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The Military in World History


The Chinggis Exchange: the Mongol Empire and Global Impact on Warfare1

Timothy May


     In the 21st century it is easy to look at the world and not be impressed by globalization. To fly from Atlanta to Mongolia takes only 24 hours, a trip that most people consider very long not only in distance but primarily in terms of time and yet compared to a hundred years ago it is merely an inconvenience. Goods made in China stock the shelves of America and German style beer is produced in Mongolia and Korean pop songs are played around the world. Through the internet people are connected in ways that were unimagined just thirty years ago. Where once knowledge from a distant location came as a trickle now arrives in an inconceivable torrent. Yet, 850 years ago, the world was an entirely different place until the rise of Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire. While we cannot and should not make a direct comparison between the globalization of the thirteenth century and that of the twenty-first century, it is worth exploring how the world changed due to the global impact of Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire.

     I refer to the Mongol-created globalization as the Chinggis Exchange in partial homage to the exchange of goods, animals, diseases, and culture that was caused by Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World and the resulting Columbian Exchange as coined by Alfred Crosby.2 The Chinggis Exchange is the result of the "perceivable shift in technology, ideas, culture, religion, warfare, and many other areas" caused by the Mongol expansion and resulting empire.3 Decades and even centuries after his death, the shadow of Chinggis Khan looms large over his former empire and the wider world as well. His actions and those he inspired directly and indirectly in his followers and others set in motion a sequence of events that could not be reversed and certainly altered the world in a matter that not even Chinggis Khan could have foreseen. It does not matter whether the actors in these events were Mongols as some were, or non-Mongols who served them or travelled through the empire, change built upon change as these individuals exchanged ideas, information, and material leaving us with an astounding new and more interconnected world introduced by the Chinggis Exchange. While it is impossible to discuss all of the facets of the Chinggis Exchange considering the importance of warfare and the Mongol military to creation of the Mongol Empire, it is appropriate to explore how the Chinggis Exchange changed warfare through direct means such as imposed change, technological and information exchanges, as well as more subtle ways .

Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire

Chinggis Khan's establishment of the Mongol Empire revolutionized steppe warfare with the introduction of strict discipline, new tactics, the creation of a military academy, and the expansion of decimal organization. Although decimal organization and many of the tactics he used had existed for centuries, Chinggis Khan refined them particularly in the area of tactics. These refinements allowed the Mongols to operate on wide-ranging fronts with consistent success at the tactical, strategic, and operational levels. While these permitted him and his successors to establish the largest contiguous empire in history, the Mongol military revolution also yielded the unexpected result of impacting the development of warfare for centuries.

     The horse-archer comprised the basic element of the Mongol art of war. His double recurve composite bow possessed a range well over 300 meters, although in battle it was typically used at shorter ranges to maximize its penetrating power so that chain mail and other armor posed a minor obstacle to Mongol arrows.4 Changing horses when they tired, the disciplined Mongol warriors unleashed a hail of death while outmaneuvering their enemies. Preferring to fight a distance battle rather than engage in close quartered melee, the Mongols' lamellar armor, made from overlapping plates of leather or metal, provided them better protection against arrows than chain mail. While nomadic horse-archers had been a threat since the Scythian era, they reached their pinnacle in the thirteenth century as the armies of Chinggis Khan became the most proficient at combining the mobility of horses with firepower. With refined and honed traditional tactics such as encirclements and feigned retreats, the Mongols remained out of range from their opponents' weapons until they determined a decisive moment when the enemy's formation broke or weakened. In doing so, the Mongols' tactics placed a reliance on mobility, firepower, and subterfuge to gain victory rather than overwhelming numbers.

     To achieve a disruption of the enemy's formations, the Mongols commonly used a tactic known as the arrow storm or shower in which they enveloped their enemy while shooting arrows. Rather than targeting individuals, the Mongols loosed their arrows at a high trajectory, aiming at a predetermined "kill zone" or area target, emphasizing concentrated fire power. While the practice of concentrating fire-power existed prior to the Mongols, they used it to its maximum effect in all aspects of war, including siege warfare.

     Another tactic combined the arrow-storm with hit and run tactics. Known as the as the shi'uchi, or chisel attack, it was similar to the caracole tactic of fifteenth and sixteenth century European warfare. In the shi'uchi, the Mongol units sent well-ordered waves of men against enemy formations. As each wave charged, they shot several arrows and then circled back to the Mongols' lines before making contact. They shot their final arrow roughly 40 to 50 meters from the enemy lines before wheeling around and returning to their lines. At this range, their arrows could pierce armor, but also allowed them to remain distant enough from the enemy to evade a counter-charge. By changing their horses, the Mongols could use this maneuver for hours. The shi'uchi tactic possessed enough flexibility that it could be used in combination with other maneuvers.

     Whenever possible, the Mongols preferred to surround their enemies by using the nerge. The nerge, a hunting technique, honed the Mongols' skill in executing double envelopment tactics. During the nerge, warriors formed a circle which constricted around their prey, driving them towards the center and creating a confused mass, making it difficult to escape. Large numbers of troops were not necessary to perform the nerge. Archery skills and mobility acted as a force multiplier and allowed the Mongols to encircle an enemy force even when they were outnumbered. Once scouts made contact with the enemy, the main Mongol force extended its lines so as to overlap the flanks of the hostile force. At times, the envelopment extended for kilometers until the encirclement was complete. As Mongols contracted the circle, the Mongols herded the enemy towards the center as they did with livestock or game. As this action could take place on a wide scale, scouts relayed intelligence to the Mongol commanders, updating them on skirmishes and points of resistance.

     Two of the best examples of the nerge in warfare occurred in the Western Campaign in 1237-1241, also known as the Invasion of Europe. The nerge served as primary feature of the Mongols' invasion strategy against the Rus' principalities. After the fall of the city of Vladimir in 1237, several tümens, or units of ten thousand, fanned out in nerge fashion, reducing every town and fortress they encountered while gradually constricting their circle, which extended for hundreds of kilometers. Gaps in the lines were occasionally allowed, permitting the enemy a means of escape. In reality, the gap served as a trap. In their panic and desire to flee, the enemy often discarded their weapons to flee faster and rarely maintained their discipline. In as similar way, but on a smaller scale, the flawed nerge destroyed the Hungarians at Mohi in 1241. After realizing that the fortified camp of the Hungarians was too strong, the Mongols encircled the camp but left a strategic gap in their lines. Seeing an escape route the Hungarians took the bait and attempted to break out. After allowing the Hungarians to leave their camp, the Mongols then pursued the fleeing army and destroyed it with ease.

     Although siege warfare has not always been recognized as a strong suite for the Mongols, it quickly became their forte as the Mongols learned quickly and incorporated engineers into their armies. Although most were either conscripted or came to the Mongols voluntarily, Mongolian engineers did exist. Still, the Mongols were largely dependent on Muslim and Chinese engineers who manned and manufactured artillery and other siege equipment. Yet the creative minds of the Mongols also devised ways of using siege engines in field battle, such as at Mohi in 1241 where catapults assisted the Mongols in seizing a bridge at the Sajo River.

     The Mongols also employed psychological warfare with great success. After realizing it was more efficient to convince a city or fortress to surrender without resistance rather than to be drawn into a siege, the Mongols negotiations came down to the essential choices of surrender or die. If the city submitted, it was spared and comparatively little pillaging occurred although tribute and supplies were expected. If the city resisted, the population was massacred although the Mongols often permitted sufficient survivors to escape and spread the news. As a result, the Mongols gained a notorious reputation for massacres. The use of massacre must not be seen as wanton blood lust. Instead it should be viewed as a calculated tactic which served several purposes. It discouraged revolts behind Mongol lines, but also as the Mongols helped spread propaganda and misinformation about the size of their armies. Furthermore, the Mongols used rumors of their ferocity to maximal effect through spies and survivors, causing other populations to become intimidated and choosing to surrender to the Mongols. For every massacre, several others submitted with no resistance.

     The Mongols frequently employed subterfuge to confuse and intimidate their enemies. In order to mask their numbers, the Mongols lit numerous camp fires and tied branches to the tails of their horses to stir up dust. Another technique was to mount dummies on their spare horses disguise their numbers at a distance. Less common, but still used, was to stampede oxen, horses, or even enemy troops into enemy lines to disrupt them as they did at the Battle of the Kalka River in 1224. In the resulting confusion, the Mongols attacked. Whenever they could, the Mongols weakened their opponents by promoting rebellion or discord among rivals and by courting the support of oppressed minorities (or majorities). While the Mongols made good use of their reputation for extreme brutality, they took pains to portray themselves as liberators when circumstances warranted.

