The Mongol Empire
The Mongol Empire is today credited as the largest continuous land empire to have ever existed, spanning the geographical areas from Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Sea of Japan, Siberia, South East Asia, through the Indian subcontinent to the Middle East. The Empire rose in the thirteenth and fourteenth century, following the unification of the Mongol and Turkic tribes. Its rise to superiority was almost spontaneous, but so was its fall. Despite the well-organized military, a massive labor force when needed and vast supply of almost all kinds of resources, the empire finally collapsed in the period shortly after 1335 CE (Rogers 64). Since it had all these resources, did the vast size cause the fall of the Mongolian Empire?
The Mongol Empire had its first emperor as Genghis Khan, and was later succeeded by his son, Ogedei Khan (Porter 49). Ogedei then engaged in massive expansion campaigns, where he would send troops and whatever land they conquered, it was brought under the rule of the Mongolian empire. Through these conquest events, he was able to bring several dynasties like Bashkirs, Bulgars, Eastern Xia and Song Dynasty (Stubbs 122). This was extended through his successors until the Mongolian Empire reached its maximum size, becoming the world biggest territorial empire at that time.
The military might of the empire was insurmountable by any other of its time. This is one of the reasons why the empire experienced a rapid expansion within a remarkably short time. In fact, not all the territories were conquered through war, but many especially in Southern Persia voluntarily accepted Mongol supremacy (May 16). The army was divided into small units for ease of command and administration. These divisions included arbans, zuuns, myangans and tumens, consisting of ten, hundred, thousand and ten thousand soldiers respectively. This was one of the earliest forms of well-organized military, forming an un-formidable force in the battle. Survival in these days required any empire to maintain a strong army (Stalcup 21).
The organization of the empire was highly valued. There was an empire currency, some form of a national assembly, chiefs who were appointed on merit and there was a functioning mail system. The road network was so well built such that movement of people from one point to another was easy. Due to its vast size, the empire had a vast resource of wealth from different corners of the empire (Atwood, 106). So, what caused its fall?
After the death of Genghis Khan, there was a split among his grandchildren over succession issues (Edwards and Stanfield 90). Since the empire was monastic, there were disputes on which of his sons would be the succession line. These disputes began to bring enormous cracks in the administration of the dynasty. Various historians suggest that this was the reason why the dynasty collapsed. On the other hand, others argue that this was not underlying factor (Prawdin 24).
The issue of size also raises serious questions. Although the empire was extremely large, could it have been that it have grown excessively too large to become unmanageable? This cannot be the reason, because there were an elaborate leadership styles and structures, including chiefs and some form of an informal parliament. This ensured that power was decentralized even to the grassroots (Morgan 17). The size was therefore not an issue in the administration.
The real reason for the collapse can therefore not be assumed to be just one factor, but all of these working together to cause the fall of the dynasty. When all these were in the correct proportions, the empire began to crumble (Prawdin 40). Therefore, the empire did not fall just because of its vast size.
Atwood, Christopher. Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. Facts On File, 2004
Bilmes, David. Untitled. Calliope 4.2 (1993),24
Edwards, Mike and Stanfield, James L. The great Khans. National Geographic 191.2 (1997):2
Goodrich, S.G. Modern history: from the fall of Rome, A.D. 476, to the present time. California: John P. Morton & co, 1848.
May, Timothy. Who Were the Mongols? Calliope 18.7 (2008):10-14
Mongol: The rise of Genghis Khan. Dir. Sergey Bodrov. Prod. Tadanobu Asano. DVD. Home video, 2007.
Morgan, David. The Mongols. New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.
Porter, Coni. “The Mongol world.” Calliope 4.2 (2009):22
Prawdin, Michael. The Mongol Empire: Its Rise and Legacy. Transaction Publishers, 1940
Prawdin, Michael. The Mongol Empire; its rise and fall. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1940.
Rogers, J. Daniel. Urban centres and the emergence of empires in Eastern Inner Asia. Antiquity 79.306 (2005):801- 812
Saunders, John. The History of the Mongol Conquests. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.
Spielvogel, J and Duiker, W. The Essential World History. Connecticut: Cengage Learning, 2010.
Stalcup, Ann. The Mongolian CODE OF BEHAVIOR. Faces 20.2 (2003):22
Stubbs, Kim. Facing the Wrath of Khan. Military History 23.3 (2006):30
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