the mongols!

history of horseback riding

mongol scout: yeah here are those animals i was talking about

horse: trips on a rock and breaks a leg, dying of shock

horse: runs into somebody, killing them instantly

horse: eats a bird straight out of the air

genghis khan: *through tears* absolutely beautiful. incredible. i want to sit on one and use them to conquer half of the entire world’s known landmass

7

Warrior Culture : Mongol

The Mongolian Empire is perhaps the most underrated of them all. Ironic since at its hights it controlled more land than Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Adolf Hitler combined. They were predominantly a nomadic horse warrior people, able to ride for days and outwit, out maneuver, and out survive their enemies. Brutal and effective in battle with enemies, but magnanimous in peace with friends, as it should be.

If I were to see among the race of women another woman like this, I should say that the race of women was far superior to men.
— 

Bar Hebraeus, on his opinion of Sorkhokhtani, matriarch of the Mongol family of the lineage of Tolui. Sorkhokhtani married Ghenghis Khan’s youngest son. 

Based on a combination of good upbringing and her shrewd political acumen, all four of her sons were proclaimed Khan of Khans. You might recognize some of their names: Möngke Khan, Hulagu Khan, Ariq Böke, and Kublai Khan.

Things I learned about Genghis Khan

I learned things today about Genghis Khan - yes, that guy - that I had no idea I didn’t know. CNN declared him the “Man of the Millennium” a few years back and I now understand why.

  • He invented a lot of things, including passports, the Pony Express, and the concept of diplomatic immunity.
  • He had two horsehair “spirit banners,” one black and one white, made from the hair of his best stallions. The black represented war and the white represented peace. These went with him everywhere and in Mongolia, legend has it that the black one still exists.
  • He set foot inside a building exactly once in his entire life. He lived in tents called gers, or yurts, and dressed like everyone else. He also insisted that his name not be spoken with any particular reverence.
  • Although he was definitely a bloodthirsty invader who rightly inspired fear in many nations, he never attacked anyone without giving advance notice.
  • He was a firm believer in the idea of a meritocracy - after removing those in power in a place he conquered, he would install new leaders of those areas based on their individual worth. Sometimes these new leaders would be chosen from among his fellow Mongols, but just as often he would select them from among the people he conquered.
  • Everyone living in his empire had the right of religious freedom; they could worship however they chose and were never penalized for it. 
  • He had a harem, of course, but that was normal for his culture at the time. His chief wife was a woman named Borte, to whom he became betrothed at the age of eight. He loved her devotedly - before they were married, she was kidnapped by one of his enemies, who raped and impregnated her. Khan fought to get her back, by which time she had birthed a son. He married her regardless and raised his stepson with great kindness. 
  • Because she was his first and most important wife, the four sons Borte bore him were the ones who inherited his empire. They also had daughters, all of whom became pretty important figures. Right up until Khan’s death, he would go to Borte for advice on all manner of things and considered her extremely wise; after his passing, she retained her high status in the empire and continued to advise her sons and other nobles.
  • Reportedly, he was afraid of two things: wild dogs and his mother’s temper.
  • He was buried with a treasure so vast as to be beyond counting; it took 2,000 soldiers to dig the burial site. When they returned after his tomb was sealed, they were all slaughtered in order to keep the location a secret. To this day it has never been found.

THE MONGOL WARRIOR DURING THE REIGN OF GENGHIS KHAN, ARMAMENTS AND  TACTICS

This is an expert from my post “THE MONGOLS AND THE RISE OF GENGHIS KHAN”. 

It is an army after the fashion of peasantry, being liable to all manner of contributions and rendering it without complaint whatever is enjoined upon it… It is also a peasantry in the guise of an army, all of them, great or small, noble or base, in time of battle becoming swordsmen. Archers and lancers and advancing in whatever manner the occasion requires.” – Ala-ad-Din Ata-Malik Juvaini, Persian historian and governor of Baghdad.

Mongols began their journey into maturity at a young age; around the age of three their mothers taught them to ride horses, being able to ride alongside their parents at the age of four and able to race at the age of six. At the age four or five they were given their first bow and by the age of fourteen or fifteen they were old enough to be enlisted into the army – possibly acting simply as herdsmen or members of the baggage train. 

“-their children begin as soon as they are two or three years old to ride and manage horses and to gallop on them, and they are given bows to suit their stature and are taught to shoot; they are extremely agile and also intrepid. Young girls and women ride and gallop on horseback with agility like men.” – Giovanni of Pian del Carpine.

Military training wasn’t as necessary for Mongol recruits as by this time they had already spent years herding and hunting on horseback; learning how to track, pursue, carol, and kill game. In particular they engaged battues, or ‘nerge’; a great hunt in which “beaters” spent a month driving animals into a certain pre-chosen area which would then be encircled and closed off.

^ Kublai Khan on a hunting expedition.

