|The Emergence of Seapower in
the Yuan Dynasty: The Transformation of Mongol Warfighting through a Revolution
in Military Affairs (1258-1281)
by Commander John J. Trombetta, U.S. Navy, PhD and Steven C. Ippolito,
John Keegan views the Mongolian war-making polity as a fusion of the "horse
and human ruthlessness[.]" The great khans, Chinggis, Ogodei, Mongke, and
Khublai Khan, gathered the martial energies of the steppe nomad in the quest
for Empire, and released them like so many dogs of war upon Asia, Europe,
China, Korea, the Middle East of Persians and Arabs, and Japan. Results were
startling: extraordinary political changes that reworked the map of the
thirteenth century Asia, and a transformation of war in the Asian steppe
"making it for the first time," in the view of Keegan, "'a thing in
itself.'" Tribal society on the steppe, therefore, was a highly-militarized
experience, where the "fit and adult males of a horse people were the
army[.]" Kenneth Chase wrote in 2003 that the Mongol population probably
never exceeded two million people. Every man, thus, had to serve as a soldier,
and to master the art of the horse and the powerful composite bow at an early
age. The Mongols used both for hunting and battle, and in armed
conflict, the horse nomads used them to wage nothing less than "'true war
.'" The horse nomads used force without limit, and the goal was always
""outright victory." This unique warfighting and cultural dynamism helped
the Mongols to leave the steppe as conquerors, in order to bring their unity of
horse and violence to an important neighboring polity: China. New challenges
in China, however, forced a crisis in the Mongolian military; the steppe nomads
were forced to embrace new tactics and weapons' systems, not based upon the
horse in order to confront the Song Dynasty. In China, the Mongol encountered
rivers where none existed on the steppe.
Here, the warhorse was less effective. Victory, therefore, required military
adaptation, the inclusion of warships and naval infantry as well as cavalry.
Accordingly, this paper will advance the idea hat the rise of a Mongol
Navy, that utilized an ad hoc mixture of sea soldiers, naval infantry
and marines was critical to the success of Khublai Khan's campaign to
subjugate the Song Dynasty in China. Seapower in China contributed to a
profound transformation of Mongol warfighting, Khublai's forces, with the help
of Song defectors, mastered the tactical problems posed by the watercourses of
China and riverine warfare. After China, warships, sailors, marines, and naval
infantry participated in the realization of the Mongols' geo-strategic vision.
This was a watershed military moment for the people of the horse, for after
China, the horse was no longer supreme. Additionally, this paper will examine
the nature of social organization and warfighting on the Mongol steppe, prior
to the days of empire. In undergoing this profound change, this paper proposes
that the Mongols necessarily-experienced a phenomenon much discussed by modern
military historians since the 1990s; the so-called Revolution in Military
Affairs or R.M.A.
The concept of a revolution in military affairs was introduced in 1955 by
historian, Michael Roberts. His model for the RMA, however, was not the
Mongols, but the Swedish warrior-king, Gustavus Adolphus, who "had embarked on
a military revolution that had swept away traditional approaches to military
organization and tactics throughout the West." In 1991, the spring meeting
of the Society of Military History proposed that European military institutions
since the 1300s demonstrate "periods of violent change followed by periods of
relative calm in which armies had adapted to major changes in their
environment, a pattern which evolutionary biologists have called punctuated
Military revolutions recast society and the state as well as military
organizations. They alter the capacity of states to create and project military
power. And their effects are additive. 
With respect to the East, can military historians hypothesize that an R.M.A.
occurred amongst the Mongols in thirteenth China? The present authors answer in
the affirmative. David C. Wright states that the movement of the Mongol from
the steppe to the rivers of China represents a highly "important geo-political
military development in thirteenth-century Eurasian history." Mongol
warriors responded to China with tactical and strategic versatility. On the
steppe, Mongol fighting institutions were characterized by a monopoly of light
and heavy cavalry units. This is not surprising: naval and even infantry
operations cannot be deployed in a wide, vast, utterly dry land. Geography and
the need to migrate seasonally insured that in war, the horse and cavalry were
vital to the tribes' survival. But the problems posed by the invasion of Song
China, particularly the encounter with the Yangzi and other bodies of water in
China, required a new military paradigm, to wit: naval and amphibious
The military problems posed by Song China could not be solved through cavalry
squadrons. Thus, a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to warfighting
emerged. Seapower and amphibious operations were logical tactical developments
in pursuit of a strategic goal. Militarily, the result for the Mongol was a
powerful Revolution in Military Affairs. Thus, the Mongol changed, militarily,
in China. Yet, one should not conclude that change permeated all of
post-Song Mongol imperial society. Under Khublai Khan, the horse nomads
continued to follow many of the old steppe ways.
The scattering of mare's milk, for example, a ceremony born upon the steppe,
was performed annually as a kind of New Year's ritual. In the post-Chinggisid
era, the Mongols always offered koumiss, a drink of alcoholic mare's
milk as a libation to Tenggeri, the Sky God before they went into battle.
Though the Mongols were tolerant of religion generally, they did not abandon
Mongolian shamanism in Yuan China, for themselves. The Mongols continued to
wear native clothing, costumes of fur and leather. They continued to revere
the horse, but before their day was done the horse nomads became khans and
emperors. They would dismount from the saddle to mount the decks of ships.
Where once they fought only on land, the Mongols would fight from the
sterncastles of ships as sailors, marines, and naval infantry--- warriors from
Mongolia: The Beginnings
Marco Polo (1254-1324), described his experiences in China amongst the Yuan
while incarcerated in Italy. Dictating his reminiscences to fellow prisoner,
Rustichello da Pisa, Polo identified the Mongols by the term, tartar.
"The Tartars never remain fixed, but as the winter approaches remove to…a
warmer region, to find sufficient pasture for their cattle; and in summer they
frequent cold areas in the mountains…They have the best falcons…and…the best
To explain the progression of the Mongol polity from a confederation of steppe
hunter-warriors who would eventually experience a powerful revolution in
military affairs, it is essential to know something about their pre-Chinggisid
days. The steppe was a challenging environment. There are few rivers or
streams. Rainfall is erratic, and the climate can manifest in strange ways.
Snow in mid-summer is not a meteorological impossibility, and the only real
vegetation that grows on the steppe is wild grass. To survive, internal
discipline was essential amongst the tribes.
Mongol society was organized for labor by age and gender: women and children
managed the tents; men and young boys would hunt or engage in steppe
warfare. The Mongols were highly-dependent upon their flocks of animals for
nourishment. When hunting or on campaign, the Mongols survived upon dried
milk and meat. If needed, they would even drink the blood of their horses while
traveling. For males, the primary tribal tasks were fighting and hunting,
though not even the hunt or the husbanding of animal herds relieved the tribes
of their need for goods that always seemed to lack. Chronic need resulted in
the aggressive pursuit of basic necessities by the Mongol tribes from their
neighbors and the Chinese. Survival required military cohesion which, in turn,
fostered the Mongols' emergence into a confederation of tribes and, ultimately,
a nation. Inter-tribal cooperation, therefore, was evident in even the
most basic of group activities: migration between pastures, the pitching of
tents, or the herding of the tribes' flocks.
According to Chase, common traditions existed between tribes, including myths
of a common ancestry, and the tribal chiefs were selected from the leading
Mongol families. These chieftains had unique responsibilities for the
tribes' welfare in war, hunting, and seasonal movement. In cold weather, the
tribes moved south; in summer, they went north. To avoid overgrazing, it was
essential that they spend limited time-- no more than several months at a
time—at any one location. This difficult and nomadic life, devoid of any real
technology meant that the Mongols would build neither cities, nor dwellings in
the fashion of the Chinese. Shelter was a tent made of sticks, interwoven with
felt that sometimes reached thirty feet in diameter. When camp was dissembled,
the tents were loaded upon wagons moved by oxen or camel, though travel was
slow for the tribes, no more than a few miles per day.
Travel across the steppe, therefore, required inter-tribal cooperation.
Pragmatic necessity required that the tribes demonstrate some degree of
confederation. Chase writes that in the Mongol experience, "there was an
evolving political tradition on the steppe that contributed to the formation of
larger and more stable confederations over time." Inter-tribal cooperation
can be discerned in the Mongols' hunting parties. Chase understands the steppe
hunt to represent a boot camp experience for future Mongol warriors.
The hunt, then, was a de facto preparation for war. Both depended upon
two critical elements: the horse and the bow.
Mongol hunter-warriors demonstrated deep spiritual reverence for the horse.
Mongol shamans, walkers-between-the-worlds, sacrificed their beloved
horses in rituals that permitted subsequent transport to heaven. The
sacrifice of these beloved creatures was not the result of some wanton act of
destruction; it was, rather, a spiritual testimonial to the power and
importance of the horse in Mongol society. The Mongols spent practically their
whole lives in the saddle. Infant children were transported by horse.
Generally, the children were tied with a rope to a board, which, in turn, was
tied behind the saddle of the mother's horse. By age three, a Mongol child
might be fastened to the saddle of their own horse, and by age four or five
they were given small bows and small arrows to begin to learn to hunt. Yet,
the horse, prized and valued for the hunt, was even more valued by the
Mongol for its contribution to warfare. Mongol ponies were especially
fast on a gallop. They allowed cavalrymen to employ guerrilla-style attacks
with great effectiveness. Raiding in this fashion often forced the enemy
cavalry to pursue, but because these enemies lived in established settlements,
they could not chase Mongols for too long a period of time.
The Mongols, on the other hand, lived in nomadic fashion-- they had no home
to return to other than the land of the steppe. This rootless existence
increased their chances for success in battle, and throughout the Mongol
polity, the feigned retreat remained a favorite tactical approach designed to
lead pursuers on a fruitless chase to their own destruction.
In both hunt and war, the Mongols made great use of the so-called composite
bow, a formidable weapon-system constructed of sinew and
horn. Unlike other cavalry forces, the Mongols mastered the art of
shooting accurately from the saddle in full-gallop. In comparison to the
English longbow, whose range was 250 yards, the Mongol composite bow had a
range of 350 yards. In addition to weapons, Mongol equipment in other areas
can only be described as excellent. With respect to cavalry equipment, one
should not be surprised that it was state-of-the-art. The Mongol saddle
was constructed of wood and leather, and to retard shrinkage and cracking, it
was regularly rubbed down with the fat of sheep. Mongol saddlebags contained
the cavalryman's necessary utilities: water bottles, pots for cooking, yogurt
and desiccated meat. The stirrup allowed the cavalryman to seat himself with
greater security, in order to discharge his missiles (arrows) with greater
accuracy. Horse-borne Mongol archers were well-known for their skill with the
composite bow, as more than one enemy learned to its detriment. On campaign,
Mongol cavalrymen would bring three or four horses, so as not to exhaust the
animals on long journeys, placing leather coverings on their heads, and
utilizing armor to protect the horse's body. This combination of training,
tactics, ordnance, and organization, insured that the Mongol cavalry was a
highly-effective fighting force as so many enemies would learn.
