Effects of the Mongols Empire on Europe

Ghenghis Khan in combat Miniature from Jami' al-tawarikh (Universal History), ca 1430
Ghenghis Khan. Heritage Images Getty Images

Beginning in 1211, Genghis Khan and his nomadic armies burst from Mongolia and swiftly conquered most of Eurasia. The Great Khan died in 1227, but his sons and grandsons continued the expansion of the Mongol Empire across Central Asia, China, the Middle East, and into Europe.

But starting in 1236, Genghis Khan's third son Ogodei decided to conquer as much of Europe as he could and by 1240 the Mongols had control of what is now Russia and Ukraine, seizing Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary over the next few years.

The Mongols also tried to capture Poland and Germany, but Ogodei's death in 1241 and the succession struggle that followed distracted them from this mission. In the end, the Mongols' Golden Horde ruled over a vast swathe of Eastern Europe, and rumors of their approach terrified Western Europe, but they went no further west than Hungary.

Negative Effects on Europe

The Mongol Empire's expansion into Europe had several negative effects, especially considering their violent and destructive habits of invasion. The Mongols wiped out the populations of some entire towns that resisted — as was their usual policy — depopulating some regions and confiscating the crops and livestock from others. This type of total warfare spread panic even among Europeans not directly affected by the Mongol onslaught and sent refugees fleeing westward.

Perhaps even more importantly, the Mongol conquest of Central Asia and Eastern Europe allowed a deadly disease to travel from its home range in western China and Mongolia to Europe along newly restored trade routes — likely the bubonic plague.

In the 1300s, that disease wiped out approximately one-third of Europe's population in what is known as the Black Death. The Bubonic plague was endemic to fleas that live on marmots in the steppes of eastern Central Asia, and the Mongol hordes inadvertently brought those fleas across the continent, unleashing the plague on Europe.

Positive Effects on Europe

Although the Mongol invasion of Europe sparked terror and disease, it also had some positive impacts. The foremost was what historians call the "Pax Mongolica" — a century of peace among neighboring peoples who were all under Mongol rule. This peace allowed for the reopening of the Silk Road trading routes between China and Europe, increasing cultural exchange and wealth all along the trade paths.

The Pax Mongolica also allowed for travel along the trade routes for monks and missionaries, traders, and explorers. One famous example is the Venetian trader and explorer Marco Polo, who traveled to the court of Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan at Xanadu in China.

Another positive effect of the Golden Horde's occupation of Eastern Europe was the unification of Russia. Prior to the period of Mongol rule, the Russian people were organized into a series of small self-governing city-states, the most important being Kiev.

In order to throw off the Mongol yoke, the Russian-speaking peoples of the region had to unite. In 1480, the Russians — led by the Grand Duchy of Moscow (Muscovy) — managed to defeat and expel the Mongols. Although Russia has been invaded several times by the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte and the German Nazis, it has never again been conquered.

One Additional Effect

One final contribution that the Mongols made to Europe is difficult to categorize as good or bad. The Mongols introduced two deadly Chinese inventions — guns and gunpowder — to the West.

The new weaponry sparked a revolution in European fighting tactics and the many warring states of Europe all strove over the following centuries to improve their firearms technology. It was a constant, multi-sided arms race, which heralded the end of knightly combat and the beginning of modern standing armies.

In the centuries to come, European states would muster their new and improved guns first for piracy, to seize control over parts of the ocean-going silk and spices trade, and then eventually to impose European colonial rule over much of the world.

Ironically, the Russians used their superior firepower in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to conquer many of the lands that had been part of the Mongol Empire — including Outer Mongolia, where Genghis Khan was born.

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Szczepanski, Kallie. "Effects of the Mongols Empire on Europe." ThoughtCo, Jul. 16, 2017, thoughtco.com/mongols-effect-on-europe-195621. Szczepanski, Kallie. (2017, July 16). Effects of the Mongols Empire on Europe. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/mongols-effect-on-europe-195621 Szczepanski, Kallie. "Effects of the Mongols Empire on Europe." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/mongols-effect-on-europe-195621 (accessed January 22, 2018).