warfare is based on deception….Feign disorder, and crush him. If he
is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior
strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to
irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is
taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate
them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not
" The Art of War" by Sun Tzu
Chinghis and Sun Tzu were not contemporaries, much of the opening
quote applies to Mongolian warfare, where deception formed a basis of
battle strategy, and combined with high levels of discipline,
organization and personal strength to make the Mongolian army a
fierce force to be reckoned with. The Mongols believed that their
Great Khan was directed by God to conquer and rule the world.
Resistance to him was resistance to God and punishable by death.
Conquest on the scale envisioned by Chinghis¹
needed a high degree of discipline and organization. Their power lay
in tribal confederation and non-assimilation of foreign ways.
Mongolian Army - Structure
leadership of the Mongolian army was comprised of:
/ Khagan² - Commander-in-chief of the army, leader of the
patriarchal clans which formed the ordu, or camp.
- Noyan - The
equivalent of prince, serving directly under the khan. The noyan was
commander of the tumen and minghan units.
- Bahadur - The equivalent of
the European rank of knight. The Bahadur were also referred to as
the Old Elite Life Guard, who served as personal bodyguards to the
khan. The Bahadur made up the khagan's household, and served as the
officer's college. No man could command without first having served
in this group. Sons of noyans were automatically admitted, others
were selected though competitions that were held on a yearly basis.
In battle, this guard surrounded the khagan and rose only at the
decisive moment. During times of peace, they trained constantly and
attended council to learn the business of command.- Also
called the Imperial Guard, consisted of the Day Guard, Night Guard
and Quiver Bearers. Each of these guards was made up of three
- Quartermaster of the ordos, responsible for choosing camp sites,
laying out and running camp, organizing supplies and communications.
Chief yurtchis were responsible for camp administration,
reconnaissance and intelligence.
- Tumen - a unit of 10,000 men, divided into 10 minghan.
- Minghan - a unit of 1,000 men which was divided into 10 jagun. Commanders of both the tumen and the minghan were selected by the khan.
- Jagun - 100 men
divided into 10 arban, or troups.
- Arban - a unit of 10 men, who selected a commander from their own ranks. The commanders of the arban selected the commander of the jagun.
The Mongolian army had at least three tumens of cavalry, and several minghans of artillery and engineers, as well as interpreters and merchants who acted as spies, and an officer of the lost and found. Chinese served as mapmakers, doctors, diplomats, scientists and civil administrators in captured territories. They conducted censuses, surveyed crops and climate, and hired the interpreters and spies. The army was commanded by the khan / khagan through his generals.
The Mongolian Army - Uniforms and Armor
White was a sacred color, reserved for the His armor and tunic were white or white and gold, and he typically rode a white mount. (I hypothesize that white did not become a mourning color in Asia until the disastrous defeat of the Mongolian forces during their failed attempt to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281.) Bahadur wore black armor, a black tunic with red facings, and rode a black horse with a red leather saddle.
The basic uniform for all others was either a blue tunic with facings, or a brown tunic with light blue facings. Officers had gold and silver threads in their facings. Trousers were blue or gray. Both tunics and trousers were lined with fur in the winter. All men work silk undershirts³ and flat soled leather boots. In addition to this, light cavalry work a quilted tunic, or a cuirass of lacquered leather strips, and a leather helmet.
Heavy cavalry wore a coat of mail(flat rings on leather until they were introduced to Persian chain mail) with a cuirass of ox hide, or iron scale covered in leather and held together with thongs (similar to the lamellar armor worn by Japanese Samurai)
The iron helmet was covered with lacquered leather (I presume to avoid rust) and had a horsetail crest. Tumens and tribes were distinguished from each other by quilted cone-shaped caps with fur brims. Rank was denoted by a pair of red ribbons, which hung from the crown and down the back. They type of fur used on the brim also denoted rank. (It is my believe that the Manchurian hats with their upturned fur brims and ribbons down the back, evolved from Mongolian army caps.)
The Mongolian Army - Provisions and Weaponry
Provisions were carried in saddlebags and included:
change of clothing
- Yogurt, millet, dried
meat, kumiss (fermented mare's milk)
- A leather water bottle
- A fish
- A hatchet
- Files for sharpening arrows
thread and other repair equipment
The bow was the most important weapon a Mongol had. The Mongolian composite bow was made from layers of horn and sinew on a wood frame which was then lacquered. Compared to the English long bow which had a 75 pound pull and a 250 yard range, the Mongolian recurve bow had a 160 pound pull with a range of 350 yards.
