Mongol nomadic empire. How and why
Miniature from the "Collection of Chronicles" ("Jami at-tavarih") Iran. XIV century. Berlin.
In this article I will talk about modern scientific views, based on political science and anthropological theories, explaining how the unification of the Mongol tribes under the leadership of Genghis Khan could have happened and how the Mongols achieved such results.
The article was written as part of a cycle devoted to the situation in China on the eve of the Mongol invasion and during its conquest.
How did the nomadic empire come about?
Nomadic empires, which seemed to outside observers, especially ambassadors from agricultural countries, powerful states that judged empires by charismatic and extravagant nomadic leaders, were in fact tribal confederations built on consensus and agreements.
A single Mongolian ulus, in the form of a state or an early form of state, could not exist until the end of the XNUMXth century. As soon as the death of the leader occurred, the union disintegrated, and its members migrated in search of more advantageous combinations. Even the ulus did not mean some kind of potestary association. Ulus or irgen is just a people, common people or tribe. It is people and only people that make up the ulus, everything else is derivative.
Ordinary members often simply could not exist in order not to get food from the outside, so they often initiated campaigns. Under Genghis Khan, up to 40% of the booty went exactly to ordinary soldiers, and what was captured was handed out clean.
The Mongolian ulus falls under the anthropological concept of chiefdom: there is inequality, the presence of disparate tribal groups, where one dominates with a leader, as well as inequality of members of the association.
Chiefdom is a socio-political organization, which includes either a thousand (simple chiefdom) or tens of thousands of members (complex chiefdom), the presence of a regional hierarchy of settlements, central government, theocratic hereditary leaders and nobility, where there is social inequality, but no state mechanisms of coercion and repression.
This is exactly what can be said about the Mongolian uluses of the late XII - early XIII centuries. At the same time, the leader can only act “for the good” of the whole community, and not in the name of personal interest. The more he acts in this direction, the more his "ulus" grows.
But if there is something from the state in this structure, then it is not a state as such.
The leaders did not have police and other state mechanisms of pressure and had to act in the interests of all, redistribute material values and provide society ideologically. This rule is universal for both agricultural and nomadic societies. In this regard, Genghis Khan is a typical successful nomadic leader, cruel to enemies and generous, providing for his fellow tribesmen. He was no different from both his followers and successors, and from other nomadic ethnic groups. Such power can be called “consensual” or based on authority.
And it was in such conditions that the Mongols formed an empire.
Russian and Western historiography of the late XX - early XXI century believes that the cause of the emergence of nomadic empires (and not only the Mongolian one) was the greed and predatory nature of the steppe people, overpopulation of the steppe, climatic disasters, the need for material resources, the reluctance of farmers to trade with nomads, and finally, the intended they have the right to conquer the whole world from above (Fletcher J.). Western historiography also does not discount the personal factor and the charisma of the leaders (O. Pritzak).
Economy and structure of nomadic society
At the same time, the economic type of the nomad practically changed little and had the same character: as among the Scythians, as among the Huns, as among the Turks, and even among the Kalmyks, etc. and they could not influence the social structure.
The nomadic economy could not produce a surplus to support hierarchical formations not involved in production. Therefore, many researchers believe that nomads did not need a state (T. Barfield).
All economic activities were carried out within the clan, rarely reaching the tribal level. Livestock could not be accumulated indefinitely, the external environment strictly regulated this process, so it was more profitable to distribute the surplus (and not only the surplus) to poor relatives for grazing or for “gifts”, to enhance prestige and authority within the “gift” system, to increase the ulus ...
Any oppression, especially constant, caused migrations, and such a leader could wake up one day, finding himself alone in the bare steppe.
But the existence of a nomad exclusively within the framework of his economic system was impossible, an exchange with an agricultural society was required to obtain a different type of food, things that are completely absent from nomads.
It was not always possible to obtain these material values, since neighboring agricultural states sometimes directly interfered with this for various reasons (economic, fiscal, political).
