THE SILK ROAD SERIES: WELCOME TO MARCO POLO'S WORLD
(5 minute read)
It took me twenty years to dig out the stories of the career of the military genius, Chinggis Khan. The story of his empire, the largest land-based empire in history, is where the medieval world comes to an end and where the modern period begins. It is the first era of global history. The first book in the series is Batu, Khan of the Golden Horde: The Mongol Khans Conquer Russia.
My Silk Road Series is the story of the sons and grandsons and the daughter-in-law of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan. In a period of twenty years, he led his army, the greatest fighting force of the medieval world, and conquered the largest land-based empire in world history.
Chinggis Khan was the political master of China, Central Asia and Persia. He was the father of his nation. He unified the warring tribes of the steppes, brought them under his banner and gave them a written language and a Code of Laws.
Then he waged a war of national revenge against China, the richest and most advanced civilization on earth. The war was punishment for China's foreign policy of interfereing in the politics of the steppes.
He was called a barbarian by the civilizations he conquered, but although he was unlettered and unwashed, he was the inheritor of an aristocratic horse culture. He was called The Conqueror, known for being the inventor of modern warfare and psychological warfare, but his empire was as much about trade as it was about war.
Chinggis Khan emerged from the steppes as the leader of the greatest fighting force of the Middle Ages, the Mongol Army. A century of peace followed and trade flourished, with the Mongol Army protecting the roads. The way across the world opened. Peace lasted for more than a century.
Batu, Chinggis Khan's grandson, was the Khan of Russia. Because it was furthest west, Russia was considered the attack wing of the empire; Queen Sorghagtani was Chinggis Khan's favorite daughter-in-law, an upright woman, the most remarkable woman of her age. Faced with the prospect of the designated heirs of Chinggis Khan driving the empire into ruin, Sorghagtani and Batu formed an alliance and put her sons on the throne.
The life and times of Batu Khan are of tremendous interest to a young reader because Batu would have been thirteen at the time he entered military service in the Imperial Guards. He would have had his first command at the age of sixteen or seventeen, approximately the same age as the reader.
Their stories form part of the Silk Road Series. These stories have been lost to the West, but in the time of the New Silk Road, a look back at the old Silk Road, the trade routes that crossed the world, offers a brilliant comparison with our own era.
This era ushered in the first sustained contact between China and Europe for a millennium. Along the Silk Road, a cross-fertilization of culture, religion and philosophy and economics took place.
The first foreign war was in the Muslim lands in Central Asia. Then the Mongol Army waged a campaign in Russia. The Russian prince, Alexander Nevsky, surrendered his city to Batu, Khan of all the Russias. This is the story told in my new book Batu, Khan of the Golden Horde: The Mongol Khans Conquer Russia.
Batu's camp was built on the Lower Volga River, astride the trade routes that carried goods between China and Europe. Batu taxed the trade routes and the merchandise and became fabulously wealthy. In his camp were mosques and Christian churches and the boiling cauldrons of oil for those who practiced to old religion of the steppes, shamanism.
Although Mongol warfare was ruthless, and that ought not to be ignored, the Empire was as much about trade as it was about war. Chinggis Khan guaranteed the peace on the Silk Road and wealth flowed into his treasury.
Cultures mingled and interacted in the fields of good, ideas, religion, food, music, design and much more. It was said that a virgin could walk from one end of the empire to the other with a sack of gold on her head and go unharmed and unarmed. The way across the world opened for the first time since antiquity.
The Muslim monopoly on trade and finance was broken. The old order fell: China was the richest and most advanced civilization on earth. Persia was the second richest civilization. Europe had been a backwater ever since the fall of the Roman Empire. Local markets and local economies had been devastated by the invasions of the Huns and Goths. Over the course of a century, evrything changed.
European merchant princes,like the Medicis, built the fortunes that financed the Renaissance. This meant the rebirth of science in Europe. This meant the building of large ocean-going vessels, precision instruments of navigation, and large cannon. Science and technology advanced at a rapid rate, and with it, the power of the West.
The Age of Exploration began. The old land-based trade, the transport of goods by camel caravan, gave way to the ocean-going trade on the Maritime Silk Road. The rise of Europe had begun.
The Most Remarkable Woman of Her Time
A woman of power and influence, a talented and persuasive diplomat, the favorite daughter-in-law of Chinggis Khan, Queen Sorghagtani, engineered the coup d'etat that put her sons on the throne. She saved the empire from the weak men who were the successors of Chinggis Khan, but then Chinggis Khan never believed in inherited rule anyway. He had destroyed too many kingdoms ruled by weak heirs.
Europe was saved, for Guyug, who succeeded Ogodei, was determined to make war on Europe, had delivered Orders of Submission to the Pope in Rome, and demands to King Louis IX of France.
