Were there any benefits from Mongolian conquests? If any, what were they?

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,673
Florania
Mongol invasions probably helped Europe more than most other areas because of a few things- reduced competition from rivals with central Asian and Chinese empires overthrown and interludes of anarchy in the following centuries, the spread of knowledge from the East to the West (mostly to due with trade potential) while China suffered immensely for awhile it also rebounded and the Mongol attempts at conquest of Japan and Vietnam strengthened those in feeling of national unity plus China had faced periodic invasions from the steppes for centuries- Mongols simply were more successful than most but China would most likely have suffered internal wars even if no Mongols had invaded. The Mongol domination of Russia but the use of Moscow to collect the tributes of other Rus kingdoms also set the stage for the rise of Russia and the expansion of European systems into central Asia even before British managed to take control of India.

Mongols were probably the worst for Islamic world as they wiped out several centuries-old centers of learning and convinced many that they were punishment for transgressions and led to renewed repression and calcification of Islamic practices and less tolerance overall which still echoes to the present time.
At least in this dimension, it seems like Mongolians pretty much shaped modern history as we know it; it seems that Chinese and Muslims did not quite recover from Mongolian invasions, at least culturally.
Some explanations:
Arguably, the Song Dynasty was the most liberal and progressive time of Dynastic China; unfortunately, it was marred by a militarily unfriendly bureaucracy and system in a time of conquests and empires.
The Ming Dynasty started as a militarily competent empire; its military might and efficiency waned during its later years and fell to the Manchu regime.
Arguably, Later Ming Dynasty also witnessed emergence of relatively advanced ideas; they were still Confucian in root.
Li Zhi, (ironically, his name puns with reason in Chinese), a late Ming Chinese philosopher, was known to be quite close to European Enlightenment in thoughts.
Why the thoughts of Li Zhi did not take root in China?
Being nicknamed "the Dynasty of Wild Boar Hide", which is the nickname of Nurhaci, the founder of the Manchu Dynasty, Qing Dynasty was known for technological and relative cultural stagnation;
China did not have its own "Humanitarian Revolution" nor "Enlightenment".
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,580
Dispargum
The Mongols unified Asia, or at least that portion along the old Silk Road, making it easier for trade and communications between East and West. Marco Polo probably never would have made it to China without the prior Mongol conquests. Marco Polo, in turn, inspired the Age of Exploration. So in a way, the Americas or Australia/NZ never would have been discovered or colonized without the Mongols.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,967
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
Most modern (Western) scholarship on the Mongol Empire is overwhelmingly positive, particularly with regard to Mongol advances in science, technology, economics, religion and - in the opinions of some scholars - gender, among many others things. The view that the Mongol Empire was just one of death and destruction is rather outdated these days.
Old saying: "It's an ill wind that blows no good."

New saying, made up by myself and possibly other persons: "It's a good wind that blows no ill."

Every event has good and bad results. A good event has to be very good indeed if has no bad results. A bad event has to be very bad indeed if it has no good results.

Most people think that World War Two was overall a terrible disaster. But two of my ancestors met and married in college, where one of them was attending on the GI Bill. Without World War Two and the deaths of over fifty million people they might never have met and my close family and I would never have been born.

An ancestor of mine died in the terrible Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. His daughter married in 1800 a widower whose first wife had died, and in 1801 they had a daughter who grew up to marry a man whose first two wives had died and together they had nine children including my ancestor.

So every terrible disaster has some good results as widows and widowers remarry and have children with persons they wouldn't otherwise have married.

And I can't help thinking that the Mongol Conquests were a terrible disaster which had some good effects.
 

Willempie

Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
5,495
Netherlands
Stabilizing the silk road had quite some positive effects. Stopping Muslim expansion did as well depending on your worldview. Also economically the Mongols seemed to do quite alright.
 
Jul 2014
1,638
world
At least in this dimension, it seems like Mongolians pretty much shaped modern history as we know it; it seems that Chinese and Muslims did not quite recover from Mongolian invasions, at least culturally.
Some explanations:
Imho Mongols were the best thing that happened to central asian Islam. Xixia and khara Khitai were the Buddhist steppe empires that were wiped out by the mongols. Mongol tribes provided the organisation and leadership for later islamic expansion of the Turks into India and Ukrainian steppes in the form of the Mughals and Nogais. Taimur was a from a Turkified mongol tribe.

