After watching the movie Mongol, I came across the Book ‘Genghis Khan and the modern world‘ written by Jack Weatherford. Based on Dr. Manmohan Singh’s review, I purchased the audio book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Author has done an extensive research traveling to several places conquered by Mongols and presents his findings as a non-fiction book.
Genghis Khan has been mostly portrayed as a barbaric military commander who lusted for blood, women and gold. Reading through this book, I developed a sense of admiration for this historic figure and the contribution of Mongols to the world at large. History has always been marked by propaganda and influenced by various cultural opinions. In my opinion, this book presents a balanced approach of Mongols achievement and the evils of their conquest. One should read this book without any prejudice irrespective of their cultural and socio-ethnic background. In this article, I present mostly the positive side of Mongol conquest.
Temüjin or Genghis Khan was born in an era where murder, kidnapping, plundering, enslavement, acts of revenge ruled every walks of Steppe Life. Nomadic clans established confederations and fought against each other. Around 9 years old, he got engaged to his future wife Börte and while returning home an enemy tribe poisoned his father Yesügei . He escaped from them and returned home safe to claim his father’s title as the next ‘Khan’ (King) of the tribe. Since, he was very young they failed to recognize him as their leader and the tribe abandoned his family too. His mother Hoelun raised the children amidst abject poverty in a small ger (house), surviving primarily on wild fruits and small game hunts. Later, another tribe enslaved him during a raid and he managed to escape during night with the help of a good-natured old man. He met Jamuka a person little older to him who offered him food and shelter. They became Anda‘s or sworn brothers (not through blood relation) who later helped him to rescue his wife Börte after the Merkit tribe kidnapped her. Also, Jamuka became one of the sworn enemy of Genghis Khan himself at a later stage. One escape after another, everyday became a life of survival for Genghis Khan and at the same time his fame spread across the steppe lands. Soon, one after another he united the nomadic tribes under his charismatic leadership.
He practiced ‘Shamanism’, drew his spiritual inspiration and guidance from the mountain ‘Burkhan Khaldun ‘ and the ‘Eternal blue sky’ that guided every walks of Mongolian life. He abolished the aristocratic society and established a meritocratic society based on merit, achievement and loyalty to his kingdom. Unlike other rulers of his time, who considered themselves above all law, he bound himself to his own laws and made decisions in agreement with Kurultai – a political and military council.
Genghis Khan established the world’s most powerful army and has perfected siege warfare. He could be aptly described as the ‘destroyer of cities than destroyer of people’, even though the number of people killed during his regime outnumbered the Nazi German rule. Mongols nomadic way of life helped them to travel with less logistics for longer distances on horse backs, with less food and water under harsh climatic conditions of the Gobi desert and the cold regions of Siberia for a lengthy period. Their small army moved with such discipline and great precision that they could easily overthrow armies several times their own size. The German word ‘Blitzkrieg’ aptly applies to their method of warfare. They preferred diplomatic peace over warfare and when it failed (when enemy kings tortured and killed their ambassadors) they ruthlessly uprooted their enemies. Unlike many kings who practiced various forms of torture (burning alive, catapulting people across enemy fortresses, mutilating captured prisoners), Mongols practiced instant killing, never tortured people or held enemy hostages. They were masters of deception and had surprise attacks on the enemy kingdom. They spread propaganda about themselves to terrorize people and invoke more fear among the conquered subjects. Once they conquered a city, they offered peace treaties to their subjects. Those who accepted peace were well protected and even considered as part of their own tribe. Genghis khan made sure to protect the widows and young children of his own tribe and that of the conquered kingdoms. Then he ordered systematic plundering of the city particularly the aristocrats whom he considered as evil people who hoarded wealth. He then distributed the loot among his men based on their ranks, contribution and achievement during the war and he led a simple life.
