Mongal Military Tactics and organization
Mongol Military Tactics and Organization
Since the beginning of time, men banded together for protection and communal life. Consequently, tribes who lived nomadic lives in lands with scarce resources were known to be fierce and mobile on the battlefield. Examples such as the Scythian armies which defeated Alexander the Great, the Arabic soldiers, who led by Mohammed conquered North Africa and the Levant; and the Mongol tribes, a group of tribes living in the Asian steppes who during almost two centuries ruled Eurasia.
However, Mongolian tribes, although seen as primitive by the outsiders, had some interesting features that allowed them to succeed in battle and be as efficient as they were. For instance, given the fact they were mostly nomadic, it was impossible to speak about a unified Mongolian army until the arrival of Genghis Khan. The Khan served as the unifying figure who led all the Mongolian tribes scattered in the steppes to become the empire they were. Likewise, the scarcity of resources in their homeland, along with the hard conditions on which the tribes lived allowed them to endure with relative ease the hardships of a military campaign, whereas their enemies resented such environments and were ill-suited to fight the Mongols’ continuous raids. Nevertheless, this would not have been possible without a strong discipline and good equipment. On the other hand, since the earlier sources on the “Golden Horde” are the recounts of their enemies, the Mongolian army has had a reputation of brutality throughout the years. Consequently, finding historiography that speaks about the Mongols in a neutral tone is incredibly hard to find. Therefore, efforts such as Rossabi’s are an excellent source of information to find coherent sources on the development of the Mongolian army given to the intensive nature of his research, contrasting European sources with Chinese and Persian versions, providing a historical recount that seems sound and well cited.
Thus, to find why the Mongolian army’s tactics were successful against their foes, it is important to analyze the elements that turned them into a well-oiled conquering machine. For instance, Mongolian troops’ mobility was largely based on their horses and their deception and terror tactics. Without their small but resistant steeds, the horde would not have been able to have the maneuverability and strength to tire their enemies and hit them when they were tired. Hence, looking back in history, those tactics of using horse archers and hit-and-run incursions mostly resemble the Parthian army when the Roman legions attempted to conquer their lands. Therefore, it is possible to say that without their horses, the Mongolian army would not have become more than a local power, perhaps becoming a sedentary society like those they conquered. Likewise, the Horde’s enemies were not capable of fighting such mobile enemies as they were not accustomed to the hardships of the saddle nor these constant raids were enemies were often invisible or out of reach. European tactics were more related to heavy armored knights clashing against each other in pitched battles for supremacy. Hence, their equipment made them slow, impeding them to retaliate as quickly as they should, resulting in an advantage to the Mongolian Army
For this reason, horses were the backbone of the Mongolian army, a classic example of the use of animals in their battles can be found in the Subedei expeditions to Russia, where they fought Mstislav the Daring, a Russian prince who amassed an army who outnumber the Horde’s troops four to one. According to the chroniclers, Subedei sensed that a direct approach was going to be disastrous, he ordered his army to fight and retreat, driving the Russian army far from their supply routes and tiring them in the process. After a week of being pursued, the Mongols attacked, routing the army and gaining access to the Dnieper River.
Also, besides the masterful use of horses in the battlefield, Mongols employed terror tactics to cause fear in their opponents even before the battle. Therefore, since at the beginning of the Horde’s campaigns the army did not have siege engines, they developed terror tactics that ensured that sedentary populations were going to submit to their rule or face constant raids, destroying crops and trade routes, effectively isolating them from their neighbors, dooming their citizens to starvation and death. Likewise, since Mongol armies were initially smaller than its European counterparts they were forced to use different tactics to appear bigger and better organized. For instance, the horde usually separated its army into three self-sufficient corps that attacked each flank of the opposing army with arrows, luring them into their ranks and away from their allies, picking them off with heavy cavalry who was still fresh and undamaged. Also, given the potency and range of Mongolian bows adding to their prowess as riders, European armies could not usually stand a chance.
To sum up, Rossebi’s account emphasizes the importance of the Golden Horde’s weapons and nomadic tactics that were, in essence, way different than its enemies’. Since most sedentary societies’ armies fought hand-to-hand combats, they were ill equipped to fight mobile enemies who focused on speed and endurance rather than sheer might to win on the battlefield. However, it did not take long before the opposing armies realized they their tactics could be used against them, allowing the European armies of the East to adapt to face this new threat. Hence, it is possible to say that there is no such thing as a perfect military tactic and that warfare is constantly evolving, changing the nature of the conflicts and how they are solved.
Lane, G. Genghis Khan and Mongol Rule. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. 31.
Morgan, D. The Mongols. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 1986.
Rossabi, M. “All the Khan’s Horses.” 1994. Accessed November 20, 2015. http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/mongols/conquests/khans_horses.pdf.
Rossabi, Morris. The Mongols and Global History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. 2.