FROM THE DANUBE TO THE YELLOW SEA
The impulse which Genghis Khan had given the Mongols did not abate with his death. On the contrary: conquest went on with amazing rapidity and thoroughness — and skill — under his immediate successors, as though the god-like warrior’s sküldé had indeed taken abode in the Mongol banner.
As we have said, Genghis Khan died in August 1227. Soon afterwards, the last resistance of the Kin (whose Emperor had gone south) was broken, Nan-king stormed, and the whole of China down to the River Yang-Tse definitively brought to submission. This was mainly the work of Subodai, the veteran general, who had served Genghis Khan all his life. But Ogodai — now Khakhan, — and his brother Tuli (who died on his way back to Karakorum) had led separate armies operating together with his, all through the early part of the campaign. Then, but a few years later, — in the summer of 1236, — the Mongol tumans, rested, and equipped anew, (provided with “a corps of Chinese engineers under the command of a k’ung pao, a master of artillery”1) were again marching west; covering the sixty degrees of longitude that separated them from the limit, of the already conquered lands, in order to conquer more. Batu, son of Juchi, of whom the rich grasslands of Russia were to be the heritage; Mangu, son of Tuli; the promising young war-lord Kaidu, son of Kuyuk son of Ogodai, and Subodai, led the irresistible forces. The same unbelievably patient and cautious preparations as in the days of the dead conqueror, followed by the same swift action at the decisive, moment, characterised this new great campaign — the second one without the material presence of Genghis Khan. (They were to characterise all the following Mongol campaigns, for another thirty years.)
The results are known. They are: the total collapse
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 121.
all Russian resistance and the conquest of half Europe by Genghis Khan’s countrymen. “In the month of February (1237), writes the historian, “twelve walled cities were obliterated. In the short space between December and the end of March, the free peoples of central Russia vanished. And the sturdy and turbulent independence of the Variag-governed Slavs ceased to be.”1 The half-byzantine city of Kiev, which the Mongols named “the Court of the Golden Heads” on account of the resplendent domes of its many churches, was stormed on the 6th December 1240 and completely destroyed. And the Western march culminated in the famous battle of Liegnitz, (at which, on the 9th April, 1241, Kaidu crushed the coalesced armies of Henry the Pious, Duke of Silesia, and of the Margrave of Moravia, before King Wenceslas of Bohemia had had time to join them,) and, nearly at the same time, in the defeat of King Bela on the banks of the River Sayo, and. in the conquest of Hungary by Subodai and Batu, soon followed by a further advance of the Mongol hosts, who, crossed the frozen Danube on Christmas Day and who, “with Gran smoking behind them, circled Vienna and pushed on as far as Neustadt.”2 The arrival at the Mongol camp, in February 1242, of a courier from far-away Karakorum, with news of the Khakhan’s death and the order to march back to the kuriltai to be held in the homeland, put an end to the conquest of Europe. But Russia was to remain under Mongol yoke for over three hundred years.
But that was not all. A little later — in 1253, when Mangu, son of Tuli, had succeeded short-lived Kuyuk son, of Ogodai, as, Khakhan, — Kubilai, Tuli’s second son, “was ordered to march against the Sung Empire in southern China, that had never been invaded by Barbarians”3 while, at the other end of Asia, Hulagu, another of Mangu’s brothers, started the campaign that was to make him the master of eastern Asia Minor, Syria and Iraq, extending the limits of the domination of the Golden Family to the shores of the Mediterranean and to the Arabian sands.
In 1258, Mostasem, last Khalif of Baghdad, was captured
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 130.
2 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 156.
3 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 208.
in his city. Hulagu had him wrapped in felt and trampled under the hoofs of the Mongol horses, so that his blood — royal blood — might not be shed. Baghdad was put to sack, and ruined. And although, about to march into Egypt, the grandson of Genghis Khan turned from his conquest at the news of Mangu’s death, to take part in the meeting of the Mongol princes in their distant homeland — as Subodai and Kaidu had turned from the conquest of Western Europe seventeen years before; — and although none of his descendants were ever to resume the onslaught against the civilised lands of the South, still, his son, Abaka, and, after him, five other princes of his blood, known in history as the “Il-Khans of Persia,” ruled in succession over the greater part of the lands he had conquered. The dynasty lasted till 1335.