Mongols were more like bees who sucked the nectar out of flowers and spread the pollens from place to place. He cross-pollinated the civilizations which were unknown to each other before his conquest. He quickly assimilated the wealth of knowledge and technology of the conquered kingdoms into his own arsenal. Every person who had the skill from the craftsman, tanner, artisans, doctors, engineers found new ways of expression. Chinese engineers built advanced catapults and other light artillery which were transported on horse wagons that could be readily assembled or disassembled. Walls no longer protected kingdoms which were blown away by the gun powder and heavy shells. Mongols were nomadic herders who lacked formal education, unlike their Muslim subjects whose common men could read/write well. Genghis khan made best use of them by establishing schools and promoting education on a wider scale to a common man, which was a distant dream for the Western society of that time. Paper from China was heavily used by Muslim scholars to produce great literary works and countless books were written on medicine, surgery, astronomy etc. The Power of Church over State prevailed in the European countries and persecution of other religious sects continued at large-scale. However, Genghis khan practiced Religious tolerance and only demanded absolute loyalty towards him from his subjects. He introduced carrots and many other crop varieties to the Chinese and Chinese tea to the Europeans. Mongols have almost conquered 30 countries in the modern-day world to little more than the size of Africa with just 100,000 soldiers that could be fitted in a football stadium. He established an International law governing his citizens under the rule of ‘One Great Khan’.
He promoted free flow of trade and commerce among his conquered nations even during times of war and he popularized the silk route. He established a decent ‘Postal system’ that fostered speedy communication among his conquered nations. His conquest mostly ended where the grasslands ended. Unlike China and Middle Eastern kingdoms, he did not find enough wealth among the Europeans. Europeans considered Mongols as devils who destroyed their civilized way of life and escaped out of sight into clouds of dust. Nonetheless, Europe drank the innovation of the Mongols that flourished later in Europe during the Renaissance period. Mongols introduced different Silk and Satin cloths , wide varieties of ornaments, Compass and other Maritime equipment and Printing technology to the Westerners. Though the Westerners could brush aside Mongoloid race as yellow peril and justify their later conquest of the world to suppress the barbaric tyrants evolved from Mongols (Shah, Amirs, Khan, Moghuls (Persian for Mongols), Tartars etc…), they should acknowledge the good things brought by the Mongols to them.
Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan whose court was visited by the explorer ‘Marco Polo’ established the ‘Yuan dynasty’ by unifying South China with the North East Manchurian kingdoms. Unlike his grandfather who is known for his military genius, Kublai Khan is a great diplomat who relied on propaganda, behaving more like Chinese and assimilated their culture in every walks of his life. However, he lived a Mongol life within the forbidden city. During his reign, he sent several Armada ships to conquer island nations like Japan and some South-east Asian countries. He established several committees to promote Scientific Farming, Universal Education to all his citizens and ordered for Census on a larger scale to understand the demands of his subjects. He even tried to come up with an Universal Alphabetic system to co-ordinate the activities of his kingdom which was widely dispersed across many geographical areas. He introduced Paper money and established a Standard system of weights that eased exchange of goods and promoted trade.
In essence, in the words of Jawaharlal Nehru (First Prime Minister of India)
It would be foolish not to recognize the greatness of Europe. But it would be equally foolish to forget the greatness of Asia … The Mongols were nomads, hating cities and the ways of cities. Many people think that because they were nomads they must have been barbarians. But this is a mistaken idea. They did not know, of course, many of the city arts, but they had developed a way of life of their own and had an intricate organization. If they won great victories on the field of battle, it was not because of their numbers, but because of their discipline and organization. And above all it was due to the brilliant captainship of Chengiz. For Chengiz is, without doubt, the greatest military genius and leader in history. Alexander and Caesar seem petty before him. Chengiz was not only himself a great commander, but he trained many of his generals and made them brilliant leaders. Thousands of miles away from their homelands, surrounded by enemies and a hostile population, they carried on victorious warfare against superior numbers.