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Mongol Empire, Silk Road and Globalization

Mongol Empire, Silk Road and Globalization

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The purpose of this paper is to discuss how the establishment of a strong Mongol empire throughout Asia gave rise to safer routes of communication between distant communities which aided the propagation of ideas and goods trough the Silk Road.
The purpose of this paper is to discuss how the establishment of a strong Mongol empire throughout Asia gave rise to safer routes of communication between distant communities which aided the propagation of ideas and goods trough the Silk Road.

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Published by: chivasss on Jan 08, 2009
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06/16/2009

J G Suarez November 13, 2007 Mongol Empire, Silk Road and Globalization In our days, globalization is described as: “The growth

in international exchange and interdependence. With growing flows of trade and capital investment there is the possibility of moving beyond an inter-national economy, (where 'the principle entities are national economies') to a 'stronger' version the globalized economy in which, 'distinct national economies are subsumed and rearticulated into the system by international processes and transactions' (Hirst and Peters 1996: 8 and 10) (3)

With this in mind, the purpose of this paper is to discuss how the establishment of a strong Mongol empire throughout Asia gave rise to safer routes of communication between distant communities which aided the propagation of ideas and goods trough the Silk Road. This Route connected the eastern with the western cultures and can be considered as a cornerstone to globalization. It also intends to compare satellites and the Internet that are our information highways nowadays with the information that was transported through the Silk Road and the post-houses of the Mongol Khans.

The Silk Road was a major trading way that connected major centers of civilization from the Mediterranean all the way to China. The Silk Road was for many centuries the main road of communication between China, Persia, India and the Mediterranean at it crossed China from about the second century BCE to the sixteen century BCE. (2)

A lot of goods traveled through the Silk Road, but the one that seemed to be the most prevalent and for many centuries was even considered as currency was silk. Silk was produced in China imported to central Asia, India, Persia and even to the Mediterranean. While its production process was a secret guarded by the state, its rapid spreading to the West as a high commodity caused the Chinese to begin bringing large quantities of silk for trading all throughout the Silk Road. Further down the line, the process of silk making began to spread eastwards and cities as far as Rome began producing their own silk, which, of course, never acquired the quality and craftsmanship of the notorious Chinese silk.

Apart from its main import, silk, China was also exporting blue and white porcelain to the West and in return, they would bring into their territory fine rugs form Turkey and Persia. The Chinese were also interested in importing silver and gold which as a result of the trade in the Silk Road, they began to use in making things. (2)

Probably the most important things that were brought into the Chinese territory, were domesticated animals as they brought with them enormous commercial and military advantages.

Firstly, the Bactrian camel, an enormous animal, able to withstand the strenuous conditions and weather of the Silk Road was brought to China from North Afghanistan. This animal was perfectly fit to withstand the cold of Northern Asia as well as desert

conditions such and lack of water and sandstorms. The Bactrian camel was the ideal animal to carry weighty loads through the Silk Road and could transport merchandise more efficiently that its only predecessor, the donkey.

Secondly, the heavenly horses, which were much taller and had higher stamina than the pony-like Chinese horses. These horses were native to central Asia and were also brought to China via the Silk Road. The new horses were much faster and efficient than the Chinese horses, which represented a huge military advancement as the heavenly horses could now pull chariots in combat. (2)

Beside the import and export of goods and domesticated animals through the Silk Road, new technologies and ideas were also traded on a regular basis. Artistic, architectural and even musical styles were traded through this road that was subjected to people from various ethnicities, languages and religions. Through the Silk Road, Buddhism spread from India to China and later into Japan.

The Silk Road started in Beijing and extended from China to central Asia, then another route took it south towards India, while the main road kept going west towards Damascus towards turkey and then to Rome. All of this connections gave us a clear idea of why we consider the Silk Road as a predecessor to globalization because even when it did not connected the entire planet, it connected the most populated areas of the world and promoted economic and intellectual interchanges.

Even though there was a lot of commercial activity in the Silk Road, the road was very dangerous. There were strenuous geographical and climatic conditions through the Silk Road: deserts, high peaks, sandstorms and droughts, to mention a few. Additionally caravans were continuously exposed to thieves and robbers. While the geography and weather of the road remained the same, in the twelfth and thirteen centuries BCE the safety conditions in the Silk Road where radically changed. The Mongol empire commanded by Genghis Khan had violently taken over territories that extended from China, to the Middle East and even some of Europe and it was in his best interest to promote the safety of his roads. These roads were essential to his empire so Genghis had to make sure that they were safe, not as much for the caravans, but for the many valuables goods that were transported through this legendary route.

The Mongol empire was comprised by a group of nomads that were able to conquest by the end of the thirteen-century, an area that included territories from China all the way to Western Europe. Commanded by Genghis Khan and his descendants they were able to crush established cities by force and then rebuild them to make them part of their empire. These crushing military victories were able to take place in many instances due to the openness of the Mongols to include people from various backgrounds into their armies as well as in high political positions.