When in a battue we hunt the cunning wild beasts, for you we shall go ahead and round them up. For you we shall drive the beasts of the steppe until their bellies press together; for you we shall drive the beasts of the steep banks until their thighs press together.” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

When ordered to go ahead and round up wild beasts in a battue, for you I would have driven the beasts of the cliffs Until their forelegs pressed together. For you I would have driven the beasts of the steep banks until their thighs pressed together. For you I would have driven the beasts of the steppe until their bellies pressed together.” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

These Mongolian wolves are big and savage, often attacking the herds, and one alone will pull down a good horse or steer. The people wage more or less unsuccessful war upon them and at times they organize a sort of battue. Men, armed with lassoes, are stationed at strategic points, while others, routing the wolves from their lair, drive them within reach.” – Elizabeth Kendall.

As the circumference of the battue circle closes in, the wild beasts are forced into a confined region, they are then shot down. First to be given an opportunity to hunt choice game were the nobility and royalty who would then open up the hunt to their remaining troops. Wild game hunted consisted of foxes, hares, swans, cranes, deer, gazelles, cattle, wild boars and wild asses, but also included more dangerous animals like wolves, Siberian tigers and bears.

When they want to hunt wild animals they gather together in a great crowd and surround the district in which they know the animals to be, and gradually close in until between them they shut in the animals in a circle and then they shoot them with their arrows.” – William of Rubruck.

During Genghis’ campaign against the Khwarezmian Empire of Greater Iran, he felt that his reserves had spent too much time away from battle and would eventually grow soft and weak. To alleviate this he ordered them to engage in a great battue (the great khan also joined in) which encircled a vast area and killed off all game within. The battue were not only for sport, they also trained the Mongol warriors in cooperation, coordination, discipline, marksmanship, tracking as well as luring the enemy toward a chosen battlefield. 

Other skills these young Mongols attained throughout their lifetime were scouting and knowledge of vegetation, environment, weather and climate. These Mongols would continue campaigning for most of their lives but all the while these warriors weren’t paid, their only form of income came from raiding, looting and from a portion of the war booty. They would then give the Great Khan all of the loot, he would take 10% then distribute the rest to his highest commanders who would then distribute to those below then and so on. Some of the loot was also given to the orphans and widows left behind by fallen Mongol soldiers. 

Appearance:

“… In appearance the Tartars (Mongols) are quite different from all other men, for they are broader than other people between the eyes and across the cheekbones. Their cheeks also are rather prominent above their jaws; they have a flat and small nose, their eyes are little and their eyelids raised up to the eyebrows. For the most part, but with a few exceptions, they are slender about the waist; almost all are medium height. Hardly any of them grow beards, although some have a little hair on the upper lip and chin and this they do not trim … They also have small feet.” – Giovanni of Pian del Carpine, who traveled as the Pope’s ambassador to the Mongols between 1245 and 1247 CE.

Similar to the hairstyle we usually think of when we think of Christian monks, the Mongols had the tops of their heads shaved. The hairline above the forehead and temples was grown out with hair hanging from the center reaching as far as the eyebrows, sometimes there would be two locks of hair at the hairline’s ends. They also allowed the hair on the back and sides of their heads to grow, with two locks of hair hanging either behind the ears or down the sideburns. Generally, the Mongols were bow legged (from horse riding) and short, their baggy clothing made them look all the more stout and stocky.

Osprey – ‘Warrior’ series, issue 84 – Mongol Warrior 1200-1350 by Stephen Turnbull and Wayne Reynolds. Plate A.

Like most other people whom lived in the frigid and bitter northern regions of the world, the Mongols generally wore many layers of clothing, usually in the form of furs or padded cloths. The Mongols wore long-sleeved shirts under long knee-length robe-like coats made of cotton, wool or leather which had a belt wrapped around the waist. If necessary they would add a coat or two, if both coats were used then the innermost one would have the furred side facing their person and the outer one with the fur facing outward to aid against the weather – rain, winds, snows (according to William of Rubruck). Both their robe’s sleeves and their trousers were wide, with the latter being tucked into their leather or felt high boots. 

As they campaigned against Chinese and Islamic nations, they were increasingly accustomed to finer fabrics and materials such as silk. Silk shirts were supposedly capable of, if worn under leather lamellar armor, causing arrow points that penetrated the armor into twisting and lessening the impact. They wore thick socks made of felt (wool) and wore the traditional ‘Mongolian cap’ which consisted of a conical made of quilted cloth, felt or fur and a brim encircling the sides and back of it which could be folded to further warm the wearer. During warmer seasons and in more humid climates the Mongols wrapped a cloth around their head which was eventually tied in the back in the form of a headband.

The Mongol Warrior

During the kuriltai of 1206 CE a white standard was raised (“They hoisted the white standard with nine tails”), this banner (‘tug’) consisted of a long pole with a circular top with nine white tails (yak or horse) hanging down from it.  White haired tails were used in times of peace, which is why the one was raised when the Mongols were united at the kuriltai of 1206 CE was white. Black haired tails, however, were raised during times of war. In front of the Great Khan’s ger (tent) were the ‘Nine White Banners’: one in the center, which was the tallest, and eight others surrounding this central banner.

