Figure 1: Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan was born as Temujin in 1162 in Mongolia and died in 1227. He was responsible for uniting the nomadic tribes of the Mongolian plateau, and later expanded his territory by conquering huge chunks of China (consisting of three separate states Xi Xia, Jin and Sung), Khwarizm (include parts of modern day Iran, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) and Russia. His descendants expanded the empire even further by venturing into Poland, Vietnam, Syria and Korea. In just 25 years, Genghis Khan and his army had conquered more land and people than the Romans did in their 400 years of ruling. How did Genghis Khan achieve such a great feat?
Figure 2: Mongol Empire's Territory before 1259 CE
Genghis Khan had a strategical and developed system of warfare, relying heavily on soldiers, skilled horsemen, battle tactics and weapons.
Recruitment and Training of Soldiers
War was a full-time job and people were either a soldier or somehow supported a soldier. Potential army recruits trained from young to ride, be rough, be mobile and be accustomed to killing. Leaders and ranks in army were selected through merit not by blood relation: due to his disobedience by ransacking villages, Toguchar (Genghis Khan’s son-in-law), was demoted to a normal soldier from a general position until his death.
In addition, Genghis khan also recruited male nomads into the army from cities that he conquered, provided that they had surrendered earlier on. These nomads were particularly from Turks, Armenians, Georgians and others. Hence as the army attack further to more cities, their army expanded in numbers.1
Figure3:The Mongol Army as depicted in a 2007 movie, Mongols: The Rise of Genghis Khan
Discipline in army was enforced through merciless means: any man who abandoned the battlefield would be killed. The soldiers were vigorously trained and in order to sharpen fighting skills, gorugen, an annual great hunt was held. Thousands of horsemen would gather in a large area and closed in. Each man was allotted only one arrow; failure to kill an animal was met with ridicule.
Though ruthless, Genghis Khan treasured his soldiers dearly and was careful not to drive them to their limits of their endurance, as the human population was small. If a Mongol soldier was killed due to carelessness, his commander would be punished; if a wounded Mongol soldier was left on the battlefield, his troop leader would be executed on the spot. This concept of mutual loyalty allowed him to maintain constant number of troops under him.
Horses and Adaptation to Conquests Living
Mongol army were highly dependent on horses. They offered a fast mode of transportation, and provided a source of food as well. Due to great need for mobility, Mongolian soldiers would rest on the horses during travel and wars. Horses had incredible stamina, hence Mongols could spend days on a horseback while going as far as 145 km daily if need be. In addition, horses’ milk was made into fermented drinks, yoghurt, and cheese. Soldiers could also feed on their blood or meat when food supplies were short during travel.
Genghis adopted psychological warfare tactics towards his enemies. His objective was to instill fear in his enemies and offer an opportunity for them to surrender and pay tributes to the Mongols. This tactic was so famous that Historian Morris Rossabi said, "There's no question that there was a great deal of destruction. Not all the cities were butchered, but some became examples to sow terror in others. It was psychological warfare. Cities that offered resistance were often spared, escaping violence by offering tributes and letting Mongol soldiers loot unimpeded." When the Mongols captured Baghdad, the last caliph (a religious leader) and his sons were trampled to death.2 This is used as a tactic to demoralise enemies.
Unique withdrawal tactic (mangudai) was also deployed, whereby the army will retreat and then surprise their opponent by engaging a swift and full combat with usually greater number of soldiers on conquests. After this tactic became widespread among their opponents, the Mongols retreated longer. On the Battle of Kalka River, Mongol army retreated for 9 days before re-attacking the spread army of the Russians and killing many of them.
Figure 4: Mongol Soldiers battling on his horse while attacking with the infamous short bow
The Mongols were equipped with various weapons that caused nightmare to their enemies: flaming arrows, gunpowder projectiles, bronze cannons and short bows. Mongol army especially depressed the enemies by firing short bows with great accuracy from their moving horse and hitting an object 366 meters away. When attacking walled cities like Beijing and Aleppo, trebuchet, a type of siege machine, was used to hurl missiles over the walls. These granted the Mongolian army to be named as War Machine.
Genghis Khan’s descendants continued expanding the Mongol Empire until the Great Khanate fell into the hands of Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. Our world today is greatly influenced by the Mongol Empire, as they improved the world trade and exchange of ideas during their golden era. It is of no qualms that Genghis Khan have contributed to the great achievements of the Mongols, even though his methods may be harsh and cruel!
1Lane, G. (2006). Propaganda. In Daily Life in the Mongol Empire. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.
2Fernandez-Armesto, F. (2010). The World: A History Volume 1.