Why the Mongol Invasions of Europe so small?


Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
Mongol invasions west were far more than a 'scouting' party. The initial move might have been a scouting trip in 1223 but the subsequent invasion was permanent. The Volga river was the main trade route of the steppes in the west and Mongols had pushed Cumans and others tribes which inhabited the area near the Volga west even before 1223.

After 1223 the Mongols did not directly invade again until 1236 but the repercussions of that first invasion and the Mongol conquests in Persia were that Cumans and other tribes made alliances with some of the Rus princes so that when Mongols returned in 1236 the Rus sent army to help their allies and to defend their access to Volga trade routes which were disrupted when Mongols conquered Volga Bulgaria. The Mongols defeated Rus armies and pursued them west demanding the surrender of Yuri II who was the most powerful prince of the Rus ruling Vladimir Suzdal at the time. Yuri opted to fight and raised an army which was defeated. Mongol never showed any mercy to those who resisted their first offer and during the next 2 years all of the major Rus cities were razed except for those in the extreme north east (Novgorod).

During 1240 the Mongols accepted the submission of most of the Rus principalities but the resistance of Galicia and that the Mongols were pagans drew some of the crusading knights to start opposition to Mongols. The Mongols first invaded Poland as part of their efforts to subdue Galicia which had lately occupied Kiev and was involved in politics with other Rus principalities.

The response of Europe to Mongol diplomatic demands and the obvious threat was basically too slow as Mongols moved into the attack in 1241 after rapid campaigns in Crimea and towards Black Sea in 1240. Mongols sent demands to surrender several times to King of Hungary between 1239 and 1241 which he ignored. By summer of 1241 Hungary was nearly completely overrun with only some smaller fortresses full of refugees resisting and Mongols were raiding into Austria.

Strategically control of the Hungarian basin provided good land for Mongol horses and strategic access to the rest of Europe following similar paths that Huns and later Magyars used to raid across Europe, only this time Mongols were far larger and more organized force.

Subtai had planned the campaign as one of conquest with independent columns striking out and then combining to defeat centers of resistance similar to the conquests in the east. The Europeans were disorganized but after several defeats managed to inflict losses on Mongols in a couple battles. However the main reason ended was departure of large part of the Mongol army east to support claimants to become Great Khan. The remainder of the army which finally would have faced concentrated aggression from the surrounding Europeans in Hungary moved back to steppes of Rus and became Golden Horde.

The steppe tribes were subsumed into the Mongol confederation or had fled to seek refuge in Hungary, Georgia, and Anatolia which all made use of large groups of steppe cavalry in the years following the Mongol invasions. However with impetus of invasion stalled and rivalry between various Mongol political factions it took until 1259 for the next Mongol attack into Poland which was merely a raid but devastated much of eastern Poland and led the Pope to call for a Crusade vs the Mongols.

The events of 1258 greatly changed the political situation and weakened any response to calls for a Crusade as Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258 and had sometime between 1255 and 1257 intimidated Nasir Yusuf the main Ayyubid ruler who was in midst of wars against Mameluks of Egypt and remaining Crusader states to agree to submit to the Mongol khan.

Meanwhile throughout 1250s Christian states in the region perceiving the power of the Mongols sent many embassies which eventually resulted in alliance/submission to Mongols and most Christians hoped for the conversion of the Mongols to their faith as many Mongols did convert and the Mongol general left in charge of the rear guard when Hulagu left with majority of the army on the death of the Great Khan was a Christian.

Mameluk victory in 1260 was only against a small army of Mongols who did not have time to summon all their local client's armies who had dispersed after Hulagu left in 1259. The Christian states without active leadership of the Mongols were not able to remain united against the Mameluks who quickly expanded into Syria and former Ayyubid domains.

Then in 1262 the first complete break in the politics of the Mongols and war between Mongol factions when Golden Horde which was beginning to convert to Islam warred against Hulagu's Ilkhanate which ruled Persia and had better communication and ties to Mongolia and the eastern Mongol Empire over the traditional trade routes. After that is was centuries long loss of power of the Mongols but Golden Horde raided into Europe even into 1300's until losing battles vs Bulgarians and the Ilkhanate Mongol loss in Battle of Marj al-Saffar to Mameluks in 1303 ended Mongol expansion in the west. Large rebellions against Golden Horde by Rus and divisions caused by the Islamization of Golden Horde occupied the westernmost extension of remaining Mongols while Ghengis Khan's instructions to remain true to Mongolian nomadic traditions meant Golden Horde left most administration to their clients Moscovy which grew powerful enough to finally throw off Mongol yoke completely by 1480 despite gaining autonomous status mostly by 1380.
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Likes: macon
Oct 2018
The main focus of the leading group behind the Mongols was in the East rather than the West. In particular, the Mongolian team’s attack on the Western Expedition in Vienna City was severely hampered, and the financial and military strengths were severely reduced. Therefore, the plan to attack Western Europe could not be carried out. In other words, the elite of the Mongolian army is the Mongolian Qingqi. The best war is the blitzkrieg, and of course the founder of the blitzkrieg. However, the attack on Western Europe can be described as a protracted war, so this battle plan must have been ruined. This is the real reason why the Mongols do not lay down Europe!