As for me, I have consecrated (sprinkled) my standard which is visible from afar; I have beaten my bellowing drum covered with the hide of a black bull; I have mounted my swift black horse; I have put on my armor (‘steel-hard dress’) and grasped my steel spear; I have placed on the bowstring my arrow with its nock of wild peach bark. I am ready, let us start and give battle to the Qa’at Merkit!” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

Then say to them, ‘My long (streamers of horse or yak tails) standard, visible from afar, I have consecrated; I have beaten my deep-sounding drum covered with ox-hide; I have mounted my swift horse, the one with a black stripe along the backbone; I have put on my leather-strapped breastplate, and grasped my hilted sword; I have placed on the bowstring my nocked arrow. I am ready, let us fight to the death against the Uduyit Merkit!’

Genghis Khan (“To those who sided with me when I was establishing our nation, I shall express my appreciation”) assigned eighty-eight of his companions to the rank of commander (despite their ethnicity, religion or social class). Most of these men would lead a single tumen (‘ten-thousand’) each – Jebe (‘the arrow’) and Jelme (‘blood sucker’) were two of them. Each commander was given a great drum (naccara); if this drum was struck once it signaled that it was time to prepare their horses for travel and place their equipment on them. The second beating indicated that it was time to disassemble and organize their tents and the third pounding indicated that it was finally time to move off from camp. All this was done in silence: when moving off from a camp site, during combat and when preparing camp.

Osprey – ‘Men-at-Arms’ series, issue 105 – The Mongols by Stephen Turnbull and Angus McBride (Illustrator). Plate C.

It is like a very tall whistle of bronze or copper and across the top of it there is stretched a large piece of leather… and this is supported by four stakes as high as a man’s waist… and if the chieftain wished to move camp, when midnight is passed he orders the drum to be struck and the man who is allotted this task grasps two wooden maces in his two hands… and strikes as hard as his strength and breath allow him to do.” – Friar David of Ashby.

In their eerie silence these white and black banners would signal the light cavalrymen to attack or retreat while the naccara (war drums) were banged as a signal for a full-on assault including heavy cavalrymen. The silence would be replaced with the maddening howls and yelling of the charging horsemen which would force the enemy into fleeing. One reason for the silence was so the horsemen could keep a low profile, they would draw little attention so the enemy wouldn’t expect their sudden assaults until it was too late for them to react effectively.

The steppe nomads were known to use a decimal system as an organizational structure, the Mongols too utilized it. In this system a commander or officer only needed to communicate with the ten below them – making the passing of orders and intel much easier and faster.

  • Arban – a squad of 10 men. This was the smallest unit size; the oldest person in this squad would usually take on the leadership role.
  • Jagun or zagun – 10 arbans equaling 100.
  • Minghan – 10 jugans equaling 1,000.
  • Tumen – 10 minghans equaling 10,000. Though a tumen didn’t always reach ten thousand, sometimes being bolstered by auxiliaries (5,000) which could make up to half of the Tumen’s full size. Temujin would also make it illegal under penalty of death to change into another unit. This often separated sons from fathers, siblings and cousins so this essentially broke familial loyalties. Now no matter your ethnicity, religion or previous clan and tribal associations, your squad became your new family.

Like most other steppe cultures, the first weapon that comes to mind is the bow. The Mongols typically carried two bows with them, one short and one long, both of which were held within their own individual bow cases. The shorter bow was used for short range attacked while the longer compound reflex bow could reach between a range of 200-300 meters (656-984 ft.) with an account of a man called Yesüngge (Genghis Khan’s nephew) able to shoot “a target at 335 alds (536 m. or 1,758 ft.)“. 

They also brought along two to three quivers, each holding about thirty arrows each. These bows were pulled back by way of the so-called ‘Mongolian Draw/Release’, in this style the index and middle finger are abandoned in favor of the thumb which was then supported by index and middle finger which rested atop the back of the thumb. The Mongols would wear a ring which allowed faster and more powerful shots. These rings could be made of bone, horn, stone, leather, metal and other materials.

Every [Mongol] is ordered to carry into battle sixty arrows, thirty smaller ones for piercing and thirty larger with broad heads for discharging at close quarters. With these latter they wound one another in the face or arms and cut through bowstrings and inflict heavy loses.” – Marco Polo.

Primarily there were two types of arrows used, light arrows with small arrow heads which were used for long range and heavier arrows ones with broader arrow heads that made them powerful armor-piercing missiles (due to the fact that they were heated until red-hot then dipped into salt water) used at close quarters (range of 150 yards and much deadlier at close range). A whetstone was attached to a quiver, this tool was used to file and sharpen arrowheads and blades. The greater majority of the Mongol army consisted of light cavalrymen (six in ten) so most wore little to no armor and used small swords, bows and javelins.

Osprey – ‘Warrior’ series, issue 084 – Mongol Warrior 1200-1350 by Stephen Turnbull and Wayne Reynolds (illustrator). Plate B.

Heavy cavalrymen, despite rarely being thought of, were an important and integral part of the Mongol army. Armed with scimitars, axes, and twelve foot long lances with a hook near the tip used to yank men off their horses. These elite warriors wore cuirasses consisting of five segments of leather which were boiled in order to soften them (in effect creating a flexible piece of armor) then they were tied to each other. The leather segments would also, with the help of lacquer, become waterproof. This lamellar-like style of armor was also implemented into the creation of greaves and even horse armors.

