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Mongol invasions and conquests
Animated map showing growth of the Mongol Empire
Expansion of the Mongol Empire 1206–94
  • Establishment of the Mongol Empire
  • Destruction of
  • Vassalization of
  • Devastation of
  • Failure to subjugate Japan, the Mamluk Sultanate and the interior of India
  • Failure to complete conquest of Southeast Asia
  • Emergence of the Pax Mongolica

Mongol invasions and conquests progressed throughout the 13th century, resulting in the vast Mongol Empire, which, by 1300, covered much of Asia and Eastern Europe. Historians regard the Mongol raids and invasions as some of the deadliest conflicts in human history. According to Brian Landers, "One empire in particular exceeded any that had gone before, and crossed from Asia into Europe in an orgy of violence and destruction. The Mongols brought terror to Europe on a scale not seen again until the twentieth century."[1] Diana Lary contends that the Mongol invasions induced population displacement "on a scale never seen before" – particularly in Central Asia and eastern Europe – adding that "the impending arrival of the Mongol hordes spread terror and panic."[2] Tsai concludes that "[t]he Mongol conquests shook Eurasia and were of significant influence in world history."[3]

The Mongol Empire emerged in the course of the 13th century by a series of conquests and invasions throughout Central and Western Asia, reaching Eastern Europe by the 1240s. The speed and extent of territorial expansion parallels the Hunnic / Turkic conquests (the 6th-century Turkic Khaganate) of the Migration period.

Tartar and Mongol raids against Russian states continued well beyond the start of the Mongol Empire's fragmentation around 1260. Elsewhere, the Mongols' territorial gains in China persisted into the 14th century under the Yuan dynasty, while those in Persia persisted into the 15th century under the Timurid dynasty. In India, the Mongols' gains survived into the 19th century as the Mughal Empire.

Central Asia[]

Battle of Vâliyân against the Khwarazmian dynasty.

Genghis Khan forged the initial Mongol Empire in Central Asia, starting with the unification of the Mongol and Turkic confederations such as Merkits, Tartars, Mongols, and Uighurs. He then continued expansion of the empire via conquest of the Kara-Khitan and the Khwarazmian dynasty.

Large areas of Islamic Central Asia and northeastern Iran were seriously depopulated,[4] as every city or town that resisted the Mongols was subject to destruction. In Termez, on the Oxus: "all the people, both men and women, were driven out onto the plain, and divided in accordance with their usual custom, then they were all slain". Each soldier was required to execute a certain number of persons, with the number varying according to circumstances. For example, after the conquest of Urgench, each Mongol warrior – in an army group that might have consisted of two tumens (units of 10,000) – was required to execute 24 people.[5]

West Asia[]

Siege of Baghdad in 1258.

The Mongols conquered, either by force or voluntary submission, the areas today known as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Caucasus and parts of Turkey, with further Mongol raids reaching southwards as far as Gaza into the Palestine region in 1260 and 1300. The major battles were the Siege of Baghdad (1258), when the Mongols sacked the city which for 500 years had been the center of Islamic power; and the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260, when the Muslim Egyptian Mamluks were for the first time able to stop the Mongol advance at Ain Jalut in the southern part of the Galilee. One thousand northern Chinese engineer squads accompanied the Mongol Khan Hulagu during his conquest of the Middle East.[6][7]

The Mongols were never able to expand farther than the Middle East due to a combination of political and environmental factors, such as lack of sufficient grazing room for their horses.

East Asia[]

Battle of the Badger Mouth against the Jin dynasty.

Genghis Khan and his descendants launched numerous invasions of China, subjugating the Western Xia in 1209 before destroying them in 1227, defeating the Jin dynasty in 1234, and defeating the Song Dynasty in 1279. They also destroyed the Tibetan Kingdom of Dali in 1253, forced Korea to become a vassal through an invasion of Korea, but failed in their attempts to invade Japan. The Mongols greatest triumph was when Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty in China in 1271, though this dynasty was eventually overthrown in 1368 by the native Han Chinese, who launched their own Ming Dynasty. The Mongols also invaded Sakhalin Island between 1264 and 1308.

Southeast Asia[]


Battle of Bạch Đằng against Đại Việt.

Kublai Khan's Yuan Dynasty invaded Burma in 1277, 1283 and 1287, resulting in Burma's capitulation and the disintegration of the Pagan Kingdom. The invasions of Vietnam and Java resulted in defeat for the Mongols, although much of South Asia agreed to pay tribute in order to avoid further bloodshed.


The Battle of Legnica took place during the first Mongol invasion of Poland.

