top of page
Green Leaves Website Announcement Facebook Cover (3000 × 315 px).png

Advance Your CUET Preparation

Untitled design-3.png

- Digital Reference Library 

- Downloadable CBSE Notes

- Exclusive General Studies Notes

- Monthly Newsletters

- Self Paced Online Courses

Rise of Socialism and Russian Revolution.jpg

CBSE Notes | Class 11 | Social Science | History | Chapter 5 - Nomadic Empires

The chapter introduces students to the great empires in the Euro-Asian continent. The chapter explains their vast political and social structures. We also highlight the Mongol Empire and its social, political and military background.

The Great Empires In The Euro Asian Continent

In the early thirteenth century, the great empires of the Euro-Asian continent recognised the dangers Genghis Khan posed. His vision as a political leader extended far beyond the establishment of a Mongol confederacy.

Genghis Khan was said to have been given a divine mandate to rule the world by god. 

Apart from consolidating the power of the Mongol tribes, he led and directed campaigns into adjacent areas in northern China, Transoxiana, Afghanistan, and the Russian steppes. With the aim to create the world's largest empire his descendants travelled further afield to carry out his vision.

The French king 'Louis IX' (1226–70), was warned about the Ghengis Khan by Ghengis Mongke, Khan's grandson.

During 1236–41 Batu (another grandson of Genghis Khan) destroyed Russian regions all the way to Moscow, invaded Poland and Hungary and camped outside Vienna. He dominated a substantial chunk of China, the Middle East, and Western Europe as the Mongol emperor.

Nomadic Empires

What are the sources to understand the history of 'Nomadic Empires'?

The major sources for understanding 'Nomadic Empires' history include chronicles, travelogues, and city-based literature. The steppe dwellers did not produce any literary works of any kind by themselves. As a result, some authors have distorted and misrepresented the nomadic lifestyle.

  • The imperial success of the Mongols attracted many many literati. 

  • Travelogues were written by some travellers who stayed to serve the Mongols. These groups of people came from a variety of backgrounds, including Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity. They were unfamiliar with Mongol customs, and their accounts were sympathetic.

Research on Mongols

During the tsarist regime's consolidation of control over Central Asia, Russian scholars conducted the most valuable research on the Mongols. Travellers, soldiers, merchants, and antiquarian scholars all contributed to the work.

New Marxist historiography argued that the dominant mode of production determined the nature of social relations after the Soviet republics expanded into the region.

Language, Society and Culture

  • Boris Yakovlevich Vladimirtsov conducted outstanding research on Mongol languages, society, and culture.

  • Vasily Vladimirovich Bartold transgressed a few conventions. When the Stalinist regime was suspicious of regional nationalism, Bartold came under fire for his sympathetic and positive assessment of the Mongols' career and achievements under Genghis Khan and his successors. 

Scholars have access to a rich variety of sources written in a variety of languages. Numerous sources are available in a variety of languages, including Chinese, Mongolian, Arabic, Persian, and others, as well as Italian, Latin, French, and Russian. Frequently, a text was translated into two distinct languages, each with its own unique content.

Mongol-un niuèa tobèa'an is the earliest narrative about Genghis Khan in Mongolian and Chinese.

Various scholars such as 'Igor de Rachewiltz' and 'Gerhard Doerfer' demonstrate, studying Central Asian nomads' history and culture presents numerous difficulties.

Social And Political Background

Geographical Extent

The Mongols coexisted with the Tatars, Khitan, and Manchus to the east and Turkic Tribes, to the west.

Mongols included both nomadic and pastoralist groups, as well as hunter-gatherers. Pastoralists tended a large number of horses and sheep. These nomadic people lived on the territory that is now known as Mongolia in Central Asia.

The Onon (Russian) and Selenga (Asian) rivers flowed through the vast landscape, which was bounded on the west by the snow-capped Altai Mountains, on the south by the arid Gobi desert, and on the north by myriad springs fed by the melting snows of the mountains.

The Siberian forests were home to hunter-gatherers in the north of the pastoralists. In comparison to pastoralists, they subsisted by trading furs from animals caught during the summer months.

In the entire region, arid, long winters alternated with short, dry summers.

