The Mongol Whirlwind
At the beginning of the thirteenth century, four states reigned uneasily in Central Asia. The Khwarazmshahs, rulers of a recently cobbled together realm, dominated Transoxiana and parts of the adjoining Middle East. Former Seljuk subjects, they became independent by the latter part of the twelfth century. In 1194, Khwarazmian troops delivered the head of Toghrul III, the last Seljuk ruler in Iraq and Iran, to the Khwarazmshah Tekish. Tekish's son, Muhammad, master of much of Transoxiana and eastern and central Iran, cast covetous glances at the caliphal throne in Baghdad and at his neighbors, but much of his power was illusory. Khwarazm was an unstable mix of professional Turkic soldiery, restless eastern Qipchaq tribes with whom the dynasty intermarried, and the settled Irano-Khwarazmian people.
To their east were the fading Qarakhanids, under the aegis of the declining Qara Khitai, also called Qara Qitan, nominal overlords of eastern and western Turkestan. Recent arrivals, they had fled the Jurchen destruction of the Qitan-Liao state in 1124-25. Led by their Gur Khan (universal khan), Yelu Dashi, a royal Qitan, the Liao refugees created a new realm in Central Asia. Shamanists, Buddhists, and Nestorian Christians, the Mongolic and Chinese-speaking Qara Khitai imposed themselves on the Turko-Iranian Muslims of Transoxiana. Their religious tolerance, relatively loose system of governance, and the prestige of their Inner Asian and Chinese imperial heritage, made their rule palatable to their Muslim subjects. The Qara Khitai felt no pressure to convert to Islam. Their regime was reasonably successful well into the long reign of Yelu Dashi's grandson, Yelu Zhilugu, but signs of decline became evident by the early thirteenth century.
The Jin dynasty (1115-1234), centered in northern China and Manchuria, arose from the Jurchens, Manchurian hunters and fishermen, who also farmed and raised livestock. Former subjects and now masters of the Liao realm, they dominated the eastern end of the steppe whose inhabitants called the Jin Emperor Altan Khan ("Golden Khan," Golden Khan; jin in Chinese means "gold"). The Jin had difficulties in controlling the restless tribes of Mongolia. They constantly monitored them, seeking to keep them off balance by promoting internal conflict. The Mongols swept them all away.
The Mongols were one of a number of tribal unions inhabiting Mongolia and adjoining areas in the late twelfth century. Some were steppe nomads, others were hunting and fishing forest folk. Some spanned both worlds. The Mongols, organized in lineages and clans, were centered on the Onan and Kerulen rivers. The historian 'Ata Malik Juvainо, who came from an eastern Iranian family that previously served the Khwarazmshahs but had entered Mongol service, describes the Mongols before the rise of Chinggis Khan as lacking a ruler, disunited, and constantly fighting one another. "Some of them regarded robbery and violence, immorality and debauchery as deeds of manliness and excellence." They dressed in the "skins of dogs and mice" which, together with "other dead things" and koumiss, formed their diet. A great man among them was one who had iron stirrups. Such were their "luxuries." The Jin took what they wished from them.
North of the Mongols were the politically fragmented Naiman extending to the Irtysh River in Siberia. Under Uighur influence, Nestorian Christianity had made some headway among them. South of the Mongols were the Tatars, long-time foes-an enmity that the Jin encouraged. The politically ambitious Kereits (in Mongolian Kereyid), led by To'oril, west of the Mongols in the Orkhon and Selenge region, had friendly links with them. Some of them were Nestorian Christians. Less friendly were the Merkit (or Mergid) on the lower Selenge and south of the Baikal region. North and east of them were the Oirats (or Oyirad) and other Mongolic forest folk.
