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The Silk Road Series: The Heirs of Chinggis Khan

Batu. Khan of the Golden Horde: The Mongol Khans Conquer Russia



This is the story of Russia's Asian past, a story that has relevance for the world we live in today. It is a story that has been lost to the West until now.


Chinggis Khan was the supreme power in Asia during the thirteenth century. Provoked into war by the transgression of Shah Mohammed, the Supreme Khan waged war in Central Asia. He was victorious. The establishment of a khanate in Central Asia ultimtely led to the conquest of Russia. 


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. Europe 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.


One of the greatest talents among the successors of the Supreme Khan was Batu, Khan of the Golden Horde. The two century rule of Russia by the descendants of Chinggis Khan (Genghis is the Persian romanization. Chinggis is the Mongolian pronunciation) has been forgotten by the world in modern times, but the Mongol invasion began a momentous period. This book explains the beginning of Russia's Asian past. It is a portrait of the empire that Vladimir Putin is trying to reconstruct. 

The problem with the rule of the Golden Horde in Russia was not that they conquered, but that they did not go away--they ruled for two centuries, until the first of the Romanov czars defeated them and took power. The Romanovs survived until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Then the USSR remained in power until 1991. Various forms of government followed. This is Russian history in a nutshell.


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 Chinggis 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 Chinggis 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 has it been forgotten?  My book Batu, Khan of the Golden Horde: The Mongol Khans Conquer Russia explains it all for the reader.

This is a fascinating story about power, greed, betrayal, conspiracy and romance. It is a meditation on the nature of rule, a story for our time.


Nominated for the Buchanan Prize of the Association for Asian Studies.



Advance praise for Batu Khan:


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

 author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World


Diane Wolff writes well and convincingly, capturing the epic sweep of a fascinating if all too neglected history and presenting it in compelling fashion to a larger audience


Jonathan Addleton, former US Ambassador to Mongolia

Author of Mongolia and the United Stares: A Diplomatic History


This is the story from the other side.


Olga Andreyeva Carlisle,

Author of Solzhenitzyn and the Innter Circle



Taifun: Khubilai Khan Invades Japan by Sea

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.

An Offer He Couldn't Refuse: A Man of Letters in a Military Government

This is the story of one man who "civilized" the greatest conqueror in the world. He was an educated man in a military culture, but he was recruited by Genghis Khan personally because the Supreme Khan needed his skills in governing.


It might be said that Chancellor Yeh-lu Chu-tsai saved Chinese civilization. The Mongol generals resented him, for the Mongol generals wanted to raze all of North China and turn it into pasture for their horses. That didn't happen. He famously commented to Genghis Khan that it might be more profitable to tax the population rather than to kill it off.


He did not appeal to the Supreme Khan's compassion. He appealed to his desire for wealth.


To understand the Mongol conquest, one needs a little background: Before Teumujin, as Genghis Khan was known in his youth, came to power, the steppes were a seething hotbed of tribal wars over bride theft, horse theft and other crimes. He came to power by vanquishing one tribe after another and insisting on a Code of Laws, yet the world does not think of Genghis Khan as a lawgiver. The Yasa brought about the Great Mongol Peace for a century. The world was made safe for trade and the most sustained contact between China and Europe since ancient times.



After the fall of the Tang Dynasty in the tenth century, for four hundred years, foreign dynasties ruled most of North China.  The North remained divided while Southern Song, a Han Chinese dynasty, ruled south of the Yangzi River.

The Tang was rich, powerful and cosmopolitan, the most advanced civilization of its time. It was ruled by the military families of North China.


The Tang fell because the feudal military families that ran the country could not protect the frontier against invaders, the mounted nomad warriors from beyond the Great Wall. They were the greatest cavalry in the world. Their ancestors invented the stirrup.

The Confucians, Han Chinese, who wrote the histories were masters of Chinese literature, poetry and the classics of govverning. They disdained the barbarians because the nomads were a nomad culture on the move. They had no knowledge of Chinese literature, they did not govern according to moral principles enshrined in the Confucian classics, and they did not live in fixed cities.


When the Arctic winds blew down from Siberia, the Mongols migrated to warmer weather at Lake Baikal. In summer, they returned to their native pastures in the Valley of Two Rivers, the best pasture in the steppes. The ordos or encampment of the khan contained the administrators of the government as well as the officers of the army. Their life was a life of mobility.

The Emperors of the Jin Dynasty had been established as the rulers of Northeast China for a century when Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan) came to power by unifying the warring tribes in the steppes. Genghis Khan was a title meaning "Oceanic Ruler." He believed that it was his destiny to govern all peoples.


The Jin were Jurchen, Manchus. 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.


