Paul D. Buell (Center for East Asian Studies, Western Washington University)
Published Online (2007)
Steppe empires, some of which had embraced considerable territory and had exerted a profound influence, had come and gone by the early thirteenth century when the Mongols first appeared. None of them has had the impact of the Mongol Empire which followed; the largest steppe empire in history. Its borders stretched from the Gulf of Bohai into Russia, from southern Siberia into Tibet and the Middle East. It was also easily the most influential, marking the true beginning of global history. The Mongols made communication within Eurasia possible in ways never dreamed of before. Although contacts were momentarily lost in the 14th century with the gradual disappearance of the Mongol world order, they were resumed at European initiative after 1498. Vasco da Gama finished what Genghis Khan had started, and our globalized age is the result.
When Genghis Khan died in 1227 his empire was vast but still growing. During the next 32 years his successors continued to develop the founder‟s behest. They expanded the empire physically and refined its organization. In the process, they produced a remarkable imperial structure that grafted the best that East and West had to offer onto a Mongol foundation (Buell 1977; Buell 2003a). Simultaneously, with political restructuring, the Mongols also engendered a common imperial culture. This culture gradually seized the imagination of much of the Old World. Subject peoples and many located far beyond Mongolian frontiers rushed to imitate the Mongol elite. They did so in everything from using bows to play musical instruments (de Rachewiltz 2007), to clothing styles and food (Buell, Anderson and Perry 2000). Encouraging such development was an unprecedented exchange of people from many different cultures. The Mongols recruited from one end of Eurasia to the other. Thus Khwarazmians from Central Asia served in China and Khitan, from north China, in Bukhara (Buell 1977; Buell 1979). Tibetans and Chinese went to Iran (Allsen 2001; Buell Islam and Tibet forthcoming).
A Parisian goldsmith designed the great tree of life dispensing liquor to imperial guests in Kharakhorum, the Mongol capital (Buell, Anderson and Perry 2000: 32-4). Chinese and Muslim doctors saw to the ruler‟s heath (Buell Asian Medicine, Tradition and Modernity forthcoming). The Mongols also moved groups as well as individuals. The khan‟s guard, for example, included troops from almost everywhere; even a force of Russian knights (Hsiao 1978).