Prior to reading this book I had no knowledge of Genghis Khan. This book provides a very entertaining historical recounting of his life and legacy. While destructive, his methods and leadership style led (ironically) to good governance and abundant trade which resemble successful governments from our modern world.
The Europeans even picked up the Mongol exclamation hurray as an enthusiastic cry of bravado and mutual encouragement.
Jurched enemies awaited them and mocked the Mongol advance. “Our empire is like the sea; yours is but a handful of sand,” a Chinese scholar recorded the Jurched khan as saying in reference to Genghis Khan. “How can we fear you?” he asked. He would soon have his answer.
Compared to the Jurched soldiers, the Mongols were much healthier and stronger. The Mongols consumed a steady diet of meat, milk, yogurt, and other dairy products, and they fought men who lived on gruel made from various grains. The grain diet of the peasant warriors stunted their bones, rotted their teeth, and left them weak and prone to disease.
For the Mongols, the troops were more spread out, and even the officers were illiterate. All communication at every level had to be oral, not written. Orders moved by word of mouth from man to man. The problem with an oral system of communication lay in the accuracy of the message; the message had to be repeated precisely each time to each person and then remembered exactly as spoken. To ensure accurate memorization, the officers composed their orders in rhyme, using a standardized system known to every soldier. The Mongol warriors used a set of fixed melodies and poetic styles into which various words could be improvised according to the meaning of the message. For a soldier, hearing the message was like learning a new verse to a song that he already knew.
scapulimancy, divining the future by reading the cracks in the heated shoulder blade of a sacrificed sheep or goat.
The Mongols did not find honor in fighting; they found honor in winning. They had a single goal in every campaign—total victory. Toward this end, it did not matter what tactics were used against the enemy or how the battles were fought or avoided being fought. Winning by clever deception or cruel trickery was still winning and carried no stain on the bravery of the warriors, since there would be plenty of other occasions for showing prowess on the field.
To the Mongols, the farmers’ fields were just grasslands, as were the gardens, and the peasants were like grazing animals rather than real humans who ate meat. The Mongols referred to these grass-eating people with the same terminology that they used for cows and goats. The masses of peasants were just so many herds, and when the soldiers went out to round up their people or to drive them away, they did so with the same terminology, precision, and emotion used in rounding up yaks.
In the Jurched campaign, the Mongols adapted this tactic to the herds of the peasant farmers. The Mongol army divided into small units that attacked undefended villages, set them afire, and chased out the residents. The frightened peasants fled in all directions. They clogged the highways and made it difficult for the Jurched supply convoys to move. In the Jurched campaign, more than a million refugees fled the countryside in desperation and poured into the cities; they ate up huge stores of food, and caused chaos wherever they went.
In one apocryphal account circulated to create anxiety among the enemy, the Mongols supposedly promised to retreat from a besieged city if the Jurched defenders would give them a large number of cats and birds as booty. According to the story, the starving residents eagerly gathered the animals and gave them to the Mongols. After receiving all the birds and animals, the Mongols attached burning torches and banners to their tails and released them, whereupon the frightened animals raced back into the city and set it on fire. The story supplied a dramatic dose of war propaganda.
The siege engines exercised a particular fascination for the Mongols because they allowed the attackers to stay well outside of the city and away from the danger of the person-to-person combat that they so abhorred.
In this traditional fable, when winter came, the snake’s competing heads quarreled among themselves and disagreed about which hole was better for them to find refuge in from the cold wind and snow. One head preferred one hole and pulled in that direction, and the other heads pulled in other directions. The other snake—with many tails but only one head—went immediately into one hole and stayed warm throughout the winter, while the snake with many heads froze to death.
He tried to teach them that the first key to leadership was self-control, particularly the mastery of pride, which was something more difficult, he explained, to subdue than a wild lion, and anger, which was more difficult to defeat than the greatest wrestler. He warned them that “if you can’t swallow your pride, you can’t lead.” He admonished them never to think of themselves as the strongest or smartest. Even the highest mountain had animals that step on it, he warned. When the animals climb to the top of the mountain, they are even higher than it is.