But a nomadic society was at the same time a natural militarized formation: life itself made a warrior out of a nomad almost from birth. Each nomad spent his entire life in the saddle and hunting.
Conducting hostilities without a military organization is impossible. Therefore, some researchers came to the conclusion that the degree of centralization of nomads is directly proportional to the size of the neighboring agricultural civilization, which is part of the same regional system with them.
However, this still does not explain anything. The Mongols are just getting stronger when the newly formed state of "Jurchen robbers" was already experiencing an internal crisis, and even this formation itself can hardly be called a state.
At the same time, many researchers pay attention to the personality of Genghis Khan, as determining in this process. It is significant that Genghis Khan did not trust his relatives after the events of his childhood, when, after the death of his father, his relatives moved away from his yurt. And the squads do not exist under the tribal system, the clan is the leader's “squad”.
It seems that the mechanism of chiefdom is in any case within the framework of the broader structure of the transition from the clan system to the neighboring-territorial community. Has there been a transition? Great question. On the other hand, it is precisely this that can explain the constant reproduction of nomadic "empires", since the process of transition from a clan society to a territorial community did not succeed.
Much can be written about the role of the founders of the "dynasties", and not all "chiefdoms", as noted by the researcher of the question N. N. Kradin, turn into potestary or early state structures.
It is important that it was in the image of Genghis Khan that not only the supreme power in the Mongol union was concentrated: let me remind you that the laws of "Yassy" were not adopted solely by the khan, but at a meeting of fellow tribesmen and with their approval.
He was also the bearer of the tradition, which, although it was sanctified by antiquity, developed in the steppe during the struggle, which was personally carried out by Genghis Khan himself. Despite the fact that he strictly followed his line of government, it was not the fruit of his authoritarian, "cannibalistic" aspirations, but the result of collective decisions.
The presence of advice with the commander does not negate the commander's right to give orders. And each member of the nomadic structure understood that it was the fulfillment of the order of the one-man leader that ensured success. This was not a society where the citizen-warrior had to be convinced of the need for discipline. Every little hunter knew how disobedience to the orders of his father on the hunt led to death or serious injury: unity of command in the hunt and war was spelled out in blood.
Therefore, historians call the nomadic hordes a ready army-people, where they began to shoot, gallop, hunt, and often fight from an early age, in contrast to agricultural societies.
Property and steppe
If the power of the farmers is based on the management of society in order to control and redistribute the surplus product, then the nomadic community does not have such management systems: there is nothing to control and distribute, there is nothing to save for a rainy day, there is no accumulation. Hence the ruinous campaigns against the farmers, which swept away everything, the psychology of the nomad demanded to live in the present day. Livestock could not be an object of accumulation, but its death affected a rich relative more than a poor one.
Therefore, the power of the nomads wore exclusively the external side, was aimed not at managing their society, but at contacts with external communities and countries, and took a complete form when a nomadic empire was formed, and power became, first of all, military. Farmers drew resources for wars from their society, by levying taxes and extortions, the steppe inhabitants did not know taxes, and sources for the war were obtained from outside.
The stability of nomadic empires directly depended on the ability of the leader to receive agricultural products and trophies - in wartime, as well as tributes and gifts - in peacetime.
Within the framework of the worldwide phenomenon of “gift,” the ability of the supreme leader to bestow and redistribute gifts was an essential function that had not only material properties, but also an ideological context: gift and luck went hand in hand. Redistribution was the most important function that attracted people to such a leader. And this is exactly how the young Genghis Khan appears in the "Collection of Chronicles", one might think that he remained a generous redistributor throughout his career.
The artistic image of Genghis Khan, which we know both from the famous novels of V. Yan, and also from modern films, as an insidious and formidable ruler and commander obscures the real political situation when a great leader was obliged to be a redistributor. However, even today myths are being born around the creation of modern successful projects, where the "fame" of the authors often hides, first of all, its redistribution function:
As for the steppe dwellers, the very system of society contributed to this: what was seized from the farmers, at best, could simply be eaten. Silk and jewelry were used primarily to emphasize status, and slaves were not much different from livestock.