The Tatars, often proxies of the Jin, were politically dominant and their name was frequently used to denote all of these peoples. Mongol unification began with Qaidu, probably in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries. The Secret History of the Mongols, an anonymous Mongol work of the thirteenth century, reports that Qaidu's grandson, Qabul, "ruled over all the Mongols" and was their first khan. When Jin attempts to subordinate him failed, they invited Qabul to a banquet. Fearing poisoned food, he secretly regurgitated everything he ate. The Jin were amazed and then angered when he defiantly tweaked the beard of Altan Khan. Relations worsened when the Jin helped the Tatars to capture Ambaghai Khan, Qabul's successor. He was subjected to a gruesome death, nailed to some kind of torture device, around 1160. Ensuing Mongol struggles with the Tatars were largely unsuccessful, and the Mongols were soon fighting among themselves.
This was the strife-torn world in which Chinggis Khan was born sometime in the mid-1160s. Mongol tradition says that he was born "clutching in his right hand a clot of blood the size of a knucklebone," an omen of things to come. His family claimed descent from the legendary Alan-Qo'a, a widow who miraculously became pregnant when a "resplendent yellow man entered by the light of the smoke-hole or the door top of the tent" in which she slept, rubbed her belly and having entered her womb "crept out on a moonbeam or a ray of sun in the guise of a yellow dog." Qabul Khan was a sixth-generation descendant of Alan Qo'a. His grandson was Yisugei, who named his son Temujin (blacksmith) in honor of a slain Tatar foe. Temujin, who became Chinggis Khan, came from a family with a high sociopolitical standing. At the age of nine, he was engaged to Borte, a ten year-old of the Qonggirad, and left with his future in-laws in keeping with Mongol custom. Yisugei cautioned that his son, who in adulthood would be called "Conqueror of the World," was afraid of dogs and asked that care be taken in that regard.
After Yisugei was fatally poisoned by vengeful Tatars in 1175, his family was abandoned by the other clans. Temujin returned home. His mother Ho'elun fed her children on "crab apples and bird cherries . . . wild garlic and . . . wild onion" and chided them for bickering among themselves, saying "we have no friend but our shadow." The future ruler had an impoverished, but adventure-filled youth, living by his wits-and often as a brigand and horse thief. As a youngster, he and his brother Qasar coolly killed an older half-brother, Bekter, in a dispute arising over captured game.
Temujin's success as a warlord and adroit politician brought him a following of ambitious young men. These nokurs (boon companions), who gave up clan and tribal loyalties, formed the core of his military retinue, providing the future generals and administrators of the Mongol empire. Temujin's alliance with the Kereit leader, To'oril, his father's former anda (sworn blood brother, a very important relationship in Mongolian society), raised his visibility as a young man of promise. An important victory in 1184 by Temujin, his anda Jamuqa, and the Kereits, over the Merkits who had kidnapped his wife Borte, gained him more followers. By 1189, some Mongol factions recognized him as khan. In 1196, allied with the Kereits and the Jin who had turned against their former allies, he defeated his old foes, the Tatars. The Jin, still attempting to stoke rivalries among the Mongolian tribes, honored To'oril with the title Ong Khan. In 1202, Temujin decimated the Tatars, enslaving those whom he permitted to survive. He then destroyed his anda Jamuqa and To'oril. Temujin prized loyalty, but he removed anyone who blocked his path to dominion. In 1206, a quriltai (assembly) elected him Chinggis Khan, a title that probably meant "universal emperor."
The drive to unify the Mongols and other nomads of the eastern steppes was a reaction to Jin manipulations of local Mongol politics and a growing engagement with the outside world. Chinggis was not the only man in Mongolia with royal ambitions. He was simply better able to capitalize on his foes' divisions. He was also lucky, having several times escaped captivity or the plots of his enemies through a convenient turn of fortune. He not only acknowledged his luck, but advertised it as a sign of divine favor. Like the Turks before him and drawing on the same steppe imperial tradition, Chinggis and his successors would claim the mandate of heaven. Subsequently, Muslims saw him as the "Scourge of God," a notion his propagandists were only too happy to encourage.
