The rise of the Mongol Empire is possibly the most extraordinary feats of history. However it may not be all that surprising, since so-called barbarian hordes have been the bane of the “civilized” world for much of history. Especially by those who sprung from the bleak but awe-inspiring landscapes of the Central Asian steppes, examples abound from the Huns to the Mongols themselves. In a world when the fastest mode of transportation was on horseback, these nomadic tribes who were practically born and bred on horses could indeed conceivably rule the world. The greatest of them all was Temujin, for he came from humble beginnings to become “Genghis Khan”, or chief of all who dwell in tents. Solely raised by his mother when his father died while he was at a young age, he not only survived the harsh surrounding, but also grew up to united all of the nomadic tribes, setting the stage for world conquest. He and his descendents would continue his conquests, and within a space of 80 years carve out the largest continuous land Empire that the world would know to this day. They developed a reputation for ruthlessness and brutality. Indeed whenever their enemies did not capitulate to them, they did not hesitate to conduct wholesale massacres upon the population. To the Europeans, the stereotype of them being barbaric plunderers intent merely to maim, slaughter, and destroy, earned them the moniker “The Devil’s Horsemen”. However, this ignores the fact that in the lands that they conquered, they instituted many reforms to facilitate mercantile trade and established a vast postal network that stretched throughout their Empire. Creating the first direct link between Europe and the Far East, inspiring not only a trade in goods, but peoples and ideas. Indeed this contact would lead to the Age of Exploration in Europe, as people sought faster and safer routes to China, as the Mongol Empire began to decline. Vestiges of Mongol authority would continue for several hundred years, but indeed their Empire disintegrated almost as quickly as it had started. With those who kept to their nomadic ways returning or being driven back to the steppe lands from where they came, or being absorbed by the native population that they had once ruled. As the Chinese explained it to Ghengis Khan, what you conquer by horseback you can not govern by horseback. In essence it is what happened to the Mongols.
Central Asia had long been the home of various nomadic tribes based on the practice of animal herding and horses. Humans had inhabited the region ever since the prehistoric period. The centuries before the Genghis Khan’s conquests, various Turkic and Mongol-Tungusic tribes inhabited the steppes of Mongolia. These various ethnic groups alternatively ruled each other during this time, one group would gain power and subdue the others until another group formed to topple the previously superior power. One of the first politically organized groups were the Hsiung-nu (the Chinese name for a tribe called the Hunnu) had for a time been dominant in the region. They throughout this time, posed a constant threat to ancient China, and were the cause for China to build the Great Wall. In fact, one of the splinter groups from this nation that had moved north and westward would eventually arrive at the gates of Roman Empire in the 4th century A.D. to be known to the western world as the Huns. So it is no coincidence that some of the most successful conquerors and invaders came from this region of the world. The land lends itself to breed a people who were used to harsh living conditions, mobility and war. Elements that makes for an ideal military force.
It should be noted that before the 13th century, the term Mongol is merely a name for one of the many tribes that would form what would be called the “Mongol” nation. The other major tribes that inhabited Mongolia at the time were the Merkits, the Kereyids, the Naimans, and the Tatars. Around 1130 A.D. the Mongols came to fore. They would go on to defeat their neighboring tribesmen and even forced the Jin Empire (in Northern China) to pay them tribute. However, the first Mongol Kingdom was a short-lived one, lasting a mere 30 years before being defeated by the Tartars. Infighting prevented any reconsolidation of the tribes. One of the descendents of the khans (clan chiefs) of the former Kingdom was Yesugei. In 1167 A.D. he had a son named Temujin. When Temujin was a child, his father was poisoned by Tartar chiefs and died. Being so young, he was not old enough to take on the leadership of the clan and his clansmen abandoned the family. The young Temujin was left to be raised alone by his mother, and his immediate family. He had a harsh life growing up trying to eke out a living in the harsh Mongolian steppes, but he also had many harrowing adventures. When he was 16, his family was attacked by the Merkits (his mother was incidentally a Merkit) who kidnaps Temujin’s wife. In order to get his wife back, he asked for the help of one of his father’s old friend Toghrul of the Kereyid Tribe, who in turn recruited Jamugha, a leader of