As noted by the writer V. Yan, Genghis Khan
But it was the redistribution factor, along with combat successes, that contributed to the creation of the empire through the effect of scaling.
Clothes of the Mongol nobility. XIII century Museum stories Iran. Tehran.
After the victories of Genghis Khan, a huge force was formed in the steppe, consisting of eleven tumens. The existing nomadic association was completely unnecessary for life and struggle in the steppe, and the dissolution of the nukers and heroes was like death, further existence was possible only with external expansion.
If after the first victories over the Tangut empire of Xi Xia, the numerous Uyghur Khanate went to serve Genghis Khan, then during only the first stage of the war against the Jin empire, which was interrupted by a march to the west, an army was formed that was much superior to the Mongol army. Let's repeat after many researchers: an army of robbers and rapists, intended exclusively for military robbery.
The scaling effect began to work on the formation of a nomadic empire.
And it was in relation to these non-Mongolian troops that the most brutal methods of control and suppression of violations of military discipline were used.
This army moved with the Mongols to the west and increased significantly during the campaign there, and such an army could only be maintained through constant expansion.
The horde formed after the invasion at the borders of the Russian principalities was only ruled by the Mongol nobility and the Mongol prince, but consisted of Kipchaks, Polovtsy, etc., who lived in these steppes before the arrival of the Tatar-Mongols.
But while the conquests were going on, redistribution also existed, that is, in the potestary, pre-class structure of Mongolian society, even already burdened by the "empire", this function remained the most important. So, Ogedei and his son Guyuk, Mongke-khan, Khubilai continued the tradition, and in many ways surpassed Genghis Khan himself. However, he had something to give, so he said:
Udegei could not even understand the difference between bribes, which were so popular in the system of bureaucratic administration of the Sunn Empire, and gifts, gifts. “Gift” meant a reciprocal gift, however, this was not always necessary, and a bribe always implied certain actions on the part of the official who received it. And after a campaign in rich Central Asia, Iran and neighboring countries in Mongolia, it turned out that there was nothing to distribute, so they urgently started a war with the Golden Empire.
War and nomadic empire
The tactics of the Mongols, like other nomads, the same Huns, did not indulge their opponents with their openings, but exactly copied the system of hunting and rounding up animals. Everything just depended on the size of the enemy and the troops of the nomads. Thus, the Mongolian Khitan tribe hunted with 500 thousand horsemen.
Mongolian archer. Miniature of the beginning of the XIV century. Berlin.
All the Mongol invasions of the Jin empire took place according to the same tactical and sacred scheme: three wings, three columns, the same thing happened with the Song.
The first test of strength on the borderlands of the Xi Xia empire was carried out in the same way. At the same time, the balance of forces was not always taken into account. So in the first campaigns of the Mongols against Jin, they were often significantly inferior to the Jurchen troops. During this period, the Mongols had little idea of the situation in the states of China, especially in other countries. Claims to conquer the world were so far only part of the ambitions of the Khan of Heaven, caused, among other things, by the libations of koumiss, and not a clear program.
When studying the victories of the Mongols, special attention was always paid to their tactics and weapons.
Over the past 20 years, in the reenactment and historical environment, the prevailing opinion has been that the Mongols were entirely armed with heavy weapons.
Of course, the archaeological finds of the rich burials of the Mongols, for example, such equipment that is kept in the Hermitage, seem to confirm this, contrary to written sources reporting that they were originally horse riders:
Originally the main weapons Mongols had a bow, it was used in war and hunting. Moreover, during the steppe wars, no evolution of this weapon took place, the war was fought with an equally armed enemy.
