Is the Mongol Empire really the largest contiguous land empire in history?

Willempie

Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
4,736
Netherlands
#11
That depends on which map projection is used. The famous and familiar Mercator projection became very common because a straight line course at sea is the same as a straight line course on a map with a Mercator projection. That made it very easy for navigators to plot their ship's courses at sea on a chart. But there are other map projections which give equal areas to land at all latitudes.

Map projection - Wikipedia
You shouldn't confuse the geometrically impaired forumites even more ;)
 
Likes: Futurist
Mar 2018
591
UK
#12
That depends on which map projection is used. The famous and familiar Mercator projection became very common because a straight line course at sea is the same as a straight line course on a map with a Mercator projection. That made it very easy for navigators to plot their ship's courses at sea on a chart. But there are other map projections which give equal areas to land at all latitudes.

Map projection - Wikipedia
I'm pretty sure that Willempie was talking about physical surface area. Considering most of us don't use maps to navigate ships, but to get an intuition for geography, we are better off using maps that preserve area rather than preserving angles. Ergo, if you see a map where greenland and arabia are roughly the same size, it's probably the right map to use for what you intended.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,659
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
#13
I'm pretty sure that Willempie was talking about physical surface area. Considering most of us don't use maps to navigate ships, but to get an intuition for geography, we are better off using maps that preserve area rather than preserving angles. Ergo, if you see a map where greenland and arabia are roughly the same size, it's probably the right map to use for what you intended.
I suppose that the best map of all to use would be a digital globe that one could turn to display the region one is interested in, whenever that region is small enough that the outer parts would be too distorted. And perhaps there could be a map beside it using the projection best suited for that particular purpose.
 
Likes: Olleus
Feb 2018
193
US
#14
The Mongol Empire is likely the largest empire in history, contiguous or not. The Mongol Empire’s Northern Border: Re-evaluating the Surface Area of the Mongol Empire

There are two ways you can measure past empire sizes: by claims, or by taxed territory. What those older studies and comparisons do is use claims for the colonial empires and taxed territory for central/eastern asian empires, which is obviously a nonsensical double standard. You have to measure everything using the same metrics. One wonders if the British ever sent a tax collector deep into the northern Yukon, Sahara, or the center of Australia. Other empires like the Tang or the Gokturks certainly get the short end of the stick here.

So if you would measure by claims, then you have to increase the Mongol territory to their claims (aka the entire world, lol). More seriously, that would include basically all of Russia, even if parts were uninhabited.

The other problem is that no specialist ever bothered to look at how far the Mongols penetrated north (until the above paper, which is useful albeit not complete). So the generalists writing these surveys of empires basically drew a horizontal line across Siberia. 24M km^2 is basically a made up number that you get by drawing an arbitrary horizontal line as its northern boundary based on no natural terrain.

How far did the Mongol empire actually expand north? Its definitely not clear, especially since the Mongols measured themselves by peoples they could tax or extort, not land. Some approximations can be made though.

We have ample textual evidence from Juvaini, Rashid al Din, and the Yuan Shi that the Mongols controlled the entire Yenisei river area. Ogedei Khan is said to have visited the Arctic himself, and the Mongols prized gyrfalcons who inhabited the arctic circle, sometimes even going out to islands in the Kara Sea. They collected tribute in kind from Siberians, usually furs and gyrfalcons. Lady Sorkhakhtani sent silver mining expeditions up the Angara and Yenisei and made fantastic returns.

A number of sources confirm that the Mongols also controlled the Ob-Irtysh area up to the Arctic: i,e Carpini notes two northern tribes who were subjects and north of the Rus. Ibn Battuta writes of Golden Horde subjects in the extreme north who came from a land of eternal darkness and who had no face (i,e polar night inhabitants).

So basically from the Angara/Yenisei West to the White Sea the Mongols more or less controlled most if not all of Siberia..

I've encountered no specific textual evidence about any expeditions up the Lena River or anything at all about it either way. Marco Polo suggests the Mongols had Siberian subjects they exploited deep in the north, but its not clear if they were in Northeast of Lake Baikal or not. I came across a Yuan Shi quote that the Yuan conquered Sakhalin in 1304, but I didn't write down the precise info.

