Empire in Asia

A New Global History

The Mongols

Book Cover

Book Title

The Mongols. Malden, MA.; Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. 2nd ed.


Morgan, David


This is a book about the Mongols and their empire rather than a history of empire in general. The book discusses the sources of information for Mongols' history: Persian sources, Chinese sources, European and the unique "The Secret History of the Mongols".

The Mongols have influenced significantly the history of Europe. And yet, when we see history from the Mongols' perspective, the Far East mattered most to their legacy. A balanced history of Mongol empire would consist largely of Chinese history than of the Middle East, Russia or even relations with Europe. It is difficult in obtaining Mongol sources since most remained largely illiterate even after Chingiz Khan's reign. "The Secret History of the Mongols" has a unique importance: the book sourced by historians to analyze the perception of Mongols, undistorted by the spectacles of the conquered or the hostile.

The book also examines the different forms of historiography since 1985. This year was seen as the start of new analysis of the Mongol empire since new perspectives have emerged, particularly as historians begun to scrutinize different issues, digging deeper into Mongol history and shifting away from purely military aspects. This represents a move away from the death and destruction which, while it undoubtedly characterized the initial stage of Mongol imperial expansion, is now seen as very far from being the sole important factor.

Expansion of European knowledge of the world, and particularly Asia, resulted from Mongol conquests and of the 'curtain' that dropped when the empire collapsed, and Asia was no longer under the political dominance of one remarkable family. Yet, the full realization of this knowledge's potential must wait until the Age of Discovery.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The writer begins with the chapter "Nomads of the Steppe: Asia before Chingiz Khan" to elaborate upon the religious beliefs of Mongols and Asia at the beginning of the thirteenth century. He discusses in great detail the history of Chingiz Khan's rise to power, campaigns of conquest and the consequent effects in the following chapter "Chingiz Khan and the Founding of the Mongol Empire". In explaining the methods employed by the Mongols to maintain their hold on the territories conquered, the author discusses the various institutions which led to a stronger control of their conquered territories in "Nature and Institution of the Mongol Empire". In particular, the author broaches the topics of the Mongol Army, law, taxation, communications, and the Mongol approach to government. Finally, he examines the foreign conquests of Mongols in their bid to expand to Russia, Persia, Europe and China.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

One sees some semblance of similarity with the beginnings of European empire in Asia in the Mongol empire. The writer recognizes that there is an absence of any evidence for the grand strategic plan except for the events themselves. In the case of the Mongols in Persia and Russia - the Mongols of the Golden Horde were seen to have survived because they kept their distance from the conquered sedentary population and maintained their traditional nomadic way of life. In this way, the Mongols retained their military superiority over the conquered peoples: since the Mongols has won their empire by military conquest, they will need to maintain it with the same force.

It has been customary to describe the political evolution of the Mongol Empire in terms of its dissolution into four more or less independent khanates, ruled by different branches of the Mongol royal house: the Great Khanate in China and Mongolia, the Chaghatai Khanate in Central Asia, the Ilkhanate in Persia and Iraq, and the Golden Horde in the Pontic Steppes. The Mongols' original conquests saw destructive of life and property but the writer remarks that one should not deviate the focus of their study too much since Mongols were no worse than anyone else in their day. The Mongols did not have a notion that their massacres were in any way discreditable, but saw it as the fulfillment of the will of Tengri.

Annotated by Michelle Djong