Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire: Significance to Global History
The year was 1275. The Italian explorer Marco Polo had just arrived in Xanadu, the summer-capital of Kublai Khan’s vast empire. Marco Polo and his companions were astounded at the wealth and culture of the Eastern peoples. Polo’s entourage subsequently spent over 15 years as guests and participants in the Khan’s court. When they returned to Venice in 1292, the stories they brought set the collective European curiosity on fire.
The Books of the Marvels of the World set the travel stories and observations of Marco Polo down in words. These books stoked the interest of Europe and played an integral role in fomenting the explosion of exploration that occurred during the 14th through 18th centuries.
What though made Polo’s revolutionary journey possible? For, no fewer than 70 years prior to Polo’s arduous trek, Asia was simply a conglomeration of small, viciously brutal tribes. No European explorer could have ever imagined passing safely through the barbaric wastelands of the East. One man, in short, made exploration and its timeless effect on the globe possible. His name was Genghis Khan.
At the end of the 12th century Genghis began his push to unify the tribes of the Mongolian steppe. Rapid success at unification resulted in a new power in the East, the dreaded Mongol hordes. History records that Genghis and his armies began their empire by forging further eastward and subjugating a large portion of modern-day China. The Chinese curiosities and culture kept Genghis occupied temporarily but before long he led his armies west again.
In the West, they defeated the perennially mighty Persians, contested with the Turkish Muslims, and finally met their match in the Egyptian Mamelukes. In all, Genghis merged the modern-day countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and large portions of Russia into his already large empire. The Mongol empire, which was amassed by an army on horseback, stretched for an astounding 12.8 million square miles, only fractionally smaller than the modern British Empire.
The integral contribution of Genghis’ empire was that it unified the numerous tribes under one ruler. What was once a disjointed land of warring nomads became a land subservient to a preeminent Khan, unified in its homage to a single lord. At his death, Genghis’ empire passed on to his heirs. Kublai Khan, the ruler during the time of Marco Polo’s journey, was the grandson of the great Genghis.
Genghis Khan spearheaded the unification of the tribes and laid the foundation for explorers from the West to reach the fabled lands of Cathay. These early explorations by Marco Polo, explorations which stoked the fire of European exploration, would never have been possible had it not been for the rapid expansion of the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan.
A main source used for researching this article was Harold Lamb's book, Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde.