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Mongolia Table of Contents


The Mongol Decline

Contributing to the eventual Mongol decline in Eurasia was a bitter war with Timur, also known as Timur Lenk (or Timur the Lame, from which Tamerlane is derived). He was a man of aristocratic Transoxianian birth who falsely claimed descent from Chinggis. Timur reunited Turkestan and the lands of the Ilkhans; in 1391 he invaded the Eurasian steppes and defeated the Golden Horde. He ravaged the Caucasus and southern Russia in 1395. Timur's empire disintegrated, however, soon after his death in 1405.

The effects of Timur's victory, as well as those of devastating drought and plague, were both economic and political. The Golden Horde's central base had been destroyed, and trade routes were moved south of the Caspian Sea. Political struggles led to the split of the Golden Horde into three separate khanates: Astrakhan, Kazan, and the Crimea. Astrakhan--the Golden Horde itself--was destroyed in 1502 by an alliance of Crimean Tatars and Muscovites. The last reigning descendant of Chinggis, Shahin Girai, khan of the Crimea, was deposed by the Russians in 1783.

The Mongols' influence and their intermarriage with the Russian aristocracy had a lasting effect on Russia. Despite the destruction caused by their invasion, the Mongols made valuable contributions to administrative practices. Through their presence, which in some ways checked the influence of European Renaissance ideas in Russia, they helped reemphasize traditional ways. This Mongol--or Tatar as it became known--heritage has much to do with Russia's distinctiveness from the other nations of Europe.

There were a number of reasons for the relatively rapid decline of the Mongols as an influential power. One important factor was their failure to acculturate their subjects to Mongol social traditions. Another was the fundamental contradiction of a feudal, essentially nomadic, society's attempting to perpetuate a stable, centrally administered empire. The sheer size of the empire was reason enough for the Mongol collapse. It was too large for one person to administer, as Chinggis had realized, yet adequate coordination was impossible among the ruling elements after the split into khanates. Possibly the most important single reason was the disproportionately small number of Mongol conquerors compared with the masses of subject peoples.

The change in Mongol cultural patterns that did occur inevitably exacerbated natural divisions in the empire. As different areas adopted different foreign religions, Mongol cohesiveness dissolved. The nomadic Mongols had been able to conquer the Eurasian land mass through a combination of organizational ability, military skill, and fierce warlike prowess, but they fell prey to alien cultures, to the disparity between their way of life and the needs of empire, and to the size of their domain, which proved too large to hold together. The Mongols declined when their sheer momentum could no longer sustain them.

Data as of June 1989