The garrison at Merv was only about 12,000 men, and the city was inundated with refugees from eastern Khwarezmia. For six days, Tolui besieged the city, and on the seventh day, he assaulted the city. However, the garrison beat back the assault and launched their own counter-attack against the Mongols. The garrison force was similarly forced back into the city. The next day, the city's governor surrendered the city on Tolui's promise that the lives of the citizens would be spared. As soon as the city was handed over, however, Tolui slaughtered almost every person who surrendered, in a massacre possibly on a greater scale than that at Urgench.
The thing to consider if they were so brutish as presented in books and media then they would have collapsed from within.
And if they were simply brutal eventually there would have been revolt.
The book presents them as able to learn quickly from each place they conquered. One of the first groups in Asia they came across were excellent accountants. The non-literate Mongolians brought them along to inventory further conquests.
That is remarkable.
They built a network of roads ( a memorable sentence from the book - paraphrase: "The only structures the Mongolians knew how to build were bridges - so that they would always have a way back home"
They had no religion that they wanted to impose. No particular ideology.
They came up with innovative answers to problems that included prototypes for paper currency; law between states; religious tolerance.
They could be brutal - but to the noble/clerical ruling classes, supposedly not so much to the peasant and trade classes. And compared to what? Life for peasants was pretty much 'nasty, brutish and short' as it was. It seems possible that the Mongols could have offered them a better bargain they they were getting from King and Church. And that is why there was not sustained revolts.
There is an oft quoted cliche "History is writ by the victors..."
In this case not true. They were non-literate in Ghengis' generation. The history of the Mongol invasions were written by the vanquished upper classes.
I'm not the most studied person on Mongol history but the impression I'm left with is that you can piece together accounts of the Mongol invasion in the texts of ancient russia, europe, china and the middle east. In russia they call them the huns, in europe there's a legend of "prestor john". All accounts share the same ruthlessness.
The russians of the time called the mongols by the ancient name "huns." Or at least, those that wrote the history did.
Prestor John was the mythical christian king who was purportedly laying waste to Islam from the east as Europe was attacking in the crusades from the west. Of course, at that time, it was Genghis Khan that was attacking the Islamic states from the west.
They were extremely brutal so that conquered peoples would not revolt. They were very pragmatic in some sense. After Herat revolted and killed the Mongol governor Genghis had appointed, he reportedly asked why the slaughters his forces had carried out had not succeeded in terrorizing Herat's population into submission.
I think about this book all the time. I am honestly nto enough of a historian to judge it overall but the portrait of Ghengis Khan is very striking.
Only slightly tongue in cheek - he was as disruptive in his time as Google. Not because of his cruelty (he supposedly forbid his troops from pillaging and raping and sent the accountants in first...) The deliberately did not destroy towns if they could avoid it so that they could keep the productive capacity going. And they learned every step of the way. New techniques, new technologies.
They engineered a relatively safe road back to the homeland. To insure they could return and they could send back earning of war.
This book answered a nagging question I always had about Mongolia:
1) How did they conquer without leaving a standing army? If they were so brutal then those left behind would revolt, eventually.
2) Did they offer the tradesmen a bagain - give up the yoke of Nobility and Church for a 20% cut and relative safety trading with the other town?
This is an amazing book.
Terror does wonders for obedience. Revolt all you want. We'll be here next summer. You better have the tribute ready, or we'll kill everyone.
From the "Mongol invasion of Khwarezmia"¹ about cities which opposed resistance:
1. Otrar - "Genghis killed many of the inhabitants, enslaved the rest"
2. Bukhara - "Survivors from the citadel were executed, artisans and craftsmen were sent back to Mongolia, young men who had not fought were drafted into the Mongolian army and the rest of the population was sent into slavery."
3. Samarkand - "After the fortress fell, Genghis reneged on his surrender terms and executed every soldier that had taken arms against him at Samarkand. The people of Samarkand were ordered to evacuate and assemble in a plain outside the city, where they were killed and pyramids of severed heads raised as the symbol of Mongol victory."
4. Urgench - "As usual, the artisans were sent back to Mongolia, young women and children were given to the Mongol soldiers as slaves, and the rest of the population was massacred."
5. Gurjang - "Upon its surrender the Mongols broke the dams and flooded the city, then proceeded to execute the survivors."
6. Merv - "Tolui slaughtered almost every person who surrendered, in a massacre possibly on a greater scale than that at Urgench."
7 Nishapur - "Tolui put to the sword every living thing in city"
Then an outlier:
"After Nishapur's fall, Herat surrendered without a fight and was spared."
Now, let's see... who wants to revolt?
Genghis' goal was always to return. Not occupy. They had to make sure they could get back.
It has been argued[by whom?] that without the Mongol destruction of Kievan Rus', the Tsardom of Russia and subsequently the Russian Empire would not have risen. Trade routes with the East came through the Rus' lands, making them a center for trade from both worlds. Mongol influence, while destructive to their enemies, had a significant long term effect on the rise of modern Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
That's is entirely consistent both with it decimating the earlier civilisation across a smaller region centered on Kiev, and with it having a negative impact on economic and cultural growth in that region and surrounding regions which was felt centuries afterward. Especially if you consider Tsarist rule that Mongol invasions arguably paved the way for to be amongst the factors responsible for the relative backwardness of the Russian Empire.
They established fair law for 80 years at most, and at the price of killing off a substantial percentage of the peasantry (who the Mongols, as pastoralists, viewed individually as less valuable than a horse) of conquered regions. In Iran, the depopulation led to the underground irrigation system, known as the qanats, falling into disrepair, which led to formerly productive agricultural lands drying up, and the region regressing from agriculture to pastoralism. In the absence of a productive countryside, some of the largest cities never recovered until the 20th century.