a Mongol tribe. Together they defeated the Merkits and recovered Temujin’s wife. Jamugha also happened to be a childhood friend of Temujin, and also an “anda” or blood brother (the oath of anda is a spiritual brotherhood that according to Mongolian tradition is more binding than biological kinship). Together they continued their victory over the Merkits as impetus to take control all of the other Mongol clans. But this was not enough for the driven and ambitious Temujin. He had a bigger plan in mind. This lead to armed conflict between the two men and a split between the Mongol Nation. Temujin was defeated and forced into exile. Ten years would pass, but he returned in force and not only retook control of the Mongol tribe, but went on to defeat all the other steppe tribes. He began his return to power first with the defeat of the Tartars in 1196 A.D., then turning on to the Kereyids, his former ally in 1203 A.D., the rest of the steppe tribes the following year. When he had to face Jamugha, his former friend. Temujin managed to get Jamugha’s followers to betray their chief and deliver him to Temujin. Temujin offered to renew their brotherhood, but Jamugha could not bear the humiliation of defeat and asked to be executed. Temujin obliged him, but also executed those men who betrayed him. It was Temujin’s principle that anyone who would betray their masters could never be trusted and deserved the harshest punishment. So with all the steppe tribes now under his control, Temujin held a great assembly on the banks of the Onon river in 1206 A.D., where he took the title Genghis Khan.
Genghis Khan possessed not only a keen sense of his own destiny, but had many qualities to back up his ambitions. He possessed strategic and tactical brilliance in warfare, political attuteness and super organizational abilities. He also had a keen sense of the importance of trade, as it was often the only way to survive in the bleak steppe lands, especially being raised as he was when his family was abandoned by their clansmen. When he was declared Genghis Khan, he instituted wide spread reforms upon the united Mongol Nation. The fact that he deliberately united the tribes was a well thought out plan. In the past, previous steppe tribes who had gained ascendancy would quickly turn its attention to the rich civilized empires to the south in China to gain tribute and plunder. Leaving room for the Chinese Kingdoms to form alliances with rival steppe tribes to play one against the other. He also imposed a military super structure over the Mongol Nation. He organized his army into easily managed units, each lead by a commander elected by the men. Promotion was based on merit and not by birthright as was the custom in many cultures in the world at the time. He also deliberately distributed his men into non-tribal groups to break up former loyalties, and made alliances by establishing many blood brother relationships, so that the focus of loyalty would be towards him personally. The Mongol army was also comprised entirely of cavalry at this time, and thus was capable of sweeping maneuvers. Most notable was the feigned retreat that would lure an opposing force into pursuit. The Mongol army would encircle the strung out army and pepper them with arrows, shot from composite bows that had a range of 350 yards, until the former pursuers were destroyed.
The year after his ascension to the Mongol leadership, he turned his attention on the riches of the “civilized” Kingdoms to the South. First he led his men against the Xi-Xia Kingdom (also known as Tanguts) in North Western China. His main goal was to gain favorable trade terms with the Xi-Xia, which had dominated trade along their section of the Silk Road. He quickly overwhelmed the Xi-Xia who had no choice but to submit to his authority, so he offered them a tributary state relationship to the Mongols. He also adopted the Uighur language used by the Xi-Xia as a written language for the Mongol nation, which had no written language before this time. Next, he turned his attention on the Jin Kingdom, also known as Chin, in 1211 A.D. Their capitol was Chungdu in present-day Beijing, and controlled Northern China up to the Yangtze River. After 4 years, in 1215 A.D. they finally captured the Jin capitol of Chungdu, however by then they had moved their political center south to Kai-feng. Nevertheless the Mongols now controlled Northern China up to the Yellow River. In the long war, Genghis Khan realized the shortcomings of the Mongol army, and that was the lack of siege craft. So it was during this time, that he incorporated siege warfare into the Mongol arsenal, by capturing Chinese siege engineers during his war with the Jin. Genghis Khan was wounded during the war, and withdrew to his homeland to recover. He also acquired the service of Yeh-lu Chu’tsai, a Chinese of Mongol extraction, as his shaman and closest adviser. He would serve Genghis Khan and his son for the rest of his life, providing for the Mongol leader a link to spirituality, as well as, the advanced sciences, culture and education of the Chinese world.
