- The mongol path
from central asia to minor asia -
Although people have inhabited Mongolia since the Stone Age,
Mongolia only became politically important after iron weapons
entered the area in the 3rd century BCE. In general, Mongolia at
this point had a similar history to the rest of the nomadic steppe
that lies between Siberia Northern Russia to the North, China, and,
the Middle East and Central Asia to the South. These steppes usually
were inhabited by bands of nomads, sometimes united in
confederations of varying sizes. These nomads usually herded
animals, traded, raided more agricultural peoples and each other.
However, every now and then, there would form giant nomadic
confederations that threatened China, and sometimes the Middle East,
Europe and beyond, but these confederations, while vast, and often
destructive, rarely lasted, though they did redistribute peoples and
disrupt the politics of the regions they attacked. The people in the
Mongolia region usually focused their attention on nearby, wealthy
China, and their occasional confederations greatly influence Chinese
history. China's response is a major theme in Mongolian history.
The establishment of the Xiongnu state (Хүн улс) in Mongolia in the
3rd century BCE landmarks the beginning of the statehood on the
territory of Mongolia. The founder of the Xiongnu kingdom was Toumen.
He was succeeded by his son Modu Shanyu whose unified kingdom
stretched from lake Baikal in the north to the Great Wall of China
in the south and from the Tian Shan mountains in the west to the
Greater Khingan ranges in the east. Han Dynasty of China invaded the
territory of the Xiongnu in 200 BCE attempting to subjugate them.
However the Xiongnu united their forces and repelled the invaders
and furthermore advanced into China itself and besieged its capital
Pingyang. The Han emperor surrendered to the Xiongnu in 198 BCE and
recognised all the territories to the north from the Great Wall
should belong to the Xiongnu, while the territory to the south of
the Great Wall should belong to the Han. In addition, China was
obliged to pay annual tribute to the Xiongnu.
The Xiongnu state weakened as it was divided into the southern and
northern Xiongnu in 48 CE. The Xianbei that were under the Xiongnu
rebelled in 93 ending the Xiongnu domination in Mongolia. Zhizhi
Chanyu, the leader of the northern Xiongnu moved to the west with
his people triggering the Great Migration. Their
descendants—together with the members of other tribes—appeared in
Europe in the 5th century as the Huns of Attila. By then, of course,
these people were considerably more mixed ethnically.
The Xianbei (Сүмбэ улс буюу Сяньби) gained strength beginning from
the 1st century CE and were consolidated into a state under
Tanshihuai in 147. He expelled the Xiongnu from Jungaria and pushed
the Dinglin to the norh of the Sayans thus securing domination of
the Mongolic elements in nowadays Khalha and Chaharia. The
Xianbei successfully repelled an invasion of the Han Dynasty in 167
and conquered areas of northern China in 180. The ruler of the
Xianbei state was elected by a congress of the nobility. The Xianbei
used woodcut tallies called Kemu as a form of non-verbal
communication. Besides extensive livestock husbandry, the Xianbei
were also engaged at a limited scale in cropping and handicrafts.
The Xianbei fractioned in the 3rd century.
Xianbei belt buckle, 3rd-4th centuries
Xianbei belt buckle, 3rd-4th centuries
A faction of the Xianbei--Toba established an empire Toba Wei beyond
Mongolia proper--in northern China in 386. Toba Wei existed until
581. There are various hypotheses about the language and ethnic
links of the Xianbei. The first and most widely accepted version
suggests that the Xianbei were a Mongolic ethnic group and their
branches are the ancestors of many Mongolic peoples such as the
Joujan, Kidan and Menggu Xibei, who are suggested to be the
proto-Mongols. The second hypotheses proposes that the Xianbei were
a Tungusic ethnic group. The third group of historians propose the
Xianbei being a common ancestor of both Mongolic and Tungusic
groups. It is also unclear, whether the Mongolic and Tungusic groups
of languages had been distinctively diverged by the time of the
A branch of the Xianbei, the Joujan (Нирун улс буюу Жужань) were
consolidated under Mugulyu. Shelun assumed the title of Kagan in 402
landmarking the establishment of the state of the Joujan Kaganate.
The Toba waged long wars against the Joujan Kaganate. The Turks of
Altai that were subjects of the Joujan revolted in 552 establishing
the Turkic Kaganate. The Joujan Kaganate was finally defeated by the
Turks in 555. Part of the Joujan exodused from the present territory
of Mongolia. A number of histroians maintain that they established
the Avarian Kaganate between the river Danube and the Carpathian
Mountains. The Joujans that stayed in Mongolia became the
ancestors of the Tatar tribes.
