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Honorary guard of Mongolia.

The Mongols are an ethnic group that originated in what is now Mongolia, Russia, and China, particularly Inner Mongolia. They currently number about 8.5 million and speak the Mongol language. There are approximately 2.3 million Mongols in Mongolia, 4 million Mongols living in Inner Mongolia, and 2 million Mongols living in neighboring provinces. In addition, there are a number of ethnic groups in North China and Russia related to the Mongols: the Daur, Buryat, Evenk, Dorbod, Tuvans and Kalmyk.



The Mongols were originally a confederation of tribes in competition with the Tatar, Kerait, Merkit and Naiman confederations and therefore only a division of what we call the Mongol nation. Genghis Khan unified the Mongol people by absorbing the other confederations into his own and the word Mongol came to mean the entire people.

Though few in number (approximately 200,000 people at the height of their empire), Mongols were important in world history. Under the leadership of Genghis Khan, the Mongols created the second largest empire in world history, ruling 35 million km² (13.8 million miles²) and more than 100 million people, nearly equal to the British Empire in land area. At its height, the Mongol Empire spanned from Korea to Hungary, and included most of the lands in between, such as Afghanistan, Georgia, Armenia, Russia, Persia, China, and much of the Middle East.

The Mongols were a nomadic people, closely related to Turkic tribes, who in the 13th century found themselves encompassed by large, city-dwelling agrarian civilizations. However, none of these civilizations, with the possible exception of the Islamic Caliphate located in Baghdad, were part of a strong central state. Asia, Russia, and the Middle East were either declining kingdoms, or divided city states. Taking the strategic initiative, the Mongols exploited this power vacuum and linked all of these areas into a mutually supporting trade network.

The Mongols were largely dependent on trade with the city-dwelling peoples, but resorted to raiding villages when times were particularly hard. As nomads, they could not accumulate a surplus against bad times, or support artisans. When trade was reduced by the northern Chinese kingdoms in the 1200s, shortly after Genghis Khan became Khan of the Mongol tribes, the Mongols repeated their tradition of getting their goods by looting Northern China.

Conquest, in the Khan's initial viewpoint, did not consist of subordination of competing cultures to the nomadic way of life. Rather, it took the form of looting and destruction, if there was resistance. If there was no resistance, Mongols usually left the town unharmed and demanded that the townspeople pay them tribute. As a nomad, Genghis Khan is supposed to not have understood or cared of the supposed benefits in the city dwellers' way of life. This contrasts with their dependence on trade with the cities. However, theories on the economics of these relationships still lay seven centuries in the future.

The Khan's initial plan of conquest if people resisted was sacking all that was valuable, and then razing the city and killing the resistance, leaving only artists and human shields (for future campaigns) to survive. Genghis Khan himself was extremely supportive to people that were loyal to him and even to his enemies. Different theories exist as to why the Mongols initially behaved in such an extreme manner. From a military perspective, the Mongols were often far from home territory and greatly out-numbered, and wouldn't want to leave enemies in their rear. Terror also served as a useful weapon in reducing an opponent's ability to rally support against Mongol invasion. Economically, destroying population centers gave the Mongols more room to graze their herds.

One such example is the capture of Zhongdu (中都 Zhōngd) (roughly on the site of modern Beijing) in 1215. Rather than adding the city to the Mongol Kingdom, it was instead thoroughly sacked for silk and other valuables.

As the Mongols grew more powerful, advisers convinced Genghis Khan to start building a vassal empire. If the city-dwelling peoples were allowed to continue their way of life, they could produce a surplus of food and goods, a portion of which could be paid to the Khan as taxes. Given the Khan's extraordinary success in his aggressive foreign policy, this wealth could be equally extraordinary. The Khan agreed, taking his tribute in tax of 10%, and saving countless lives and cultures in the process. Until 1225 they continued these invasions through Western Asia, into Persia and Russia.

In 1227, Genghis Khan died; his third son Ogedei Khan was elected by the tribes to succeed him. Ogedei Khan continued the expansion into North-Eastern Asia, conquering Korea and Northern China in the process. The armies of the Mongols had reached Poland, Hungary, and Egypt by 1241, and were poised to continue. When Ogedei Khan suddenly died, Mongol law required all descendants of Genghis to return and elect a new Khan. The leader of the European expedition rushed back to press his claim. Nearly a decade later, Mongka Khan, grandson of Genghis and nephew of Ogedei, took the throne, through the assistance of his mother Sorghaghtani Beki. By this time, the Western expansion had lost its momentum. These events are credited in several counterfactual historical scenarios with saving nascent European civilization from a second "Dark Age" precipitated by Mongol conquest. Such scenarios must be taken with knowledge of its origin in mind though.

