It took me twenty years to dig out the stories of the successors of Genghis Khan.
His was the largest land-based empire in world history. He left a last will and testament. He named an heir. The conquests were spectacular military feats, ruthless but not motivated by bloodlust. What happened to the empire after The Conqueror died?
I wanted to know. I became a detective, an archaeologist digging out the story.
What happened was earth-shattering. The Mongol Army was the lone superpower of the Middle Ages, superbly commanded, trained and equipped. Genghis Khan believed he was destined to govern all peoples, that he had the blessing of the Eternal Blue Sky, the deity of the shamans. His career consisted of breaking up the great empires of the past and laying the foundations of modern times.
He was misunderstood and maligned and modern scholarship has rescued his reputation.
This was the first era of global history, the beginning of the modern world. The roads opened. Peace reigned. Global trade commenced. Fortunes were made. Cultures intermingled. Cultures influenced each other across the world.
This was Game of Thrones, only for real, with higher stakes.
This was his legacy. The world order changed. The Arab/Muslim dominance of the world's trade and banking systems came to an end when the Mongols entered the Middle East.
This was like an earthquake. The plates of the world order shifted. Europe had been a backwater. The fortunes made in the trade between China and Europe paid for science and technology. Science and technology gave Europe the edge. Thus began the rise of the West.
Europe was in the infancy of capitalism, but Europe rose to dominate the world's oceans. The vessels were bigger, they had developed precision instruments for navigation, they had big cannon on board. The China trade ushered in the Age of Exploration.
Before the mastery of the oceans was the world of the camel caravan, overland trade, and a maritime trade that did not include open ocean sailing. The Maritime Silk Road was a coastal trade.
This trade was lively in spices, textiles, porcelains and tea. It was the world of the Silk Road, Marco Polo's world. The Mongol world was not simply about war, although they were the lone superpower of the Middle Ages. The Mongol world was about trade.
Marco Polo was a merchant of Venice, an explorer, an official at the court of Khubilai Khan, and the greatest travel writer of all time. His father and uncle had opened a branch of their Venetian emporium in the trading city of Soldaia on the Caspian Sea. This was a European outpost in Asia where the daring adventurer merchants could eliminate some of the middlemen and increase their profits. From the Caspian, the goods went to Black Sea ports and Constantinople, and from there to Europe and even to Africa.
Like an archaeologist, my method was discovering fragments of antiquities and piecing them together, recreate the story. This excavation, digging out the pieces, took a vast amount of research. Twenty years in time, but I was rewarded. Marco Polo's world came to life.
Each of my volumes is a portrait of a principal character. The stories concern the heroes of their time: Chancellor Yeh-lu, the man who saved Chinese civilization. Princess Sorghagtani, the most remarkable woman of the age. Batu, the grandson of Genghis Khan who conquered Russia and Eastern Europe, and Hulegu, the Khan who ;aid siege to Baghdad, still remembered in Friday prayers today because he brought down the twin power centers of the Muslims in the Middle East.
The chroniclers and historians who left the written record were enemies of the Mongol Empire. They had been conquered by the the greatest fighting force in the medieval world.
The Mongol Army was disciplined, trained to a high standard of perfection in cavalry warfare. The Supreme Khan was an innovator in cavalry warfare.
He was so good at it that he developed exercises based on the Grand Hunt, the greatest spectacle in Asia. The men fought as units, timed and in formations, connected by signal flags, over great distances. The opposing generals had never seen anything like it. They wore heavy armor and they fought, not as units, but as individuals. The armies of the civilized world were no match for it.
It is said that the German general Rommel based his tank warfare in North Africa in World War II on the battle tactics of Genghis Khan, using tank divisions as the Khan used cavalry.
Those who leave the written record, the historical record, have an advantage. They tell the tale. The men of the book in the conquered lands had their revenge. Chinese, Russian, Armenian, Persian, Arab, Japanese, Hungarian--these chroniclers left the written record, the sources that gave the Mongol Empire the worst press in history. Its reputation was one of bloodthirstiness where vast numbers of men slaughtered their way across the world. Their is no masking the dark side of the conquests. The Supreme Khan never left an enemy population behind the advancing front lines of his army. This was for tactical reasons, not for the pleasure of killing.
The numbers of troops were inflated and so was the devastation. This is not to make light of the devastation.
Genghis Khan introduced the element of psychology into his warfare. He terrorized those in the direct line of his army as a signal to those in the line beyond. He wanted to be spared the difficulty of waging war. He promised good treatment to those who surrendered. He delivered the famous Orders of Submission: Submit and be spared. Resist and be plunged into humiliation.
He used human shields in his conquest of walled cities. History is not nice. Think of it. China and Russia were both conquered by the Mongols. Neither were as centralized and authoritarian as they later became. Both were ashamed of their conquest by so-called barbarians. Both produced histories that considered the Mongol period a Dark Age.
The Mongols conquered Russia and ruled Russia for 250 years. Think of it, dear reader. They were poised to conquer Europe, for Europe was divided, its armies no match for the greatest fighting machine of the time. The Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor were engaged in a power struggle with each other, and could not mount a common defense.
As I am fond of saying, this is Game of Thrones, only for real.
I have given you the characters, the good, the bad and the ugly. The wars and the romance. The victories and defeats.
Read how the great khans came to power and about their private lives. Once you read my forthcoming series, you too may become obsessed.