As for China .. it did recover. Ming was a great power in the late 14th and early 15th century. It was the internal policies of Ming that destroyed it, definately not the mongols and perhaps not even the Manchus.
 
Mar 2018
839
UK
And I can't help thinking that the Mongol Conquests were a terrible disaster which had some good effects.
I think this hits the nail on the head.

I know it's popular to stress the positive consequences of the Mongol conquests these days but, IMO, that's nothing but revisionism. You should judge an event by it's direct consequences, not things that happened centuries before. A previous poster made the mongol->silk road->marco polo->age of exploration causal chain. You could go one step further and add "-> massacre of meso-americans" to the chain. Does that mean that we should somehow judge the Mongols by what happened to the Aztecs? Of course not. History is chaotic, trying to say one thing caused things centuries later is in many cases borderline meaningless.

So what did the Mongols directly do? They killed tens of millions, systematically destroyed centres of knowledge and wiped out countless civilizations/cultures. That is definitely bad. On the other hand, they established the Pax Mongolica and created long distance communication/trade networks, which is definitely good. By modern morality (and, frankly, the morality of just about any settled society at the time), if we look at the what Mongols did directly, then the bad heavily outweighs the good. I'm going to state apologetically state that only a monster would disagree.

Now it's also reasonable to take into account the once-removed consequences of Mongolian rule. Spreading the black death would generally be seen as a bad thing (unless, once against, we take sufficiently long causal links). Spreading technology between west and east is however positive, as would be some of the changes that other states had in their organisation in response to the Mongols. But it isn't enough to just see what happened and ask if it's good or bad, we have to compare it to what would have happened if the Mongols had been around? That's very hard to do. But let's be generous and say that things like the spread of technology and knowledge along the silk road and pressuring eastern European states into getting more centralised and spreading the black death is a good thing that would not have happened without the Mongols. I still don't see how these complex sometimes-good-sometimes-bad indirect consequences can ever outweigh the near century of murder, rape and destruction on an unprecedented scale that they inflicted on Eurasia.

So to expand on MAGolding:
I can't help thinking that the Mongol Conquests were a terrible disaster in themselves, which had both good and bad indirect effects.
 
Feb 2018
242
US
The current academic view on the Mongols is not really revisionist, it's more complete. The traditional view of them that started with Voltaire and lasted until the early 2000's was simply inaccurate. This occurred for several reasons, the primary ones being languages, source criticism, and the agricultural unconscious bias against nomads in general as 'the other,' or an alien savage. Once more sources began getting translated and scholars emerged who could read Persian and Chinese, there emerged a much more complete picture of what really happened. The big revelation was that the Mongols consciously manipulated institutions, population movements, culture, and technology/cultural transfers on an unprecedented scale and sophistication. This defeated old sedentary views that believed that the mongols got assimilated into the sedentary societies they conquered and lost their culture, which is the opposite of what occurred. In reality, the Mongol world-system was more synthesis based and relied upon the large extent of territory it controlled. Neither of these were natural solutions for sedentary civilizations, so its hardly a surprise that a lot of the Mongol innovations and relics disappeared after they fell. It is also hardly a surprise that when Russia and the Middle East lost their place in the world, they looked for a convenient scapegoat to blame. But that is not backed by contemporary sources. For instance, a Muslim source records that a local Muslim clergy requested Mongke Khan to conquer and rule over the entire Middle East, by "Building a Bridge of Justice," as Mongol justice and peace in Transoxiana was highly prized. Rather than Hulegu's conquest to be an unwanted intrusion, it was actually prompted by a local invitation who preferred Mongol rule (Genghis Khan's conquest of Khwarezm was obviously far more bloody).