The Division of Mongol Society

However, unlike some of their Turkish counterparts further west, the Mongols did not take to farming, despite the fact that it was possible in pastoral regions for a brief period of the year. There were no cities because pastoral and hunting-gathering economies were incapable of supporting dense population settlements.

The Mongols lived in tents called gers and travelled with their herds from their winter pasture lands to their summer pasture lands.

Despite their common ethnic origins, the Mongols' society was divided into patrilineal lineages due to resource scarcity; wealthier families were larger and had more livestock.

They influenced local politics more than other groups.

People were displaced from their homes as a result of natural disasters such as unusually cold winters that decimated game and stored provisions, or droughts that dried up pasture lands, resulting in conflict over pasture lands and predatory raids in search of livestock.


Groups of families would occasionally form alliances for offensive and defensive purposes around more powerful and wealthy families. The majority of these confederacies were small and brief in duration. 

Only Attila's confederation of Turkic and Mongol tribes may have come close to Genghis Khan's confederation in the fifth century.

Genghis Khan's political system has endured for centuries. It was able to hold off larger armies equipped with superior equipment in China, Iran, and Eastern Europe, establishing control over these regions.

Urban Settlements

The Mongols managed agrarian economies and urban settlements, despite the fact that they lived in sedentary societies that were alien to their own social experience and habitat.

Although nomadic and agrarian societies had markedly different socio-political structures, they shared many characteristics.

Class 9 French Reolution - A Society of Estates.jpg

Trade-In The Mongol Empire

How was trade executed in the Mongol empire?

Mongols and other Central Asian nomads were forced to trade and barter with their sedentary neighbours in China due to the scarcity of resources in the steppe lands. As a result, agriculture in China and agricultural implements such as hoes and horseshoes were exchanged for horses, furs, and game trapped in the steppe.

Commerce was fraught with conflict, even when two parties refrained from diplomacy in favour of using force to increase profits.

Frontier Wars

When the Mongol lineages allied, they could compel their Chinese neighbours to accept better terms, and trading alliances could be abandoned in favour of outright pillage.

This relationship would be altered if the Mongols were in disarray. The Chinese would then argue that their influence in the steppe had been established. Settlement societies suffered severe setbacks as a result of these frontier wars. 

Agriculture and cities were dislocated because of their actions. In comparison, nomads faced a low risk of losing anything while fleeing a conflict zone.

The nomads had a significant impact on China, and they constructed barriers to protect the populace. The 'Great Wall of China' was constructed to protect northern China's agrarian societies from nomadic invasions and other agricultural raids.

Ghenghis Khan: The Universal Ruler

Who was Ghenghis Khan?

He is considered as the founder and first Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, which after his death grew to be the world's largest contiguous empire. According to many historians, he rose to power by uniting many of Northeast Asia's nomadic tribes.

History & Background

  • Genghis Khan (Temujin) was born around 1162 somewhere near the Onon River in Mongolia. 

  • Temujin, son of Yesugei, was the head of the Kiryat tribe, a group of Borjigid clans people. Because his father was murdered when he was young, and his mother, Oelun-eke, had to raise him, his brothers, and his stepbrothers on her own, Temujin's early years were extremely difficult.

Radical Shifts

Firstly, Temujin was captured and enslaved, after which his wife, Borte, was kidnapped. After a fierce struggle, he was able to win her back.

He also managed to forge strong friendships in these years of financial hardships. He was Jamuqa's blood brother (anda), and he had always looked up to him as a guide.

In order to revive his father's relationship with the leader of the Kereyits, Tughril/Ong Khan, Temujin made a new alliance with the ruler.

Ong Khan and Temujin formed an alliance in the 1180s and 1190s to fight numerous enemies like Jamuqa, who had become an enemy of the two of them. After vanquishing him, Temujin felt confident enough to launch a military campaign against other tribes.

Genghis Khan (Qur'an) was given the title “Genghis Khan, the Oceanic Khan” and was recognised as “Great Khan of the Mongols” by an assembly of Mongol chieftains (quriltai).

Re-organization of Forces

Genghis Khan had re-organised the Mongol people into a more effective, disciplined military force that facilitated the success of his future campaigns.

