effective mounted force of all time; indeed, their very achievements justify this position. For European observers, this race of mounted horse archers descending out from the steppes had little precedent. Their ascendance was shocking and their tactics groundbreaking. However, for the settled peoples of Central Asia, the appearance of hordes of superior horse-warriors was highly demoralising, though not at all unusual. Much ink has been spilt over the equipment of the Mongol warrior. From his superior bow to his hardy pony, the weaponry and equipment of the Mongols are well documented. What is often neglected, however, is that the Mongols of the thirteenth century represent a climax of a warrior culture and technology going back thousands of years. As the agriculturalists of Central Asia can well attest to, the essential steppe toolbox, bride, saddle, and stirrups, as well as the remorseless recurved bow, had been in development for well over two thousand years. Combined with the military and organisational genius of Genghis and his successors, these tools resulted in the greatest empire ever created. Our earliest known visual evidence of horse riding comes from the kingdom of Akkad in 2400 BC (Kelekna, 43). Although this represents the first pictorial evidence of riding, horses had been domesticated on the Eurasian steppes for food and pack since the fifth millennium BC (Kelenka, 32), and doubtless occasions of incidental riding arose. Regardless, our first evidence of bridles and horse tack used for military means begins with the introduction of chariots, featuring horses controlled through bridles, around 2000 BC (Kelekna, 50, 95). The chariot instantly rendered the Near Eastern battlewagon, pulled by horses controlled through nose rings, obsolete. Even so, the chariot’s days were numbered. As the upheavals and migrations of 1200 BC triggered by climate change increased competition on the steppes for valuable pastureland, an ever-heightening reliance on herding dramatically raised the value of horse-riding (Kelekna, 62). In order to take full advantage of the speed of the horse, this period also saw an evolution in bridle technology. A bridle is essential for effective riding. It is relatively easy to turn a horse’s head due to his physiology. Humans can manipulate a horses’ lengthy neck through a rope connected to his


elongated snout (Levine et al, 191). Early in the history of the chariot, Central Asians invented the bit, a strip of leather or rope, which when inserted into the horse’s mouth puts pressure on the corners of his lips, reducing the need to physically overpower the animal. The late second millennium BC saw the introduction of bronze and iron bits, drastically increasing their effectiveness (Kelekna, 63). A final Near Eastern development was the introduction of the snaffled bit, consisting of two pieces hinged in the middle, which is still in use to this day (Kelekna, 106).

the Mongolian border (Clutton-Brock, 100). We find saddles consisting of two stuffed leather cushions attached to a felt pad, with rigid arches to the front and rear. Breast and haunch strapping kept the saddle in place and prevented it from slipping forward or back. Notably, the lack of a girth, which would attach the saddle around the belly of the horse, precludes the use of stirrups (Clutton-Brock, 75). Although Scythian art suggests that they may have experimented with the stirrup, it was likely only as an aid in mounting (Clutton-Brock, 76). The first true non rigid stirrup appears in 50 BC in Mathura, India. The first rigid iron stirrups appears in Northeast China around the turn of the fifth century AD (Kelekna, 164,). This development also coincided with the adoption of the wooden framed saddle, both of which spread quickly to the steppe peoples of the Altai region (Tkačenko, 5). The stirrup, combined with the rigid saddle, provided additional lateral support and stability. Although steppe riders, notably the Parthians and Sarmatians, had previously utilised heavy armour and two-handed lances, the advent of the stirrup allowed a horse’s full momentum to be transferred through the rider to the lance (Kelekna, 242). The stirrup was introduced to Europe by invading Mongol Avar heavy cavalry in the sixth century AD (Kelekna, 198).

Mongol heavy lancers. Mongoltroops.jpg

Iron Age Parthian statuette, note the lack of saddle and stirrups. The second essential item of the steppe rider was the saddle. In its earliest form, this consisted of a blanket to absorb sweat and reduce chafing. This was followed with the addition of padding, usually of stuffed leather, providing additional support while reducing the horse’s discomfort. An excellent example of a fifth century B.C. saddle in a Scythian context comes from the Pazyryk Kurgan cemetery in the foothills of the Altai Mountains, in Russia near


new; rather they were based on long standing steppe technology and tradition, stretching back thousands of years. We have here focused on the equipment which enabled the emergence of the steppe warrior as an elite cavalryman. The initial development towards equine dominance was the bridle, followed by the saddle. A relatively late addition was the stirrup, which only rendered an elite cavalry tradition yet more dominant. Finally, the recurve composite bow, development concurrent with the cataclysmic Bronze Age Collapse, triggered the eclipse of dominant military forms, and began the three thousand year reign of the mounted bowman over the steppes of Eurasia.

