How did the Mongols achieve such a vast empire?

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Main topic: Humanities
Other topics: Mongols
Short answer:
  • Ecological factors and recurring trade disruptions squeezed the natural resources forcing Mongols to look further
  • Genghis Khan's ambitions and military skills allowed him to unify Mongolian tribes and lead a conquest in all directions
  • The internal disputes in Asia and the lack of strong empires facilitated their conquest

Genghis Khan and his successors led one of the most successful conquests that spread their empire in all directions. During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Mongol Empire was the biggest in history. The Mongol raids and invasions are some of the most dangerous and deadly wars in history.

Great Mongol Empire map
Great Mongol Empire map. Canuckguy and many others, CC BY via Wikimedia commons

It requires a high level of motivation to undertake the quest at the scale that the Mongols envisioned for expanding their territory. Several reasons led to their conquest and success.

The harsh climate and limited ecology forced Mongols to look further for natural resources and food[edit]

Mongolia's mean annual temperature dropped from 1180-1220, shortening grass growth. Since the Mongols' pastoral-nomadic life depended on their livestock, limited animal feed may have forced them to leave Mongolia.

The constant recurring trade disputes urged Mongols to invade nearby kingdoms[edit]

North and northwest China did cut commerce with Mongolia. The Mongols relied on trade for grain, craft, and manufactured goods. Thus the loss of trade might have been devastating.

The Mongols faced a crisis when the Jin and Xia dynasties, which ruled North and Northwest China, attempted to curtail trade. The Mongols raided, attacked, and invaded these two kingdoms to get the necessary items.

Genghis Khan's religious beliefs motivated him to unite all land under one sword[edit]

Genghis Khan's shamanism provides a third explanation. It is said that in one of his visions, Tenggeri, the Mongol sky god, gave Genghis the goal of uniting the world under one sword or under the shamanic umbrella, which may have inspired his conquests.[1]

The Unification of all the Mongolian Tribes by Genghis Khan set the stage for conquest[edit]

As Genghis Khan was known before he received his title, Temujin became one of the most outstanding war leaders.

He researched his enemies, especially their weaknesses. This enabled him to employ diplomacy effectively and repeatedly subvert rivals' influence by converting their followers.

He also had a remarkable capacity to turn vanquished foes into his most faithful followers and was not afraid to eliminate opponents ruthlessly if necessary. Temujin brought all Mongol tribes together using these means. In 1206, a Mongol parliament named him Genghis Khan.[2]

Genghis Khan's profound ability in military tactics, horse warfare, and loyalty of his commanders ensured their victory[edit]

Genghis Khan's units were ten-based. The head of a unit of 10 thousand had a close relationship with Genghis. Genghis' ascension to prominence and control over his area depended on that kind of allegiance.

Genghis's war tactics showed his dominance. He staged withdrawal as a battle strategy, where his forces would retreat during combat, and it proved effective. As the enemy pursued the fleeing troops, they stretched thin, and then the Mongol army would suddenly turn around with archers ready in tow. Horse riders contributed to the encircling of enemy forces after a fake retreat.

The Mongol army's excellent horse warfare skills emerged from their nomadic lifestyle, where equestrian abilities are innate.[3]

The conquest was continued by Genghis Khan's successors Ogedei and Batu Khan leading to the conquering of western Asia, and Russia[edit]

Ogedei, Genghis' third son, became Great Khan. Other sons of Genghis, called "khans," ruled different parts of the Mongol Empire. They employed same diplomatic and military tactics as Genghis Khan to keep expanding the empire.

Ogedei sent armies to Iran to reestablish Mongol rule after a significant uprising. Western central Asia came under Mongol rule under Ogedei.

Batu Khan was one of the several grandchildren of Genghis. He invaded Russia in 1237-40. Batu attacked central Europe westward. marched in Poland and Hungary, defeating a northern German Crusader force.

When Ogedei died, Mongol expansion continued from Korea, Indian subcontinent to empire of Anatolia (1241-3), and the Seljuk sultanate of Rum. Campaigns also continued on other empire frontiers.[4]

Mongols were good at assimilating their defeated enemies, and Asia was falling apart due to internal disputes[edit]

Mongols were good at assimilating conquered peoples. They recruited some of the more faithful conquered people into their troops. Uyghur Turks and others joined the Mongol forces and helped them succeed.

Other factors which contributed to their success were the weakened leadership in Asia. During this period, China was divided into three warring factions.

Central Asia was divided, with no leader. Russia consisted of fragmented city-states. After four centuries of success, the Western Asian Abbasid dynasty lost much of its territory.[5]


  1. "What Motivated the Mongol Conquests of Genghis Khan?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2022-11-09.
  2. "Mongols in World History | Asia for Educators". Retrieved 2022-11-09.
  3. "MONGOL ARMY: TACTICS, WEAPONS, REVENGE AND TERROR | Facts and Details". Retrieved 2022-11-09.
  4. "The Mongol Empire After Genghis Khan | World Civilizations I (HIS101) – Biel". Retrieved 2022-11-09.
  5. "Mongols—facts and information". Culture. 2019-06-21. Retrieved 2022-11-09.