Mongol invasions and conquests

series of Mongol invasions and conquests (1206–1405)

The Mongol invasions and conquests took place during the 13th and 14th centuries, creating the vast Mongol Empire which by 1300 covered large parts of Eurasia. Historians regard the Mongol devastation as one of the deadliest episodes in history.

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  • I have been avoiding mentioning this event for many years because I consider it too horrible. ... a group of friends urged me to record it since I knew it first-hand. Then I saw that to refrain from it would profit nothing. Therefore, we say: this deed encompasses mention of the greatest event, the most awful catastrophe that has befallen time. It engulfed all beings, particularly the Muslims. Anyone would be right in saying that the world, from the time God created humans until now, has not been stricken by its like. Histories contain nothing that even approaches it.
    • Ibn al-Athir (1160-1232/1233), Muslim historian
    • Quoted by Shafique N. Virani (2007), The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, a Search for Salvation, Oxford University Press, ISBN, page 30
  • ... after they had besieged the city for a long time, they took it and put the inhabitants to death. When we were journeying through that land we came across countless skulls and bones of dead men lying about on the ground. ... the Tartars destroyed the whole of Russia.
    • Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, the Pope's envoy to the Mongol Great Khan, describing his travel through Kiev in February 1246
    • Quoted by Kelly DeVries, Michael Livingston (2019), Medieval Warfare: A Reader, University of Toronto Press, ISBN 9781442636699, page 319
  • Kolya believed that the Mongols’ expansion was pathological. It was a ghastly spiral of positive feedback, born of Genghis Khan’s unquestioned military genius and fueled by easy conquests, a plague of insanity and destruction that had spread across most of the known world.
  • Although time was running out for horse-borne warriors, they remained formidable in the right circumstances. In the thirteenth century Genghis Khan welded quarrelling Mongol tribes together into a highly centralised state which proved, for a time, to be an unstoppable military force, sweeping away regimes in China and Persia. Mongol warriors were highly mobile and, when they were challenged by forces from more settled empires, withdrew into the vast spaces of Central Asia. One of the secrets of their success may have been another simple piece of technology like the stirrup. Mongol warriors wore silk undershirts, so that if they were hit by an arrow the silk wrapped around its head. It was not only easier to get the arrow out; the risk of infection, until the modern age a greater killer of soldiers than death in battle, was much less. Under Genghis’s successors his warriors stormed westwards through Central Asia and Russia to the shores of the Black Sea, carrying all before them and leaving a trail of death and ruin. No force could stand against them and by 1241 they were probing into Hungary, Poland and present-day Romania and Austria. It looked as though much of what was a weak and divided Europe would become part of their empire – and think what a different history it would have had – when the Mongols suddenly stopped and withdrew in 1242. It may be because word had come that, thousands of miles to the east, the Great Khan had died, but historians have recently speculated that poor weather had turned the ground marshy and ruined the fodder for the Mongol horses.
  • Some commentators find it difficult to classify the Mongol killing as genocide, despite its widespread and frequent occurrence. Yet the Mongols often meticulously planned their campaigns against their enemies with the clear goal of eliminating all or part of the targeted population. The Mongols wiped out en masse those groups that resisted them, even to the point of returning to destroyed cities and towns that they had targeted to finish off the survivors. True, no single group or ethnicity was identified by the Mongols for elimination. In fact, no group was exempt, though craftsmen, artisans, merchants, and builders often found a home with the Mongols. Peoples like the Hungarians, the Khwarezmians, and the Chinese were attacked with a genocidal fury that seriously reduced large population groups to fractions of their previous numbers. The attempt was to destroy the groups “as such.” Unlike the Crusaders, the Mongols were not motivated by an ideology that justified destruction. Instead, killing was a method of empire building, a way to expand their territory, terrorize their opponents, and incorporate a wide variety of peoples and cultures into a vast territory stretching at some points from the Mediterranean to the Pacific. Mass killing, in some cases genocide, needed no justification. It was a fact of Mongol power and rule.
    • Norman M. Naimark, Genocide: A World History, Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2016.

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