1/03/08 - the mongols

In today's excerpt - the Mongols, who established the largest continuous land empire in world history, which extended from Hungary through China to Korea:

"For the period 1210 to 1350, [Mongols] ... managed to create their own empire which controlled all of Asia from Korea to Hungary, with the exception of India. ... To grasp the size of the Mongol empire, it is helpful to compare the areas controlled by various states and empires, by using the measurement of 1 megameter = 100,000 km2. The Han dynasty of China controlled about 6 megameters of land, while the Roman Caesars ruled over 4 megameters. Early Islamic empires of the seventh and eighth centuries controlled 10 megameters, the Inca and Aztecs each about 2 megameters. The Mongol Khans ruled over 25 megameters of landmass. [The British empire was the only one in history that was larger, 35 megameters, but it was not a continuous land empire].

"From a European perspective the Mongols were usually thought of as hordes of savage men on horseback, riding swiftly onto sedentary, urban areas where they murdered and plundered with fearsome cruelty. ... The perspective of Western historians is shifting rapidly however as new sources reveal the Mongolian perspective—namely that the Mongols, and especially their first leader Genghis Khan, can be seen as visionaries who incorporated into their huge empire many ideas and values, such as religious tolerance, diplomatic immunity, free trade, and international paper currency, that presaged the modern world. ...

"During the days of the Mongol empire, trade and the exchange of ideas flourished, connecting China, the Muslim world, and Europe across the various routes known collectively as the Silk Road. The Mongols established a communication system with a post station every twenty-five to thirty miles, stocked with horses and fodder, which could be used by authorized travelers carrying a medal of gold or silver, inscribed in Mongolian—a precursor to the modern passport. ... A semiworld system within Afro-Eurasia occurred— a single commercial network linking China, southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Islamic world, central Asia, parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the Mediterranean and Europe. ...

"Under Kublai Khan, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, many Chinese technologies, superior to those in other places, were exported through this trade and travel: painting, printing, compass navigation, gunpowder weapons, high-temperature furnaces, and perhaps ship-building.

"The spread of the Black Death [which killed almost half its population] meant the end of the Mongol empire. Trade, its lifeline, dwindled to a trickle."


Cynthia Stokes Brown


Big History: From Big Bang to the Present


W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York


Copyright 2007 by Cynthia Stokes Brown


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