Before continuing the chronology, it is worthwhile to examine in passing Chinggis's attributes and accomplishments. In the West, it is usually Chinggis's brilliance as a military commander that is dwelt upon. And indeed, this attention is deserved. It should be noted, however, that certain misconceptions appear to linger concerning the Mongols. They did not, in fact, invent the tactics they used with such effectiveness against their enemies, such as the feigned retreat. Rather, they brought to a new level old steppe nomad military tactics. Even Chinggis's much vaunted organization of the military on a decimal system was to be found among the Hünnü, although arranging it to cut across lineages was apparently an innovation.
In Mongolia, however, it is not so much his military attributes that are emphasized (although they are well aware of them), but rather his administrative abilities. Chinggis is credited with the creation of the Ih Zasag (Great Law, usually rendered into English as "The Great Yasa".) Although portrayed as a codified set of laws, this is debatable. The Secret History mentions only that legal decisions were to be written down (sec. 203). Some scholars have suggested that the Ih Zasag was in fact a codification of existing steppe customs. Morgan (1986b) discusses the related issues in some depth. To summarize his argument, Morgan suggests that although the Ih Zasag may have existed, it was not as a codification of law. Rather, he suggests, this belief was the resulf of a confusion of Chinggis's bilig (sayings or decrees), the legal decisions mentioned in the Secret History, and Mongol customary law. Whatever the case, the Ih Zasag is accepted by present-day Mongols as having existed, and selections from it, or Chinggis's bilig are quoted for any number of reasons, and have been published in various collections (Gongorjav 1991; Nanzad 1991).
Following Chinggis's death in 1227, his third-eldest son, Ögedei, ascended to the throne and took the title of Khaan. Züchi (Jochi), Chinggis's eldest son had been passed over by Chinggis when he designated his successor. This was in a likelihood due to questions about his legitimacy. (Chinggis's wife had been captured by the Merkit -- another steppe tribe -- before Züchi was born, and it was not clear that he was indeed Chinggis's son. At any rate, Züchi died shortly before his father, and his position as first-born would not have ensured him of the position even if he had been clearly Chinggis's son, and had lived.) This was to be the one uncontested succession in the Mongol Empire, although the groundwork for later intrafamily splintering was apparently laid at this time.
This splintering and rivalry was to be aided by the lack of clear lines of succession among the Mongols. Even being the eldest son did not ensure inheritance of the father's position. A similar problem had plagued the Hünnü, and was ultimately responsible for their downfall. The Hünnü, in fact, had had two competing systems of inheritance, involving both the sons and the brothers of the leader. The Mongols were similarly to appoint, at various times, both sons and brothers as successors. In addition, the selection of Khaan had to be approved by a huriltai (meeting) of nobles. This, in some instances, was clearly more than a mere formality, as Mönh's (Mongke) succession would demonstrate, where Bat Khaan's (Batu) backing was decisive.
Although Ögedei became Khaan, the actual domains of the Empire were broken up into four smaller Khanates. Ögedei himself received the area of present-day western Mongolia, Bat (Züchi's son, but not his eldest) received the area that was to become the Golden Horde, Tsagadai (Chagadai) ruled the area of western Turkestan (ie, Soviet Central Asia) and Xinjiang, and Tolui, as the youngest, presided over the Mongol homeland. All had a considerable amount of freedom in the internal doings of their individual realms, but Ögedei controlled foreign relations and many aspects of taxation, reminiscent of Barfield's (1981) steppe confederacy of the Hunnu. The amount of centralization was to decrease steadily with succeeding Khaans, until the title became only that, with little or no actual power over the rest of the Mongols.
Ögedei continued his father's campaigns, taking the Mongol empire to its greatest extent, and reaching into Eastern Europe. He also continued campaigning in Persia, and finally defeated the Chin in northern China. Additionally, he gave the Mongol Empire a capital city -- Harhorin (known more commonly as in the West as Karakorum). Harhorin was located on the Mongolian steppe, southwest of present-day Ulaanbaatar, and was described by William of Rubruck as "not as large as the village of Saint Denis [outside of Paris]" (Dawson 1980: 183).
Barthold notes "all the historical sources, even those absolutely independent of the Mongol Khans and hostile to them, extol the magnaminity and leniency of Ögedei" (1977: 464). Ögedei died in 1241, and his death was almost certainly related to his drinking. After Ögedei's death, the rivalries among Chinggis's sons became more evident. His own chosen successor, his grandson Shiremün, was considered too young to rule. His widow, Töregene, wanted her son, Güyük, to assume the title of Khaan. Although she was opposed in this by Bat Khaan, who was able to block Güyük's appointment for several years, he was eventually named Khaan (Allsen 1987: 19-20).
