The Mongolian Empire adopts an authoritarian central government. How far do they go?

Under Genghis Khan, Mongolia conquered a huge empire in a very short time. At the empire’s height, all of Asia except for Khmer, India, and the furthest reaches of Northern Russia belonged to the Khanate. And India was paying tribute to Mongolia. The Mongols didn’t suffer a single real defeat for most of their campaign; two huge storms blocked their way into Japan (Storms that were so convenient that Japan viewed them as divine intervention saving their asses). The first real land-based defeat didn’t happen until the Mongols fought the Mamluks, and they reached Gaza. In the North, the Mongols easily conquered Hungary and Poland.

Finally, the largest continuous empire in history controlled nearly the entire known world. The Mongols were set to attack the Mamluks again; in the north, an invasion of the Holy Roman Empire was ready. And then the Khan died, and the empire pulled back to choose a new Khan. By the time a new leader was chosen, Mongolia had lost its momentum.

Let’s pretend that things go a little better for Mongolia. When Ogedei dies, a new Khan quickly rises and takes firm, centralized control of the empire. The invasion of the Holy Roman Empire goes as planned; Mongolia strikes towards Northern Africa as planned; and Japan doesn’t get lucky with storms.

Under this leadership, could Mongolia defeat the Mamluks? And if so, do they make it into Egypt and further into Northern Africa, or does Egypt’s army, combined with the lack of grazing land in the Sinai Peninsula, halt the Mongols?

Do the Mongols make it into the Holy Roman Empire? What are the odds that the European kingdoms unite against this threat? How far can they go? Can the Mongols conquer Germany? Italy? France? As far as Spain?

If Mongolia manages to keep itself together long enough to reach the Atlantic, does the empire survive? Or is it spread too far to live? If a Khan kept control of Mongolia, would we all be speaking Mongolian today?

When everything “goes as planned” anyone can with at everything forever.

By “Goes as planned” I meant they actually go through with it; I have no idea if they’d actually succeed. That’s what I’m asking! Had the Mongolian Empire invaded the Holy Roman Empire at that time, would they have succeeded? And how would the rest of Europe have reacted?

Refreshing the tidbits of history I remember about this period with Wikipedia articles, this would have happened at the time when the HRE extended across Europe from North to South, under Frederick II, one of its most competent emperors. I have no idea how the their armed forces compared to the Mongol’s, but they were probably better able to withstand the Mongols than the Western Asian kingdoms that fell to Khan. I get the impression that invasions from the East were always the bete noire of Europe, so my guess is the reaction of the rest of Europe would be fear, panic, military cooperation, and treachery.

The Mongols did not try against the Mamlukes again, at Homs in 1280. They failed. It should be remembered their original attack on Japan failed partly because they fought as infantry and were bested by the Japanese.

I really don’t think the HRE stood much of a chance, but I doubt Mongol attacks in Europe would have gone far as in lasting.

Say, rather, how long do they remain Mongols? As soon as someone doesn’t go home to fight out the succession, the cultural amalgamation begins.

Eh - I’m not sure they’d have spread much farther than they actually did. Once the steppe runs out, so does their greatest military advantage.

There seems to be a little timeline confusion here. The unitary Mongol state goes like this: Genghis>Ogedei(son)>Guyuk(son)>Mongke(cousin). After Mongke’s death in 1259 the resulting power struggle resulted in the subsequent fission, with Mongke’s younger brother Kublai taking over at the “center” ( i.e. Mongolia and China ).

The expedition to Europe occurred in the late 1230’s/early1240’s during Ogedei’s reign. The expedition to the Levant occurred in the 1250’s during Mongke’s reign. The expeditions against Japan occurred in the 1270’s and 1280’s during Kublai’s long reign. So these were discrete events, disrupted by discrete events. There was no plans for an attack on the Mamluks during Ogedei’s reign ( they hadn’t even taken power yet ). There were no plans for an attack on the HRE during Mongke’s reign. And there wasn’t a significant issue with lost momentum, exactly - more just lost unity and the rise of internal conflict that partially concentrated their energies inward.

So if you speculate, you have to speculate in discrete chunks:

1.) Ogedei lives another few years. He was ~55 when he died and was unlikely to live all that much longer given the Mongol lifestyle, though Kublai did make it to 79. But let’s give him another five years.

