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More Genghis Khan / Mongol History Articles

Rupture With Vang Khan

The Fall Of Bokhara

Establishment Of The Empire

Temujin In Exile


Victorious Campaigns

Vang Khan

Dominions Of Genghis Khan

The First Battle

Grand Celebrations

Adventures Of Prince Kushluk

The Story Of Hujaku

Pastoral Life In Asia

Yezonkai Khan

Progress Of The Quarrel

Battles And Sieges

The Death Of Yemuka

The Monguls

Death Of The Sultan

Conquests In China

The Monguls

Monguls.--Origin of the name.--A Mongul family.--Their
occupations.--Animals of the Monguls.--Their towns and villages.--Mode
of building their tents.--Bad fuel.--Comfortless homes.--Movable
houses built at last.--The painting.--Account of a large movable
house.--The traveling chests.--Necessity of such an arrangement.--Houses
in the towns.--Roads over the plains.--Tribes and families.--Influence
of diversity of pursuits.--Tribes and clans.--Mode of making
war.--Horsemen.--The bow and arrow.--The flying horseman.--Nature
of the bow and arrow.--Superiority of fire-arms.--Sources of
information.--Gog and Magog.--Salam.--Adventures of Salam and
his party.--The wonderful mountain.--Great bolts and bars.--The
prisoners.--Travelers' tales.--Progress of intelligence.

Three thousand years is a period of time long enough to produce great
changes, and in the course of that time a great many different nations
and congeries of nations were formed in the regions of Central Asia.
The term Tartars has been employed generically to denote almost the
whole race. The Monguls are a portion of this people, who are said to
derive their name from Mongol Khan, one of their earliest and most
powerful chieftains. The descendants of this khan called themselves by
his name, just as the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob called
themselves Israelites, or children of Israel, from the name Israel,
which was one of the designations of the great patriarch from whose
twelve sons the twelve tribes of the Jews descended. The country
inhabited by the Monguls was called Mongolia.

To obtain a clear conception of a single Mongul family, you must
imagine, first, a rather small, short, thick-set man, with long black
hair, a flat face, and a dark olive complexion. His wife, if her face
were not so flat and her nose so broad, would be quite a brilliant
little beauty, her eyes are so black and sparkling. The children have
much the appearance of young Indians as they run shouting among the
cattle on the hill-sides, or, if young, playing half-naked about the
door of the hut, their long black hair streaming in the wind.

Like all the rest of the inhabitants of Central Asia, these people
depended almost entirely for their subsistence on the products of
their flocks and herds. Of course, their great occupation consisted in
watching their animals while feeding by day, and in putting them in
places of security by night, in taking care of and rearing the young,
in making butter and cheese from the milk, and clothing from the
skins, in driving the cattle to and fro in search of pasturage, and,
finally, in making war on the people of other tribes to settle
disputes arising out of conflicting claims to territory, or to
replenish their stock of sheep and oxen by seizing and driving off the
flocks of their neighbors.

The animals which the Monguls most prized were camels, oxen and cows,
sheep, goats, and horses. They were very proud of their horses, and
they rode them with great courage and spirit. They always went
mounted in going to war. Their arms were bows and arrows, pikes or
spears, and a sort of sword or sabre, which was manufactured in some
of the towns toward the west, and supplied to them in the course of
trade by great traveling caravans.

Although the mass of the people lived in the open country with their
flocks and herds, there were, notwithstanding, a great many towns and
villages, though such centres of population were much fewer and less
important among them than they are in countries the inhabitants of
which live by tilling the ground. Some of these towns were the
residences of the khans and of the heads of tribes. Others were places
of manufacture or centres of commerce, and many of them were fortified
with embankments of earth or walls of stone.

The habitations of the common people, even those built in the towns,
were rude huts made so as to be easily taken down and removed. The
tents were made by means of poles set in a circle in the ground, and
brought nearly together at the top, so as to form a frame similar to
that of an Indian wigwam. A hoop was placed near the top of these
poles, so as to preserve a round opening there for the smoke to go
out. The frame was then covered with sheets of a sort of thick gray
felt, so placed as to leave the opening within the hoop free. The
felt, too, was arranged below in such a manner that the corner of one
of the sheets could be raised and let down again to form a sort of
door. The edges of the sheets in other places were fastened together
very carefully, especially in winter, to keep out the cold air.