In 1218 A.D. he was ready to resume his conquests, but by then he had lost interest in China and instead turned his attention towards the west. He sent a general named Chepe to conquer the Kara Khitai Empire, as a stepping stone toward the Kwarazm Empire in Persia. The previous year, a band of Mongol merchants were murdered in a Kwarasm city. Genghis sent an envoy to the Shah of Kwarazm to clear up the matter. Instead the envoy was put to death, which to the Mongols was an unforgivable act. With the Kara Khitai Empire under Mongol control, Genghis mounted what would be his largest military operation in 1219 A.D. He and a general Subedei would command a body of 90,000 men, attacking from the North, and a force of 30,000 under the command of general Chepe to attack from the east, passing over extremely difficult mountainous terrain in the Himalayas. Facing the Mongols were 400,000 men assembled by Shah Mohammed of the Kwarazm Empire. 180,000 of the Shah’s troops were killed in the main battle, with the Shah narrowly escaping the scene. Further engagements ended with similarly devastating results for the Shah’s army, but with the Shah escaping each time. To put and end to this, Genghis Khan assigned his general Subedei and Chepe with a force of 20,000 men to find and kill the Shah. In 1220 A.D. Genghis Khan in turn attacked the city of Bohkara and then the Kwarazm capitol of Samarkand. Taking both within two weeks. The devastation and suffering inflicted upon the capitol and its inhabitant, in fact the entire Empire was enormous. The marauding Mongol troops would level any cities they came across and massacred the population. Many were also sold into slavery. It was said that the Mongols executed 700,000 at the city of Merv. The Kwarasm Empire was literally wiped from existence. The only Kwarasm force to offer any real resistance was lead by Jalal al-Din in the area of modern day Afghanistan. Actually defeating the initial attack by the Mongols lead by one of Genghis Khan’s adopted sons at Parwan. However his army would later be destroyed by Genghis Khan himself at the Indus River. The Shah has fled west with the two Mongol Generals in pursuit. The Shah’s regime was not a popular one so within half a year of his escape he died of leprosy, exhausted and in rags. However, Subedei and Chepe would go further then pursuing the Shah. The Mongol detachment would turn North making raids around the Caspian Sea and into Russia, facing off and beating overwhelming numbers of Russians and Cumans along the way, before returning to join the main army body. Chepe however did not survive the campaign. But even on his way back, Subedei and his 20,000 men would destroy a force of 80,000 Georgians in the Battle of Khalka. The exploits would prompt Edward Gibbon, a famous historian to admiringly state that “Such a ride has never before been attempted, and has never since been repeated.”
Genghis Khan was now almost into his sixties. So during the Kwarazm campaign, Genghis Khan sought the legendary Taoist monk Chang-chun, on the magical elixir of Immortality. But the monk had no such potion but they discussed many philosophical matters with the two become good friends and giving the Khan some good advice. So before completing his military campaign, he wisely designates his son Ogedei to be his successor. Once the Kwarazm campaign was completed, Genghis Khan decides to return home to take care of the administrative tasks of his Mongol Empire. The Xi-Xia was again refusing to surrender tribute to the Mongols, so the Mongol army on its way back takes the Xi-Xia capitol, and incorporates the Xi-Xia kingdom into the Mongol Empire completely. However, shortly after the Xi-Xia campaign, Genghis Khan dies at the age of 60 while on a hunting expedition in 1227 A.D. He had left for his sons what was already the largest Land Empire the world would know but his descendents would extend it even further.
After the death of Genghis Khan, his son Ogedei takes on the title of Khakhan, or “Khan of Khans”. The territories conquered through Genghis Khan’s leadership were divided into four regions for each of his sons. But they were politically united and under the reign of the Khakhan. Ogedei would go on to pacify the remaining resistance left over from remnants of the Kwarasm Empire. Then in 1231 A.D. turn his attention back to the Jin Empire, completing the conquest of the Jin and the capture of Kai-Feng in 1234 A.D. with his able general Subedei, and brother Tolui.
