30 November 2015
Among the many things that irk me is hearing someone speak as if there had been such a thing as a Mongol “empire”. Temujin (the man known to history by the title “Genghis Khan”) and his successors conquered immense territories, but the Mongols, being nomadic barbarians, had neither the willingness nor the ability to rule what they conquered; they merely exacted tribute from defeated peoples, by threatening to return and do something even worse than what they had done previously. Their system was highly effective for a rather long time, but it was not imperialism; it was banditry on a national scale. (Temujin’s descendant Kublai Khan did rule an empire, but it was not a Mongol empire; it was a Chinese empire with a Mongol dynasty.) I have seen some historical maps in which tributary states are included in other “empires” such as the hegemony established by the Guptas over much of India, and the word “empire” is often used very loosely; to talk of a Mongol “empire”, though, which gives the impression that the Mongols not merely enjoyed ascendancy but actually controlled a realm stretching from Eastern Europe to Korea, is, in my opinion, to use that word much more loosely than it ought to be used.