Researchers believe that the Mongols had a bow of extraordinary quality, comparing it to the English bow that brought success at the Battle of Cressy (1346). Its tension was 35 kg, and it sent an arrow to 230 m. The compound Mongolian bow had a tension of 40–70 kg (!) And an impact force of up to 320 m (Chambers, Cherikbaev, Hoang).
It seems to us that the Mongolian bow went through a certain evolution, and it coincided with the period of conquests. Such a bow could not have formed before the invasions of the agricultural zone began. Even the brief information we know about the use of bows in this zone indicates that the bow of the Tanguts was inferior to the bows of the Song Empire, and it took time for the Tanguts to achieve the highest quality.
The demand of the Mongols for the issuance of bowmakers from the Jin Empire, just testifies to the fact that they got acquainted with more advanced bows already during the invasions, both in the states of China and Central Asia. The famous Xia master of bows, Chan-ba-jin, was personally represented at the khan's court. A harsh warrior and defender of the steppe traditions, Subedei, according to Mongol law, wanted to destroy all the inhabitants of Kaifeng, the capital of the Golden Empire for many months of resistance. But it all ended with the issuance of archery masters, gunsmiths and goldsmiths, and the city was preserved.
For internecine wars in the steppe, superweapons were not required, there was parity in armament, but during the campaigns against Xi Xia and Jin, the Mongols not only got acquainted with more advanced bows, but also quickly began to capture them in the form of trophies and use them in battle. A similar situation was with the Arabs, who, during the period of expansion, reached the Iranian arsenals, which dramatically changed their military potential.
The presence of 60 arrows in each Mongol was dictated, most likely, not by the peculiarity of the battle, but by the sacred number "60". Based on the calculations carried out when firing with the rate of fire described in the sources, only every 4th arrow could reach the target. Thus, the Mongol attack: shelling from a bow with arrows and whistles, in modern terms, was more in the nature of a psychological war. However, the massive shelling of the riders attacking in waves could frighten even the staunch warriors.
And in tactical terms, the Mongolian commanders always ensured real or imaginary superiority in the number of troops during the battle: fear has big eyes. In any battle. What they failed, for example, in the battle with the Mamelukes at Ain Jalut in 1260, when they lost.
But, let us repeat once again, in the wars with the farmers, the Mongols achieved overwhelming superiority along the line of attack, which, by the way, we observe also from the side of the Tatars in the XNUMXth-XNUMXth centuries in campaigns against Rus-Rusia.
During the period of conquests, we repeat, the scaling effect worked for their success. The scheme (for example, the war with the Jin empire) can be built in this way. First, the capture of small fortresses: either from a raid, or by betrayal, or starvation. Collecting large numbers of prisoners to siege a more serious city. The battle with the border army in order to destroy the field defenses for the subsequent looting of the surroundings.
As such actions are carried out, the involvement of collaborators and their armies to participate in the struggle against the empire.
Acquaintance with siege technologies, their application, along with terror.
And the constant effect of scaling, when troops and forces gather around the Mongolian center, at first comparable and then superior to the Mongolian ones. But the Mongolian core is rigid and unchanging.
Under Genghis Khan, this is a system of representatives, consisting of people close to him. After his death, his clan received power, which immediately led to the collapse of the conquered unity, and the unification of the steppe and farmers within the framework of a single territory of China led to the complete fall of the power of the nomads, who could not offer any more perfect system of government than the one that already was the empire of the Southern Song dynasty.
I am not a supporter of the opinion that the Mongols, within the framework of the vast conquered territory, created a "world-system" (F. Braudel), which contributed to the development of long-distance trade from Europe to China, the postal service, the exchange of goods and technologies (Kradin N.N.). Yes, it was, but it was not the key in this giant "nomadic" empire. With regard to Russia-Rusia, for example, we do not see anything of the kind. The system of "exo-exploitation" - "tribute without torture" overshadowed any Yamskaya service.