Historians regard the Mongol raids and invasions as some of the deadliest conflicts in human history up through that period. Brian Landers has offered that, "One empire in particular exceeded any that had gone before, and crossed from Asia into Europe in an orgy of violence and destruction. The Mongols brought terror to Europe on a scale not seen again until the twentieth century."[1] Diana Lary contends that the Mongol invasions induced population displacement "on a scale never seen before," particularly in Central Asia and eastern Europe. She adds, "the impending arrival of the Mongol hordes spread terror and panic."[2]

The Mongols invaded and destroyed Volga Bulgaria and Kievan Rus', before invading Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, and others. Over the course of three years (1237–1240), the Mongols destroyed and annihilated all of the major cities of Eastern Europe with the exceptions of Novgorod and Pskov.[8]

Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, the Pope's envoy to the Mongol Great Khan, traveled through Kiev in February 1246 and wrote:

"They [the Mongols] attacked Rus, where they made great havoc, destroying cities and fortresses and slaughtering men; and they laid siege to Kiev, the capital of Rus; after they had besieged the city for a long time, they took it and put the inhabitants to death. When we were journeying through that land we came across countless skulls and bones of dead men lying about on the ground. Kiev had been a very large and thickly populated town, but now it has been reduced almost to nothing, for there are at the present time scarce two hundred houses there and the inhabitants are kept in complete slavery."[9]

Political divisions and vassals[]

The Mongol world circa 1300. The gray area is the later Timurid empire.

The early Mongol Empire was divided into five main parts[10] and various appanage khanates. The most prominent sections were:

  • Mongolia, Southern Siberia and Manchuria under Karakorum;
  • North China and Tibet under Yanjing Department;
  • Khorazm, Transoxiana and the Hami Oases under Beshbalik Department
  • Persia, Georgia, Armenia, Cilicia and Turkey (former Seljuk ruled parts) under Amu Dar'ya Department
  • Golden Horde, which was further subdivided into 10 provinces.[11]

When Genghis Khan was campaigning in Central Asia, his general Muqali (1170–1223) attempted to set up provinces and establish branch departments of state affairs. Genghis's successor Ögedei abolished them, instead dividing the areas of North China into 10 routes (lu, 路) according to the suggestion of Yelü Chucai, a prominent Confucian statesman of Khitan ethnicity. Ögedei also divided the empire into separate Beshbalik and Yanjing administrations, while the Headquarters in Karakorum directly dealt with Manchuria, Mongolia and Southern Siberia. Late in Ögedei's reign, an Amu Darya administration was established. Under Möngke, these administrations were renamed Branch Departments.

Kublai Khan, the founder of the Yuan Dynasty, made significant reforms to the existing institutions. He established the Yuan Dynasty in 1271 and assumed the role of a Chinese emperor. The Yuan forces seized South China by defeating the Southern Song Dynasty, and Kublai became the emperor of all China. The territory of the Yuan Dynasty was divided into the Central Region (腹裏) and places under control of various Xing Zhongshusheng (行中書省, "branch secretariats") or the Xuanzheng Institute (宣政院).

Vassals and tributary states[]

The Mongol Empire at its greatest extent included all of modern-day Mongolia, China, parts of Burma, Romania, Pakistan, much or all of Russia, Siberia, Ukraine, Belarus, Cilicia, Anatolia, Georgia, Armenia, Persia, Iraq, and Central Asia. In the meantime, many countries became vassals or tributary states of the Mongol Empire.

European vassals[]

  • Batu Khan attempted to invade a number of Russian states, including the Republic of Novgorod, Pskov Republic and Principality of Smolensk,[12] in 1239, but could not reach the northern part of Russia due to the marshlands surrounding city-states such as Novgorod and Pskov. However, due to the combined effects of Mongol threats, invasion by the Teutonic order, and diplomacy by Alexander Nevsky, Novgorod and later Pskov accepted terms of vassalage. By 1274, all remaining Russian principalities had become subject to the Horde of Möngke-Temür.
  • Second Bulgarian Empire[13] During the end of the Mongol invasion of Europe, the Bulgarians under Ivan Asen II tried to destroy Mongol tumen. But Kadan's raids through Bulgaria on his retreat from Central Europe induced the young Kaliman I of Bulgaria to pay tribute and accept Mongol suzerainty. A 1254 letter from Béla IV to the pope indicated that the Bulgarians were still paying tribute to the Mongols at that time.
  • Kingdom of Serbia.[13] Around 1288 Milutin launched an invasion to pacify two Bulgarian nobles in today's north-east Serbia, in the Branicevo region. However, those nobles were vassals of the Bulgarian prince of Vidin Shishman. Shishman attacked Milutin but was defeated and Milutin in return sacked his capital Vidin. But Shishman was a vassal of Nogai Khan, de facto ruler of the Golden Horde. Nogai Khan threatened to punish Milutin for his insolence, but changed his mind when the Serbian king sent him gifts and hostages. Among the hostages was his son Stefan Dečanski who managed to escape back to Serbia after Nogai Khan's death in 1299.