     While their tactics made the Mongols an efficient and deadly army, Mongol actions at the strategic and operational level left them without peer until the modern era. Mobility remained their strategic imperative. Grain-fed horses from sedentary societies could surpass Mongolian horses in terms of strength and speed, but the Mongolian pasture-fed horses were without equal in endurance. Furthermore, the Mongols had access to virtually limitless amounts of horses. As the average Mongol trooper possessed three to five mounts, he could remain mobile even if a single mount was lost or exhausted. This mobility permitted the Mongols to embark on a style of warfare which was not copied again until the twentieth century with the use of mechanized units.

     Before an invasion, the Mongols made extensive preparations in a quriltai or meeting where they planned the upcoming war as well as appointed generals to lead the invasion. Prior to the decision, the Mongols accumulated intelligence by using merchants who benefited from the Mongols' protection of the trade routes in addition to other spies. During the quriltai, mobilization of the army began and they established rendez-vous points along with a time schedule.

     Although the planning of the campaign was a major component, the Mongol generals still maintained a high degree of independence allowing them to complete their objectives on their terms while still abiding by the timetable. In doing so, the Mongols could operate on a wide front by coordinating their movements yet still concentrate their forces at prearranged sites.

     The invasion began by attacking in several columns. A screen of scouts covered the invading forces and constantly relayed information back to the columns. Through the adherence to their pre-planned schedule and use of scouts, the Mongols marched divided but could quickly aid another and unite their forces. Furthermore, because their forces marched in smaller concentrations, columns stretching for miles did not impede the Mongols. They used their mobility to spread terror. With several columns attacking, their opponents could rarely deal with all of them. This permitted the Mongols to then form a nerge.

     The use of a multi-pronged invasion also fit into their favored method of engaging the enemy. The Mongols preferred to deal with all field armies before moving deep into enemy territory. Reaching this goal was rarely difficult, as the enemy usually sought to meet the Mongols before they destroyed an entire province. Furthermore, the use of columns screened by scouts enabled the gathering of intelligence allowing the Mongols to locate enemy armies more rapidly than a single army could.

     By concentrating on the dispersion and movement of enemy field armies, the assault on strongholds was delayed. Of course, smaller fortresses or ones they could surprise easily were taken as they came along. Among the best examples of this was in the Khwarazmian campaign (1219-1223). While the Khwarazmians eschewed a field battle, the Mongols captured the smaller cities and fortresses before the Mongols eventually captured Samarqand. This had two results. First, it cut off the principal city from communicating with other cities. Secondly, refugees from these smaller cities fled to the last stronghold bringing reports from the defeated and destroyed cities, thus reducing the morale of the inhabitants and garrison forces of the principal city while also straining its resources. Food and water reserves were taxed by the sudden influx of refugees. The Mongols were then free to lay siege without the interference of a field army, as it had been destroyed. Finally, the capture of the outer strongholds and towns provided the Mongols more raw materials in the form of labor, to either man the siege machines or to act as human shields for the Mongols.

     The Mongols attempted to destroy the enemy's command structure. This was carried out by harrying the enemy leaders until they dropped. Chinggis Khan first carried out this policy in the wars of unification in Mongolia. In his first few encounters he failed to do this and defeated enemies regrouped and began conflict anew. Afterwards, it became a standard operating procedure. By being constantly on the move, the enemy leader was unable to serve as a rallying point for his armies. In addition, the enemy's armies also had to keep moving to find him. In many reports, perhaps exaggerated, the enemy leaders were often only a few steps ahead of the Mongols. The Mongols also acquired new intelligence on other lands as it was only sensible for the fleeing king to run in the opposite direction of the Mongol armies. The Mongols always dispatched a special force to pursue the fleeing kings. In addition, other forces were also sent to the outlying regions. In some cases, these regions were areas independent of the kingdom invaded by the Mongols, yet it did not exclude them and other provinces from Mongol attention.

     For many, the Mongols were not another army—they were a force of nature, a punishment sent by god, the forerunners of the apocalypse. In the face of such overwhelming death and destruction their enemies struggled to find ways of fending off the Mongols. Some succeeded, most did not. In the medieval period the Mongols, with few exceptions, dominated the battlefield, yet they also affected warfare in other ways. Through the Chinggis Exchange the Mongols transformed and influenced the means of waging war throughout the world for centuries with many of the initial results derived from attempts to counter their attacks.

Impact on Crusades and the Middle East

The Crusades were a period in which a great deal of cross-cultural exchange occurred, both consciously and unconsciously. The fact that it overlapped the period of the Mongols only intensified the exchange through the additional of another variable. As with all exchanges, rarely was it mono-directional. Islamic and Christian societies did not only receive ideas or an impetus for change from the Mongols, but also stimulated change as well. Indeed, the Mongol Empire also received new military knowledge, among other things, from the Levant.

     One such exchange was the counterweight trebuchet. For the Mongol Empire, the standard traction trebuchet had been man-powered and of simple design. Essentially it consisted of a fulcrum and lever design of varying complexity. A stone or pot of flammable material was loaded on one end while men pulled ropes attached to the other end of the lever. To improve range or use a heavier missile, more men were added. The counterweight trebuchet, however, was of a much more complex design and came in variations. The basic design included a box on one end (the counterweight) filled with rocks. When released, it dropped and pulled the arm upward which in turn pulled a long sling from underneath the trebuchet with it missile. At the apex of the arm's arc the sling opened, flinging its missile. With the counterweight and the velocity caused by the sling's arc, missiles flew with greater force thus causing more damage. The use of a counter weight also permitted the use of heavier missiles as well as increasing the range of the weapon—90 kilogram projectiles could be flung almost 300 meters compared to a traction trebuchet's range of 150 meters with a fifty kilogram missile.5

     Although in use in Europe and the Middle East since the late twelfth century, perhaps invented by the Byzantines in 1165, it did not arrive in East Asia until the 1270s.6 Marco Polo attempted to take credit for its arrival in China, but it is quite certain that Muslim engineers in Mongol employ brought the weapon as the city of Xiangyang fell in 1273, a few years prior to the arrival of the Polo family.7 Its arrival most likely hastened Khubilai Khan's conquest of the Song Dynasty.

     The Mongol impact on warfare during the Crusades manifested in more apparent ways as well. The first was by the Mongol invasions of the Middle East and Europe with Sübedei's reconnaissance en force occurred during the Fifth Crusade. Rumors of the army of the mysterious Prester John or rather his grandson King David, ruler of the East reached the Crusader army laying siege to Damietta. Furthermore, he was only a few days march from Antioch. This played a factor in some strategic decisions at Damietta and ultimately factored in the failure of the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221).8 The Mongol appearance in the Middle East during this time impacted the Fifth Crusade in another way. This Crusade, unlike some of its brethren, had an operational strategy. While the main crusading army struck Egypt, allies were to attack northern Syria to prevent Ayyubid armies from coming to the aid of Egypt. The Georgians were to play a major role in this; however, Sübedei's army devastated the Georgian army—perhaps playing on their emotions by using the King David identity. It is said that the Mongols approached bearing crosses. While it is plausible, it seems unlikely the Mongols knew the Prester John legends and the Georgians simply mistook one variety of Mongol tuq or standard as a form of Crucifix.9 In any case, the Georgians were crushed and afterwards unable to participate in the Crusade. Indeed, the Mongol appearance began a downward spiral for the Georgians as for two decades after establishing itself as a potentially powerful state in the region. Furthermore, because of Georgia's inability to attack Northern Syria, Ayyubid forces could attack the Crusader states on the Levant, thus worrying King John Brienne of Jerusalem and his barons and driving a wedge between the European Crusaders and those from the Levant.

     Although the Mongols then disappeared across the mountains, by no means were they finished with the Crusades. The primary objective in the Mongols' invasion of Central Asia in 1219, which led to Sübedei's invasion of Georgia, was the destruction of the Khwārazmian Empire. In this endeavor they succeeded. Although Sultan Muḥammad died on an island in the Caspian Sea, his son Jalal al-Din escaped to India only to return after the Mongols vacated the region. However, his appearance attracted their attention again and led to an invasion by the Mongol general Chormaqan in 1230. The Mongols destroyed Jalal al-Din's army again in 1231 but Khwarazmian forces survived. They eventually became a potent regional mercenary force used by the Seljuks, Ayyubids, and others in the vicinity. They were hired by Egypt to augment Sultan al-Salih (1240-1249) in the internecine wars of the Ayyubids, particularly when the Franks of the Kingdom of Jerusalem allied with the Ayyubid princes of Damascus, Kerak, and Homs. Khwārazmian eagerness to join the Egyptians may have also had something to do with Mongol expansion in the region. Indeed, with the Mongol conquest of the Seljuk Sultanate and intimidation of the cities of the Jazira region, leaving the region probably seemed wise. En route to Egypt they sacked Jerusalem which had been returned to Christian hands in 1229 through the mediation of Frederick II, and then lost to the Crusader states forever.10 The Khwarazmians then joined Sultan and defeated a combined army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Damascus and Kerak at the battle of La Forbie or al-Harbiyya in 1244. For the Crusaders, it was their most devastating defeat, second only to Hittin in 1189.

