The Mongol Empire
Episode #5 of the course “The Most Powerful Empires in History”
The Mongol Empire had an extremely dramatic rise to power, and at its height, it included 12.7 million square miles (over 20% of the world’s land mass). The Mongols started as a simple group of warriors, but within 80 years, they grew to an enormous empire. In about 1130 A.D., they began conquering neighboring tribes. Their territory included virtually everything from the Pacific Ocean to the Danube River when the empire was at its height.
After their rise to power in 1130, they didn’t last long before they were defeated—just 30 years later by the nearby Tartars tribe. The defeat severely weakened the group, but one of the most well-known Mongols, Temujin (who would later be called Genghis Khan), was born during this weakened period.
When Genghis was 9, his father was poisoned by a neighboring tribe. He was meant to take over, but because Genghis was still just a child, he was not able to. His tribe abandoned him and his family. His family moved, and they survived by eating rodents and roots as the new “tribe” got established.
When Genghis was 16, the Merkid tribe attacked his family and took his wife captive. He turned to the Kereyid tribe for help. They then got another Mongol leader, Jamugha, involved. Working together, they defeated the Merkid Tribe and got his wife back, but that wasn’t all. Genghis Khan took advantage of his powerful allies to begin building his own army. Eventually, he defeated even the tribes that had befriended him.
In 1206, Genghis Khan created structure and laws for his new empire. He worked hard to be sure that all of the smaller tribes were united under his rule. Each tribe had to have a military available for the empire’s use at any given time; in fact, his administration was the most advanced form of hierarchy that any nation had ever seen. Part of the reason that it worked so well was because of the extreme discipline of his army. Genghis Khan had dreams of conquering the world, and that ideal continued in the Mongol leaders long after his death. After Genghis’ death, the empire’s land was split among his successors, destroying the unity that he worked hard to preserve. This split was ultimately what led to the empire’s destruction.
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