The Silk Road Series: The Way Across the World Opens
Europe at this time was a backwater. It had not recovered from the fall of the Roman Empire, caused by the invasion and the onslaught of the barbarians, Huns, Goths and Visigoths. Capitalism in Europe was still in its infancy. Because of the devastation, the markets were not functioning. It was poor. Civilization had suffered. Classical learning had disappeared. China was the most advanced civilization on earth and the Mongols had conquered it. Then they expanded to the West. Russia was in the line of advance.
The problem with the rule of the Golden Horde in Russia was that it existed for two centuries. The empire extended across Central Asia. This is the empire that Vladimir Putin is trying to reconstruct. Before the coming of the Mongols, the Russians elected their princes. The government was not as centralized nor as authoritarian. A look at the past is important because we live with the consequences today.
Batu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, was the senior prince of the imperial family. He ruled the Russian Khanate, the attack wing of the Empire. Russia was rich, with furs, timber, and luxury goods, such as gems from East Asia. Batu was growing fabulously wealthy from taxing the East-West trade. This was the true business of the Mongol Empire.
From his vast camp on the Lower Volga River, Batu Khan mounted an invasion of Europe. The European princes were squabbling and fighting among themselves and were no match for the greatest army of the Middle Ages. The crowned heads of Europe knew nothing of the rise of a new great power in Asia. They were too busy fighting Saracens in the Middle East during the Crusades.
Only the death of the Supreme Khan Ogodei, Genghis Khan's successor, saved Europe. The Mongol Army withdrew from Europe and returned to the East for the election of a new Great Khan. Thus the trouble started.
From his camp on the steppes of the lower Volga, Batu Khan kept his army strong in nomad ways, hunting and training. His army had Mongol troops, but was also composed of troops conscripted from the conquests in Persia, Turkey and Russia.
The army was superbly equipped and each man had five remounts. His horse depot was said to contain a million horses.
He was growing rich from taxing the caravan traffic and the trade of the Europeans and others who had emporia on the Black Sea. He did not want interference in his khanate and he was about to get war from his cousin Guyug. So Guyug had to go.
Batu wanted decent management of the empire, and Guyug was a about to wage war on Batu. He was a spendthrift who delegated the power of the seal of state to those sycophants who had supported him in his election. He wanted Batu's revenues.
Batu decided that he had broken the Code of Genghis Khan and was unfit for rule. So he decided to put his candidate on the throne.
He conspired with the most remarkable woman of her age, the Princess Sorghagtani. Together they her sons on the throne.
This is was a coup d'etat, a momentous change of rulers. We live with the consequences of this plot today, though these events occurred eight centuries ago.
This campaign struck fear into the hearts of the rulers of Europe. Why is it forgotten? No one knows anything about it.
This is a fascinating era, a story about power, greed, betrayal, conspiracy and romance. It is a meditation on the nature of rule, a story for our time.
This is Game of Thrones, only for real.
Why had a man born to the horse taken to the sea? Khubilai Khan was the Emperor of Heaven. He was the first man to sit on the Dragon Throne and rule over all of China in 400 years. He had sent the general out to conquer the south and unify China, and he was the most powerful sovereign in Asia. He ruled over a magnificent court. He was wealthy beyond description. And yet, he was not satisfied.
This is the story told in "Taifun" when a kamikaze or Divine Wind saved Japan from the Mongol fleet of 2300 war junks. Not once, but twice.
Khubilai Khan became obsessed with invading Japan by sea. He tried twice and failed both times and the failure destroyed him.
He was like a character out of Shakespear, King Lear, a man undone. The failure to have Japan submit to him as a vassal, as it had to the greatest emperor of Tang, was a major factor in his descent into depression, alcoholism and obesity.
After the fall of the Tang Dynasty in the tenth century, for four hundred years, foreign dynasties ruled North China.
