The Mongol Empire

In the 13 th century the Mongolians eventually established what may have been the biggest empire the world has ever seen. The story began during a prolonged period when the climate was moist. Traces of earlier shorelines show that sea level in the Caspian Sea was much higher then than it is now, and that it was rising. The steppe pastures grew dense and rich under the increased rainfall and warmer weather associated with it. The people flourished and the population increased, but around 1200 there was a fairly sudden change. It seems likely that the Central Asian climate came to be dominated by weather systems that drew cold, dry air southward from the Arctic. China had been suffering from cold, dry weather for some time, and this climate may have continued to spread westward until it brought the Little Ice Age (see the section "The Little Ice Age," on pages 87-93) to western Europe.

As the climate became drier and the pastures sparser, the tribes were crowded into smaller areas and their leaders fought for supremacy. In 1206 one of the tribal warlords was elected to rule a group of Mongols whose tribes had been so devastated by war that their members were effectively tribeless. His name was Temujin. We know him as Genghis Khan (c. 1167-1227). A brilliant administrator as well as military strategist, he was able to organize the demoralized peoples into a formidable group. They defeated the rival Tatar people, who lived to the south of Lake Baikal, and then he drew the remaining tribes into a federation.

Together, they began expanding the territory they controlled. They captured Beijing in 1215, and by the time Genghis died their empire stretched from the Caspian to the China Seas. Further campaigns added more territory. They occupied the steppe grasslands of southern Russia, where they formed an empire within the empire, known as the Golden Horde, and by 1300 the Mongol Empire extended westward to the Danube and from Lithuania to the Himalayas. Kublai Khan (1215-94), grandson of Genghis, was one of the greatest of all emperors of China, and another descendant of Genghis, Babur (Zahir ud-Din Mohammed, 1483-1530), conquered India and became its first Mogul emperor. It was not until the 18th century that the final remnants of the Mongol Empire disappeared.

Khmer Empire

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