One on one side of the horse and one on the other, and these stretched from the tail to the head and are fastened to the saddle and behind the saddle on to its back and also on the neck; another section they put over its hindquarters where the ties of the two parts are fastened and in the last named piece they make a hole for the tail or come through; covering the breast is another section. All these pieces reach down as far as the knees or joints of the leg. On its forehead they put an iron plate which is tied to the aforementioned sections on each side of the neck.” – Giovanni of Pian del Carpine.

Osprey – ‘Men-at-Arms’ series, issue 105 – The Mongols by Stephen Turnbull and Angus McBride (Illustrator).

Another form of leather armor worn was scale armor which consisted of thin but long scales of leather (20 lbs.) designed in lamellar-like fashion. According to Friar William of Rubruck, a Flemish (Dutch Flanders) missionary (Franciscan) and explorer who traveled throughout the Mongol Empire, the Mongols attained iron caps and iron plated armors from Persia. They used lassos, swords (scimitars from the Turks), light axes, maces, spears, lances and small round shields. Lances, however, are mentioned as being their primary weapon. These lances featured a hook which was used to pull enemy combatants off from horseback and yank shields so to open the enemy up to an attack.

A common battle tactic used by the Mongols was the Tulughma, or ‘standard sweep’; arranging themselves in a checkerboard-like formation similar to the Roman Republic’s manipular formation. This granted them free space to maneuver so the light horse archers that lay in the back rows to snake through the heavy lancers divisions in the front rows while the light cavalrymen at the wings weave around them to flank the enemy.

Tulughma or “standard sweep. Osprey – ‘Men-at-Arms’ series, issue 105 – The Mongols by S. R. Turnbull and Angus McBride (Illustrator).

The horse archers would then blot out the sun with flurries of arrow fire and once they were successful in sending the enemy into disarray, the heavy cavalry lancers would stride forward and smite the enemy or force them into routing. If the arrow volleys did not sufficiently stagger the enemy and the light cavalry archers were forced to retreat they would make their way back behind the safety of their core force while letting loose Parthian shots, their place would be recycled by another. The light horse bowmen and heavy cavalry lancers would then engage in a cascade of alternating assaults echoing the actions of the Parthians that obliterated the Romans at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE.

The Mongols tie branches to the tail of their horses to create a blinding storm of dust or sand which could obscure an escape or grant the illusion of a larger Mongol force. Like the Persian Immortals, most of this was done in complete silence from the soldiers. Directions were given by lanterns. the beating of drums, cracking of whips or the waving, raising or lowering of flags. The Mongols would strive to surround and outflank the enemy but they always allowed the enemy an outlet to flee through since cornered rats fought ever fiercer. If the enemy are in dire straits, were given an escape route and followed it then they would be chased and hunted down by the Mongol warriors.

If it happens that the enemy fight well, the Tartars make way of escape for them, then as soon as they begin to take flight and are separated from each other they fall upon them and more are slaughtered in flight than could be killed in battle.” – Giovanni of Pian del Carpine.

When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” – Art of War by Sun Tzu.

Back in 1204 CE, two years before he was declared Genghis Khan, he set out against To’oril, Jamuqa and the Naimans. For the most part much of Mongol warfare consisted of unorganized skirmishes and the individual warrior’s skill but in this battle Temujin shows how he successfully employed three different battle formations which overwhelmed the enemy.

“[Temujin] rode against them and, having driven away their patrolmen, he arrayed his troops and together with the army leaders decided to advance in ‘caragana’ marching-order, to stand in ‘lake’ battle-formation and fight a ‘chisel’ combat” – The Secret History of the Mongols, 195.

One such formation was the Caragana (peashrub of Siberia, Mongolia and northern China) also known as the ‘Moving Bush’ or ‘Tumbleweed’ Formation: instead of a full-scale assault on the enemy, the Mongols split up into arbans (squads of ten men each) and peppered the enemy from any and all directions. The Mongol arbans would act almost independently of one another, advancing and retreating. The enemy wouldn’t know where the next attack or wave would come from and which to advance against. Since the skirmish began in the darkness of the early morning the Mongol numbers were obscured. This formation was usually used during dark, cloudy or foggy days and under the cover of darkness (dusk till dawn).

The next phase of the battle was followed by the so-called ‘Lake Formation’ which mimicked the waves hitting the shore. The Mongols would form up in horizontal lines and harass the enemy like a wave. They would then retreat back through the gaps of the new wave of assailants and prepare for their next wave. After performing this formation the enemy formed up into a thin line in order to meet the Mongols. Now forcing the enemy into spreading and thinning their ranks out, the Mongols changed to the next formation in their strategy. 

The next stage was the so-called ‘Chisel Formation’: the Mongols narrowed their vanguard whose ranks behind it widened – like an arrowhead. This formation is similar to the more well-known ‘Wedge’, ‘Draco’, and ‘Boar’s Snout’ formations. This formation would allow the concentrated Mongol vanguard to break through the thinned out enemy line. The enemy was unable to keep up with the shifting tactics of the Mongols; overwhelmed and outmatched, the enemy were no match.