The name "Mongol" now spread as a political name to the various peoples of Mongolia that Chinggis had conquered. In the Muslim lands and Europe, however, people would call them "Tatars." Even today, the name "Tatar" lives on as the name of peoples who are overwhelmingly of Turkic origin, but were part of the Mongol Empire. This new realm was centered in the old "holy" grounds of the Turks in Mongolia. The choice was hardly accidental, as this was sacred territory to the nomads, the seat of previous empires. Chinggis and his successors, while employing familiar symbols of power and sovereignty in the steppe, such as possessing "holy" grounds, assuming venerable imperial titles (khan or qaghan), and proclaiming a law code for the realm, also broke with earlier patterns. Chinggis splintered the tribes, knowing how destabilizing they could be to his imperial enterprise, and demanded that loyalty to him replace the bonds of tribe, clan, or family. He reorganized them into the familiar military units of 10, 100, 1000, and 10,000 (the tumen), but shorn of tribal affiliations-a standing professional army loyal only to him and his house.
Without the prospect of continuing gain, nomad-warriors would soon abandon a warlord. To retain followers, the successful state-builder had to lead them to further military success-and booty. Chinggis prepared a program of conquest. The Siberian forest and forest-steppe peoples (Kyrgyz, Oirat) and the Onggut Turks in the Gobi quickly submitted. The Tanguts became tributaries in 1209. In that same year, Barchuq, ruler of the Tarim Basin Uighurs, cast off Qara Khitai overlordship and in 1211 formally swore allegiance to Chinggis Khan, who rewarded him with a royal princess as bride and deemed him his "fifth son." Chinggis made use of the now largely settled Uighurs, effective intermediaries between the steppe and sedentary worlds, who became his bureaucrats. The Mongols adopted the Uighur alphabet, still used in Inner Mongolia today.
The Mongol assault on the Jin began in 1211, and by 1215 they had taken one of their capital cities, Zhongdu (now Beijing). Jin resistance continued, and operations in Manchuria expanded into Koryo, the Korean kingdom, whose pacification took fifty-eight years. The main focus of Mongol attention, however, was Qara Khitai and Khwarazmian Central Asia. Guchuluk, a Naiman prince defeated at the hands of the Mongols in 1208, had taken refuge with the Qara Khitai. Gathering up Naiman and Merkit refugees (also opponents of Chinggis Khan), he exploited the uneasy Khwarazmian-Qara Khitai relationship, posing as ally of one or the other.
Guchuluk married Qunqu, the daughter of the Gur Khan Zhilugu; she was a strong-willed woman who fell madly in love with the Naiman adventurer at first sight. Zhilugu indulged his daughter and permitted their marriage three days later. This would have fatal consequences. Exploiting a Khwarazmian victory over a Qara Khitai army, Guchuluk captured Zhilugu and seized control of the state in 1211. He allowed his father-in-law to remain as titular ruler, but he and his Naimans now held effective power. When Zhilugu died in 1213, Guchuluk proclaimed himself Gur Khan. The local Muslim population, facing demands that they convert to either Christianity or Buddhism favored by Guchuluk, grew restive.
The Mongol whirlwind was about to sweep into western Turkestan. While Khwarazm and the Mongols exchanged embassies, covertly seeking information about each other, Chinggis decided to crush Guchuluk. He attacked the Merkits again and invaded the Qara Khitai lands from 1216 to 1218. Guchuluk perished. Merkit refugees retreated to the Qipchaq lands, but they and the Naiman no longer presented a military threat.
As the Mongols pressed on the Khwarazmian borders, fears heightened. Muhammad Khwarazmshah's Qipchaq kinsman massacred a Mongol trading party. The causes of this senseless provocation, which occurred not long after the Mongol ambassadors had signed a peace treaty, have long baffled historians. A Mongol delegation demanding justice for the victims and compensation for their goods was also put to the sword. The now inevitable war commenced in 1219, and Muhammad's armies simply melted away. He fled and ended his days hiding on an island in the Caspian. Meanwhile, Bukhara and Samarkand, both pillaged, fell in 1220. Thirty thousand craftsmen from the latter were handed out to Chinggis Khan's sons and relatives as booty. A survivor from Bukhara reported that the Mongols "came, they sapped, they burnt, they slew, they plundered and they departed." Central Asia was
now under Mongol rule.