Meanwhile, in the Far East, Kubilai, now Khakhan after Mangu, and the master of the whole of China and of Yu-nan after years of war, received the formal submission of the lords of Tong-King and sent his fleets “to raid the Malayan coasts, and officers in disguise to explore the distant island of Sumatra.”1 And his descendants, known in the Chinese annals as “the Yuan Dynasty,” held their domination until the priest Chu, known as Tai-Tsong, overthrew Shun-Ti, the last of them, in 1368, becoming himself the founder of the Ming Dynasty.
In the steppes of High Asia, “from the forested Altai to the heights of Afghanistan”2 — between the Chinese world, domain of Kubilai and of his sons, to the East, and the domain of the Il-Khans, sons of Hulagu, and that of the Khans of the Golden Horde, sons of Batu or sons of his brother Birkai, to the West, — ruled Kaidu, son of Kuyuk son of Ogodai; Kaidu, the victor of Liegnitz. “He had knit together the lands of the house of Ogodai — his own — and of the house of Chagatai.”3 With his warrior-like daughter Ai-Yuruk, — one of the most fascinating feminine historic figures of all times, — constantly at his side, he lived and fought in the old Mongol fashion, contemptuous of his uncles’ increasing luxuries, and made frequent inroads into the lands of Kubilai Khan, to whom he never submitted. Of all Genghis Khan’s grandsons and great-grand-sons,
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 275.
2 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 243.
3 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 274.
he was, perhaps, the one who resembled the great ancestor the most. Yet, in glaring contrast to him, “the one thing Kaidu lacked was patience.”1 And that was enough to keep him in the background of history for ever, after the brilliant part he played under Subodai’s guidance, during the European campaign. One cannot help wondering what a different course events in Asia might have taken, had the gifted prince been also endowed with that mastery in the art of waiting, which is the quality of the strong, par excellence.
However, the fact remains that the map of the lands conquered by Genghis Khan and by his immediate successors under the impulse his genius had given them, is singularly impressive. Never had there existed on earth such a great empire. Its territory stretched, in latitude, from the frozen “tundras” of Northern Siberia to the Persian Gulf, the Himalayas, and the jungles of Burma and Tong-King, and, in longitude, from the Danube and the Eastern Mediterranean to the Pacific Ocean. And the varied peoples thus assembled under the yoke of one family comprised more than half the total number of human beings.
* * *
And that was not all. More impressive even than the extent of the Mongol Empire was its extraordinary organisation, and the peace and security that followed, wherever Mongol domination was firmly established. “The Mongols proved in practice that they were as splendid organisers as they were soldiers,”2 writes one of Genghis Khan’s modern biographers, summing up the staggering impression of efficiency in peace as well as in war that thirteenth century European observers — both monks and traders — gathered from a close contact with the Empire of the steppes.
The most obvious mark of that amazing genius for organisation was, perhaps, the perfect safety in which travellers and merchants, and preachers of every faith, could move from relay to relay along the great post roads that ran in every direction, from one end of the Empire to the other. In Genghis Khan’s own days, or under his immediate successors Ogodai
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians,” p. 125.
2 Ralph Fox, loc. cit, p. 254.
and Kuyuk, it is said that a fifteen year-old virgin, covered with jewels, could have walked through Asia unmolested, so high was the standard of honesty and so strict the discipline imposed upon every human being by the conqueror’s iron code of laws: the Yasa. And over a hundred years later, at the time the Florentine trader Francesco Balduci Pegolotti went along it as a representative of the important commercial firm of the Bardi, the land route to Cathay, which started from Tana on the Sea of Azov, was still “the safest in the world,”1 thanks to the fact that the conqueror’s policy had been, to a great extent, carried on by his descendants. A merchant needed no escort whatsoever. In spite of many changes in the political structure of the Empire, Genghis Khan’s Yasa still preserved the “Mongolian peace” within all lands from Poland to the Pacific Ocean, at least as far as harmless travellers were concerned.