The Battle of the Kalka River, now called the Kalmyus River, represents this
fusion of martial elements that characterize the martial skill of the horse
nomads in the thirteenth century.
The Battle of the Kalka River—May 1223
Searching for new lands to dominate, two redoubtable Mongol captains, Jebe and
Subedei led 30,000 men into Russia. Between 1219 and 1220, Chinggis Khan had
already conquered much of Central Asia, but being ever-hungry for more, he
decided to campaign in Russia. In a short time, Jebe and Subedei encountered a
larger force of cavalry from Russian Georgia who immediately gave chase. Vastly
outnumbered, the Mongols engaged in one of their favorite tactics, the feigned
retreat. Leading the Georgians and their large horses on a lively chase, the
Mongols took careful note when the larger Russian horses began to show signs of
exhaustion. At a designated area where there were reserve horses, the Mongols
changed mounts and charged the Georgians joined by their expert horse archers.
Attacking in force, the Mongols insured that the Georgians were routed.
After the departure of the Georgians, the Mongols continued their
reconnaissance-in-force, crossing the Caucasus Mountains. The journey was
hazardous. Many men and animals died along the way, but the Mongols were
successfully able to raid a number of Russian locations. The Russians, however,
counter-attacked in May 1223, when the military commander, Mstislav the Daring,
personally-led a force of 80,000 men against the invaders of his country. When
Mstislav located the enemy, he attacked. Once again, the greatly outnumbered
Mongols under Jebe and Subedei utilized the feigned retreat. They led the
Russians on a chase that lasted about a week.
The Mongols expected this, and the vigorous pursuit of their force by the
large, Russian force, resulted in large gaps in the Russian formation. This is
precisely what Jebe and Subedei wanted. And the fleeing Mongols did everything
possible to maintain the pursuit while the enemy fell into an irregular
formation with spaces in the formation. This greatly diminished their tactical
power, although it would not become apparent until the battle commenced. The
chase continued, but not until they reached the Kalka River did the Mongols
finally turn to confront the Russians and fight.
Mounted archers attacked first. Recklessly, the Russians moved to meet the
attack with their advance troops, though prudence might have dictated that they
first wait and regroup to attain their full strength. But most of Mstislav's
troops lagged behind the Russian vanguard. The steppe archers moved across the
battlespace in a criss-cross, oblique fashion, letting loose the first barrages
of missile fire from the powerful composite bow. Mongol arrows, fired with
great accuracy, disrupted the Russian line. As Mstislav's forces reeled in
the saddle, the Mongol heavy cavalry, slammed into their line with
their formidable weapons, armor, and equipment.
Mongol heavy cavalrymen wore an iron helmet, a raw silk shirt upon which was
placed a coat of mail and cuirass, the Mongol heavy cavalryman was armed with
two bows, battle-ax, dagger, a lance of twelve feet, and a lasso. Through the
use of the lance, the heavy cavalry was able to overwhelm the Russian vanguard
which was never able to link up with its main body of men. At the battle's end,
Mstislav the Daring was captured, but steppe custom dictated that the blood of
a prince, even an enemy one, could not be shed. Mstislav and two other
captured princes thus suffered the fate reserved for royalty.
Stretched out under boards, the captives were slowly-suffocated as the Mongols
sat or stood upon the boards during a celebratory banquet. Once again, the
Mongol triumph occurred on the backs of its cavalry, one of the most formidable
land warfare machines ever to ride out of the Asian steppe.
The Battle of the Kalka River illustrates some of the Mongols battle
tactics, but not all. In battle, it was not unusual for the Mongols to deploy
an initial advance of light cavalry in the vanguard and on the wings and
flanks. Two ranks of heavy cavalry rode behind the vanguard. To the rear of the
heavy cavalry, three ranks of light cavalry were positioned. The vanguard's job
was to pin the enemy. The main group of light cavalry then rode
through the ranks of heavy cavalry without charging the enemy. At the Battle of
the Kalka River, these troops rode before the enemy's front, using the arrows
from composite bows in an effort to break up their position. This was not the
main attack, but more in the form of what one might call the tactics of a
mounted skirmisher. The light cavalry would then move to the flanks,
accompanied by the sound of a martial, percussive instrument, the naccarra,
the signal for the main, frontal attack by the heavy cavalry. Another tactic,
the mangudai, the feint utilized at the Kalka River, was designed to
induce the enemy cavalry to pursue the Mongols. The mangudai could involve tens
of thousands of men, a formation called a tumen. In this maneuver, the
retreating Mongols rode to pre-arranged location, their enemies following them
in close, hot pursuit. At this special location, Mongol archers were hidden to
joint the attack. Once the enemy was in position (and much exhausted from a
long, hard ride!), the archers, followed by heavy cavalry, attacked their
pursuers. Mongol tactics were not a secret in the thirteenth century, but they
frequently worked well anyway.
Similarly, the Mongols were skilled in spycraft and intelligence-gathering,
both critical aspects of Mongol politics and warfighting. Prudent, stealthy,
and with an eye toward future conquests, Chinggis Khan recruited many spies
through gold bribes, in order to obtain vital intelligence on the political and
military situation of his enemies, including the polities of Europe. Two of
Chinggis' greatest generals, Subedei and Jebe, were able to negotiate a secret
alliance with the Venetians in precisely this way. The Venetians, who had a
number of trading stations in the Sea of Azov, willingly took Mongol gold in
exchange for information about European geography and politics. Subedei and
Jebe also agreed to grant the Venetians a trading monopoly with the Mongols,
though it is likely that the Christian West had little understanding of how
much danger the Mongols posed for Europe at this time. In the thirteenth
century, Christian Europe perceived its greatest enemy to be Islam. Subedei
and Prince Batu's gold might have seemed less tempting to the Europeans, had
the latter been aware of the Mongol threat, and the violence the horse nomads
regularly-perpetrated upon their neighbors in the East.
Intelligence-gathering on the steppe may have been an outgrowth of techniques
first employed by Mongol hunting parties, the techniques of scouts and
scouting. In a scouting operation during hunting, more and more men
would gradually be dispatched "to encircle a smaller and smaller area, taking
care not to allow any hunted animals to break through the ring, until it was
time for the final slaughter." The use of the spy in international
relations and military operations, therefore, may represent the outgrowth of
activities that were common in traditional Mongol society.
Chinggis Khan (ca. 1162-1227)
The Mongol polity was the fruit of many tribes becoming one complex, political
system: a nation. And the vision that informed this powerful display of
national energy belonged principally to one man, Temujin, better known to the
world as Chinggis Khan. Temujin was the "supreme khan of nomadic
peoples north of China." Amongst his own people, his title was simply Chinggis
Khan. Marco Polo explained to his European readers that the "title
of Khan…is equivalent to emperor in our language." Peter Lorge, in his
work, War, Politics and Society in Early Modern China: 900-1795, acknowledges
the Khan's role in the unification of the Mongols in 1206. However, he is
unflattering in his assessment of the great khan, describing him as neither a
"particularly brilliant general or accomplished warrior, nor was he physically
very brave." For Lorge, Chinggis is, quintessentially, a politician. For
Lorge, Chinggis' only real contribution to the war-fighting tactics of the
Mongol steppe forces "was to spread a decimal system  throughout his
entire forces." In the final analysis, this innovation would have little effect
on his subsequent political and military success. Post-1206, the Mongols
struck out in a number of directions, east and west, but the principal goal of
conquest was to be found in the south: the vast continent of China.
The Mongols in China--The Rise of the Yuan Dynasty
Historically, the horse nomads, the Xiongnu (Huns), Turks, and Uighurs, as well
as the Mongols, all posed a significant military threat to the Chinese. In
fact, "the history of premodern China's foreign relations is largely a history
of war, or preparation for war with the nomads."
Some modern historians suspect that the antagonism between the Chinese and the
steppe nomads may have been aggravated by the incompatibility of the two
peoples' ecological contrasts. Differences between an agricultural culture like
the Chinese and a nomadic people that husbanded domestic animal herds was one
Others believe that famine and drought on the steppe caused the steppe nomads
to attack the sedentary, agricultural Chinese to acquire food and other goods:
grains, textiles, and metals that could only be acquired in the south. In
search of a conquest dynasty, Chinggis Khan attacked the border state of Xi
Xia in 1209. Victorious, he attacked the Jin in 1211, though he never prevailed
against them. Dying in 1227, it fell to Chinggis' son, Ogodei Khan (1229-1241),
to subjugate the Jin in 1234. Thereafter, Ogodei and the Mongols would campaign
against Russia and Eastern Europe, while Ogodei's nephew, Mongke Khan
(1251-1259) invaded Korea and China. Hulegu Khan attacked the Middle East,
destroying Baghdad and the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258, displaying in the process
the extremes of cruelty and wartime criminality. By 1256, the Mongols under
the general Jaliyar had conquered Korea. Then, in 1258, Mongke and his younger
brother, Khublai initiated a new Chinese campaign against Song China. The
Southern Song resisted strenuously, and not until 1279 did the Mongol campaign
to the Song Chinese come to fruition.
Huang K'uan Chung, writing in 2000, attests to the fierce Song resistance
against the Mongols. The Song employed topography and the use of shancheng,
a system of mountain fortresses, both of which were key tactical elements in
the lengthy stalemate experienced by the Mongols in China.
The Koreans, too, used similar fortresses, successfully, in their protracted
struggle against the Mongols, though, at length, the Mongols prevailed in both
lands. Initially, the Chinese used powerful city walls as a means of
defense. These, later, proved insufficient to guard against the predatory raids
of the nomads. To compensate, the Song constructed fortresses with accessible
sources of water on the mountainsides. This innovative tactical defense worked
effectively for many years in the Song's war against the Mongols.
Other problems plagued the Mongol battle- plan-- problems of climate, terrain,
and the elements. The wet climate and mountainous terrain of China proved
difficult for the warhorses to negotiate. Weather, too, was a source of wartime
friction. Central and southern China is a hot, humid environment, the extremes
of which caused the Mongols to halt their campaign for a time. Finally, there
was the problem of the Yangzi River. This most important body of water cuts
through central and southern China. The Mongols could not hope to conquer
China, unless they "and their allies... [dealt] with the Yangzi. This, in turn,
required the use of a naval force. The time had come for a critical
military reorientation in Mongol warfighting. The campaign against the Song was
a watershed moment for the Mongol polity's warriors. The steppe days when the
Mongol military institution was exclusively a land force, to wit: cavalry was
over. To conquer the Song, the Mongols embraced naval warfare to spread the
Mongol Empire by force and by terror: the Mongol Revolution in Military Affairs
had arrived. With respect to the use of cavalry and the bow in warfighting,
Jeremy Black, writes of the tendency to see "horse-archers…as a medieval force,
as with the defeats of European heavy cavalry…by Saladin at Hattin in 1187 and
by the Mongols at Liegnitz in 1241."