Within the tent, on the ground in the centre, the family built their
fire, which was made of sticks, leaves, grass, and dried droppings of
all sorts, gathered from the ground, for the country produced scarcely
any wood. Countries roamed over by herds of animals that gain their
living by pasturing on the grass and herbage are almost always
destitute of trees. Trees in such a case have no opportunity to grow.

The tents of the Monguls thus made were, of course, very comfortless
homes. They could not be kept warm, there was so much cold air coming
continually in through the crevices, notwithstanding all the people's
contrivances to make them tight. The smoke, too, did not all escape
through the hoop-hole above. Much of it remained in the tent and
mingled with the atmosphere. This evil was aggravated by the kind of
fuel which they used, which was of such a nature that it made only a
sort of smouldering fire instead of burning, like good dry wood, with
a bright and clear flame.

The discomforts of these huts and tents were increased by the custom
which prevailed among the people of allowing the animals to come into
them, especially those that were young and feeble, and to live there
with the family.

In process of time, as the people increased in riches and in
mechanical skill, some of the more wealthy chieftains began to build
houses so large and so handsome that they could not be conveniently
taken down to be removed, and then they contrived a way of mounting
them upon trucks placed at the four corners, and moving them bodily in
this way across the plains, as a table is moved across a floor upon
its castors. It was necessary, of course, that the houses should be
made very light in order to be managed in this way. They were, in
fact, still tents rather than houses, being made of the same
materials, only they were put together in a more substantial and
ornamental manner. The frame was made of very light poles, though
these poles were fitted together in permanent joinings. The covering
was, like that of the tents, made of felt, but the sheets were joined
together by close and strong seams, and the whole was coated with a
species of paint, which not only closed all the pores and interstices
and made the structure very tight, but also served to ornament it; for
they were accustomed, in painting these houses, to adorn the covering
with pictures of birds, beasts, and trees, represented in such a
manner as doubtless, in their eyes, produced a very beautiful effect.

These movable houses were sometimes very large. A certain traveler who
visited the country not far from the time of Genghis Khan says that he
saw one of these structures in motion which was thirty feet in
diameter. It was drawn by twenty-two oxen. It was so large that it
extended five feet on each side beyond the wheels. The oxen, in
drawing it, were not attached, as with us, to the centre of the
forward axle-tree, but to the ends of the axle-trees, which projected
beyond the wheels on each side. There were eleven oxen on each side
drawing upon the axle-trees. There were, of course, many drivers. The
one who was chief in command stood in the door of the tent or house
which looked forward, and there, with many loud shouts and flourishing
gesticulations, issued his orders to the oxen and to the other men.

The household goods of this traveling chieftain were packed in chests
made for the purpose, the house itself, of course, in order to be made
as light as possible, having been emptied of all its contents. These
chests were large, and were made of wicker or basket-work, covered,
like the house, with felt. The covers were made of a rounded form, so
as to throw off the rain, and the felt was painted over with a certain
composition which made it impervious to the water. These chests were
not intended to be unpacked at the end of the journey, but to remain
as they were, as permanent storehouses of utensils, clothing, and
provisions. They were placed in rows, each on its own cart, near the
tent, where they could be resorted to conveniently from time to time
by the servants and attendants, as occasion might require. The tent
placed in the centre, with these great chests on their carts near it,
formed, as it were, a house with one great room standing by itself,
and all the little rooms and closets arranged in rows by the side of

Some such arrangement as this is obviously necessary in case of a
great deal of furniture or baggage belonging to a man who lives in a
tent, and who desires to be at liberty to remove his whole
establishment from place to place at short notice; for a tent, from
the very principle of its construction, is incapable of being divided
into rooms, or of accommodating extensive stores of furniture or
goods. Of course, a special contrivance is required for the
accommodation of this species of property. This was especially the
case with the Monguls, among whom there were many rich and great men
who often accumulated a large amount of movable property. There was
one rich Mongul, it was said, who had two hundred such chest-carts,
which were arranged in two rows around and behind his tent, so that
his establishment, when he was encamped, looked like quite a little

The style of building adopted among the Monguls for tents and movable
houses seemed to set the fashion for all their houses, even for those
that were built in the towns, and were meant to stand permanently
where they were first set up. These permanent houses were little
better than tents. They consisted each of one single room without any
subdivisions whatever. They were made round, too, like the tents, only
the top, instead of running up to a point, was rounded like a dome.
There were no floors above that formed on the ground, and no windows.