Works Cited: Mongol horse archer mongolarcher.jpg The final item of the Mongol toolbox we will discuss here is perhaps the most important; it is the composite recurve bow. Interestingly, the recurve bow was not a new invention. In fact, it was probably developed around the end of the second millennium BC, a period tellingly concurrent with the beginnings of cavalry military dominance, as describe above (Kelekna, 76). This weapon, combined with the emergence of more sophisticated forms of horse control, would defeat the chariot, and go on to dominate the Eurasian steppe until faced with the concentrated artillery of the 19th century (Chaliand, 7). The composite bow was made of a variety of materials, and required a great deal of work. The initial wooden core was generally selected from maple or mulberry wood. A layer of horn was added, and allowed to dry for several months. Next, alternating layers of sinew and glue were added, interspersed with long periods of drying during which the bow was tied back in various ways to create its recurve shape (Kelekna, 77). The result was a powerful bow with far more tensile and compressive strength than one of wood at a fraction of the size. There was one drawback to this bow; it lost much of its power and accuracy in humid climates or when wet. It was perhaps for this reason that Genghis abandoned his invasion of India in 1221 (Kelekna, 295).

Tkačenko, Irina Dmitrievna. “Riding horse tack among the cattle-breeders of Central Asia and Southern Siberia in the first and second millennia CE.” Etudes Mongoles & Siberiennes Centrasiatique &Tibetaines 41 (2010): Web. Levine, M.A., C. Renfrew & K. Boyle, eds. Prehistoric Steppe Adaptation and the Horse. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2003. Print. Kelekna, Pita. The Horse in Human History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Print. Clutton-Brock, Juliet. Horse Power: A HIstory of the Horse and the Donkey in Human Societies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992. Print. Chaliand, Gerard. Nomadic Empires: From Mongolia to the Danube. Trans. A.M. Barrett. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2005. Print.

The Mongols of the thirteenth century AD were undoubtedly a superior military force, and their achievements should not be detracted from in any way. However, their equipment, weaponry and even tactics were by no means


The Secret History of the Mongols

The Mongolian Queens Heather MacPhail

Faelan Lundberg The Secret History of the Mongols is the source when it comes to the early years of the Mongol Empire. Written by an unknown author at an unknown date, much of the history of this source is still shrouded in mystery. What is known is that The Secret History is the first piece of literature written by a Mongolian for Mongolians. In fact, it is the first book written in the new Mongol alphabet, which had been adapted from Uighur script in the early years of the Mongol Conquests (The Secret History of the Mongols, xi). Told in epic verse, the Secret History traces Genghis Khan’s lineage from a grey wolf to his birth and continues to take the reader through his conquests and the reign of his heir Ogedei. The Secret History of the Mongols has continued to be an important historical source into the modern day. In the interwar years, the Nazi government pressured academics into translating this text into German, thus making it widely available to be read by the German army, who developed the Blitzkrieg based on its lessons. Likewise, both the Soviets and Japanese studied the manuscript closely, hoping it held clues to the domination of China. The manuscript was suppressed by Mongolia’s brutal Communist government but became the rallying banner for Mongolian nationalists who printed and read it in secret.

Early Modern Chinese edition of ‘The Secret History of the Mongols.’ commons/8/83/Secret_history.jpg

