“The History of the Mongol Conquests”


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J. J. Saunders
296 pages, $19.95 paper

The Mongol conquests, culminating with the invasion of Europe in the middle of the 13th century, were of a scope and range never equaled. These nomadic central Asian peoples briefly held sway over an empire that stretched across Asia to the frontiers of Germany and the shores of the Adriatic. Known chiefly through the charismatic leaders Chingis Khan and Kublai Khan, surprisingly little has been written on this vast and immensely influential empire.

J. J. Saunders landmark book is a carefully documented introductory history of the rise and fall of the great Mongol empire. Saunders, reader in history at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, sets the historical stage with a discussion of nomad groups and cultures at the dawn of the second millennium and then traces the rise of the Mongol conquests through the earlier Turkish expansion into Asia between the eighth and 12th centuries. Beginning in the early 1200s, the Mongols, led by Chingis Khan, began their insatiable assault on all the kingdoms and peoples around them, erasing whole cities, killing entire populations, forcing mass migrations and permanently changing the distribution of the worlds major religions. The Mongols were finally checked along the edges of Europe and forced out of the Middle East by rejuvenated Muslim factions.

It is fortunate that Western Europe escaped Mongol conquest and it is simple luck that the Mongols never attacked and captured Constantinople, saving that repository of Greek knowledge. As Saunders concludes, one of the major legacies of the Mongol conquests was the transfer of intellectual and scientific primacy of the Old World from Islamic societies to Western Europe, paving the way for the Renaissance.

University of Pennsylvania Press

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Originally published on March 22, 2001