“It will be easy,” he explained, “to forget your vision and purpose once you have fine clothes, fast horses, and beautiful women.” In that case, “you will be no better than a slave, and you will surely lose everything.”
You may conquer an army with superior tactics and men, but you can conquer a nation only by conquering the hearts of the people.
He said that the Eternal Blue Sky had condemned the civilizations around him because of their “haughtiness and their extravagant luxury.” Despite the tremendous wealth and power he had accumulated, he continued to lead a simple life: “I wear the same clothing and eat the same food as the cowherds and horse-herders. We make the same sacrifices, and we share the riches.” He offered a simple assessment of his ideals: “I hate luxury,” and “I exercise moderation.” He strove to treat his subjects like his children, and he treated talented men like his brothers, no matter what their origin was. He described his relations with his officials as being close and based on respect: “We always agree in our principles and we are always united in mutual affection.”
Because of “the enormous wickedness of the Jews,” the Christians accused them of bringing the wrath of the Mongols on innocent Christians.
The Christians attempted to punish the Jews with the same treatment that they had heard the Mongols had used in their campaigns. The Christians set fire to Jewish homes and massacred the residents. Those Jews who managed to escape the cities fled from place to place in search of refuge, but in almost all communities, they found more persecution. To clearly identify which refugees were Jewish refugees and to prevent their entering new Christian communities, the church ordered that Jews had to wear distinctive clothes and emblems to mark them for all to see.
he was too drunk to lead the empire, and he gradually conveyed administrative power to Toregene, the most capable, although not the senior, wife. At his death in 1241, she became the official regent. For the next ten years, until 1251, she and a small group of other women controlled the largest empire in world history.
two thousand wagons filled with airak, the beloved alcoholic drink made from fermented mare’s milk.
No side seemed to convince the other of anything. Finally, as the effects of the alcohol became stronger, the Christians gave up trying to persuade anyone with logical arguments, and resorted to singing. The Muslims, who did not sing, responded by loudly reciting the Koran in an effort to drown out the Christians, and the Buddhists retreated into silent meditation. At the end of the debate, unable to convert or kill one another, they concluded the way most Mongol celebrations concluded, with everyone simply too drunk to continue.
At the end of the debate, unable to convert or kill one another, they concluded the way most Mongol celebrations concluded, with everyone simply too drunk to continue.
young men were lured by ample quantities of hashish and other earthly delights that awaited them in the special gardens of the cult’s castles and fortresses. This was the foretaste of the paradise that awaited them if they died in the Grand Master’s service. He then trained them and controlled them with a steady supply of hashish to keep them obedient and make them fearless. Supposedly, because of the importance of narcotics for the Ismailis, the people around them called them hashshashin, meaning “the hashish users.” Over time, this name became modified into the word assassin. Whether the killers had actually used hashish to inspire them or not, the name spread into many languages as the word for the murderer of high officials.
Supposedly, because of the importance of narcotics for the Ismailis, the people around them called them hashshashin, meaning “the hashish users.” Over time, this name became modified into the word assassin. Whether the killers had actually used hashish to inspire them or not, the name spread into many languages as the word for the murderer of high officials.
Baghdad was the city of Scheherazade, the legendary teller of the tales know as the Arabian Nights or the Thousand and One Nights, and for five hundred years the wealth of the Muslim world poured into the city where the Caliphs lavished it on palaces, mosques, schools, private gardens, and public fountains.
The gleeful gloating of the Christians could hardly have been greater. An account in the Armenian chronicle related an apocryphal story that illustrated more about Christian contempt for and mockery of Muslims than actual Mongol practice. According to the story, after his victory over the Arabs, Hulegu ordered one hundred thousand piglets from Armenia and dispatched two thousand to each Arab city, where he required the Muslim residents to tend the pigs in the middle of their city, feed them almonds and dates daily, and carefully wash them with soap every Saturday. Just as absurdly, the chronicler added that the Mongols demanded that all Arabs eat pork and that they decapitated every Arab who refused.
encountered a Mongol detachment at Ayn al-Jalut, the Springs of Goliath, near the Sea of Galilee in what is today Israel. On the morning of September 3, 1260, a year after Mongke Khan’s death, the Mamluks defeated the Mongols. The empire had reached its western border.
