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  • Hi I’m John Green; this is crash course world history and today were gonna discuss

  • wait for it

  • THE MONGOLS.

  • So you probably have a picture of the Mongols in your head.

  • Yes, that’s the picture:

  • brutal bloodthirsty, swarthy, humorously mustachioed warriors riding the plains, wearing fur, eating

  • meat directly off the bone,

  • saying bar bar bar.

  • In short,

  • we imagine the Mongol empire as stereotypically barbarian.

  • And that’s not entirely wrong.

  • But if youve been reading recent world history textbooks like we here at Crash Course

  • have,

  • you might have a different view of the Mongols,

  • one that emphasizes the amazing speed and success of their conquests

  • how they conquered more land in 25 years than the Romans did in 400.

  • How they controlled more than 11 million contiguous square miles.

  • And you may have even read

  • that the Mongols basically created nations

  • like Russia and even Korea.

  • One historian has even claimed that the Mongols

  • smashed the feudal system

  • and created international law.

  • Renowned for their religious tolerance ,

  • the Mongols, in this view,

  • created the first great free trade zone, like a

  • crazy medieval Eurasian NAFTA.

  • And that’s not entirely wrong either.

  • Stupid truth, always resisting simplicity.

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  • So remember herders?

  • We talked about them way back in episode one as an alternative to hunting and gathering

  • or agriculture.

  • Here are the key things to remember:

  • 1. Nomads aren’t Jack Kerouac:

  • They don’t just go on like random road trips.

  • They migrate according to climate conditions so they can feed their flocks.

  • 2. Nomads don’t generally produce

  • manufactured goods

  • which means they need to trade,

  • so they almost always live near settled people.

  • And 3. Because they live in generally live close

  • to nature and in harsh conditions,

  • pastoralists tend to be tougher than diamond-plated differential calculus.

  • Like, think of the Huns,

  • or the Xiongnu.

  • Or the Mongols. [sweet, familiar horns of the Mongol-tage

  • blare]

  • Okay, Stan. That’s enough.

  • Back to me. Stan.

  • I AM THE STAR OF THIS SHOW

  • NOT THE MONGOLS!!!

  • Hi. Sorry about that.

  • Right, so one last thing:

  • Pastoral people also tend to be more egalitarian,

  • especially where women are concerned.

  • Paradoxically,

  • when there’s less to go around, humans tend to share more,

  • and when both men and women must work for the social order to survive,

  • there tends to be less patriarchal domination of women.

  • Although Mongol women rarely went to war.

  • I can’t tell your gender.

  • I mean youve got the pants,

  • but then you also have the floopity flop,

  • so...

  • That’s the technical term, by the way.

  • I’m a historian. [suspiciously lacking a mustache]

  • If you had to choose a pastoral nomadic group to come out of central Asia and dominate the

  • world,

  • you probably wouldn’t have chosen the Mongols.

  • Because for most of the history weve been discussing, they just hung out in the foothills

  • bordering the Siberian forest,

  • mixing herding and hunting,

  • quietly getting really good at archery and riding horses.

  • Also the Mongols were much smaller than other pastoral groups

  • like the Tatars or the Uighurs.

  • And not to get like all

  • Great Man History on you or anything,

  • but the reason the Mongols came to dominate the world really started with one guy,

  • Genghis Khan.

  • Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.

  • The story goes that Genghis or Chingus [?] Khan

  • was born around 1162 with the name Temujin

  • to a lowly clan.

  • His father was poisoned to death,

  • leaving Temujin under the control of his older brothers,

  • one of whom he soon killed during an argument.

  • By 19 he was married to his first and most important wife,

  • Borte, who was later kidnapped.

  • This was pretty common among the Mongols, Temujin’s mom had also been kidnapped.

  • In rescuing his wife,

  • Temujin proved his military mettle and he soon became a leader of his tribe,

  • but uniting the Mongol confederations

  • required a civil war, which he won,

  • largely thanks to two innovations:

  • He promoted people based on merit rather than family position,

  • and second he brought lower classes of conquered people into his own tribe while dispossessing

  • the leaders of conquered clans.

  • Thus he made the peasants love him.

  • The rich hated him

  • but they didn’t matter anymore, because they were no longer rich.

  • With these two building block policies,

  • Temujin was able to win the loyalty of more and more people and in 1206 he was declared

  • Great Khan,

  • the leader of all the Mongols.

  • How?

  • Well, the Mongols chose their rulers in a really cool way.

  • A prospective ruler would call a general council

  • called a khuriltai,

  • and anyone who supported his candidacy for leadership would show up on their horses,

  • literally voting with their feet.

  • Mr. Green, Mr. Green! Horses don’t have feet they have hooves.

  • I hate you, Me From the Past.

  • Also,

  • NO INTERRUPTING THE THOUGHT BUBBLE!!

  • After uniting the Mongols,

  • Genghis Khan went on to conquer a lot of territory.

  • By the time he died in his sleep in 1227, his empire stretched from the Mongol homeland

  • in Mongolia

  • all the way to the Caspian Sea.

  • Thanks, Thought Bubble.

  • So that’s a pretty good looking empire,

  • and sure a lot of it was pasture or mountains or desert,

  • but the Mongols did conquer a lot of people, too.

  • And in some ways with Genghisdeath the empire was just getting started.

