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The Great Khans and the Mongol Imperium

January 3, 2012

Genghis Khan / ℗ Pictures From History

The greatest joy for a man is to defeat his enemies, to drive them before him, to take from them all they possess, to see those they love in tears, to ride their horses, and to hold their wives and daughters in his arms.

Conquering the world on horseback is easy; it is dismounting and governing that is hard.

Genghis Khan (r. 1206-27)

In the 13th century a new and unexpected power exploded onto the Central Asian scene, rapidly conquering the entire length of the Silk Road from Chang’an in the east to Antakya in the west under a single empire for the first time in history, and producing as a consequence the last great flourishing of Silk Road trade before the latter’s decline and gradual disappearance in the 15th and 16th centuries. The engine for this new empire was Mongol expansion, and the man who made it happen was a nomadic ruler called Temujin, who would later assume the title Genghis Khan (1206-27), the name by which he would be remembered – with a shudder by settled peoples from Chang’an to Baghdad and Budapest, and with fierce pride by the nomadic Mongols.

Kublai Khan / ℗ Pictures From History

Temujin was born c.1162 not far from Ulaan Baaatar, the present capital of Mongolia. Despite enduring a difficult childhood and relative poverty, he showed remarkable will power and military ability, gradually increasing in power and defeating his clan enemies until, in 1206, he united the feuding Mongol tribes under his sole leadership as Great Khan. He lived for a further 21 years, during which time his armies conquered a great part of Asia including the Silk Road between China and the Caspian Sea. On his death in 1227, the Mongol Empire is estimated to have encompassed 26 million sq kilometres, an area about four times the size of the Roman or Macedonian Empires at their peak.

Three Mongol Empresses / ℗ Pictures From History

Despite his ruthless efficiency as a military commander, Genghis was remarkably enlightened in matters of religion and culture, allowing his many conquered subjects considerable freedom of choice. He also set the seal on another aspect of Mongol policy – the encouragement of commercial and trade relationships between the increasingly far flung corners of their empire. This enlightened policy caused a brief but dazzling resurgence of the ancient Silk Road, as all merchants and ambassadors carrying proper documentation and authority were permitted – indeed encouraged – to travel throughout the vast Mongol realm under Imperial protection. As a consequence, overland trade between Asia and Europe greatly increased. During the 13th and early 14th century this policy encouraged hundreds, perhaps thousands of Western merchants to travel the Silk Route to China, the most celebrated of whom was Marco Polo…

Pictures From History has assembled an extensive collection of images relating to the Mongol Empire, including the most comprehensive collection of portraits of Mongol Khans, emperors, empresses and royal consorts available on the web. To view more than 150 images, go to Pictures From History‘s GREAT KHANS page and click on any of the revolving images; to continue reading the above text, go to our GREAT KHANS AND THE MONGOL IMPERIUM page.

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One Comment
  1. Gerry Bodeker permalink

    Have just finished reading John Man’s excellent story of Marco Polo – ‘Xanadu’. Earlier had read his biography of Kublai Khan. Am sure he would be interested in your collection. Best regards, Gerry

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