Yet, if we consider military capability solely in the context of the
"objectives arising from strategic culture," one notes that
[T]he ends and means of steppe warfare [favored] raids, not battles. The
traditional tactics of steppe warfare, such as feints, continued to be
valuable, playing a major role in battles between the Safavids (Persians) and
the Uzbeks in the sixteenth century. In addition, the bow remained more
accurate than the musket until the nineteenth century. The slow rate of fire of
the latter was also a problem. The continued vitality of cavalry helps
counterclaims that Eastern European states were backward because they did not
adapt the emphasis on infantry firepower in Western Europe.
Cavalry, however, was less effective in China as it was on the northern steppe.
In response, a new military vision that included naval concepts emerged with
powerful results, a Mongol Revolution in Military Affairs took place.
Theory--Understanding the Revolution in Military Affairs in the Yuan
Michael Roberts introduced the concept of a revolution in military affairs in a
lecture at the Queen's University of Belfast, "The Military Revolution,
1560-1660." There, Roberts observed "that major revolutions in military
techniques have usually been attended with widely ramifying consequences."
Roberts was speaking in a European context, but his concepts and writing,
below, are applicable in the study of the Mongol warfighter.
The coming of the mounted warrior, and of the sword, in the middle of the
second millennium BC; the triumph of the heavy cavalryman, consolidated by the
adoption of the stirrup, in the sixth century of the Christian era…are all
recognized as major turning-points in the history of mankind.
Roberts' understanding of the R.M.A begins with European history, in Sweden in
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Nevertheless, we can relate his
European notions to the Asian transformation of a cavalry force to be joined by
All R.M.A.s are similar, in that, they seek to find solutions to pre-existing
military problems. For Roberts, the RMA, in Europe was:
[T]he result of just one more attempt to solve the perennial problem of
tactics—the problem of how to combine missile weapons with close action; how to
unite hitting power, mobility, and defensive strength. And the solution offered
by the reforms of Maurice of Orange and Gustav Adolf was a return…to linear
The Mongol problem was different. It required the Mongols to find a way to
compensate for the loss of cavalry in the terrain and climate of Song China. It
also required that the Mongols address the problems of riverine warfare. This,
the Mongols did by co-opting the contributions of their subjugated neighbors,
particularly, the Chinese and the Koreans. From these cultures, the horse
nomads learned the arts and sciences of naval architecture, the use of the
warship as a weapons system, the deployment of naval warfighters, for example,
sailors, ship-borne archers, a form of naval infantry and marines, and, also,
architectural innovations aboard fighting vessels: raised sterncastles to serve
as a weapons platform in combat for archers. None of this existed on the
steppe, and had they not invaded China, it is unlikely that the Mongols would
have considered their use
Michael Howard, in a 1961 lecture, stated that the historian "should be
conscious of the uniqueness of every historical event." To properly grasp
his subject matter, the historian must study in three historical dimensions:
width, depth, and context. Width references the manner in which
warfare develops over time. By properly understanding such changes, one can
know whether the tactics and strategies of yesterday will work on a modern
Depth refers to research and study to generate the relevant insights.
One can never know a war, a battle, or campaign too well. No source is
unimportant: letters, memoirs, biographies, battle plans, archival research,
and after-action reports, can all help the historian studying any given
campaign. Finally, there is context. For Howard: "Wars are not
tactical exercises writ large. They are...conflicts of societies, and
they can be…understood only if one understands the nature of the society
fighting them." Here, one encounters the linkage between military and
non-military factors, the social, political and social, economic factors to
explain the movement of armies, and the evolution of nations. Howard believes
that the historian needs such knowledge, lest one "reach totally erroneous
conclusions about…[the] nature, and the reasons for…failure and success."
Accordingly, to understand the Mongol entry into China and other places,
without reference to the difficulties of living on the steppe, is to lose vital
information in the development of the horse nomads' culture and their
subsequent imperial dynasties, worldwide. The harshness of the terrain, the
rise of cavalry, the specific weapons mastered by the Mongol, the unification
of the tribes, all represent the width of the Mongol experience. The context
of the Mongol experience, the desire for imperial growth, driven, perhaps, by
both a need and a greed for goods not obtainable on the steppe is a crucial
task for understanding. Context, too, would include the personality of Temujin,
a master politician and steppe visionary. Jeremy Black writing in 1994,
states that the theory of a revolution in military affairs, propounded by
Roberts "was useful in offering a conceptual framework within which early
modern warfare could be discussed." It related issues of tactics and
training with the "wider implications for issues of governmental and political
However, Black has some reservations about the Roberts Thesis, so-called, on
methodological and empirical grounds. For Black, Roberts' Thesis ignores the
fact that change --- the simplest definition of a Revolution in
Military Affairs, was a constant in the medieval military-political structures
of Europe. Black writes: "A military revolution is only conceivable against
preceding stasis or limited change." Black also believes that there has not
been enough of an attempt to relate the chronology of military change with the
general political chronology. In terms of the Mongol polity, the military
revolution in military affairs cannot be separated from the general
geo-strategic goals of the Mongols' China invasion. Translation: It was
politics that ultimately forced the Mongols to become sailors and pilot
warships. Speaking in a European context, Black says something interesting in
Navies provide some of the best indicators of change in the period 1660-1720.
The development of line-ahead tactics greatly altered naval warfare, not only
tactically, but also by increasing the importance of heavily gunned ships of
the line, and thus of the states able to deploy and maintain substantial
numbers of such ships. In 1639, at the Battle of the Downs, the attack in
line-ahead was first executed in European waters and the Dutch won a major
victory over Spain.
There are other criticisms of Roberts' Thesis. Clifford J. Rogers in his essay,
"The Military History of the Hundred Years War," questions the time frame
of Roberts' ideas on the R.M.A. For Rogers, two previous instances in the
Hundred Years' War demonstrate how "new developments revolutionized the conduct
of war in Europe, in each case with consequences as significant for the history
of the world as those which took place during…1500-1800." One of these
"revolutions" concerned changes in infantry; the other, artillery. In the first
decades of the fourteenth century, "we can observer the first glimmerings of
the revolution which was to overtake European warfare a generation later."
Specifically, in three famous clashes, Courtrai (1302); Bannockburn (1314);
Morgarten (1315), "infantry armed with poles triumphed over feudal
cavalry." At Courtrai, terrain was a key factor. The French cavalry faced
off against the Flemish infantry, but the swampy ground prevented the French
from forming a proper line. Similarly, in Song China, the difficulties of
terrain and weather, and, ultimately, the rivers, inhibited the use of the
Mongol ponies. At Courtrai, swamp land prevented the French horses from a
breakout through "the serried ranks of the Flemish pikemen, [and] they were
equally unable to retreat, and were slaughtered." The Scots at Bannockburn
encountered the English under similar conditions, and battle concluded with a
Scottish victory, not unlike that of the Flemish victory at Courtrai.
Rogers's questioning of the time frame of the so-called Roberts Thesis, and
Black's examination of cultures outside the Eurocentric point of view, allow
the military historian to examine the possibility of similar revolutions in
military affairs' in cultures, lands, and centuries, outside of Roberts'
theory. The Mongol invasion of Song China and the rise of a naval force would
certainly seem to constitute such a revolution outside the Eurocentric
worldview in the thirteenth century East.
Sailors of the Yuan--The Mongols at Sea
What can one learn from the Mongols? Clearly, there are many lessons that can
be gleaned from the Mongol polity. One lesson, however, has great relevance for
all cultures and all warfighters: the utility of a flexible mind-set in the
confrontation with new cultures, and a capacity for adaptation in problems
requiring novel military solutions.
One of the great Mongol traits was the capacity to meet new military conditions
with open-mindedness, as well as an ability to integrate innovative technology.
Initially, the Mongols knew nothing of naval warfare, but they learned
seamanship and amphibious operations from Chinese defectors who were willing to
betray their country. Mongke's forces made a definite impression upon these
Song who threw in with the invaders when they concluded that the Mongols could
not be defeated in China. This was good fortune for Mongke Khan, who upon
entering China, encountered what would prove to be a critical element in the
subsequent Mongol military development: the Yangzi River. To the Mongols, it
was clear that the traditional steppe armamentarium would not allow for a
military solution to the problems of riverine warfare. The solution, then, was
to adapt, or go no further, or return to the steppe! The solution, however, lay
in the Mongols' willingness to learn and utilize naval technology, in order to
mount a riverine attack upon the Song by way of the Yangzi. With the assistance
of Chinese shipwrights, the Mongols' attempts at change were successful, and a
powerful, nautical revolution in military affairs unfolded within the fledgling
Yuan Dynasty in China.
Mongke's plan called for Chinggis' grandson, Khublai, to maneuver through
Hubei; other elements of the Mongol force were sent to move in the area along
the east coast of China. In the midst of the campaign, Mongke died unexpectedly
in 1259, and the Mongols ceased military operations to convene a grand tribal
council, a khuriltai, to determine the next khan. Khublai was
elected khan in 1260. One of his first undertakings was to attempt to negotiate
with the Song through diplomacy. The Song, however, rebuffed his overtures, and
the Khan re-initiated hostilities.
Under his great general Bayan, Khublai unleashed a riverine attack upon the
defended city of Xiangyang on the Han River. Once more, the Song defended their
homeland with vigorous skill. The Mongols prevailed, ultimately, but it would
take five more years of hard combat to do so. By 1273, the Mongols emerged
victorious on the Han River. They were now a naval force of consequence in
China, a crucial factor in their final campaign against the Song some years
Song and Yuan Naval Construction
The military leaders of the Yuan drew upon the assistance of Chinese and Korean
shipwrights and naval architects, defectors who possessed an extensive
knowledge of naval affairs. Chinese naval theorists were innovative in the use
of technology in their fleets. Artillery and fire weapons were both used aboard
Chinese vessels, and according to Lorge, "naval operations were involved in
creating Chinese empires from the very beginning to the very end." For
historians of the Yuan, Khublai Khan, more than anyone, created the Mongol
navy. In 1270, Khublai ordered the construction of five thousand ships. Three
years later, an additional two thousand ships were ordered to be built; these
would carry about 50,000 troops to give battle to the Song. In 1273, when the
Mongols attacked the city of Xiangyang, several thousand ships were deployed.
The Song fleet, despite their deployment as a coastal defense fleet or Coast
Guard more than an operational Navy, was more than a match for the Mongols.