     Although al-Salih conspired with the Prince of Homs to destroy the Khwarazmian mercenaries (which he did) as the Sultan viewed them as too much of a menace to everyone (which they were), the Mongols continued to affect the Middle East indirectly. Their conquest of the Kipchak Steppe flooded the slave markets of the Middle East with Kipchak Turks who were then purchased as Mamluks, or military slaves, in Egypt. Although it was King Louis IX's Seventh Crusade that led to the Mamluk coup in Egypt in 1250, it was the Mongol conquest of Syria in 1258 that transformed them in a major power. Prior to this the Mamluks kept an Ayyubid prince (albeit a minor) on the throne to provide legitimacy for their rule, as they otherwise had no claim to the throne. With the arrival of the Mongols, however, the child was quickly removed from the throne and the Mamluks dropped all pretense of the masquerade. Their claim to the throne was then cemented with their victory at 'Ayn Jalut in 1260. Afterwards they were then seen as the Protectors of the Faith—an image they promoted through the patronage of religious leaders and scholars as well as a building program. Furthermore, recognizing the threat should the Crusaders ever ally with the Mongols, the Mamluks made a concerted effort to eliminate the Crusader states once and for all—a policy that had not been followed since the death of Salah al-Din in 1193. The Mamluk Sultanate proved to be a constant irritant to the Mongols of the Il-Khanate and they succeeded in removing the Crusader states with the destruction of Acre in 1291. By razing coastal fortifications as well as using a scorched earth policy along the Mongol frontier, the Mamluks prevented any possible conquest from the West or East. Furthermore, by taking advantage of the Il-Khanate's preoccupation with the Jochid (Golden Horde) and Chaghatayid Khanates to the north, the Mamluks were able to eliminate the Crusaders as well as clients of the Il-Khans such as the kingdom of Cilicia one by one, eliminating Mongol influence in the region. This forced the Il-Khanid Mongols to attempt alliances with European powers. Unfortunately, the kings of Europe tended to be too engaged in European affairs to launch a new Crusade or, in the Papacy's case more concerned with the salvation of the Mongols' souls rather than military affairs.

     Part of the problem undoubtedly rested with the Mongol invasion of Europe in 1240 in which the Catholic kingdoms of Hungary and Poland were devastated. Mongol scouts were encountered as far as Vienna and most correspondence with Mongol officials inevitably included ominous phrases about what would happen if European rulers did not submit. The invasion of the Mongols resulted with numerous calls for Crusade. Nothing actually materialized, but would-be Crusaders, particularly those who lived in central and eastern Europe, were allowed to commute their vows to man the frontiers or muster whenever a rumor circulated that the Mongols were approaching. Pope Innocent IV also sought to build an anti-Mongol coalition to protect Europe from further encroachment. More often than not, however, those who would have fought the Mongols actually ended up in the Baltic as part of the reysens or seasonal and almost package-tour raids of the Teutonic Knights against the Prussians.11 Nevertheless, the menacing presence of the Mongols to the east, particularly the Jochid Khanate which invaded Eastern Europe on several occasions, kept fear alive in the breast of many Europeans. Although the Il-Khanate and Jochid Khanate were separate entities and the European crowned heads realized it, it is questionable as to how the average person viewed the Mongols—separate or were they all the same? Thus, if nothing else, the Mongol presence from 1240 onward contributed to the continued lack of manpower for the Latin States in the Levant. Although it is not possible to get a precise number of the men who went east or stayed at home out of fear of a Mongol attack (or at least used that excuse to secure an indulgence), it is evident that after the thirteenth century German and Hungarian participation in crusades to the Levant dwindled. Other factors, to be sure, played a role in this, but nonetheless the lurking fear of a massive pagan and almost incomprehensibly fearsome army just beyond the frontier distracted many would be Crusaders from journeying elsewhere.

     In addition to affecting the events of the Crusades, the Mongols also altered warfare in the Middle East in terms of equipment as well as execution of tactics. First and foremost was the spread of the curved sabre. With the arrival of the Mongols, the sabre became the preferred cavalry weapon throughout the Middle East and indeed the world largely due to Mongol success. This trend started in the thirteenth century, and by the sixteenth century the sabre is ubiquitous.12 Although the sabre first arrived from the east with the arrival of the Turks, non-Central Asian societies did not switch to it and preferred to keep their straight bladed swords. With the arrival of the Mongols and for centuries afterward, however, the sabre became the almost exclusive weapon of the mounted warrior. The curved blade made it perfect for a mounted attack as it allowed the rider to slash and follow through as he rode by. A straight blade was less effective in a slashing attack and better suited for a downward hacking attack. In an attack in which the rider slashed and kept on riding, the straight sword was likely to hit the target, becoming either embedded or jar the attacker so he became unbalanced or lost the weapon. Although Western European armies clung to the straight sword longer than most, the change occurred not only in the Middle East but also in Eastern Europe.

     The Mongols transitioned much of the Middle East into steppe warfare. Although horse-archers had played a vital role in Middle Eastern warfare since the Parthians defeated Crassus at Carrhae in 53 BCE, the primary cavalry force was not horse-archers but lance wielding riders who might be classified as medium cavalry. This transition occurred under the Sassanids as well as during the time of the Arab conquests and continued under the Abbasid state. The arrival of the Seljuks altered the situation with the infusion of nomadic horse-archers. The core of the Seljuk army, however, came from iqta and timar based armored cavalry.13 The bow remained an important weapon, but it was not always the primary weapon. The situation remained the case most of the Middle East and Central Asia such as the Ghaznavid, Khwarazmians, and Ayyubids. Only in areas of a large Turkic nomadic populations, such as in Anatolia, did the horse-archer become the dominate element on the battlefield, although contingents were found in all armies (including those of the Crusader states in the form of the Turcopoles). The horse-archer, however did not become the primary element in warfare until the late thirteenth century.

     The initial Mongol armies in the Middle East were light horse-archers. While some may have worn armor, the Mongol trend was lamellar armor. Even the metal varieties of lamellar tended to be fairly light-weight and allowed for the mobility the Mongols preferred. The Mongols did use medium and heavy cavalry tactics at times, but these were provided by auxiliaries such as Armenians and Georgians. When the Mongols themselves charged, it tended to be for a killing blow after the enemy's ranks had been decimated by archery. Some historians have speculated the Mongols transitioned to a more traditional medium cavalry in the face of their defeats by the Mamluks. Martinez and others concluded that the light horse-archer could not compete against the Mamluks due to the latter's heavier armor which allowed them to engage in close combat and shock tactics, yet were also proficient at archery.14 Indeed, the Mamluk soldier was designed to be able to engage heavy shock troops like the Knights Templar and Hospitaller as well as the horse-archers of the Mongols and thus had to counter two styles of fighting. The scholars who espoused this transformation from light cavalry did so based on the idea of Ghazan Khan's military reforms and repeated references to assigning iqtas and timars to finance the soldiers. Reuven Amitai, however, has convincingly demonstrated that this is not accurate.15 As explained earlier, timars were assigned, but primarily as a way to fund his army and prevent them from plundering the peasantry and townspeople of the Il-Khanate. At no time did an actual transition to sedentary life occur for the Mongol military. Indeed, this is borne out in the latter armies. The successors to the Il-Khanate, such as the Jalayirs, Kara Qoyunlu, and Aq Qoyunlu, were horse-archer armies as were the armies of the Chaghatayids. Even the Ottomans had large numbers of horse-archers until the janissary infantry became the mainstay of the army. The Safavids, who challenged the Ottomans, used horse-archers to carve their empire. Only with the advent of effective field cannon, as demonstrated at the battle of Chaldiran in 1514, did the nomadic horse-archer cease to dominate the battlefield.

     Yet, did the Mongols not learn from their defeats by the Mamluks? One must remember that while the Il-Khanate Mongols were enemies of the Mamluks, their primary enemy was always another Mongol state—the Jochid or Chaghatayid Khanates who fielded nomadic armies. As demonstrated in their conquests, non-horse-archer armies rarely defeated the Mongols. In the case of the Mamluks, several factors played a role in the Mamluk success. Man for man, they were better warriors—their whole life revolved around military training. This declined after the Mongol threat receded, but even during Napoleon's invasion in 1798-99 they still proved a challenge. Secondly, having rebuffed the Mongols on numerous occasions, the Mamluks knew their fate should the Mongols ever conquer them. As mentioned earlier, the Mamluks sought to deprive the Mongols of pasture and practiced a scorched earth policy. Also in the instances of a number of Sultans, the Mamluks enjoyed superior leadership and at times luck, which should never be discounted on the battlefield. Indeed, the fact that so many battles were close testifies to the fact that the Mongols never viewed their style of warfare as inferior to that of the Mamluks, nor did successor states, as the horse-archer remained the dominant warrior east of the Euphrates.