The first of his concerns was to conquer China, divided at this time into three realms:

  • The Hsi Hsia people are of Tibetan origin in the north-western provinces.

  • The Jurchen whose Chin dynasty ruled north China from Peking.

  • The Sung dynasty controlled south China.

By 1209, the Hsi Hsia was defeated, the 'Great Wall of China' was breached in 1213, and Peking was sacked in 1215. Long-drawn battles against the Chin lasted until 1234, but Genghis Khan was pleased enough with the results of his campaigns that he returned to Mongolia in 1216 and delegated command of the region's military affairs to his subordinates.

After defeating the Qara Khita, who controlled the Tien Shan mountains north of China, in 1218, Mongol dominions reached the Amu Darya and the states of Transoxiana and Khwarazm. Sultan Muhammad, the ruler of Khwarazm, felt Genghis Khan's wrath when he executed Mongol envoys.

The great cities of Otrar, Bukhara, Samarqand, Balkh, Gurganj, Merv, Nishapur, and Herat were conquered by Mongol forces between 1219 and 1221.

Class 9 French Reolution - A Society of Estates.jpg

The Towns That Resisted Were Devastated

Mongol prince Nayan was assassinated during the siege of Nishapur, during which Genghis Khan ordered the town to be laid waste and the area ploughed to the point where only cats and dogs remained alive.

Mongol forces advanced into Azerbaijan in pursuit of Sultan Muhammad, defeated Russian forces in Crimea, and encircled the Caspian Sea.

Jalaluddin, the Sultan's son, was pursued by another wing into Afghanistan and Sindh province.

Genghis Khan considered returning to Mongolia via North India and Assam on the Indus River's banks, but the heat, natural environment, and omens reported by his Shaman soothsayer convinced him otherwise.


Genghis Khan died in 1227 after a life spent primarily in military conflict. 

  • His military accomplishments were remarkable, in large part because he was able to innovate and transform various aspects of steppe combat into highly effective military strategies.

  • The Mongols and Turks's horseback riding abilities aided the army's speed and mobility, and their abilities as rapid-shooting archers from horseback were honed during regular hunting expeditions that doubled as field manoeuvres.

  • The steppe cavalry had always been light and swift, but now they used their terrain and weather knowledge to pull off the unthinkable: they conducted campaigns in the dead of winter, using frozen rivers as highways to enemy cities and camps.

  • Also, the Genghis Khan came to appreciate the value of siege engines and naphtha bombardment. His engineers developed lightweight portable equipment that was used to devastating effect against opponents.

The Mongols After Genghis Khan

What are the consequences of the Genghis Khan's Death? 

The Mongol expansion after Genghis Khan’s death was divided into two distinct phases:

  • The first spanned the years 1236-42 when the major gains were in the Russian steppes, Bulghar, Kyiv, Poland and Hungary.

  • The second phase including the years 1255-1300 led to the conquest of all of China (1279), Iran, Iraq and Syria.

The frontier of the empire stabilised after these campaigns.

The Mongol Military Expansion

The Mongol military forces faced few setbacks in the decades following 1203, but after the 1260s, the initial impetus for campaigns could no longer be sustained in the West. 

Mongol forces ruled Vienna, western Europe, and Egypt, and their retreat from the Hungarian steppes and defeat by Egyptian forces heralded the emergence of new political trends.

This was due to two factors: 

  • first, the Mongol family's internal succession politics, in which the descendants of Jochi and Ogodei allied to control the office of the Great Khan for the first two generations. These considerations took precedence over the pursuit of European campaigns.

  • The second compulsion occurred when the Jochi and Ogodei lineages were marginalised by the Toluyid branch of Genghis Khan's descendants. 

Military campaigns were waged with vigour in Iran in the 1250s following Mongke's accession as a descendant of Toluy, Genghis Khan's youngest son.

As a result, the Mongols faced an undermanned Egyptian military.

With their defeat and the Toluyid family's growing preoccupation with China, the Mongols' western expansion came to an end.

Simultaneously, the conflict between the Jochids' descendants and the Toluyids along the Russian-Iranian border diverted the Jochids' attention away from future European campaigns.