The Mongolian queens were great rulers and warmongers. The women of the Mongol Empire were skilled warriors and riders, as skilled in fighting as the men (Spuller 80). Women in the Mongolian Empire did not take to the customs of neighbouring cultures, but retained their independence instead. This freedom is likely related to the nomadic style of their culture. Nomadic society demands that everyone work together in order to survive, and requires flexibility between the male and female roles (Clayton, 8-9). This nomadic lifestyle gave high-ranking women the freedom to lead armies into battle and rule vast quantities of land outside of male authority. This is supported in the archaeological record, across numerous sites throughout the Eurasian steppes. Weapons were common grave goods for women as well as for men, although usually the women’s range of weaponry was less extensive (Linduff, 61). Royal women often took power when their husbands died, before a new Khan could be named. They would then frequently remain in power when they proved to be very good at ruling large quantities of land and people. Like their male counterparts they fought as cavalry, often leading the charge. One example of a particularly ferocious woman was El Qutlugh, who avenged her husband’s murder by cutting off his killer’s head and attaching it to the side of her horse. She left it there for an extensive period of time, until she was asked by the Khan to take it down. When Genghis Khan divided his lands, he did not give them to his sons or generals. Instead he divided his empire amongst his wives. Each wife would rule and protect her own territory and manage her own independent ordo, or court (Weatherford, 28). Not only were his daughters given positions of power, but also his son’s wives. Many of Genghis Khan’s daughters in law were brought to his court over the years. These khatuns functioned as ambassadors for their respective tribes. They participated in negotiations and acted as a communication network between their tribes and the royal court. Each khatun represented her tribe in Genghis Khan’s court, serving as its queen away from home. This was an important task, as this royal court was where all major decisions were made, and the success of the tribe would often depend on the success of its queen (Weatherford, 36). Once Genghis Khan died, the women in power began to war amongst themselves, slowly splitting the em-


pire apart. At this point, Mandukhai Khatun worked to reunite the Empire and restore it to its former glory under the rule of the direct line of Genghis Khan. The detailed history of Genghis Khan’s daughters and female descendants has been hidden by the writers of that time, whereas his male descendants have been described in great detail. Even though some have tried to erase the Mongol queens from history, it is important to know their great contribution to this empire, as without them, the Mongolian Empire would not have been as successful as it was.

Mandukhai Khatun Mandukhai Sechen Khatun, or Mandukhai the Wise, was the daughter of the Grand Councillor of the Onggud clan of the Tumed Mongols. She married Manduul Khan in 1473 and bore him two daughters. The khan’s death in 1479 left the throne without an heir. A few years later a 7-year-old boy was brought to Mandukhai, who was then the empress of her late husband’s territory, with the claim that he was the descendant of Manduul Khan. Upon hearing this, Mandukhai, then thirty three years old, rejected her current suitor UneBolod of the powerful Korchin clan. She insisted on marrying this child, as he was a true Chinggisid, or ancestor of Genghis Khan, and crowned him as Dayan Khan (Atwood, 342). She later defeated the Oirats, who were the other main contenders for power at the time. She participated in multiple attacks on the Oirats; during one of which she was pregnant with Dayan Khan’s son. Mandukhai’s giving birth to seven sons and only one daughter was seen as confirmation of her decision to marry a true Chinggisid. Mandukhai has been credited with restoring the Genghis Khanite to power in Mongolia and forcing the rival Mongol Oriat clan out of their territory (Nelson, 169). This helped to restore the empire to its previous state and reunite the various factions that had begun to divide and war amongst themselves.

Sorqaghtani Beki Sorqaghtani Beki was born into the Mongol ruling family. Her uncle Ong Khan was ruler of the Kereyid Khanate, one of the factions of Genghis Khan’s ever-expanding empire. When she was 10 years old, Genghis Khan gave her as a bride to his son Tolui in 1203. She soon bore Tolui four sons. After her husband’s premature death in 1232, the khan made Sorqaghtani Beki the chief of Tolui’s territory. She decided against remarrying, despite numerous offers, to devote her life to raising her four children in preparation for


ruling their territory. Despite not having the title of khatun, she is credited with paramount political influence during this period. Beki is an honourary title which comes from the masculine bek meaning chieftain (Nelson, 164). With the death of Ogedei in 1241, the Mongol Empire entered a period of conflict over the succession. Sorqaghtani Beki spoke for her sons in these conflicts. When Guyug Khan (r. 1246–48) moved his court west, she warned Batu that the Khan intended to attack him. This formed an alliance with Batu against Ogedei’s heirs. After Guyug’s untimely death, Sorqaghtani Beki sent her eldest son Mongke to Batu’s court, where he was named the next khan. In this way, she played a very active role in securing Mongke Khan’s lasting power (Atwood, 512). In 1252 she fell ill and died.

Nelson, Sarah Milledge. ed. Ancient Queens: Archaeological Explorations. Oxford: AltaMira Press, 2003. Spuller, Bertold. History of the Mongols. Translated from German by S. Drummond. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972. Weatherford, Jack. The Secret History of the Mongol Queens. New York: Crown Publishers, 2010.