Delhi & India

The Mongol presence in India transformed the Sultanate of Delhi as well. Indeed, while the antipathy between the Mongols and Delhi was not like that of the Il-Khanate and the Mamluks, it still existed. The presence of the Mongols on the borders of Delhi existed since the 1220s when Chinggis Khan conquered the Khwarazmian Empire and until the rise of Timur (Tamerlane). Nonetheless, the Mongols never invaded the Sultanate until 1241. Prior to this they had conquered Lahore and Multan, but these cities recognized Khwarazmian authority. Chinggis Khan saw little reason to attack Delhi as it remained neutral in the war with Khwarazm.16 Furthermore, after Jalal al-Din fled to India after his defeat by Chinggis Khan, the Mongol ruler requested permission to pursue Jalal al-Din through the Sultanate of Delhi. Although the Mongols sent an embassy to Delhi, we do not know what happened to it.17 Considering that the Mongols did not attack Delhi, it is probably safe to assume the embassy returned to Chinggis Khan safely. Indeed, Peter Jackson postulates that Delhi may have made a token submission to Chinggis Khan and Ögödei.18 Nonetheless, during the reign of Ögödei, Mönggetü did raid Sind in 1236-37, only to withdraw in face of arrival of Delhi's army.19 Other raids continued for the next two decades.

     After the Mongols withdrew from the Indus Plain, Delhi did benefit and extended their borders to the mountains. Although the Mongols captured some cities and even raided across the Indus River a few times, they never truly conquered and held anything south of the Peshawar.20 Nonetheless, the Mongol presence transformed the military of the Sultanate of Delhi. Although of Turkic origin with an emphasis on cavalry, the Sultanate of Delhi possessed a large infantry force as much of India was not suitable for horse breeding. The threat of the Mongols and their mobility forced the Sultanate to find a counter to them. In the view of Simon Digby, "The survival of the Delhi Sultanate in the face of Mongol attacks depended upon an adequate supply of battle horses to mount the army when the export of horses from Mongol controlled central Asia was cut off and possibly to some degree upon war elephants, used in the line of battle and inspiring great awe, which the Mongols did not possess".21 Indeed, the Mongol threat also limited the sultanate's other military actions against neighboring Hindu states. Some scholars believe that Delhi's domination of India stalled in the shadow of the Mongol menace to the northwest, thus forcing the Sultans to keep their armies close to Delhi and the frontier.22 It is clear that due to the Mongol threat the military of the Sultanate became formidable. According to Juzjani, the Sultanate even waged a jihad to drive the Mongols out of the region west of the Indus. On 6 Muharram 656 H./ 13 January 1256, an army gathered outside of Delhi to liberate Multan in modern Pakistan, which it successfully did.23

     Not until 1329 did the Mongol threat subside when the Chaghatayid Khan, Tarmashirin threatened the environs of Delhi. Sultan Muhammad Tughluq (r. 1325-1351) forced him back across the Indus. With the collapse of the Il-Khanate and the general chaos in the Chaghatayid Khanate after Tarmashirin's death, Delhi became relatively secure and only dealt with the occasional raiding band, not full-scale invasion. Unfortunately, this lull seems to have given the Sultanate of Delhi a false-sense of security as in 1399 the Central Asian conqueror and Chinggisid-wannabe, Emir Timur or Timur-i Leng sacked Delhi and carried incalculable wealth back to Samarqand. The Sultanate never fully recovered and eventually set the stage for the arrival of the Mughals (Persian for Mongols) led by Babur, a descendent of Timur and Chinggis Khan. Thus the Mongols, in a sense would rule much of India until 1857 when the British officially ended the Mughal royal line after the Great Sepoy Rebellion.

Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe, particularly what is now Russia and Ukraine, endured Mongol rule longer than any other region except perhaps Central Asia. Furthermore, centuries of contact with other steppe powers prior to and after the collapse of Mongol hegemony over the region gave it a familiarity with steppe warfare. This influence continued well after the rise of Muscovy and the formation of a definitive Russian identity. Testament to the influence of the Mongol military system is found in the fact that the Slavic principalities of Eastern Europe had frequent contact with steppe nomads and used them as allies and auxiliaries, but the Slavic polities did not readily adopt the steppe warfare technique prior to the Mongol arrival. Indeed, the Kipchaks and other nomads often had to worry about Rus' encroachment into the steppe.24 Not until the Mongol period did steppe warfare begin to change military thought in the region. Previously, there was no need to fight like the nomads; while the Kipchaks and Pechenegs were worthy adversaries, they could be countered. The Mongol style of warfare, however, was unlike anything the Rus' had encountered, and for which they had no answer. In short, in the face of such an adversary, not to adapt meant no chance of defeating the Mongols. Prince Danilo of Galicia and Volynia began re-fitting and reorganizing his military forces with the intent of rebelling against the Mongols—observing that if the Mongols defeated their old martial methods easily, then in order to defeat the Mongols, one had to fight as them.25 Indeed, in 1254-1255 he campaigned with some success against the Mongols. What is notable is that he followed the Mongol example of campaigning in winter.26

     Many, if not all, of the Rus' principalities emulated the Mongols. As the Rus' warriors were incorporated into the Mongol military, the transition was assisted by increased familiarization with Mongol warfare. Initially, however, the Rus' fought in their own formations and traditional style. Over time however, the Rus' began to organize their armies along similar lines and used steppe nomad tactics and weapons.27 This included not only adopting the composite bow, but Mongol style sabres and lamellar armor for both men and mounts.28 There are occurrences where Mongol forces, although just how many is a matter of conjecture, appear to be fighting under the command of a Rus' prince such as Prince Alexander (Nevskii) of Novgorod on different occasions.29 Muscovy was perhaps the most successful in this transformation. Indeed, Moscow also adopted aspects of Mongol administration. Under Prince Ivan III (the Great) (1462-1505), Moscow instituted the yam or postal system and applied it in much the same way as the Mongols. Its use continued well into the nineteenth century.

     The advent of gunpowder weapons did not make an immediate change for Eastern Europe. Poland, Hungary, and Muscovy still had primary threats in the form of the various offshoots of the Golden Horde and the Lithuanians who also fought in a similar manner to the Mongols—masses of horse-archers. Even after Poland and Lithuania merged in a marriage alliance, it did not fundamentally alter their method of fighting. The Polish-Lithuanian cavalry remained a scourge of the battlefield. For the Russians, the nobility fought as horse-archers, rather than shock cavalry as their pre-Mongol ancestors did. Although Ivan IV created the streltsy or musketeers in the sixteenth century, their primary role was to defend the string of forts on the southern frontier against nomadic incursions, not to engage them in open warfare. The streltsy's battlefield success was noted more in engagements in siege warfare and in the Baltics. Indeed, the growing importance of the Cossacks as well as the use of Tatar light cavalry by Muscovy emphasized the need for troops experienced in steppe warfare. It is not until Peter the Great that Russia's military focus truly shifted from the steppe to Europe as its primary concern.

     Even though Russian political and military focus shifted to the west in the seventeenth century, Mongols still played a role the Russian military. Kalmyks or western Mongols who migrated to the Volga River in the early 1600s played a key role in the defense of Russia's southern frontier. With the decline of the Ottoman threat to the south and the defeat of the Crimean Tatars in 1789, it appeared that the horse-archers of the steppe had finally demised as a military unit; however, the Russian conquest of Central Asia during the nineteenth century renewed their interest. Mikhail Ivanin (1801-1874), a Russian officer who gained an appreciation of steppe warfare when he served against the Khanate of Khiva, saw some benefit in steppe tactics even if it was no longer a dominant form of fighting. In 1846 he published The Art of War of the Mongols and the Central Asian Peoples.30 He placed an emphasis on mobility and the use of cavalry tactics by the Cossacks. The imperial military academies soon incorporated it into their curriculum and it remained in use not only in the Russian Empire, but in the military academies of the Red Army until World War II. Ivanin's efforts, combined with other reforms, proved quite effective and only diminished as Russia's failure to industrialize undermined its logistics, as demonstrated in the Russo-Japanese war, 1904-1905.

East Asia and Gunpowder

Warfare in East Asia noticeably changed with the arrival of the counterweight trebuchet. Yet this was not the only change. The Mongol invasion of Japan caused a substantial change in the method in which samurai engaged in warfare. Prior to the Mongol invasions, the samurai primarily engaged a single enemy in combat in which to test their martial prowess. The Mongols, however, did not engage in single combat. Rather they operated in large units and used concentrated firepower to eliminate enemy formations. Rather than a single opponent, a samurai faced a unit. Even the best of swordsmen ultimately would be defeated by sheer weight of numbers providing the warrior made it through an arrow storm which targeted a kill zone. It was only after the samurai switched to unit tactics that they leveled the playing field. The period between the first Mongol invasion and the second invasion contained not only a frenzy of building coastal walls, but also training to fight as units rather than individuals.

     The most significant change however was the advent of gunpowder weapons. It is well established that gunpowder was discovered in China and indeed the Mongols first encountered it during their invasions of the Jin Empire. While a daunting weapon in both its incendiary form as well as the explosive form, the Mongols found ways of countering and using it to their advantage.

