The Mongol Empire

The Mongol Empire
Course Trailer
The Mongols’ Place in World History
1: The Mongols’ Place in World History

Starting with eyewitness accounts of the arrival of fierce Mongol armies at unsuspecting cities across Eurasia, Professor Benjamin launches his survey of the rise and decline of the Mongol Empire, the largest the world has ever known. After outlining the content of the course, he sketches the history of civilizations destined to be controlled by the Mongols—from China to Persia to Eastern Europe.

32 min
The Origins of Eurasian Steppe Nomadism
2: The Origins of Eurasian Steppe Nomadism

Use a “big history” perspective to understand the origin of militarized nomadism in the pastoral culture that developed on the grasslands of Eurasia beginning 7,000 years ago. Consider the paradox of nomadic empires that rarely build cities, yet still interact with the great civilizations on the periphery of the Eurasian steppe. Focus on the importance of the horse and composite bow to nomadic military power.

29 min
Nomadic Predecessors of the Mongols
3: Nomadic Predecessors of the Mongols

In this lecture, set the stage for the leader who founded the Mongol Empire in the early 13th century, Chinggis Khan (also spelled Genghis Khan). See how previous Mongolian-centered steppe empires established a template that was perfected by Chinggis. Trace these precursors to Turkic rulers in the 7th and 8th centuries, and to the Xiongnu steppe empire a thousand years earlier.

29 min
The Rise of Chinggis Khan
4: The Rise of Chinggis Khan

Drawing on The Secret History of the Mongols, written soon after Chinggis Khan’s death in 1227, chart the rise of the obscure son of a minor Mongol chief to earn the title “Strong” or “Universal Ruler”: Chinggis Khan. His martial daring and hairbreadth escapes have all the drama of a Hollywood epic. There is even a beautiful and formidable love interest, Borte, who Chinggis chose as his wife.

29 min
Chinggis Khan’s Early Conquests
5: Chinggis Khan’s Early Conquests

Having consolidated his power over the Mongol tribes, Chinggis Khan had to decide what to do next with his unbeatable army, and how to prevent it from dissolving into division and chaos. Review the geopolitical situation in inner Eurasia at this time. Then follow Chinggis’s forces on their first campaigns outside of Mongolia. Their number-one target was the Jin dynasty in China, longtime antagonists of the nomads.

29 min
Mongol Institutions under Chinggis Khan
6: Mongol Institutions under Chinggis Khan

Spotlight three innovations introduced by Chinggis Khan to unify and modernize the Mongol state: his reorganization of Mongol society; his taxation reforms; and his creation of a new law code, the Great Yasa, which included injunctions designed to protect horses, water, and wild animals. The code also specified seemingly minor breaches of decorum that were punishable by death.

29 min
Chinggis Khan’s Khwarazmian Campaign
7: Chinggis Khan’s Khwarazmian Campaign

Take off on the brutal campaign called by one historian a “masterpiece of Mongol warfare at all levels.” This was Chinggis Khan’s military operations in the early 1220s against Shah Muhammad, ruler of the Khwarazmian Empire, located in the regions of modern-day Iran and Central Asia. Incited by the shah’s murder of his traders and emissaries, Chinggis led a vengeful invasion of death and destruction.

29 min
The Death of Chinggis Khan
8: The Death of Chinggis Khan

Ever restless, Chinggis Khan withdrew from his western conquests to start a new campaign thousands of miles away in northwestern China. Learn about the hunting accident that reportedly led to his death in 1227, the mystery surrounding his burial place, and his chosen successor among his sons. Then weigh the legacy of Chinggis Khan. Was he a civilizing force or an agent of unparalleled disaster?

28 min
Ogedai Khan’s Western Campaigns
9: Ogedai Khan’s Western Campaigns

Chinggis Khan’s third son and successor, Ogedai, wasted no time striving to fulfill his father’s dying order: “Life is short. I could not conquer all the world. You will have to do it!” The new khan took up unfinished business against the Jin dynasty in China and sent a force to subdue lands in Eastern Europe, defeating the cream of European knighthood. Discover what stopped his onslaught.