Mongolian archers wore a stone ring on their right thumb, which they used to release the bowstring (rather than their fingers), which increased the velocity and speed of release of the arrow. Arrows were of various types, including those for short range, long range, armor piercers with tempered tips, whistling signal arrows, incendiary, and grenade-tipped. Each man carried 2 quivers, which held about 30 arrows each
The horse was the most prized possession the Mongol owned. They were generally 13-14 hands high, some may have been as large as 16 hands. For the first two years of a pony's life, they were ridden hard and broken in. After three years of pasturing they were then trained for battle. Steppe horses were renowned for their courage and endurance. They only needed to be watered once a day, and they could dig for grass under the snow, which eliminated the army's need to carry feed. Mares were preferred because both the milk and the blood could be drunk for sustenance.
Each warrior had between 3-20 horses, which allowed them to ride non-stop. A Mongolian horseman could string a bow from his saddle, as well as eat and sleep on horseback. Herds of up to 10,000 head accompanied the army and were divided by color, which served as another definition of rank. Weak horses were killed for food, but horses which had been used in battle were not. When a battle horse went lame, it was put out to pasture. If it was a favorite of its owner, it was killed at the owner's death so the two spirits could be together in the afterlife.
Harnesses and saddles were decorated with silver. Horses ridden by heavy cavalry were armored (probably with ox hide).
The Mongolian Army - Training and Tactics
The harsh and demanding lifestyle provided Mongolian soldiers with endurance, mobility and other warlike qualities. Mongolians were also very dedicated to their leaders, and were highly disciplined. Their European counterparts however, went to war with little training or discipline, very little experience in fighting as a unit, and as often as not, went to war for profit under the guise of religious crusade. The feudal system allowed men to lead based on their wealth rather than on tactical ability.
Training for the hulega, or "Great Hunt", a slow, circular advance made at a steady pace which they called the wolf lope. It was conducted like a campaign and was designed to teach discipline, strategy and unity under command. The favorite tactic was to strike suddenly and unexpectedly. Data was collected from spies; 'merchants' spread propaganda to lower enemy morale; maps were studied and strategies planned. Scouts rode in front of reconnaissance patrols, followed by army unit riding in formation with a center, two wings, a vanguard and a rearguard.
The most often used method of attack was the tulghma, or "Standard Sweep", in which the light cavalry was sent forward to attack at right angles, with the heavy cavalry sweeping around and charging the enemy from the rear.
Another favorite maneuver was the mangudai. A light cavalry of suicide troops charged the enemy, then retreated, leading the enemy into an ambush of heavy cavalry. Units communicated with each other with a variety of signals, including whistling arrows or flags by day, torches at night.
Dispatches were sent via courier, through a pony express system called the Yam. Roads became thoroughfares throughout the Mongolian Empire, with rest stations and fresh horses every 25 miles. This allowed couriers to ride 120 miles a day. Roads also allowed the army to move columns of soldiers at great distances, making simultaneous thrusts, surrounding the enemy, and appearing to be a larger force than they actually were.
If the Mongolian army was too heavily outnumbered, they would turn aside, putting a day or two's journey between themselves and the enemy, and then lay waste to whatever was around them, which had the effect of depleting supplies that would normally have been foraged by the enemy. Mongolian armies might also retreat for 10-12 days, until the opposing army had disbanded, then attack them. Mongolians gained victory by destroying the enemy and progressively dominating the territories of those they conquered. The Mongols were able to do this in Russia by dividing the country and then weakening it.
The artillery stayed behind with the engineers (typically Persians), reserves and remounts. The Mongols learned about siege weapons from either the Chinese or the Persians, and improved upon them when they invaded Iran. Chinese siege engines used by the Mongols were:
catapult - operated by 40 men, it threw a 200 pound projectile about
100 yards. It was easily dismantled and transported on pack
catapult - operated by 100 men, it threw a 250 pound missile about
150 yards. It was used to shoot containers of burning tar, which
acted as a smoke screen. Incendiary bombs were also launched at
fortifications and city walls; these bombs, made from naptha and
quick lime, were not as accurate or as destructive as other forms of
missiles, but were terrifying and an effective psychological weapon.
- looked like a giant crossbow and could shoot a heavy arrow the same
distance as the heavy catapult but with more accuracy. It could be
dismantled and transported like the light catapult.
Another method of siege was to drive the enemy into their city with archers. The city was then sealed off with a wooden palisade which took 9-10 days to build. This prevented messengers from escaping and protected the Mongolian archers. Then the siege began, using catapults, rams, and javelin throwers. During the consequent storming of the city, some survivors were allowed to escape to spread stories of terror to other nearby towns.
Still another method involved damming a nearby river and diverting its flow to flood a city. The Amo River, used for this purpose, now has a new course from what it had prior to the 13th century. The Mongols were regarded by the rest of the world as superhuman---the reputation that preceded them was one of their strongest weapons. As a fighting machine, the Mongols possessed great mobility, organization, discipline, and total dedication.
(to be continued...)