While keeping Shangdu as a summer home and a hunting preserve, he commissioned the building of another city, a real Chinese-style imperial capital, farther south at a place better situated to exploit the agricultural wealth of the lands along the Yellow River. He chose the site of the former Jurched capital of Zhongdu, which had been conquered by Genghis Khan in 1215, the year of Khubilai’s birth. In 1272, Khubilai ordered the building of his new capital, and he connected it by canal to the Yellow River. The Mongols called the place Khanbalik, the City of the Khan. His Chinese subjects called it Dadu, the Great Capital, and it grew into the modern capital of Beijing. Khubilai brought in Muslim architects and Central Asian craftsmen to design his city in a new style that offered more of a compromise between the tastes of the nomadic steppe dwellers and the sedentary civilization.
Inside the confines of their Forbidden City, Khubilai and his family continued to act as Mongols in dress, speech, food, sports, and entertainment. This meant that they consumed large amounts of alcohol, loudly slurped their soup, and they cut meat with knives at the table, thereby disgusting the Chinese who confined such acts to the kitchen during preparation.
The hunt combined a recreational pastime enjoyed by Khubilai with the imperial needs of ceremonial pomp and wasteful spectacle.
In recognition of the phenomenal changes of expanding peace and prosperity on the international scene, Western scholars later designated the fourteenth century as the Pax Mongolica or Pax Tatarica. The Mongol Khans now sought to bring about through peaceful commerce and diplomacy the commercial and diplomatic connections that they had not been able to create through force of arms. The Mongols continued, by a different means, to pursue their compulsive goal of uniting all people under the Eternal Blue Sky.
ten thousand Russian soldiers, who were used to colonize land north of the capital. The Russians stayed as permanent residents, and they remained in the official Chinese chronicles until last mentioned in 1339.
The Mongol promotion of trade introduced a variety of new fabrics by taking local products and finding an international market for them. The origins of such textiles can still be seen in the etymology of many of their names. A particularly smooth and glossy type of silk became known in the West as satin, taking its name from the Mongol port of Zaytun from which Marco Polo sailed on his return to Europe. A style of highly ornate cloth became known as damask silk, derived from the name of Damascus, the city through which most of the trade from the Ilkhanate of Persia passed en route to Europe. Marco Polo mentioned another type of fine, delicate cloth made in Mosul, and it became known as mouslin in Old French and then as muslin in English.
Mongol administrators found both European and Chinese mathematics too simple and impractical, but they adopted many useful innovations from Arabic and Indian mathematics. The cities of the Khwarizm empire had been a particularly important center for mathematic scholarship; the word algorithm was derived from al Khwarizm. The Mongols transported knowledge of these innovations throughout their empire. They quickly discerned the advantages of utilizing columns of numbers or place numbers in the style of Arabic numerals, and they introduced the use of zero, negative numbers, and algebra in China.
The word Tartar no longer signified unbridled terror; instead, the Italian writers Dante and Boccaccio and the English writer Chaucer used the phrase Panni Tartarici, “Tartar cloth,” or “Tartar satin,” as terms for the finest cloth in the world. When King Edward III of England ordered 150 garters to be made for his Knights of the Garters, he specified that they be in Tartar blue. Such terms obviously did not apply to textiles or dyes made by the Mongols, but to ones traded by them or originating in their territory.
