Genghis Khan's military strategy was incomparibly superior to any military in 12th and 13th century.
Genghis organized the Mongol soldiers into groups based around the number ten (i.e. 10 (arban), 100 (zuun), 1000(myangan), 10,000(tumen)), and each group of soldiers had a specific leader whom would report higher up in his rank to the rank of tumen. This command structure proved to be highly flexible and allowed the Mongol army to attack en masse, divide into somewhat smaller groups to encircle and lead enemies into and ambush, or divide into small groups of 10 to mop up a fleeing and broken army. The Mongol army also was highly flexible due to the durability of its soldiers. Each Mongol soldier would have between 2 and 4 horses allowing them to gallop for days without stopping or tiring. The Mongol soldier also could live for days off of only his horse's blood and eating dried yak meat if times were hard.
When integrating new soldiers into the army, Genghis Khan divided all the soldiers under a different leader to break up the social and tribal associations that might exist among the newly recruits. In all campaigns, the soldiers took their families along with them for the battle. Only through merit that regular soldiers were capable of being promoted to a higher rank and each leader of the units were responsible for preparedness of their soldiers at any given time, which otherwise he would be replaced.
Mongol soldiers were extremely light in cavalry that allowed them to practice tactics and falls retreats that would be highly practical for very mobile army. Mongol leader during battle might be anywhere in the formation and he used flags and horns to order his strategies on time. To the Mongols, victory was what mattered most, and they couldn't afford to lose battle nor men because they were extremely poor in logistics compared to their opponents (at least twice as low in almost all battles) and being far away from their land. The main weapon of the Mongol soldiers was the double-recursive bow, which had longer shooting distance than most bows during 12th and 13th century and the Mongol sword that was curved, light and extremely efficient for slashing in close distance than the European long and heavy swords. To make the military work under Genghis' law, Mongol soldiers had very clear rules of engagement as stated in Genghis Khan's Yasa. For example if a two or more soldiers further break away from their group without their leader's approval, they would be put to death. Genghis Khan added the one necessary ingredient, which was strict discipline to his armies that was similar to many armies of the steppes during the time that were based upon the light cavalry horse-archer type of warfare that was advantagous in open-field battles like the armies of Jurchens and previously Huns. In other words, Genghis Khan perfected the horse-archer type of warfare that existed for centuries.
Genghis Khan employed psychological warfare successfully in his battles, especially in terms of spreading terror and fear to other towns and cities. For example if he found that there was an opposition, Genghis Khan would offer an opportunity to surrender and pay tribute to the Mongols. If the offer was refused, he would invade the cities and towns and let few civilians flee to spread word of their loss to other cities. When word got out that Genghis Khan's force destroyed any resistance, it became much harder for other leaders to persuade their people to rise up against Genghis. Genghis Khan's stance against opponents was to surrender or die. When surrendered, Genghis Khan left the town unharmed and guaranteed them protection, and if they resisted, Genghis Khan slaughtered with ease as an example for others. It is argued that he saved many lives because of psychological warfare.
Genghis Khan made extensive use of technologies that he united from other cultures. For example, siege machines were important part of Genghis Khan's warfare especially in attacking fortified cities. He unified Chinese technicians that were advanced during the time to join his effort. Usually these siege engines were disassembled and were caried on horses and constructed on the location that they were to be used. Therefore, siege warfare was an important part of Genghis Khan's military strategy.
Before invasion of an opposition, Genghis and his generals made extensive preparation in Kurultai to decide how the upcoming war would be conducted and as well as which generals would participate in the campaign; meanwhile they would thoroughly accumulate intelligence from their opponents, which after then hostilities would be calculated. Also they decided how many units would be called up. On the other hand, Mongol generals were armed with high-degree of independent decision making privileges as long as they abode by Genghis' timetable, which minimized the unexpected aspects of the campaign. Because of the mobile nature of Mongol armies, Genghis Khan built a complex intelligence network through Mongol soldiers, trade networks and vassals in which intelligence would arrive instantly on all corners of Mongol Empire. In preparation of warfare, the military generals would send out 200 horse man to 4 geographic directions to scout for possible activity, sometimes soldiers riding 200 miles in 1 or 2 days, which were common during the time.
Even though Mongol strategy seemed to vary slightly in response to their enemies, their technique was the same.
