TUGHRIL BEG (11th century)


GENGIS KHAN (13th century)


BATU KHAN (13th century)


KUBLAI KHAN (13th century)


ILKHAN GHAZAN (13th century)


TAMERLANE (14th century)














Mongolia from space shows open grassland without many cities










The Mongols of Central Asia lived on the steppes as nomadic herders organized into clans




Grazing, not much rain, migratory cycles of nomadism were the norm on the steppe- yurts the common housing




Clans were organized around a khan (king), nobles and commoners with fantastic cavalry powers





Timujin becomes Genghis (Jenghis, Chinggis) Khan (Universal Khan) by unifying the Mongols, breaking tribes and promoting

based on merit and loyalty. He raided the Jurchen peoples and bloodied northern Song China (1220). This is his tomb.





Genghis Khan contacted Shah Khwarazm, ruler of Persia to begin trading, but the Shah rejected the offer and

Genghis attacked Persia, burned Persian cities and qanat- when he died, Asia was in the hands of the Mongols.

Qanat are a special kind of sewer: http://www.sewerhistory.org/grfx.htm




After Kublai Khan conqueed the rest of Song China, the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty began

 Here the Mongols lay siege to eastern Europe (here Kiev) as well under Kublai




The Mongols stormed Russia and laid siege to eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, part of Germany) before being defeated at Legnitz

Eastern Europe was lost, but Russia was kept, becoming the Khanate of the Golden Horde (1200s-1400s).




***Battle of Dandanqan*** 1040

Sides: Turks vs. Ghaznavids @ Merv, Central Asia

Action: Tughril Beg led the Seljuks, a new Turkish warrior group, into Ghaznavid territory. The Ghaznavids were another Turkic group that had gone into India previously under Mahmud and established the Sultanate of Delhi. Their power base was Afghanistan. Now Mahmud’s son Masud fought the Seljuks with Arabs, elephants, and Kurdish cavalry on his side, armed with maces, swords and poison tipped arrows. But the Seljuks overpowered them with a startling array of mounted archers and then cut them up.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: Tughril Beg and the Seljuks went on to conquer Abbasid Persia and then embark against Byzantium.


***Battle of Manzikert*** 1071

Sides: Seljuks vs. Byzantines @ Manzikert, Armenia

Action: In 1054 an advance guard of the Seljuks moved into the Armenian province of the Byzantine Empire and were stopped. In 1071 they returned with 40,000 under Alp Arslan, heir of Turghil Beg, but Emperor Romanus IV was ready to smash them with a large army of 50,000. Romanus set up fort in Manzikert near Lake Van, and sent out a recon team, which was slaughtered. Suddenly the Turks used their light cavalry to harry the Byzantine positions, then escape. “We were chasing shadows,” a Byzantine soldier recalled. At evening, the Byzantines were far from camp and that is when the Turks emerged in force from the hills. Conscripted soldiers from Anatolia who were Romanus’ rearguard fled, leaving him exposed. The Seljuks began a terrible slaughter of all the Byzantine men, and took the emperor prisoner.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: This victory was enormous. The Seljuks opened the way for the Turkish colonization of Anatolia, which they soon occupied, and which they occupy to this day.


***First Battle of Kaifing*** 1126

Sides: Jurchens vs. Chinese @ Great Wall, Northern China

Action: The nomadic warrior Jurchens inflicted the first wound into Song China, showing again how disciplined light cavalry operated by hardened steppe peoples can stand up to great settled civilizations. The Chinese had 500,000 soldiers but could not stop the Jurchens from besieging the Song capital of Kaifing. After 4 months the city relented despite Chinese superiority in weapons- gunpowder tipped arrows especially. The emperor was captured and the Song retreated south.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: Heirs to the Song reestablished rule in southern China, giving up the north.


***Submission of Zhongdu (Beijing)*** 1215

Sides: Mongols vs. Chinese @ Beijing

Action: Genghis Khan led his Mongol army into northern China, slaughtering villages that would not surrender without a fight and besieging cities like what would become Beijing. This city was the seat of the local Jin dynasty. Genghis Khan had Chinese engineers teach his warriors how to build rams to destroy the walls, and at the same time expelled a Jin relief army. For a year and more the city would not relent, despite starvation and cannibalism, until one day they did.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: The Mongol conquest of northern China made them the competing Yuan dynasty to the Song in the south.