Yet, the Song Navy of the thirteenth century possessed a good deal of the state
of the art technology available at the time. As early as 1129, Song vessels
incorporated weapons such as trebuchets that could hurl gunpowder
bombs. Between 1132 and 1189, the Song Navy deployed paddle-wheeled warships,
and by 1203, their navy was utilizing armor on its warships.
Adept at Greek Fire, the Song also utilized piston engine flamethrowers to burn
enemy vessels. Contemporary maritime archaeology has revealed that Song
shipwrights were quite sophisticated in their ship-building skills. When
Chinese archaeologists excavated the remnants of a Quanzhou ship in 1974, they
discovered the remains of a Song hull buried within 2-3 meters of mud. There,
researchers also found 504 gold coins minted during the Song dynasty. 1272 is
the date of the latest coin in the batch, and this suggests that the vessel
sank sometime after that year. The ship's length is 34.6 meters. The breadth or
beam is 9.82 meters. Capable of displacing 374.4 tons, the ship is unlike
anything the archaeologists had expected to find in a Chinese vessel. The ship
had a double-planked hull that at the turn of the bilge became triple-planked.
When constructed, the ship was built shell-first in the same manner as
When the ship was removed from the mud, archaeologists were surprised to find
that the ship was fitted with a keel, constructed of three pieces of timber.
Prior to this discovery, scholars didn't think that ships of this period had
such a component. The rudder fit into the stern, suspended as it angled down
onto a transom, but it did not connect to a sternpost. The tabernacles or
mounts for the masts were located in the interior of the hull. These were the
locations for two masts, though study of the vessel indicates that there was
probably a third mast at the stern. Clearly, Song naval architecture was in
advance of European vessels of the period.
Transom sterns, axial rudders, multiple masts, and the carrying capacity of
Song ships appeared two hundred years before Europe adopted them in the
fifteenth century. Another innovation of the Song ship-building artisans
was the use of watertight compartments below deck.
If the hull was damaged in combat or by mishap, the compartment could be
sealed, increasing the ship's chances of remaining afloat. In the West,
conversely, European ship-builders did not use watertight bulkheads until the
nineteenth century. Ben Armstrong, a U.S. Navy officer and military
historian, believes that the development of the watertight bulkhead represents
one of the most important innovations of the Song naval architects.
"The transom sterns, variable depth rudders…and the use of tabernacles rather
than keel-mounted masts, were all important but were dictated by the fact that
Song vessels for the most part operated in the littorals (or shallow coastal
waters) and rivers. The use of watertight compartments, however, was not an
adaptation to environment. Instead, it was combat engineering and therefore it
was something that the Europeans should have developed but did not. That's
why…[this]…is the most important of all the Song innovations: it [demonstrates]
their superior designs…They were the also the first navy to use compasses for
Certain Song warships, called sea hawks, were invented in the Tang
Dynasty, and they utilized an interesting feature: Chinese shipwrights added
four to six floating boards on each side, in order to stabilize the vessel at
sea. Song vessels also made use of an iron-reinforced hull, and some had
multiple decks to promote greater stabilization at sea. Warships of this period
also employed fire-bomb catapults and incendiary arrows that made use of
gunpowder. Thus, the military skills of the Song were considerable, so, too,
were their weapons technology and understanding of war. In this way, the Song
insured their survival for many years against powerful enemies like the Jin and
the Mongols. Post-1172, more than a century before the final showdown
between Mongol and Song, the Song emperor, alarmed by the invasion of the
Jurchen Jin, determined that a strong navy was essential to the survival of the
state. This insight turned out to be correct, and Song naval superiority
insured that the Jin failed in their war against the Song Dynasty.
The Mongols, however, were another matter. They had learned well from their
Chinese and Korean allies. Naval forces and operations were the obvious key to
the undoing of the Song, and they resolved not to repeat the error of the Jin.
Their plan called for victory. On 19 March 1279, the Mongol plan came to its
bloody conclusion at the Battle of Yaishan.
The Battle of Yaishan—19 March 1279
The conclusion of the Song---Mongol war occurred on 19 March 1279, when 1000
Song warships faced a fleet of 300 to 700 Yuan Mongol warships. The Mongol
fleet was commanded by Zhang Hongfan (1238-1280), a northern Chinese, and Li
Heng (1236-1285), a Tangut. Catapults as a weapon system were rejected by the
Mongols, for the Mongols feared the Song fleet would break out if they used
such weapons. Instead, the Mongol plan called for a maritime siege, in order to
starve the Song into submission.
But at the outset, there was a defect in the Song tactics that would later be
exploited by Yuan at the conclusion of the battle. The Song wanted a stronger
defensive position, and the Song fleet "roped itself together in a solid
mass[,]" in an attempt to create what appears to be in a nautical skirmish
line. Results were disastrous: the Chinese could neither attack nor
maneuver. Escape was also impossible, for the Song warships lacked any nearby
base to which they might take refuge. The course, then, was clear: the Song
must stand and fight! Not all the Chinese did, though. On 12 March, a number of
Song combatants defected to the Mongol side. On 13 March, a Song squadron
attacked some of the Mongols' northern patrol boats. Lorge thinks this action
was an attempted breakout, but if so, it failed. The Chinese squadron was
crushed with an appalling loss of life.
By 17 March, Li Heng and Zhang Hongfan opted for a decisive battle. Four
Mongol fleets moved against the Song: Li Heng attacked from the north and
northwest; Zhang would proceed from the southwest; the last two fleets attacked
from the south and west. Weather favored the Mongols that morning. Heavy
fog and rain obscured the approach of Li Heng's dawn attack. The movement of
the tide and the southwestern similarly-benefited the movement of the Mongol
fleet which, in short order, appeared to the north of the Song. It was an
unusual attack, in that, the Mongol fleet engaged the Song fleet stern first.
In hindsight, this was a very good tactic. It enabled the naval infantry
archers to take full advantage of the ships' high sterncastles. Prior to the
battle, the Mongols constructed archery platforms for their sea soldiers. As a
result of this simple innovation, the archers atop the sterncastles were
transformed into force multipliers against the Song. The position enabled the
archers to direct a higher, more concentrated rate of missile fire against the
enemy. Fire teams of seven or eight archers manned these platforms, and they
proved devastatingly-effective as the battle commenced at close quarter.
Li Heng's first attack cut the Song rope that held the Chinese fleet together.
Fighting raged with great intensity at a hand-to hand distance. The Song gave
fierce resistance, but by eleven, they had lost three of their ships to the
Mongols, though the outcome was still by no means certain. Then, by the
forenoon, Li's ships broke through the Song's outer line, and two other Mongol
squadrons destroyed the Song formation in the corner of the northwest. Around
this time, the tide had shifted; Li's ships drifted to the opposite direction,
The Song believed that the Mongols were halting the attack and, foolishly,
dropped their guard. Their mistake was obvious when, suddenly, Zhang Hongfan's
fleet, riding the northern current, slammed into the Chinese ships. Zhang was
determined to capture the Song admiral, Zuo Tai. The Mongol flagship was
protected by shields to negate the Song missile fire. Later, when Zhang did
capture the Song flagship, his own vessel was riddled with arrows. Then, as if
the Song did not have enough difficulties, Li Heng's fleet returned to the
battle. By late afternoon, it was obvious to all observers that the battle was
over. The Mongols had prevailed, and the Song navy surrendered.
Horrified, the ruling elite, unwilling to submit to the Mongol yoke, opted for
death by suicide. The Song councilor, an important post, in that, he was tasked
with literally holding the infant child-emperor of the Song in his arms during
the battle, also elected to join the Song leaders in death. Not only did he
plan his own death, he, or perhaps others, decided to take the infant Emperor
to his royal destruction, too. As harsh a decision as this sounds, it is not
without its own cruel logic. Presumably, the councilor did not wish to see a
mere baby trampled to death in Mongol tradition, as undoubtedly the Yuan would
have done to the child-emperor, to leave no doubt that the Song Dynasty was literally
dead. Tragically, the councilor jumped into the sea, still holding the child in
his arms. Both would die; the Song Dynasty would die with them.; Lorge
described the scene and its aftermath:
Tens of thousands of Song officials, and women threw themselves into the sea
and drowned. The last Song emperor went to the bottom with his entourage, held
in the arms of his councilor. With his death, the final remnants of the Song
dynasty were eliminated. Khublai's Mongol Yuan dynasty completed the conquest
of China with naval campaign and a climactic battle at sea more than 2,000
miles south of the Mongolian homeland.
Korea and Japan
At the same time, Khublai was in contention with the Song, he attacked Koryo
(Korea), and the campaign, there, took place over a period of years. Time and
again, the Koreans, as the Song did for many years, successfully defended their
land, and fought-off the Mongols. However, the Mongols' assaults were
relentless, and, eventually, the Koreans capitulated. With the surrender of
King Kojong, he and Koryo became the vassals of Khublai Khan. After this
humiliating development, the Khan gave one of his daughters in marriage to the
King of Koryo, Chung-ryol, which effectively united the two states through the
diplomacy of marriage. This, however, was a mixed blessing, for as a vassal and
as a member of the great Khan's family, Kojong was obligated to assist the
Khublai Khan in his next great imperial adventure: the invasion of Japan.
How, why, and under what circumstances, the Mongol leader decided to invade
Japan may never be completely understood. One story, perhaps apocryphal, has it
that Khublai decided to invade Japan, after a Koryo courtesan convinced him
that Japan could be easily subdued. Another interpretation holds that the Khan
hoped to utilize Japan as an ally in his struggle against the Song in China,
which at this time was still in progress. The Khan also may have had
concerns that the Japanese would join forces with the Song. Another possibility
was that Japan posed an economic threat to Mongol China, which may have moved
the Khan to attack Japan to maintain stability in the region to his Empire's
advantage. Strategically, the Mongols would have readily grasped that in
conquering Japan, the Yuan could come to dominate all of Asia. They would then
have access to the Pacific Ocean for both trade and the natural resources
available in that direction.
Whatever the truth of the matter, if Khublai attacked Japan, the Koreans would
be obligated to participate in the invasion. And when the Yuan emissaries
were rebuffed by the Japanese, the Khan resolved to punish them, aided by his
Korean and Chinese allies. The invasion of Japan required the King of Koryo
provide ships, sailors, soldiers, and provisions for the campaign. Thousands of
carpenters were tasked with the construction of 300 large ships, and in October
1274, the armada was ready. A Korean army of 5,000 men, under the command of
Kim Bang-Gyong, joined a Mongol army of 20,000, under the command of Hol Don.