With the Jin now defeated, Ogedei sent general Subedei west to reconnoiter the Christian world in order to prepare for the great Western campaign. In most likelihood this invasion was planned when Subedei first made his raids into Russia. The Mongols were very thorough, gathering intelligence on the political, economic and even family connections of the ruling classes of Russia and Europe. Subedei further reckoned that it would take 18 years to completely conquer all of Europe, which points to the master plan the Mongols really had. In contrast, the Russians and Europeans knew nothing about the Mongols. Ogedei also establishes the Mongol Capitol of Karakhorum, in modern day Mongolia.
In 1236 A.D. Subedei and Genghis Khan’s grandson Batu was sent with 150,000 men on a mission to subjugate Russia and Eastern Europe. Unlike the other powers that would attempt to invade Russia, the Mongols were equally adept as the Russian in fighting in the winter. So Subedei planned his attack on Russia at the height of winter of 1237 A.D. The Mongols first defeats the Bulgars around the Volga River, then onto the Eastern Russian Principalities. The next year he attacked from the North in order to avoid being outflanked by the Russians and in quick succession eliminated the Northern Russian principalities, taking mere days to defeat each. From there they turned to Novgorod, but they abandoned the siege after the terrain proved too difficult for the Mongol horses to travel through. However, the prince of Novgorod wisely took this opportunity to make a pact with the Mongols. Offer themselves as a tributary state in order to avoid destruction. Bypassing Novgorod they would lay waste to the city of Kozelsk which stubbornly held out for 2 months. The final prize was Kiev, in 1240 A.D. the city was besieged. The city put up staunch resistance, and as was common practice for the Mongols, when they finally penetrated the city defenses, reduced the city to rubble for their insolence with the exception of St. Sophia Cathedral. With the capture of Kiev, the Russia territories were now under Mongol control. The Russians renamed their territory of the Mongol Empire, “The Golden Horde”. The territory would continue to be under Mongol domination and a tribute state until 1480 A.D.
After the victory over Russia, Subedei divided his army into three parts to take on Hungary and Poland. Using the excuse that the Cuman refugees, who had fled into Hungary as a result of the Russian Campaign, were Mongol subjects, they declared war on the Hungarians. Early in 1241 A.D. the Mongols defeated the Hungarians using a series of brilliant strategic army maneuvers and the usual Mongol tactics. Destroying a force of 80,000 men in one battle, and 100,000 in subsequent battles for the city of Pest. At Liegnitz a force of 20,000 Teutonic knights faced off against the Mongols but were slaughtered to the last man. Meanwhile a flanking force of 20,000 men sent North stormed into Poland and sacked Krakow. The Mongols crossed the Danube by the end of the year but stopped to consolidate their gains before setting out to attack Austria. During the whole campaign, the European countries found themselves incapable of resolving their differences completely to take on a common enemy, the Austrians even used the Mongol invasion to seize part of Hungary. However early the next year Batu receives a message of the passing of Ogedei. As it was custom to hold an assembly to elect a new Khakhan, Batu and Subedei returned to Mongol territory participate in the election. In no doubt that the likely successor Guyuk Khan was not favored by Batu, so he had no choice given the vast territories he had now gained for himself.
This decision would prove fateful for both the Mongols and Europe. The Europeans thought they had managed to inflict enough casualties upon the Mongols so that they gave up their conquest. However given the state of affairs in Europe and the past Mongol successes, it would seem likely that Batu and Subedei would have conquered all of Europe up to the Atlantic Ocean. However, the Mongols would not invade Europe again, and in 1243 A.D. Yeh-lu Chu’tsai, the chief adviser to the Khakhan dies. Later in 1246 A.D. the great Mongol general Subedei dies at the age of 70. These two men were the masterminds responsible for much of the Mongols successes and the continuation after Genghis Khan’s death of his leadership principles. Their passing also saw a gradual decline in the cohesiveness of the Mongol Empire, which each Khanate territory becoming more and more independent. Although still acknowledging the superiority of the Great Khan.
