Dear Readers: A bit of history today, so that I can share with you some of the interesting items I learned this holiday while reading Jack Weatherford’s book: GENGHIS KHAN AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN WORLD (note – please order it through one of my Capitalist heroes, Legal Insurrection or Captain Capitalism.)
In fact, I would like to give my friend, Captian Capitalism, a hat-tip for the inspiration of this post. He noted that Genghis perhaps had the best harem set-up, as the Mongol Emperor kept his women separate. Since one in 200 men in Central Asia are his descendants, the success of this approach cannot be argued.
According to Weatherford, Genghis Khan’s military success stems from transforming steppe warband fighting to large scale conflicts with a smartly organized military structure. Through a series of small scale/inter-tribal civil wars, Temujin (Khan’s original name) refined various elements of shock warfare,. Temujin was given the title Genghis Khan – Unshakeable Leader – upon his designation as the Mongol’s top man in 1206 AD. Some of the examples of Khan’s war innovation included incorporating in an equitable and ordered fashion; killing off the aristocracies of the tribes while protecting and supporting the wealth producers (e.g., craftsman, scholars, merchants).
Perhaps the most profound lesson from the book was Khan’s motivation: He was driven to obtain goods and luxury items for his people, and he desired to have an effective trade system that supported artisans, craftsmen, business enterprises, miners, and other suppliers of material beauty and comfort. A good example of how to make yourself a target of the Khan’s wrath:
He had far more goods now than he could possibly use or distribute to his people, and he wanted to use this vast amount of new resources to stimulate trade. In addition to the thriving supply of traditional Asian goods, other commodities sometimes trickled in from the more distant and exotic lands of the Middle East. The Muslims in that part of the world produced the finest of all metals, the magnificent gleaming steel. They had cotton and other fine textiles, and knew the mysterious process of making glass. The vast area from the mountains of modern Afghanistan to the Black Sea fell under the power of the Turkic sultan Muhammad II, whose empire was called Khwarizm.
Khan initially sought a trading partnership with Khwarzim; however, the Governor of one of its cities and the brother of the Sultan’s powerful mother killed the caravan members of the first salvo of traders from the Mongolian Empire. Khan demanded the guilty parties be punished, and the Sultan (at the behest of his mother) rebuked Genghis in a dramatic and offensive manner. End result: Khwarzim joins the Mongols, the Sultan dies in cowardly exile, and the Sultan’s mom becomes a servant in the Khan’s wife’s court.
A lot of the bad press associated with the “Mongol Hordes” was effective use of the “new media in the 1200’s”. Using the scholars and storytellers he collected in his wins, Khan had dispatches prepared highlighting terror tactics the Mongols used and ginning up the numbers slaughtered so that future enemies would be less likely to engage in war more likely to negotiate trade or willingly join Team Khan. In fact, the Mongols were fairly civilized by the standards that time: They almost never engaged in torture, mutilation, or maiming. And while the Mongol army was quick to kill and utterly destroyed those who resisted their rule or betrayed them outright, conquest and loot were their goals. They did not relish in beheadings, impalings, quartering, or catapulting living children into walls — hallmarks of the way other cultures of that time handled war.
Interestingly, the Mongols often managed to turn enemy advantages into their own time and time again. One example comes after the death of Khan, when a leader named Subodei wanted to target Europe and recounted his experiences leading a Mongol army against Christian ones on the Russian plains for the first time:
The Mongols began the confrontation with a small skirmish, after which they immediately began to fall back toward the east, from whence they had come, as though they might have been afraid to fight a large and powerful foe. The Russian troops and some of their Kipchak allies gleefully followed them, but day after day the Mongols remained a little beyond the reach of the pursing Russians. While some of the regiments had not yet arrived to join the pursuit, the slower regiments fell behind, and the faster ones races on nipping at the heels of the Mongols. The Russians feared that the Mongols might escape and thereby deprive the Russians of a large number of horses and other booty they carried from earlier raids across Persia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
Needless to say:
The Mongols had lured in a now separated and nearly exhausted Russian army. Despite having nearly twice the men on the field (as high as 80,000), the Russians were butchered. For example, the Mongol tactics of using quiet, coordinated feints utterly confused the peasant infantry. Another aspect that befuddled the Russians: The Mongols had designed their arrows so they could only be used in Mongol bows. So, once the Mongol archers attacked, their arrows couldn’t be used by the Russians — whereas the Mongols could readily send back the Russian arrows to kill the original senders. Once the Mongols decimated the infantry, they readily picked off the heavily armored noblemen on warhorses, as the horses were big, bulky, and so weighted down with metal and could hardly outrun the swift Mongol horsemen.
In the words of the Novogorod Chronicle of 1224: Of the large army sent out to fight the Mongols, “only every tenth returned to his home”.
One last note: The Mongol expansion throughout Central Asiafrom around 1207 to 1360 helped bring political stability,re-established the Silk Road, and promoted East-West trade and dialog. It also brought an end to the Islamic Caliphate’s monopoly over world trade.
One downside: It also provided a fantastically effective route for the the Bubonic Plague/Black Death to infect the civilized world a few years later. We will touch upon that topic in a future post.