In terms of power and year, the Mongols were at their most centralized and unified in the 1250's under the reign of Mongke. After Mongke died, the empire split and lost its cohesion, though the empire was at least nominally reunified (no longer at war) in 1304. So depending on how you want to look at it you can use one of those two dates. The 1259 date leaves out Song China and Pagan Burma, but includes Dai Viet. The 1304 date includes the former and loses the latter two. I'm not sure exactly when Bulgaria ceases to become a Mongol tributary, but that may have been after 1259 but before the re-unification.
 
Mar 2012
4,315
#16
What the source proposed is not really new as far as Chinese academia is concerned. Tan Qixiang's maps already showed the Yuan extending all the way to the arctic since the 1970s.
1554721498163.png

The problem arises when you include stateless tribes paying tribute to a central authority as part of territory. Indeed European empires were often presented that way in modern maps even when their rule of certain regions were of this characteristic too (or even less). 18th century Russian Siberia (such as rule over Buriats) and Spanish rule of Louisiana and Texas (Apache and Commanche) are all of such nature. The Mongol Empire is also hardly the only empire being under-represented. When you include stateless tribes paying tribute, states controlling Mongolia and lake Baikal or the Amur river valley often also received tribute from tribes far to the north, sometimes into the Arctic ocean, and people sometimes denounce this as fanciful (it might even be deemed as some type of nationalist propaganda), historians will often ignore it, despite the fact that they are blatantly recorded and the people's customs are often verified to be from such areas. Therefore I prefer to not count these as part of empires (unless the territory was at least regularly patrolled or the chieftains were under some type of military coercion instead of just certain geographies being explored and claimed) rather than count them (the issue is of course rather subjective). The Spanish Empire at its largest would be more around 5.2 million sq miles, and not over 7 million sq miles as often estimated (therefore smaller than the Qing and Tang).

Now to cite the primary Chinese sources on the extent of Mongol rule to the arctic ocean on the Yenisei verifying the account already mentioned by Juvaini:


The Mongols first explored this northern region under Ogodei, who sent officials to receive the submission of the furthest northern tribes. Yuan accounts state that Ogodei's men entered the Northern Sea, reached the mountain where the "Sun never sets", and for the first time, met people who were not nomads with horses.

This was recorded under the "Shuangxi Zui Yingji" of the Sinisized Khitan official Yelu Shou(second son of Yelu Chucai), V.5:

耶律铸《双溪醉隐集》卷五《丁灵》:
“圣朝太宗皇帝尝诏和端(兀敦)等入北海,往复数年,得日不落之山,未始闻有马脑、马蹄之民。是知诸家所说,不加考核,递相祖述耳。好怪不经,世俗之所不免者也,可胜诧哉”!

"The Taizong emperor of the Holy dynasty (ogodei) commanded Herui and the others to enter the northern sea, the expedition lasted a few years, they attained the mountain where the sun never sets, and did not hear about people with horse head and horse hooves."

According to the Yuan scholar Sheng Ruxin's book Shuzhai Laoxue Congtan: "the place where "sun never sets", there was only one moment of blackness that covered the sun, the cooked sheep was still hot, the sun already appeared. Liu Jingzhi of Baoding saw this personally. The sun and moon do not descend into the earth, they rotate beneath the extreme north.“

盛如梓《庶斋老学丛谭》卷一:
“许献臣佥事说:盎古剌日不落,只一道黑气遮日,煮羊膞熟,日又出也。
保定刘敬之往仕断事官,亲见之。观此则日月不出入乎地中,绕北极之下,以为昼夜,信而有证”。


The Yuan established 27 astronomical observatories across its empire under Guo Shouzun.
The observatory furthest north was known as the Northern Ocean Observational point 北海测影, which was recorded as at around 65 degrees out of ground level:北海,北极出地六十五度”

The location of this northern observatory is around 62.5 degrees north lattitude.