After overcoming setbacks in a difficult youth, including the betrayal of trusted family members and allies, Genghis Khan unified the warring tribes of the steppes, proclaimed a nation, and gave his people a Code of Laws. He created a government and gave them a written language, based on the Uighur script. He built a network of roads to carry information to him from all corners of his domains. He created a system of distribution of booty from senior officers through the ranks of junior officers down to the individuals who made up the camp of his followers. 


He was a vassal of the Jin, and even fought a war against the Tatar tribe for the Jin Emperor. He paid tribute and he performed the ritual ke-tou, the knocking of the forehead on the ground. He accepted a title from the Jin Emperor, Pacifier of the North.


Eventually he broke with the Emperor, refused to pay tribute and perform the ke-tou, and de3clared a war of national revenge against the Jin, for meddling in the affairs of the steppes for generations.  

This was Chinese foreign policy, taking one tribe as a vassal and fomenting war on the others. When one tribe became too powerful, the Jin switched vassals. The strategy was called "using barbarians to check barbarians."


Genghis Khan declared a war of national vengeance against China for causing the death of a Mongol king, and for being responsible for the power of the Tatar, who murdered his father, leaving him abandoned, with the loss of his birthright.

This book tells the story of the China campaign, beginning with taking 120,000 troops across the Gobi Desert for an invasion force. This was one of the most staggering feats in military history. As my professor of Chinese history told his class,  the Chinese histories consider the Mongol period a Dark Age. The question is, Why? Here is the story, the opening chapter in the first period of global history. 

The question is: if Genghis Khan was such a barbarian, why did Chinese generals and officials defect to his side? How could a mere barbarian 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. In his Maxims, he states that his sons and heirs would forget that they owed everything to him.

He was not an educated man, but he surrounded himself by educated men. He even recruited a former official in the highest body of the fallen Jin emperor to become the principal statesman in his own government. This was Yeh-lu Chu-tsai.


Chancellor Yeh-lu witnessed the horrors of the fall, and he went to a Buddhist monastery to meditate. Chinggis Khan sent envoys and summoned him, requesting 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, Chinggis Khan offered him the post of Secretary, Physician and Astrologer. 

Yeh-lu was a man of letters in a military government. He was fond of saying, "The empire may have been won on horseback, but it cannot be governed from horseback."

Il-Khan: Why Hulegu Khan Destroyed the Assassins and the Caliphate

In the year 1258, Hulegu Khan, the younger brother of the Emperor Mongke, acted on imperial orders and toppled the Muslim centers of power in the Middle East. The Mongols entered into the world of the Crusades. This is a story about the Crusades that is not well-known, especially the discussions with Christian kings about the Mongols helping to remove the Muslims from rule over Jerusalem. Mongol envoys met with the representatives of the Pope and Louis IX of France. What happened to the alliance? Why did the Christian Crusader Kings turn down the alliance?

Prior to these events, 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.

This is the final book in the Silk Road Series. Diane is a candidate for the Public Scholar grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, for the completion of this book.

Diplomat: Queen Sorghagtani in Khara Khorum

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.

Standalone Stories

An eminent scholar told me that he attended my virtual talk on Batu Khan that I gave for the American Center for Mongolian Studies. He was looking for companion texts to assign to his classes, to excite the students of global history, something besides a history textbook. 


I had been discovered in my research the story of the Princess Supreme. I had been invited to submit a story to one of the new online serialized story platforms. The story of the Princess Supreme was the perfect scale and length.  I decided to write the story as an experiment in using a new format. Students are used to online formats, and I thought they would know how to find it. I liked the idea that it was free and that students could post comments and I could get feedback on the story. 


A second invitation to a rival platform for serialized stories followed. I had material that I had cut from a longer versio of my book on Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan). So I wrote a second serialized story, about the Daoist sage visiting Emperor Chinggis Khan.


The third story is a work of imagination. I was inspired by a visit to the Metropolitan Museum for the show "The World of Khubilai Khan."


The Princess Supreme became Queen of Korea at the age of sixteen and had to carry out her father's orders, until her husband, the King of Korea, twenty-three years her senior, disagreed.

The later life of Chinggis Khan and the first peaceful transfer of power was the subject of the second story.

The least-known chapter in the career of Marco Polo, as a high official in the government after the conquest of Southern Song China, and of course, as a spy for the Khan, was taken from his book.


The Empire was vast. The stories are unique. The only problem was how to fit everything in. I had come up with idea of linked stories for the Silk Road Series. I did separate stories for the research I had amassed. One always comes upon treasure in research, and I hated putting it on the rejected pile.


Here are the stories:



Fish Shoes: A Palace Drama

     A serialized story on Wattpad, the serialized story platform. Free. Go to Wattpad.com and enter the title or my pen name, wuwolff. Also available as a paperback on Amazon. Nominated for the Freeman Book Prize of the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia.


