to contemporary sources, the most prominent, recognizable
feature of a Mongol warrior was his
Amir Khuzru (Persian poet): Their eyes were so narrow and piercing that they
might have bored a hole in a brazen vessel, and their stench was more
horrible than their color. …. Their chests, in color half-black and
half-white were covered with lice, which looked like sesame growing on a
bad soil. Their bodies, indeed, were covered with these insects…..
According to Friar Giovanni
DiPlano Carpini, they ate: dogs, wolves, foxes, horses, rats, mice,
lice and the afterbirth when their mares foaled
The Mongols assessed the extent of their
victories by cutting off an ear from each dead enemy. After
the battle of Liegnitz, Poland in 1241, they collected nine large
sacks of ears and send them back to the Khan as proof of the victory.
Khan’s credo: The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies
and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, and see
those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp
to your bosom their wives and daughters.
ultimate, invincible warrior
Quote from an Arab source: They had the courage of lions, the patience of
hounds, the prudence of cranes, the cunning of foxes, the
long-sightedness of ravens, the wildness of wolves, the passion of
fighting-cocks, the protectiveness of hens, the keenness of cats and the
fury of wild boars.
The Mongols had physical advantages over their
Each Mongol was equipped with his own personal artillery - the bow:
they lived on the high plains of Mongolia, their bodies would have
more red blood cells to transport an equal amount of oxygen. When
they moved to the lower levels of Asia and Europe, this meant that
their endurance and strength would be increased – this is the same trick
track and field athletes use today when they have their training
camps in high elevations like Mexico City or Denver for several
months; it is called “blood doping”.
eyesight – it was said that they could distinguish a man from an
animal from 18 miles away.
had great visual memory – a built-in map generator in their head.
They did not have maps on paper, but could remember a place and the
way there after riding there once. This was an essential survival skill in
the steppes, because there are no road signs there – not even roads!
learned how to ride even before they learned how to walk – when
they were 2 years old.
The Mongol army consisted of professional warriors:
warrior, even the heavy cavalry, was equipped with a bow = tactical
flexibility through ranged attack; the English at Crecy and
Poitiers also won through the use overwhelming firepower against a
numerically superior enemy
Mongol bow: 166lbs pull, 200-300 yards reach
The English longbow: 120lbs pull
SCA combat bows: 30lbs pull
peasants, all warriors: 10,000 Mongols = 10,000 fighters
(European army: 500 knights and 9500 peasants)
units - equally equipped, equally trained, disciplined and
on horseback = modern mechanized tank/infantry corps;
Average speed for the whole army: 60 miles per day (4 to 5 times
faster than any European army);
Each warrior had four or more horses and rode them in turns.
They fought differently:
other than in Europe, was not dishonorable but used as a tactical weapon.
did everything they had to, to win. Chivalry and courtesy on the
battlefield did not exist for them.
knights and Japanese Samurai cherished the noble idea of individual
combat against a worthy opponent. This was totally inappropriate to
deal with the “modern” tactics of the Mongol armies.
They had the right people in the right places:
due to capability, not birthright. Example: Toguchar, Dschingis Khan’s
son-in-law disobeyed orders and plundered villages when he was a
general, so he was reduced to simple soldier, where he remained
until killed in action.
imperial guard (one tumen = 10000 men) was the Mongol war college; from the imperial
guard the field commanders were drawn.
to chose a commander – Dschingis Khan: There is no man alive
who is braver than Yessutai; no march can tire him and he feels
neither hunger nor thirst; that is why he is unfit to command. Because
a commander has to care about his men and protect the weakest of
them, which Yessutai apparently did not care about, so he was not
promoted and remained in the ranks.
How the Mongols waged war – tactics and strategies
They were prepared and had a strategical vision:
1227 after the death of Dschingis Kahn, a great assembly (Kuriltai)
was held; there the commanders discussed the strategy for the next
years: the conquest of Europe, Korea and the Chinese Sung Empire
was thoroughly planned in all details, from logistics to who would
lead the different armies.
had the best intelligence and reconnaissance: networks of spies and
agents in the enemy's countries and cities; reconnaissance forces
surrounding the army – no one ever surprised a Mongol army.
- They never attacked without a declaration of war: Whoever obeys us remains in
possession of his land, but whoever resists is destroyed. We send
you this order, so if you wish to keep your land, you must come us
in person and thence go on to him who is master of all the earth. If
you don’t, we know not what will happen, only God knows.
from foreign kingdoms were treated as acts of formal submission and
presents were received as tribute.
the ruler of Rum, offered his submission in a unique way: he gave
the Kahn a pair of socks, which had his portrait painted on the
soles, so that his master might walk on his face.
