If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire

An overview of how the Mongol Empire, founded by Genghis Khan in 1206, eventually becomes the largest contiguous empire in world history before splitting formally into the Yuan Dynasty, Golden Horde, Chagatai Khanate and Ilkhanate.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

- [Instructor] It is the year 1200 and the world is about to change in dramatic fashion. Let's just give ourselves a little bit of context of what the world looks like. The kings of western Europe are caught up in the Crusades. In the year 1200, the third Crusade has just ended and is mildly successful, but Jerusalem is still in control of the Muslims. The Byzantine Empire, what's left of the true Roman Empire, is on the decline, losing more and more territory to the Turks. In the Middle East and Persia, you have the golden age of Islam. The Abbasid Caliphate is still around, although it is now have been fragmented into many different Muslim empires. Modern-day north India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan is under control of the Ghurid Sultanate, with the rest of India being divided amongst various Hindu kingdoms. In the east, in other videos, we study the Song Dynasty, which is one of the really high points of Chinese civilization, although they're suspicious of their northern neighbors. But in the midst of all of this, it ends up being a nomadic people that we really haven't talked a lot about in our survey of world history that become the main catalyst for change over the next several hundred years. And that is the Mongols. So let's move forward to the year 1206. In the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, you have a leader by the name of Temujin arise in Mongolia and he's able to unite the various nomadic tribes and declares in 1206 a Mongol Empire you see here in this yellow color. He is eventually called Genghis, or Genghis Khan, the great Khan, the great ruler, or the universal ruler. Now, even though the Mongols were not a focus point of world history up until this point, they did have several very significant things going for them at this point in history. As nomadic tribes of herders, they were excellent horsemen and they were also excellent archers, capable of shooting an arrow in any direction while riding a horse. So as a military, they were incredibly nimble, they were incredibly fast, they were incredibly brutal, but they were also incredibly adaptable. As they conquered more and more people, they learned from them and by the time of Genghis Khan's death in 1227, they had conquered much of northern Asia. And the Mongols will continue on. Within half a century of Genghis Khan's death, they will have conquered not just northern Asia. When they capture Baghdad, many historians consider this the end of the Islamic golden age. As much pressure as the western Europeans were putting on the Turks during the Crusades, it was actually the Mongol threat that was much more significant. Before fragmenting, it is the largest contiguous empire in world history. I use the word contiguous because the British Empire actually covers more land, as we'll see, a few hundred years later. But the Mongolian Empire, all of the land was connected, it was contiguous. But as you can see from this drawing, they begin to fragment into what's referred to as multiple Khanates, that become more and more independent in the second half of the thirteenth century. As we get into the fourteenth century, we can see that it is now fragmented into multiple, still very significant empires. In the east, you have Kublai Khan's Yuan Dynasty, controlling modern-day Mongolia and China, reemphasizing the importance of Buddhism until they eventually get reconquered by the Ming Dynasty. In central Asia, you have the Chagatai Khanate. In northwest Asia and eastern Europe, getting as far as Poland, you have the Golden Horde. And in Persia and the Caucasus, you have the Ilkhanate, which you can view as a subordinate Khanate, but is now independent. The Khanates in the west eventually convert to Islam. Super important to understand because many of the empires that we are about to study in Asia and the Middle East have roots in the Mongolian Empire and roots in what Genghis Khan started in 1206.