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    Though history is usually written by the victors, the lack of a particularly strong writing tradition from the Mongols ensured that history was largely written by those who they vanquished. Because of this, their portrayal in the West and the Middle East has been extraordinarily (and in many ways unfairly) negative for centuries, at least until recent revisions to the historical record.

    The Mongols have long been depicted as wild horse-archers galloping out of the dawn to rape, pillage, murder, and enslave, but the Mongol army was a highly sophisticated, minutely organized, and an incredibly adaptive and innovative institution, as witnessed by the fact that it was successful in conquering enemies who employed completely different weaponry and different styles of fighting, from Chinese armored infantry to Middle Eastern camel cavalry and Western knights and men-at-arms. Likewise, the infrastructure and administrative corps which governed the empire, though largely borrowed from the Chinese, was inventive, practical, and extraordinarily modern and efficient. This was no fly-by-night enterprise but a sophisticated, complex, and extremely well-oiled machine.

    While the Golden Horde technically refers to part of the Mongol Empire, today the Golden Horde is often used interchangeably with the Mongol forces as a whole. As such, the Golden Horde conjures vivid images of savage, barbarian horsemen riding across the steppes, an unstoppable force mindlessly slaughtering and burning. It is often imagined that they conquered by sheer brutality and terror and that they epitomized everything that came from the East: uncivilized, brutal, and undisciplined. 

    This sensationalized image - impressed upon the West by Hollywood and by the perception of the “Yellow Peril” that has colored Western views toward Asia for a long time - began almost from the beginning. The Mongols treasured art and literature and protected religion, that of their subjects as well as their own, and trade, commerce, and cultural exchanges flourished under the Golden Horde and the other Mongol khanates, but that escaped the notice of their contemporaries.

    Giovanni de Plano Carpini, a papal envoy journeying through Russia on his way to the Khan of the Golden Horde, noted, “They [the Mongols] attacked Rus', where they made great havoc, destroying cities and fortresses and slaughtering men; and they laid siege to Kiev, the capital of Rus'; after they had besieged the city for a long time, they took it and put the inhabitants to death. When we were journeying through that land, we came across countless skulls and bones of dead men lying about on the ground. Kiev had been a very large and thickly populated town, but now, it has been reduced almost to nothing, for there are at the present time scarce two hundred houses there and the inhabitants are kept in complete slavery.” 

    What can’t be disputed is that the Golden Horde directly affected Eastern Europe for nearly 250 years, and even after its rapid rise brought about a long, tortuous decline, it has continued to shape the destiny of that region.

    The Golden Horde: The History and Legacy of the Mongol Khanate examines the events that led to the rise of the Khanate, what life was like there, and how the Mongols fought.

    ©2020 Charles River Editors (P)2020 Charles River Editors

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