Guyuk was elected Great Khan but his rule would last only two years. This actually prevented all out civil war as Batu was opposed to Guyuk. In 1251 A.D. Mongke would succeed him. He would revive the conquests that were seen as the Mongol’s destiny by Genghis Khan. First, he had to deal with a group called the Ismailis (they were also known as Assassins, in fact the word comes from this group) who were causing trouble in the western territories. He sent Hulagu, (a Grandson of Genghis Khan) to deal with them. Hulagu departed in 1253 A.D. armed with the latest in siege weapons, and even attracted a number of Christian Georgian and Alan volunteers along the way. It took three years, slow by Mongol standards, to reach the Assassin’s territory but he forced the surrender of the Assassins after the capture their Grandmaster at Alamut. He then turned his attention to the Caliph of Baghdad, again the Mongols easily captured the city. As with any city that resisted the Mongols, the inhabitants were massacred, however the Christian population in the city was spared. Hulagu decided to return to the Mongol capitol after this conquest but leaves only 15,000 men, in addition to 10,000 allied troops to secure the Western frontier. The Mameluke Sultans of Egypt however was expecting the whole Mongol contingent and amassed an army of 120,000 men in preparation. This time however, the Mongols were not so lucky. The forces finally met a few years later. The Mamelukes would manage to defeat the Mongol detachment at the Battle of Ayn Jalut. Preventing the spearhead from making its way into Egypt. Mongke would also die the next year, arresting Mongol ambitions in the region.
Kublai Khan would succeed him in 1259 A.D., however his ascension was contested by his brother and it would take 5 years before Kublai was able to settle the matter. Kublai’s interest was in China. He would also resume the conquests begun by Mongke of the Sung (also known as Song) dynasty of southern China. Kublai, this time combined with a naval force eventually defeats the Sung in 1272 A.D. Kublai establishes the Yuan dynasty in China and moves the Mongol capitol to Beijing. However the Sung Emperor escapes and retreats further south. It would take another 7 years before they caught up with him and destroy the last of the Chinese forces. During this period, Kublai would also send an envoy to Japan to demand tribute, however he would be rebuffed. In response he sends a force of 150 ships in 1274 A.D. but was beaten back by the Japanese when a Typhoon destroys the Mongol fleet while it was docked after the initial clash. Kublai would send a much larger force in 1281 A.D. but again a Typhoon wipes out his invasion fleet, leading to another defeat. The Mongols also mounted expeditions to conquer Burma, Vietnam and Java. But none of them proved successful in the end. Despite these military defeats, the Mongol empire was at its Zenith, with an Empire that reach from the Pacific to the Danube river in Europe, and trade flourished throughout the Mongol Empire. It was during Kublai’s reign that the famous merchant adventurer Marco Polo travels to China, observing and documenting the wonders of China that would enthrall Europe for centuries. Kublai’s reign was concentrated with matters in China, and his attention was never concerned with the unity of the Mongol Empire. His successors did not even bother to stake claim over the Khakhan title and choose to be Chinese Emperors under the Yuan dynasty. After Kublai’s death in 1294 A.D. the Mongol Empire breaks up into a number of independent Khanates. The Golden Horde in Russia, the Il-Khan in Persia, and the Chaghatayid which stretched from Afghanistan to Tibet.
The Golden Horde would continue to rule over Russia until 1480 A.D. lasting the longest of all the foreign Khanates. The Mongol regime would remaining in power in China until 1368 A.D when a peasant Monk lead a rebellion against them to establish the Ming dynasty. The Il-Khanate would see some prosperity under the reign of Abu Said. However ,immediately after his death in 1335 A.D. the Mongol Khanate collapsed until Tamerlane, who while being Moslem and only part Mongol tried to reunify the Mongol Empire. He had managed to conquered the remnants of the Il-khanate along with the Chaghatayid but he died in 1405 A.D. without fully realizing his ultimate goal of reunification. After his death, China would eventually annex the Eastern parts of the Chaghatayid as well as Mongolia under the Ching dynasty in 1696 A.D. The various Mongol Khanates would continue to fracture, being easy pickings for the native inhabitants to regain control.
The Mongols would also eventually adopt Buddhism further dulling their past warrior traditions. Mongolia remained part of China until 1911 A.D, when the collapse of dynastic rule in China allowed them to assert their independence. The Chinese, however, tried to reinforced their claim to Mongolia by an invasion in 1919 A.D. However, they were unsucessful largely due to the effort of Sukhbaatar. He stands today as a hero of the Mongolian people, when he as commander-in-chief of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Army, defeated the Chinese with the help of the Soviet Union and declared Mongolia’s independence from China.
