Historians regard the Mongol Conquest, which happened from 1206 to 1337, as the worst war to occur in human history.1 The conflict involved a protracted invasion by the Mongol empire across Asia and some parts of Eastern Europe. Historical excerpts show that it is the last major war to have occurred in the 13 century.2 Before the war, people had never seen the scale of destruction that happened in Europe and Asia.3 The scale of human population displacement was also unprecedented.
In Europe, the war involved many Eastern states (mainly, Russian states), while in Asia, it spread across many parts of modern-day China and India.4 Invasions in China persisted into the 14th century. Invasions in Asia spread further into the 15th century. Remnants of the war remained until the 19th century, through the reign of the Mughal Empire in India.5 This paper investigates the causes of the war, and its major battles. Key sections of this essay also show the results of the war and the main treaties signed.
Causes of the War
There were diverse causes of the Mongol invasion. However, historians have narrowed them down to three main issues as outlined below:
The Mongolians often lived a pastoralist and nomadic life. Therefore, livestock was at the center of their existence. However, from 1180 to 1220, the nomads saw a significant decline in temperatures that led to insufficient pasture for their livestock.6 This change in weather patterns threatened the livelihood of the Mongols. Therefore, they had to move out of their traditional grazing grounds and seek new pastures, elsewhere.7 This move meant they had to conquer new territories.
Besides living a pastoralist life, the Mongols also depended on trade to survive. Mainly, they bought essential goods, such as grain, graft and manufactured products from their trading partners.8 Most of these partners came from North and Northwest China.
The Jin dynasty, which controlled trade in most parts of North China, threatened the survival of the Mongolians by reducing its trade volumes with the empire. Historians say this move created a catastrophe for the Mongolians.9 Unable to get their essential goods, the Mongols raided their neighbors, thereby starting a series of invasions that later became bloody conquests across China and the greater Asian continent.
Chinggis Khan ruled the Mongolian empire.10 Based on his shamanic beliefs, he wanted to rule expansive parts of the world. Researchers say Tengerri (the sky of the gods), motivated him to do so after telling Khan that he should conquer the world.11 Historians say this reason could also have motivated the Mongolians to start their conquests.12
Siege of Baghdad (1258)
The siege of Baghdad happened in 1258.13 It was a significant battle of the Mongols because it marked the end of the Islamic Golden Age.14 The invasion was culturally significant to the Islamic faith because it was among the first attacks on the faith. In the war, the Mongols burnt Islamic materials and destroyed mosques.
In fact, historical excerpts show that the Siege of Baghdad destroyed the once vibrant cultural and intellectual center (Baghdad).15 René believes the invasion was a strong psychological blow to the faith.16 Furthermore, the Mongols destroyed Baghdad’s agricultural infrastructure that fed its population. This destruction made it difficult for the surviving population to rebuild.
Battle of Zhongdu
The battle of Zhongdu happened in present-day China between the Mongols and the Jurchen Jin Dynasty.17 Although the Mongols won the war, the Jin dynasty defeated attempts by the Mongols to invade North China, when the Mongols first attempted to do so. However, this resistance only lasted two years before the Mongols reorganized themselves and took over the dynasty.
The war lasted for four years (1211-1215) and, characteristic of most Mongol wars, led to widespread human deaths and displacement of human populations.18 This war was significant to the Mongols because it marked the complete occupation of China.
Battle of Aleppo
The battle of Aleppo (Syria) was a six-day massacre that saw thousands of Muslims and Jews killed by the Mongols.19 Similar to its previous conquests, the Mongols destroyed property and burnt agricultural fields to disenfranchise its victims. This war was a follow-up to the Baghdad invasion. It also assumed a religious angle by denting a blow to the Islamic faith. Part of the success of the Mongols (in this war) came from orthodox Christians who fought with the Mongols in the Aleppo war.20
The battle of Aleppo was a significant war in the Mongol invasion because, like the Baghdad siege, it threatened the Muslim faith in Asia. In fact, it also threatened the existence of the faith in the wider Syrian region. Comparatively, Armenian Christians supported the invasion because they had a “grudge” with the inhabitants of Aleppo. Therefore, they helped the Mongols to burn mosques and kill Muslims.21 This invasion also helped the Mongols to expand their empire as far as Gaza.