Another popular tactic was the ‘Crow Swarm/Soldiers’, ‘Ocean Waves’ or ‘Falling/Scattered Stars’: this was sort of like the ‘Moving Bush Formation’. Like the ‘Moving Bush Formation’ they utilized small bands which surrounded the enemy, even if the enemy had a larger army. The difference here was that these small bands were at least half the size of the Moving Bush’s. At the beating of a drum, fire signals, crack of a whip or a shout, the small bands all attacked in unison like a massive oceanic wave. This raucous assault was then followed by a silent retreat and repeated if necessary.

KESHIG: THE GREAT KHAN’S SECRETIVE ORDER OF ELITE GUARDS

In Mongol tribal societies, assassinations were common and loyalties shifted like the sands of the great Gobi Desert. Warriors swayed from leader to leader, whichever granted them the most potential profit and fit their immediate needs. Being that these steppe nomads lived in tents it was not that difficult for someone to slip in and kill someone else, because of this Genghis Khan created a band of bodyguards numbering some one hundred and fifty sworn followers (keshig or Keshik, “blessed or favored”); seventy day guards (Torguud) and eighty night guards (khevtuul).

^ Mongol (2007). My snapshot.

“[Genghis Khan] chose and recruited eighty men to serve on roster as nightguards and seventy men to serve as dayguards. He recruited them from the sons and younger brothers of commanders of a thousand and of a hundred, as well as from the sons and younger brothers of mere ordinary people, choosing and recruiting those who were able and of good appearance.” – The Secret History of the Mongols, 191.

Day and night shift:

Chinggis Qa’an further ordered: ‘The quiverbearers, the dayguards, the stewards, the doorkeepers and the grooms are to go on roster duty in daytime. Before the sun sets they shall see to make way for the nightguards; they shall go out to their geldings and spend the night there. At night, the nightguards shall see that those of their men whose duty it is to lie all around Our tent do so, and they shall put on roster those of their men whose duty it is to stand at the door to guard it. The following morning, when We eat soup, the quiverbearers and the dayguards shall report to the nightguards; the quiverbearers, dayguards, stewards and doorkeepers shall all carry out their respective tasks and take their appointed places.” – The Secret History of the Mongols. 192.

^ Marco Polo (Netflix TV series).

This elite bodyguard eventually grew from a group of 150 men into a full tumen (unit of ten-thousand men) and would continue to be used by the Turco-Mongol led Mughal Empire of India (Khishig) and the Turco-Mongol led Il-kanate of Greater Persia (Keshikchi). Even the famed Venetian merchant and traveler Marco Polo is suspected to have been part of this secretive order, his deep knowledge of Mongol society and his closeness to the Khan (Kublai Khan) hints towards some sort of special relationship. The Keshig not only operated as a system of elite bodyguards but also as administrators, overseers and as a military academy that could lead its members into the position of commanders of a tumen (ten-thousand). Many of the Keshig were sons of high ranking Mongol commanders over tumens and minghans (thousand). By allowing their sons into this order the Great Khan was effectively using them as hostages.

Osprey – ‘Warrior’ series, issue 84 – Mongol Warrior 1200-1350 by Stephen Turnbull and Wayne Reynolds. Plate H.


As a whole, under Genghis Khan’s rule steppe armies became far more professionalized. Before commencing march, the commanders and officers had to inspect their men’s gear, equipment and supplies – every piece of armor or weaponry had to be in good condition. The Mongols brought with them needle and thread to keep their clothing and armor in good condition. Only after the inspection had been passed could the Mongols continue on their campaign.

^ Mongol (2007).

While on the march or in battle, any item that was dropped must be picked up by the man behind the owner; be it a bow, sword, sowing needle or whip – failing to do so could result in being executed. There were certain people who searched throughout the deserted camp site for any belongings that may have been accidentally left behind. Other acts that were punishable by death were desertion, fleeing from the field when not given such order, looting the fallen before given permission and guards found sleeping on their watch. Lesser infractions resulted in the penalty of being caned; the number of times struck depended on how many times you’ve stepped out of line.

When they are in battle, if one or two or three or even more out of a group of ten run away, all are put to death; and if a whole group of ten flees, the rest of the group of a hundred are all put to death, if they do not flee too. In a word, unless they retreat in a body, all who take flight are put to death. Likewise if one or two or more go forward boldly to the flight, then the rest of the ten are put to death if they do not follow and, if one or more of the ten are captured, their companions are put to death if they do not rescue them.” – Giovanni of Pian del Carpine.

The first failure of a guardsman to appear on duty is to be punished with 30 strokes, a second failure with 70 strokes and a third failure with 37 strokes and expulsion from the guard…” – The Secret History of the Mongols.


  • Head over to my post, “GENGHIS KHAN, THE STALLION WHO MOUNTS THE WORLD”, to read more about how Genghis Khan was pressured into campaigning out of China toward Central Asia (Kara Khitai Khanate), to Greater Iran (Khwarezmian Empire), to the frontier of Eastern Europe (Medieval Russia and Ukraine) and back to China. I also cover Mongol shamanism and their tolerance of foreign religions, the famed ‘Yam’ pony express, their tactical use of captives and their massive deportation policy.
  • To read up on the early history of the Mongols, check out my post ‘THE MONGOLS AND THE RISE OF GENGHIS KHAN’. In this post I speak about the Mongolian transition from seemingly insignificant tribal confederacies into an empire that was four times the size of Alexander’s and twice the size of the Roman’s. I cover their military tactics, some of their battle formations, armaments, their rapid adaptation of foreign technologies, and their secretive order of bodyguards known as the Keshik. During Genghis Khan’s early reign the Mongols warred against themselves and their fellow steppe neighbors as well as Northern China’s Western Xia dynasty (Tanguts: Tibeto-Burmese) and eastern Jinn dynasty (Tungusic Jurchens who were Sinicized).