Such was the general character of the dwellings of the Monguls in the
days of Genghis Khan. They took their character evidently from the
wandering and pastoral life that the people led. One would have
thought that very excellent roads would have been necessary to have
enabled them to draw the ponderous carts containing their dwellings
and household goods. But this was less necessary than might have been
supposed on account of the nature of the country, which consisted
chiefly of immense grassy plains and smooth river valleys, over which,
in many places, wheels would travel tolerably well in any direction
without much making of roadway. Then, again, in all such countries,
the people who journey from place to place, and the herds of cattle
that move to and fro, naturally fall into the same lines of travel,
and thus, in time, wear great trails, as cows make paths in a pasture.
These, with a little artificial improvement at certain points, make
very good summer roads, and in the winter it is not necessary to use
them at all.

The Monguls, like the ancient Jews, were divided into tribes, and
these were subdivided into families; a family meaning in this
connection not one household, but a large congeries of households,
including all those that were of known relationship to each other.
These groups of relatives had each its head, and the tribe to which
they pertained had also its general head. There were, it is said,
three sets of these tribes, forming three grand divisions of the
Mongul people, each of which was ruled by its own khan; and then, to
complete the system, there was the grand khan, who ruled over all.

A constitution of society like this almost always prevails in pastoral
countries, and we shall see, on a little reflection, that it is
natural that it should do so. In a country like ours, where the
pursuits of men are so infinitely diversified, the descendants of
different families become mingled together in the most promiscuous
manner. The son of a farmer in one state goes off, as soon as he is of
age, to some other state, to find a place among merchants or
manufacturers, because he wishes to be a merchant or a manufacturer
himself, while his father supplies his place on the farm perhaps by
hiring a man who likes farming, and has come hundreds of miles in
search of work. Thus the descendants of one American grandfather and
grandmother will be found, after a lapse of a few years, scattered in
every direction all over the land, and, indeed, sometimes all over the

It is the diversity of pursuits which prevails in such a country as
ours, taken in connection with the diversity of capacity and of taste
in different individuals, that produces this dispersion.

Among a people devoted wholly to pastoral pursuits, all this is
different. The young men, as they grow up, can have generally no
inducement to leave their homes. They continue to live with their
parents and relatives, sharing the care of the flocks and herds, and
making common cause with them in every thing that is of common
interest. It is thus that those great family groups are formed which
exist in all pastoral countries under the name of tribes or clans, and
form the constituent elements of the whole social and political
organization of the people.

In case of general war, each tribe of the Monguls furnished, of
course, a certain quota of armed men, in proportion to its numbers and
strength. These men always went to war, as has already been said, on
horseback, and the spectacle which these troops presented in galloping
in squadrons over the plains was sometimes very imposing. The shock of
the onset when they charged in this way upon the enemy was tremendous.
They were armed with bows and arrows, and also with sabres. As they
approached the enemy, they discharged first a shower of arrows upon
him, while they were in the act of advancing at the top of their
speed. Then, dropping their bows by their side, they would draw their
sabres, and be ready, as soon as the horses fell upon the enemy, to
cut down all opposed to them with the most furious and deadly blows.

If they were repulsed, and compelled by a superior force to retreat,
they would gallop at full speed over the plains, turning at the same
time in their saddles, and shooting at their pursuers with their
arrows as coolly, and with as correct an aim, almost, as if they were
still. While thus retreating the trooper would guide and control his
horse by his voice, and by the pressure of his heels upon his sides,
so as to have both his arms free for fighting his pursuers.

These arrows were very formidable weapons, it is said. One of the
travelers who visited the country in those days says that they could
be shot with so much force as to pierce the body of a man entirely

It must be remembered, however, in respect to all such statements
relating to the efficiency of the bow and arrow, that the force with
which an arrow can be thrown depends not upon any independent action
of the bow, but altogether upon the strength of the man who draws it.
The bow, in straightening itself for the propulsion of the arrow,
expends only the force which the man has imparted to it by bending it;
so that the real power by which the arrow is propelled is, after all,
the muscular strength of the archer. It is true, a great deal depends
on the qualities of the bow, and also on the skill of the man in using
it, to make all this muscular strength effective. With a poor bow, or
with unskillful management, a great deal of it would be wasted. But
with the best possible bow, and with the most consummate skill of the
archer, it is the strength of the archer's arm which throws the arrow,
after all.

