The Mongol Transformation: From the Steppe to Eurasian Empire
By Michal Biran
Medieval Encounters, Vol. 10 (2004)
Abstract: This paper discusses the rise of the Mongol Empire in its Inner Asian context, looking for evolutionary versus revolutionary features of the Mongol imperial enterprise. It then assesses the Mongol impact on Eurasia from three angles: the Mongol contributions to Eurasian integration; their impact on the Eurasian geo-political balance; and the long-term impact of their statecraft on the different regions over which they ruled.
Introduction: The Mongol conquests have been defined as the last chapter of the Eurasian transformations of the tenth-thirteenth centuries. Yet with the same, or even better, justification they can also be regarded as the first chapter of a new era, perhaps the early-modern one. Certainly the impact of the Mongol period was strongly felt in the post-thirteenth century world as well. Before addressing the issue of Mongol legacy on Eurasia, however, I will analyze the Inner Asian background of the Mongol Empire during the tenth to twelfth centuries, looking for evolutionary versus revolutionary features of the Mongol imperial enterprise. Then, the Mongol impact on Eurasia will be reassessed from three angles: the Mongol contribution to Eurasian integration, their impact on the Eurasian geo-political balance, and the future impact of their statecraft on the different regions under their realm.
The Mongols did not arise from nothing, nor did they lack a cultural legacy of their own. In terms of political culture, religion, and military organization they continued a long tradition of steppe empires, while in terms of their relations with the sedentary civilizations they were influenced by the legacy of inter-regional nomadic states that arose in Manchuria and Central Asia in the tenth to twelfth centuries. Combining these two traditions, the unprecedented success of the Mongols resulted in a situation which, despite many continuities, was more revolutionary than evolutionary.