Hey, guys!

I don’t know about you, but I personally find audio stimulation incredibly necessary to my study sessions, drives, and whenever I go running. One of the best (free!) resources for this are podcasts. Not only do you get to listen to real people and expand your worldview, but you can learn something as well! I’ve listed a few of my favorites, feel free to add your own!


Planet Money is a fantastic foray into economics, sociology, and special interest for beginners and veterans in those fields alike. The hosts are always humorous and you will always come out of one of these 20-minute episodes understanding the world around you a little more.

Stuff You Should Know feels like How It’s Made for your ears. Even those boring topics you’d never look into a million years are brought to life with these guys!

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History helped me pass my AP World History exam. He takes the time to explore an incredibly complex era in history with intricate and enticing detail. Coupled with excellent storytelling abilities, you just might be able to cite the succession of the Mongol empire by heart.

TED Radio Hour is a great way to take your TED talks to go. 60 minutes of experts, professors, parents, widows, and so much more of real humans sharing their insights, experiences, and livelihoods with you. What else could you ask for!

Mac Power Users helped me understand that to master your craft, you have to master your tools. Hosts David Sparks and Katie Floyd explore how we can make iPhones, iPads, and Macs work for us and expand our productivity past where it ever could be.

Cortex focuses on the workflows and systems of a popular educational YouTuber, CGP Grey. They talk about email, current events in the tech industry, and how an output-based skillset has to evolve over time. It also brings up the importance of side projects to keep you engaged (Which is what this studyblr is for me!)

College Info Geek is quite possibly the most useful podcast I’ve ever listened to. It’s hosted by Thomas Frank, a college grad who managed to turn his college blog into a very successful small business. He reads hundreds of books on productivity and education and distils them down to bite-size chunks while also taking important questions about college, business, and learning.

Beyond the To-Do List is a podcast that explores the tools that a variety of industry leaders use to remain successful. Each person is unique and brings their own chemistry to the question of how to get your work done with as little resistance as possible.

Serial is a murder mystery. It blew up overnight and brings to light the questions of morality in the criminal justice system. A classic “Whodunit” with a good deal of investigative journalism.

Invisibilia is a podcast for those of you who love psychology and sociology. Through personal epitaphs from around the world, the invisible concepts that shape how we feel and how we see the world are discussed. This podcast gets browny points for being incredibly addictive and informative to boot.

S-Town is unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. It was a heart-wrenching, confusing, absolutely stunning piece of auditory journalism from an unexpected source. Warning: heavy language content and discussion of prejudice.

The Mind Palace is an intensive exploration of the history and art from unconventional and fascinating perspectives. Excellently edited and curated for massive historical enjoyment. Perfect for those of you who love Sherlock references and literary media alike!

That’s all, folks! Happy listening! Let me know what you listen to!

one interesting story about the Mongol invasions of Europe is that during a siege in I think Hungary the local people got wind that some Mongols were Nestorian Christians so they decided they would try and appeal to their fellow co-religionists and they got the bones and relics of a saint and decided to parade them in front of the battle lines to basically say they didnt want to fight and they had the same religion but 1) Christianity in Mongolia didnt have a tradition of venerating the remains of saints and 2) no one tried explaining to the Mongols what was going on and as far as they could tell the Hungarians were just waving skeletons around and it was apparently interpreted as them arrogantly saying they were going to turn the Mongols into skeletons and it just made them angrier