Would the assault on Europe continue? Almost certainly. Subedei was another unusually long-lived Mongol ( died in 1248 at ~72 ) and also unusually his ability didn’t seem to diminish with age - he commanded armies almost until the very end. He was hot for the campaign against the HRE and Batu ( his nominal superior on the ground ) had no reason to restrain him as everything he conquered rebounded to Batu’s benefit.

Would Frederick II have successfully have repelled them on his own merits and resources? Almost certainly not. Though his political situation was not yet completely dire in 1242 despite his 1239 excommunication, it was very shaky ( the house of cards in Italy would start to crumble definitively after 1243 ). And though Fred was a multi-talented man, he was not an exceptionally gifted general. I doubt the very fractured HRE and Papacy could congeal in the face of threat quickly enough to supply him with a massive army in time. It would probably take some savaging before that happened. If Freddy tried to confront the Mongols on the Lombard plain with his available forces ( a not unlikely scenario ) he would almost certainly have been crushed.

Louis IX would have very likely have responded to the crisis, as it was definitely in his nature to do so and he was a more powerful monarch than Frederick at that point. Sadly Louis was a determined but also resolutely mediocre general. I don’t see him outfighting Subedei either.

The upshot of all of this? Probably less than some have speculated. Ogedei wasn’t going to live forever, the crack standing imperial army was needed elsewhere and Batu’s own available resources after it would inevitably leave were impressive, but much thinner. As Mr. Excellent points out the Mongol state with their grass-fed ponies was highly limited by available pasturage which makes campaigning in Western and Central Europe problematic. The most likely outcome, as I’ve argued before, is perhaps a more thoroughly occupied Eastern European appanage to the Golden Horde and some devastating raids into the west for awhile that damage but don’t break any of the major states. In other words the Magyars writ a little larger, until like them the closest Mongols are assimilated into the European state system.

2.) Mongke lives longer. He died on campaign in China age ~50, most likely from a camp illness, though the reports are myriad. Let’s give him another ten.

This one could be both a little more and a little less dramatic. Less dramatic as in the east Mongke probably would have simply continued with the conquest of southern China as his brother later did. More dramatic as the defeat Ayn Jalut becomes much less likely. The Mamluk triumph was over a skeleton force, the odds of beating Hulegu with the full strength of his imperial army ( again dispatched by Mongke from the center as a discrete force, just as Ogedei had dispatched them earlier under Batu/Subedei ) is slim. The Mamluks were tactically well-suited to outfighting the Mongols at least on the defensive, but numbers alone would tell against them. The loss of Syria was a foregone conclusion. A successful defense based on the Nile as opposed to a pitched battle in Syria would have been possible, but the political situation was unstable. If Egypt fell, it would have a possibly significant reverberation, as it would have been a little easier for the Mongols to hold than to take.

The Il-Khanate might have been unchallenged in the ME, with Egypt’s great wealth buoying the state and even the hollow vestiges of the Caliphal line stamped out. Their perpetual multi-front problem greatly reduced. The development of the Anatolian emirates possibly retarded.

But ultimately there would have still been trouble with the GH ( the Jochids had a legitimate claim on the Il-Khanate territory based on custom ) and probably the CH, ultimately Islam would probably still have won out as a court faith and ultimately the reliance on Azerbaijani pasturage may have hamstrung them just as it would in Europe.

3.) Kublai ( or a rival, like the very capable Qaidu or his brother Ariq-Boke ) successfully maintains state unity for another generation. Or even earlier a longer-reigning Ogedei or Mongke somehow alters the succession picture such that unity is maintained longer.

The problem still is geography and human nature. Sooner or later the state was going to fracture - it was simply too big in a pre-modern era for pre-modern political structures to hold it together indefinitely. Regional acculturation and re-tribalization ( Genghis shook up the system, but it could not maintain itself past a couple of generations ) were always going to drive wedges and true centralization was functionally impossible. Given distant appanage powerbases ( a system for all intents and purposes set up by Genghis himself ), there was always going to be serious centrifugal forces tearing at the state, which would only be exacerbated by succession disputes in the center. And the Mongol military system, in addition to decaying from Genghis’ well-oiled machine over time, functioned sub-optimally away from steppes. Additional conquests would have been laboriously acquired ( as with Sung China ) and be easiest to lose. And as conquests slowed the backwards extractive economic system of the central state becomes that much harder to maintain.