“Dictated by Genghis Khan from time to time and traced upon leaves of gold by his secretaries,”2 the Yasa was a strange code of laws. Age-old tribal regulations designed to enforce, a certain amount of cleanliness among the Mongols or illustrating the nomads’ particular conception of the spirit-world and their idea of its interference in human affairs, were to be found in it, side by side with dictates of a far broader scope — dictates revealing the conqueror’s will to make his conquest everlasting and his actual capacity of doing so if only... his successors would faithfully abide by his commands. It was, for instance, among many other things, forbidden to urinate upon the ashes of a fire, or to pollute running water even by making ablutions or washing clothes in it, for that water was to be drunk (and in Central Asia streams are rare). It was also forbidden “to walk in running water during the spring and summer” or “to walk over a fire” so as “not to trouble the titulary spirits of fire and water.”3 But at the same time, all Genghis Khan’s subjects were ordered “to respect all religious faiths without being bound by any one faith”4 and not to quarrel with one another on any account.
1 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p. 187.
2 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 95.
3 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 96.
4 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 96.
The Yasa, in fact, imposed death penalty “for any evidence of quarrelling — even for spying upon another man, or taking sides with one of two who were disputing together”;1 and religious toleration was enforced only in order to avoid further occasions of dispute and further germs of division among the millions of people that the conqueror wished to unite. Likewise, fornication, sodomy, magic and deliberate lying — all sins that could give rise to personal jealousies and sow seeds of dissension among people, and that could not but enervate them both physically and morally; or sins that might forward possibilities of rebellion — were punished by death; so was, also, and above all, “disobedience to an order” and “any attempt of a lesser man to use the authority that belonged to the khakhan alone.”2 The only loyalty which both Mongols and subject people were to share was loyalty to the khakhan “Emperor of all men”; their one religion above all religions wad to be the strong sense of duty that bound them to him through the representatives of his authority at all levels of that military hierarchy upon which rested, throughout the conquered world, what we have called “the Mongol peace.”
In other words, the Yasa was, first and foremost, a military code designed to stabilise for all times to come the result of Genghis Khan’s conquests — and of the conquests of his successors; — a legal system that would “hold his Mongols together as a clan through all changes in fortune,”3 and also hold down the subject people under them, permanently. And it is only to be expected that it went into many details with regard to the equipment and discipline of the army in war time,4 while it imposed upon all Mongols a truly military-like comradeship and equality in peace time as well. (No Mongol was “to eat in the presence of another without sharing his food with him,” and “no one was to satisfy his hunger more than another”).5 But it was also, as Harold Lamb has written, “a one-man’s family code,”6 for in Genghis Khan’s eyes Mongol domination meant nothing else but the domination of the
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 96.
2 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit, 1941), p. 96.
3 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 95.
4 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 121.
5 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 95.
6 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 97.
“Golden Family” — of his family — endlessly prolonging his own absolute rule. He had struggled all his life in order to assure riches and power — unshakable security, — for his sons and grandsons. He deviced the Yasa and made it the one law binding together fifty conquered kingdoms, not in view of the happy evolution of these kingdoms under the best possible conditions, but in view of their most intelligent, most efficient and lasting exploitation for the profit of the children of his own blood — the only men who were allowed to touch the sheets of gold upon which the new Law was written. And he had in fact said: “If the descendants born after me keep to the Yasa, and do not change it, for a thousand and ten thousand years the Everlasting Sky will aid and preserve them.”1
One of the most striking practical results of his legislation was that, during his lifetime — and for quite a long time afterwards, — he actually managed to eradicate crime among the Mongols and to make the various countries which the latter had conquered the best organised in the world. No doubt, the Yasa “worked hardship enough on subject peoples and those enslaved by the wars”;2 yet those peoples, accustomed to the misrule of decaying dynasties or to the whimsical tyranny of petty chieftains, were benefited by it to the extent that order, however harsh it be, is always better than disorder.