Japan is an island by the sea filled with volcanoes and it’s ♪♫ beautiful ♫♪.
In the year negative a billion, Japan might not have been here. In the year negative forty thousand, it was here, and you could walk to it, and some people walked to it. Then it got warmer, some icebergs melted, it became an island, and now there’s lots of ♫ trees ♫. Because it’s warmer.
So now there’s people on the island; they’re basically sort of hanging out in between the mountains eating nuts off trees and using the latest technology. Like stones, and bowls.
Ding dong, it’s the outside world, and they have technology from the future. Like really good metal, and ♪ crazy rice farms ♪. Now you can make a lot of rice really really quickly. That means if you own the farm, then you own a lot of food, which is something everybody needs to survvvvive. So that makes you king.
Rice farming and rice kingdoms spread all across the land, all the way to here. The most important kingdoms were here (Hi), here (Chikushi), here (Izumo), here (Kibi), here (Yamato), here (Koshi), and here (Kenu). But this one (Yamato) was the most most important, ruled by a heavenly superperson, or emperor for short.
Knock knock, get the door, it’s religion. The new prince wants everyone to try this hot new religion 🎺🎺🎺 (Buddhism) from Baekje.
“Please try this religion,” he said.
“No,” said everybody.
“Try iiiiit,” he said.
“no,” said everybody again, quieter this time.
And so the religion was put into place and all the rules that came with it.
Then, the government was taken over by another clique (Taika). And they made some reforms , like making the government govern more, and making the government more like China’s government, which is a government that governs more.
“Hi China,” they said.
“Hi dipshit (wa, dwarf),” said China.
“Can you call us something else, other than dipshit?” said Japan.
“Like what?” said China.
♫♪"How about sunrise laaand?“♪♫ said Japan.
And they stole China’s alphabet and wrote a book. About themselves! And then they made lots of poetry and art and another book about themselves.
Then they stopped moving the capital every time the emperor died and kept it in one place for a while, right here (Kyoto, Heian Palace). And they conquered the north finally, get that squared away.
A rich hipster named Kūkai is bored with modern Buddhism and visits China, learns a better version which is more ♫♪ spiritual ♪♫, comes back, reinvents the alphabet, and causes art and literature to be ♫♪ great ♪♫ for a long time. And the royal palace turned into such a dreamworld of art that they really didn’t give a shit about running the country.
So if you live outside the palace, how are you supposed to protect your shit, from criminals? ♫♪ Hire a samurai. ♪♫ Everyone started hiring samurai. Rich important people hired samurai. Poor people who could not afford to hire samurai did not hire samurai. The samurai became organized and powerful, more powerful than the government. So they made their own military government, right here. They let the emperor still be emperor, but the shogun was actually in control.
Breaking news, the Mongols have invaded China.
"W̛e҉’ve i͟nv̕aded ̵Chi͠na̸,” said the Mongols, “Pl͘e̶a̷se̵ ͝res͢p̛ȩc̷t u͢s҉,͜ or͜ el̕se w͞e ͟m̛igh͟t ͠i͝nvade͡ ̕y͜o̕u̕ ͡a͡s̕ ̡well̀.̢”
“Okay,” said Japan.
So the Mongols came over, ready for war, and died in a tornadotyphoon. But they tried again, and had a nice time fighting with the Japanese, but then died in a tornadotyphoon.
Then the emperor overthrows the shogunate, then the shogunate overthrows him back and moves to Kyoto, and makes a new shogunate. And the emperor can still dress like an emperor if he wants, that’s fine.
♫♪ Now there’s more art. ♪♫
Like painting with less colors, collaborative poetry, plays, monkey fun, tea parties, gardening, architecture, flowers.
It’s time for who’s going to be the next shogun. Usually it’s the shogun’s kid, but the shogun doesn’t have a kid. So he tries to get his brother to quit being a monk and be the next shogun. He says okay. But then the shogun has a kid. So now who’s it gonna be? Vote now on your phones. And everyone voted so hard that the palace caught on fire and burned down. The shogun actually didn’t care, he was off somewhere doing poetry. And the whole country broke into pieces. Everyone is fighting with each other for local power, and it’s anybody’s game.
Knock knock, it’s Europe. No, they’re not here to take over, they just wanna sell some shit. Like clocks, and guns, and ♫♪ Jesus ♪♫. So that’s cool. But everyone’s still fighting each other for control. Now with guns! And wouldn’t it be nice to control the capital, which right now is puppets, with no one controlling them? This clan (Imagawa) is ready to make a run for it, but first they have to trample this smaller clan (Oda) which is in the way. Surprise, smaller clan wins! And the leader of that clan (Oda Nobunaga) steals the idea of invading the capital, and invades the capital. And it goes very well.
He’s about halfway through conquering Japan when someone who works for him kills him, then someone else who works for him (Toyotomi Hideyoshi) kills them, and that guy finishes conquering Japan. And then he confiscated everybody’s swords. And he made some rules.
“Ąnd͟ n͟ow I'̛m̶ goińg̡ to ͘inva͞d̨e ͝Kor͟e͡a,̵ an͝d͢ ̶the̴n h͜op̷ef̕ull͏y ̵Chin͢a̛,” he said, and failed, and also died.
But before he died, he told these five guys to take care of his five year old son until he’s old enough to be the next ruler of Japan. And the five guys said yeah right, it’s not gonna be this kid, it’s gonna be one of us. ‘Cause we’re grownups. And it’s probably gonna be this guy (Tokugawa Ieyasu) who happens to be way more rich and powerful than the others.
A lot of people support him, but a lot of people (Ishida Mitsunari) support not supporting him. They have a fight, and he wins. And starts a new government, right here. ♫♪ Edo ♫♪ And he still lets the emperor dress like an emperor, and have very nice things. But don’t get confused, this (Tokugawa family) is the new government. And they are very strict, so strict they close the country. No one can leave, and no one can come in. Except for the Dutch, if they wanna buy and sell shit, but they have to do it right here (Dejima).