Southeast Asian and Korean vassals[]

  • Đại Việt (Vietnam).[14] After the Vietnamese captured the Mongol envoys sent to negotiate safe passage in order to attack Southern China, Mongol forces invaded the Trần Dynasty in 1257. The Mongols routed city defenders and massacred inhabitants of the capital Thăng Long (Hanoi). King Than Tong agreed to pay tribute to Möngke Khan if he would spare his country. When Kublai Khan demanded full submission of the Tran family, Mongol darughachis were well received,[15] though the relationship between the two states deteriorated in 1264. After a series of invasions in 1278-1288, the king of Đại Việt (Trần Dynasty) accepted Mongol suzerainty. By that time, each side had suffered heavy losses due to the large but ineffective wars.
  • Champa.[14] Although King Ve Indrawarman of Champa expressed his desire to accept Yuan rule in 1278, his son and subjects ignored his submission. In 1283, Mongol army was driven from the country and their general was killed, even though they repeatedly defeated all Champa forces in open battle. The king of Champa started sending tribute two years later to avoid further Mongol invasions.
  • Khmer empire.[14] In 1278, a Mongol envoy was executed by the Khmer king. An envoy was sent again to demand submission while the Yuan army was besieging the fortress in nearby Champa. After this second envoy was imprisoned, 100 Mongol cavalry were sent into Khmer territory. They were ambushed and destroyed by the Khmer.
  • Sukhothai Kingdom and Chiangmai or Taiyo. When Kublai Khan sent Mongol forces to protect his vassals in Burma, Thai states, including Sukhotai and Taiyo, accepted Mongol supremacy. King Ramkhamhaeng and other Thai and Khmer leaders visited the Yuan court to show their loyalty several times.[16]
  • The Kingdom of Goryeo. The Mongol invasions of Korea consisted of a series of campaigns by the Mongol Empire against Korea, then known as Goryeo, from 1231 to 1270. There were six major campaigns at tremendous cost to civilian lives throughout the Korean peninsula, ultimately resulting in Korea becoming a vassal of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty for approximately eighty years.[17] The Mongol Empire and the Kingdom of Goryeo tied with marriages as Mongol and Korean royalty intermarried. A Korean princess became the Empress Gi through her marriage with Ukhaantu Khan, and their son, Biligtü Khan of Northern Yuan, became a Mongol Khan. King Chungnyeol of Goryeo married a daughter of Kublai Khan, and marriages between Mongols and Koreans continued for eighty years. The Goryeo dynasty survived under Mongolian influence until King Gongmin began to push Mongolian garrisons back starting in the 1350s.

Middle East vassals[]

  • The Principality of Antioch and the County of Tripoli[18] - The small Crusader state paid annual tributes for many years. The closest thing to actual Frankish cooperation with Mongol military actions was the overlord-subject relationship between the Mongols and the Franks of Antioch and others. Mongols lost their vassal and ally Franks with the fall of Antioch in 1268 and Tripoli in 1289 to the Mamluks.
  • The Empire of Trebizond- The Seljuks and the military forces of Trebizond were defeated by the Mongols in 1243. After that, Kaykhusraw II, the Sultan of Iconium was compelled to pay tribute and supply annually horses, hunting dogs, and jewels. The emperor Manuel I of Trebizond, realizing the impossibility of fighting the Mongols, made a speedy peace with them and, on condition of paying an annual tribute, became a Mongol vassal. The empire reached its greatest prosperity and had opportunity to export the produce of its own rich hinterland during the era of Ilkhans. But with the decline of Mongol power in 1335, Trebizond suffered increasingly from Turkish attacks, civil wars, and domestic intrigues.[19]

Tributary states[]

