Interregional Trade and Exchange Review for AP World History
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The Song dynasty was overcome in the thirteenth century by the Mongols, a society of pastoral nomads from the steppes of Central Asia. By the end of their period of dominance in the fifteenth century, the Mongols had conquered China, Persia, and Russia, controlling the largest land empire in history. In establishing their empire, the Mongols facilitated the flow of trade between Europe and Asia and brought bubonic plague to three continents.
Accomplished horsemen, the Mongols typified the numerous nomadic bands that migrated throughout Central Asia in search of grazing lands for their livestock. To supplement the meat and dairy products provided by their herds, the Mongols traded with settled agricultural peoples for grain and vegetables. The basic unit of Mongol society was the tribe; when warfare threatened, tribes joined together to form confederations. Although men held tribal leadership roles, Mongol women had the right to speak in tribal councils. Throughout their history, the Mongols were masters of the intrigues of steppe diplomacy, which involved alliances with other pastoral groups and the elimination of rivals, sometimes rivals within one's own family.
Early Mongol influence on China had begun as early as the twelfth century, when the Mongols defeated an army from Qin China sent to repel their advances. The leader credited with organizing the Mongols into an effective confederation was Temujin, who was renamed Chinggis Khan when he was elected the ultimate ruler, or Khan, of the Mongol tribes in 1206. A master at motivating the Mongol tribes, Chinggis Khan managed to break individual clan loyalties and construct new military units with allegiance to himself as their leader.
In addition to their unparalleled horsemanship, the Mongols became masters of the shortbow. Mongol contact with the Chinese also introduced them to other weapons of war such as the catapult, gunpowder, cannons, flaming arrows, and battering rams. By the time that Chinggis Khan died in 1227, the Mongols controlled an empire that extended from northern China to eastern Persia.
As they consolidated their empire, the Mongols were more preoccupied with collecting tribute than with administering their newly acquired territories. They were generally tolerant toward the religious beliefs and practices of the people they conquered and sometimes eventually adopted the dominant religion of their subject peoples.
Expansion of the Mongol Empire into Russia
The Mongol conquests continued after the death of Chinggis Khan, reaching Russia by 1237. From that year until 1240 the Mongols, or Tartars as the Russians called them, executed the only successful winter invasions of Russia in history. Cities that resisted Mongol advances saw their inhabitants massacred or sold into slavery. The once-prosperous city of Kiev was burned to the ground. The effects of the Mongol occupation of Russia were numerous:
- The Mongols set up a tribute empire called The Golden Horde.
- Serfdom arose as peasants gave up their lands to the aristocracy in exchange for protection from the Mongols.
- Moscow benefited financially by acting as a tribute collector for the Mongols. When neighboring towns failed to make their tribute payments, the princes of Moscow added their territory to the principality of Moscow.
- They strengthened the position of the Orthodox Church by making the metropolitan, or head of the Orthodox Church, the head of the Russian church.
- Mongol rule kept Russia culturally isolated from Western European trends such as the Renaissance. This isolation denied Russia opportunities to establish both commercial and cultural contacts with the West, in a sutuation that fostered misunderstanding through the modern period.
After establishing their presence in Russia, the Mongols went on to their next goal: the conquest of Europe. After an attempted conquest of Hungary in 1240 and raids in Eastern Europe, the Mongols withdrew to handle succession issues in their capital of Karakorum in Mongolia. The proposed conquest of Europe never materialized.
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