The name Mongol during 12th and 13th century Mongol reign presumably included soldiers and generals in Middle East, China, Eastern and central Europe that all fought under the identity of being Mongols although not being exclusively ones that had a heritage in modern Mongolia. The name probably was a very symbolic and powerful concept to the ones that pledged allegiance to the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan, his successor Great Khans and to themselves. This is probably the genius of Genghis Khan to unify all these different people under one identity and a single and powerful fighting force with superb military strategy, dedication and mobility. The word Mongol should not be interpreted literally in historical perspective to many who identified themselves as being Mongols.

Various members of the Mongol Court, including Sorghaghtani Beki, were Nestorian Christians. While the court was nominally Buddhist and maintained a policy of being open to all religions, it was known as particularly sympathetic to Christians (which may have helped contribute to the legend of Prester John). In 1253 the court followed the suggestion from Crusader Kingdoms in Syria to attack the Muslim capitals of Baghdad and Cairo. Baghdad was conquered and sacked in 1258, with the city's Christians spared, and the Abbasid caliph killed. However, with the troops on the road to Cairo, Mongka Khan died in 1259. Much of the force returned home for the selection of the new leader, and Egyptian troops repelled the attack in 1260. This marked the farthest West the Mongol Empire would progress.

Kublai Khan quickly succeeded Mongka Khan, moved the court to Beijing, formed the Yuan dynasty, and re-started the invasion of China, in the first war with guns on both sides. After 18 years, Kublai Khan conquered both Northern and Southern China, forming the largest empire in history (famously described by Marco Polo).

However, by the early 14th century, the prominence of trade and a possible cooling of the world's climates led to worldwide outbreaks of plague, which encouraged revolt and invasion. Early Ming Emperors led campaigns into Mongolia and destroyed Harhorin and Khar Khot, but later Ming Emperors resorted to more defensive policies. Meanwhile, various Mongolian tribes fought against each other, usually Western Mongols (Oirat) against Eastern Mongols (Chahar, Tumed, Ordos or Khalkha), and continued to threaten China's borders. Their frequent raids finally led to the construction of the Great Wall of China.

The internal struggle gave the emerging Manchu the possibility to incorporate the Mongol tribes bit by bit. In 1636, the Chahar of Inner Mongolia were conquered, in 1691, the Khalkha of Outer Mongolia submitted to the Kangxi Emperor in order to escape from the threat of being conquered by the Oirat, and in the 1750s, the Qianlong Emperor completely destroyed the Oirat Jungar Empire in today's Xinjiang.

Military innovation

See Military advances of Genghis Khan

Timeline of conquest

The Mongols attempted two unsuccessful invasions of Japan (see Mongol invasions of Japan). The first attempt ended in a retreat after the Battle of Bun'ei in 1274. The second attempt was cancelled after many ships had been destroyed by a famous typhoon, called kamikaze (divine wind) in 1281.

The Mongols succeeded in their invasion of Dai Viet in the northern part of contemporary Vietnam. The attack on the Javanese kingdom of Singhasari in 1293 caused the collapse of that state, but the new empire of Majapahit remained independent.

Th estimated fatalities from the Mongol campaigns are:

Modern history

In 1921, Outer Mongolia revolted with Russian support, forming modern Mongolia. A Communist government was formed in 1924. The USSR defended Mongolia from Japanese invasion. However, the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, for reasons both practical and philosophical, enacted an often brutal if not entirely effective sweeping of Mongolian tradition, working against the Buddhist religions, clan-ism, and script, and for collectivism (as opposed to the traditional nomadic lifestyle). Mongolia aligned itself with Russia after the Sino-Soviet split of 1958. In 1990 the Communist government was overthrown, and by 1992 Mongolia established a parliamentary government.

Inner Mongolia forms an autonomous state within China. Han Chinese have been massively re-settled there, and are the dominant ethnic group, and China places many of the same cultural restrictions on Mongols as did Soviet Mongolia. However, Mongols are exempt from the government's one-child policy, and the PRC officially promotes the Mongol language.

The Russian Federation also has some autonomous regions for descendants of the Mongols, such as the Buryats:

Mongols in Mongolia, especially those that are nomads are regarded as one of the most kindest and warmest of people in the world by most Westerners that had the chance to see first-hand Mongolian nomadic people.

Chinese ethnic groups (classification by PRC government)

Achang - Bai - Blang - Bonan - Buyei - Chosen - Dai - Daur - De'ang - Derung - Dong - Dongxiang - Ewenki - Gaoshan - Gelao - Gin - Han - Hani - Hezhen - Hui - Jingpo - Jino - Kazak - Kirgiz - Lahu - Lhoba - Li - Lisu - Man - Maonan - Miao - Monba - Mongol - Mulao - Naxi - Nu - Oroqen - Pumi - Qiang - Russ - Salar - She - Sui - Tajik - Tatar - Tu - Tujia - Uygur - Uzbek - Va - Xibe - Yao - Yi - Yugur - Zang - Zhuang


de:Mongolen fr:Mongols it:Mongoli nl:Mongolen no:mongolene ja:モンゴル pl:Mongołowie pt:Mongis fi:Mongolit zh-cn:蒙古族


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