The extension of political control is the most common method of presenting an expansion.(37)The Mongol system of government provides a unique type of political empire building. The Mongols quickly redefined the meaning of political expansion through military conquest to establish themselves as the rulers of settled societies far from their home with vastly different cultures. “This type of military aggression is different from the local wars over dynastic rights that became common inside Europe, but has parallels in the rise of the Incas in Peru, the Spanish occupation of America, and the Turkish conquest of the Balkans, as well as the Mongols themselves.”(38) The administrative systems that warrior empires executed varied greatly.
These systems ranged from the Mongol’s tribal system – under Chinggis Khan and his immediate successors – to the autocracy of the Inca, to the monarchies of Europe. However, no matter the form of authority, it was led by a military force that had a remarkable level of cohesion and mobility. However, there are instances that political expansion becomes complicated. It is the responsibility and ability of elites to transform military conquest into a sturdy empire. This conversion is what the Mongols failed to do themselves. In order to continue political expansion it became necessary for the Mongols to institute policies to expand culturally.(39)
The Mongols desire to continue their military and political conquest that resulted in them providing a framework for cultural expansion. The increasing cultural contact between people of different races and ethnicities resulted in cultures forced to accept (or borrow) morals from the societies encountered. The cultural exchanges in each region are not universally set but rather are unique to their circumstance. This process will occur no matter the situation. It is simply a matter of it following military conquest or in a gradual, peaceful approach. “In Western Asia, for example, the Mongols long retained many of the values of their nomadic tribal origins, yet they quickly adopted the Muslim religion of the peoples they encountered.”(40) It is common for conquerors to not only adopt the regional religion but, also, assimilate into the conquered society’s culture. After 1200, this form of cultural expansion increased became a normal occurrence. The integration of numerous religions and languages resulted in a long-term shift in a new cultural configuration. The Mongol influence over cultural expansion did not end there because it became intertwined with the framework of economic expansion. In short, the purpose of the cultural expansion is the plausible economic benefits.
The plausible economic benefit is the linchpin of the Mongol interests in conquest. Consequently, it is not ironic that they established the framework for economic expansion. Their economic interests laid upon two facets, which were complementary to each other. The first is the incorporation of the Mongol warrior’s nomads into a single political system, which resulted in giving societies – under their control – relatively stable conditions and markets. This not only resulted in prosperity and demographic expansion, but it also made trading relationships safer and more effective between China, the Middle East, India, and Europe.(41) The economic expansion of the Mongol empire was apparent, but the trade networks did not solely rely upon the empire to maintain a level of stability.
The trade networks did not solely rely on the Mongol empire to maintain stability because the trading network relied upon its mechanisms to expand into Africa, Asia, and Europe. This is one of the numerous aspects that facets of expansion interconnect. This is because, “[j]ust as political expansion was carried out by specialized military elites, long-distance trade was conducted by specialized commercial societies.”(42) This commerce-oriented cultures resulted in colonies being established over important trading routes, which were interconnected by languages, family, and familiar business activities. This resulted in the facilitation of beliefs, values, and cultural traditions across the silk roads between distinctive societies and economies. This was only able to occur because of the conditions created by the Mongols. These changes opened new opportunities to commerce because economic expansion opened trade from England to West Africa.(43) The openness to regional religion and culture permitted the Mongols to continue fulfilling their desire for conquest and state building.
The Mongol tribal heritage and shamanistic beliefs did not provide spiritual unity and the foundation for an imperial administration.(44) But the Mongols were aware of the importance religion played, which is why they instituted a policy of toleration. Chinggis Khan instituted a policy of toleration “…as part of his law that all religions were to be respected without favoritism and that the priests and holy men were to be treated with deference, a principle to which all his descendants adhered faithfully both in the East and West for successive generations.”(45) The policy was implemented because the Mongols believed that a conquered region became easier to rule if there is an adopted the state religion, which would justify their authority politically among the people. Consequently, the Mongol empire facilitation of religion beliefs provided the foundation of legal traditions and safe communication.(46)
37 Ringrose, Expansion and Global Interaction, 6.
39 Ibid., 6 – 8; Bentley, Old World Encounters, 32.
40 Ringrose, Expansion and Global Interaction, 8.
41 Bentley, Old World Encounters, 32.
42 Ringrose, Expansion and Global Interaction, 9.
43 Ibid; Bentley, Old World Encounters, 33.
44 Dawson, Mission to Asia, xxiii.
45 Ibid., xxiv.