They did almost everything differently than their enemies:
Europe and Persia, the campaigning season was summer, after the seed
in spring and before the harvest in autumn.
Mongols had no fields to plow; they carried their food with them
(cattle, horses, goats); their campaigning season was Winter.
- Frozen soil = best ground for fast movement on horseback.
- Rivers were frozen and thus no obstacle anymore.
- They were used to harsh winters in Mongolia, so they knew
how to handle it.
targets: the Horses of the knights/cavalry.
close combat fighting against mounted knights; only if the horses
were dead and the knights were on foot, they moved in for the kill
with their heavy cavalry.
did not fight themselves (unlike the European Kings and Generals). They commanded
the forces from an elevated safe place.
on the battlefield with black and white flags ensured tactical
control over the army at all times. Communications in that form did
not exist in European armies – everybody fought
for himself, and most of the time, not even a battle plan existed.
order was given from one to ten:
From the Khan to his ten generals - From each general to his ten division (tumen) leaders
- From each division leader to his ten sub-commanders
… and so on to the smallest unit of 10 men (arban).
rows of heavy cavalry in armor with lances and swords and three rows
of light cavalry with bows and javelins.
cavalry stormed forward and showered the enemy with arrows to harass the enemy and lure them away into the heavy troops
in an unorganized charge.
Disorganize and split the enemy and beat them piecemeal
with the heavy cavalry.
was always a way to escape given to a surrounded enemy – that led
to routing, and the routing men could be cut down quite easily
because there was no unit cohesion anymore. The pursuit would last
for days, stretching dozens, even hundreds of miles.
women and slaves were put on the spare horses, so that the strength of the Mongol
army would appear larger.
favorite tactic was the fainted retreat (mangudai): After this tactic became
known to their enemies, they just
retreated longer, sometimes for days. At the Battle of Kalka River
they retreated for 9 days until the Russians were spread out like
pearls on a string and could be cut down one by one very easily.
only way to fight the Mongols was to stay together!
They were not perfect:
But above all, they were masters of psychological warfare:
poor were promised liberation by their agents
rich were promised greater riches and privileges by their agents
were spread about deals of single leaders with the Mongols to
drive alliances apart
about the vast numbers of the Mongol army were spread
and cruelty as weapon to win battles and sieges only by reputation
The use of Terror and Cruelty
They put whistles on their arrows – same effect as the
German Stuka dive bombers in WWII – to terrorize the enemy,
especially the horses
Poisoned the arrows with snake or vegetable poisons,
which killed immediately
1209 Dschingis Khan besieged a fortress in China. He
built a dyke to flood the fortress, but his engineers flooded his own
camp instead. The fortress surrendered anyway, because they figured that
eventually the Mongols would get it right and by then would be very,
very angry …
In 1220, after the siege of Bukhara in Uzbekistan, they
poured molten Gold down the throat of the Governor. Reason: He had
killed Mongol merchants, who he accused of spying to rob them. The
Mongols apparently thought, if he wants our gold, he shall get it...
1221 in Merv (Persia), they slaughtered 700,000 people.
Only the useful, like engineers, doctors, artisans, were spared and
enslaved. Not even dogs were left alive.
Reason: Revenge for the death of Toguchar, a son-in-law of Dschingis Kahn, during
After the Battle of Kalka River in 1223 against the
Russian principalities, they promised to let the Kiev detachment go for
a ransom. The men from Kiev agreed, but were captured instead. Most were
slaughtered, the rest enslaved.
The Mongols then built a large, heavy wooden platform out of logs, on which the
Mongol commanders held their victory feast. Beneath the platform they
put the leaders of the Kiev detachment, which slowly suffocated during
Reason: Revenge for the killing of Mongol ambassadors in Kiev.
After they conquered Baghdad, they locked up the Caliph in
a tower with all his gold and silver. Why? To punish him, because he had
refused to spend his personal wealth on the defense of the city. That
insulted the professionalism of the Mongol commanders, who never would
have held back anything to achieve victory. Baghdad was
looted for seven days during which the Caliph starved to death amongst his
They slaughtered about 800,000 people in Baghdad.
After that, Damascus surrendered immediately when the first Mongol
in sight of the city.
Fear Factor: In Persia, one Mongol took a man captive but
had no sword to kill him. So he ordered the man to lie down on the
ground without moving while he would get a sword. The man was so
terrified that he actually lay there until the Mongol came back and cut
his head off.