Eastern Iran fell next, and the Mongols probed Transcaucasia and the western steppes in force. They defeated the Qipchaqs, the only remaining nomadic force capable of resistance, along with their allies from Orthodox Christian Rus' (the ancestral core of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus') in May 1223. On their return east, the Mongols, laden with booty, dealt the Volga Bulghars a glancing blow. The Rus' were stupefied by the suddenness of the attack. Clergymen pronounced it a punishment from God. The Mongols, having familiarized themselves with the region, would return. Chinggis Khan's oldest son, Jochi, was entrusted with this mission.
Chinggis now turned to unfinished business on his immediate borders. His armies subjugated the Tanguts in 1226-27, but in the course of the campaign the aging conqueror fell ill. He died in August 1227. His oldest son, Jochi, had predeceased by several months. Chinggis, although inclined towards his youngest son, Tolui, bypassed him and his second son, Chaghadai, selecting his third son, the amiable Ogodei, as his successor. The quriltai of 1229 reaffirmed his choice. Ogodei, although known for his qualities of justice, intelligence, and judgment, was overly fond of drink. Tolui, in keeping with nomadic tradition as youngest son, the odchigin (prince of the hearth), received his father's ancestral lands, personal possessions, and the largest allotment of troops, some 101,000. All of his sons concurred.
In principle, the Great Qaghan was the first among equals. Each brother received an ulus, literally a "nation, state, people," in essence a state within the larger, still unified Yeke Mongghol Ulus (Great Mongol State), and military forces. The initial borders of each ulus were not always clearly defined, nor did they together comprise all the conquered territories. Following nomadic tradition, the oldest son received the most distant of his father's holdings. Jochi's sons, led by Batu and Orda, held the western frontier: the Qipchaq steppe (part of which remained to be conquered), western Siberia, adjoining areas, and anything to the west that the Mongols could take. Batu established his capital, Saray, near modern Astrakhan on the lower Volga. Chaghadai, the abrasive and punctilious keeper of the Yasa, the Mongol law code established by Chinggis, initially received much of the former Qara Khitai realm, eventually holding most of eastern and western Turkestan. Ogodei at first had lands in Jungaria (northern Xinjiang), southern Siberia, and territory extending into the Irtysh region. Later, he would have central Mongolia, where he built the imperial capital Qaraqorum in 1235.
The quriltais of 1229 and 1235 charted future conquests. By 1241, the Mongols had subjugated the Qipchaqs and the Rus' principalities. The conquest of the Qipchaq steppe brought large numbers of Turkic nomads under Chinggisid rule. They became a major part of the "Mongol" or "Tatar" forces that swept across Eurasia. The Mongols also gained control of virtually all of the horsepower of Central Asia, which meant almost half of the world's horses. This gave them a tremendous military advantage. Severe climate conditions also contributed to Mongol success. Unusual periods of cold, heavy rains, hail, and strong winds in the 1220s and 1230s in North Asia and extending into Russia, precipitated perhaps by volcanic eruptions, may have played havoc with crops and undermined the local economies.
Mongol invasions in 1241 briefly brought Poland and Hungary under Chinggisid control. A mixed force of some 20,000 Polish and German knights led by Duke Henry the Pious of Silesia was defeated on April 9. The victors collected nine sacks of ears, and Duke Henry's head was paraded atop a spear. The death of Ogodei (probably from alcoholism) and political tension in Qaraqorum cut short consolidation of their westernmost conquests. The Mongols withdrew; Poland and Hungary breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Operations directed at the Middle East had begun in 1230. The Mongols swept across Iran and Transcaucasia. Kirakos Gandzakets'i, an Armenian historian, compared the Mongols to clouds of locusts . . . the entire country was fi lled with corpses of the dead and there were no people to bury them. The Seljuks of Asia Minor succumbed in 1243 at the Battle of Kose Dag in northeast Turkey. Iran and Asia Minor were now largely under Mongol rule. The Toluids under Mongke, who had replaced the Ogodeids as Great Qaghans in an intra-Chinggisid power struggle, continued the expansion. In 1253, Mongke dispatched his brother Hulegu to the Middle East to complete Chinggisid conquests there. The Abbasid caliphate fell in 1258. In Baghdad some 200,000, according to Hulegu's own estimate, perished. The Mongols, mindful of the old steppe tradition of not allowing royal blood to touch the earth, rolled up the last Abbasid caliph, al-Mustafsim, in a clothing sack and trampled him to death.
