Numerous steppe nomad empires existed in Eurasia throughout the medieval period.
Most of the information concerning these empires indicates that their armies consisted primarily not of infantry but of horse
The Mongols’ military achievements were impressive: The Mongols built, through mobility, superior discipline, and advanced strategies, the largest contiguous land empire of its time. Although the empire remained unified for roughly only seventy years after the death of Genghis Khan, its heritage was maintained by his successors, who included his grandson, Kublai
Perhaps the most difficult achievement for Genghis Khan was the unification of the tribes of Mongolia. Once these tribes were united, Genghis Khan forged them into an army of unprecedented size and force. Although tribal confederations had appeared throughout history, none of them possessed the martial potency, discipline, and organization of the Mongols. Furthermore, the Mongols quickly learned to adapt those military methods of their opponents that they deemed effective, particularly siege warfare and the mobilization of resources.
The Mongol Empire at its height stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Carpathian Mountains. Its armies ranged even farther, invading Vietnam and reaching the Adriatic Sea in Europe. In the early 1220’s
Successors such as
The Mongols also carried other weapons, such as sabers and axes, and often short lances, more often used for flying banners than in battle. However, these
The single most important weapon or piece of equipment used by the Mongols and other steppe nomads was the
For the most part, Mongol warriors were unencumbered by heavy armor. They wore little armor, apart from hardened leather, or leather reinforced with lamellar plates, considerably lighter than even the finest chain mail. Chain
The Mongol Empire in 1260
Although the Mongols did not have a specific uniform, they did cut their hair in a certain manner to identify themselves. Even those conscripted from the conquered would receive the Mongol coif, which consisted of a tonsure similar to that of a monk, with only a tuft of hair remaining in front and two braids trailing from the back.
The Mongols drew upon the Khitan military system to base the organization of their armies on the decimal system. The largest unit was the
During larger campaigns, the Mongols often instituted a
When the Mongols engaged an opponent’s field army, they used a wide array of tactics to achieve victory. One such tactic, usually the opening one, was a barrage of arrows from a distance. Although this opening volley often inflicted little harm, it allowed the Mongols to see how the enemy would react. To remain in a position under constant fire probably became frustrating, especially for elite units. For massed infantry, often haphazardly armored, it became precarious.
From the Jürcheds, the Mongols adopted a troop composition of roughly 60 percent light
The key element in battle remained the Mongol barrage, or “storm,” of arrows, after which the Mongols would base their ensuing actions on their observations of their enemy. They would opt either for an enveloping maneuver or for a continued arrow barrage, at a closer, more destructive range. Another tactic was the
The Mongols conducted the majority of their battles at a distance. They possessed a great advantage in the power of their bows and believed in the principle of massed firepower, coordinating their fire arcs through the use of banners, torches, and whistling arrows. Much like that of modern directed artillery fire, the effect of massed Mongol firepower could be devastating.
Mongol use of massed firepower also applied to
Other Mongol tactics included psychological
Mongol warriors harass their enemies in battle.
In terms of strategy, the Mongols had a set method of invasion that varied only slightly from campaign to campaign. The Mongol army invaded in several, usually three, columns: a center force and two flanking corps. The flanking units, in some instances, went into neighboring territories before a rendezvous with the center army, as in the Mongol invasion of
The Mongols’ use of many-pronged invasions also fit in with their preferred method of engaging the enemy. The Mongols preferred to deal with all field armies before moving deep into enemy territory. Because the enemy usually sought to meet the Mongols before they destroyed an entire province, reaching this goal was rarely difficult. Furthermore, the Mongols’ use of columns and a screen of scouts enabled the gathering of
By concentrating on the dispersion and movement of field armies, the Mongols delayed assault on enemy strongholds. Of course, the Mongols took smaller or more easily surprised fortresses as they encountered them. The destruction of the field armies also allowed the Mongols to pasture their horses and other livestock without the threat of raids. One of the best examples occurred during Genghis Khan’s Khwārizm
After conquering the surrounding territory, the Mongols were free to lay siege to the principal city without interference of a field army. Smaller forts and cities could not harry the Mongols, who either foraged or pursued other missions during the siege. Most important, the many Mongol columns and raiding forces had prevented the main city from effectively assisting its smaller neighbors without leaving itself open to attack. Finally, the capture of the outer strongholds and towns provided the Mongols more siege experience as well as raw materials in the form of labor either to man the siege engines or to act as human shields for the Mongols.