I simply don’t see a viable centralized empire surviving much past, say, the early-1300’s. By then economic woes were mounting in the center and the fringes were converting to Islam and going their own way culturally. And I can’t really see “permanent” conquest much beyond where they ended up. More tributaries, perhaps. But not that many and not for that long.

History would undoubtedly be different. Profoundly different? I’d guess not.

If I understand correctly that the Mongols successfully used rapid overwhelming attacks, this would not bode well for Europe initially then.

Since you seem to have a grasp of this point in time, I’ll ask you: Did the Mongols truly occupy their conquered lands, or did they simply reap some tribute and go home?

Depends. Steppe lands were always occupied and generally “subverted”, i.e. native folks were incorporated into the Mongol polity, one of the best examples being the Golden Horde. The number of Mongol troops allotted to princes like Batu by Genghis from his standing army as part of their inheritance was limited to the low thousands, with the bulk of the army staying under the central control of the Great Khan. So once Subedei withdrew on Ogedei’s death most of the conquering army went with him. Batu was left with his elite guard of Mongols as above, but most of his forces were conquered Kipchaq Turks ( Cumans, Polovsty ) that had been integrated into the Mongol system and placed under Mongol officers from the imperial army ( many of whom also chose to stay behind with their new charges when Subedei withdrew ). Hence the GH also becoming known by the alternate title the ‘Kipchaq Khanate’. Relatively few actual Mongols settled that far west.

Moreover the Mongols made a conscious effort to retain their steppe roots and so really didn’t integrate fully into urban society. In the Golden Horde they stayed on the steppe for the most part, generating tribute from surrounding sedentary areas in Russia ( and for a time Bulgaria ). If Hungary had been absorbed as had been originally planned, the Hungarian plain would have become a much smaller western locus for Mongol power projection and tribute extraction from the Balkans.

Similarly elsewhere. In the the Il-Khanate and the Chagatai state, pastoral peoples had already been well-interspersed with urban areas and so it remained, even accelerated as farmlands were sometimes converted into grazing areas. Even in China, the Mongolian steppe was the ultimate bulwark of the state. Even if elements of the ruling class allowed themselves to partially urbanize, most of the military cadres remained essentially steppe-based and the ruling class often tried to have it both ways, as with the eastern Mongol capitals of Karakorum and Shangdu ( Xanadu ) that were built as sort of fancy “nomad cities” with minimal permanent infrastructure and large internal game parks and natural features. And as noted the economies were generally extractive and tribute centered.

So steppes were occupied in some form or another and then power projected outwards to reap tribute from adjoining settled areas. Which had always been the horse-nomad way, but just was enormously expanded to a continental scale by the Mongols.

I agree with much of this but disagree with the conclusions. My read is that areas subject to the profoundly unpleasant experience of being overrun by the Mongols and subject to some sort of occupation almost invariably fare worse afterwards - not because they cannot recover (there are worse disasters), but because acculturation goes both ways.

We often focus on the nomad tendency to acculturate, and be absorbed, by the settled peoples they beat. The reverse process is also true though - the beaten settled peoples often absorb some nomadic traits, at least at the elite level (and no wonder - the nomads seem to have the secrets of military superiority, a very important thing if you are threatened by Mongols!). Unfortunately, the particular traits absorbed tend to be those which make for military fearsomeness - like royal absolutism and ruthelessness in pursuit of power.

The paradigm example of this is Muscovy, which by all accounts was a much more unpleasant and in some respecsts backwards (though more centralized and militarily effective) state than the pre-Mongol Kievian Rus. Though you see the same with the Ming versus the pre-Mongol Sung.

In such cases, the post-Mongol state can be glorious indeed, but contain the seeds of comparative backwardness. The concern here is that if the Mongols overran much of Europe, you might see a post-Mongol unified Christian Empire of some sort that was similar to Muscovy or the Ming - glorious, relatively conservative centralized empires without much in the way of intellectual or scientific progress. Indeed, even without the Mongol experience, the Hapsburgs sometimes looked like they would succeed in creating something like that …

If so, one could imagine a world in which modernity took hundreds of years longer to arrive, and when it did arrive, did not necessarily arrive in Europe first.

In summary, a successful Mongol invasion would inevitably be transitory, but it could well leave a profound legacy.