Policy and Rule of the Mongols Faelan Lundeberg

Sorquaghtani Beki and her court. File:TuluiWithQueenSorgaqtani.jpg

Works Cited: Atwood, Christopher P. Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. New York: Facts on File Inc, 2004. Clayton, Sally Pomme. “The Woman Warrior: Fact or Tale.” Estudos de Literatura Oral, (2001). Web. 22. Nov. 2012. Linduff, L. and K. Rubinson eds. Are All Warriors Male?: Gender Roles on the Ancient Eurasian Steppe. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2008.


While in most of the world the Mongols are synonymous with savage brutality, once they conquered an area, they generally made enlightened rulers. While Genghis Khan initially toyed with the idea of levelling out his entire empire, essentially transforming it into a massive grazing area, he was convinced it would ultimately be more profitable to administer and tax them instead. This was typically done by encouraging local administrators to keep order and to supply the Mongols with tribute. Mongol women also played an important role in overseeing conquered areas and some became very powerful in their own right. While the initial conquest of an area was usually unspeakably violent, cultures conquered by the Mongols often entered a relative Golden Age during their rule. In contrast to many conquerors, the Mongols enforced religious freedom both within their own ranks and in the areas they controlled. They also abolished the death penalty for all but the most heinous offenses, such as cattle rustling or cruelty to horses. Communications and trade also flourished. The Mongols

Mongol Empire at its height. instituted a uniform system of weights and measures throughout their empire to help facilitate trade, and even established their own postal system. This all led to an increased flow of goods and ideas throughout their empire. The Mongols governed their empire in an enlightened manner and the cultures along the silk road flourished during their rule. This should lead us to question whether the Mongols fully deserve their reputation for wanton brutality and savagery.


Religion under the Mongols Sho Ya 小家 Voorthuyzen Whilst the common view of the Mongols is that of a teaming, disorganized Horde made up of men and horses swarming through the civilized world, this view is far from the truth. The Mongols controlled a vast and powerful empire, and this endeavour required a great deal of organization. In terms of religion, there were very particular policies and institutions which were set up to minimise division throughout the empire. As an empire that conquered many, the Mongols knew that to maintain control there had to be leniency in some matters, and religion was one of those matters. Three of the world’s most prominent religions had extensive contact with the Mongol Empire, and it is through these Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims that much of the information about the state of religion in the Mongol Empire comes to us today.

Ibn Batutah Sho Ya 小家 Voorthuyzen Ibn Baṭūṭah was one of the most ambitious travelers of the medieval era, traveling more than 120,000km (three time further than even Marco Polo) in a time where such longdistance travel was both perilous and costly. His adventures were recorded in the Tuḥfat an-Nuẓẓār fī Gharāʾib al-Amṣār wa ʿAjāʾib al-Asfār meaning “A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling.” Through many difficulties and many illnesses, he made his way from his home in Tangier to lands as distant as Beijing, where he was invited to the court of Toghun Temür. He gained such fame in his travels that everywhere he went people would invite him to banquets and events. All of this was made possible by the extent to which the Muslim religion had expanded, allowing Ibn Baṭūṭah to travel safely throughout all these regions.


The travels of Ibn Batuta in Asia.

Whilst many forms of Buddhism thrived under the Mongol reign, the form which was most favoured was that of the Tibetan school. Buddhism had been prevalent throughout the steppes prior to the rise of the Mongol Empire, and in the early 13th century, due to invasions by the Mongols in Tibet, high Tibetan Lamas began to take on important roles alongside Mongolian officials. These interrelations were facilitated by several cultural similarities shared by the people of the Himalayas and the people of the steppes. One of these shared cultural traits was their traditional shamanistic religions; Tengriism for the Mongols and Bön for the Tibetans. There was also a shared nomadic lifestyle and the customs that go with it. These shared foundations were central to facilitating intercultural relations. In later periods, under Kublai Khan and his great Yuan Dynasty, the Mongols were responsible for spreading and transmitting Tibetan Buddhism to China. Kublai even went as far as to put a high Tibetan Lama, Drogön Chögyal Phagpa, in charge of all Buddhist monks in China. These periods of focus on Buddhism did wax and wane however, with other religions taking prominence at different times; but even at these times of favouritism, the Mongols did what they could to maintain religious tolerance. An example of this religious tolerance was evident in the Mongol attitude towards Christians. While Christianity never gained a large following amongst the Mongols, it did work itself into the upper echelons, primarily through Christian tutors who managed to convert some of the lesser khans and some of the royal ladies. There had

been Christians in the area, particularly Nestorians, since the 7th century, and so Christianity wasn’t new to the area when explorers such as William of Rubruck and Marco Polo found their respective ways to the Mongol courts in the 13th century. As the Mongols expanded into Europe they had more diplomatic interactions with Christians; intermarriages, military alliances (with the Mongols even sending some support for Crusades), and generally having important political consequences on Eastern Christian domains. These interactions also included a greater Catholic influence on the Mongols. In 1281, Yahballaha III, a man of Uyghur descent, was made a Catholic Patriarch, which opened the floodgates to many Catholic priests being sent to Mongolian capitals. While Christianity may not have ever taken a solid grasp over the Mongol people, Islam did end up swaying a lot of Mongol citizens and leaders.