The glorious Tang fell because the feudal military families that ran the country could not protect the frontier against invaders, mounted nomad warriors from beyond the Great Wall.
The alien dynasties were not civilized, meaning, they had no literature and they did not live in fixed cities. The nomads were masters of animals and herders of horses. Their life was a life of mobility.
The Emperors of the Jin Dynasty were ruling when Genghis Khan came to power. They had wild tigers roaming in the palace and dancing girls gyrating, holding up mirrors to the faces of the courtiers that they might observe the slack look of lust upon their own faces.
Genghis Khan and his successors conquered China and reunified it for the first time since the fall of Tang.
This young khan of the steppes was a military genius. He rose to power in the steppe wars. He unified the warring tribes of Mongolia, he gave them a Code of Laws and a written language. Then he had an army, composed of all the tribes, and he had to keep them from killing each other. His power depended on providing his followers with riches in the form of booty.
China was the richest and most advanced civilization on earth. So Genghis Khan declared a war of national vengeance against China for meddling in the affairs of his beloved steppes.
This is the story of his China campaign. This era, the rise of the Mongol Empire, is the first chapter of global history. This was one of the most staggering feats in military history and yet it is considered a Dark Age.
The question is: if Genghis Khan was such a barbarian, how did he conquer the most advanced civilization on earth?
He was fond of saying that a man's greatest pleasure was to drive his enemies before him, to take what was theirs and to hold in his arms the loveliest of their women.
Chancellor Yeh-lu witnessed the horrors of the fall, and he went to a Buddhist monastery to meditate. Genghis Khan summoned him and demanded that he bring the Seal of State.
As a high official in the government of the defeated dynasty, Yeh-lu thought he was to be executed. Instead, Genghis Khan offered him the post of Secretary, Physician and Astrologer. The Supreme Khan was not educated, but he admired men of learning.
Yeh-lu was a man of letters in a military government. He was to become the greatest statesman of the Mongol Empire. As he was fond of saying, "The empire may have been won on horseback, but it cannot be governed from horseback."
It might be said that he saved Chinese civilization, for the Mongol generals wanted to raze all of North China and turn it into pasture for their horses. A thrilling story.
Prince Hulegu, a grandson of Genghis Khan, destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate headquartered in Baghdad.
He rode on Baghdad after destroying the mountain fortresses of the Order of the Assassins, which had been set up all over Iran and Syria. The Shia sect was created in response to the Crusades, and they meant to purify the faith, removing corrupt leaders throughout the Muslim world. The orthodox Sunni regarded the Assassins as heretics and thugs because they were committing murders for hire all over the Muslim world.
Twice a caliph had requested help in ridding the Muslim world of the Assassins and twice Mongol Emperors had declined to enter the Muslim world and become involved in a matter between the branches of Islam.
Why did the Mongol Emperor send his younger brother Hulegu to deliver Orders of Submission to the Caliph of Baghdad? Why did Mongke give Hulegu a decree ordering him to destroy the Assassins? That is the story of this volume.
A new power had risen in the East and it tolerated no insubordination, even from the Muslim Caliphate. The caliph was the pope and emperor of the Muslim world. The caliph acted as the supreme power of the Sunni government. It was headquartered in Baghdad and had been ruling for five hundred years in Baghdad. The city was at the meeting point of the overland Silk Road and the maritime Silk Road. It was a thriving center of commerce, learning and culture. It had had a glorious history, but had been on the decline for a century. Invaders from the Muslim world had come to the gates of Baghdad four times. Arabs, Persians and Turks all had attempted to conquer the caliphate.
The Order of the Assassins were the rival Shia center of power. This was a breakaway sect whose proper name was the Ismailis. They had tried but had been unsuccessful in establishing a rival caliphate in Egypt. Forced to leave Egypt, they took up residence in forts all over Iran and Syria.
