By Catriona Macpherson


History has not always treated the Mongols kindly. Too much emphasis has been placed on military campaigns and atrocities; virtually ignoring their never-ending curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Although they were not particularly original, their conquests were instrumental in spreading knowledge and skills from east to west and vice versa.

The nomads were not barbarians; they were born into a harsh climate forcing them to be fierce and sometimes cruel by our standards in order to survive. Being constantly occupied with survival, they had no time to learn a more sophisticated way of life, as had the sedentary peoples of China and Iran. Nomads were not mentally inferior; but specialists in survival against severe odds. It has been said they didn't know how to build a bridge to cross a river. Of what need had they for a bridge? For one thing, they might never need to cross a particular river at a particular spot again since they were always on the move; for another, they could cross rivers by piling their possessions on top of their horses, and swimming them across, holding on to their tails. Why tie themselves to a certain route, possibly going miles out of their way, just because there was a bridge there to cross the river. Sedentary people became too dependent on bridges, walls and other accoutrements of "civilization", dulling their ability to think and act quickly in a crisis. Not so the nomad, his wits were always razor sharp, enabling him to face his environment with a good chance to survive whatever came his way.

There are many levels of civilization, each with its accompanying body of knowledge and customs. The nomads may not have been on the top rung of the ladder but they certainly had their place on the ladder.

The Mongols were only one of the nomad tribes which inhabited the Asian Steppes, however not until unification under Jenghiz Khan, did they become the Mongol nation. They had their own culture and their own tribal laws. It was frequently necessary to engage in internecine wars which were usually not unprovoked. The strongest chief got the best grazing lands, and it was often necessary to obtain and keep them by force. Following their customs more often than not resulted in conflict with another tribe.

Judging the Mongols and other nomad tribes by our standards, something we sometimes unwittingly do, is not fair to them. I have tried here to represent them as fairly and matter-of-factly as I could. Let the reader be the judge.


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