28 min
Mongol Queens and the Contest for the Empire
10: Mongol Queens and the Contest for the Empire

Delve into the administration and politics of the Mongol Empire during the 10-year hiatus from expansion that followed the death of Ogedai in 1241. Learn about the Mongols’ remarkably swift “pony express,” and spotlight two influential queens, Toregene and Sorkaktani, who managed the empire and paved the way for their favored candidates for Great Khan: Guyuk and his successor, Mongke.

28 min
Dividing the Empire: A Tale of Four Brothers
11: Dividing the Empire: A Tale of Four Brothers

Relive the exploits of four sons of Tolui, the youngest heir of Chinggis Khan. Among other adventures, Mongke Khan led the attack on China’s Song dynasty in concert with his brother Qubilai, eventually to become the legendary Qubilai Khan. Meanwhile, Hulagu Khan engineered the brilliant siege of Baghdad, while the youngest brother, Ariq Boke, attempted to usurp the khanate, sparking a civil war.

29 min
The Strengths of Mongol Military Organization
12: The Strengths of Mongol Military Organization

Survey the armament, tactics, and organization of the Mongol military machine. Far from being a mob of fanatical mounted warriors, the Mongols were superbly trained and disciplined. Consider the close connection between their traditional hunting practices on the steppe and the skills needed to outsmart and defeat another army. Few fighting forces in history have been as consistently effective.

28 min
The Mongols in China
13: The Mongols in China

Follow Qubilai Khan’s conquest, unification, and leadership of China, which was the world’s most technologically advanced state at the time. In order to overcome China’s formidable defenses, Qubilai had to adopt new tactics, including ships and catapult heavy artillery. During Qubilai’s reign as the first head of the Yuan dynasty, he hosted and employed an exotic visitor from the West: Marco Polo.

29 min
The Mongols in East and Southeast Asia
14: The Mongols in East and Southeast Asia

Driven by the Mongols’ sacred mission to conquer the world, Qubilai Khan twice mounted invasions of Japan. Both times he was defeated by the samurai warrior ethic, with a generous assist from catastrophic typhoons. Termed kamikaze—or “divine winds”—these storms were afterwards seen as heavenly protectors by the Japanese. Also, learn how Qubilai had mixed success subduing states in Southeast Asia.

28 min
The Mongols in Central Asia
15: The Mongols in Central Asia

After the Mongol Empire broke apart, descendants of Chinggis Khan’s middle sons Chagatai and Ogedei ruled large parts of Central Asia. Investigate the internecine, familial strife that plagued this region, exacerbated by conflicts with the Mongol rulers of China, Persia, and Russia. Despite the political chaos, the economy functioned relatively well, with Silk Road commerce flourishing.

29 min
The Mongols in Persia and the Middle East
16: The Mongols in Persia and the Middle East

Using the contemporary chronicle of Rashid al-Din as a guide, turn to the history of Mongol rule in Persia and the Middle East. An important element of the story is the clash of religions in a region that was becoming increasingly Muslim. A good example is the Mongol ruler of Persia, Oljeitu, who was raised as a Christian, converted to Buddhism, later to Sunni Islam, and then to Shi’a Islam.

29 min
The Mongols in Russia: The Golden Horde
17: The Mongols in Russia: The Golden Horde

Travel to the Golden Horde, the farthest west of the khanates established after the death of Mongke Khan in the mid-13th century. Named by Russian chroniclers, the Golden Horde was a fertile arena for civil war and eventually played a pivotal role in the rise of Moscow and the Russian state. Hear about a notorious incident of germ warfare instigated by the Mongols, involving bubonic plague.

29 min
The Pax Mongolica: Eurasia Reconnected
18: The Pax Mongolica: Eurasia Reconnected

Follow in the footsteps of a succession of travelers who gave Europeans their first glimpse of the extraordinary cultural diversity of Asia during a period of stability called Pax Mongolica. Marco Polo is the most famous of these medieval globetrotters. Evaluate the veracity of his account, and hear about lesser known merchants, envoys, missionaries, and adventurers who also made the arduous trip.