Güyük, Ögedei's son, did not ascend to the throne until 1246. During the period between Ögedei's death and Güyük's ascension, the empire was run by Ögedei's widow. This was in fact not exceptionally remarkable. Güyük's widow was also to act as regent following his death in 1248, and Chinggis's mother and wives are reported as having been quite influential in his life. Güyük himself is described by John of Plano Carpini as "very intelligent, and extremely shrewd, and most serious and grave in his manner" (Dawson 1980: 68). Allsen, however, notes that Güyük "paid little attention to the affairs of state" and "soon exhausted the imperial treasury by lavishing gifts and cash grants on all who had backed his rise to power" (Allsen 1987: 20-21).
The various factions that had become apparent during earlier reigns came to blows after Güyük's death. Mönh, who was to eventually to succeed to the throne was a descendant of Tolui, the youngest son of Chinggis Khaan. He was able to grab power largely because Bat, who continued to be an influential figure from his khanate in Russia, had supported Mönh in his claim.
It was during Mönh's reign that the Persian historian Juvaini visited Harhorin, and began his accounts (Boyle 1958). It was also during his reign that William of Rubruck visited the court of the Khaan (see Dawson 1980). Mönh, along with his brother Khubilai, was to attempt to subjugate the Sung in southern China, but at his death in 1259, this task was to remain uncompleted.
After the death of Mönh, his three brothers were all possible contenders for the throne. Matters were simplified slightly, when Hülegü, campaigning in Persia did not put himself forward as a candidate, but instead backed Khubilai. (Hülegü was to establish the Persian Il-khanate, and had earlier (in the 1250s) largely eradicated the Assassins (the Isma'ili sect of Islam).)
Khubilai and his brother Arigh Böh both held huriltais at which they were each declared Khaan. Although Khubilai was the elder, as we have already noted, this did not necessarily make him the automatic choice to succeed Mönh. The ensuing civil war was to effectively take the form of a split between the sedentarists, embodied by Khubilai, versus the nomadists, who backed Arigh Böh. In the end, able to draw on the greater resources of his personal domains -- northern China -- Khubilai was victorious. With his victory over Arigh Böh, Khubilai moved the capital of the Mongol Empire to Khanbalih (Beijing) and in 1272 established the Yüan dynasty. While this allowed better control over his Chinese domains, because of this move Khubilai lost control of Central Asia to Haidu, who was a descendent of Ögedei. Although nominally still Khaan of the entire Mongol Empire, in reality by this time the Empire had fragmented into the four smaller Khanates: the Yüan dynasty in China, the Golden Horde in Russia, the Chagatia Khanate in Central Asia, and the Il-khanate in Persia.
This movement also represented a decisive shift in the tone of Mongol rule. By moving the capital to Beijing, Khubilai changed the basic nature of his administration. While maintaining a degree of separation from the Han Chinese through favouritism towards the ethnic Mongols, the establishment of the Yüan dynasty represented a movement away from traditional nomadic values. Khubilai was no longer a Khaan in the nomadic sense, personally leading military expeditions, but rather a (largely) sedentary Emperor. This was also to effect his perceived place in Mongolian history, as he often seen as having "betrayed" the Mongol way of life.
Khubilai was to continue the campaigns in the East, eventually conquering all of China. He was, however, notably less successful in his attempt to invade Japan. As Morgan wryly observes, "the difficulty was that Japan could not be reached by a cavalry charge" (1986a: 120). (The term 'kamikaze' in fact refers to the typhoons, or 'divine winds' that devasted the fleet of the invading Mongolians, who were aided by the Koreans.)
One of the most important aspects of Khubilai's reign was his backing of Tibetan Buddhism. He appointed the 'Phags-pa Lama (1235-1280) as the spiritual head of Buddhism, and 'Phags-pa in turn provided a spiritual legitimation for Khubilai's reign. 'Phags-pa
provided the Mongol emperors with a pseudo-historical theory which incorporated them into the line of succession of Buddhist universal emperors, and he developed a theory of theocratic rule for Khubilai and his successors (Franke 1981: 306).
This theory of rule, never fully implemented, is described by Franke as a form of "caesaropapism" (1981: 308), and was based on the "two principles" of religion and state. The two principles are concerned with spiritual salvation and worldly welfare, which are seen as being mutually interdependent. Franke further notes that the Mongols cemented relations with the Tibetans by marriage alliances (1981: 309).
This alliance between the Mongols and the Tibetans, although to fade in importance with the fall of the Yüan dynasty, was to become of signal importance later on, laying the groundwork for the legitimation of future rulers.
We can pass over the rest of the Yüan dynasty in silence, stopping only to note that it came to an end in 1368, with the expulsion of Togoontömör, the last Khaan, and the Mongols from Beijing. According to the Erdene Tovch, 60,000 Mongols fled north with Togoontömör (Kreuger 1967: 86), although many others remained behind and served the Ming dynasty. The Yüan dynasty was replaced by a native Han dynasty (the last in China's history), the Ming.
Continue on to the next part of the chapter (Medieval Mongolia)Notes
12. John of Plano Carpini was a Fransiscan monk, sent by Pope Innocent IV in 1245 to make contact with the Mongols. He was one of several Western envoys to reach the Mongol Empire, whose accounts have been preserved. See Dawson (1980) for accounts of these.
13. See Rossabi (1988) for a biography of Khubilai.