- LAST REVIEWED: 19 July 2023
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0129
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 July 2023
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0129
The Mongol wars of conquest irrevocably changed the world. By the end of the unified Mongol Empire, not only did it disappear from the map, but so did approximately twenty other polities that existed prior to the rise of Chinggis Khan (c. b. 1162–d. 1227). The explanations for the Mongol conquests are multifarious and include rationales ranging from economic motives to divine mandates. There is no single reason, and the reasons for the conquests evolved, as did the Mongol war machine, allowing the Mongols to establish an empire that stretched from the Sea of Japan to the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkan Mountains. While the motives behind the Mongol wars of expansion eventually narrowed to the Decree of the Eternal Blue Heaven (Köke Möngke Tengri), the Mongol war machine continued to develop in terms of tactics, strategy, and increasing complexity in its form as the Mongols entered territory that was no longer suitable to light cavalry. The study of the Mongol wars has evolved as well. Initially, the focus was on the rise of Chinggis Khan and the Mongol irruption. While the war against the Jin Empire lasted over twenty years, Western scholars have tended to pay greater attention to campaigns against the Khwarazamian state in Central Asia and Eastern Iran and to the Western Campaign, which led to the conquest of the Rus’ principalities and the invasion of Hungary and Poland, probably due to the Mongol army’s dramatic swiftness and relatively more accessible sources. While the organization and formation of the Mongol army always receives renewed interest, interest in the Mongol military history has shifted from the period of the conquest to the post-dissolution period (post-1260), with an increased interest in the civil wars within the Mongol Empire, as well as wars with other states, particularly the Mamluk Sultanate (r. 1250–1517) and Japan. While the emphasis of recent scholarship still tends to favor the post-dissolution period, particularly with the Mongol Ilkhanate (r. 1260–1335) in the Middle East and the Yuan Empire (r. 1260–1388) in East Asia, renewed emphasis is returning to the Mongol military, ranging from composition to logistics, as well as the analysis of particular battles and campaigns as new sources are found or made accessible through translation or printed editions.
Knowledge of multiple languages is a key issue with the study of the Mongols. Even the most talented scholars are hamstrung by sources in twenty or so languages. As a result, the scholarship often becomes regionally compartmentalized; thus deep insights into regional events are gained, but the larger picture can be somewhat obscured. Nonetheless, there are a number of works that provide an overview of the empire in its structure and places the wars in the context of the entire empire. While from the 19th century, the multivolumed surveys of D’Ohsson 1834 and Howorth 1888 remain useful in terms of chronology and the depth of coverage even though their interpretations may be outdated. Fletcher 1995 remains an influential work that considers ecological and sociological factors that affected the Mongol Empire throughout its existence. Popular interest in the Mongols remains strong with works such as Weatherford 2004, which has its faults but is the type of work that sparks interest in the Mongols and thus should then lead readers to more scholarly works like Morgan 2007 and Saunders 2001, both newer editions of older works. Jackson 2000 is a bibliographic review and essay that brings one up to date on the scholarship of the 20th century. Jackson 2001 reviews not only the creation of the Mongol Empire, but also the khanates with the dissolution of the empire. Two important reference works have also appeared. Buell 2003 is a historical dictionary that also includes long essays on the Mongol Empire and the post-dissolution empire. Atwood 2004 spans from ancient Mongolia to the 21st century; however, it has considerable coverage of the Mongol Empire. Both are indispensable resources. Biran 2011 examines the rise of the Mongol Empire in its Inner Asian context while exploring the difference between evolutionary changes and those that were truly revolutionary.
Atwood, Christopher P. Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. New York: Facts on File, 2004.
Excellent maps, genealogy, and chronology accompanies the encyclopedia articles.
Biran, Michal. “The Mongol Transformation: From the Steppe to Eurasian Empire.” In Eurasian Transformations, Tenth to Thirteenth Centuries: Crystallizations, Divergences, Renaissances. Edited by J. P. Arnason and B. Wittrock. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011.
Discusses the Mongol Empire in an Inner Asian context, comparing it with other steppe empires while considering what was an evolutionary change versus a revolutionary innovation. Biran also considers the impact of the empire on the conquered territory and neighboring regions throughout Eurasia. Originally published in Medieval Encounters 10 (2004): 338–361.
Buell, Paul D. Historical Dictionary of the Mongol World Empire. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2003.
Six essays precede the dictionary and are accompanied by three appendices and a bibliographic essay. Also appears in paperback as the A to Z of the Mongol World Empire (Landham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010).
D’Ohsson, G. Histoire des Mongols: Depuis Tchinguiz-Khan jusqu’à Timour Bey ou Tamerlan. 4 vols. Amsterdam: Les Frères Van Cleef, 1834.
D’Ohsson, a Hungarian, wrote a massive four-volume work in very accessible French that focuses on the Mongol Wars. The emphasis tends to be the campaigns in the Middle East and Europe.
Fletcher, Joseph. “The Mongols: Ecological and Social Perspectives.” In Studies on Chinese and Islamic Middle Asia. By Joseph Fletcher. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1995.
Centered around five questions, the paper explores how the Mongol Empire began, why it ended, why the Mongols were so destructive, why they did not convert to certain religions, and why their conquests stopped when they did. Serves as an excellent starting point for any study of the Mongols. Originally appeared in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 46 (1986): 11–50.
Howorth, Henry H. History of the Mongols: From the 9th to the 19th Century. 3 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1888.
Howorth primarily uses sources translated into English and French. The depth of his coverage of the campaigns across the Empire includes detailed biographis of the khans of the united empire and post-dissolution khanates.
Jackson, Peter. “The State of Research: The Mongol Empire, 1986–1999.” Journal of Medieval History 26 (2000): 189–210.
An excellent bibliographic essay that surveys the scholarship that was produced after the first edition of David Morgan’s The Mongols in 1986 (see Morgan 2007 for the second edition). Jackson also reflects on how The Mongols influenced the scholarship that came afterwards.
Jackson, Peter. “From Ulus to Khanate: The Making of the Mongol States, c. 1220–1290.” In The Mongol Empire and Its Legacy. Edited by Reuven Amitai-Preiss and David O. Morgan, 12–38. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2001.
Excellent study on the transformation of the Mongol Empire into separate states and the civil wars that took place in the process.
Morgan, David. The Mongols. 2d ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.
Remains the classic introduction to the study of the Mongols. In addition to sections covering the Mongol expansion, it also discusses the military and government structure. The last chapter of the second edition is also useful for its discussion of the historiographical changes since Morgan’s first edition in 1986.
Saunders, J. J. The History of the Mongol Conquests. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.
Originally published in 1971, this work remains the most scholarly account of the Mongol conquests as a narrative history, although other works in this article go into more detail.
Weatherford, Jack. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. New York: Crown, 2004.
A New York Times bestseller. Weatherford’s writing draws readers into the work. The true value comes from his training in anthropology, but his historical interpretation can get imaginative at times.
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