Genghis Khan Expanded Trade Routes, Freedom of Religion, Peasant Literacy and Military Innovation

Life sized bronze of Ghenghis Khan at the Fernbank Natural History Museum in Atlanta

Heartless murderer, bloodthirsty conqueror, brutal savage...Genghis Khan's influence was more complex than the one-sided caricature you and i were taught in world history class. Genghis Khan brought the Silk Road under one political unit allowing  communication and trade between Europe, the Middle East, Asia, India, Persia and Africa thus expanding the horizons culturally and economically in al of them. He exempted the poor from taxes, encouraged peasant literacy and freedom of religion which is why so many joined his army voluntarily. As the Mongol armies conquered other peoples, they recruited the male nomads. Therefore, as they expanded into new areas, their troop numbers increased.

Before Genghis Khan the Silk Road overland route was very dangerous as robbers attacked the caravans relentlessly. The Persians built fleets that sailed around India and Malaysia to avoid these dangers before Genghis Empire solved this problem. Contrary to popular belief, Genghis Khan did not conquer all of the areas of the Mongol Empire. At the time of his death, the Mongol Empire stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan. The empire's expansion continued for generations after his death in 1227.

Genghis armies first headed south and east starting in about 1204 conquering Korea, northeasten Siberia and much of China before returning to Mongolia to raise another, much larger, army that headed west while the original army held the east and south. When Genghis left Mongolia this time he led 135,000 mounted warriors, mostly Mongol but with already a few important volunteers including a team of Chinese and Persian engineers.

Genghis Khan's Empire when he died in 1227

One of the many key military innovations Genghis introduced was bringing the engineers with the army to build whatever siege weapons were necessary from the materials at hand, whereas western armies were always slowed to a crawl by having to carry both machines and a huge logistic supporting cast along with them.

Each Mongol soldier typically maintained 3 or 4 horses and since most of the Mongols' mounts were mares, they could live off their horses' milk or milk products when needed. Changing horses often allowed them to travel at high speed for days often covering up to 100 miles (160 km) per day without stopping or wearing out the animals.

Their ability to live off the land, and in extreme situations off their animals, mare's milk especially, made their armies far less dependent on the traditional logistical apparatus of other armies. In addition, Mongolian horses were extremely durable and sturdy, allowing the Mongols to move quickly, often surprising enemies that had expected them to arrive days or even weeks later.

The Mongols stuck to being pastoralists, they hung around with their horses out on the bordering grasslands of towns and cities and sent in a few official to collect tribute. As long as the people paid they never even saw the mongols. If they didn't pay they got a 48 hour warning, on the 49th hour the mongols rode in, often 20,000 men on horses, and burned everything down. they'd always let a few people live so they could go around and tell all the others in the surrounding area what happens if you don't pay...few didn't pay.

All of the great slaughters we were taught about in world history class were those who didn't pay tribute. As befitting the greatest conqueror in history, Genghis Khan had a huge harem and many children. When he was nearing death the conflict among them to be his successor was threatening to destroy the Empire. Ghengis in his last days named his son Ogedei to be the Great Khan. Though he wasn't the eldest, Ogedei was accepted by the others because it was Ghengis' desire. Thus the conquest continued unabated.

Tomorrow The Mud Report will explain how Jochi Khan - one of Genghis' sons - nominally led the armies into what is now western Russia. There, masterminded by General Subutai and commanded by Batu Khan and Kadan, both grandsons of Genghis Khan, they conquered territories would become part of the Golden Horde empire including Crimea, Ukraine and Kievan Rus the biggest city in eastern Europe then and capital of what we now call Russia.