Nestorian tombstone found in Issyk Kul, dated 1312 sykKul1312.jpg

As the Mongols expanded into the Middle East they picked up a great deal of religious knowledge, including Islam. Much of the Western Mongol Empire converted to Islam and many of the great khanates such as the Ilkhanate, Golden Horde, and the Chagatai khanates, officially favoured Islam. This did however lead to some periods where


religious tolerance lost its hold for a time. This is shown by Islamic Mongol rulers such as Mahmud Ghazan, who went to the extent of persecuting many Buddhists within his territories, forcing many others to leave, and destroying Buddhist temples. However, this was an anomaly, and the policy for religious tolerance still continued. The spread of Islam throughout Mongol territories did serve as a unifier in many ways, and facilitated great interchange across the vast expanse of their empire. No one better demonstrated the extent of this interchange than the famous Ibn Baṭūṭah, a Muslim scholar from Tangier, who traveled the length and breadth of the Muslim world, all the way to Beijing in China, and back to Tangier again. Baṭūṭah observed much in his travels, and whilst in China, noted how the Mongols had set up particular sectors for themselves in many Chinese cities. Included in these sectors were mosques, standing testament to the prevalence of Islam amongst them.

others. The Mongols knew the value of maintaining and respecting this diversity, and went about doing this in several ways. Primarily amongst these was a policy brought in by Genghis Khan, whereby religious leaders did not have to pay taxes, nor were they expected to enter public service. Alongside this was the regular opportunity for the differing religions to have their opportunities to represent themselves in public debates against one another. Such open understanding and interchange of faiths within a culture is something that would not have been as common in the Western world. All in all, in terms of attitudes and policies towards religious diversity and freedom, the Mongols were almost modern, albeit without the atheism and modern science. The civility with which they engaged with persons of faith in their own domain is powerfully juxtaposed with their usual policies of violence and war-mongering against their enemies. Through this civility, many doors were opened for religious men from all over the world to travel, preaching and learning the world over. These were not the signs of a crude, barbaric civilization; this seemingly disorganized mass of horses and men was in fact a rather sophisticated and complex culture.

Amitai, Reuven. “Mongols.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 14. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 443-444. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Dec. 2012. <http:// &v=2.1&u=uvictoria&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w>. Morgan, D. O. “Ibn Battuta and the Mongols.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 11.01 (2001): n. pag. Cambridge Journals. Cambridge University Press, 26 Jan. 2001. Web. 2 Dec. 2012. < S1356186301000116>. Rossabi, Morris. “Religion under the Mongols” The Mongols in World History/Asia Topics in World History. Columbia University, 2004. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://>.

References: Conze, Edward. A Short History of Buddhism. Bombay: Chetana, 1960. Print. Hyer, Paul, and Sechin Jagchid. A Mongolian Living Buddha: Biography of the Kanjurwa Khutughtu. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1983. Print. Moses, Larry William. The Political Role of Mongol Buddhism. Bloomington, IN: Asian Studies Research Institute, Indiana University, 1977. Print. Haining, Thomas. “The Mongols and Religion.” Asian Affairs 17.1 (1986): 19-32. Taylor & Francis Online. Taylor & Francis Group, 24 Aug. 2007. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. < abs/10.1080/03068378608730208>. Persian miniature showing Ghazan’s conversion from Buddhism to Islam File:GhazanConversionToIslam.JPG With shamanistic Tengriism at its core, the Mongol Empire was a complex society made up of people of many different faiths; Buddhist, Christians, Manichaeists, Taoists, and


Bausani, A. “Religion Under the Mongols.” The Saljuq and Mongol Periods. Ed. J. A. Boyle. Cambridge University Press, 1968. Cambridge Histories Online. Cambridge University Press. 02 December 2012 DOI:10.1017/ CHOL9780521069366.008 < CHOL9780521069366A008&cited_by=0>.


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