2.2 The Mongol Empire and the Making of the Modern World

5 min readdecember 30, 2022

Jillian Holbrook

Jillian Holbrook

AP World History: Modern 🌍

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The Historical Influence of the Mongol Empire

The Mongols were nomadic people and formidable pastoralists who lived in the steppes of Central Asia, an area that stretches from present-day eastern Kazakhstan to western China. They are known for establishing the largest contiguous land empire—an empire with common borders—in history, the Mongol Empire, which spanned from the Pacific Ocean to the Danube River and included much of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East!

Military Strategy: How the Mongols Conquered 🏹 

As pastoralist people, the Mongols were already well acquainted with horses and bows, allowing them to travel quickly and cut a deadly path through their enemies. Additionally, they also had siege weapons, which could bypass exterior defenses and cause destruction inside castle walls. Once border defenses fell, the Mongols showed no mercy. Rumors of Mongol strength served as a source of power for the Mongols in warfare, as many cities who heard of their military might simply surrendered rather than fight the inevitable.
The Mongols were known for their highly organized and efficient military campaigns, which enabled them to conquer and control vast territories. As skilled horsemen and traders, they played a significant role in spreading ideas, technologies, and cultural practices throughout the regions they controlled. The Mongols were led by Genghis Khan, who united the various Mongol tribes under his rule in the early 13th century and went on to conquer much of the known world.
Before Genghis Khan, born by the name Temujin, the Mongols lived peacefully. However, Genghis Khan consolidated the Mongols into a fearsome fighting force that effectively conquered their enemies to form an empire.

Post-Genghis Khan

The collapse of old governments due to Mongol expansion contributed to new state formation, administrative procedures, and institutional bodies to retain and exercise power. When Genghis Khan died, the Mongol Empire split up into four khanates: the Golden Horde, the Great Khanate (or Yuan Dynasty), the Ilkhanate, and the Chagatai khanate. A khanate was a political entity ruled by a leader or ruler, known as the khan, who was similar to a king or emperor. Khanates refer to the territory that a khan governed.
1. Khanate of the Golden Horde: The Golden Horde had a significant influence on the development of the Russian state. It controlled much of present-day Russia and Ukraine, and its rule had a lasting impact on the culture and identity of the Russian people. The Mongols introduced new forms of governance and administration, and they played a role in shaping the political and social structure of the Russian state. In exchange for tributes, the Mongols of the Golden Horde let cities select their own leaders. One of the reasons why Russia industrialized later was because the Golden Horde maintained Mongol rule for the longest.
In the context of economic and cultural exchange, the Golden Horde was a major hub of trade, and it facilitated the spread of ideas, technologies, and cultural practices throughout its territory and beyond. The Mongols established a system of postal roads and caravanserais (inns for travelers) that facilitated trade and communication, and the Golden Horde was an important stop on the Silk Road, the trade route that linked Asia and Europe.
2. Great Khanate/Yuan Dynasty: The Yuan Dynasty reunified China under a single rule after the collapse of the Song Dynasty, which had been marked by political fragmentation and warfare. The Mongols brought a period of peace and stability to China, and they established a centralized system of governance that built on established governmental procedures and positions China previously had in place.
As one of the ends of the Silk Road, the Yuan Dynasty had a significant impact on global trade and the Chinese economy. The Mongols introduced Chinese society to new technologies, including paper money and the compass, bolstering Afro-Eurasian trade and increasing global communication. However, the Mongols were not allowed to intermarry with the Chinese, which contributed to stratification through a social ladder.
3. Ilkhanate: When the Mongols took over the rule of the Middle East by capturing Baghdad in 1258, they cut off the mighty Abbasid Caliphate and thus the Golden Age of Islam. However, once there, many Mongols converted to Islam or extended religious tolerance, and in the end, Persia remained moderately unchanged other than similar trade and communication expansions to other khanates.
4. Chagatai: The Chagatai khanate controlled Central Asia, where the Mongols began. As you can imagine, not much changed here, since it had been populated by the same people for a long time.

Mongol Rulers, Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Historical Developments of the Mongol Empire 💸

The Mongols may have been ruthless in conquering, but their traditions and trade led to lasting historical developments.
Generally speaking, the Mongols were a lot more accepting than other empires at the time. They were incredibly religiously tolerant and let everyone practice their own religion freely, which was virtually unheard of at the time. Additionally, Mongols treated their women far more fairly than most empires. Keep in mind that this was relative—women were still considered inferior. However, Mongol rule had cultural impacts in these areas.
The Mongols basically revolutionized trade at the time. With such a huge contiguous empire, there were reduced complications for crossing borders or dealing with foreign raiders. In fact, trade across the Mongol Empire (mostly Silk Roads) was so peaceful and serene that this period was called Pax  Mongolica. The empire also standardized weights and measurements across Eurasia, which further influenced exchange.
Technological transfers were influential across the Mongolian Empire. Greco-Roman and Islamic medical knowledge came west toward Europe, which helped found the Renaissance. Numbers, too, came west from the Middle East to lift Europe out of the Dark Ages. The Mongols even adopted the Uyghur script, which still survives in different forms in Turkey today.
🎥Watch: WHAP - The Mongols

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