The Final Strike from the Steppe
The Mongols – 1200 > 1400
By 1200, two empires stood atop the rest the world – the Muslim Empire of Eastern Persia and the Song Dynasty of China. Europe was still figuring out how to get out of the dark, Sub-Saharan Africa and Polynesia were merely the stuff of legends, and no one even knew the Americas existed (though a few hundred indigenous American tribes might disagree).
The flowering cultures of Islam and China far surpassed any other civilization of the time, and nobody appeared anywhere close to knocking them off their perches. Nobody that is, but the latest band of warriors from the steppe.
Over the previous thousand years, anytime it appeared a civilization was settling into regional dominance, the nomadic horse people from Central Asia stormed out of the wasteland and turned the civilized world into chaos. The Huns did it to the Romans, the Turks did it to the Arabs and in the 13th century, the Mongols would do it to the Persians and Chinese, but this time, these horse people would adapt and learn how to not merely conquer, but to rule. By the end of the century, they had created the largest land empire the world would ever see, stretching all the way from Korea to Germany to the edge of Egypt.
Yet in 1200, the Mongols didn’t appear capable of conquering anybody. Like generations of horse people surviving the steppe, the Mongols existed in perpetual conflict with the other nomads of the region. Whether it was other Mongols or the Tatars or the Turks, these regional turf wars kept these warriors from ever being anything more than a mere border nuisance. One man changed all that and turned the warrior spirit of the steppe against the outside world, forever altering Eurasia. His name – Genghis Khan.
Genghis Khan was born Temujin – “the iron worker” – to a semi-prominent family of Mongols. His existence mirrored that of the hundreds of other clans enduring the harsh geography of the region. With temperatures sometimes hitting negative 80 degrees, with sparse water and with little to no vegetation, the Mongols were always on the move. They lived in felt tents that could be set up and taken down in less than fifteen minutes. They kept themselves warm by burning the fecal matter of their horses. They learned to ride horses and shoot arrows by the age of three. And they fought. The men were tough. The women were tough. The children were tough. If you weren’t strong, you died.
In the case of Temujin’s father, you died anyway. After the rival Tatars poisoned his father Yesukhei, Temujin and his mother were left alone as outcasts, fated to merely perish in isolation. But Temujin would not perish. Instead, he would make it his life’s work to exact revenge on all who dared slight him or his family. By the time he was thirty years old, through his charisma and military prowess, he had reunited the clans, and he set to destroy the murderers of his father. His treatment of the rival Tatars would eventually mirror the fate of countless other peoples across Eurasia. He first beat the men in battle, he then destroyed the entire society – killing anyone taller than an axle wheel (basically anyone older than a toddler). These surviving kids were then incorporated into Mongol society, and the Tatar people vanished into history.
In 1206, the Mongols anointed
Temujin their khan, their universal leader.
This man, Genghis Khan, then set his sights on
the Song Dynasty of China, the largest purse...