Mongols would engage in columns, which was usually three separate divisions, so that the two side divisions can diverge from the center column when need arises. For example, the flanking forces "went into neighboring territories," which they would eventually meet with the center column. The idea and the advantage of flanking forces was to spread terror, gather intelligence from their opponents and eliminate smaller opponent divisions from giving and receiving support. These flanking columns had messengers that timely relayed intelligence to the mother column constantly. Also Mongol armies were willing to engage in field armies before invading the main opposition, which gave them advantage in terms of eliminating the possible communication from the opponent's city to another that they might be expecting aid. Obviously when there were small towns and villages, they were taken to spread terror and to give sudden economic stress on the main city with influx of refugees. Sometimes these people were absorbed into the army as soldiers and also would serve as human shields.
Once the main battle and siege is over, Mongol armies would follow the enemy leader until he was dropped in order to make him unable to be a rallying point for his army after the defeat. Most times the enemy leaders would escape realizing that they would likely lose the war, but the Mongol forces followed until they made sure they died.
Genghis Khan established the Mongol Empire, and his successors were to expand it even further, into south China, Russia, Iraq, Korea, and Tibet. The Mongols conquered, with complete success by defeating Poles, supported by the feudal nobility including the Teutonic Knights and Hungarians, Poland, Hungary, and varying degrees of success, Syria, Japan, and Vietnam. The Western expansion came to halt, when high-ranking members of Mongols returned to modern day Mongolia to participate in selection of the next great Khan. The Mongols might have been ready to conquer Western Europe, having almost reached gates of Vienna after conquering Poland and Hungary. The empire reached its height under Genghis's grandson Kublai Khan, but broke apart into separate and less powerful khanates shortly afterward. Nevertheless, Genghis's influence would reverberate with the later conquests of Tamerlane and the Mughal Empire. Kublai Khan restarted Chinese invasion and established Yuan Dynasty by 1271, conquering Song Dynasty and eventually reaching Vietnam.
At its height, Mongol Empire was arguably the largest contiguous empire in human history, stretching from Southeast Asia to Europe, covering 13.8 million square miles or more than 35 million square kilometers. According to some sources, the empire encompassed almost 50% of the world population, including the most advanced and populous nations of that time: China and many of the main contemporary states of the Islamic world in Iraq, Persia, and Asia Minor.
Also, Genghis Khan's waging of war was characterized by wholesale destruction on unprecedented scale and radically changed the demographic situation in Asia. According to the works of Iranian historian Rashid-ad-Din Fadl Allah, Mongols massacred over 70,000 people in Merv and more than a million in Nishapur. China suffered a drastic decline in population. Before the Mongol invasion, China had about 100 million inhabitants; after the complete conquest in 1279, the census in 1300 showed it to have roughly 60 million people. This does not, of course, mean that Genghis Khan's men were directly responsible for the deaths of 40 million people but it does give a sense of the ferocity of the onslaught.
In recent times, Genghis Khan has become a symbol for Mongolia's attempts to regain its identity after many long years of Communism. Genghis Khan's face appears on Mongolian bank notes and vodka labels. He is often associated in the Western world with bloodthirstiness and barbarism. In the East, he is considered one of the greatest of all military leaders. Later Mongol Khans encouraged the people to even worship Genghis Khan as a religious entity throughout the empire. Without Genghis Khan, there would seem to be no Mongolia. Significant accounts on Genghis Khan and the Mongols although not as factual like a report are covered in the book The Secret History of the Mongols that has anonymous author that wrote the book in 13th century.
A recent genetic survey found a cluster of Y chromosome variants in 1/12 of the men in the area of the Mongol Empire, and 1/200 of men worldwide. The age of the cluster, estimated from the mutation rate, places its origin around the time of Genghis Khan, and it is especially common among the Hazara people, who claim to be descended from Genghis Khan.
He is considered as an extremely intelligent man and by some as a political and military genius. Mongolians continue to believe in his reincarnation to this current day, and they are very proud of being his descendants.
- Cable, Mildred and French, Francesca. 1943. The Gobi Desert. London. Landsborough Publications.
- Man, John. 1997. Gobi : Tracking the Desert. Weidenfield & Nicolson. Paperback by Phoenix, Orion Books. London. 1998.
- Stewart, Stanley. 2001. In the Empire of Genghis Khan: A Journey among Nomads. HarperCollinsPublishers, London. ISBN 0-00-653027-3.