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Subutai – Primary military strategist of Genghis Khan (wikipedia.org)
84 points by vinnyglennon on June 15, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 22 comments

My favorite description of one of his battles:

> The result was complete panic, and, to ensure that the Hungarians did not fight to the last man, the Mongols left an obvious gap in their encirclement. This was one of Subutai's classic tricks, to create a tactical situation which appeared to be favourable to the enemy, but which was anything but. The Mongols had already incurred heavier than usual casualties as the Hungarian crossbowmen had done considerable damage to the Mongol cavalry. Subutai did not want a battle where the massed crossbowmen, supported by mounted knights, stood firm and fought to the death against his army. He far preferred to let them flee and be slaughtered individually. The gap in the Mongol lines was an invitation to retreat, which would leave the knights and crossbowmen spread out all over the countryside, easy pickings for the disciplined Mongols. As Subutai had planned, the Hungarians poured through this apparent hole in the Mongol lines, which led to a swampy area, poor footing for horses and hard going for infantry. When the Hungarian knights split up, the Mongol archers picked them off at will. It was later noted that corpses littered the countryside over the space of a two-day journey. Two archbishops and three bishops were killed at the Sajo, plus 40,000 fighting men. At one stroke, the bulk of Hungarian fighting men were totally destroyed, with relatively minimal casualties to the Mongols, reportedly less than 1,000 men.

Straight out of The Art of War:

When you surround an army, leave an outlet free.

[This does not mean that the enemy is to be allowed to escape. The object, as Tu Mu puts it, is "to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair." Tu Mu adds pleasantly: "After that, you may crush him."]


I learned this from the Total War series on the PC. Don't pin enemy defenders up on the city walls, unless you want them fighting to the death. Instead, hit them hard so they rout, but then pull back and ride them down with light cavalry as they abandon the walls and run through the city to the plaza.

Another lesson from Total War: Mongols; run.

This led to the slaughter of about 15-25 percent of the population of Hungary and half of all inhabited places.

I'm from Romania, I'm pretty sure that a good chunk of my ancestors died at the hand of the Mongols.

That doesn't stop me from admiring their military brilliance.

Well, none of the important ones, otherwise you wouldn't be here :-D

They could've died soon after reproducing...

I recommend Dan Carlin's "Hardcore History" podcast. He has a series about the Mongol Empire called "Wrath of the Khans". The stories and delivery are amazing!

Here is a link to the first episode: http://www.dancarlin.com/product/hardcore-history-43-wrath-o...

I listened to all of these as I drove across the US and I was so enthralled i almost ran out of gas more than once. I second this recommendation.

As a Mongolian I highly recommend "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World". It remains strictly factual without adding neither positive nor negative biases to the stories.

Amazon link to Book https://www.amazon.com/Genghis-Khan-Making-Modern-World/dp/B...

AudioBook version that I enjoyed https://www.audible.com/pd/Bios-Memoirs/Genghis-Khan-and-the...

> It remains strictly factual without adding neither positive nor negative biases to the stories.

It is the opinion of many historians that history cannot be objective. All writers need to make decisions when writing a text: what to include, what to omit, and even what sources to read (because you cannot read them all). Those decisions are influenced by the author's upbringing, culture, and values.

Here's an excerpt from an excellent article which discusses this:

> To better understand history, I think historians should begin to admit their limitations. For example, I have chosen to study Emperor Franz Joseph’s role in the lead up to the First World War. I examine an angle of the declaration of World War I that is little studied. Yet, it also raises some concerns as to the subjectivity of my work. Because I am focusing on the person of the Emperor, I am bound to attribute more agency to him than someone who studies the Great War from a purely national or international perspective. This leaves me predisposed to seeing Franz Joseph as a key actor.


As a resident of Brooklyn I also recommend it very highly. It's an uncommonly well written narrative, and fascinating insight into an era of history that you really don't get in the standard US public school curriculum.

My favorite unit from AoE2. :) Nostalgia aside I think the Mongol invasions were vary akin to the "disruptive idea" paradigm. They didn't have any technology much advanced than their adversaries but they used what they had very differently than their contemporaries. Not to mention that they kept learning and adopting ideas from the nations they fought.

People often talk about Genghis Khan as a general. But while he was a quite good general his real talents were in politics and statecraft. And part of that was identifying and promoting genius generals and then keeping them loyal.

I'm always amazed by the glorifications of people like Subutai - the primary military strategist of Genghis Khan.

From "Destruction under the Mongol Empire" (not everything under Subutais command)


1. Mass extermination - "It has been calculated that approximately 5% of the world's population were killed during Turco-Mongol invasions or in their immediate aftermath." (To compare the impact that would be 370 million people in todays numbers).

2. Scorched Earth - Mongols were known to burn farmland; [...], crops were burned to starve the populace. Other tactics included diverting rivers into and from cities and towns [...]

3. Biological warfare against civilians - [...] and catapulting diseased corpses over city walls to infect the population. The use of such infected bodies during the siege of Caffa is alleged to have brought the Black Death to Europe by some sources.

4. Genocide - [...] "terror and mass extermination of anyone opposing them was a well-tested Mongol tactic." The alternative to submission was total war: if refused, Mongol leaders ordered the collective slaughter of populations and destruction of property.

5. Total destruction of culture - [...] and in the Battle of Baghdad, libraries, books, literature, and hospitals were burned: some of the books were thrown into the river, in quantities sufficient to "turn the Euphrates black with ink for several days"

This makes me upset Netflix cancelled Marco Polo.

Funny, I know about the guy because it was featured in an old PC game : "The Ancient Art Of War". Not exactly textbook knowledge learning, but well, it worked too :-)

Any good books to check out about him?

BH Liddell-Hart's Great Captains Unveiled is one of the better ones I've come across, if early 20th century British historical writing style doesn't bother you.


He figures prominently in Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy by Frank McLynn.

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