It is very different in this respect with a bullet thrown by the force
of gunpowder from the barrel of a gun. The force in this case is the
explosive force of the powder, and the bullet is thrown to the same
distance whether it is a very weak man or a very strong man that pulls
the trigger.

But to return to the Monguls. All the information which we can obtain
in respect to the condition of the people before the time of Genghis
Khan comes to us from the reports of travelers who, either as
merchants, or as embassadors from caliphs or kings, made long journeys
into these distant regions, and have left records, more or less
complete, of their adventures, and accounts of what they saw, in
writings which have been preserved by the learned men of the East. It
is very doubtful how far these accounts are to be believed. One of
these travelers, a learned man named Salam, who made a journey far
into the interior of Asia by order of the Calif Mohammed Amin
Billah, some time before the reign of Genghis Khan, says that, among
other objects of research and investigation which occupied his mind,
he was directed to ascertain the truth in respect to the two famous
nations Gog and Magog, or, as they are designated in his account,
Yagog and Magog. The story that had been told of these two nations by
the Arabian writers, and which was extensively believed, was, that the
people of Yagog were of the ordinary size of men, but those of Magog
were only about two feet high. These people had made war upon the
neighboring nations, and had destroyed many cities and towns, but had
at last been overpowered and shut up in prison.

Salam, the traveler whom the calif sent to ascertain whether their
accounts were true, traveled at the head of a caravan containing fifty
men, and with camels bearing stores and provisions for a year. He was
gone a long time. When he came back he gave an account of his travels;
and in respect to Gog and Magog, he said that he had found that the
accounts which had been heard respecting them were true. He traveled
on, he said, from the country of one chieftain to another till he
reached the Caspian Sea, and then went on beyond that sea for thirty
or forty days more. In one place the party came to a tract of low
black land, which exhaled an odor so offensive that they were obliged
to use perfumes all the way to overpower the noxious smells. They were
ten days in crossing this fetid territory. After this they went on a
month longer through a desert country, and at length came to a fertile
land which was covered with the ruins of cities that the people of Gog
and Magog had destroyed.

In six days more they reached the country of the nation by which the
people of Gog and Magog had been conquered and shut up in prison. Here
they found a great many strong castles. There was a large city here
too, containing temples and academies of learning, and also the
residence of the king.

The travelers took up their abode in this city for a time, and while
they were there they made an excursion of two days' journey into the
country to see the place where the people of Gog and Magog were
confined. When they arrived at the place they found a lofty mountain.
There was a great opening made in the face of this mountain two or
three hundred feet wide. The opening was protected on each side by
enormous buttresses, between which was placed an immense double gate,
the buttresses and the gate being all of iron. The buttresses were
surmounted with an iron bulwark, and with lofty towers also of iron,
which were carried up as high as to the top of the mountain itself.
The gates were of the width of the opening cut in the mountain, and
were seventy-five feet high; and the valves, lintels, and threshold,
and also the bolts, the lock, and the key, were all of proportional

Salam, on arriving at the place, saw all these wonderful structures
with his own eyes, and he was told by the people there that it was the
custom of the governor of the castles already mentioned to take horse
every Friday with ten others, and, coming to the gate, to strike the
great bolt three times with a ponderous hammer weighing five pounds,
when there would be heard a murmuring noise within, which were the
groans of the Yagog and Magog people confined in the mountain. Indeed,
Salam was told that the poor captives often appeared on the
battlements above. Thus the real existence of this people was, in his
opinion, fully proved; and even the story in respect to the diminutive
size of the Magogs was substantiated, for Salam was told that once, in
a high wind, three of them were blown off from the battlements to the
ground, and that, on being measured, they were found but three spans

This is a specimen of the tales brought home from remote countries by
the most learned and accomplished travelers of those times. In
comparing these absurd and ridiculous tales with the reports which are
brought back from distant regions in our days by such travelers as
Humboldt, Livingstone, and Kane, we shall perceive what an immense
progress in intelligence and information the human mind has made since
those days.

Next: Yezonkai Khan

Previous: Pastoral Life In Asia

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