How did the Mongols manage to create a huge empire in ancient times, if today it is a small country?


In the Middle Ages, Mongolia controlled a vast area and had the most powerful army in the world. On the other hand, today the country is on the sidelines of civilization and has long ceased to play a key role.

In fact, the Mongol Empire is far from the only large nomadic power to emerge in the Eurasian steppes. The region is not rich in forests and mountains; the steppes stretch for thousands of kilometers, where nomadic peoples lived side by side. In fact, it was only in the 20th century that nomads switched to a sedentary lifestyle, and the steppes began to overgrow with cities.

History remembered the Scythian kingdom, the empire of Attila, the Türkic and Uygur kaganates and many other colossal powers that occupied

How were these empires created? How did they exist, and why did they disintegrate?

The Eurasian steppes made it possible to breed a large number of horses, which could only be fed by moving from place to place. Horses didn’t just provide meat and were the basis of survival. The animals determined the high mobility of the tribe and gave an advantage to the equestrian warrior over the foot.

A nomadic state is fundamentally different from a sedentary one. First of all, it is a union of related tribes, often of equal status. Such an empire did not have a rigid centralization of power, there was no bureaucratic apparatus and there was a primitive economy.

The dominant tribe never established complete control over the dependent peoples. The power of the khan was based only on the collection of tribute and the promise of the vassals to provide their army on demand.


The nomadic armies were not all men. An army of Mongols, Polovtsians or Pechenegs is an entire tribe with women, children and old people.

Any military campaign is a banal migration of all people from place to place in search of new pastures. Of course, an important place was given to robbery, when a tribe attacked oncoming cities or smaller tribes, took all their resources and imposed tribute. When the army went to fight, families of soldiers, their livestock and property often went there.

Today’s Mongolia is the descendants of only one Khalkha tribe. In neighboring China, 6 million Mongols live — 2 times more than in Mongolia itself! A million more live in Russia, many have been assimilated.

However, in the Middle Ages, the concept of ethnos did not exist. Nomadic tribes lived from Crimea to China, professed similar beliefs and traditions. Uniting tribe after tribe, Genghis Khan and his descendants created a single state with a huge army and general order.

For example, before the invasion of Russia, Batu fought for more than 10 years with the Bashkirs and Bulgars. This war ended with the fact that the Mongols killed the local clan nobility and included the «orphaned» peoples in their composition. In fact, after the fall of Bulgaria, Batu already had an empire — the unification of several nomadic peoples.

The conquest of China also played a significant role. For centuries, the Mongols coexisted with a highly developed eastern civilization and borrowed its achievements. At least among the Mongols

After the conquest of the Celestial Empire, Genghis Khan borrowed all scientific and technical achievements, learned to besiege cities and supply the army with food. It was the seizure of China that allowed the Mongols to go on a skating rink across Eurasia.

Empires arise, reach their peak, fall apart, and after centuries the foundation country falls into desolation — this is absolutely normal.

By comparison, the once great empires were Macedonia, Iran, Armenia and Iraq. Today these are also far from the most powerful countries. If all the power of the state is spent on conquering others, sooner or later the forces will run out and it will disappear from the face of the planet.