***Battle of Kalka River*** 1223

Sides: Mongols vs. Russians @ Zaporozhe

Action: Tearing across the western Steppes, 40,000 Mongols encountered the Cuman tribe of Turks, who retreated west and allied with a Russian force near the Sea of Azov. The Mongols sent their usual envoy to offer kind treatment in exchange for surrender. The envoy was murdered and the Mongols slaughtered many of the Russians and Cumans.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: The Scourge of God was a term applied to the khans by the Europeans, for events like this.


***Second Battle of Kaifeng*** 1233

Sides: Mongols vs. Chinese @ Great Wall, Northern China

Action: The former Song capital was now inhabited by a local Jin (Jurchen) warlord, and was again besieged. This time the Song actually helped the Mongols against the hated Jurchens. Grant calls it “an extraordinary confrontation” because two nomadic steppe powerhouses clashed, yet the Jurchens had adopted the style of a settled civilization. The Mongols used their siege engines against the walls, and sapped them from below. The Jurchens used gunpowder- a settled China weapon- in the first use of a bomb in warfare. It blew up an area 300ft. square. It devastated the Mongols in the area it hit, blowing them to bits. In a modified version of Greek Fire, the Jurchens even filled bamboo shoots with incendiary and sent out 6ft. jets of fire. How did all these fare? They didn’t. The Mongols won after a yearlong siege.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: Mongol rule over Northern China was uncontested.


***Battle of Vladimir*** 1238

Sides: Mongols vs. Russians @ Vladimir, Central Russia

Action: The Mongols came in force, 150,000 warriors strong, in an all out invasion of Russia. Batu Khan and Subotai, general at the Kalka River, led them. They rode in the dead of winter, their horses crossing rivers that were frozen, which would usually have given the Russians in their own heartland some time by delaying the attack. The Russians retreated to the walled cities of Ryazan, Moscow and Vladimir, which the Mongols then burned in succession. Yuri II, Grand Prince of Vladimir, met them and was slaughtered.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: The Mongols moved south to Ukraine and Poland.


***Sack of Krakow*** 1241

Sides: Mongols vs. Poles @ Krakow, Poland

Action: After having defeated two armies of knights a distance away at the battles of Tursk and Chmielnik, the Mongols sacked Lublin and Sandomirez, and then approached the Polish capital. News of the impending siege reached Krakow, and people escaped the city to the forests and swamps. Only Wawel Castle and St. Andrew’s church were left defended within the walls, and everyone who was left crowded into one or the other. The Mongols arrived, and a trumpeter sentry at the top of the tallest church, St. Mary’s, played a warning song. After 30 seconds a Mongol arrow pierced his throat. To this day that 30-second song (called the Hejnal) is played from the church tower every day in commemoration. In the event, the Mongols captured the city, burned it for ten days, pillaged what they could, massacred local residents, and moved on.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: The most powerful dukes of western Poland and eastern Germany grouped for a defense around the city of Leignitz.


***Battle of Leignitz*** 1241

Sides: Mongols vs. Germans and Poles @ German-Polish border

Action: Subotai and Kaidu, grandson of Ogodei, moved their 20,000 warriors through the Ukraine and Poland. West of Krakow, a German and Polish force under Henryk II the Pious, last of the Piast line of Polish dukes, along with Teutonic Knights, stood against him. The Christians absorbed the Mongols’ superior hail of arrows, but when it came to fighting hand to hand; the European knights cut them down. Their retreat was feigned, however, for when the knights charged with cavalry and did battle, Mongol adaptability with horse and speed allowed them to surround the cavalry, and kill many Christian nobles, the ears and heads of which the Mongols put on spikes as trophies.

Casualties: 30,000 Germans and Poles

Consequence: While a decided draw, this marked the farthest advance of the Mongols into Europe. Their lines were stretched too far and news of the Great Khan’s death in Karakorum, 4,000 miles away, put them into disarray.


***Fall of Baghdad*** 1258

Sides: Mongols vs. Abbasids @ Baghdad, Persia

Action: In the continuing conquests of the Mongols, Hulegu, already Ilkhan of Persia, struck west to the Abbasid capital of Baghdad. Though power in the Caliphate was in the process of being transferred west to Cairo, partially due to the Mongol threat, Baghdad was still the most important center of Islamic power. The Abbasids met the Mongols on marshy ground, and then realized they had been tricked. Mongol engineers broke the dykes on the Euphrates, surrounding the Abbasids. Then the Mongols struck and decimated their army. Hulegu then had a bridge made of connected boats across the Tigris and surrounded Baghdad. He put a siege train up and battered the walls for a week until they started to collapse and the Abbasid general surrendered. His men were disarmed and slaughtered, except for the Caliph, who was tortured until he revealed the location of some hidden treasure.