According to the Yuan Shi, v.63, geography 6, Khirgiz: "The Ankela people are named after the body of water, they are vassals of the Jilijisi(Khirgiz), it is 25,000 li away from the capital(Beijing). Their language differed from those spoken by the Khirghiz. The days there are long while the nights are short. When the sun sets, if one cooks a sheep and heat it up, the east is already lighting up. This is the same place as the Guligan kingdom spoken of in the Tang history."

“吉利吉思者,南去大都万有余里。其境长一千四百里,广半之,谦河经其中,西北流。又西南有水曰阿浦,东北有水曰玉须,皆巨浸也,会于谦,而注于{昴}[昂]可剌河,北入于海。俗与诸国异,其语言则[与]畏吾儿同。庐帐而居,随水草畜牧,颇知田作,遇雪则跨木马逐猎。土产名马,白、黑海东青。
{昴}[昂]可剌者,因水为名,附庸于吉利吉思,去大都二万五千余里。其语言与吉利吉思特异,昼长夜短,日没时炙羊肋熟,东方已曙矣”。

According to estimate, cooking a sheep took around 3 hours in the area, meaning the territory was around 64 degrees north latitude, close, but not at the arctic circle.

The Yuan Shi account also showed that the Mongols weren't even the first people to explore the Yeneisei all the way to the Arctic. The area was well recorded in Tang sources, because during the Tang the Guligan people lived there. We also know from both Tang sources and the Orkhon inscription that the Guligan were subjects of the Xueyantuo Khanate, the Tang, and the second Gokturk empire (although the Guligan seem to have migrated to the region around lake Baikal by the 8th century) respectively. So all three empires, theoretically also had their northern boundary all the way to the arctic ocean, if we apply such standards. This is supported in the Tang sources.

According to the Jiu Tang Shu, Astronomical section; "There is the Guligan which lived north of the Uighurs and north of Lake Baikal, there are lots of grass and medicine, the region is known for good horses which can travel hundreds of li. Some distance north of it is the Great Sea, the days are long while the nights are short. After the sun sets, when the night becomes dark, if one cooks a sheep while it was still hot, the east is already lighting up. This area is close to where the sun appear and disappears. These matters has not been recorded in ancient books."

The "Great Sea" in the text above probably referred to the Arctic ocean.

Tang Huiyao:
骨利干处北方瀚海之北。二俟斤同居。胜兵四千五百。口万余人。草多百合。地出名马。其国北接冰海。昼长夕短。日没后。天色正曛。煮一羊胛纔熟。而东方已曙。盖近日出之所也。贞观二十一年正月内附。

"Guligan resides to the north of Hanhai (lake Baikal). They have two Irkin (suggesting Turkish influence). They have 4,500 soldiers, and over 10,000 people....their state connects to the frozen sea to the north. The days are long and the nights are short. In the 11th year of Zhenguan (639), they submitted."
If the night was only 3 hours long, we know that the Guligan (made into the Xuanjue prefecture under the Tang) probably dwelled as far north as 64 degrees latitude and sometimes sailed into the Arctic.




The Xin Tang Shu's record of the Uighurs likewise has something similar to say: "Guligan dwells north of the Han Hai(lake Baikal), it has 5000 soldiers. There are lots of grass and good horses...they border the sea(arctic ocean). It is the furthest from the capital"

The Xin Tangshu, astronomy 1 also hints at a Tang astronomical observatory north of the Guligan where the shadow caused by the sun shows only at a height slightly above 15 Chinese degrees on the ground, so Tang ambassadors probably visited the Guligan as well.
北至晷四尺一寸三分,南至晷二丈九尺二寸六分,定春秋分晷五尺八寸七分。其没地才十五余度,夕没亥西,晨出丑东,校其里数,已在回纥之北,又南距洛阳九千八百一十五里,则极长之昼,其夕常明。然则骨利干犹在其南矣。
 