     Although the spread of gunpowder is directly related to the rise of the Mongols and the Pax Mongolica, it is unclear whether the Mongols themselves contributed to the spread or whether other actors did it. Some historians have claimed the Mongols used gunpowder weapons, essentially bombs hurled by catapults in the Middle East and perhaps Eastern Europe and perhaps even rocket assisted missiles; unfortunately there is no definite documentary or archaeological evidence to confirm it. Considering the Mongols rarely met a weapon they did not like, we can be certain if they found a way to transport it safely it would have been incorporated into their arsenal outside of China. Nonetheless, it remains speculation. Weatherford mentions the Mongols use of gunpowder as a matter of fact, but provides no evidence to support the ubiquitous use he claims. Iqtidar Khan is confident that the Mongols used gunpowder on their western campaigns and cites several passages in the Persian sources which could be translated as gunpowder weapons, however, as he admits, these terms can also be translated as more conventional weapons, including naptha. Khan also proposes that the Mongols are responsible for the spread of gunpowder into India as the Sultanate of Delhi adopts its use by 1290. This is plausible as there is evidence that gunpowder, at least in the form of fireworks if nothing else, was in use in Central Asia in the later part of the thirteenth century.31

     Much of the speculation arises from the fact that one thousand Chinese engineers accompanied Hülegü to the Middle East in the 1250s. This is simply not sufficient to claim that the Mongols used gunpowder missiles in their conquests of Alamut or Baghdad. Several serious issues prevent us from accepting that the Mongols used it. None of the sources mention the use of gunpowder weapons at the sieges. Nor do witnesses mention gunpowder or describe it. Juvaini, who was present at the siege of Alamut, does not mention any reference to gunpowder or explosions. As a member of Hülegü's administrative staff and later governor of Baghdad, he was in a position to know these things. One passage comes to mind that excites the imagination,

From the towers bows sent up swift-feathered shafts, and a kaman-i-gav, which had been constructed by Khitayan craftsmen and had a range of 2,500 paces, was brought to bear on those fools, when no other remedy remained; and of the devil-like Heretics many soldiers were burnt by those meteoric shafts. From the castle also stones poured down like leaves, but no more than one person was hurt thereby.32

     Two things come to mind here. First that we have the Chinese (Khitayan) craftsmen building the so-called ox-bow (kaman-i-gav). Then there are the 'soldiers burnt by those meteoric shafts'. At face value it could definitely mean gunpowder weapons, particularly incendiary ones. Unfortunately, when taken in context with the rest of Juvaini, it means little more than the Mongols had a very powerful ballista. Juvaini's book is resplendent with flowery phrases. It is a masterpiece of imagery and allusions. Could their opponents be burnt? Quite certainly, but good old-fashion naphtha would also do the trick. Simply because Chinese siege crews are present does not mean that they used gunpowder weapons.

     Arguing that the chroniclers of the Mongol Empire omit reference to it, as gunpowder might be a state secret, fails as both Juvaini and Rashid al-Din do not appear to be shy about gossip or discussing other military matters. Rashid al-Din, who also had a scientific bent, should have shown a keen interest. As another highly placed person in the Ilkhanid administration, Rashid Al-Din was also in a position to know about secret weapons or, as one might expect after an explosion, not-so-secret weapons. Certainly, if it had been in use, by 1300 it was no longer a secret weapon and thus could have been described in a book written for the Mongol court. The more damning evidence is the omission of gunpowder weapons in sources hostile to the Mongols on these campaigns. They simply do not mention it. This is most surprising for if the Mongols had used it at Baghdad, Alamut, or anywhere outside of China, this would have been the first recorded use of gunpowder weapons. Furthermore, the resulting explosion would have been memorable even if it had been a single missile hurled from a trebuchet. However, the sources do not record any use of gunpowder-like weapon. In the words of the great military theoretician and nemesis of Bugs Bunny, Marvin the Martian, "Where's the earth-shattering ka-boom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering ka-boom!". The omission of gunpowder weapons in the Persian texts is the litmus test for this topic. Furthermore, in the Ilkhanate period, there does not seem to be any use of gunpowder weaponry either, although there is a substantial increase in the use of counterweight trebuchets. Kate Raphael has also come to this conclusion through a similar but different path.33

     Nonetheless, the Mongols used gunpowder in their wars against the Jin, the Song, and in their invasions of Japan. All of the sources hostile to the Mongols refer to it in the Eastern theater of operations. As for the Jin and the Song, its use should not be surprising. In Japan there is pictorial evidence as well, and more importantly, archaeological evidence.34 So why did they not use it outside of East Asia? Logistics may be the simple answer. Ceramic bombs have to be transported. Even packed with care to prevent breaking, these would have been difficult to carry. The Mongols usually built their siege weapons on site—either from local materials or reassembling one carried via camel back. While the Mongol ger or yurt might have been conveyed on a large cart, there is no indication that other equipment was. As the gers on carts were domestic residences of the nobility, it is unlikely that war materials were stowed in them. Troops rode on horseback. There is only one clear instance that troops were hidden in carts—during Shiremün's ill-fated coup against Möngke.35 Otherwise, everything was hauled via camel back. Considering the need for other supplies and the relative delicacy and weight of the ceramic bombs, the Mongols may have decided they did not merit hauling them hundreds, if not thousands, of miles across Asia. There is no indication that they transported catapult or trebuchet missiles. Indeed, the Ismailis effort to denude the land around their castles of anything that the Mongols could use as a missile indicates that the Mongols depended on local materials. Use of ceramic bombs in China was easier as they could be transported via ship whether to Japan or along the coast to Korea or southern China. Furthermore, as they were in the arsenal of the Song, the Mongols could always use captured stores.

Figure 1
  National History Museum, Ulaanbaatar. Similar to those used by Kangxi and Galdan.  

     Another consideration is the production of gunpowder weapons. In China, the materials were known as well as their locations. Thus, the material was at hand or procurable. Once the Mongols moved outside of China those who would make the gunpowder entered an unknown world. For instance, how does one say 'Where can I procure xiaoshi 消石 or 硝石(saltpeter)?" while in Armenia?36 The language barrier and conceptual barriers would have been immense as the Armenians (or anyone else) probably would not have any idea of what the engineer needed as gunpowder technology was unknown in that region.

     Finally, was there a need for gunpowder weapons outside of China (or even in China)? In China it was a simple matter of availability. Were they effective? Perhaps. Thunder-crash bombs were certainly more effective against earthen fortifications than stones hurled from a traction trebuchet. Yet as discussed earlier, when counter-weight trebuchets appeared in China, formerly impregnable cities fell—which did not happen even with gunpowder weapons. Outside of China, traction trebuchets gave way to counter-weight trebuchets, allowing heavier missiles to crush walls much more rapidly. Aleppo's defenses were destroyed after five days of concentrated trebuchet bombardment. It should be noted, however, that in China incendiary gunpowder weapons also played a role in warfare. Yet once in the Middle East, the Mongols had access to naphtha. Indeed their control of the Mughan plain in modern Azerbaijan situated them near petroleum deposits that bubbled to the surface since the ancient period. Of course, flammable weapons were easily made, but naphtha was the most effective weapon other than Greek Fire, the recipe for which vanished centuries before. Considering all of this, it is unlikely the Mongols even needed gunpowder weapons to take the fortifications. Indeed, they used local materials for missiles and siege engines, and even efforts to remove all of stone within the vicinity did not prevent them from being resourceful.37

     It is known, however, the Mongol Empire was the primary transmitter of the knowledge of gunpowder whether directly, through its use in war, or simply as most of the major trade routes ran through it. While it is unlikely that Europe gained its knowledge of gunpowder directly from the Mongols, we do know that it appeared there only after the Mongol invasion. Most likely merchants, perhaps even the Polo family, and spies traveling through the Mongol Empire carried the recipe back. Of course this eventually led to European dominance over much of the world after the year 1500. Indeed, Roger Bacon (1220-1292) recorded a version of a gunpowder recipe in his ­­­­­­­­­­­­Opus Maius in 1267. It is known that he knew his fellow Franciscan monk, William of Rubruck who did travel to Mongolia. Although William's account does not mention gunpowder, is it possible that he found "the secret" or another member of his party carried it back? It is tempting to speculate that John de Plano Carpini was the industrial spy as part of his mission contained an espionage component. Yet he must be dismissed as gunpowder does not enter his account of the Mongol military and considering that his work contains suggestions on how to fight the Mongols, it is clear that he was willing to do anything to stem the Mongol threat, including advising that the Europeans fight more like the Mongols.38 Thus, if he had it undoubtedly he would have given the recipe to someone who may have used it. It seems unlikely that Roger Bacon, a Franciscan, would be that recipient. William, on the other hand, was primarily there to proselytize. Perhaps where he failed in one area, he succeeded in another.