The Mongols also strove to destroy any hopes their opponents had to rally by harrying enemy leaders until they dropped. Genghis Khan first did this during his unification of Mongolia. In his first few encounters, the enemy leaders had escaped, which continually haunted him. After this lesson, the Mongols habitually hunted down opposing leaders. In Khwārizm Sultan ՙAlā al-Din
Constantly on the move to avoid the Mongol forces, an enemy leader was unable to serve as a rallying point for his armies, who were also required to keep moving in order to find him. In many reports, the enemy leaders were only a few steps ahead of the Mongols. This strategy also allowed the Mongols opportunities to acquire new intelligence on other lands, because fleeing leaders ran in the opposite direction of the Mongols. The pursuing Mongol forces could then wreak havoc in new territories. Local powers would keep their forces at home, instead of sending them to help their overlords. In many instances the Mongols would defeat local armies they encountered along the way while avoiding the strongholds, another example of the Mongol method of destroying field armies before laying siege. The most important aspect of these pursuit columns was their capacity for destruction and intimidation, which created a buffer between the currently occupied territories and those that recently had been subdued. Thus, the main army could finish its mission of subjugation while the surrounding environs were devastated and rendered harmless.
Medieval sources of information about the Mongol military are fairly rich, due to the fact that the Mongols covered a large territory. Most accounts were written by the conquered, or by individuals hostile to the Mongols. The one surviving Mongol source, The Secret History of the Mongols (c. 1240), is extremely important for the study of the Mongol military. It is the primary source for the unification of Mongolia under Genghis Khan, revealing his initial defeats and the lessons he learned from them. It also describes the organization and tactics of the Mongol army. Finally, this work also provides the best description of the
The Jāmi ‘at-tawārīkh by Persian physician, historian, and politician Rashīd
Among European sources, the travel accounts of French Franciscan friar and traveler Willem van
The vast majority of the Chinese sources have yet to be translated into English, although some have been translated into French, German, and Russian. The primary chronicle is the Yuan Shih (1370), originally composed in ten volumes by Song
Biran, Michal. Qaidu and the Rise of the Independent Mongol State in Central Asia. Surrey, England: Curzon, 1997. Gabriel, Richard A. Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan’s Greatest General. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. Hildinger, Erik. Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia, 500 B.C. to 1700 A.D. New York: Sarpedon, 1997. Reprint. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2001. Hull, Mary. The Mongol Empire. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books, 1998. Jackson, Peter. The Mongols and the West, 1221-1410. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005. Kennedy, Hugh. Mongols, Huns, and Vikings: Nomads at War. London: Cassell, 2002. Manz, Beatrice Forbes. The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Martin, H. D. The Rise of Chingis Khan and His Conquest of North China. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1950. May, Timothy. The Mongol Art of War: Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Military System. Barnsley, England: Pen and Sword Military, 2007. Morgan, David. The Mongols. 2d ed. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2007. Prawdin, Michael. The Mongol Empire: Its Rise and Legacy. London: Allen and Unwin, 1940. Reprint. New Brunswick, N.J. AldineTransaction, 2006. Saunders, J. J. The History of the Mongol Conquests. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971. Reprint. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Turnbull, Stephen. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests, 1190-1400. New York: Routledge, 2004. _______. Mongol Warrior, 1200-1350. Illustrated by Wayne Reynolds. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2003. Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea. Feature film. Funimation Productions, 2007. Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan. Feature film. New Line Cinema, 2008. The Storm from the East. Documentary. Films for the Humanities and Sciences, 1994.
India and South Asia: Medieval
Nomadic Warriors of the Steppe