There are at least 20 different ways in which the Mongolians are unique.
- The agricultural revolution. It’s hard to build cities based on grass and pasture-fed animals, except for the Mongols.
- Indus Valley Civilization. It’s hard to be considered civilized if you’re nomadic (as opposed to city-based), unless you’re the Mongols.
- Ancient Mesopotamia. Nomads always settle in cities of their own (as other nomads did), except for the Mongols.
- The Persians and Greeks. All land-based empires are based on the Persian Empire, except for the Mongols.
- 2,000 years of Chinese history. The Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) was both popular and unusual, because they were Mongolian.
- The Silk Road. Most of Central Asia is difficult for agriculture and difficult to conquer, unless you’re the Mongols.
- Christianity. There’s never that much religious freedom in an empire, except for the Mongolian Empire (and the Persian Empire).
- The Fall of the Roman Empire. If you wanted to make a name for yourself in terms of war and warfare, you really had to face off against the Persian Empire, even if you were the Mongols. (Mongolia’s not an exception this time!!)
- Islam. It’s said that Islam “spread by the sword”. That’s kind of true, but not if you’re the Mongols. Plenty of people all across Central Asia and elsewhere embraced Islam without any military campaign.
- The Dark Ages. The Abbasids took over in A.D. 750 and nobody could defeat them, until the Mongols came along in 1258.
- The Islamic empire relied more and more on soldiers from the frontier (like Turks or other slaves pressed into military service), a strategy that has never worked to defend the empire. Slave-military backbones always lead to the empire collapsing. Well, it has worked once, in the Mongolian Empire.
- Musa I of Mali. Once agriculture is introduced to herder/ hunter-gatherer communities, it always takes hold. Unless you’re the Mongols.
- The Mongols. Pastoralists are tough mother fuckers (Huns, Xiongnu, Mongols). They generally live close to nature and in harsh conditions.
- Indian Ocean Trade. Around A.D. 1000 and 1200, a monsoon market place grew up, sailing around the seasonal Indian Ocean winds. It declined during the Mongolian Empire (1206-1368) because overland trade became cheap and safe. However, afterward, the Monsoon Marketplace of Indian Ocean trade surged again in the 1300s and 1400s, once the Mongols were gone.
- Venice and the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans managed to blend their pastoral nomadic roots with some very un-nomadic empire building and some really impressive architecture, making them very different from the Mongols.
- Russia. The current stereotypes we have about Russia (totalitarian police state, alcoholism) and the way that modern-day Russia took shape are largely due to the Mongols. The Kievan Rus’ fell in 1240 when the Mongolians showed up and replaced them. By that time, the Kievan Rus’ had been at war with pastoral nomads for centuries: the Khazars, the Pechenegs, the Cumans. Kievan Rus’ was tired, which made it an easy target for the Mongols.
- Mariners in the 1400s. China had long experience trading with Muslims, especially when they were ruled by the Mongols (Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)).
- Imperialism. By the end of the 1800s, much of Africa and Asia had been colonized by European powers. Notable exceptions include Japan, Thailand, Iran and Afghanistan, because no one can conquer Afghanistan… unless you’re the Mongols.
- World War II. The entry of the U.S. into World War II really did change everything, though I doubt that Nazi Germany could have taken the USSR/ Russia anyway. No one conquers Russia in the wintertime, unless you’re the Mongols.
- Decolonization. Unless you’re over 60-years-old, you’ve only ever known a world of nation states. However, as we’ve seen from Egypt to Alexander the Great to China to Rome to the Mongols — who, uncharacteristically, are not the exception here — to the Ottomans or to the Inca-Americas, empire has long been the dominant way we organize ourselves politically… or, at least the way other peoples have organized us politically.
Leave a Reply