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fun stories from history
The Mongols: Beards. Furry hats. Ponies. Ruthless conquest. Ghengis Khan. The Mongol Empire was huge, the largest contiguous (all stuck together) empire in history. You may know their conquest of China, but you might not know the full extent of their massive empire or the legacy of one of its greatest sons.
After Ghengis Khan died his land was split up and the large chunks were given to his different sons but still united under one of them, Ögedei, who received the title of Great Khan. One of Ghengis’ sons had died, so his land was passed on to a grandson by the name of Batu.
Batu was a pretty competent leader so one day his uncle Ögedei asked him to expand the empire. In 1235 he was assigned an army of 130,000 men and sent on his way. Batu headed west into what we now call Russia but at the time was a collection of principalities collectively only known as Rus.
Keeping with the Mongol way of things, Batu first sent emissaries to ask the leaders in this land if they would like to pay tribute to the empire and avoid being conquered. When they refused, Batu swooped in with his troops and wiped out a lot of stuff, beginning with the city of Ryazan. They then moved on and burnt the cities of Kolomna and Moscow. Eventually Batu’s forces divided and conquered pretty much every major city in Rus, except for one that finally agreed to just pay tribute and two that the Mongols physically couldn’t get to. By 1240, Kiev was captured, and with that, the land of Rus was under Mongol control.
Batu and Co. were feeling pretty good about all they had accomplished, until he realized that not all of the people of Rus were under his domain. Turns out many of them had fled west into the Kingdom of Hungary. That of course was not to be tolerated. Batu send emissaries again, asking for the Hungarians to turn over the people from Rus. The emissaries were killed and Batu was not pleased. He decided to conquer Hungary, Poland, and basically as much of Europe as he could 'cause, you know, why not?
Batu and his general Subutai swept through central Europe, conquering Hungary and Poland by 1241. They were beginning plans to push further, towards Austria and Italy and the rest of Europe, when bad news reached them. Ögedei, the Great Khan and Batu’s uncle, had died. In such a loosely structured empire as this, a peaceful transfer of power was not guaranteed. Batu and his armies headed back home to lend support to their preferred successor.
The guy he backed, Mongke, was elected Khan (after some struggle) in 1251. In return for his support, Batu was made viceroy and achieved quite an influential status as someone who helped choose the emperor. His piece of the empire became known as the Golden Horde, the most well-known and longest lasting of the parts of this empire. Even after Batu’s death in 1255 this dynasty continued to flourish for the next century and existed in smaller pieces until the 1500’s, out lasting every other piece of the empire.
Such is the tale of Ghengis Khan’s grandson and how he (perhaps) could have conquered Europe but settled for Russia and the longest lasting dynasty within the Mongol empire which was the largest in human history.