Conquering China: At that time, China was divided into three realms.
- The Hsi Hsia ruled over north-western provinces.
- The Jurchen (Chin dynasty) ruled over north China from Peking.
- The Sung dynasty controlled south China.
The Hsi Hsia were defeated in 1209, the ‘Great Wall of China’ was breached in 1213 and Peking was sacked in 1215. Genghis Khan returned to his Mongolian homeland in 1216 and left the military affairs of the region to his subordinates.
Qara Khitan controlled the Tien Shan mountains, towards northwest of China. He was defeated in 1218, and Mongol dominions reached the Amu Darya, and the states of Tansoxiana and Khwarazm. In the campaigns between 1219 and 1221, the great cities (Otrar, Bukhara, Samarqand, Balkh, Gurganj, Merv, Nishapur and Herat) surrendered to the Mongol forces. Towns which resisted were devastated.
Genghis Khan died in 1227, after spending most of his life in military combat. His military achievements were astounding. It was largely a result of his ability to innovate and transform different aspects of steppe combat into effective military strategies.
Features of the Mongol Army
The horse-riding skills of the Mongols and the Turks provided speed and mobility to the army. Their regular hunting expeditions helped in perfecting their rapid-shooting archery skills. The steppe cavalry always travelled light and moved quickly. Due to their acclimatization with the extremely cold weather, they carried out campaigns in the depths of winter. They utilized frozen rivers as highways to enemy cities and camps. Conventionally, the nomads were at a loss against fortified encampments. But Genghis Khan learnt the importance of siege engines and naphtha bombardment very quickly. His engineers used locally available resources to prepare light portable equipments to breach fortified layers of security.
The Mongols after Genghis Khan
We can divide Mongol expansion after Genghis Khan’s death into two distinct phases:
- The first phase spanned the years 1236-42, in which major gains were in the Russian, steppes, Bulghar, Kiev, Poland and Hungary.
- The second phase included the years 1255-1300, in which China, Iran, Iraq and Syria were conquered.
After the 1260s, the original impetus of the Mongol campaigns could not be sustained in the West. Mongol’s retreat from the Hungarian steppes and defeat at the hands of the Egyptian forces signaled the emergence of new political trends. There were two aspects to this:
Internal politics of succession within the Mongol family, where the descendants of Jochi and Ogodei allied to control the office of the great Khan in the first two generations. Subsequently, the Jochi and Ogodei lineages were marginalized by the Toluyid branch of Genghis Khan’s descendants.
Mongke was a descendant of Toluy, who was the youngest son of Genghis Khan. During Mongke’s reign, military campaigns were energetically pursued in Iran during the 1250s. But when the Toluyid interest increased in China during the 1260s, forces and supplied were increasingly diverted into the heartlands of the Mongol dominion. As a result, the force against the Egyptian military was small and understaffed. This marked the end of western expansion of the Mongols. The conflict between the Jochid and Toluyid descendants along the Russian-Iranian border diverted the Jochids away from further European campaigns.