Friday, January 15, 2010 1/15/10 - genghis khan

In today's excerpt - the Mongols amassed the
largest contiguous land-based empire in
history, larger than both the Roman and the
Muslim Empires at their height, and exceeded in
size only by the British Empire, which was
however not contiguous:

"The Mongols originally were a tribe from the
region of Lake Baikal, to
the north of Mongolia in modern-day Russia,
but by the [the 13th century] they had become
a multiethnic federation of nomadic tribes
ruled from the high Mongolian plateau: a
region of bitterly cold winters,
searingly hot summers, and vast open expanses
of desolate terrain. The
tribes had been united at the end of the
twelfth century by a leader originally known
as Temujin, who in 1206 was declared their
undisputed leader.
Temujin then proceeded to launch an
astonishing series of military
campaigns that, by the time of his death in
1227, put him in control of the largest
contiguous land-based empire in history, one
that extended from China
in the east to the Caspian Sea in the west,
and from Siberia in the north to
northwest India in the south, Temujin and the
Mongols considered their
campaigns of conquest to have been ordained
by the supreme sky god,
Tenggeri, and the whole world, they believed,
was a Mongol empire-in-the-making. 'Through
the power of God,' Great Khan Guyuk would
to the West in 1246, 'all empires from
sunrise to sunset have been given to
us, and we own them.' Those who refused to
submit to Mongol rule were
rebels against the divine plan, and
punishment for this refusal was often the
outright slaughter of whole cities and

"The conquests led by Temujin were legendary,
and to celebrate them the
Mongols posthumously bestowed on him the
title Fierce Ruler, or Chingis
Khan. Today, thanks to an imperfect Arabic
transliteration of that name, he
is widely known as Genghis Khan.

"Chingis Khan recognized that his people,
resilient horsemen accustomed to lives of
hardship, deprivation, and perpetual motion,
were natural
warriors. They traveled with huge numbers of
spare horses, and by using
them in rotation managed to travel up to a
hundred miles a day - a distance
far greater than any other army of the time
could travel. As nomads, they
knew how to live off the land and the peoples
they conquered, but during
times of privation and hard travel they could
sustain themselves by drinking the blood of
their own horses - and, if necessary, by
eating them. Such
practices, coupled with the ferocity the
Mongols displayed in battle, fed
rumors in Europe of the Mongols as cannibals
and savages. 'The men are
inhuman and of the nature of beasts,' [an
English monk] reported, 'rather to be
called monsters than men, thirsting after and
drinking blood, and tearing
and devouring the flesh of dogs and human

"The Mongols' savagery was calculated. They
wanted their reputation to
precede them. Often, on the eve of an
invasion, they would send advance
word of their mission of conquest to their
adversaries and would demand
submission without a fight. Inevitably, many
opponents would acquiesce,
having already heard terrifying rumors about
what would happen to them
if they did not - and as a result, when the
promised invasion actually did
take Place, the Mongols' ranks would already
be swollen with captives.
Some would be forced to fight as foot
soldiers on the front ranks. Others
would be enlisted as guides, interpreters,
engineers, and spies."

Toby Lester, The Fourth Part of the
World, Free Press, Copyright 2009 by Toby
Lester, pp. 47-48.


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