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
Why were the Mongol invasions of Europe(and also Eastern Mediterean) not in large scale? When they invaded Persia numbers could go up to the hundreds of thousands and in Vietnam and Japan as well. But Subtai's invasion was only 30,000. Even the force at Ain Jalut was quite small. Why? Logistics? Couldn't they provide a massive supply base in Mespotamia?
By the standards of Medieval Europe, the Mongols army invading Hungary wasn't small. 30,000 was larger than the Crusader forces in the Battle of Hattin, and more than the forces of Saladin. 30,000 was comparable in size to the armies that fought at the Battle of Trowton, the largest battle fought on English soil. Armies in medieval Europe were relatively small.

Further, the Mongol armies were mostly cavalry. While there were larger armies, they often included a lot of infantry. Horses are expensive, so infantry throughout history tends to be more numerous than cavalry.

And to fight in the Levant and Europe, the Mongols had a lot further to travel. A bigger army would have slowed the Mongols down and made them less mobile. If they had more cavalry, it would have increased the logistical problem of how to feed the extra horses.

Finally, the first Mongol army mission may have been as much to test European defenses, without committing a huge army. If the army wasn't big enough, a larger Mongol army could be sent later. The information on the European armies, being so far away, was less complete than on the armies in Asia that were closer, and the Mongols had previous experience fighting many of them, so there was more of a risk in Europe due to the unknown. The army the Mongols did send was large enough to contend with any European army, but not be too big a loss if things did not go well.
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Apr 2018
Probabily due to logistic problems, Mongols were horsemen, and every horseman had various horse with him, so a large Mongol army would have an huge amount of hoses. Europe is not steppic, and nourishing all these animals would have been a bvery big problem.
Nov 2015
My point was that Genghis had no specific beef against the Europeans, Eastern or otherwise.
- no, he had. As good as all Mongolians.

In the Historia Tartarorum of Brother C. de Bridia, describing the journey of mission of Plano Carpini sent by the pope to the Mongolian capital Karakorum in 1245, there is an ancient Mongolian belief that the death of the Mongols will come from the west.Brother C. de Bridia was a Polish monk from Silesia and an editor of the notes of another Polish monk - Benedykt Polak or Benedictus Polonus, a participant in this mission to the Mongols.

Historia Tartarorum:

So, after the death of Okkodai-kan (Ogedei Khan - Dir) the Tartars were deprived of the Kan for seven years and therefore they did not fight at all in the western direction. His son Kuyuk was elected Kan by unanimous decision when our brothers were present (brothers - I think they were monks of the previous mission of de Rubrouck - Dir). After the election, he raised the triumphal banner against the Church of God, and the rule of Christians, and all the states of the West, and sent a third of all his might to war.

And they come to fight continuously for eighteen years, and they will not stop until neither the noble, nor the emperor, nor the kings remain [alive]. And although they knew that sooner or later they should be killed by Christians, but nevertheless they know neither the day nor the land in which God appointed

..... He [Chinggis-Kan] also established that [tartars] conquered all the lands of the world and would not make peace with anyone unless they themselves openly and unconditionally surrender to them, and in this case he ordered to spare simple people and all the more notable to kill.

He also predicted to them [to Tartars] that in the end they would all be killed in the land of Christians, but the few who remained [alive] would abide by the law of [that] land in which their fathers died various deaths.
Sep 2016
..... He [Chinggis-Kan] also established that [tartars] conquered all the lands of the world and would not make peace with anyone unless they themselves openly and unconditionally surrender to them, and in this case he ordered to spare simple people and all the more notable to kill.

He also predicted to them [to Tartars] that in the end they would all be killed in the land of Christians, but the few who remained [alive] would abide by the law of [that] land in which their fathers died various deaths.
Sounds like an obvious propaganda to me. Of course Christians would want to portray themselves as the ultimate victors, especially when in 1247 the situation looked quite grim for the Europe.
Nov 2015
Sounds like an obvious propaganda to me. Of course Christians would want to portray themselves as the ultimate victors, especially when in 1247 the situation looked quite grim for the Europe.
Mongolian negativity addressed to Europe, recorded by the European mission to the capital Mongolia is confirmed by the letter of the Mongolian Khan Güyük to Pope Innocent IV in response to 2 letters from Pope to the Khan. Pope offered the Mongols to adopt Christianity. Khan's answer was transmitted to Rome along with the monks who were returning home from Karakorum. He offered Christians to submit to the Mongols. The letter was found in the 1950s in the Vatican Archive.