On 3 October 1274, the Allies left Masan in a fleet of 900 ships, manned by
6,700 Koryo sailors. 35,000 Chinese, Mongol, and Korean soldiers crowded onto
the vessels in preparation for the war against Japan. On 5 October, the Koryo
army attacked Tsushima, occupied the island, while the Mongols occupied Iki
Island. By 14 October, they occupied Hirado and moved to Hakata Bay. Here, the
steppe warrior of the Yuan Dynasty met the poet-warriors of Japan, the samurai.
The samurai and the Yuan Mongols were very different in their understanding of
themselves and of the nature of war. The Mongol was a horse-nomad, turned
imperialist-conqueror, and more recently a sailor and naval infantryman. The
samurai, conversely, understood the martial world differently.
[The samurai] were a warrior people…They were warriors…of a recognizably
'primitive' sort, practicing a highly-ritualized style of combat and valuing
skill-at-arms largely as a medium for defining social status and subordinating
the unsworded to the rule of the samurai.
In the ensuing fighting, as much a clash of culture as combatants, the Japanese
losses were considerable, and they were forced to retreat inland to defend
Dazaifu. Tactically, the two forces approached combat in very different ways.
The Koreans and Mongols fought as disciplined units. The Japanese, on the other
hand, fought for the glory of individual combat in the Japanese tradition of
personal heroism. The samurai had not fought anyone outside Japan before, and
the differences between the Mongols using organized, group-combat concepts in
their tactics, together with the high-tech weapons they acquired in China, were
noticeable within the battlespace of Japan.. The samurai fought with sword,
armor, and horse. In combat, the Japanese advanced individually in battle,
yelling their names and pedigrees, in order to engage the Mongols individually.
As the knightly class of feudal Japan, the only warriors in Japan who could
wear two swords, the samurai were practitioners of something other than war:
they were practitioners of style. 
Everything about the samurai was designed to make an impression: style of
clothing, weapons, martial skill, and battlefield deportment. They were similar
to the chivalric knights of Europe in this regard. Yet, unlike the armed and
mounted aristocracy of Europe, the samurai were highly-literate, and according
to Keegan, "the samurai…commonly wished to be known both as swordsmen and
Thomas Cleary in his discussion of the Japanese warrior class writes that
to understand the rise of the samurai class, one must look at the two words
which designate its members: samurai and bushi. Samurai
comes from a Japanese verb, saburau, which translates "'to serve as an
attendant.'" The word, bushi, on the other hand, is of Sino-Japanese
origin; it translates as "'armed gentry.'" In Japan, classes other than the
warrior class referred to these men as samurai. The samurai,
themselves, used the term, bushi.  The samurai served the nobles
of Japan as attendants.
The nobles tended to be absentee landlords, and the samurai attended to their
estates, policing, defense and civil administration. As time went on, they made
a political move to seize some of the wealth and power from the absentee
landlord-nobles. From this situation, power would come to be shared by various
factions, the Emperor, the Shoguns, and the samurai between. As a result of the
clash between samurai and the nobles, there arose in Japan a new kind of
Japanese polity, a military para-government of the dominant samurai, the
so-called Shoguns. The polity the Shogun presided over was the Bakufu,
the Tent Government.
By the time the Mongols were on the beaches of Japan, the first Bakufu or Tent
Government was in power. According to Cleary, the warriors of this government
were "descendants of noble houses, many of whom had honed their martial skills
for generations in warfare against the Ainu people in eastern Japan." The
Tent Government of this period was seated near modern Tokyo, in the small town
of Kamakura, hence, the name given to the period, the Kamakura Era.
Cleary writes that Japanese history and culture is not comprehensible unless
one realizes that until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, no government ruled
unilaterally. The Shoguns enjoyed power, but it was not absolute, even within
its own polity. Similarly, the imperial house was dominated by the emperor, the
nominal ruler of all Japan, theoretically, but not in reality. The realpolitik
of Japanese government meant that the imperial house was one of a number of
powerful factions in Japan. All ritual and rhetoric to the contrary, the
emperor could not, in actuality, project power throughout the whole of his
This was the state of affairs in Japanese politics when the Mongols and their
allies stormed the islands of Japan. It was to these invaders that the Japanese
bushi yelled their names and pedigrees, seeking to engage the Mongol,
man-to-man, and hand-to-hand. The Mongols, however, had other ideas. In all
likelihood, most of the attacking Yuan force would have understood neither the
Japanese language, nor the significance of the ritualized Japanese approach to
battle. And if they had, it is doubtful that they would have been interested.
The Mongol response had none of the drama of the Japanese bushi; it
was, rather, pragmatic and unceremonious: they showered the samurai with
a hail of arrows and exploding bombs. The intent was to move forward en masse,
in juggernaut fashion destroying the Japanese where they found them.
The Mongols came equipped with all the technology that the Song Dynasty had
bequeathed to them. The Mongol bows had a longer range than the Japanese
weapons, and the frightful explosive weapons of the Song were hurled from
trebuchets at the bushi. The battle's fury forced the Japanese to
retreat to Dazaifu. In the process, the Mongols destroyed the countryside and
burned down a shrine at Hakozaki. In their usual style, the Mongols didn't
hesitate to murder the civilian population, and non-combatant losses were high.
Then, on 21 October, the Mongol forces returned to the ships for rest and
resupply, when a sudden storm arose and halted the Mongol fleet which returned
to Masan. In the hiatus, the Khan once more attempted diplomacy. They sent
a Korean emissary to the Japanese Hojo Bakufu in 1275, to deliver terms. This
envoy, Sub Chan, went to the Japanese with a letter from Khublai. The Japanese
responded by murdering Chan on the spot and sending back his severed head.
Appalled by the insult, the Khan ordered another invasion of the Japanese
However, before the attack came, the Japanese rebuilt the shrine at Hakozaki
and began offering services for divine intervention. Knowing that the Mongols
would attack soon with horses and carts as soon as practical, the Japanese
built a wall to impede the coming invasion. The Shogun had decided that a
cavalry defense was most appropriate, and he began training his troops for that
style of combat. The Japanese also built a number of small, maneuverable ships
to damage the larger transports of the Mongols.
Still, the Mongols had superior equipment. By the time the Mongols attacked
Japan for the second time, they were even better armed and equipped than they
were in their first invasion of Japan. Cross-bows, slings, gun powder, and
artillery could all be found in the Mongol armamentarium. However, the
amphibious nature of the operation meant that the Mongols could not deploy
their famed cavalry until they were on land. The Japanese, as before, were
armed with bows, and their tactics were traditional Samurai tactics, based upon
heroic, individual combat. Such tactics were valuable at close range, but were
of little use against Chinese-crafted artillery.
On 3 May 1281, the new armada set out for Japan. Kyushu was targeted, but the
Japanese were ready for the enemy and were able to repel the Mongol forces.
However, the Mongols once again took Tsushima and occupied it. Attacking Hakata
on 6 June, the Mongols and their allies were pushed back to Shiganoshima.
Several days, thereafter, the Mongols were thrown out of Shiganoshima by the
Japanese. They returned to Iki and then to Hirado. However, a second Mongol
army was proceeding from a southern route, and they finally arrived in a huge
fleet of 3500 Chinese ships in mid-July. In the Mongol attack, the Japanese
were initially repulsed, but the samurai rallied and drove the Mongols back to
The Japanese then began small-unit, guerrilla actions against the crews and
troops aboard the ships at anchor. These assaults, more in the nature of
terrorism, perhaps, were highly-effective against Mongol morale, and they
caused the allies to withdraw to the island of Iki. However, a second fleet was
expected to invade Hakata Bay. Once again, the Japanese prayed for divine
intervention. The timing of the attacks coincided with typhoon season, but the
Mongols, aware of the treachery of the weather around the Japanese islands,
were little concerned. They did not anticipate a long campaign, and paid little
attention to the weather. As before, the Mongols attacked again, and once more
the Japanese resisted fiercely. The strength of the Japanese defense was so
intense, it managed to delay the Mongols for a period of six weeks.
On 29 July, a powerful storm arose. Panicking, the Mongol generals sailed to
the safety of Masan, leaving the invasion fleet at half-strength. Then, an
epidemic broke out amongst the Mongols, killing thousands of allies. On 1
August, another storm erupted; the surviving ships were forced to abandon a
token army of 20,000 soldiers that had been left behind. The storm was of such
destructive force that 4,000 Mongol ships were lost, and a staggering number of
troops were lost. As for the Yuan combatants left behind, he Japanese turned
fiercely on these outnumbered troops and killed all but 10,000 troops. For the
Japanese, the powerful storm was seen as a kamikaze, a divine wind, a heavenly
intervention in their struggle against Khublai Khan. The Mongol view of this
theory is unknown, although it is known that the Mongols, fearing Khublai's
wrath, fled to Koryo to hide from the Khan, rather than return to China.
Modern underwater archaeological expeditions conducted in the waters of Imari
Bay, in Japan, have yielded interesting artifacts of the Mongol invasion of
Japan. Archaeologist, James P. Delgado found an intact Mongol helmet, iron
arrow tips, a tetsuhau, or bomb that in the thirteenth century was filled with
black powder. Scholars were unaware that such weapons were available at this
point in military history, but Delgado's research confirmed that they were
available to the Mongols. Remnants of a large Mongol warship and an anchor also
were uncovered, and the forensic, archaeological examination of the anchor's
materials revealed their source of origin was Fujian Province in China, a
marshaling point for the 1281 invasion fleet.
One especially interesting find was the personal seal of a Mongol commander,
written in Chinese and Phags-pa, a specially-constructed Mongolian
language. It was found by local fishermen in1980, in the waters of Takashima in
a dive conducted by Tokyo engineering professor, Torao Monzai. Various weapons
were also recovered from the waters around the invasion site: crossbow bolts,
swords, and ceramic bombs filled with gunpowder. Poignantly, the underwater
examination of the battle site revealed human remains, the hard reminder of the
true nature of armed, human conflict. The remains include a human cranium and a
pelvis, possibly from the same individual. These remains and artifacts
support what is known about the nationalities of the invasion force. According
to Delgado: "Initial study of the artifacts has revealed…[that] one percent of
the finds can be attributed to a Mongolian origin; the rest are Chinese. The
Mongol invasion was Mongol only in name and in the allegiance of the invading
sailors and troops."
In Japan, the end of the war did not bring peace. True enough, Hojo Kamakura
Bakufu, or Tent Government was victorious, but due to the subsequent
money problems caused by the war, many Japanese turned upon them in resentment.