Ogodei passed over his son Guyug and named his grandson Shiremun as his successor. Guyug disregarded his father's wishes, engineered an election and usurped the throne. A fanatic Chrsitian, his idea was deliver Orders of Submission to the Pope and if necessary, to wage war to become the ruler of Christendom.
Sorghagtani's son Mongke was a military hero and a capable man. With Mongke enthroned, the Mongol Empire was no longer ruled by the house of Ogodei. It was now in Tolui's branch of the family. This was one of the most momentous political events of the thirteenth century and it bears study. It had tremendous consequences for world history. Mongke was the most talented leader after Chinggis Khan. After Mongke, in a hastily called and some say illegal election, Khubilai Khan came to the throne. He was Mongke's younger brother, and he was to unify China for the first time since the fall of the Tang Dynasty in the tenth century. My book on Khubilai Khan begins when he takes the throne.
Khubilai was an innovator. He was opposed by the Nomad Traditionalists led by his younger brother Arigh Boke. They thought he was abandoning his heritage by governing with Chinese institutions and participating in the emperor's role from Confucian culture. The fight for the succession continued, ultimely culminating in the breakup of the vast empire.
It is fair to say that Sorghagtani's diplomacy saved Europe from a Mongol invasion ledy by Guyug Khan. The alliance between Batu Khan and Queen Sorghagtani is a story of enlightened and talented people outmaneuvering the election process to put a talented man on the throne. They saved and restored an empire. For a time, all was well.
Sorghagtani's son took the throne. Mongke paid the outstanding bills of his spendthrift cousin and put the empire back on the road of conquest. The ultimate objective was to defeat the Southern Song Dynasty, a Han Chinese dynasty that occupied the imperial throne in Southern China. South of the Yangzi, a rich mercantile culture had grown up and it was a far richer prize than Europe.
In the second book of the Silk Road Series, Taifun: Khubilai Khan Invades Japan by Sea, we find the relationship between Khubilai Khan and Marco Polo, the greatest cross-cultural relationship in global history.
The story of Marco Polo is of special intrest to young readers because he went to Asia with his father and uncle at the age of seventeen and remained ther for seventeen years. He served as a government official and a spy for the Khan.
Then he returned to Europe to tell the tale, and wrote the most famous travel book of all times. The world of the caravanserai of Central Asia is where he acquired the languages, when all camel caravan traffic halted because of a war between two khans. His is a story with tremendous appeal to the young reader.
Though many people are familiar with the story of the glorious achievements of Khubilai Khan, few are acquainted with the period of the crack-up, the splitting up of the Mongol Empire. This is what I call Khubilai Khan's Lear period, the period of old age, when he became obsessed with the idea that if Japan did not submit to him, he would not be a true Chinese emperor. He would not be a Son of Heaven.
The only problem was, Japan had a vigorous military culture, the samurai, and the boy Shogun Tokimune, who was sixteen, refused to submit to the man he called The Robber of the North. A great archer and swordsman, Tokimune defied the Mongol ambassadors, and the result was a naval campaign against Japan. A man born to the horse took to the sea, with disastrous results. Not one, but two fleets of war junks went down in a Divine Wind, a kamikaze.
Each book in the Silk Road series is the story of one character in a family saga about a family and a period, about the struggle for power, about the nature of warfare and governance, about the relationship between barbarism and civilization, Shakespeare in Asia.
My Silk Road Series tells us how we got to where we are. Each book is dedicated to a different character, a successor to Chinggis Khan. These stories I tell are grand adventure stories, appealing to young readers and to the general reader, those who made Jack Weatherford's books international best sellers. My Series is backstory to the world we have inherited.
A quote from Tolstoy's War and Peace expresses my theme: "A King is History's Slave."
So dear reader, if you want to immerse yourself in an action-packed saga that took twenty years to put down on the page, get on your pony and ride.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR BATU, KHAN OF THE GOLDEN HORDE:
To understand Russia today, we must understand the Mongol conquest and rule, and to understand the Mongol conquest and rule, we must understand Batu Khan. Famous in Russian history, but little known in the West, Chinggis Khan's grandson Batu Khan's influence lingers in Russian government, culture, and psychology even now. Diane Wolff brings him alive and introduces this neglected world figure to us.
Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR TAIFUN: KHUBILAI KHAN INVADES JAPAN BY SEA
Diane Wolff's work is a powerful reminder that those who want to see the future must first understand the past. Taifun is the prelude to the modern world. Although set nearly eight centuries ago, her book reveals how modern Asia developed and in particular how the complicated relationship between China and Japan was shaped. Her unique analysis of Khubilai Khan reveals him as a skilled strategist and tactician of a kind so rare in the past but sorely missing in the modern world.
Jack Weatherford, The Secret History of the Mongol Queens, Genghis Khan and the Quest for God