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Genghis Khan

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In the late twelfth century AD, by the Onon River Valley of northeastern Mongolia a young boy named Temujin rose as a leader, or khan among his people. As a young man, Temujin spent his early years building a confederation from pastoral tribes that had long vied for power in the grasslands north of the Gobi Desert. Hailed as Genghis Khan or "Universal Ruler" by the Mongols, he united and led an enormous army of nomads out of the steppes, across deserts, and against sedentary societies whose misfortune it was to share time and space with the Mongols. The Mongol horde forged the largest land empire the world had ever seen; in terms of square kilometers conquered between 1209 and 1276, the Mongol Empire covered an area four times the size of the area conquered by Alexander the Great, some fifteen hundred years before . Genghis Khan's apparent success can be attributed to his brilliant military acumen and his great administrative abilities, whose distinction and reputation allowed him to conquer enemy states and armies considerably larger than his own. He exacted tight discipline on his troops, punishing them severely for offences such as desertion or the endangering of one's unit. He also planned his campaigns meticulously and developed a complex intelligence network capitalizing on the information about the enemy that he acquired from his spies and allies. There were numerous occasions where even the mere threat of the Mongol army's attacks and devastating invasions provoked enemy states to capitulate without even putting up a fight.

In the 13th century the Mongol army was the best army in the world. Its organization and training, its tactical principles and its structure of command would not have been unfamiliar to a soldier of the twentieth century. By contrast, the feudal armies of Russia and Europe were developed and run on the same lines as they had been for several hundred years and their tactics would have seemed unimaginative to the soldiers of the Roman Empire. Genghis Khan's elite forces were his cavalries, which won most of his open field battles. Almost his entire standing army was composed of these horsemen. Mongol horsemen rode on small, agile ponies which gave them excellent maneuverability and speed, while exercising their ability to shoot a bow and arrow while riding . Mobility and surprise characterized the military expeditions led by Genghis Khan and his commanders, and the horse was crucial for such tactics and strategy. The Mongolian horses could, without exaggeration, be referred to as the intercontinental ballistic missiles of the thirteenth century. The battle of the Kalka River in southern Russia is a good example of the kind of campaign Genghis Khan waged to gain territory and of the key role of the horse. After his relatively easy conquest of Central Asia from 1219 to 1220, Genghis Khan had dispatched about thirty thousand troops led by Jebe and Subedei, two of his most able commanders, to conduct an exploratory advance to the west . In an initial engagement, the Mongols, appearing to retreat lured a much larger detachment of Georgian cavalry on a chase. When the Mongols sensed that the Georgian horses were exhausted, they headed to where they kept reserve horses, quickly switched to them, and charged at the bedraggled, spread-out Georgians. Archers, who had been hiding with the reserve horses, backed up the cavalry with a barrage of arrows as they trounced the Georgians.

Maintaining their exploration, the Mongol detachment crossed the Caucasus Mountains and found themselves just north of the Black Sea on rich pastureland for their horses. After a brief respite, they attacked several sites inciting Russian retaliation in 1223 under Matislav the Daring, who had a force of eighty thousand men, including sixty thousand heavily armoured knights. Jebe and Subedei commanded no more than twenty thousand troops and were outnumbered by a ratio of four to one . Knowing that an immediate, direct clash could be disastrous, the Mongols again used their tactic of feigned withdrawal. They retreated for more than a week because they wanted to be certain that the opposing army continued to pursue them but spaced out over a considerable distance. At the Kalka River, the Mongols finally took a stand, swerving around and positioning themselves in battle formation, with archers mounted on horses in the front. The Russians were annihilated. The feigned withdrawal tactic practiced by Mongol generals when confronted by a larger opponent reflect the ingenuity of their leader Genghis Khan who devised his strategies specifically to suit conditions on the battlefield.

Before planning an invasion, Genghis would also dispatch emissaries to foreign states with "orders of submission," calling for acquiescence to his rule. If the enemy agreed upon the ultimatum,



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