But the self-centred family spirit in, which the iron code of laws was conceived was the very reason why it could not keep the Empire together for ever. Nothing short of the impersonal cult of truth — of absolute devotion to a state of things built upon objective truth, — can keep even a few thousands people together for ever. It is (when one comes to think of it) amazing that the Yasa remained “a sort of religion”3 to the Mongols themselves for so long after the death of the great conqueror.
* * *
The respect in which the legislation was held was due to the personal devotion that every Mongol felt for Genghis Khan, rather than to ideological reasons. Genghis Khan’s world
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 95.
2 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 97.
3 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 97.
was obeyed blindly, unconditionally, even years after his death, just because it was his word — the word of a victorious Leader in whom every Mongol revered the one appointed by the Everlasting Blue Sky to rule the earth. For two generations, nobody — save, perhaps, Juchi, and his son Batu, — dreamed of disobeying its dictates. It stated, for instance, that, at the death of a khakhan, the princes of the Golden Family and the chieftains of the army should gather, from wherever they might happen to be, in the Mongolian homeland, for the election of a new khakhan. So when, in February 1242, the news of Ogodai’s death was brought to Subodai’s headquarters on the Danube, the veteran general and the Mongolian army just about to move further west and to conquer the whole of Europe (where nothing could have stopped them) turned back, and started the long long journey to Karakorum as a matter of course. To Subodai, — and to every one of the chiefs, save Batu, — to disregard the summons to the appointed kuriltai was “unthinkable.”1 And as the conqueror had expressly designed his second (or third) son, Ogodai, to be khakhan after him, the Mongol chiefs had sworn at their first kuriltai never to elect a khakhan who were not a member of the house of Ogodai; and at the second gathering of the blood-kin, after Ogodai’s death, they elected Kuyuk, Ogodai’s son. But although nobody — not even Batu — dreamed of questioning the authority of the Yasa openly, those of its dictates that stood in the way of mere than one ambitious member of the Golden Family were simply ignored (if not deliberately brushed aside) after Kuyuk had died; and more and more so, as time went on.
Mangu’s election to the supreme dignity of khakhan, away from the Mongol homeland, in Batu’s camp at the mouth of the River Imil, at a kuriltai at which not one of the princes of the house of Ogodai was present, was illegal from the standpoint of the Yasa. And even more so (if that be possible) was, after Mango’s death, the election of his brother Kubilai, in the Chinese town of Shang-tu, at an assembly attended only by the officers of the Left Wing of the army — of his army — and by Chinese officials. These elections, the result of both of which was a further blow to the unity of the Mongol Empire, in defiance of Genghis Khan’s life-long
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 161.
aim and dearest dreams, were possible only because the members of the Golden Family that were thus favoured loved themselves and their own sons more than the memory of the great Ancestor to whose conquests they owed their place in the world; more than the Golden Family at large, whose domination he had struggled to secure at all costs. In other words, Mangu and Kubilai, (and, still more than they, their ambitious and patient mother, Siyurkuktiti, whose clever intrigues are at the bottom of the rise of the house of Tuli to supreme. power) had Genghis Khan’s own attitude to life: nothing guided them in their decisions but the lust of plenty and power — of security for ever, — for the sons and grandsons of their own loins.
No doubt, they were both remarkable men and they achieved great things in war as well as in the administration of the conquered lands. They both extended the limits of the already immense Mongol Empire. Yet, by accepting the khakhan’s throne from an illegally assembled kuriltai (as Mangu did) or by actually grabbing it through a sort of coup d’état (as Kubilai did, when he gathered his followers in Shang-tu) they both rose against the order established by Genghis Khan and prepared the collapse of his life’s work; they wrought the disintegration of what he had welded together and had intended to keep together. The Conqueror had indeed told his sons and their sons: “While you are together and of one mind, you will endure. If you are separated, you will be broken.”1 Mangu and Kubilai separated themselves from the rest of the Golden Family, in particular from the sons and grandsons of Ogodai, legitimate heirs to the domination of the steppes by Genghis Khan’s own choice, — and that, nay, while there was, among others, in the person of Kaidu son of Kuyuk, the victor of Liegnitz and the hero of Hungary, a brilliant representative of the privileged House to which the Mongol chieftains had pledged their faith at the first kuriltai held after Genghis Khan’s death.