     Although knowledge of gunpowder reached Europe and India in the thirteenth century, albeit at different times, it remained more of a curiosity until cannons were developed. Indeed, neither Roger Bacon nor Marcus Graecus' Liber ignum ad comburendos hostes, published c. 1300, refer to a weapon that used gunpowder.39 The first cannons appear in the Yuan Empire in the late thirteenth century. The technology quickly spread and cannons of similar design appeared in Europe as early as 1326.40 While independent discovery is always a possibility, the similarities in design leave this unlikely. A more plausible scenario is that the information traveled across Eurasia via merchants, envoys, or other travelers.

     In his study of the spread of firearms, Kenneth Chase demonstrated that the Mongols are tied to the rise of European hegemony by more than spreading gunpowder via trade routes.41 The Mongols impacted neighboring areas based on their own tactics and weapons. As the composite bow of the nomads out competed muskets and other early firearms in terms range and accuracy, not to mention rate of fire, nomadic armies decimated firearm wielding infantry. In addition, the nomads were too mobile for early cannons; not until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did cannon-manufacturing techniques advance to producing easily maneuverable artillery pieces. Prior cannons were simply too heavy or, in some cases, not sufficiently durable enough to transport across the steppe. Thus if you bordered a steppe power in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, firearms simply were not efficient weapons.

     In Western Europe, however, warfare was less focused on mobility and more on shock tactics or siege warfare and rarely engaged steppe nomads. A concern of the European cavalry was to protect themselves against increasingly powerful crossbows, the English (or Welsh) longbow, and eventually early firearms. As a result the knight became less mobile and the rest of the army consisted of masses of infantry. Early cannons and firearms, however, could be effective against the knights and infantry in a way they could not be against the steppe nomads. Of course, eventually the knight disappeared while light and medium cavalry appeared to counter the artillery. Cannons, however, were not field weapons even in late medieval Europe for the same reasons they were not effective against nomads at the time. Furthermore, kings were virtually the only nobility that could afford the expense of making cannons. As European castles continually improved against traditional siege weapons, rulers became dependent on cannons to smash fortifications to bring recalcitrant vassals into line or defeat their enemies.

     Similar events occurred in China. The cannon first appeared in the Yuan Empire and gunpowder weapons became a regular, although not common, part of warfare as the Red Turbans drove the Mongols out and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) replaced them. Cannons, however, played only a small role in the defeat of the Mongols. Indeed, the Red Turbans and then Ming's use of cannons was primarily limited to siege warfare and battles in South China. For the reasons described above, the Ming did not use cannons extensively on their northern frontier with the Mongolian tribes. Cannons remained an ineffectual weapon against mobile units.

     Nonetheless, gunpowder based weaponry became increasingly ubiquitous in some areas, but the ramifications of bordering a steppe zone were great. Countries sharing borders with steppe nomads had less development in gunpowder weaponry until their prime military focus shifted against sedentary states. Only then did the technology improve. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, field artillery pieces became more mobile, thus providing support for musket-wielding infantry. The cannons easily disrupted steppe cavalry formations and possessed a greater range than the composite bow. Only then did steppe warfare decline as the dominant form of warfare, but that is not to say the nomads did not attempt to field their own artillery. Indeed, in the wars between Kangxi (r. 1662-1722), the Qing Emperor and Galdan Khan (1678-1697) of the Zhungar one sees the curious instance where the Qing used cannons made by Jesuit monks pitted against cannons made by Luthern Swedes and used by an Zhunggar Mongol in a battle that would dictate who was the most powerful Buddhist ruler. It should be further noted that these cannons were not carried on carriages—bouncing across the steppe they would have broken down. Instead they were carried on camels wearing protective felt armor to defend against arrows and small arms fire. Ultimately, the better logistics of the Qing state carried the day in 1696.

     Yet it should be noted that only one gunpowder state formed a truly effective method of dealing with horse-archers prior to the 1600s: the Ottomans. This may have been because of their need to not only deal with the strongly fortified cities of the Habsburg in Europe, but also the horse-archers of the various powers on their eastern border, ranging from the Aq Qoyunlu and the Safavids (defeated at Chaldiran in1514) to the Mamluk Sultanate (conquered in 1516 in Syria and Egypt in 1517). Gradually, other Eurasian states like Muscovite Russia, the Safavids, and Mughals learned from the Ottoman example, while the Qing were in a unique situation of being a semi-nomadic society that conquered both the sedentary as well as the nomadic and melded different military systems into one that could fight both nomadic and sedentary opponents. Thus until archaeology proves otherwise, I will remain a skeptic. Philology is not sufficient to prove the presence of gunpowder weapons outside of China in the pre-dissolution Mongol Empire.

Modern Warfare

After the carnage resulting from the static trench warfare on the western front of World War I and new developments in mechanized warfare, the inter-war period saw a re-evaluation of a re-evaluation of Mongol warfare. The advent of tanks and aircraft allowed a mobility that could possibly replicate the Mongol style of fast-moving and deep-striking tactics. Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, a British officer, conceptualized combined formations of tanks and mechanized infantry that could operate independently and in advance of the main army. By doing so, this mobile strike force could cut enemy communications and supply lines, thus paralyzing the enemy's army.42 As with the Mongols, by doing so the adversary would then be only able to react and be incapable of offensive action. Liddell Hart interpreted Mongol tactics correctly, but overlooked a key objective in Mongol strategy, which was the annihilation of the enemy's field armies. Liddell Hart, however, may have witnessed enough death through the senseless actions of trench warfare in World War I and hoped to avoid the large death tolls of that war.

     Initially, Liddell Hart's idea of using the Mongol emphasis of mobility and firepower came to fruition with the Britain's first experimental tank brigade. Its successful performance in exercises along with Liddell Hart's chapter on Chinggis Khan and Sübedei in Great Captains Unveiled then influenced General Douglas MacArthur, U. S. Army Chief of Staff, to propose a similar development in the American army in a 1935 report. Although MacArthur recommended the study of the Mongol campaigns for future use, his advice went unheeded until World War II. Unfortunately, his suggestion came at the end of his term. The more conservative nature of his successors lacked his vision but also lacked the means to carry out the plan within the U. S. Army at the time.43 After World War II, Liddell Hart continued his call for applying Mongol warfare with tank, calling for a combination of swifter light tanks and the firepower of heavier tanks to allow for speed and flexibility in attack.44

     Another British military theoretician, Major-General J. F. C. Fuller also viewed the tank as being a modern "Mongol" and encouraged the use of self-propelled artillery. He, unlike Liddell-Hart, also emphasized the role of airplanes in ground attacks. Despite advocating the adoption of Mongol tactics, Liddell Hart's and Fuller's ideas did not come to fruition among western militaries initially. Farther east, however, others made practical use of similar yet distinctively different ideas before British, French and American militaries began to incorporate these ideas beyond a few experimental units.

     The German Wehrmacht's blitzkrieg strategy of World War II bears remarkable similarities with the Mongol art of war and not by accident. Part of the development of the blitzkrieg originated from information gained from the Soviets as a result of the Rapallo Pact of 1922. Some of the concepts of blitzkrieg warfare emerged from the operational doctrine of the Soviet General Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky (1893-1937), who emphasized 'employment of forward aviation in concert with rapidly moving tank columns'.45 Under this idea, Soviet concern with warfare was the 'seizure and maintenance of the offensive over a long period of time'46 also known as the Deep Battle. These ideas stemmed from the long military influence of steppe warfare in the Russian and Soviet academies. While Liddell-Hart and Fuller unsuccessfully reconceptualized warfare in the west, Tukhachevsky developed his own system independently. Nonetheless, their strategies are virtually identical and have their origins in the Mongol system.

     Like the Mongol art of war, the Soviet Deep Battle system shared the Mongols' goals of hampering the enemy's ability to concentrate their armies, forcing them to react and incapacitating offensive actions. Thus by 1937 the Soviets possessed a Mongol army in doctrine and tactical sense due to the work of Marshal Tukhachevsky' and Mikhail Vasilyevich Frunze (1885-1925) in developing the "Deep Battle" strategy.47 Stalin, however, purged the officer corps of the Red Army the same year, culminating with the execution of Tukhachevsky, thus leaving the army in disarray. Tukhachevsky's tank armies, the centerpiece of the Deep Battle strategy, became infantry support, much as they had been used in World War I. Stalin's strategy to defend every inch of Soviet territory resembled that of Muhammad Khwarazmshah II's, but with the Wehrmacht playing the role of the Mongols. And it remained that way until the Germans over-extended themselves and Marshal Georgii K. Zhukov took over command of the Red Army, having successfully used Deep Battle strategies and other Mongol tactics at Khalkin Gol in Mongolia (also known as Nomonhan) in 1939 against the Japanese. Zhukov's success was no accident and a perfect execution of Mongol strategy and tactics using modern weapons.48 A former subordinate of Tukhachevsky, Zhukov also attended the War Academy in Berlin during the exchanges brought on by 1922 Rapello Pact where he was exposed to the ideas of Guderian.49

     Until then, the Wehrmacht's devastating blitzkrieg strategy dominated the early warfare of the European theater. While influenced by Soviet developments in the 1920s, independent German advances occurred as well. Two German officers, General Hans von Seeckt and General Heinz Guderian, played the most significant roles in creating a force designed specifically for blitzkrieg. Seeckt organized the Reichswehr (the German army between WWI and the establishment of the Wehrmacht). Recognizing the deficiencies of his smaller army, he focused on flexibility. To this end, subordinate officers were trained to quickly assume command positions and replace their superiors in case of death or incapacitation of a commanding officer, or if the officer was removed from his command. Thus a major was expected to effectively command a division should his general die. This practice was then extended to non-commissioned officers so that they could assume the leadership of their unit.50 Although this idea was probably based on Napoleon's practice that every soldier carried a marshal's baton, meaning that anyone in his army could advance to the highest rank, it had antecedents in the Mongols' own leadership practices.

