Essay on Are Mongols Barbarians?


The Mongol Empire was a feared empire at its height, conquering the most land any empire had conquered in the course of World History. Not only were they able to conquer and effectively control regions ranging from East Asia to Mesopotamia, to Russia, but they were also capable of creating an effective government system and a thriving economy for centuries. The Mongols, who expanded to different distinct regions descended from peoples in Central Asia. These peoples were referred to as Central Asian pastoral nomads. These Mongolian nomads, living on the steppes of Central Asia, moved around very frequently. They had no care for farming off the land because of the quality of soil so they lived off the meat, milk, and hides to support their livelihood instead. Their herding and moving of animals were known as pastoralism, where nomads would move with their herds of animals often to support their animal’s needs. This depended on the seasons and temperature, which affected the grass and food around the animals. Moving around the steppes of Central Asia wasn’t easy, but living in easily transported tents known as yurts and making clothing out of animal hides made their survival a bit easier. These pastoral nomads would roam the lands, where they were divided up into certain tribes and clans, who would wage war with other rival tribes at times. However, a man named Temuchin would fight Mongol clans until 1206, where he won the leadership and united the Mongol clans. Being born in the Mongolian plains in 1167, to having his father poisoned by rival clans, to him and his mother left with no status, to years of fighting other rival clans since he was a teenager, he rose and united the clans, who was given the title of Genghis Khan. He would expand the Mongol Empire himself through invasions made by a huge, well-led, and united army of nomadic Mongols, known for their bows and arrows, their horsemanship, and their overall combat skills, until in 1227, where he died falling off his horse in combat. Despite his death, his descendants carried on his goals of a huge Mongol empire, dividing the empire into four, autonomous khanates, each ruled by a descendant of Genghis, and was given the title of Khan. They would keep expanding independently with huge armies, conquering territories from Russia to China to Persia. Their empire would last from 1206-1480, where the Russian khanate known as The Golden Horde was defeated by Russia. While doing so, their rule differed from khanate to khanate, from moving into their lands and territories to bestowing indirect rule over their vassals and states. Despite their differences, all Mongol leadership later displayed their pursuit in exchanging goods and culture, while simultaneously destroying thousands of cities and killing millions of men, women, and children along the way. The question now arises, are the Mongols, over the entire course of their rule, barbarians, and did they show a barbaric attitude throughout their rule of Eurasia. I believe that the Mongols were not barbarians because they built and rebuilt certain areas of Eurasia, they had tolerance for other religions and beliefs, and they adopted knowledge and ideas from other cultures to further benefit their empire.

The first reason I believe that the Mongols were not barbarians is that the Mongols took the time and effort to build and rebuild buildings, lands, and landmarks across certain regions in Eurasia. Despite their mass killings and burning of many cities, afterward, they took the time to rebuilt certain buildings. An example of this was when the Mongol conquests stopped in Mesopotamia. The khanate known as the Il-Khans destroyed many cities on their conquests, however, they eventually converted to Persian culture. By doing so, they now rebuilt cities and schools to live in along with the Persian peoples. This shows that the Mongols had a set goal and took multiple steps to become cultured and civilized people, since they started living in urban settled societies in cities, as well as learning information within schools, as opposed to living freely and moving frequently as nomadic peoples. By the Mongols doing this, they did not maintain an uncivilized lifestyle throughout the rule of their empire. Even though they pillaged many cities, their conversion to urban cities showed that they had plans to use the land they conquered to benefit both the people they conquered and themselves as Mongols. It established a new way of life for the Mongol peoples that were not linked to violent behavior rather it was peace and stability that defined the Mongols as being civilized peoples instead of barbaric nomads. The second example also is included with the Il Khans and their ravaging of Persia and Mesopotamia. While destroying cities and populations, the Il Khans also destroyed irrigation systems for farming. These irrigation systems were vital to the economy of Persians since these grown goods were meant for trading. However, since the Mongols eventually converted to Persian culture and an urban lifestyle, they relied less on moving around and on pastoralism and herds of animals and moved on to farming and domesticating plants and animals. They would later repair these irrigation systems, which soon led to the trading of dates and sugar across the Mongol Empire, which came from Southwest Asia. With the addition of farming and trading farmed goods, it shows that the Mongols again had a plan after their conquests to further establish themselves in their conquered people's culture (to some degree outside of the Il-Khan). They were moving on to farming and domesticating animals and plants to support their livelihood, instead of relying on pastoralism and living off the land as mobile Central Asian nomads. By living in urban cities and adopting farming, it shows that they were at peace with the people they conquered by moving in with them and becoming just like the Persian peoples. Not only did they display the steps they were taking to become civilized peoples, but the future farming of sugar and dates would also be used in trading to trade for other goods, showing another step in their plan to become a civilized empire throughout supporting the trading of goods. A third example of the Mongols rebuilding certain works and showing that they were not barbarians was in China. China was now controlled by another khanate, which was formally established as the Yuan Dynasty. In China, there was also much devastation to be repaired. The Yuan Dynasty emperor/khan, Kublai Khan began a vast renovation of the Grand Canal, as well as built more dams and dikes along the Yellow River. The impacts of these water-controlled projects were to increase the wealth and unity of the khanate through communication, trade, and transportation, which were all encouraged. By doing this, they showed that they had plans after their conquests to encourage trade and transportation, which made the Mongol Empire more united through its diversity and it made the Mongol Empire have a thriving economy full of trade through land and water routes. By showing demonstrated interest in trade, it showed that they were civilized peoples and pillaged with a plan to make profits and to expose everyone to new goods and cultures. Lastly, it shows that the Mongols did not force their people to trade, rather the Mongols only encouraged it through safe transportation through the Grand Canal, showing that the Mongols had other ways besides being violent barbarians to solve their issues and to obtain their objectives. By building cities, schools, irrigation/agricultural systems, and water-based projects show that their objectives were to not kill populations but to be civilized and intelligent amongst other people's cultures. It also shows that they were able to change their way of life, instead of maintaining a barbaric uncivilized nomadic lifestyle. 

The second reason I believe that the Mongols were not barbarians was that the Mongols allowed different religions from different regions to be practiced and spread without the fear of execution. An example of this was in Persia, where the Il Khanate had its Mongols converted to the Islam religion, which was the dominant religion in the Middle East and the Muslim World. Even though the Il-Khan leader Mahmud Ghazan was a Sunni Muslim, he decided that the Shi’ites living among Sunni Muslims should.

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