Their ruler was the Old Man of the Mountain. This was a New Preaching. They were trying to rid the Muslim world of corruption, mostly by eliminating corrupt Muslim leaders. They had been committing murders for hire all over the Muslim world and the orthodox Sunni caliph wished to be rid of them. The Assassins were considered heretics.
The Assassins tried to kill the Emperor Mongke on his accession to the throne. The Caliph poached lands the Mongols had conquered in their invasion of Russia. The new Emperor was a war hero of the Russian Campaign. His grandfather was Genghis Khan. He was the supreme power in the medieval world and his empire stretched from the Sea of Japan to the Danube. He would not allow any challenge to his throne.
Hulegu destroyed them both and founded the Persian Khanate. He himself was Christian, but his sons converted to Islam and were among the greatest rulers of Islam. How did this happen?
Hulegu did not ride against the Muslims because they were Muslims. The Mongol Empire had been a friend and protector of Islam from the time of its founding.
Hulegu Khan rode against the Caliph and the Old Man of the Mountain for political and financial reasons. The Mongol Empire was the lone superpower of the Middle Ages.
Batu the Khan of Russia, Hulegu's cousin, thought that the twin power centers of Islam would plunge the whole region into war. The result would be the disruption of trade that was making Batu fabulously wealthy.
It was one of the most momentous events of the Middle Ages and even though it echoes down to us from the pulpits of mosques all over the region down to the present day, it has been forgotten to history. This is the story.
It was said that the Tigris and the Euphrates ran red with blood and black from the ink of the thousands of volumes pitched into the rivers from the great libraries of Baghdad.
She was Chinggis Khan's favorite daughter-in-law. The Supreme Khan had arranged her marriage to his youngest son, Tolui Khan. A gifted diplomat in a culture that prized the advice of women, she who knew how to manipulate the most important families, to engineer a coup d'etat and put her sons on the throne. She took the throne from the weakest successors of Chinggis Khan and set her own sons, able and talented men, at the head of the empire.
As the niece of the most powerful khan in the steppes, Princess Sorghagtani was no stranger to political intrigue. Her youth was a time when tribal warfare turned the steppes into a seething cauldron of violence and a struggle for supremacy. Horse theft, bride theft, many were the causes of war.
Then the man who was to become the most powerful sovereign in Asia, her father-in-law Chinggis Khan, founded the vast empire that ruled from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. He issued a code of laws that brought peace for a century.
The designated successor of Chinggis Khan was a liberal ruler, but not a wise one. The empire was becoming bankrupt. He died and his son inherited the throne. The son was worse than the father. Her sons were the best of men, with intelligence and ability.
She was renowned for upholding the law when the nobility who ruled the central government spent their days violating the law. She was upright and was the most admired woman of her age, not only among the Mongol nobility but also by the Europeans at court, sent to spy on what type of threat the barbarians were for the West.
She watched her father-in-law build the empire and she watched the designated heir destroy it. Her husband had fought alongside The Conqueror in all the battles. Her sons were good men. She had reason to believe that she was entitled to put an end to the destruction.
Sorghagtani could not stand to watch the ruin. She made an alliance with the Khan of Russia, the great Batu, that put her sons on the throne.
How did she do it? Mongol women had more status and freedom than the women of China, or of Greece or Rome, for that matter. While the royal women of China were not allowed to own property and did not ride horses, Sorghagtani did both. She owned property. She was the counselor to khans.
This is why John of Plano Carpini, the envoy of the Pope of Rome to the Mongol court called her the most remarkable woman of her age.
Illustrated with photographs from the collection of the modern Chinese painting master, C. C. Wang.
Winner American Library Association Most Notable Book Award, in the year of its publication.
For students and young readers everywhere, as Chinese is widely studied as a foreign language in American high schools. Also for interior design professionals who wish to get a quick but authoritative illustration of the four major styles of Chinese calligraphy with images from masterpieces from the collection of a modern Chinese painting master. BY POPULAR DEMAND, download the original version here.
Diane Wolff Chinese Writing Book