Now that the entire country was not at war with itself, the population increased a lot. Business increased, schools were built, roads were built, everyone learned to read, books were published. There was poetry (haiku), plays (kabuki), sexytimes, puppet shows (bunraku), and Dutch studies. People started to study European science from books they bought from the Dutch. We’re talking geography, skeletons, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and maybe even electricity.
Over time, the economic and cultural prosperity began to gradually slow do-
*impending doom music*
Knock knock. It’s the United States. With huge boats. With guns. Gunboats.
“O͜pe͡ņ,̨ t͡he͏ ͘c̷o̷ưntry. ͠S̛t͜o̡p̛,̵ ҉ha͠v̀in͜g̷ i͝t̀ ͝be̴ ́clo͞sed.̢” said the United States.
*music ends*
There was really nothing they could do, so they signed a contract that lets United States, Britain, and Russia visit Japan anytime they want.
Chōshu and Satsuma hated this. “That sucks!” they said. “This sucks!!!”
And with almost very little outside help, (from Britain) they overthrew the shogunate. And somehow made the emperor the emperor again, and moved him to Edo, which they renamed eastern capital (Tokyo). They made a new government, which was a lot more Western. And they made a new constitution, which was.. pretty Western. And a military that was… pretty Western (large).
And do you know what else is Western? That’s right, it’s conquering stuff. So what can we conquer? Korea! They conquer Korea, taking it from its previous owner, China, and then go a little bit further (Liaodong Peninsula).
And Russia rushes in out of nowhere and says, “Stop no you can’t do that we were gonna build a railroad through here to try to get some warm water.” And Russia builds their railroad, supervised by a shitton of soldiers. Then, when the railroad was done, they downgraded to a fuckton. Did I say downgrade? I meant upgrade.
And Japan says, “Can you maybe chill?”
And Russia says, “How 'bout maybe you chill?”
Japan is kind of scared of Russia. You’ll never guess who's alsokind of scared of Russia. Great Britain! So Japan and Great Britain make an alliance together so they can be a little less scared of Russia. Feeling confident, Japan goes to war against Russia, but just for a moment, and then they both get tired and stop.
♫♪ It’s time for World War I ♪♫
The world is about to have a war. Because it’s the 1900s, and weapons are getting crazy, and all these empires are excited to try them out on each other. Meanwhile, Japan has been enjoying conquering stuff and wants m̵͡͝͝o͏̨̨̢͢o͏͏̵̧̕ơ̢̢͜͜o͠͏͢ó͘o̶̢̧ó̷͝͠o͝͡o̧͘r̨̢̕ȩ̸ and the next thing on their list is this part of China (Qingdao) and lots of tiny islands.
All that stuff belongs to Germany, which just had war declared on by Britain, because Britain was friends with Belgium, who was being trespassed by Germany in order to get to France to kick France’s ass because France was friends with Russia who was getting ready to kick Austria’s ass because Austria was getting ready to kick Serbia’s ass because someone from Serbia shot the leader of Austria’s ass. Err, actually, he shot him in the head. And Britain is currently friends with Japan. So you know what that means, duhhh.
♫♪ Japan should take the islands. ♪♫ Which they wanted to do anyway. So they sort of called Britain on the tele(gram) to sort of let them know, and then they did it! And they also helped Britain here and there with some errands and stuff. *bell rings*
Now the war is over, and congratulations Japan, you technically fought in the war which means you get to sit at the negotiating table (Paris Peace Conference), with the big dudes, where they decided who owns what. And yes, Japan gets to keep all that shit they stole from Germany. And you also get to join the post-war mega alliance ♫♪ the League of Nations ♪♫ whose mission statement is to try not to take over the world.
The Great Depression is bad, and Japan’s economy is now crappy. But the military is doing just fine, and it invades Manchuria. And the League of Nations is like ♪"No don’t do that if you’re in the League of Nations you’re not supposed to try to take over the world.“♪
And Japan said, ♫♪ How bout I do, anyway? ♪♫ And Japan invaded more and more and more of China, and was planning to invade the entire East.
You’ve got mail.
It’s from Germany, the new leader of Germany, he has a cool mustache and is trying to take over the world and needs friends. This also got forwarded to Italy. They all decided to be friends because they had so much in common.
♫♪ It’s time for World War II ♪♫
Germany is invading the neighbors, then they invade the neighbors’ neighbors, then, the neighbor’s neighbors’ neighbors, who happen to be Britain, said "Holy shiiit” and the United States started helping Britain because they are ♫♪ good friends ♪♫ and started not helping Japan because ♫♪" Their friends and our friends are not friends. Plus they’re planning on invaaading the entire ocean.“♪♫
The United States is also working on a large, very huge bomb. Bigger than any other bomb, ever. Just in case (Germany). But they still haven’t joined the war, war looks bad on TV, and the United States is really starting to care about their image.
But then Japan spits on them, in Hawai'i, and challenges them to war. And they say yes! And then Germany, as a symbol of friendship, declares war on the United States also. And they help the gang chase Germany back into Germany. And they also chase Japan back into Japan. And they haven’t used the bomb yet, and are curious to see if it works, so they drop it on Japan.
They actually drop two.
(You win.)
The United States installed a new government, inspired by the United States government, with just the right ingredients for a ♫♪ post-war economic miracle ♪♫ and Japan starts making TVs, VCRs, automobiles, and camcorders as fast as they can. And also better than everybody else. They get rich, and the economy goes wild. But then the miracle wears off, but everything’s still pretty cool I guess. ♪♫ Bye. ♫♪