In 1237 the city of Riazan in Russia was conquered after a
siege of five days. Before the citizens were slaughtered (by impaling
and flaying), they were forced to watch how the Mongols raped
systematically all young women, including nuns.
In 1259, after first swearing fealty to Möngke Khan, then
providing soldiers to the Caliph’s army, Prince Kalim Muhammed of
Syria was punished: pieces were cut from Kamil’s flesh and forcibly
fed to him until he died.
The cruelty was calculated and used to spread
terror; sometimes it was a punishment, sometimes it was revenge – but
it never happened without a reason.
They always left some people alive and set them free, so
that the news of the terror would spread - see above, the Damascus
were known as the “Tartars” in Europe; from Latin Tartarus =
Hell; they were first seen as heavenly punishment for the sins of the
1239, the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, received a message from
Khan Batu in which he demanded the surrender of the Empire and
offered Frederick a position in the Mongol hierarchy.
answer: He attacked the Pope. The two mightiest men in Europe, The
Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and the Pope continued their war
against each other regardless of the invasion of Hungary, the battle
of Liegnitz and the threat to Europe.
was rumored that the Pope actually encouraged the Mongols to attack
his enemy, The Holy German Emperor.
- Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester: Let us
leave these dogs to devour one another that they may all be consumed
and perish; and we when we proceed against the enemies of Christ who
remain, will slay them and cleanse the face of the earth, so that
all the world will be subject to one Catholic Church and there will
be one shepherd and one fold.
Frederick of Austria: They are just a horde of nomad raiders.
1241, when the Mongols invaded Hungary, the Hungarian nobility would
only fight, if the King rewarded them with greater powers and more
finally agreed to ride with the King to meet the Mongols, but the
quarreling and bickering amongst them went on. The result: The battle of Mohi ended with 65,000 Hungarians dead.
the same day as the battle of Mohi in Hungary, the battle of
Liegnitz (Poland) was fought – 25,000 Polish troops, Teutonic Knights and
Templars were killed. The way to the heart of Europe was wide open,
and nobody was there to stop them.
was saved, not by its knights, but only by the death of the Great
Khan ögedei in 1242.
The Mongol commanders went back to elect a new Khan and took their
armies with them.
1260, the European Count Bohemund of Antioch formed an alliance with the Mongol
Khan Hülegü and together they planned the recapture of Jerusalem
for Christendom. But before that happened, the Great Kahn Möngke
died and Hülegü returned to Mongolia. Bohemund was excommunicated
by the Pope.
Mongol laws and customs
cut the throat of an animal killed for food; instead, the belly
should be slit open and the heart pulled out
in running water
in running water
- Adultery (death penalty)
theft (death penalty)
a merchant, Bankruptcy for the third time (death penalty)
- Spying (death penalty)
- Desertion (death penalty)
- Theft (death penalty)
monotheistic religion (Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jews) was
believed in one God – Tengri; the sky-God, so they
tolerated all other monotheistic religions and even converted to
them when they felt it would help their cause.
could only become who was without physical defect (i.e. only one
eye, humpback, missing limbs)
only artisan in the Mongol society was the blacksmith (for weapons,
The Mongol legacy
erected no lasting monuments, no stony witness of their greatness.
No pyramids, no cathedrals no mausoleums, no cities, no monuments.
never put their cultural stamp on the conquered lands; instead they
incorporated the cultures of their new subjects into their own
- But: every
modern army is modeled after the Mongol army
were the ultimate warriors, the most successful conquerors – but
the Chinese advisor of Dschingis Khan said: The Empire was won on
horseback, but it won’t be governed on horseback.
1294 the death of the Khan Kublai marked the end of the Mongol
Empire. There already was infighting between several factions of the
imperial family, which resulted in the weakening of the Empire. The
Mongols were either ousted by the conquered population or were
absorbed into their civilization. There was never a decisive defeat
– they just faded away.
1241, when the Mongols marched towards Cracow in Poland, a trumpeter
sounded the alarm from the highest tower in the city and continued
through the storming of the city, until a Mongol arrow struck him
down. To this day, every 24th of March, a trumpeter from
the Cracow fire department sounds the alarm call from the cathedral
tower; he ends it abruptly at the exact time, when the original trumpeter
was struck down by the Mongol arrow.
that is left today as the Mongol legacy, is this lingering panic in the collective
sub-conciseness of Russians, Persians, Koreans, Chinese and
Europeans, this fear the terrible Mongol hordes might come back one day - to
finish their conquest.