My oldest son and I attended a traveling Genghis Khan museum exhibit on Sunday which is on our city for a few months. He is fascinated by Khan and his legacy that brought his Mongols to the doorsteps of Europe and conquered most of Asia, including China. He listens to a podcast with an avid and knowledgeable historian about Khan.
Khan first consolidated the nomadic tribes of Mongolia who tended to fight amongst themselves. He then turned his sights on other lands and was quite brutal in his quest. Yet, the story that cements his rule is he was a great leader that understood merit hiring over nepotism and allowed certain freedoms. More on this later.
The Mongols were a formidable fighting force for three principal reasons. They were superior horsemen where the entire battalion would attack on horseback overwhelming superior numbers. And, what amazed me is each rider would travel with two to three horses. Their army could move 75 miles in contrast to an opponent’s ten.
They were prolific archers with self-made and unusually shaped bows, which could shoot as far as 350 yards, much longer than other bows. And, they could shoot them accurately off horseback, even backwards. Often, the Mongols would pretend to retreat to lure their foes out and then reverse course and attack.
Finally, Khan organized them into a fighting force in numbers of ten. Each battalion had multiple groups of ten, who picked their own leader. And, the group of ten would be punished as a group for the failures of the one. These tens would be multiplied to a battalion of a thousand or ten thousand, which would be a potent and organized force.
Once a group was conquered, after certain leaders would be killed, the subordinate troops would swear allegiance and fight with the Mongols. They would not rule as harshly as they conquered, as they wanted the civilians to support the conquering enemy and new leadership. Plus, there were several governing principles that last to this day.
- Religious freedom was provided where people would worship their religion of choice. Several religions were readily available even in the capitol city.
- Civil service officials came from a wide swath of people based on merit. So, civil service officials were more proficient than if they were hired on relationships..
- Diplomatic immunity was afforded any envoy traveling from another kingdom to visit. Kings do not kill envoys was a stated rule.
- People could move around with some limits as a passport system offered organized travel. One passport we saw had three languages on it.
- Environmental mandates were given for communities to protect their water sources.
- Taxation was often lowered on the conquered lands and exemptions afforded teachers and religious figures.
- Communication and organization were key. Some say Khan brought an organized purpose to previous rivals to fight together. The same held true in his governance.
These principles can be found in many societies today. The empire lasted for several hundred years, but what caused its retrenchment, in my view, are the vast distances to govern, but also the infighting of the Khan siblings and offspring. HIs grandson Kublai Khan was the last of the great Khan leaders, so after his demise, the empire started a slow wane.
If this exhibit comes to your city, I would encourage you to go see it. I am certain their are people more knowledgeable than me who can offer more specifics about the Mongolian empire, its rise, its governance and its decline. I would welcome any and all comments, especially if I am off base.