Put together, old narratives fall apart. The key distinction made now is that the Mongols were not unusual in degree for the period at all, and refrained from the worst evils like the Albigensian crusade, but they applied it on a wider scale that historians outside of China had no experience with. For example, Hulegu is traditionally attributed by ruining the Golden age of Islam and the unparalleled culture capital of Baghdad, with 2 million Muslims slain and the Tigris stained black with the ink of the Baghdad library. When examined with a complete source material, you find that Baghdad was already in serious decay, the books from the Baghdad library appeared at the newly established Maragheh library, the attack and looting was controlled and parts of the city were completely spared. The most accurate report of casualties comes from Kublai's envoy, an impartial observer, who reported that several tens of thousands died. Baghdad declined not because it was ruined forever in some anti-Islam attack, but because the Ilkhanate moved their political center to Azerbaijan, so places like Maragheh took its place. Archeology has confirmed that the number of casualties stated in Islamic sources for the major Iranian urban centers is erroneous. In contrast with the million plus casualty lists for each of a number of cities in Khorasan, the surviving walls indicate that the population could only be a fraction of that (i,e 100k~). For instance, Juvaini, now understood to be a propaganda piece to boast of the inevitably of Mongol victory from source criticism, says the Mongols ravaged Transoxiana, but then later on notes that in his era some 35~ years later the region had attained its pre-Mongol prosperity. Qiu Chuji's disciple, an eyewitness in the 1220's, noted that Samarkand had lost 3/4 of its population. An author in the traditional school would note the devastation and ignore the revival because it didn't fit with their worldview, but now both are noted.

The old belief that the Mongols caused the downfall of Middle East/China and led to the rise of the Europe is not supported at all. The real devastation in the Middle East happened in the civil wars and upheaval after Abu Said's death and the dissolution of the Ilkhanate, and even worse, after the Timurid collapse after Timur and Shah Rukh's deaths. Herat was ruined in the Mongol-Khwarezmian war, but was later rebuilt and became a flourishing Persian cultural center until it was sacked by the Uzbeks in the early 1500's. In China, the rebellions that toppled the Yuan and Ming were horrendously bloody and the upheaval ruined the economy and support systems (i,e plague/famine), yet China flourished for periods under both the Ming and Qing. This is hardly unique - the Chu-Han contention was far more damaging to the Chinese people and economy than the Warring States era, yet by Emperor Wen of Han half a century later the country was flourishing to the degree that they could afford a 1.67-3.3% tax rate. A well-run, sophisticated state at peace can quickly repair horrendous damage from war.

China and India only decayed under the Qing and Mughals once they ran out of serious external threats to face in the 1700's. Persia under Nader Shah was at the very worst comparable to any European state [his conquest of the Mughals netted him a treasury on par with the entire costs of the Seven Years war], but once he experienced mental degeneration they never recovered.
 
Mar 2018
839
UK
You make the point I believe 4 different times that places recovered quickly after the Mongol conquest. I'm happy to believe that this is true. But the fact that the benchmark is recovery rather than improvement implicitly states that the invasion itself was a negative destructive act.
 
Feb 2018
242
US
My apologies, I was not comprehensive enough. The benchmark is not recovery, that's just the minimum that invalidates the thesis that the devastation via conquests led to the supremacy of Europe over other Eurasian regions. The real beneficial effects are so widespread that they have to be covered in books.
  • Astronomical innovations under Nasr al Din Tusi that served as the basis for Copernicus, eg the tusi couple and rejection of ptolemaic traditions (ironically this research was originally commissioned to improve the mongol astrological charts!).
  • Medicine - combining the best practices of Chinese, Islamic, Galenic, Tibetan, and Ayuverdic treatments, as well new medicines created from the transfer of new foods and herbs across the empire.
  • Calendar synchronization between east and west.
  • Concrete geographical maps that made trade much more viable.
  • Historiography - synthesis of chinese and persian historical organization and methodology.
  • State-sponsored merchants, and a Eurasian trade network that mostly eliminated unknowns in merchant calculations.
  • Religious pluralism (more accurate than the oft-stated religious 'tolerance'), where mongol rulers of one faith sponsored religious buildings and communities of other faiths.
  • Making Women ruling locally and actively participating in public an accepted norm (continued under the Timurids).
  • Reformed legal codes - increased clarity, harsh punishment for false accusations, reducing the prevalence of the death sentence in China. Outsiders reported a general absence of lying among the Mongols, but this may have been limited to the actual nomads and not their citizens.
  • Eurasian synthesized art [I do not know the extent or means of how this spread - the book 'Sudden Appearances' looks quite good on this though].
  • New cuisine as foods were transferred throughout the empire - e.g spread of chickpeas and noodles that led to a variety of new dishes, and entirely new cuisine books.
There is other important aspects like ceramics (Chinese porcelain and Iranian polychrome), a huge array of technology transfer including the wheelbarrow, printing press, and movable metal type, clothing ('tatar cloth'), gunpowder, etc.