Casualties: 80,000 Baghdad residents

Consequence: The whole population was then massacred over the course of a week, during which Hulegu pillaged the city until the stink of the bodies was too strong.


***Battle of Ain Jalut*** 1260

Sides: Mongols vs. Egyptians @ Sea of Galilee

Action: Abbasid power was now centered in Cairo, far from Mongol domination, but two years after Baghdad the Mongols struck again. They captured Aleppo and Damascus, which meant Egypt was the only independent Muslim area. Hulegu sent a message to the sultan demanding they accept Mongol rule. The sultan killed the messengers, literally, and Hulegu was about to strike but the Great Khan Monke in China died, so he left a contingent of 20,000 Mongols in the Levant and bolted. Now the sultan saw an opportunity and sent 30,000 Egyptian Mamelukes (slave soldiers) after the Mongols. They found the Mongols in Galilee, hid part of their cavalry, then attacked. The attack brought the Mongols into formation and they charged, and the Mamelukes retreated, but then the other force emerged and hit the Mongol flanks, while the main force turned. Only a few Mongols escaped and they were bested.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: The Egyptians retook Aleppo and Damascus, and in an act of treachery, the Mameluke general, not a slave himself, assassinated the sultan and took control of Egypt!


***Battle of Xiangyang*** 1268

Sides: Mongols vs. Chinese @ Hebei, Southern China

Action: It was the turn of the Song. The Mongols wanted to finally take the whole Chinese prize. They moved south through difficult landscape for horses (rivers, farmland, rice paddies) under Kublai Khan. After Monke died, Kublai continued leading the conquest as the Great Khan himself. They took a fortified city and then Xiangyang. After multiple battles and skirmishes near the city, including in a river where the Mongols fashioned fast moving boats with catapults. The city fell, which opened the way to the Song capital of Guangzhou.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: For 3 years later Kublai built a fleet and used it to attack Guangzhou via the South China Sea. In the resistance the last Song emperor, a child, was killed. China was conquered and the Yuan Dynasty established.


***First Attack on Japan*** 1274

Sides: Mongols vs. Japanese @ Sea of Japan

Action: Kublai Khan attacked Japan with 900 ships manned by Mongols, Chinese and Koreans. They approached offshore islands and slaughtered everybody. The fleet landed at Hakata Bay and for the first time, samurai warriors faced foreign foes and they were startled by the lack of ceremony and ritual in the Mongol army, which paid no heed to the “rules of battle.” Ignoring calls for single combat by champions, the Mongols simply ran at the samurai, “grappling with any individuals they could and killing them.” The outnumbered Japanese fled the bowmen and catapults, and when they turned in force the foreigners were gone.

Casualties: Unknown

Consequence: Having completed what was essentially a recon mission, the Mongols would return in 1281.


***Battle of Ngasaunggyan*** 1277

Sides: Mongols vs. Burmese @ Pagan, Burma

Action: The chief of the Burmese received envoys sent by Kublai Khan. They demanded tribute and were killed by the chief. Kublai sent Turkish horsemen to punish them, and they met on a battlefield near the capital, Pagan. 2,000 Burmese war elephants moved and the horses of the Turks shied away, but the Mongol commander ordered the horses abandoned and for infantry war to begin. Now 12,000 attackers struck with sword and mace, causing the greater force of 60,000 Burmese to flee. Pagan was captured and the Burmese kingdom destroyed. Marco Polo witnessed the event.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: Pagan became a Mongol provincial capital until burned 20 years later by the Shans.


***Second Attack on Japan*** 1281

Sides: Mongols vs. Japanese @ Hakata Bay, Japan

Action: Like Xerxes of Persia before him, Kublai returned with a huge force of 4,400 warships carrying 150,000 fighters to face 40,000 Japanese defenders. Japan prepared a coastal defense, however, consisting of stone barriers 12 miles long. The first fleet devastated the coastal islands, but the Japanese defense was extreme. Small boats of samurai raided them, and the fleet withdrew to the main fleet further off. Now fortune favored the Japanese, when a typhoon- called kamikaze (divine wind) by the Japanese- struck, scattered and sunk most of the invading fleet. The remainder turned back.