27 min
The Collapse of the Mongol Empires
19: The Collapse of the Mongol Empires

Chart the disintegration of the Mongol Empire, observing its rapid collapse in the Persian Ilkhanate in 1335 and Yuan China in 1368. Also, analyze the much more gradual break-up of the Chagatayid khanate and the Golden Horde, as the Mongols splintered into smaller, more autonomous units. Finally, focus on some of the long-lived successor states to the Mongols, such as the Ming dynasty in China.

28 min
Timur the Lame, a.k.a. Tamerlane
20: Timur the Lame, a.k.a. Tamerlane

Launch into the career of the last of the great Mongol rulers, Timur, the reputed “Scourge of God”—also known as Tamerlane from his lameness due to a war wound. War was the lifeblood of this minor Turco-Mongol noble, who rose to found the Timurid Empire. Cover his early exploits and his campaign against Toqtamish, khan of the Golden Horde. Also learn about Moscow’s miraculous escape from Timur.

29 min
Timur’s Major Campaigns
21: Timur’s Major Campaigns

Ride with Timur on his major expeditions that brought him infamy throughout Eurasia and made European monarchs shudder with fear. Cover two invasions of Persia and the destruction of Baghdad; an incursion into India and the sacking of Delhi; a military operation into Anatolia, where he defeated the army of Ottoman sultan, Bayezid I; and his final planned assault on the Ming dynasty in China.

28 min
Samarkand: Timur’s Cultural Capital
22: Samarkand: Timur’s Cultural Capital

Take a break from conquests to explore Timur’s fabled capital, Samarkand, located in present-day Uzbekistan. Already rich in history, the city was reborn under Timur, financed by booty and built by artisans captured during his campaigns. Investigate Timur’s mausoleum and the effort of Soviet-era archaeologists to reconstruct his appearance, which some argue provoked an ancient curse.

29 min
From Mughals to Soviets: Eurasia after Timur
23: From Mughals to Soviets: Eurasia after Timur

Track the fortunes of several of Timur’s descendants, who attempted to govern the remnants of his vast empire. Among them was his grandson, Ulugh Beg, a matchless astronomer, scholar, and patron of civilization, but unfortunately an indifferent ruler. Also consider the history of Inner Eurasia over a period of more than six centuries, from the early 15th century to the end of the 20th century.

31 min
The Mongols and the Making of the Modern World
24: The Mongols and the Making of the Modern World

Close the course by assessing the heritage of the Mongols from a variety of perspectives—as conquerors, unifiers, social and political revolutionaries, as promoters of religious tolerance, protectors of commerce, and even as facilitators of the spread of plague across Eurasia, but also as disseminators of crucial technologies that undoubtedly played a role in the making of the modern world.

32 min
Craig G. Benjamin

These big ideas of Eastern civilization emerged thousands of years ago, but they endured and shaped the long history of these regions all the way to the present.

ALMA MATER

Macquarie University

INSTITUTION

Grand Valley State University

About Craig G. Benjamin

Dr. Craig G. Benjamin is Associate Professor of History in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), where he teaches East Asian civilization, big history, ancient Central Asian history, and historiography. He earned his undergraduate education at The Australian National University in Canberra and Macquarie University in Sydney, and his Ph.D. in Ancient History from Macquarie University. Professor Benjamin has received several awards for teaching, including the 2012 Faculty of Distinction Award from Omicron Delta Kappa Society (a national leadership honor society) and the 2009 Student Award for Faculty Excellence from the GVSU Student Senate. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including The Yuezhi: Origin, Migration and the Conquest of Northern Bactria and Readings in the Historiography of World History. He is coauthor (with David Christian and Cynthia Stokes Brown) of Big History: Between Nothing and Everything. Professor Benjamin is an officer of the World History Association and the International Big History Association. He is also a consultant for The College Board and a member of the SAT World History Subject Committee and the Advanced Placement World History Development Committee.

Also By This Professor