While the Mongolians were nominally independent, the Soviets were in fact in control. The Mongolians were forced into farming collectives and a sedentary lifestyle, in a Soviet style economy. As a result, many fled to Chinese Inner Mongolia to escape this fate. Since 1990 A.D., Mongolia, like other post-Soviet states, has been struggling to develop its economy, and reassert its own cultural heritage. While no longer the fierce warriors of the past, they still possess a culture that remains as unique today as it were in the past. It derives its enduring qualities from a land where horses are still the best way to travel.
Overall Strategy for Players Using Mongols
The Mongols advantages makes them ideally suited for the offensive minded player. By far the traditional favorite units of rushers are ranged cavalry. Indeed this is where the Mongols shine, having their sole, but highly effective unique unit in this line. They receive them at the Classical Age which is very early in the game. This means that they can take advantage of these awesome troops before many people can mount an adequate defense. These troops also suffer less from attrition which means they maybe the only civilization that is able to really make a successful rushing attack on the Russians, to counter-act their extra attrition, and keep them in check so that they don’t enter the later ages unskaved. When facing a civilization besides the Russian, these more resilient troops will certainly be even more effective in a rushing attack then other troops, being able to linger much longer without suffering attrition and thus deal out much more destruction and disruption to their enemies.
The even better bonus is that they get three of these cavalry archers for free for every stable they build. This can be of great use to facilitate a rushing attack. Timber is generally not too difficult to accumulate so use that wood up and plop down as many stables as you can and take advantage of those free troops. So plop down 4 or 5 stables and get yourself 12 to 15 cavalry archers as a bonus. This should be a very adequate rushing force. You can go with less but in Rise of Nations, you generally need a bigger rushing force for them to be as effective as in other Real Time Strategy games. If the Rush fails, it’s still not a big loss since those troops are free anyway. They will at least have had their production disrupted, and lost a few units. They may even over compensate and try to build too many defenses and neglect their research and economic side. That is, being knocked off their game plan, which is really what one hopes to do in these kinds of attacks. Even better of course if you manage to cripple their economy or force them to resign. But remember it is all about cost versus benefit, you get troops that cost you nothing, so use them to cause people some damage, and you can’t really loose. Of course it doesn’t mean you should squander that bonus either, because you need to meet a certain minimum of force in order to deal adequate damage.
You can of course try to bank the free troops till later in game, and use them as part of a combined arms force. However, one should be careful not to accumulate too many of them before the late mechanized ages when cavalry archers become obsolete, and you are forced to upgrade. The large number of troops of a type will make the upgrade cost extremely high, not to mention the impact on the population limit that you need to keep an eye on. The upgrade cost will be a concern at every age when a cavalry archer upgrade is available, but will be most felt when those horse units have to turn into mechanized units. However, if timed right possibly during the gunpowder age, the resources you have saved from not having to pay for the cavalry archers, can help you build a much bigger and formidable combined arms force where you can really deal some serious damage and bring victory home.
In multiplayer team games, the Mongol player would be instrumental in using its fast, effective and free cavalry archers to keep opponents from developing their economy as well as you and your allies. A good ally would ideally be a civilization that is strong in the late game and later ages. Since the Mongols are best in the earlier ages, and lack any special units for the later ages. While they do get the stable/factory bonus with armored cars, these units can no longer serve as the main spearhead as the early cavalry archer units did in the early ages. However they will still be great for flanking attacks and against light infantry. These units will not be as effective in dealing with the generally more resilient troops and buildings of the later ages, especially when faced with anti-tank troops.
Mongols as modelled in Rise of Nations
- Ranged Cavalry Line
Nomad (Classical Age)
Suffers less from attrition, good against villagers
Steppe Nomad (Medieval Age)
Horde (Gunpowder Age)
Golden Horde (Enlightenment Age)
Unique powers (Power of the Horde)
- Mounted units created 10% cheaper and 20% faster
- Receive +1x(1/2 the number of nations in play) food for each 1% of world controlled
- Your units suffer 50% less attrition damage
- Forage line of research are free at Smelter
- Receive free ranged cavalry whenever a new Stable or Autoplant is built
1 for each level of Miltary research up to 3
Written By: One Dead Angel
Columbia University, Wikipedia, University of Indiana, Mongol School, The History Net.