Historians believe that Genghis Khan united the various Mongol and not Mongol tribes into one empire and that he was able to ally with both his own and foreign tribes.(2)

The Mongol Empire believed in meritocracy, therefore if a person was capable of showing his political or military attitudes to the Khan, he could achieve a privileged rank in the empire regardless of their religion or ethnic background. “ He ( Genghis) was wholly devoid of race prejudice; his ministers and commanders were recruited from twenty different nations, and there was a general pool of military and administrative experience which enriched and strengthen his empire” (1 pp.67)

The Mongols took over most of the Asian territory due to fact that they would not only steal the material goods from their conquered territories, but they would also steal their best engineers, artisans, blacksmiths or any other talented person that could provide their services to the Khan and his empire. By intellectually draining his conquered territories, the Khan was able to fortify his whole empire and continue its expansion. After taking over a city, the Khan would select a capable administrator who was usually a foreigner because the Mongols were excellent warriors but were not familiar with governing established cities.

The Mongol empire established cities throughout immense areas, and each one of those cities was there to bring more goods and power to the empire, therefore, it was imperative for the Khan to keep the roads safe. “Chingis (Genghis) was fully aware of the value of international trade but from the revenue it brought to the Mongol treasury and its role in binding together in a close

economic network the many regions won by the Mongol sword” (1 pp.68) Such protection of peaceful trade had a tremendous impact in the Silk Road as trade increased greatly as result of the protection that it now had by the Khan and his empire. This trade was so important that the Khan made it a priority to police the roads, establish post-houses, secure caravans with guards and kill the thieves that would approach the merchandise that would go through the Silk Road.

The importance of the Silk Road as a way for civilizations to grow and flourish can be compared to the advantages that where brought upon by satellites and the Internet in our days as these technologies made new highways of communication possible. Thanks to these advances people can now exchange knowledge and ideas even if they live in different ends of the planet. The fact that the Silk Road was a path that communicated Europe, Persia, India and China can be considered as one of the cornerstones to globalization because it linked many cities and cultures together and promoted the rise of new knowledge and goods in the world.

In today’s society we talk about the Internet as an information highway because it has the possibility of transmitting information to many distant people and places; this can be compared to what the Silk Road achieved in the territories that it crossed centuries ago. The Silk Road became a high trafficked route that contained information and goods from numerous cities with different beliefs and backgrounds. It would assist people in the process of taking a piece of their culture and transmitting it throughout the road.

Before the Silk Road, western notions of china were similar to the ones found in old stories and legends that talk about people from an ancient civilization in the Far East with a strongly organized territory and the capabilities to produce heavenly fabrics. By establishing the Silk Road that would stretch from the Byzantine region, across Persia and extend all the way to China, many cultures, ideologies and goods were available in foreign market places. These new products and ideas would suddenly be available in territories were they were previously unknown and they would slowly become normal commodities in the new territories.

“While unbroken Mongol supremacy lasted, it facilitated a mingling of cultures on a novel scale. The Christians of the West, already carried by the crusades to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, discovered a vast pagan empire at the other side of Asia: the wealth an urban populousness of China made a deep and permanent impression: the remote land of silk hitherto a vague legend, acquired precise reality; merchant sough a share of its markets; missionaries wished to shine the gospel light into its heathen darkness…”. (1 pp.188)

The transference of information through the Silk Road was even more remarkable when Genghis Khan and his successors had most of the Asian territory and Eastern Europe under their control and order the installation of post houses all through their controlled regions and especially in the Silk Road. In this post-houses messengers would be moving continuously, carrying with them information and informing in distant territories about

the activities within the empire and in enemy territories.

This system of post-houses was particularly important because the Khan needed to be continuously informed of the events taking place in his empire, which stretched across Immense distances. Because of these post-houses the khan was able to stay in contact with his commanders and administrators throughout the whole empire.

Genghis Khan was an excellent warrior chief and one of the greatest strengths of his armies was how well informed they were about the strength and position of their enemies; which was in a part due to the abilities of his informants and spies in the use of established post-houses, especially throughout the silk road.

In his book: The History of the Mongol Conquests, Saunders argues that Genghis Khan victories in battle have been critically studied for a centuries, even to the point of being employed as models for the Nazis in WWII. The main difference, according to Saunders Is that contrarily to Genghis Khan, “Hitler took insufficient pains to acquaint himself with the strength and resources of the enemy and provoked a worldwide confliction against him”.(1 pp.66)

The Silk Road was essential to communicate the highly populated cities of Asia and Europe and can be considered as the beginning of globalization. A time where people stopped thinking in terms of their own territories and began to thing about what they could be finding in other regions. These routes were precursors to modern mediums

created in order to communicate and “trade” with people that live in distant places.

I believe that the study of the Silk Road is of major importance in our days because we are living in societies that get more and more linked through technology. If there is something positive to be obtained from this worldwide information exchange, it should be for people and countries to work together in order to solve problems that concern mankind, not to be like Genghis Khan and use it as means to exploit weaker people more efficiently.

1. The History of the Mongol Conquests by J.J Saunders 2. Professor Brian Peterson’s Notes 3. Definition of globalization by Hirst and Peters 1996

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