Casualties: 100,000 invaders

Consequence: The Mongols made no further attempt to conquer Japan.


***Red Turban Revolt*** 1368

Sides: Mongols vs. Chinese @ Eastern China

Action: While most Chinese did not like the Yuan Mongol rulers, seeing them as aliens, most lives were not effected until decades later when banditry rose around the country and safety was no longer maintained due to inefficient government. Also the Yuan printed paper money on mulberry tree bark, but did not keep the sufficient gold reserves to back up the money. Sound familiar? Soon the Chinese no longer trusted the money, and the Red Turban group was formed to purge the Mongols from China under leader Zhu Yuanzhang, a humble peasant. Zhu joined a local band of the Red Turbans and quickly arose to lead the group. He took action by seizing the city of Nanjing and establishing orderly government there. From that power base, he attracted followers and the word spread. His force attacked bandits and restored order- a civil police force. Then the Yuan came to stop them, and at a focal point on the Yangtze River, Zhu’s small boats and the large Yuan warships fought it out. Both sides mounted “cannons” consisting of a fireball projected from a bamboo shoot. The maneuverable ships of the Red Turbans peppered the Yuan ships until they were taken into the Red Turban fleet.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: Red Turban peasant armies moved on Beijing, the Yuan capital. The Mongols fled and not long later, the Ming Dynasty was established, which would last for 300 years. Zhu sent the following letter to the Byzantine Emperor: “When the nation began to rouse itself, we, as simple peasants, conceived the patriotic idea to save the people.”


***Battle of Isfahan*** 1387

Sides: Timurid Turks vs. Persians @ Isfahan, Persia

Action: Tamerlane the Whirlwind, a Turk born in Uzbekistan who was Emir of Samarkand, looked to Genghis Khan as his idol. After the Mongol dynasties crumbled, he would invade Persia, India, Anatolia and China, fighting well into old age. It began in 1387, when he got the Shah of Persia to pay homage, but the shah died. So, he went in to secure the homage of the new one, who fled Isfahan in fear. Tamerlane entered the gates without opposition, and left a force to collect tribute from the city. The Turks went house to house, but many people refused to hand over their valuables. A messenger informed Tamerlane, who turned his 70,000 army around and sacked the city, ordering every soldier to bring the severed head of one resident of the city to his camp outside, and to pour boiling metal in their throats, among other terrible fates.

Casualties: 70,000 Persians

Consequence: The heads were put on the wall of the city in pyramids.


***Battle of Terek*** 1395

Sides: Timurids vs. Golden Horde @ Beslan, Ingushetia

Action: Tamerlane moved on the Mongol Golden Horde, still in control of Southern Russia. After a 3-day intense battle, 100,000 were dead. Not long after, they clashed again and Tamerlane was almost killed, he had his sword broken in battle, and was only saved when his retainers formed a living wall around him. After his forces pushed the Mongols off, they were on the run, and were mercilessly pursued until most were cut down.

Casualties: 100,000

Consequence: With the huge death toll, it was a pyric victory for Tamerlane. It also weakened the Mongols in Russia, who would soon face the Czars.


***Capture of Delhi*** 1398

Sides: Timurids vs. Sultanate of Delhi @ Delhi, India

Action: Grant calls Tamerlane “an intolerant follower of Islam” and noted that he was angry that the Sultan of Delhi wasn’t keeping his Hindu subjects in proper submission. He was unsure of Punjab geography but went in anyway. His men did not fare well in the Hindu Kush, sledging and sledding their way down awkwardly. But when they reached open fields, they came as a terrible whirlwind by surprise, pillaging everything, taking 100,000 Hindu captives whom Tamerlane had slaughtered, and huge amounts of plunder. The Sultan had 50k soldiers waiting at Delhi, hiding behind war elephants and firing incendiaries. Tamerlane “drove off the elephants like cows” and the city was sacked.

Casualties: 100,000 Indians

Consequence: Tamerlane rode back now for the next year, over the old Royal Road and the Silk Road. Having punished India, he sought to break through into Syria and Anatolia.


***Battle of Aleppo*** 1399

Sides: Timurids vs. Mamelukes @ Aleppo, Syria

Action: The Aleppo Citadel was the strong point of the region, and Tamerlane set it on fire. He faced a formidable force- the Mamelukes- the Egyptian slave army that checked the Mongols and earlier drove the Christians out of Palestine following Muslim conquest. But this was a new day, and Tamerlane annihilated the Mamelukes in front of Aleppo and executed all POWs.

