WEEK 23

The Mongol Empire of the 13th and 14th centuries was the largest contiguous empire in history. Originating in present-day Mongolia in East Asia, the Mongol Empire at its height stretched from the Sea of Japan to parts of Eastern Europe, extending northward into parts of the Arctic;eastward and southward into parts of the Indian subcontinent, attempted invasions of Southeast Asia, and conquered the Iranian Plateau; and westward as far as the Levant and the Carpathian Mountains.

The Mongol Empire emerged from the unification of several nomadic tribes in the Mongol heartland under the leadership of Temüjin, known by the more famous title of Genghis Khan (c. 1162–1227), whom a council proclaimed as the ruler of all Mongols in 1206. The empire grew rapidly under his rule and that of his descendants, who sent out invading armies in every direction. The vast transcontinental empire connected the East with the West, and the Pacific to the Mediterranean, in an enforced Pax Mongolica, allowing the exchange of trade, technologies, commodities, and ideologies across Eurasia.

The empire began to split due to wars over succession, as the grandchildren of Genghis Khan disputed whether the royal line should follow from his son and initial heir Ögedei or from one of his other sons, such as Tolui, Chagatai, or Jochi. The Toluids prevailed after a bloody purge of Ögedeid and Chagatayid factions, but disputes continued among the descendants of Tolui. The conflict over whether the Mongol Empire would adopt a sedentary, cosmopolitan lifestyle or stick to its nomadic, steppe-based way of life was a major factor in the breakup.

After Möngke Khan died (1259), rival kurultai councils simultaneously elected different successors, the brothers Ariq Böke and Kublai Khan, who fought each other in the Toluid Civil War (1260–1264) and also dealt with challenges from the descendants of other sons of Genghis. Kublai successfully took power, but war ensued as he sought unsuccessfully to regain control of the Chagatayid and Ögedeid families. By the time of Kublai's death in 1294, the Mongol Empire had fractured into four separate khanates or empires, each pursuing its own interests and objectives: the Golden Horde khanate in the northwest, the Chagatai Khanate in Central Asia, the Ilkhanate in the southwest, and the Yuan dynasty[note 3] in the east, based in modern-day Beijing. In 1304, during the reign of Temür, the three western khanates accepted the suzerainty of the Yuan dynasty.

The part of the empire that fell first was the Ilkhanate, which disintegrated in the period of 1335–1353. Next, the Yuan dynasty lost control of the Tibetan Plateau and China proper in 1354 and 1368, respectively, and collapsed after its capital of Dadu was taken over by Ming forces. The Genghisid rulers of the Yuan then retreated north and continued to rule the Mongolian Plateau. The regime is thereafter known as the Northern Yuan dynasty in historiography. The Golden Horde had broken into competing khanates by the end of the 15th century and was defeated and pushed out of Eastern Europe in 1480 by the Grand Duchy of Moscow, while the Chagatai Khanate lasted in one form or another until 1687. (Wikipedia)