There were many great warriors throughout the Middle Ages, however none so prominent as the Mongols. While the Carolingian “war machine” conquered a sizable expanse of land, it was a miniscule feat when compared to the enormous empire the Mongols ultimately created. Though they prospered for a relatively short period of time, they succeeded in generating a lasting impact. The traditional stereotypes of the 13th century Mongols were influenced by stories from Russia, China, and Persia, which insinuated that the Mongols were barbaric raiders contingent upon destroying everything in their path.
This perception is not entirely true, while the Mongols were still a fierce war machine, they also helped link the eastern and western portions of their empire, increasing commerce throughout. Stretching approximately 4,000 miles at its peek, the Mongols Empire extended from the East China Sea to the fringes of Europe. Through the Mongols harsh military conquest lead by Genghis Kahn they united the east and the west through innovation, religious tolerance, and trade. The Mongols, like the Huns and Seljuks, are often categorized as nomad pastoralists.
However, the Mongols had a more lasting impact on the regions they conquered because they were tolerant and innovative leaders. This is evidenced through their unique cultural tolerance that helped link their European and Asian territories together. Since the Mongol Empire was so vast, they needed a network of roads to effectively communicate with different domains. Through the construction of new roads and postal-stations, they facilitated interactions between foreigners and other domains of their empire.
Along these roads, approximately every 20 miles were postal-stations. Information was relayed between these stations by men on horseback. This was an extremely efficient way of delivering messages throughout the empire, as it only took a few weeks for a message to transverse the empire, while it would have taken months on foot. These lines of communication played a vital role in ensuring the empire’s coherence, while the newly established roads enabled trade between Europe and Asia.
As a result, the exchange of products, cultures, technology, and science disseminated throughout the empire. The encouraged traveling in Asia allowed European envoys to travel to China for the first time2. After visiting China, the Europeans realized the wealth of this area and the potential benefits of trading with them. The European merchants brought a plethora of goods to China. Items such as slaves and furs were given in exchange for the Chinese’ silks, spices, ceramics, and copper1. Because of this, the route from Europe to Asia is commonly known as the “Silk Road”3.
Likewise, from this interconnectedness, developments in one area led to developments in the other. While trade between China and Europe was voluntary, trade in other parts of the empire was encouraged through incentives. For example, Persia rewarded participants of voluntary trade with a higher tax cut2. This in turn improved commerce within the empire benefiting the empire as a whole. Trade was beneficial for both parties participating because they were receiving goods that they could not obtain in their own region.
The mixing of cultures and goods in these regions is significant as well because it introduced a new support for cultural acceptance and dependence. One new form of cultural acceptance that emerged was religious tolerance. A distinction that sets Mongols apart from other conquerors was that after they settled into a new region they did not try to forcefully convert its inhabitants to their culture and religion. The Mongols were accepting of all religions because they knew that forcing their religion upon others would be counterproductive2.
They accepted Buddhism, Islam, Daoism, and many more, converting to these religions themselves on some occasions2. It was extremely significant during this time that the Mongols were religiously tolerant because this helped to further integrate them into their newly conquered civilizations reducing tension between them and the people of their new land. The reduced tension helped these domains flourish by focusing on trade and commerce rather than secretly practice their religion. Not only did the newly constructed roads provide a path for merchants to travel but also missionaries.
Being a religiously tolerant empire the Mongols welcomed missionaries from Europe to visit their domains, one in particular the Franciscan William of Rubruck. Sent by the Pope and the Ecumenical Council in Rome, Rubruck’s mission to convert the Mongols to Christianity and divert them from attacking Europe further2. While he did not succeed in either of these tasks he did bring back to Europe the first accurate account of the Mongols, that they were not merely a vicious war machine but also civil and accepting.
Missionaries played a significant role during this time because they were free to spread their beliefs throughout the Mongol Empire, converting whoever was willing. This in turn caused an increase in the spread of different religious practices throughout the area. The Mongols played a much larger role in the Middle Ages than many may think because of their barbaric reputation today. As a result of their efforts to encourage trade, build new roads, and tolerate different religions they united the regions of Eurasia.
Uniting these regions was beneficial to all because each received new goods and therefore more wealth and more religious freedom. These newly united regions formed into the distinct countries we know today. The Mongols trade routes can also be argued to have indirectly initiated the age of exploration, which lead to the discovery of the New World since Columbus was actually looking for a faster route to Asia for trade purposes. Therefore the Mongols did not just emerge, conquer, and disappear, they left a lasting impression on Eurasia.