13th Century AD: Mongol Conquest of Russia and Jin Dynasty

Episode 27: Western Mongol Expansion

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

According to Harl, Genghis Khan’s sons and grandsons split responsibility for the Mongol Empire following his death.

After being installed as the great khan (by the assembly of Mongol nobles), the third son Ogedei ruled the Mongolian homeland on the eastern steppes and led the military expedition that conquered China’s Jin* empire.

The second son Jugatai assumed control over the central steppes and the fourth Tolui the Mongolian heartlands in eastern Mongolia.

The first son Jochi inherited the western steppes, and his son Batu ran the military campaign to conquer new lands “as far as the western ocean.” After first conquering Persia, Armenia and Georgia, he attacked the south Russian steppes.

In 1223, a coalition of Russian princes confronted an army of 75,000 Mongolian and Turkish troops on the banks of the Kolka River. Following an initial stalemate, the Mongol army withdrew and decimated their Turkish allies, the Cumans (aka the Volga Khans).

After regrouping, Batu strategically employed Chinese and Persian engineers to sack every major Russian city except for the northernmost Novgorod and Pskov. After capturing and deporting a few artisans and women, the Mongols massacred nearly all the civilians in the conquered cities.

In 1241, Batu’s troops next invaded southern Poland, Silesia,** and Hungary, where they encountered they had no hope of breaching. After being notified of Ogedei’s death in 1242, Batu withdrew his forces to return to the Mongolian heartland to elect a new Khan.

*See 10th Century AD: The Steppes Nomads Conquer Northern China

**Historical region in central Europe roughly equivalent to northern Poland.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.


The Great Mongol Conqueror Ghenghis Khan Arrives on the Steppes

Episode 25: The Mongols

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

This lecture concerns the background and history of Genghis Khan, the powerful Mongol conqueror. According to Harl, The Secret History of the Mongols, written in 1227, is currently one of the most reliable historical sources.

Prior to the birth of Genghis Khan’s in 1162, the steppes tribes were constantly at war. The Mongols derived from the Tatar* tribes, considered the most powerful on the steppes. With 70,000 warriors, they engaged in silk trade with both the Song and Jin Empires.

Harl is an open admirer of Temujin (who later became Genghis Khan), who he regards as a military genius with “remarkable sons and brilliant grandsons.” Temujin’s generosity, daring and bravery (even when wounded) inspired fierce loyalty among his warriors. Although he lived a simple life (in a tent), he retained huge harems of conquered brides.

Regarded as a favorite of Tengri (the Mongol’s universal sky god), Temufin’s basic strategy was to terrorize his rivals into submission by committing mass atrocities – often killing every living being in the cities he conquered.

After clan leaders poisoned his father, Temujin and his mother and brothers  were forced starving into into the forest by his father’s Tatar enemies. The ruler of the Keraites Federation (a minor Turkic steppes tribe), took Temujin in and became his mentor. In the 1190s, Temujin assembled his first army to attack neighboring Tatar tribes who had kidnapped his wife.

His major massacre of his Tatar enemies in 1206 would cement his control of the steppes, eventually leading to unification of all the steppes tribes. An assembly of all steppes nomad princes met that year and proclaimed him Genghis Khan (“universal ruler”).

*The term Tatars refers to a diverse Turkic ethnic groups involved in the Tatar Confederation, one of the five major 12th century confederations on the Mongolian plateau.

Film can be viewed free with library card on Kanopy.