Ordinarily, the bushi would be rewarded with rights to land. But that
only applied if the enemy was in a foreign country. Since the war was fought at
home, no land was to be forthcoming, a turn of events that caused great anger
amongst the victorious Japanese. The result was that the Kamakura Shogunate
came to an end. In China, the Khan intended to invade a third time, but his
death put a halt to any such operation. By the late fourteenth century, in
the 1360s, it was the Yuan Dynasty's turn to die. And before long, the entire
Mongol polity that had done so much in such a short time would be unable to
sustain itself, and an extraordinary period of wars, international
developments, and relationships would slowly play itself out on the world
What lessons might one learn from the story of the Mongol? What can the
military historian, the warfighter, the student of political science and
international relations, learn from a study of the horse nomad battling his way
out of the steppe and ascending to the heights of empire in Asia and Eastern
Europe, by courage, cunning, and the sword?
In part, the story of the Mongol demonstrates the powerful relationship between
the great men of history and the people they govern. Chinggis Khan, arguably
the greatest leader to emerge from the steppes, through his unique political
gifts, realized his dreams of Empire, and bequeathed a new world to his
children and grandchildren.
Yet, there is no guarantee that the blood line of the great men of history will
produce equally great men. In the case of Chinggis and the Mongols, it was
within forty years of the coming of the Yuan Dynasty that the Chinggisid dreams
of Empire would fade into nightmares. Chinggis' most famous grandson, Khublai
Khan, the creator of the Mongol Navy, amongst other things, "balanced his rule
of China as a Chinese emperor against the image as a Mongolian khan." The
present authors view Khublai as a key figure in the Mongol story. He is clearly
a transitional figure, the gateway, as it were from the steppe and the warhorse
to the sedentary throne and the warship.
The rise of seapower in the Yuan under Mongke and Khublai demonstrates that a
Revolution in Military Affairs took place in China, largely because the Mongols
were possessed of those necessary traits and qualities that allowed them to adapt
to new conditions. Remaining true to their imperial dreams, the Mongols
realized that hundreds of years of fighting and living in the old, horse-borne
ways of the steppe would no longer suffice in the new land of the Yuan. Change
was essential, and the Mongols were successful in their transformation, as
evidenced by the naval R.M.A., that thoroughly transformed the Mongol military.
Political leaders, military officers, and military historians would do well to
consider how drastic the R.M.A. must have appeared to the Mongol, himself, in
the days of the Yuan. A more comprehensive military system emerged, and the
Mongols realized their dreams of empire in China.
If there was a weakness in the Yuan system, it was its failure to guarantee the
imperial succession. There remained the unanswered question, too, whether the
new ruler of the Yuan to follow Khublai was the Mongol Khaghan or the Yuan
When Khublai died in 1294, he would be followed by a total of nine Yuan
emperors spanning a period of less than forty years. In the period of time that
Khublai occupied the throne, he had brought a degree of order to the
administration of China. His successors could not make such a claim, nor could
they match Khublai's warrior skills. Yet if Khublai could bring order,
even peace to China and the Yuan experience, he also ran counter to the legacy
of Chinggis Khan.
According to Lorge, "Chinggis created the Mongol polity and found that it
needed a goal. That goal was world conquest, and both Mongke and Khublai had
perpetuated a nearly continual state of war to realize these old steppe dreams
of fire, iron, and blood." However, in the years following Khublai's
death, the inherent tension in the Yuan dynasty, a bureaucracy in the Chinese
imperial style and the feudal system of the steppe Mongols could not be
resolved. The last Yuan emperor, Toghon Temur, who took the throne at age of
thirteen, was not prepared for rule. Equally, the Mongol Army was not nearly as
successful as an occupying force as it was in the role of an invading army.
In the mid-fourteenth century numerous rebellions erupted in China. But there
was no other source of repressing the rebels other than the government that
could no longer do so. Reflecting on the eclipse of the Mongol polity,
Lorge writes what might well be the epitaph of the Yuan Dynasty:
Like the Song, Kitan, Jurchen, and Southern Song regimes, poor decisions by the
emperor or his court undermined the dynasty at a critical time and brought it
to ruin. The Yuan dynasty fell because, having centralized power in the
emperor's hands, his mistakes ramified throughout the government. Thus the Yuan
collapsed, not because it was Mongol ruled but because it was a Chinese
In China, the Yuan would be displaced by the Ming (1368-1644). Historically,
though, the record is clear: in its time and in its place upon the northern
steppe, the Mongol polity was power itself, and possessed of a unique cultural
dynamism, that was simultaneously cruel and cosmopolitan in the modern sense.
From the center of the Mongol soul emanated power, aggression, ingenuity, and
vision, fostered by a skill in war and battle that was, perhaps, unparalleled
in any age.
What else can we learn from the Mongol? We can learn the value of adaptability
and flexibility that led to a powerful revolution in military affairs, the
transformation of a land-based, cavalry force to a naval force of considerable
power. Politically and militarily, the genius of the Mongol as his capacity to
learn and borrow from the Khan's subjects and vassals, a fact that helped to
transform itself from a tribal experience to a great cosmopolitan Empire.
Few polities could dare to dream such dreams, and to accomplish what the
steppe-nomads of Asia did with such power and daring. Military flexibility
would allow the Mongols to expand their notions of themselves as warriors,
where their revered horses and bows would be joined by ships and sea soldiers.
Horse-borne or ship-borne, cavalry or infantry, the name, Mongol, is a
synonym for aggressive genius. As a nation and a people born to war and empire,
the Mongol polity cannot and will not soon be forgotten.
Show Footnotes and
. The use of the word polity may seem curious given the tribal origins of
the Mongols. Most political scientists would use the term to refer to the major
unit of national and political life, the nation-state. However, Kay
Lawson in her 2006 text, The Human Polity: A Comparative Introduction to
Political Science, offers the following: "Polity is a word with
several meanings. It can mean a state or any society that has an organized
government. More generally, it refers to a 'body politic'—that is, any group of
persons who have some form of political relationship with one another. "Given
this definition, a tribal unit can indeed be a polity. See, Kay Lawson, The
Human Polity: A Comparative Introduction to Political Science (New
York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), 4.
. John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York, NY: Vintage
Books-Random House, 1993), 189.
. Lawson, Ibid, 4.
. Kenneth Chase, Firearms: A Global History to 1700 (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 2003).
. Keegan's reference to true war recalls Clausewitz's writing in On War,
particularly in Chapter Two, Book Eight, "Absolute War and Real War." There,
Clausewitz writes: "No one starts a war…without first being clear in his mind
what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it. The
former is its political purpose; the latter its operational objective. This is
the governing principle which will set its course…We said in the opening
chapter that the natural aim of military operations is the enemy's
overthrow…Since both belligerents must hold that view it would follow that
military operations could not be suspended, that hostilities could not end
until one or other side were finally defeated." See Carl von Clausewitz, On War
(New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1984), 700.
Ironically, John Keegan is not a disciple of Clausewitz. For Keegan, war is not
a political creature, the product of nation-states in conflict, it is more
related to culture: "War is not the continuation of policy by other
means…Clausewitz's thought is incomplete. It implies the existence of states,
[and] of state interests…Yet war antedates the state, diplomacy and strategy by
many millennia. Warfare is almost as old as man himself and reaches into the
most secret places of the human heart, places where self dissolves rational
purpose[.]" See John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York: Vintage
Books, 1994), 3. Keegan describes the origins of war as proceeding from
something in the nature of a Hobbesian-Freudian heart of darkness Yet, Keegan
is an adherent of the cultural school, unlike Clausewitz. He writes: " In
short, it is at the cultural level that Clausewitz's answer to his question,
What is war?, is defective…Clausewitz was a man of his times, a child of the
Enlightenment, a contemporary of the German Romantics, an intellectual…Where he
failed was in seeing how deeply rooted he was in his own past, the past of the
professional officer class of a centralised European state…Had his mind been
furnished with just one extra intellectual dimension…he might have been able to
perceive that war embraces much more than politics: that it is always an
expression of culture, often a determinant of cultural forms, ins some
societies the culture itself." (Ibid, 11-12)
. Paul L. Williams, Al Q'aeda: Brotherhood of Terror (Alpha-A
Pearson Education Company, 2002), 44. Dr. Williams illustrates the brutal
ruthlessness of the invading Mongols under Hulegu Khan, a grandson of Chinggis
Khan in the 1258 destruction of the Abbasid Dynasty of Baghdad.
Williams writes that the Mongols would subjugate all of Persia and Iraq. There
"a reign of terror ensued the likes of which would not be seen again until
barbarism reemerged under Josef Stalin and Adolph Hitler in the twentieth
century." Williams gives a figure of sixteen million dead in the Middle East at
Hulegu's bloody hand. In Baghdad, alone, the entire population was put to the
sword, and Williams estimates that, it required some 40 days to accomplish this
startling instance of war-time criminality.
. Keegan, A History of Warfare, 189.
. The term, cultural dynamism, in relationship to military affairs,
was used by Victor Davis Hanson in his work, Carnage and Culture. There,
in his discussion of the so-called, Western Way of War, Hanson says: "[T]he
West has enjoyed martial advantages over its adversaries…not merely [as a
result of]…superior weaponry but on cultural dynamism itself." Our topic,
however, is not the West, but the East, and the unique power manifested by some
of its people over the centuries. Clearly, for Hanson, cultures and peoples can
draw upon unique patterns and modes of behavior that would seem to have emerged
over generations in various ways: learning, accident, genetics,
trial-and-error, geographical factors, natural cataclysm, and the like. These
patterns of learning constitute a complex system of energies, an inherent
dynamism within a people, that is, ways of apprehending reality and subsequent
ways of behaving that can have powerful effects and results (e.g. political,
social, or military). Thus, the inherent cultural dynamism of the
steppe-warrior, its experience of the steppe as an eco-system, the horse, the
bow, aggression, skill in hunting, scouting and intelligence work, enters into
the manifestation of a unique dynamism that contributed to the rise of the
Mongol polity. See Victor Davis Hanson, Carnage and Culture (New York,
NY: Anchor Books, 2002), 12.
. Keegan, Ibid., 205. "The Mongols…who preserved the love of the
horse they had inherited from their steppe ancestors—knew no way of fighting
but that which depended on the composite bow and a string of ponies." Keegan
writes that the Mongols also utilized the stirrup, something other
horse-peoples, like the Huns of Attila, did not. In addition, Mongol horses
were superior to the Huns' horses, since over time they had been bred to a
greater degree of development. The Mongols enjoyed greater pony herds than the
other horse peoples. Thus, for Keegan, the Mongols' "improved horsemastership"
allowed them to maintain "larger stocks[.]"
. Christian I. Archer et al., World History of Warfare (Lincoln,
Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 179. Archer et al, describe
the Mongols as "extraordinarily adaptable…in the warfare of south China."
