Episode 26: The Conquests of Genghis Khan
Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)
Dr Kenneth Harl
Within a few decades of taking power, Genghis Khan had assembled the largest eastern steppes confederation since the 2nd century BC.
In 1206 he reorganized the Mongol army based mainly on skill, rather than tribal affiliation as prior nomad leaders had done. He was especially skilled at moving troops and supplies long distances. For example, in 1218 he would move 35,000 men from the Mongolian capitol in the caravan city Karakarum to attack the Kara-Khitan Empire.*
In 1209 he invaded Xi Xia and took control of the Silk Road. To save themselves from obliteration, the kingdom signed a treaty agreeing to pay tribute and provide Chinese translators and engineers to develop the Mongols’ siege technology.
In 1211 he invaded the Jin Empire and took control of of their rich millet and wheat and their manufacture of armaments and tools.
In 1218 he conquered Kara-Khitan, providing his first major challenge to the Muslim Empire. According to Harl, Arabs in Baghdad welcomed the conquest because they were fed up with Turkish rule. After capturing a few fit males captive as slave solders and shipping the prettiest women back to the steppes for his harem, he decimated the rest of the civilian population. Contemporaneous historical accounts refer to landscapes of bleached bones and pyramids of severed heads.
By 1220-21 all the lands of eastern Islam (Transoxiana, Persia and parts of Afghanistan and southern Russia) were under Mongol control.
Genghis Khan died in 1227, appointing his third son Ogidai as his successor.
*Consisting of Persia and Transoxiana (civilization located in lower Central Asia roughly corresponding to modern-day eastern Uzbekistan, western Tajikistan, parts of southern Kazakhstan, parts of Turkmenistan and southern Kyrgyzstan).
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