While Mongol expansion in the West was halted, their campaigns in China, which the Mongols reunited, continued. Internal strife between members of the ruling family manifested itself ironically during the family's greatest successes.

The following section examines the factors that contributed to some of the greatest successes of the Mongol political enterprise while also impeding its progress.

Class 9 French Reolution - A Society of Estates.jpg
Class 9 French Reolution - A Society of Estates.jpg

Social, Political And Military Organisation 

Genghis Khan's army expanded in size and diversity as a result of his subsequent campaigns against diverse peoples.

Groups such as the Turkic Uighurs were included because they willingly submitted to his authority. Individuals such as the Kereyits were also incorporated into the confederacy as a result of their defeat.

He was successful in wiping out the old tribal identities of those who joined his confederacy. His army was divided into tens, hundred, thousand, and tens of thousands of soldiers using the old steppe system of decimal units.

Historically, clans and tribes coexisted within decimal units. The ancient tribal groups were disbanded and their members assigned to new military units, putting an end to this practise.

Anyone who attempted to leave his/her assigned group without permission received a severe reprimand.

There were fragmented tribes and clans within the human, the largest unit of soldiers. The old steppe social order shifted as various lineages and clans merged and adopted a new identity derived from Genghis Khan, its forefather.

All new military contingents were required to report to him and his four sons, as well as to the specially chosen captains of his army units, known as noyan.

Other lower-ranking freemen were elevated to the position of bondsmen (naukar), indicating their close relationship with their master. Genghis Khan publicly referred to several of these men as his 'blood brothers' (anda).

As a result, the rights of the old clan chiefs were no longer protected. Rather than that, the new aristocracy derived their status from a close relationship with the Mongol Great Khan.

The Administrative Divisions

Genghis Khan assigned the responsibility of governing the newly-conquered people to his four sons. These comprised the four ulus, a term that did not originally mean fixed territories.

  • The eldest son, Jochi, received the Russian steppes but the farthest extent of his territory, ulus, was indeterminate: it extended as far west as his horses could roam.

  • The second son, Chaghatai, was given the Transoxanian steppe and lands north of the Pamir mountains adjacent to those of his brother. Presumably, these lands would shift as Jochi marched westward.

  • His third son, Ogodei was supposed to succeed Genghis Khan as indicated by him as the Great Khan.

Way Forward

Military campaigns in the early 13th century devastated cities, agricultural lands, trade, and craft production.

In the 13th century, nomads and sedentary merged. A change in family traditions and memories caused Genghis Khan's descendants to split up into distinct lineage groups. With the legacy of Genghis Khan as his ancestry, Genghis Khan's descendants were able to stand out as credible characters for a settled population.

Recent research on the yasa, Genghis Khan's code of law that was promulgated at the quriltai of 1206, explores the numerous ways that subsequent Khans influenced the memory of Genghis Khan.

Class 9 French Reolution - A Society of Estates.jpg


Genghis Khan is widely regarded as a conqueror, a city-destroyer, and a mass murderer.

Numerous townspeople in thirteenth-century China, Iran, and Europe feared and despised the steppe hordes.

Genghis Khan restored trade routes and markets with his vast transcontinental empire, attracting distant travellers such as the Venetian Marco Polo. Although the Mongol Khans were Shamans, Buddhists, Christians, and eventually Muslims, they never allowed personal beliefs to dictate public policy.

The Mongols gathered administrators and armies of all ethnicities and religions under their banner.

The constitution did not pose a threat to them in a multiethnic, multilingual, and multifaith society.

Due to a dearth of documentation on the Mongols and any nomadic regime, it's difficult to fathom the motivations for the confederation of disparate peoples in pursuit of an empire.

While the Mongol empire evolved over time, the inspiration of its founder remained strong.

Timur was unable to declare himself emperor due to his lack of Genghis Khanid ancestry.

As the son-in-law of Genghis Khan, he declared his independence (guregen).

Mongolia reclaimed its independence following decades of Soviet rule. It had elevated Genghis Khan to the status of a great national hero whose accomplishments are proudly celebrated.

Recommended Links

bottom of page