  • The indigenous people of Sakhalin. The Mongol forces made several attacks on Sakhalin, beginning in 1264 and continuing until 1308.[20] Economically, the conquest of new peoples provided further wealth for the tribute-based Mongol Dynasty. The Nivkhs and the Oroks were subjugated by the Mongols. However, the Ainu people raided Mongol posts every year.[21] The native Gǔwéi people finally accepted Mongol supremacy in 1308, and made tributary visits to Yuan posts for the next few decades.
  • The Byzantine Empire.[22] When an Egyptian diplomat was arrested by emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, Sultan Baibars insisted his ally Berke Khan attack the Greek empire. In the winter of 1265, Nogai Khan led a Mongol raid on Byzantine Thrace with his vassal Bulgaria. In the spring of 1265 he defeated the armies of Michael and freed the diplomat and former Seljuk sultan Kaykaus II. Instead of fighting, most of the Byzantines fled. Michael managed to escape with the assistance of Italian merchants. Thrace was subsequently plundered by Nogai's army, and the Byzantine emperor signed a treaty with Berke of the Golden Horde, giving his daughter Euphrosyne in marriage to Nogai. Michael also sent much valuable fabric to the Golden Horde as tribute thereafter. But the court of Byzantium had good relationships with both the Golden Horde and Ilkhanate as allies.
  • Small states of Malay Peninsula. Kublai sent envoys to surrounding nations to demand their submission in 1270-1280. Most such states in Indo-China and Malay acquiesced. According to Marco Polo, those subjects paid tribute to the Mongol court, including elephants, rhinoceroses, jewels and a tooth of Buddha. One notable scholar identified that these acts of submission were more ceremonial in some regard. During the Mongol invasion of Java in 1293, small states of Malay and Sumatra submitted and sent envoys or hostages to them. Native people of modern Taiwan and Philippines helped the Mongol armada but they were never conquered.


See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Brian Landers (2011). Empires Apart: A History of American and Russian Imperialism. Open Road Media. p. 17. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Diana Lary (2012). Chinese Migrations: The Movement of People, Goods, and Ideas over Four Millennia. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 49. 
  3. Wei-chieh Tsai. Review of May, Timothy, The Mongol Conquests in World History H-War, H-Net Reviews. September, 2012. online
  4. World Timelines - Western Asia - AD 1250-1500 Later Islamic
  5. "Central Asian world cities", University of Washington.
  6. Josef W. Meri (2005). Josef W. Meri. ed. Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Psychology Press. p. 510. ISBN 0-415-96690-6. Retrieved 2011-11-28. "This called for the employment of engineers to engaged in mining operations, to build siege engines and artillery, and to concoct and use incendiary and explosive devices. For instance, Hulagu, who led Mongol forces into the Middle East during the second wave of the invasions in 1250, had with him a thousand squads of engineers, evidently of north Chinese (or perhaps Khitan) provenance." 
  7. Josef W. Meri, Jere L. Bacharach (2006). Josef W. Meri, Jere L. Bacharach. ed. Medieval Islamic Civilization: L-Z, index. Volume 2 of Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia (illustrated ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 510. ISBN 0-415-96692-2. Retrieved 2011-11-28. "This called for the employment of engineers to engaged in mining operations, to build siege engines and artillery, and to concoct and use incendiary and explosive devices. For instance, Hulagu, who led Mongol forces into the Middle East during the second wave of the invasions in 1250, had with him a thousand squads of engineers, evidently of north Chinese (or perhaps Khitan) provenance." 
  8. History of Russia, Early Slavs history, Kievan Rus, Mongol invasion
  9. The Destruction of Kiev
  10. A COMPENDIUM OF CHRONICLES: Rashid al-Din's Illustrated History of the World (The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, VOL XXVII) ISBN 0-19-727627-X, the reign of Möngke
  11. A.P.Grigorev and O.B.Frolova-Geographicheskoy opisaniye Zolotoy Ordi v encyclopedia al-Kashkandi-Tyurkologicheskyh sbornik,2001-p. 262-302
  12. Л.Н.Гумилев - Древняя Русь и великая степь
  13. 13.0 13.1 Ринчен Хара Даван - Чингис хан гений
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 René Grousset Empire of the Steppes, Ж.Бор Евразийн дипломат шашстир II боть
  15. The History of Yuan Dynasty, J.Bor, p.313, Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol empire, p.581
  16. The Empire of the Steppes by René Grousset, trans. N. Walford, p.291
  17. Expanding the Realm
  18. Reuven Amitei Press Mamluk Ilkhanid war 1260-1280
  19. A History of the Byzantine Empire by Al. Vasilief, © 2007
  20. Mark Hudson Ruins of Identity, p.226
  21. Brett L. Walker The Conquest of Ainu Lands, p.133
  22. Ринчен Хара-Даван: Чингис хан гений, Ж.Бор: Евразийн дипломат шашстир II боть

Further reading[]

  • May, Timothy. The Mongol Conquests in World History (London: Reaktion Books, 2011) online review; excerpt and text search
  • Morgan, David. The Mongols (2nd ed. 2007)
  • Rossabi, Morris. The Mongols: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • Saunders, J. J. The History of the Mongol Conquests (2001) excerpt and text search
  • Turnbull, Stephen. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests 1190-1400 (2003) excerpt and text search

Primary sources[]

  • Rossabi, Morris. The Mongols and Global History: A Norton Documents Reader (2011),

External links[]

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