A power struggle between his brothers Qubilai and Ariq Boke following Mongke's death halted Hulegu's further advance. He turned eastward with a substantial portion of his army, leaving his remaining forces to move against the Mamluks, slave-soldiers of largely Qipchaq origin, who had taken power in Egypt and Syria in 1250. The Mamluks defeated an invading Mongol force in the Galilee in 1260, marking the end of the Mongol advance in the Near East. Iran, Iraq, and much of Asia Minor were theirs. An uneasy border was established in Syria. Abu Shama, an Arab commentator on these events, wryly noted that "to everything there is a pest of its own kind." Only fellow Central Asians, the Mamluks, could stop the Mongols.
In East Asia, Qubilai, Mongke's brother and successor as Great Qaghan, built a new capital (Chinese: Dadu, Mongol: Daidu, Turkic: Khan Baliq, "Khan's City") modern Beijing, adopted the Chinese dynastic name Yuan, and completed the conquest of China by 1279. Qubilai also launched attacks on Japan from Korea, which had been finally subjugated in 1270. These naval expeditions of 1274 and 1281 were destroyed by typhoon storms that the Japanese called Kamikaze (divine wind).
Distance and the growth of diverging family and local interests created ever-widening fissures in Mongol unity. Jochi had fourteen sons, Chaghadai eight, Ogodei seven, Tolui ten. The succeeding generations were equally prolific. Each expected his share. Strains within the Chinggisid "golden family" (altan urugh) quickly arose. Mongke had purged many Ogodeids and Chaghadaids, accusing them of plotting to seize power. Although the Jochid Batu helped to engineer the transfer of power to Mongke, the Jochid-Toluid alliance fell apart by the early 1260s as the Batuids and Huleguids fought over Transcaucasia. The Jochids formed an entente with the Mamluks, most of whom were Qipchaqs from Jochid-ruled lands, against their kinsmen in Iran.
Although the Toluids also fought among themselves, Qubilai's steadfast opponent was an Ogodeid, Qaidu, often presented as the upholder of Mongol traditions. Qaidu sought to reestablish his family's ulus, but not the restoration of the Ogodeid Great Qaghanate. He was never a mortal danger to Qubilai. From his base in southern Kazakhstan, Qaidu exploited intra-Chinggisid rivalries, gained control of much of Turkestan in the early 1270s, and in 1281 formed an alliance with the Chaghadaids, which lasted for two decades. He controlled territory from the Oxus River to the Altay Mountains. His state dissolved in internal conflicts after his death and his collaborators, the Chagahaid khans, subsumed it. We know little about Qaidu personally other than that he was very clever and, unlike his kinsmen, abstemious in his personal habits, shunning alcohol (which had killed his father). His beard consisted of nine gray hairs. One of his daughters, Qutulun, was a formidable fighter who accompanied her father on his campaigns. Her father gave her the right to marry a man of her own choosing. Qutulun insisted that only the man who could best her in combat would be her husband. She remained unmarried for a long time, relenting only when gossip hinted at a more intimate relationship with her father.
Throne and territorial struggles rippled across the empire, splintering the realm. Distinct Chinggisid states took shape: the Ulus of Jochi, the Ulus of Chaghadai and the Yuan dynasty in China and the eastern steppes. Hulegu and his heirs, centered in Iran, took the title ilkhan (ruler of a subordinate state) indicating a slightly less exalted standing. In reality, the ilkhanate (1356-1335) was an equal ulus.