The Khan's Mistake: The Fight for Chinggis Khan's Throne

     A serialized story on Kindle Vella. Go to Amazon and click on Kindle Vella. Enter the title or my name. A small subscription fee. First three chapters, free. Available in paperback on Amazon. Nominated for the Freeman Book Prize of the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia.


Cobalt Blue: Marco Polo in Dadu

     This is a work in progress. For a sample of the first two chapters, go to the blog page on this website.

     Khubilai Khan has so many public works projects, he is in constant need of revenues. Marco Polo has an idea, based on his travels in the Near East. He is observant. He has seen Tabriz in Persia and the cobalt blue tiles of the           mosques. He knows the fabulous bazaar. He has a contact and he has the use of the post roads, the famous jam. Khubilai Khan agrees and a secret project is born.     

Marco Polo's World

Coming Soon! A new work of historical fiction, Cobalt Blue: Marco Polo in Dadu.


A work of historical fiction. It had taken three generations, but Khubilai Khan had conquered Southern China and unified the country for the first time in four centuries. He wanted to treat Southern Son, the magnificent dynasty south of the Yangzi, as a long lost brother. The story is about a little-known period of Marco Polo's life, a post that his experience in Venice qualitied him for. Marco had a post in the Salt Administration, critical to the revenues from the South. Yangzhou, the capital of the South, was a hotbed of revellion against the Mongol khan. It was Marco's job to report on corrupt officials who were stealing from the government monopolies collecting the revenue. Khubilai Khan was a big spender and the integration of the economy of the south was essential to the survival of his plans for good government. It was especially Marco's job to report on the looting of the vast treasures of the Song tombs, which Khubilai had promised to preserve.


Khubilai saw himself as a sage-emperor from the Chinese classics. He wanted to rule in benevolence, caring for the people. Khubilai Khan did not wish to treat the South as a conquered people, but as the return of long- lost brothers. It was a historic moment. Khubilai Khan's best general, Bayan, had ridden to the south and completed the conquest of Southern Song, For the first time since the Tang Dynasty, China was not divided into North and South, with the North ruled by a foreign dynasty.


Marco was Khubilai Khan's eyes and ears. He soon discovered one of the Villainous Ministers, and reported to the Khan, who purged the man and punished him.


But Khubilai Khan had other problems. The empire handed to him stretched from the Pacific to the Mediterranean, but it was cracking up. His relatives were breaking away. Khubilai's dream of universal rule was disappearing. His grandather Chinggis Khan had failed to provide for an orderly succession to the throne, so Khubilai had taken the advice of his Confucian advisors and named his son Jinggim as the Heir Apparent. From childhood, the boy was educated, trained and prepared for rule. This was not the Mongol custom and the senior nobiility rebelled. Khubilai had to let Central Asia go.


Khubilai Khan was getting depressed. The Heir Apparent Jinggim was worried about him, and Marco was a friend of the Heir Apparent. The Heir Apparent was plotting against his father's Finance Minister, who was skimming revenues, appoinnting his cronies and taking Korean girls as slaves, for the Mongols had successfully conquered Korea.


Marco Polo was a friend of Jinggim and believed that the Finance Minister, Ahmad, had bewitched the Khan. For when they reported Ahmad's crimes, the Khan said he knew. The Khan had a great need for revenue, and Ahmad had to supply it.


Then the Khan wanted to build a fleet of war junks to invade Japan by sea. Not only Marco and the Heir Apparent, but also Khubilai's son-in-law the King of Korea tried to dissuade him from this foolishness, this exercise of pride, but Khubilai refused to listen and the fleet was built at enormous expense, de-foresting Korea of its big trees in the process. Still, the fleet went down in a typhoon or taifun.


Then Khubilai Khan wanted to mount a second invasion and build a second fleet. Much to the dismay of Marco, the plans went forward. So Marco, in my story, came up with a new idea.


Marco knew the Middle East, for he had traveled there with his father and his uncle. He came up with a product, an item of manufacture, that would be a sensation in the Muslim countries and would bring riches into the Treasury. The least known facet of the Mongol Empire was that after the conquest came trade. The Mongol Peace lasted a hundred years and revolutionized global commerce. Gone was the monopoly of the Muslim world in finance, banking and trade. The Europeans got into the China trade. The modern world had begun. It marked the beginning of the end of the overland Silk Road and the rise of the maritime Silk Road. Part of this vision was the vision of Marco Polo, a merchant of Venice.



Chinese Writing: An Introduction

This work explores the oldest picture-language in the world in narrative and photographs for young readers. It shows how Chinese artists, through the medium of the brush, have captured in their writing the abstract beauty of the line and the energy of nature. Gives an understanding of the art as well as a how-to guild.

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 (1.91 MB)

Diane Wolff Chinese Writing Book