Under the widespread influences from the paper and printing, gunpowder and firearms, and the spread of the navigational compass and other maritime equipment, Europeans experienced a Renaissance, literally a rebirth, but it was not the ancient world of Greece and Rome being reborn: It was the Mongol Empire, picked up, transferred, and adapted by the Europeans to their own needs and culture.
in a 1306 illustration of the Robe of Christ in Padua, the robe not only was made in the style and fabric of the Mongols, but the golden trim was painted in Mongol letters from the square Phagspa script commissioned by Khubilai Khan. In the same church, the Vice of Infidelity appeared as a woman wearing the pith helmet style hat favored by Khubilai Khan. Old Testament prophets were depicted holding scrolls open to long, but undecipherable, texts in Mongol script. The direct allusions to the writing and clothing from the court of Khubilai Khan showed an undeniable connection between Italian Renaissance art and the Mongol Empire.
The imagery of Mongol greatness received its clearest statement around 1390 by Geoffrey Chaucer, who had traveled widely in France and Italy on diplomatic business and had a far more international perspective than many of the people for whom he wrote. In The Canterbury Tales, the first book written in English, the story of the squire relates a romantic and fanciful tale about the life and adventures of Genghis Khan.
This noble king was called Genghis Khan, Who in his time was of so great renown That there was nowhere in no region So excellent a lord in all things. He lacked nothing that belonged to a king. As of the sect of which he was born He kept his law, to which that he was sworn. And thereto he was hardy, wise, and rich, And piteous and just, always liked; Soothe of his word, benign, and honorable, Of his courage as any center stable; Young, fresh, and strong, in arms desirous As any bachelor of all his house. A fair person he was and fortunate, And kept always so well royal estate That there was nowhere such another man. This noble king, this Tartar Genghis Khan.
Blood began to ooze beneath the skin, which discolored the skin, lumps formed and oozed blood and pus in the groin. The lumps, subsequently called buboes from the Greek word for groin, then formed in the armpit and neck, and from them came the medical term for the disease: bubonic plague.
Frightened people everywhere blamed foreigners for bringing the disease, further threatening international commerce. In Europe, the Christians once again turned on the Jews, who had a close association with commerce and with the east, from whence the plague came. Some Jews were shut up in their homes and burned; others were taken out and tortured on the rack until they confessed their crimes. Despite a papal bull from Pope Clement VI in July 1348 protecting the Jews and ordering the Christians to stop their persecutions, the campaign against them escalated. On Valentine’s Day in 1349, the authorities of Strasbourg herded two thousand Jews to the Jewish cemetery outside of the city to begin a mass burning. Some Jews were allowed to save themselves by confessing their crimes and converting to Christianity, and some children were forcefully converted
Christopher Columbus convinced the monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand that he could reestablish sea contact and revive the lost commerce with the Mongol court of the Great Khan. With the breakup of the Mongol communication system, the Europeans had not heard about the fall of the empire and the overthrow of the Great Khan. Columbus, therefore, insisted that although the Muslims barred the land route from Europe to the Mongol court, he could sail west from Europe across the World Ocean and arrive in the land described by Marco Polo.
Based on the physical description of some retarded children as marked by Asian facial features, it became apparent to the scientists of the era that they must also belong to the Mongoloid race. The first recorded link between retarded children and the “Mongoloid race” occurred in the 1844 study by Robert Chambers, who associated the malady with incest: “Parents too nearly related tend to produce offspring of the Mongolian type—that is, persons who in maturity still are a kind of children.”
In 1867, Dr. John Langdon Haydon Down, Medical Superintendent of the Earlswood Asylum for Idiots in Surrey, England, formalized the new system of categories in “Observations on the Ethnic Classification of Idiots” in the British Journal of Mental Science. In addition to incest and other forms of deviant behavior posited as the cause of the Mongoloid condition, medical doctors also suggested dietary deficiencies, maternal anxiety, excessive use of perfume, paternal alcoholism, and two-headed sperm.
Mongols had left their genetic impact on Europe when they supposedly raped the white women. The descendants of these genes occasionally erupted in the modern era, when apparently “normal” European women gave birth to a child that was a throwback to the Mongols. Dr. Down’s son refined his father’s theory by revealing that in his research as a medical doctor, he found that these imbeciles derived from an earlier form of the Mongol stock and should be considered more “pre-human, rather than human.”