By the late thirteenth century, the Mongol Empire extended from Korea, China, and Manchuria to Ukraine and Russia. Its sphere of influence included the Balkans and the Byzantine Empire. Iran, Iraq, and Transcaucasia formed the southern border zone. Everywhere, they had faced foes that were weak or divided. Cities were destroyed and looted, populations massacred or carried off. When the conquests ended, the Mongols, aided by local and international advisors, began to rebuild. Religions were left in place. Although Mongol religious tolerance has sometimes been exaggerated, the principal obligation of the various clergies was to pray for the health and good fortune of the Khans, who were happy for spiritual support from any source. Moreover, tolerance was also a more realistic policy in a religiously diverse empire.
The Chinggisids were keen talent scouts. Everywhere, their agents identified subjects whose skills could benefit the regime. They, too, were the spoils of war. Linguistic ability in a polyglot empire was especially valuable. Those who knew languages were sure of employment. Qubilai, who spoke colloquial Chinese, was sufficiently concerned with the question that in 1269 he ordered 'P'ags-pa, a Tibetan monk in his service, to devise an alphabet that could render Mongol, Chinese, and other languages of the empire. Despite the ruler's best efforts, it never gained wide acceptance.
The Mongols sought loyal and effective servants in the conquered lands. Chinggis and his heirs were anxious to have specialists who could read (and perhaps control) the heavens. Yelu Chucai, a Sinicized Qitan who served Chinggis and Ogodei, initially gained the favor of the Great Khan through his abilities as an astronomer and meteorologist. Rashоd ad-Dоn tells of a Qangli Qipchaq tribesman who was a master of the yadatash, the magical rain-stone of the Central Asian Turkic nomads. According to him, this rainmaker was able to produce a snowstorm in summer. Foreign specialists had a pacifying effect on some of the more destructive impulses of the early Chinggisids. It was Yelu Chucai who dissuaded Ogodei from turning much of north China into pasturages for his herds by demonstrating that herding tax-paying peasants could be more profitable.
Skilled individuals moved around the empire as their talents and imperial needs dictated. Bolad Agha, a Mongol, saw service in China and then Iran. There he became one of the most important informants of Rashоd ad-Dоn, the great historian of the Mongol empire. Bolad's father, Jurki, a military commander, was also a ba'urchi (cook), or more probably the man who oversaw the preparation of food, in the extended household of Borte, Chinggis Khan's first and senior wife, the mother of his four heirs. This close and intimate contact with the ruling house gave him very high standing. Fluent in Chinese and Mongol, Bolad held many important positions under Qubilai. He also retained his father's title of ba'urchi with the aura of easy access to the ruler that it implied. In 1285-86, he was sent to Iran on a mission, and he elected to remain there in service to the Iranian branch of the Toluids. Bolad was probably responsible for introducing paper currency (well known in China) to Iran in 1294. It failed utterly. The production of paper money required printing, which was also brought to Iran, where it met a similar fate.
Rashоd ad-Dоn was a Persian Muslim of Jewish origin who became an important minister under the Ilkhanids. He also began his career in the imperial kitchen, preparing food for the Khan, and personally serving him. This close contact and his natural talents brought him to the fore. His Jami' at-Tavarоkh (Collection of the Histories) covers not only the Mongols and other Central Asian peoples, but also the history of China, the Near East, and what was known about the West. This kind of broad historical vision would have been impossible without the transcontinental connections established by the Mongols. His overlord, Ghazan Khan, spoke Arabic and Persian in addition to elegant Mongol, and was also acquainted with Hindi, Kashmiri, Tibetan, Chinese, "Frankish," and other languages.
Chinggisid Iran and China exchanged medical and pharmacological knowledge along with culinary arts. Rashоd ad-Dоn possessed a Chinese cookbook and was knowledgeable about Chinese cuisine, probably with Bolad's help. West Asian foods, such as sherbet and soups with chickpeas, were known at the Yuan court. The Yinshan zhengyao, a Yuan dietary compendium dated to 1330, is sprinkled with Persian and Turkic terms. Similar interests are seen in a dictionary compiled in six languages (Arabic, Persian, Turkic, Mongol, Greek, and Armenian) by a mid-fourteenth-century ruler in distant Yemen, an area that was never under Mongol control. Among the entries are terms for "chopsticks" and "Chinese duck." The Mongols contributed to a broader Eurasian culinary palate.