Despite shortages of horse fodder, despite great heat, tropical diseases, and
the difficulties of forests and waterways of the south, the Mongols succeeded,
including the building of a viable navy with the help of their expert Chinese
and Korean subjects. The Mongols excelled, however, in the large-scale
maneuvers and cavalry battles of the open plains." Pragmatism and practicality
were both hallmarks of the Mongol military genius. Open to new developments,
the Mongols demonstrated a willingness to allow its conquered clients to teach
them the use of new techniques and skills of war-fighting. Hence, Keegan points
out that "the Mongols enlisted the help of foreigners who understood the
techniques of siege warfare." (Ibid, 205)
. Patrick H. Roth (Captain, US Navy, Ret), "Sailors as Infantry in the US
Navy, "Navy Department Library (October 2005),
http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/naval_infantry.htm (accessed 11
December 2007) Naval Infantry and Marine units are not one and the same.
Captain Roth makes the interesting observation that in the late nineteenth
century, discussion by naval reformers made it clear that there was no debate
about the "desirability or utility of use of sailors as infantry. Everyone in
the navy accepted the use of sailors as infantry[.]" (Ibid.,.2) Roth
states that "[s]ailors performed as infantry…[in] at least 66 landings and
operations…during the 19th century…Using sailors as infantry ashore was what
the navy primarily did during the Seminole Wars and the War with Mexico…The
Navy promulgated infantry tactical doctrine in 1891 and continuously refined
and updated it until 1965…Navy infantry tactics followed U.S. Army, not Marine,
tactical doctrine…reflecting a desire for inter-service interoperability. All
fleet units were required to maintain, and train, landing parties…It was not
until establishment of the fleet Marine Force in 1933 that the use of Navy
landing parties declined. Even then, organized infantry capabilities continued
to be required both afloat and ashore until the 1970s. During the Cold War
practical emphasis shifted to infantry defense of shore installations, although
fleet units still maintained infantry capabilities." (Ibid.,2). Part
of the confusion stems from the fact that while most people associate the
Marines with boarding parties in the age of wood and sail, the Marines were
generally small in number and did not always have sufficient personnel to carry
out operations against ships or ashore. Marines usually functioned as a ship's
guard, and in the nineteenth century, "marines were not permanently organized
into tactical maneuver organization such as battalions and regiments. They
rarely operated as an independent organized force." (Ibid, 3)
. David A. Graff, PhD., e-mail message to author, Steven Ippolito, 31
October 2006. Dr. David A. Graff, Norwich University, David A. Graff, PhD.,
e-mail message to author, Steven Ippolito, 31 October 2006. Dr. David A. Graff,
Norwich University and Kansas State University pointed out that in designating
troops to serve aboard the Mongol ships, principally as archers, it should be
borne in mind that "[u]se of the term [marine] may be misleading, as the
shipborne troops of the Mongols lacked the sense of institutional identity and
continuity of, say, the USMC." Accordingly, the employment of the term, marine,
in this paper, indicates more of a basic sea soldier, or, as the
Romans termed such warriors, milites classiari, soldiers of the fleet,
or more simply, the naval infantry.
. Keegan, Ibid, 208. It is somewhat ironic that the beginning of
the end for the Mongol empire began when "Khublai Khan turned to China,
[though] its disintegration was not apparent at the time to Islam or to the
Christian West; both correctly identified the Mongols as a power still greatly
to be reckoned with[.]"
. Williamson Murray and MacGregor Knox, "Thinking about Revolutions in
Warfare," in The Dynamics of Military Revolutions, edited by
Williamson Murray and MacGregor Knox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
. Ibid., 6.
. Ibid., 7.
. David C. Wright, "The Northern Frontier." In Chapter Two, A Military
History of China, ed. David A. Graff and Robin Higham (Cambridge, MA:
Westview Press, 2002), 19.
. Students of non-linear dynamics and such disciplines as Complexity Theory
will recognize in the Mongol polity a reality not dissimilar to the concept of
the complex adaptive system. Systems of this kind are aggregates of
agents (e.g. parts or members), whose nature can be defined as dynamic,
as well as non-linear and unpredictable. A critical distinction between linear
and non-linear systems can be found in the fact that linear systems tend to
seek an end-state. Non-linear systems, theoretically, cannot reach an
end-state; there can only be perpetual change and transformation. Complex
systems are not closed systems. Neither are they isolated. An outside agent can
influence the interactions of the system. Thus, the Mongols' influence in China
represents an outside agent's ability to influence various interactions within
the system (e.g. China) Within the Mongol "system," discrete agents, the horse,
the compound bow, interacted "to form an emergent quality greater than its
parts. Collectively they produced a behavior not found in any one agent. A
linear system will demonstrate proportionality. In a child's piggy
bank, the insertion of twenty-five cents will yield, upon opening, twenty-five
cents, no more, no less. Linear systems also display additivity. Here,
the sum of the system's parts will equal the whole. Non-linear systems
demonstrate sensitivity to initial conditions, as well as the concept of
self-organized criticality. Sensitivity to initial conditions means that small
inputs can yield large unpredictable consequences. Self-organized criticality
represents the movement of a system from one condition or state to another
condition of transient stability. This is called the critical threshold. See
Stephen G. Nitzschke, "Vietnam: A Complex Adaptive Perspective," United States
Marine Corps, 1997;
http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library1997/Nitzschke.htm (accessed 1
. "The Mongols in World History: The Mongols in China, 2.
. Morris Rossabi, "Did Marco Polo Really Go to China?"
http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/mongols/pop/polo/mp_essay.htm (Accessed 26
October 2006), 1. Controversy surrounds the truth or falsity of Marco Polo's
alleged experiences with the Yuan Dynasty. One of the chief critics of Polo's
supposed journey to the East is Frances Wood, PhD. Her criticisms have been
responded to by Prof. Morris Rossabi of Columbia University. Wood criticizes
Polo's failure to reference such Chinese staples as tea-drinking, the use of
chopsticks, and Chinese characters. Wood is also incredulous that someone of
Kublai Khan's stature would utilize the services of an adolescent like Polo.
Rossabi counters that Polo was closer to twenty-one years of age. However, tea
wasn't the beverage of choice amongst the Chinese, at this time, nor were
chopsticks as common as she supposes. Wood seems unaware that Polo didn't claim
to deal with the Chinese extensively; it was the Mongol court with which he had
most of his contact. Wood criticizes Polo further for his failure to mention
the Great Wall of China. However the wall was mostly constructed in the
sixteenth century, about three hundred years after Polo's journey. Rossabi
criticizes Wood for using only secondary sources. There are abundant Persian
and Chinese sources that add credibility to Polo's accounts. Moreover, others
have criticized Woods, such as Igor de Rachewillitz, for "inadequate linguistic
competence and research methodology." Rossabi acknowledges that Marco Polo, in
his account to Rustichello da Pisa, could and did bend the facts, but much of
his account stands up, according to Rossabi, when viewed together with the
primary sources in Persia and China at that time.
. Marco Polo and Rustichello da Pisa, Il Milione (The Travels of
Marco Polo), http://www.fordham.edu/halsal/source/mpolo44-46.html. Accessed 22
. Chase, Firearms: A Global History to 1700 (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 2003).
. Ibid, 11.
. Ibid, 9-10.
. Ibid, 11.
. Ibid, 11.
. Ibid, 10.
. Thomas Czerwinski, Coping with the Bounds (Washington, D.C.:
Institute for National Strategic Studies, 1998), 13. Students of non-linear
dynamics, especially, Complexity Theory, the biologically-based theory of
complex adaptive systems, will note the relevance of this theory to the present
discussion. According to Thomas Czerwinski, "Complex adaptive systems, or cas,
contain seven basic attributes. These consist of four properties (aggregation,
non-linearity, flows, and diversity), and three mechanisms (tagging, internal
models, and building blocks…The first property of cas is aggregation
which 'concerns the emergence of complex large-scale behaviors from the
aggregate interactions of less complex agents…" Within a system, agents or
elements, or individual members, can unify into greater realities than were
possible before. Another name for this is emergent behavior. In a
system, emergent behavior occurs when the system's parts come together to form
greater realities within the system. Within a non-linear system, "the sum of
the parts of cas is not equal to the whole." (Ibid, 13)
. Chase, 11.
. Chase, 10.
. Rossabi, 1.
. I am indebted to Lt. Ben Armstrong, U.S. Navy, a pilot and military
historian for pointing out that the Welsh archers or the English longbowmen did
not master the technique of shooting the bow while mounted. In the opinion of
the present author, the horse in the British Isles did not have the same
significance as it did on the steppes of Asia.
. Chase, Ibid, 1.
. Ibid, 1-2.
. Ibid, 2.
. Ibid, 3.
. Amir Butler, "The Mongol Invasion of Iraq: Lessons Never Learned." (12
May 2004), http://www.antiwar.com/orig/butler.php?articleid=2533 (Accessed 26
October 2006), 3. In 1258, Hulegu's conquest of Baghdad resulted in an
appalling slaughter of the population. The hapless Caliph was also captured,
but according to Butler, the Mongols were superstitious about the spilling the
blood of kings. At the urging of a Muslim traitor, Al-'Aqami, the Mongols
rolled the Caliph and his family in a rug and the prisoners were executing,
reportedly by being kicked to death.
. Rossabi, Ibid., 3
. Christian I Archer et al., World History of Warfare (Lincoln,
NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 177.
. Bevin Alexander, How Great Generals Win (New York: W.W. Norton
& Company, 2002).
. Louis IX of France, a Crusader, is typical of the European leader fixated
upon the dangers of the Muslim East to the exclusion of all else. In the 1250s,
he sought to make an alliance with the Mongols in order to visit defeat upon
Islam. The Mongols showed little interest in the offer, though it would seem
clear that Louis was not nearly as informed about the Mongols as the Mongols
were of Europe. Pope Innocent IV also had contact with the Mongols in the
1240s, when he sent a letter with an envoy to Guyug, the successor to Ogodei
Khan. The Pontiff's letter explained the teaching of Christianity in synopsis
form. He hoped to convert the Mongols, telling Guyug that he, Innocent, was the
designated representative of God on earth, and the only man empowered to speak
for the Almighty. Guyug, however, was not impressed. In Mongol theology, it was
the Mongols who were favored by God, and it was the Mongols who were
tasked with God's command of controlling the world from rising sun to the
setting sun. Guyug, in turn, demanded that the Pope submit to him and the will
of God expressed through the Mongol polity. There were no further contacts
between the Mongols and the Vatican, thereafter. Whatever God's will in the
matter, it was clearly His Will that Guyug's reign be a short one, lasting from
1246 to 1247. See "Genghis Khan and the Mongols,"
http://www.fsmitha.com/h3/h11.mon.htm (Accessed 26 October 2006), 9-10.
. Alexander, How Great Generals Win, 86.
. Chase, Ibid., 10.
. Wright, "The Northern Frontier," 71.
. Marco Polo and Rustichello da Pisa, Ibid., 1.
. Peter Lorge, War, Politics and Society in Early Modern China, 900-1795
(New York, NY: Routledtge, 2005).