The Altain Turks (Алтайн түрэг, Орхон Түрэг, Хөх Түрэг, Orkhon
Turks, Göktürks, Kök-Türks or Blue Turks, ), whose language belonged
to the Oguz subgroup of the Turkic languages, were subjects to the
Nirun and served as blacksmiths for them. Therefore, the revolt of
the Turks of 552 is often called the "Blacksmiths rebellion". The
uprising was headed by Buman who became the founder of the Turkic
Kaganate (Түрэгийн хаант улс). Chinese dynasties Qi and Zhou
surrendered in 570 and began paying tribute to the Göktürks.
However, the Turkic Kaganate partitioned in 590 into an Eastern and
Western Turkic Kaganates. The Sui Dynasty of China invaded the
Turkic Kaganate in 615, but Shibi kagan repulsed the invasion and
captured the Sui Emperor. The internal struggle between the Turkic
nobles lead to their defeat by the Tang Dynasty of China in 630. The
Göktürks continuously struggled against the subjugation by the Tang
Dynasty. An uprising of 680 under the leadership of Kutuluk and
Tonyukuk led to restoration of the Turkic Kaganate. In the early
700's, an invading army of 450 thousand soldiers headed by Tang
Dynasty's Empress Wu Zetian was defeated and chased back by Mojo
The Uighurs, who were subjects to the Göktürks, revolted in 745 and
founded the Uighur Kaganate (Уйгурын хаант улс) which replaced the
Eastern Turkic Kaganate. The Uighur kagan Bayanchur established city
Balyklyk (Kara Balagasun, Хар балгас)on the river Orkhon in 751.
Tang Empire invited the Uigurs to subdue a peasant rebellion in 755.
Successful campaigns of the Uigur Kaganate led to a peace with the
Tang Dynasty of China which paid tribute in silk and grain for 12
years since 766 . Though a faction of the Uighurs were Buddhists,
the Manichaean religion became the official religion of the Kaganate
in the 8th century. Nevertheless, the majority of the Uighurs
remained shamanists. The culture and economy of the Uighur Kaganate
were more advanced than those of its predecessors. The Uighurs used
a 12-month calendar and calculated the dates of solar and lunar
eclipses. The Uighurs developed their own writing system based on
the Sogdian script. The Uighur Kaganate fell under an invasion of
the Yeniseyan Kyrgyz in 840.
The Kidans (Хятан улс, Hitan, Kitan) were an ethnic group, whose
language belonged to the Mongolic group. Kagan Ambagyan founded the
Kidan state in 911. The Kidan state covered a significant portion of
what is now Mongolia including the basins of the rivers Kerulen,
Tuul and Orkhon. As it grew strong and occupied parts of China, it
became to be called the Liao Dynasty. The territory of the Kidan
Empire consisted of two parts: one populated by pastoral herders in
the north and the other populated by croppers in the south. The two
parts of the empire actively traded with each other. Lubugu, a
grandson of Ambagyan, together with a scholar Tulyubu developed a
Grand Alphabet based on the Chinese hieroglyphics in 920. Later,
Tela, a son of Ambagyan, developed a Minor Alphabet based on the
Uyghur script. A printing technology developed in the Kidan Empire.
The Kidan language was widely studied abroad. The Jurjens, who were
subjects to the Kidans rebelled in 1113 and established in 1125 the
Jin Dynasty which replaced the Liao Dynasty. A faction of the Kidans
moved to the west escaping subjugation by the Jurjens. Those Kidans
established the Kara-Kitai Kaganate in Eastern Turkestan.
The Mongol Empire and the states that emerged from played a major
role in the history of the 13th and 14th centuries. Genghis Khan and
his immediate successors conquered nearly all of Asia and European
Russia and sent armies as far as central Europe and Southeast Asia.
In Mongolia itself, the legacy of Genghis Khan was a superior law
code, a written language, and a historical pride. In addition, the
foreign contact created by the Mongolian Empire allowed for the
spread of Mongolian genes, and the introduction of Buddhism into
Mongolia. When the Mongolian empire broke up, Mongolia became part
of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), which included a unified China. The
Ming Dynasty replaced it in 1368 and invaded Mongolia, leading to a
Mongolian defeat, but not a Chinese conquest.
By the early 15th century, Mongolia was split between the Oirad in
the Altay Mountains region and the eastern group that later came to
be known as the Khalkha in the area north of the Gobi. In the
mid-15th century, the Oirad dominated and briefly united Mongolia
and threatened China, at one point taking a Chinese emperor captive.
Eventually in the 16th century, under Dayan Khan, it ruled over a
vast section of North-Central Asia from the Ural Mountains to Lake
Baykal, conquering even the Khalkas. But after his death, Mongolia
split into waring factions again, though most of Mongolia was
unified by Altan Khan, who attacked China, though he gave up in
1571, signing a peace treaty with the Ming Dynasty that ended 3
centuries of war. Instead he concentrated on his southwest and
raided Tibet, eventually becoming a convert to Tibetan Buddhism and
naming the first Dalai Lama.