Legacy of the Mongols

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Episode 24: The Legacy of the Mongols

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

In this lecture, Benjamin explores how the Mongols swept out of the Central Asian steppes in the 13th century to conquer most of the known world, creating the largest empire the world has ever known (before or since). After bringing China, Korea, Central Asia, most of the Middle East and much of Eastern Europe under their control, in 1241 they attacked the outskirts of Vienna. They were repelled, thwarting attempts to conquer western Europe.

The Mongols were  ruled via networks of clan chiefs, under the leadership of a primary clan chief known as the “Khan.” Traditionally they were less patriarchal than agrarian civilizations, allowing women considerable freedom, respect and influence. Many became political and military leaders.

Benjamin attributes the Mongols’ military success in part to their skill has hunters (which made lengthy supply lines unnecessary), their use of horse in battle the composite bow.* They killed millions of people and destroyed many ancient cities, along with the agricultural infrastructure that supported them.They also destroyed the Islamic empire.

Chingges (Genghis) Khan is credited with the major military victories leading up to Pax Mongolica, a Mongol-controlled cultural zone stretching from China to Eastern Europe. . Following his death in 1227, his sons and grandsons split the Mongol territories into four Khanates. Although infighting between Khanates led to a steady loss of territory, the Mongols controlled Russia until the mid-15th century and ruled Crimea until the late 18th century.

In 1234, China’s Jin dynasty fell to the Mongols. In 1260, Kubla Khan became emperor in northern China, establishing the Yuan dynasty. In 1276, he conquered the Song Dynasty in Southern China and brought all of China under his control. Between 1274 and 1291 he employed Venetian merchant and explorer Marco Polo as his advisor.

In 1335, Mongolian rule collapsed in Persia. The latter enjoyed self-rule until invaded by Turks in the 14th century. In China, civil war between competing warring factions, aggravated by severe monetary inflation, led the Yuan dynasty to collapse in 1368.

Benjamin believes the main contribution of the Mongols was the security they provided for overland trade. This facilitated the spread to Europe of numerous Eastern inventions, such as paper, printing, the compass and gunpowder. These inventions, in turn, would allow Europe to conquer the globe in the 16th century.


*A composite bow is a traditional bow made from horn, wood, and sinew laminated together, a form of laminated bow.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a library card.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/legacy-mongols

Airbrushed From History: The Founding of Russia, the Islamic Role in the European Renaissance, Mali, and Genghis Khan’s Pax Mongolica

History of the World Part 4 – The Middle Ages

BBC (2018)

Film Review

Episode 4 is my favorite as covers numerous topics airbrushed out of mainstream history textbooks.

It begins with the founding of the city-state of Kiev by Oleg of the Viking Russ tribe in 882 AD and his domination of the Dnieper River and the Black Sea and East-West trade out of Constantinople. Sixty years later, the King of Kiev Vladimir the Great would adopt the orthodox Christianity practiced in the Byzantine Empire.

The film goes on to describe the flourishing classical (Greek and Roman) learning in the Islamic Empires urban centers, particularly Cordova (in modern day Spain) and Bukhara (in modern day Uzbekistan).

A substantial portion of this episode focuses on the conquest of the largest land empire ever in the 12th and 13th century AD by the Mongol Genghis Khan. His main legacy was Pax Mongolica, which led to the reopening of the Silk Road, restoring land-based trade between Europe and Asia. This would lead to Venetian Marco Polo’s famous visit to China in 1275 AD, where he served 12 years as special advisor to the Mongol Chinese Emperor Kubla Khan.

The last empire discussed is the vast African empire of Mali, which was unknown to the western world until the emperor Mansa Musa (a devout Muslim) arrived in Cairo in 1324 with 60,000 followers. They were on a 2,000 mile pilgrimage to Mecca.

The film finishes by exploring the role of Muslim scholarship in the revival of ancient Greek and Roman knowledge in the Italian city states – and ultimately the European Renaissance. It uses as an example of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous fresco The Last Supper. The latter incorporates the laws of perspective, largely based on Muslim innovations in math and geometry, and the knowledge of human anatomy the Muslims inherited from the ancient Greeks.

 

Chasing the Super-Y Chromosome

adam's curseAdam’s Curse: A Future Without Men

by Bryan Sykes

Book Review

Adam’s Curse is a book about the Y chromosome, which carries the genes determining the sex of mammals. The title is misleading. There’s only a brief discussion in the final chapter regarding the instability of the Y chromosome (due to mutations), which Sykes predicts will lead to its eventual distinction in 5,000 generations (125,000 years). Most of the book concerns the history and evolutionary function of sex differentiation, the use of the Y chromosome and maternal DNA (carried on the mitochondria*) to trace historic migrations, the phenomenon of “group selection” (whereby individuals are genetically programmed to sacrifice themselves for their species) and the genetic basis of patriarchy and homosexuality.

Because neither maternal DNA nor the Y chromosome undergo recombination** at the time of cell division, both remain highly stable over thousands of generations. This feature been invaluable in tracing the prehistoric migration of Neanderthals, Polynesians, Vikings, Native Americans, Australian aborigines and other population groups. Sykes subscribes to the “selfish gene” theory, which asserts that most of human behavior is directed towards the survival of our unique genetic material, ie our genes drive behavior that favors their survival.

The study of thousands of Y chromosomes reveals that “super-Y” chromosomes occur much more frequently than others. In most cases they’re derived from testosterone-driven warriors (eg Vikings and Mongol warriors like Genghis Khan) who used their aptitude for violence, ruthlessness and wealth acquisition to spread their Y chromosome to a disproportionate number of women.

According to Sykes this “crazed ambition of the Y chromosome” to “multiply without limit” leads to endless wars, land annexation and enslavement of women. As he points out in his introduction, it’s quite rare for women to commitment violent crimes, become tyrants or start wars. He also has grave concerns that this unholy alliance between “super Y chromosomes” and an unchecked drive for wealth and power is leading to imminent planetary destruction.

A British financial analyst recently made the observation that the global economy would still be intact if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters. Recent studies show women make better financial traders because they’re more risk adverse.

The chapter I found most interesting concerns the genetic origin of sexual reproduction, ie the exchange of genetic material during reproduction, and male and female sexual identity. I was particularly fascinated to learn that organelles like chloroplasts (plants only) and mitochondria were originally bacteria, with their own DNA, that were captured by larger cells. This modification enabled the larger cells to produce much more energy, which allowed them to specialize and become multi-celled organisms.

My second favorite chapter concerns research into the genetic basis of homosexuality. Geneticists have identified an SRY gene on the Y chromosome that switches on testosterone production when the embryo is six weeks of age. Embryos exposed to testosterone develop male sexual organs. Those that aren’t are automatically programmed to become female.

There’s also a brain structure called the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST) which determines a child’s gender identity and sexual orientation. Testosterone exposure during embryonic development causes it to be larger. It’s much smaller in women, homosexuals and transsexuals. Especially after the birth of one or more sons, women develop antibodies to the H-Y antigen on the Y chromosome. These antibodies, in turn, act to lower fetal testosterone levels, resulting in a smaller BST.


*A mitochondria is an organelle found in large numbers in each cell responsible for respiration and energy production.
**DNA recombination involves the exchange of genetic material between different chromosomes or between different regions on the same chromosomes.