     The Mongol influence, albeit indirect, is more apparent in Seeckt's operational strategy. His writings from 1921, before the Rapallo Act, state 'that what would matter in future warfare was the use of relatively small, but highly skilled mobile armies in co-operation with aircraft'.51 Seeckt's conclusion came from his experience in World War I as well as listening to his subordinates in the Reichswehr. The reduction of the German army after World War I, Polish hostility, and the looming threat of the Red Army also convinced him that a static, defensive-minded military would fail if Germany was invaded.52 As with other theoreticians, he desired was to avoid the static warfare of World War I, and much like the Soviets, focused on mobility that allowed for operations that overwhelmed the enemy, forcing them to react to his whims. Furthermore, the purpose of the attack was to annihilate the enemy before they could counter the attack. This was particularly suitable for the terrain of Germany's eastern borders. In essence, he had to substitute mobility for mass with the reduction of troops in the interwar period. Interestingly, General Seeckt also included traditional cavalry, albeit armed with light machine guns and carbines, in his military plans for hit and run tactics and other maneuvers. 53

     General Heinz Guderian, a subordinate of Seeckt, studied the works of Fuller, Liddell Hart, and Martel, all of whom emphasized the tank as an offensive weapons that were supported by other units (whether artillery, infantry, or air power), and not vice versa.54 As with all who appreciated the development of the tank, Guderian believed tanks would restore mobility to warfare. As has been discussed, Fuller and Liddell Hart were greatly influenced by the Mongols, and thus Guderian, at least indirectly, carried these ideas into the German blitzkrieg although the foundations laid by Seeckt and exchanges with the Soviets were of more importance

     Guderian's idea of warfare greatly resembles a Mongol operation. Guderian believed that tanks were best used in mass, rather than as support units, and striking quickly so that they hit the enemy's defenses before the enemy could intervene or deploy effectively. Much like the Mongol practice of using auxiliaries to finish off isolated fortresses, Guderian indicated that once the defenses had been penetrated by the panzers, then other units could carry out the mop up duties, particularly of any static defenses.55

     Mongol influence in modern warfare remains very apparent, albeit indirect. Indeed, many commanders of the more recent 2003 Iraq War may have realized that their actions mirrored the theories of these theoreticians, but probably not their ultimate root in the Mongols. Yet other Mongol influence remains by fueling the popular imagination in warfare. According to Col. (retired) Keith Antonia of the United States Army and inductee into the Ranger Hall of Fame, the Commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment, Colonel David L. Grange, Jr. (now retired Brigadier General), developed an exercise based on Mongol training.

     During Antonia's days as a Ranger, Col. Grange evaluated all of the captains in the regiment by having them go through a program designed to test the 'the mettle, endurance, will, ability to operate under physical and mental stress, and potential of every captain in the Regiment. He modeled the program after the training regimen that [Chinggis] Khan's most elite warriors endured to prepare for combat. He called it "Mangoday" (sic) '.56 Antonia indicated that they took part in a seventy-two hour live and simulated fire exercise. After arriving at Fort Benning, Georgia, the Rangers were assembled into teams and given an objective. They practiced and then were flown to their destination in the swamps of Florida. With heavy load, they then moved to an ambush site, conducted the drill, and returned to the swamp camp. Their meal on the first day consisted of a bouillon cube and hot water.

     They then received the next phase of the operation. This was to rescue a downed fighter pilot in the mountains. After a rehearsal they flew to the Appalachian Mountains in north Georgia, located the pilot (who was injured), recovered a cache of weapons, and ate a meal of a ball of rice and a sardine. Then they carried their heavy loads (approximately 80 to 100 pounds), recovered weapons, and the pilot with a broken leg to their extraction point. After returning to another base they received their third mission which involved another plane flight and an intensive march near Fort Benning. All of this was accomplished in 72 hours.

     During the mission review, Col. Grange explained the rationale for the exercise. According to Col. Antonia, this was based on elite units in the Mongol army and Colonel Grange's emulation was to train men who could overcome mental and physical exhaustion as well as to march for days with little food while also carrying out complicated attacks under difficult tasks. These would then be the elite troops. He also wanted the Ranger officers to remember what it was like for their men to carry heavy loads of gear so that they would take it into account for their planning. Finally, Colonel Grange wanted to see how the Rangers under his command reacted to a fluid environment while fighting an elusive enemy with changes in missions and dealing with unknown factors.57

     Grange's 'Mangoday' training and the legend may have been based on an Israeli Palmach exercise. Antonia later saw an Israeli pamphlet relating similar information. The existence of such pamphlets have been confirmed to the author by others who underwent Israeli military training. Unfortunately, the sources do not indicate any training similar to this legend. In the popular media concerning the Mongols, there has been mention of the 'Manggudai', Mönggedei, or Mangoday troops. Unfortunately, it is not known where this term originates. Perhaps it is derived from möngke-de (eternally), or manglai (vanguard). As the Mongols were renowned for their stoic endurance and achieving tasks thought impossible for their contemporary sedentary opponents58, perhaps the term originates from corruption of Monggol-tai. That is to say, being like a Mongol. The most like etymology is Manghut-tai—to be like a Manghut. The Manghut were among Chinggis Khan's best troops during the wars in Mongolia. They were usually positioned against his opponents' elite troops.59 Ultimately, the origins of the term or even the existence of such a group in the Mongol military is irrelevant. It is the fact that the Mongols' success continues to inspire military planners to ask, 'What would Chinggis do?'.

The Chinggis Exchange and the classroom

In the classroom, whether one is teaching the first half or the second half the Chinggis Exchange is a finishing and starting point. In the first half of world history (ending roughly at 1500), the Chinggis Exchange can serve as an easy transition from the medieval to the early modern period in a true sense of world history. Whether one uses the examples of warfare or other factors (science and technology, demographics, arts, etc.) one can easily demonstrate how the world changed and became more aware of itself if not more integrated. Furthermore, it sets the stage for the more famous Columbian Exchange as Columbus sailed with hopes of reaching the court of the Mongol Khan (not realizing the Mongols were no longer in China. In the second half of a world history class, I have always contended that the modern period starts with the Mongol period as the world drastically changed. The Chinggis Exchange vividly demonstrates this but one can also simply look at a map of the world before the Mongols and then after. The world was much different in all facets. Furthermore, as one progresses in the course, the Chinggis Exchange can be referenced again whether in dealing Muscovy, the rise of the Islamic Gunpowder Empires, or the Ming and even the Qing Empires. While the Mongols certainly did not create the Renaissance in Europe, it would have looked much different without new influences introduced through the Chinggis Exchange. The same could be said about art and other matters in the east.

     The main idea, however, is to demonstrate that the flow of ideas and information came from numerous directions and sources. The Mongol Empire enabled and encouraged it. The Mongols were not passive observers but participants. Furthermore, as the Mongols encouraged and fostered trade in an inclusive empire, individuals like Marco Polo were not an anomaly. Muslims from North Africa, such as Ibn Battuta, could also reach China, just as Turks from Xinjiang could travel to Rome in the instance of Rabban Sauma. While it is easy to get lost in the lives of these exceptional men, what should not be lost is that all who traveled through the Mongol Empire and beyond its borders had the opportunity to see new things and compare it with their homelands. The casual informational exchange was just as important as official delegations and merchants selling exotic goods. While independent invention can never be ruled out, one might wonder if Guttenberg heard of printing presses in Korea and China from travelers who participated in the Chinggis Exchange.

     Finally, the Chinggis Exchange is a useful way of showing how an event in the past (the rise of the Mongols) continues to ripple into the present. It is akin to throwing a stone into a pond and watching the water ripple. Of course some events tend towards cataclysmic tidal waves with unceasing ramifications (the Chinggis Exchange, the Columbian Exchange, World War I, etc), one could use virtually any episode in history and follow the ripples through time and demonstrate how the past continues to influence the present.