Marco Polo is the most famous European who made his way to the Chinggisid courts-and he was a minor figure. His book about his adventures became a best seller in Europe. There were countless others in the Mongol capitals anxious to secure an audience or offer their talents to the Great Khans. William of Rubruck, a Franciscan friar sent by the Papacy to the court of Mongke in the 1250s, mentions "William of Paris," who built a contraption which had the form of a large silver tree which from various apertures spewed forth "koumiss" and other alcoholic beverages. The sharp-eyed friar also appreciated the many alcoholic concoctions prepared from rice, millet, wheat, and honey, which the Mongols borrowed from the peoples of their empire. However, he looked askance at the organized intoxication that was a part of their great feasts, decrying their competition "with one another in quaffing in a thoroughly distasteful and greedy fashion."
Music accompanied the prodigious tippling required of Chinggisid court etiquette, and Rubruck noted the great variety of musical instruments in the "Tatar" camps. The Yuan court maintained an orchestra whose instruments reflected their world empire. An organ was introduced from western Asia, outfitted with a mechanical peacock, which moved in time with the music. Stringed instruments from the Turkic steppe, such as the qobiz, were found in Chinggisid courts, east and west. Ibn Battuta, the early-fourteenth-century North African Muslim traveler, attended a Mongol feast in China in which performers sang in Persian, Arabic, and Chinese. In Iran there were performances of Chinese music. Archery and wrestling were major forms of popular entertainment. Mongol khans gathered wrestlers from throughout their realm. One famous "Tazik" champion was exempted from his wrestling duties and commanded to sire children-future champions. Various forms of polo-like equestrian sports were extremely popular from China to the Mediterranean. The Mongols, thus, may have been the first promoters of international championship sports competitions.
The Chinggisids and the Mongol elite were active players in the exchange process, making their influence and tastes felt in the lands they governed and beyond. Cultural exchange went through a Mongol filter. For a time, the Mongol Empire created a space in which peaceful, secure cultural interaction could occur. The exchange of information created an awareness of wider horizons among the educated and some intrepid men of commerce, who gained a more accurate sense of the world. Chinggisid rule left a relatively small linguistic footprint. Islamic "Turko-Persia" did not become Mongolian in speech. Mongol settlers adopted local languages. The Mongol tongue remained largely limited to the Mongols themselves.
When the Mongol regimes collapsed and trade was disrupted, western Europeans, on the periphery of this commercial interaction, were anxious to find alternate routes to the East. The Muslim Middle East fared less well. The 'Abbasid Caliphate, in decline since the ninth century, was swept away along with elements of classical Arabo-Islamic civilization. The domination of the Islamic heartlands by steppe peoples since the arrival of the Seljuk Turks in the eleventh century continued. Islam, as a powerful political-military-religious force, revived under the Ottomans in the fourteenth century. The Ottomans were, at their core, a Turkic grouping on the Chinggisid periphery, one of the many such groupings created by the Mongol whirlwind.
The reverberations of Mongol expansionism were felt in Southeast Asia as well. The Mongol conquest of south China contributed to the movement of Tai populations into the Burmese state of Pagan. From 1283 to 1301, periodic Mongol attacks on Pagan (which was briefly taken in 1287), caused further displacements. There was also Mongol military activity, largely unsuccessful, in what is today Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. The Javanese kingdom of Majapahit exploited the Mongol presence to establish itself in 1293 and then drove them out. Majapahit subsequently became one of the great suppliers of spices, much in demand in western Europe.
The Mongol Empire marked the greatest incursion of the steppe peoples into settled society. It brought the steppe, the forest zone, and many of the neighboring states (China, Iran, Medieval Rus') into a vast world realm, the largest, contiguous, land empire in human history. It profoundly influenced global history, putting into place international networks of communications, the beginnings of an early "world system" in the period 1250-1350, the precursor of the modern world.