Returning to the question, why the Mongols could not create a real power, let's say that in the irrational and mythological representation of a person of this time, and the Mongols, from the point of view of the formation theory, were at the stage of transition from a tribal system to a territorial community, the idea of an "empire "Did not correspond to our ideas, from the word at all. If Chinese or Western European witnesses tried to somehow explain their view of the "empire" of the Mongols, and, incidentally, the Persians and the Arabs, this does not mean that it was what it seemed to them. So, during the accession of Udegei Khan to the throne, not a Mongolian, but a Chinese imperial ceremony with kneeling was held, which the nomads did not have.
By empire, the nomads meant the slave or half-slave obedience of everyone who met on the way. The aim of the cattle breeder was to obtain prey, be it hunting or war, to simply provide for the family and food, and he went to this goal without hesitation - "exo-exploitation". Using the algorithms known to him: attack, shelling, deceiving flight, ambush, shelling again, pursuit and complete destruction of the enemy, as a competitor or as a hindrance to food or pleasure. Mongolian terror against the population from the same category: the destruction of unnecessary competitors in food and reproduction.
A rider in a leather scaled carapace and a pointed helmet with silk lining. The second rider is a lightly armed rifleman riding a Przewalski's horse. Rice. Angus McBride. Reconstruction ed. Osprey
In this case, there is no need to talk about any empire, or even more so a state in the full sense of the word.
The first khans completely sincerely could not understand why the state treasury was needed? If, as we wrote above, within the framework of the Mongolian society “gift” was the key moment of the relationship.
The wise Khitan Yeluyu Chutsai, "long beard", Chingiz's adviser, had to explain how profitable it was to tax the technologically advanced Song and Jin empire, rather than, as the representatives of the "military party" suggested, "kill everyone" and turn the Chinese fields into pastures. But the Mongols did not care much about the feasibility of taxes or the issues of reproduction and the life of their subjects. Let me remind you that only the Mongols were subjects, all the rest were "slaves". As in the case of the Russian “tribute to the poor,” they were simply interested in food and the more, the better, so tax collection was at the mercy of adventurers from the Near and Middle East.
Therefore, the statements that Russia became part of the "world empire" do not correspond to historical realities. Russia fell under the yoke of the steppe people, was forced to interact with them, nothing more.
With the reduction of the limits of military expansion, the robbery of all already plundered and the growth of natural combat losses, the incommensurability of the costs of the war and the income from the war, and this time coincided with the reign of Mongke (d. 1259), taxes and constant receipts begin to excite the Mongol elite. A classic symbiosis of nomads and farmers is formed: in the Far East, this was the empire of the Yuan dynasty. And for a hundred years it was followed by the disintegration of the nomadic empire, just as it happened with many of its predecessors, much smaller in scale.
But in the following articles we return to the Mongol conquests in China.
Sources and literature:
Bichurin N. Ya. Notes on Mongolia. Samara. 2010.
Ancient cultures of Mongolia, Baikal Siberia and North China: materials of the VII Intern. scientific. Conf .: in 2 volumes. Krasnoyarsk. 2016.
History of Russia, Russia and the East. SPb., 2002.
Kradin N. N. Nomads of Eurasia. Almaty. 2017.
Leah von Pal. History of the Mongol Empire: Before and After Genghis Khan. M., 2010.
Mongol Empire and the nomadic world. Sat. articles. Managing editors B. V. Bazarov, N. N. Kradin, T. D. Skrynnikova. Book 1. Ulan-Ude. 2004.
Mongol Empire and the nomadic world. Sat. articles. Managing editors B. V. Bazarov, N. N. Kradin, T. D. Skrynnikova. Book 3. Ulan-Ude. 2008.
Mongolica: To the 750th anniversary of the "Secret Legend". M., 1993.
- Vashchenko E.
- On the eve of the Mongol invasion. Golden empire
On the Mongolian border. Xi Xia Empire
China and Mongols. Iron empire
China and Mongols. Prologue.
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