Timothy May is Professor of Eurasian History and Associate Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at the University of North Georgia. He is the author of The Mongol Conquests in World History (2012) and The Mongol Art of War (2007). Currently, he is finishing a book on the Mongol Empire for Edinburgh University Press and an encyclopedia of the Mongol Empire for ABC-CLIO. When not writing or practicing the dark art of administration, he also teaches graduate colloquiums on world history and undergraduate courses on the Mongols, the Crusades, and other things that involve plundering and pillaging.


1 A previous version of this paper was given as the plenary session for the Mongolian Academy of Sciences' conference on Chinggis Khan and Globalization held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia on November 14-15, 2012. Portions of this paper and the general organization also appeared in Timothy May, The Mongol Conquests in World History (London: Reaktion Books, 2012). My thanks go to Michael Leaman and Reaktion Books for permission to republish these portions. My thanks also extends to Scott Jacobs for his generous support of my research.

2 Alfred Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (New York: Praeger, 2003), passim.

3 Timothy May, The Mongol Conquests in World History (London: Reaktion Books, 2012), 22.

4 John of Plano Carpini, 'History of the Mongols', in The Mission to Asia, ed. Christopher Dawson, trans., A Nun from Stanbrook Abbey (Toronto: University Press of Toronto, 1980), 46. Hence forth Dawson/Carpini.

5 Kelly De Vries and Robert Douglas Smith, Medieval Military Technology, 2nd edition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 123, 126.

6 De Vries and Smith, Medieval Military Technology, 127.

7 Marco Polo, The Travels, trans. Ronald Lathem (New York: Penguin, 1958), p 206-208; Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo, trans. Henry Yule (New York: Dover, 1992), 158-160.

8 Oliver of Paderborn, 'The Capture of Damietta', trans. Joseph J. Gavigan, Christian Society and the Crusades, 1198-1229, ed. Edward Peters (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971), 90, 123-124.

9 Oliver of Paderborn, 91.

10 Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, vol 4, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p 337-44; Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate, Letters from the East: Crusaders, Pilgrims and Settlers in the 12th-13th Centuries, Crusade Texts in Translation 18 (Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2010), 143-146.

11 Peter Jackson, The Mongols and the West, The Medieval World (Harlow, UK: Pearson, 2005), 95-97, 103-105.

12 A. Rahman Zaky, 'Introduction to the Study of Islamic Arms and Armour," Gladius 1 (1961), 17.

13 Iqtas and timars were grants given to soldiers and bureaucrats. Unlike fiefs in Europe, the owner did not actually rule the timar, but received income from them rather than the central treasury. They could be villages, markets, orchards, or virtually any other revenue producing area.

14 For discussions on this see John Masson Smith, Jr., '"Mongol Society and Military in the Middle East: Antecedents and Adaptations', in War and Society in the Eastern Mediterranean, 7th and 15th Centuries, ed. Yaacov Lev, The Medieval Mediterranean Peoples, Economies, and Cultures, 400-1453, Vol. 9, edited by Michael Whitby, Paul Magalino, Hugh Kennedy, et al, (Leiden: Brill, 1996); Smith, "'Ayn Jalut: Mamluk Success or Mongol Failure?" Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 44 (1984, 307-345; and A. Martinez, "Some notes on the Il-Xanid Army." Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 6 (1986), 129-242.

15 Reuven Amitai, 'Continuity and Change in the Mongol Army of the Il-Khanate', paper presented at the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies, Barcelona, July 23, 2010.

16 Peter Jackson, The Delhi Sultanate, A Political and Military History, Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 104.

17 Jackson, The Delhi Sultanate, 39.

18 Jackson, The Delhi Sultanate, 104.

19 Minhaj Siraj Juzjani, Tabakat-i-Nasiri, trans. Major H. G. Raverty (New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation), p 809-813. Henceforth Juzjani/Raverty.

20 Jackson, The Delhi Sulatanate, 105. In 1241, Dayir and Mönggetu captured Lahore.

21 Simon Digby, War-horse and Elephant in the Delhi Sultanate: A Study of Military Supplies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 22.

22 Digby, Warhorse and elephant, 21.

23 Juzjani/Raverty, 711.

24 Peter Golden, 'War and Warfare in the Pre-Cinggisid Western Steppes of Eurasia,' in Warfare in Inner Asian History, 500-1800, edited by Nicola Di Cosmo (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 106.

25 George Perfecky, trans and ed., The Hypatian Codex II: The Galician-Volynian Chronicle (Munchen: W. Fink, 1973), p 61-62; George Vernadsky, The Mongols and Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), 145.

26 Perfecky, The Hypatian Codex, p 73-74; Francis Dvornik, Origins of Intelligence Services: The Ancient Near East, Persia, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Arab Muslim Empires, the Mongol Empire, China, Muscovy (New Brunswick, NJ,: Rutgers University Press, 1974), 302-304.

27 For a very good analysis of what Muscovy adopted see Donald Ostrowski, Muscovy and the Mongols: Cross Cultural Influences on the Steppe Frontier, 1304-1589 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Ostrowski gives the Mongols credit where it is due, but also dispels some myths about other less favorable "gifts" that the Mongols allegedly gave the Russians.

28 Vernadsky, Mongols and Russia, 145.

29 A. E. Tsepkov, trans., Ermolinskaia Letopis', (Riazan: NAUKA, 2000), 110-111; Robert Michell and Nevill Forbes, trans., The Chronicle of Novgorod, 1016-1471 (London: Offices of the Society, 1914), 95

30 Francis Gabriel, Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan's Greatest General, (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004), 128-129

31 Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (New York: Crown, 2004), 182; Iqtidar Alam Khan, Gunpowder and Firearms: Warfare in Medieval India, Aligarh Historians Society Series, ed. Irfan Habib (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004), passim; Stephen G. Haw, "Cathayan Arrows and Meteors: The Origins of Chinese Rocketry", Journal of Chinese Military History 2 (2013), 28-42.

32 Ata Malik Juvaini, The History of the World Conqueror, trans. J. A. Boyle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 630-631; Ata Malik Juvaini, Tarikh-i-Jahan Gusha, vol. 3, ed. Mirza Muhammad Qazvini (Leiden: Brill, 1937), 128. Henceforth Juvaini/Boyle and Juvaini/Qazvini respectively.

33 Kate Raphael, Muslim Fortresses in the Levant: Between Crusaders and Mongols (London: Routledge, 2011), 61, 69.

34 Takezaki Suenaga, 'Takezaki Suenaga's Scrolls of the Mongol Invasions of Japan', (accessed November 22, 2010); Also see James Delgado, Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008). Delgado summarizes the marine archaeological finds, include recovered bombs that are depicted in the scrolls.

35 Juvaini/Qazvini, 39-42; Juvaini/Boyle, 574-576.

36 Paul Buell, personal communication, November 11, 2010. I also owe a debt of thanks to Dr. Ulrike Unschuld for the characters and to Paul for his intelligence network that procured the information

37 Juvaini/Qazvini, 126 ; Juvaini/Boyle, 629. Against the Ismailis, the Mongols used local pine trees and constructed siege weapons on the spot, including the much feared, Kaman-i-gav, a ballista that had a range of 2500 paces (more than a mile).

38 Dawson/Carpini, 43-50.

39 De Vries and Smith, Medieval Military Technology, 138.

40 De Vries and Smith, Medieval Military Technology, 138.

41 Kenneth Chase, Firearms: A Global History to 1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), passim.

42 B. H. Liddell Hart, Deterrence or Defense A Fresh Look at the West's Military Position ( New York: Praeger, 1960), 190.

43 B. H. Liddell Hart, The Liddell Hart Memoirs, vol. 1 (New York: Putnam, 1965), 75, 272.

44 B. H. Liddell Hart, Great Captains Unveiled (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1967), 11; Liddell Hart, Deterrent or Defense, 187.

45 Francis Gabriel, Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan's Greatest General, 131.

46 Gabriel, Subotai the Valiant, 131.

47 Gabriel, Subotai the Valiant, 132.

48 For a summary see Otto Preston Chaney, Jr. Zhukov (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), p 49-59. For a very detailed account see Alvin D. Coox, Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939, 2 vols. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990).

49 Chaney, Jr. Zhukov, 14.

50 John Strawson, Hitler as Military Commander, (London: Batsford, 1971), 37.

51 Strawson, Hitler as Military Commander, 38.

52 Robert M. Citino, The Evolution of Blitzkrieg Tactics: Germany Defends Itself Against Poland, 1918-1933 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987), 41.

53 Citino, The Evolution of Blitzkrieg Tactics, p 71-72.

54 B. H. Liddell Hart, The German Generals Talk, (New York: Harper Collins, 1979), 91.

55 Strawson, Hitler as Military Commander, 31.

56 Colonel (retired) Keith Antonia, personal communication, 2009.

57 Antonia, Personal Communication.

58 Marco Polo, Yule translation, 260.

59 I owe a debt of thanks and a bottle of wine to Paul D. Buell for bringing this etymology to my attention.

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