Aug 2014
175
New York, USA
#17
The location of this northern observatory is around 62.5 degrees north lattitude.
According to the Jiu Tang Shu, Astronomical section; "There is the Guligan which lived north of the Uighurs and north of Lake Baikal, there are lots of grass and medicine, the region is known for good horses which can travel hundreds of li. Some distance north of it is the Great Sea, the days are long while the nights are short. After the sun sets, when the night becomes dark, if one cooks a sheep while it was still hot, the east is already lighting up. This area is close to where the sun appear and disappears. These matters has not been recorded in ancient books."
"Guligan resides to the north of Hanhai (lake Baikal). They have two Irkin (suggesting Turkish influence). They have 4,500 soldiers, and over 10,000 people....their state connects to the frozen sea to the north. The days are long and the nights are short. In the 11th year of Zhenguan (639), they submitted."
If the night was only 3 hours long, we know that the Guligan (made into the Xuanjue prefecture under the Tang) probably dwelled as far north as 64 degrees latitude and sometimes sailed into the Arctic.
The night being 3 hours long already occurs around lake Baikal during the summer. This is roughly at the latitude of St. Petersburg, which experiences 0 total darkness, and less than 2 hours of twilight in the peak summer months.
62 degrees latitude is considered "southern" Siberia. There is a whole lot of land between that and the Arctic. Also, if they ventured that far north, the sun would never set at all at "night". The sun does not disappear at all if you go deep into northern Siberia, let alone Arctic. The fact that they describe a nighttime means they were talking at best the northern lake Baikal latitudes, which is southern Siberia.
"The Taizong emperor of the Holy dynasty (ogodei) commanded Herui and the others to enter the northern sea, the expedition lasted a few years, they attained the mountain where the sun never sets, and did not hear about people with horse head and horse hooves."
This is again more descriptive of southern Siberia, the area around lake Baikal is fairly mountainous. Since if they pushed north of that, they wouldn't have to climb a mountain/hill to experience the never-setting sun.
 
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#18
I've seen it claimed countless times, but looking at a map, the Russian empire looks bigger. Can someone clarify what I'm missing please?
The British Empire is I think the largest empire in history, during it's peak period in the 20's it extended on every continent, over half of north america, india, australia and part of africa. Knowing that at this period over 80% of total land area was colonized by just a couple of countries.
 
Mar 2012
4,315
#19
The night being 3 hours long already occurs around lake Baikal during the summer. This is roughly at the latitude of St. Petersburg, which experiences 0 total darkness, and less than 2 hours of twilight in the peak summer months.
62 degrees latitude is considered "southern" Siberia. There is a whole lot of land between that and the Arctic. Also, if they ventured that far north, the sun would never set at all at "night". The sun does not disappear at all if you go deep into northern Siberia, let alone Arctic. The fact that they describe a nighttime means they were talking at best the northern lake Baikal latitudes, which is southern Siberia.
The place where a sheep cooks for three hours has been identified as around 63.5 degrees north latitude by Caoyi's dissertation, which is already further north than Baikal (54 degrees).
They do talk about places where the Sun never set, as I already posted. "The Taizong emperor of the Holy dynasty (ogodei) commanded Herui and the others to enter the northern sea, the expedition lasted a few years, they attained the mountain where the sun never sets, and did not hear about people with horse head and horse hooves."

Shuzhai Laoxue Congtan: "the place where "sun never sets", there was only one moment of blackness that covered the sun, the cooked sheep was still hot, the sun already appeared. Liu Jingzhi of Baoding saw this personally. The sun and moon do not descend into the earth, they rotate beneath the extreme north.“

This is again more descriptive of southern Siberia, the area around lake Baikal is fairly mountainous. Since if they pushed north of that, they wouldn't have to climb a mountain/hill to experience the never-setting sun.
The problem with this assessment is that Lake Baikal has identified names in both the Yuan and the Tang (its called the small sea in Tang times), so this northern sea (Tang source calls it the Great Sea or Frozen sea) is clearly not referring to it (Tang sources explicitly mentioned the Guligan was north of Baikal at Hanhai), but most likely the Arctic Ocean because its the only body of water bigger than Baikal in the north. Furthermore the sources only identified one single mountain, which does not indicate its necessarily at a mountainous location nor did it indicate that you have to climb it to see the sun not setting. Besides, the Putorana Plateau on the northern end of the Yeneisei is also mountainous. It sounds to me that the center of Guligan activity is around 63.5 degrees north, but the area north of it was largely uninhabited and the people from Guligan occasionally reach the Arctic and hence knows of its existence.
 
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