Casualties: unknown

Consequence: After Aleppo, no one was left to defend Damascus, the true prize, which Tamerlane now sacked- though with more leniency than usual because it surrendered without resistance. Now he would contend with the rising power of the Middle East, destined to rule it for 500 years: the Ottomans.


***Battle of Ankara*** 1402

Sides: Timurids vs. Ottomans @ Angora, Anatolia

Action: In the 14th century Osman Bey led the Turkic Ottomans from Central Asia to Anatolia, as the Turghil Beg had led the Saljuks 300 years earlier. The Ottomans were successful against the battered Christians of the area, and now it was Turk vs. Turk. Timur defeated the Ottomans at Sivas in 1400 at the very time Thunderbolt Sultan Bayezid I was laying siege to Constantinople. He had to pull his army out of the siege to face Timur, and met him at Angora (Ankara). The armies missed each other and doubled back, and Timur unleashed war elephants and secured the only water supply. Timur pounded the Ottomans and many switched sides. Bayezid retreated and was caught.

Casualties: 15k Turks

Consequence: Bayezid died in an unknown way, but this would be the last great victory of Tamerlane, who would die a couple years later.




Asia was made into four 'Khanates': Yuan China, Khanate of the Golden Horde (Russia), Ilkhanate of Persia and Chaghati (Turkestan).




Yuan China: marriage between Mongols and Chinese forbidden, Mongol must remain secret language, civil service exams gone

 Here storytellers and puppet shows entertain people during the Yuan period.





Ilkhanate of Persia: Ilkhan Ghazan converts to Islam, Jews and Christians of Persia slaughtered,

Mongols only want tax money, local rule okay in Persia (as opposed to in China) - here Hulegu Khan enjoys some down time




Remember Tibet? Mongols did not mind Islam, Nestorian Christianity or the Chinese religions and allowed

virutal freedom of religion, but  their rulers encounter Tibetan Lamist Buddhism during the 13th century, and today

Buddhism is Mongolia's major religion. Llasa is the center of Tibetan Buddhism.




The so-called Pax Mongolica refers to the period of relative peace in the 14th century after the blood of the 13th.

Silk Road trade flourished between Khanates- it was a good time for merchants, blessed with relay stations across Asia

(as were missionaries of Buddhism and Islam)




Mongol diplomatic missions were sent to Europe, Korea, Vietnam and India, here the Karakorum Mountains made a barrier between Central Asia and East Asia




Artists were brought to Karakorum from all over the Khanate system, as Mongols were few in number and artistic skill

 Compare this to when Charlemagne brought Alcuin and other scholars to his court in Aachen




Decline in Persia due to overspending, Ilkhan died without heir, while the Yuan issued paper money and faced a revolt,

and the Black Death swept through sending Mongols north to the steppes again, while the Golden Horde in Russia

was defeated by the Czars of Moscow in the 1500s (St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow was built to commemorate freedom from the Mongol Yoke)




       Mongols today                                                         The Mongolian Capital Ulaan Baatar




Meanwhile in Turkestan, Central Asia, Mahmud of Ghazni's Turks were not the only ones to migrate.

Saljuq Turks migrated west into the Abbasid realm in the 11th century - During the period of Mongol rule,

Turkestan was the Khanate of Chaghati this is the tombs of the Seljuk Turk rulers




The Saljuqs adopted Islam and served the Abbasid army, moved into Anatolia and defeated the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071

Here Byzantines await slaughter at Manzikert, and 25 years later the Byzantines would ask Pope Urban II for help, launching

the Crusades which would last until the 14th century.





After the Mongols, the Turks erupt to build a short-lived central Asian empire under Tamerlane the Whirlwind

The capital of Tamerlane's empire was the Silk Road city of Samarkand




Samarkand housed many important landmarks including Tamerlane's tomb




The Ottoman branch of the Turks rose to ascendence under Osman, following the Seljuqs to Anatolia and fighting the Byzantines.

The Ottoman's win the ultimate prize: they destroy the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and inhabit Constantinople (now Istanbul),

leading to centuries of attacks and domination over southeastern Europe (Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Hungary).


Detour: See the Wonders of Central Asia!



Next: Early Africa



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