The treaties that arose from the Mongol invasion came after the death of the Mongol ruler, Ghazan. The treaty of Aleppo is one such treaty. The treaty specified that the Mongols should stop all hostilities and allow peace to prevail.22 Other treaties emerged from the failure of the Mongols to occupy certain regions of the Arab world.
For example, they signed a treaty with the Egyptian Mamluks after failing to defeat them in their Arab occupation. The Mongols also signed the treaty of Temisgam in 1684 to settle the dispute between Tibet and Ladakh.23 Overall, these treaties aimed to create friendship and stop hostilities with communities that resisted the Mongol invasions.24
Results of the War
The expansion of the Mongol empire was the main result of the Mongol invasions. Historical excerpts show that the Mongol invasion allowed for the establishment of the largest land empire in human history – the Mongol empire.25 Under the command of Genghis Khan, the empire spread across central Europe and several parts of Asia. The war led to the rapid spread of the empire because forced occupation characterized it.
The sons of Genghis Khan further expanded the scope of the empire by planning independent invasions from their sub-kingdoms.26 Besides the expansion of the Mongol empire, the invasions also led to widespread human devastation and population displacement that most people had never witnessed before.
This paper has already shown that the war was among the most destructive occupations in human history because it caused widespread human population displacement, death, and destruction. Disease, destruction of irrigation systems, and famine were other effects of the war.27 Particularly, communities that resisted the invasion bore the brunt of terror caused by the Mongols. They killed, burnt, looted, and took women as slaves. These actions affected huge populations. Historian, Steve Ward claims that up to 15 million people died from the war.28 In some countries, the human death toll was higher than others were. For example, the University of Columbia, says Iran experienced the worst decline in its national population after the Mongol invasion.29
The effects of the Mongol war were not all negative because some positive social and economic aspects also emerged from the war. For example, through the establishment of the Mongol empire, Genghis Khan unified greater parts of Eastern Europe and Asia.30
Albeit under different kingships, most of these regions remained unified during the Mongol reign. In fact, some of them still enjoy this unity today.31 Socially, the Mongols introduced a new alphabet to their people. People still use this alphabet today, in certain parts of Mongolia. The Mongols also introduced a new governance system (parliamentary, but non-democratic), thereby changing how its subjects lived.32
This paper highlights the Mongol invasion as a significant war in human history. The war led to the emergence and expansion of a great empire to exist in human history. This paper shows that ecology, commercial interests, and the personal convictions of the Mongol rulers were the main motivations for the war. The siege of Baghdad, Battle of Zhongdu, and the Battle of Aleppo were the main conflicts that characterized the war.
Besides the high death toll and the destruction of property that characterized the conflict, this paper shows that the emergence of the Mongol empire was among the greatest outcomes of the war. Its influence in unifying large parts of Asia and Europe, under the Mongol rule, was also another outcome of the war. Based on the effects of the war in modern-day society, it is important to acknowledge the effects of the Mongol invasions on human history.
Columbia University. “The Mongols in World History.” Columbia University Press. Web.
Grousset, R. The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1970.
Holt, P. The Age of the Crusades: The Near East from the Eleventh Century to 1517. London: Routledge, 2014.
1 Peter Holt, The Age of the Crusades: The Near East from the Eleventh Century to 1517 (London: Routledge, 2014), 88.
2 René Grousset, The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1970), 247.
5 Peter Holt, The Age of the Crusades: The Near East from the Eleventh Century to 1517 (London: Routledge, 2014), 199.
6 Columbia University, “The Mongols in World History,” Columbia University Press.
13 Peter Holt, The Age of the Crusades: The Near East from the Eleventh Century to 1517 (London: Routledge, 2014), 3.
16 René Grousset, The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1970), 245.
17 Ibid, 654.
19 Peter Holt, The Age of the Crusades: The Near East from the Eleventh Century to 1517 (London: Routledge, 2014), 88.
25 Columbia University, “The Mongols in World History,” Columbia University Press.
26 Peter Holt, The Age of the Crusades: The Near East from the Eleventh Century to 1517 (London: Routledge, 2014), 89.
29 Columbia University, “The Mongols in World History,” Columbia University Press.