  • His son Ogedei Khan expanded the empire even more.

  • And Genghisgrandson Mongke was the Great Khan in 1258

  • when Baghdad, the capitol of the Abbasid Empire,

  • fell to the Mongols.

  • And another of Genghisgrandsons,

  • Kublai Khan,

  • conquered the Song Dynasty in China in 1279.

  • And if the Mamluks hadn’t stopped another of

  • Genghisgrandsons at the battle of Ain Jalut,

  • they probably would have taken all of North Africa.

  • Genghis Khan sure had a lot of grandkids...

  • It must be time for the open letter.

  • [gladly glides gracefully to faux glow]

  • An Open Letter To Genghis Khan’s Descendants:

  • But first,

  • let’s check what’s in the secret compartment today.

  • Oh.

  • A noisemaker and champagne poppers?

  • Stan,

  • you know I suck at these.

  • Ohhh, it’s because it’s a

  • BIRTHDAY PARTY!! YAY.

  • Happy birthday to Genghis Khan’s descendants.

  • How do I know it’s your birthday,

  • Genghis Khan’s descendants?

  • Because every day is your birthday.

  • Because right now on the planet Earth,

  • there are 16 million direct descendants of Genghis Khan,

  • meaning that every day is

  • the birthday of 43,000 of them.

  • So, good news, Genghis Khan;

  • Your empire might be gone, but your progeny lives on.

  • And on, and on, and on.

  • HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

  • Best Wishes, John Green

  • Unfortunately for the Mongols,

  • those guys weren’t always working together, because

  • Genghis Khan failed to create a single political unit out of his conquests.

  • Instead after Genghisdeath,

  • the Mongols were left with four really important Empires called Khanates:

  • 1. The Yuan Dynasty in China

  • 2. The Il-Khanate in Persia

  • 3. The Chagadai Khanate in Central Asia and

  • 4. The Khanate of the Golden Horde in Russia.

  • If you remember all the way back to the Hellenistic period, this is similar to what happened to

  • another good general who wasn’t much for administration,

  • Alexander the Great.

  • Also,

  • neither of them ever conquered India.

  • The Mongols succeeded primarily

  • because of their military skill.

  • Genghis Khan’s army,

  • which never numbered more than 130,000

  • was built on speed and archery.

  • Just like this guy.

  • [No arrows on the pitch, please.]

  • Mongol mounted archers were like super fast tanks,

  • compared to the foot soldiers and knights

  • they were up against.

  • But wait,

  • all the military history nerds are saying:

  • once people knew that the Mongols were coming, why didn’t they just hole up in their castles

  • and forts?

  • It’s not like the Mongols had flying horses.

  • EXCEPT THEY DID.

  • They didn’t?

  • Stan, why are you always making history boring??

  • So the Mongols apparently didn’t have flying horses, but

  • they were uncommonly adaptable.

  • So even though they’d never seen a castle before they started raiding, they became experts

  • at siege warfare by interrogating prisoners.

  • And also adopted gunpowder,

  • probably introducing it to Europeans,

  • and they even built ships so they could attack Japan.

  • That might have worked, too

  • except there happened to be a typhoon.

  • Also,

  • people were terrified of the Mongols.

  • Often cities would surrender the moment the Mongols arrived,

  • just to escape slaughter.

  • But of course,

  • that only happened because there were occasions when

  • the Mongols, did, you know,

  • slaughter entire towns.

  • So with all that background,

  • let us return to the question of Mongol awesomeness.

  • First, Five arguments for awesome:

  • 1.

  • The Mongols really did reinvigorate cross-Eurasian trade.

  • The Silk Road trading routes that had existed for about 1000 years by the time the Mongols

  • made the scene had fallen into disuse,

  • but the Mongols valued trade because they could tax it,

  • and they did a great job of

  • keeping their empire safe.

  • It was said that a man could walk from one end of the Mongol empire to the other with

  • a gold plate on his head

  • without fear of being robbed.

  • 2.

  • The Mongols increased communication

  • throughout Eurasia

  • by developing this pony express-like system of weigh stations with horses and riders that

  • could quickly relay information.

  • It was called the yam system and also included these amazing bronze passports, which facilitated

  • travel.

  • 3.

  • Another thing that travelled along the Mongol trade routes was cuisine.

  • For example, it was because of the Mongols that rice became a staple of the Persian diet.

  • Which I mention entirely because I happen to like Persian food.

  • 4.

  • The Mongols forcibly relocated people who were useful to them,

  • like artists and musicians and, especially administrators.

  • As you can imagine,

  • the Mongols were not much for administrative tasks like keeping records so they found people

  • were good at that stuff and just moved them around the empire.

  • This created the kind of cross-cultural pollination that world historians these days get really

  • excited about.

  • And 5.

  • The Mongols were almost unprecedentedly tolerant of different religions.

  • They themselves were shamanists, believing in nature spirits,

  • but since their religion was tied to the land from which they came,

  • they didn’t expect new people to adopt it and they didn’t ask them to.

  • So you could find

  • Muslims and Buddhists and Christians

  • and people of any other religion you can think of prospering throughout the Mongol empire.

  • And it’s that kind of openness that has led some historians

  • to re-evaluate the Mongols-

  • Seeing them as kind of a precursor to modernity.