. Robert Guisepi, The Last Great Nomadic Challenges—From Chinggis Khan to
Timur (1992); http://history-world.org/mongol_empire.htm (Accessed 26
October 2006), 4. Mongol fighting units were organized in units called tumens.
A tumen consisted of 10,000 cavalrymen. The unit was further divided
into groupings of 1,000, 100, and 10 warriors. Local commanders were
responsible for training and discipline of the tumens and their
. Lorge, Ibid, 67.
. Wright, "The Northern Frontier," 57.
. Ibid, 62.
. Ibid., 73.
. Butler, Ibid, 1-3. The story of Hulegu's arrival at the gates of
Baghdad is one of imperial expansion aided by treachery and treason. Ibn
al-'Alqami was a minister in the court of the Caliph al-Musta'sim, leader of
the Abbasid Dynasty in present day Iraq. Because he coveted the Caliph's
throne, and could not seize it himself, he decided to enlist the aid of the
Mongols. He wrote letters to Hulegu Khan, offering to help the Khan if he would
invade Baghdad. Al-Alqami provided critical intelligence to Hulegu, pointing
out that the Mongols could extend their empire into the heart of the Muslim
Caliphate. Hulegu could not resist the offer. Following Mongol custom, he sent
a written challenge to the Caliph, that was typical: "'When I lead my army
against Baghdad in anger, whether you hide in heaven or in earth, I will bring
you down from the spinning spheres; I will toss you in the air like a lion. I
will leave no one alive in your realm; I will burn your city, your land, your
self. If you wish to spare yourself and your venerable family, give heed to my
advice with the ear of intelligence. If you do not, you will see what God has
willed.'" The Caliph rebuffed the Mongols and was attacked. However al-Alamo's
treachery surfaced again. Before the attack, he used his leverage with the
Caliph to reduce the size of the Muslim military, insuring that the Mongols'
task would be that much easier. Overwhelming the Caliph's forces, the frightful
massacre of Baghdad ensued. The Muslim scholar, Ibn Kathir, writing in his
great work, Bidaaya wa Nihaya, writes that the massacre was so intense
that the blood ran through the streets like rainwater.
. Wright, Ibid, 72.
. Huang K'uan-Chung, "Mountain fortress Defence: The Experience of the
Southern Song and Korea in Resisting the Mongol Invasions," in Warfare in
Chinese History, ed. Hans Van de En, (Boston, MA: Brill, 2000), 223.
. Ibid, 223.
. Wright, "The Northern Frontier, 72.
. Jeremy Black, "Redressing Eurocentrism," from Chapter Three, pp. 66-103,
in Rethinking Military History (London: Routledge, 2004), 69.
. Ibid., 69-70.
. Michael Roberts, "The Military Revolution, 1560-1660," in The Military
Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern
Europe, ed. Clifford J. Rogers (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995),
. Ibid., 13.
. Ibid., 13.
. Michael Howard, "The Use and Abuse of Military History," The RUSI
Journal, Vol.107, No.1, February 1962, (London: The Royal United
Services Institute for Defence Studies), 5.
. Ibid., 7.
. Ibid., 7.
. Jeremy Black, "European Warfare and Its Global Context," Chapter 1, in
European Warfare, 1660-1815 (New Haven: CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 1-37.
. Ibid., 4.
. Ibid., 4.
. Ibid., 5.
. Ibid., 7.
. Clifford J. Rogers, "The Military Revolution of the Hundred Years War," The
Journal of Military History 57 (April 1993): 241-78.
. Ibid., 244.
. Ibid., 247.
. Ibid., 247.
. Ibid., 248.
. Black, "Redressing Eurocentrism," 72.
. Marco Polo, "Concerning the Person of the Great Kaan." Chapter IX, The
Book of Ser Marco Polo: The Venetian Concerning Kingdoms and Marvels of the
East (originally published, 1299) Trans. and Ed. by Colonel Sir Henry
Yule (London: John Murray, 1903); http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/mongols
(Accessed 26 October 2006). Marco Polo described the physical appearance of the
great Khublai as follows: "[T]he personal appearance of the Great Kaan…is of a
good stature, neither tall nor short, but of a middle height. He has a becoming
amount of flesh, and is very shapely in all his limbs. His complexion is white
and red…the nose well formed and well set on. He has four wives…and the eldest
of his sons by those four wives ought to be emperor."
. Wright, Ibid, 72-73.
. Peter Lorge, "Water Forces and Naval Operations," eds. David A. Graff and
Robin Higham (Cambridge, MA: Westview Press, 2002), 82.
. "Naval Might in the Song Dynasty," From Watery Kingdom, http://www.vancouvermaritimemuseum.com/watery/naval_might.htm
(Accessed 26 October 2006), 1.
. "Archaeology of a Quanzhou Ship," From Watery Kingdom, http://www.vancouvermaritmemuseum.com/watery/quanzhou_ship.htm
(Accessed 26 October 2006), 1.
. Ibid, 1.
. Ibid, 1.
. Lt. Ben Armstrong, U.S. Navy, e-mail message to the authors, 10 November
. "Warships," From Military Technology, http://depts.washington.edu/chinaciv/miltech/twarship.htm
(Accessed 26 October 2006), 1-5.
. Lorge, "Water Forces and Naval Operations," 81.
. The word, Yuan, means Number One. The Mongols viewed
their Dynasty in China as the first of their imperial dynasties. On 18 January
1272, Khublai promulgated an edict that officially designated the Mongol
dynasty the Yuan. See, Lorge, War and Politics, 96, endnote 1.
. Lorge, War, Politics and Society in Early Modern China, 89.
. Ibid, 89.
. Lorge, "Water Forces and Naval Operations," 89.
. Lorge, War and Politics, 89.
. Lorge, Ibid, 89.
. Lorge, "Water Forces and Naval Operations," 90.
. Debbie Royal, "The Mongol Invasion of Japan: The 'Divine Wind' Case." Ice
Case Studies, No. 181. http://www.american.edu/ted/ice/divine-wind.htm
(Accessed 29 October 2007), 2.
. Ibid, 5.
. Ibid, 5.
. Lee Wha Rhang, The Koryo-Mongol Allied Invasion of Japan—The Myth of
Kamikaze, http://ww.kimsoft.com/2004/mongol-koryo-japan.htm (Accessed
26 October 2007), 1-2/
. Keegan, Ibid, 376.
. Rhang, Ibid, 2-3.
. Keegan, Ibid, 40-41.
. Ibid, 42.
. Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, trans. Thomas Cleary
(Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc., 1993).
. Mushashi, Ibid, xiv.
. Ibid, xiv.
. Ibid., xiv.
. Ibid., xiv.
. Rhang, Ibid, 2.
. Royal, 2.
. Ibid, 8.
. Ibid, 8. In the 1281 invasion, the Mongolian force was larger
than the first. It also consisted of recently conquered Korean and Chinese
mercenaries. The force, despite its numbers, was possessed of lower morale.
Aware that Khublai held them in contempt, the Koreans and Chinese, in turn,
felt no great loyalty to him. Aware that they were being sent to Japan to avoid
casualties amongst the Khan's native Mongol troops, it is possible that in
combat they didn't fight to their best ability. The Japanese, on the other
hand, were better prepared, filled with nationalistic pride, and they were
fighting on their own soil for their very lives and homes.
. James P. Delgado, "Relics of the Kamikaze," Archaeology 56, no.
1 (January/February 2003). http://www.archaeology.org/0301/etc/kamikaze.html
(Accessed 26 October 2006), 1-5.
. Ibid, 4.
. Ibid, 5.
. Lee Wha Rhang, Ibid, 4.
. Lorge, War, Politics and Society, 90.
. Ibid, 91.
. Ibid, 91.
. Ibid, 94.
. Ibid, 95.
Copyright © 2007 Steven C. Ippolito and John J. Trombetta
Written by John J. Trombetta and Steven C. Ippolito. If you have questions or
comments on this article, please contact
John Trombetta at:
Steven Ippolito at:
About the authors:
Dr. John J. Trombetta is an Administrator and Speech-Language Pathologist at an
educational institution in Upstate New York. He has served on the teaching
faculties of the State University of New York College at Cortland and Ithaca
College. Dr. Trombetta holds a Ph.D. in Communication from SUNY Buffalo, MA
from Hunter College and a BA from Lehman College in New York City. In addition,
he possesses a Certificate of Advanced Studies in School Supervision and
Administration. Dr. Trombetta is a Commander in the U.S. Navy currently serving
as a Public Affairs Officer for Navy Region Midwest - Reserve Component
Command. In 2005, Commander Trombetta was ordered to Active Duty and served
with the 7th U.S. Navy Fleet in the Pacific. He has been assigned to multiple
commands during his career including: the U.S. European Command in Germany,
NATO Headquarters in Portugal and Partnership for Peace in Ukraine. He sends
his best wishes to all members of the U.S. Armed Services and U.S. Veterans.
Steven Christopher Ippolito is a law enforcement officer for the State of New
York for nearly twenty years and an adjunct professor of Criminal Justice and
Political Science at Monroe College, New York City. He has two Masters Degrees,
one in Education; the other, recently obtained from Norwich University, VT, in
the very first Military History class of 2007 at that venerable institution;
Ph.D.to follow, probably at Fordham University. He also created The James
Monroe Center for History and Strategic Studies, a think tank to discuss
history, warfighting, transnational crime, and political science through
research and study. The father of a United States Marine, Brian Christopher, a
veteran of Iraq from the beginning in 2003 to the November 2004 offensive at
Fallujah, now becoming a police officer for New York City, he is also the son
of Joseph Ippolito, deceased, a police officer for New York City's Mounted
Police, and a veteran of the U.S. Army-Air Force's Eighth Air Force in the
period, 1944-45, a tail gunner on a B-24 Liberator called the Parisian Knights.
His wife, Rose, worked at the Tower II, 102nd Floor of the World Trade Center
until the beginning of September, 2001, when she left work there; most of her
friends didn't survive! The love of history is probably due to Steve's mother,
Mary, one of the greatest history buffs ever. As a child, she encouraged his
love of Civil War history, and gave him Dee Brown's, Bury My Heart on Wounded
Knee, and a biography of U.S. Grant, which he has cherished ever since. Steve
believes that Military History iis an excellent educational tool for our
professional military, and since we are war, it is through a historical study
of politics and war that one can be of help to our warfighters. A black belt in
Jiu Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do, Steve, with a B.M. in music, plays the classical
guitar,composes whenever possible,and plays with the pop music group,
Playground. He sends best wishes to all first responders and military
personnel, at home and abroad, whether they served, yesterday in Afghanistan,
or a few years earlier at Bunker Hill. May God bless America!
Published online: 12/24/2007.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.