Version of translation of the letter -


We, by the power of the Eternal God, the Oceanic Khan of the great Mongol Ulus—our command.

If this reaches peoples who have made their submission, let them respect and stand in awe of it.

This is a directive in the [Muslim] tongue sent to the great Pope; may he may take note and comprehend it, what has been written. The petition of the assembly convened in the lands of the Emperor [seeking our support], has been heard from your emissaries.

If bearer of this petition reaches you with his own report, you, who are the great Pope, together with all the Princes, must come in person to serve us. At that time, I shall make known all the commands of the Yasa.

Further, you have also said that there would be an advantage for me in accepting baptism. You have imparted this to me, and sent a request to this effect. This your appeal, I have not understood.

Furthermore, you have sent the following message: “You have conquered all the lands of the Hungarians and other Christians. This seems strange to me. Tell me what was their crime” I have also not understood this message of yours. Chinggis Khan and the Great Khan Ögedey have both transmitted the order of the Eternal God that the all the world should be subordinated to the Mongols to be taken note of. But they disregarded God’s order to such an extent that those mentioned by you even held a great council, and they behaved arrogantly in refusing, and they killed our messengers and envoys. Thus the Eternal God Himself has killed and exterminated the people in those countries. How could anybody, without God’s order, merely from his own strength, kill and plunder? And when you go on to say, “I am a Christian, I honor God.” How do you think you know whom God will absolve and in whose favor He will exercise His mercy? How do you think you know that you dare to express such an opinion?

Through the power of God, all empires from the rising of the sun to its setting have been given to us and we own them. How could anyone achieve anything except by God’s order? Now, however, you must say with a sincere heart: “We shall be obedient, we, too, make our strength available. You personally, at the head of the Kings, you shall come, one and all, to pay homage to me and to serve me. Then we shall take note of your submission. If, however, you do not accept God’s order and act against our command, we shall know that you are our enemies.

This is what we make known to you. If you act against it, how then can we know what will happen? Only God knows.

Written at the end of Jumada II 644 of the Hijra (November 1246).

All this correspondence of 1245-1246 is here -

Mongol-Papal Encounter: Letter Exchange between Pope Innocent IV and Güyük Khan in 1245-1246

I must add that both Christian missions to Karakorum discovered that Nestorian Christians enjoyed significant influence at the court of the Khan. They lived in Karakorum and the head of the office of Khan during the visit of Karpini was the Nestorian Bulgay Akak. Not only that - the eldest wife of Khan was also a Christian. But I think that the example of representatives of this very specific Christian sect turned out to be little convincing, and the Mongols chose Islam as a new religion. By the 1330s most of the tops of the Mongolian empire became Muslims.

In the Horde Islam became the state religion under Khan Uzbek in the early 1320s.
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
Sounds like an obvious propaganda to me. Of course Christians would want to portray themselves as the ultimate victors, especially when in 1247 the situation looked quite grim for the Europe.
The Mongol success has been somewhat exaggerated. After a year, the Mongol still hadn't conquered all of Hungary, and the Mongols hadn't even attempted a large raid on the rest of Western Europe. They hadn't captured the more advanced stone castles in Hungary, where presumably the greatest riches were to be found.

The Mongols managed to capture only part of an unprepared Hungary.. The next time the Mongols tried to invade Hungary, they were decisely defeated.

And while some Mongols St the Mongol court claimed they left Hungary because of the death of the Great Khan, other contemporary sources said they had planned to retreat before they had heard of the Great Khan's death. Badu and his army never went back to Mongolia after he left Hungary, of which makes it questionable that the Great Khan_s death was the reason for the withdrawal.

A more likely reason for the Mongol withdrawal was that they had accomplished all they were going to. After a year, they would have looted every thing of value in the areas they controlled, and they had not succeeded in conquering all of Hungary, so there was no point sticking around. And the Mongol army was probably never intended to conquer all of Europe, but to test European defenses. If the opportunity arose, the Mongols would have tried conquering more, but the Mongol army achieved its purpose. If they wanted to conquer the rest of Europe, they would have needed more siege equipment than apparently they brought with them, and likely a bigger army, and Europe wasn't probably worth the effort.
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