Anywho, onto the topic of the week. The Mongols have always been an unruly lot. They've survived in the rugged Gobi Desert north of China, fighting their way into China multiple times only to be pushed back by the militarily superior and better organized Chinese Empire. The Mongols and the Turks of the west (in modern-day Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, pretty much all the northern -stans) share much of the same heritage, language, and organization. This proved very fortunate for the family of Genghis Khan, a thirteenth-century Mongol warlord who began the largest conquest until the British conquered India. While Genghis is the most famous of the lot, his children truly made the empire. Genghis reunited Mongolia and began the outward expansion of the Khaganate, but it was his grandson, Kublai, that brought it to its height.
Before I go on, let me explain some titles here. The title "khan" relates most closely to the English "king". A khan rules a khanate, which is the equivalent of a kingdom. But Genghis Khan created a higher position which relates closely to the title emperor. Technically, it was called khagan and the domain a khaganate, but English sources usually rename the title "Great Khan" and call the domain an empire, specifically the Mongolian Empire, although it was rarely unified. The dynastic name Chingisid is based on a variant spelling of Genghis and the -id ending simply implies "family of". Thus Chingisid means "family of Ghengis". Right, back to the story...
|The first eight Khagans of the Mongol Empire|
|The Mongol Empire at its height, with divisions|
Another important branch of the Chingisid Dynasty managed to uproot the ancient Persian Empire and replace it with an entirely new empire. Luckily for the Muslims, most of the western Chingisids adopted Islam after they left their homeland. In fact, one of the reasons Indonesia is currently Islamic is because the Mongols sent trade fleets through the region, converting the local populations as they went. When Hülëgü Khan invaded Persia, he declared the Il Khanate which pushed the Abbasid Caliphs, descendants of Muhammed's uncle and rulers of Sunni Islam, into Fatimid Egypt, ruled by radical Sh'ia Anti-Caliphs. Within one hundred years, the Il Khanate was suffering dynastic upheaval, rivalries, and civil war. The khanate was completely dissolved in 1388. The power vacuum left helped establish Turkey as a legitimate power base for the whole Middle East and set in motion the Ottoman Conquest of the next century.
One last branch, that of the eldest Chingisid line, ruled a strange and relatively undefined region called the Chagatai Khanate. This family ruled the heart of the Mongol Empire but was often at the center of rivalries with its neighbors. In 1348 it split into two rival branches that never unified and in 1370, the western khans became puppet leaders under the upstart khan, Timur e-Lang. The eastern portion, called the Khanate of Mughalistan, survived until around 1690 when it fell to rival factions.
One last important thing to add to this discussion is the character of Timur. Timur was a Turkish upstart with a highly likely descent from Genghis Khan in his maternal line. His power base was the region of modern-day Afghanistan with his capital at Samarkand (in modern-day Uzbekistan). After he had conquered the Afghan and Uzbek Turks, he spread out and generally ravaged his Mongol neighbors who were already experiencing problems. He conquered Persia and fairly well destroyed the Il Khanate. He pushed heavily into the Chagatai Khanate and Golden Hordes. In reality, the Yuan Dynasty holdings were really the only things that avoided Timur's wrath. Timur's dynasty did not last long but many branches survived throughout the region to rule separate clans and minor states. One branch even came to conquer and rule India-Pakistan as the Mughal Dynasty (note the reference to the Mongols in that title?). Timur saw himself as both a successor and rival to the Chingisid khans, but he was not a member of the family nor did he strongly claim a Mongol heritage despite genealogical links to them. His legacy is his own but is constantly lumped with that of the Mongol khans.
The khagans lost much of their power over this period because the branches of the family ceased to respect the implied unified and centralized authority of the Great Khans. Almost as soon as the Chingisids took China, the other branches went their own ways. Some members of the family returned year after year to elect the next khagan, but it eventually became an act just like the electors of the Holy Roman Empire electing a Habsburg to the throne. Still, the power of the Chingisids remained strongest in Mongolia throughout this entire period, and when everything fell apart, it fell apart there last. Fragments survived but Mongolia remained the capital and home of the Chingisids.
Their importance in history is underrated because their empire lasted for so short a time, but the Chingisid khans of Mongolia, China, Persia and Russia all were considered a serious threat to Europe and an inspiration for travelers such as Marco Polo. Their Pax Mongolia (Mongolian Peace) allowed the Silk Road to flourish during this time, and when that peaceful time ended, people in Europe demanded cheap eastern goods, eventually causing the Age of Exploration. Without the Mongols, it is very possible that the Middle Ages would have continued for many decades or centuries more. Thus, while they are oft forgotten and rarely remembered, the family of Ghengis Khan has certainly left its mark on the world and may have very possibly caused it.