A while ago when I was some 10 years old I learned in school about the great scourge of humanity – Tatar-Mongols. According to the history that I was taught, they where savages who came from distant and nearly inhabitable steppes in XIII century, devastated all civilized world from Pacific shores of China to Eastern part of Europe and where stopped only by heroic fight of noble Russians who despite loosing all the battles and being subjugated by Mongols for 200 years nevertheless weakened Mongols to such extent that they could not expand much farther to the West. As result as usual ungrateful Western Europe was saved to develop its civilization which eventually produced wonderful contemporary industrial world. Russia meanwhile paid for its heroism by falling behind and was still catching up at the middle of XX century some 700 years after invasion.
This book provides much more interesting and logically much more probable account of the greatest kind of empire in human history. The reason I used words “Kind of empire” is that what Mongols mainly created was not a big bureaucratic state, but rather a common space of trade and communications that established foundation of contemporary word. Obviously being not less bandits then Russian noblemen or Chinese bureaucrats or American politicians they robbed everybody in their power, but it was somewhat more orderly robbery with enough space for people being robbed to produce sufficient wealth for themselves. In short while other robbers treated people in agricultural way that is like peasants treat their crop – planting, growing, and cutting with continuing attention and control over process of growing, Mongols treated conquered people like horses, allowing free pasture with little attention and getting what they needed when enough wealth was produced.
For me the most interesting is history of conversion of pastoral culture of Mongols who were not cowboys, but rather horse-boys and lived off pastures and horses in necessarily small family size groups into the most powerful military force known to history until advance of contemporary technology. Especially interesting is Genghis Khan’s ability to accommodate independent, self-sufficient, and quite individualistic Mongolian horseman into well coordinated military unit.
The military strength of Mongols came from combination of every warrior being self sufficient with 5-6 horses and hunting ability that provided for food, shelter, and mobility with team discipline and loyalty to the unit that allowed tens of thousands of such warriors coordinate their actions. Resulting ability of Mongols to fight equally well in retreat as in advance with decisions readily made at every level without excessive fear of superiors provided for the huge advantage in any encounter with big armies of agricultural people with their well armed knights, huge masses of poorly armed conscripts, top down decision making, and inability to move fast either spatially or intellectually because of bureaucratic hierarchy.
I do not know how much details of this book regarding Mongols religious tolerance, support of science, technology, and trade are correct, but the undeniable fact of Mongol’s movement over the huge Euro-Asian space and mingling and mixing multiple people living in this space could not possibly occur without giant exchange of information and knowledge causing upgrade of everybody’s level to the top level achieved elsewhere. In short it looked like the beginning of one world in which we are living today.