Batu, of course, already years before, had not cared to go back to the Mongol homeland to attend the assembly that had raised Kuyuk to the throne. As it is, however, not sure
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 82.
whether his father, Juchi, was Genghis Khan’s own son or not, his attitude may seem more natural than that of his cousins. But from the standpoint of the Yasa, it was no less censurable. Genghis Khan himself had given his sons the order to march against Juchi when the latter had failed to obey his summons to a gathering of the Mongol chiefs. For the Yasa was binding on all Mongols — no less than on the subject peoples that were barred from the Mongol privileges.
* * *
Batu’s refusal to march back to Karakorum in order to sit there as lord of the West, among the other Mongol princes, his kinsmen, lords of various conquered lands, at the kuriltai, that was to appoint Kuyuk khakhan, “Lord of the world”; and, a few years later, the election of Mangu by an assembly illegally held in Batu’s camp by the Lake of the Eagles; and, after that, the election of Kubilai, also away from the, Mongol homeland and against the will of more than half the Golden Family, were, as I said, acts of disobedience to Genghis Khan’s order to his descendants to “remain together.” A subtler, yet no less flagrant defiance of the conqueror’s will is to be noted in the gradual conversion of all but a few princes of the Golden Family to various foreign religions and cultures — in their absorption into the civilisations of the subject nations.
Significantly enough, it is among those descendants of Genghis Khan who played in history the greatest part — the princes of the house of Juchi, rulers of Russia, and the princes of the house of Tuli, emperors of China and Il-Khans of Persia, — that Mongols, followers of the ways of the conquered peoples are to be found. Birkai, son of Juchi, “the first of the line of Genghis Khan to yield himself to a religion,”1 embraced Islam and, what is more, championed the cause of Islam in war, against his cousin, Hulagu. And Sartak, Batu’s eldest son, is said to have embraced Christianity, — although one has to admit that, in his life among many wives, amidst surroundings that appeared to the Belgian Friar William of Ruysbroek as those “of another age,”2 he hardly seems to
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 194.
2 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 195.
have taken the Christian standards of behaviour into account. At the other end of the earth, Kubilai, son of Tuli, who, in his youth, had learnt the pictographic script of Cathay along with elements of Chinese wisdom under Yao Chow, was more of a Chinese potentate than of a Mongol Khakhan. Before he conquered the south of China, he had himself, says the historian, “been conquered by the Chinese” and “he may not have realised, or he may not have cared, that, in uniting China, he had brought the Empire of the steppes to an end.”1 But the Chinese can only have “conquered him” because the appeal which their luxuries and their wisdom had for him war” stronger than his attachment to Genghis Khan’s great dream. With Timur, Kubilai’s grandson and successor, who had “lost; the energy and simplicity of the barbarians,”2 the old idea of military rule and of the Mongols’ aloofness from the conquered peoples was completely forgotten. The Buddhists were given new privileges.3 The Yuan Dynasty had already become a Chinese dynasty after many others.
And in Persia, where Hulagu himself had followed Genghis Khan’s Mongol policy detached from all religion, and where Abaka, his son and successor, kept an empty throne beside him, raised higher than his own, as a symbol of his submission to the distant, khakhan in the East (who then, happened to be Kubulai) Islam and Persian culture prevailed in the end among Genghis Khan’s descendants. At Abaka’s death in 1282, another of Hulagu’s sons became a convert to the faith of the Prophet and held the throne for two years under the name of Ahmed, until he met his fate in a popular rising. Arghun, son of Abaka, who then rose to power, was not a Mohammadan. But his successor, Ghazan, became one. And the following Il-Khans of Persia, easygoing patrons of art — with less and less of Genghis Khan’s blood in their veins — were definitively conquered to the religion and life of the land, over which they ruled with the help of Mohammadan wiziers and where “all trace of Hulagu” — and of Genghis Khan — “had been lost.”4
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 270.
2 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 233.
3 Harold Lamb, Ibid., p. 281.
4 Harold Lamb, Ibid., p. 287.
Alone the princes of the house of Chagatai and those of the dispossessed house of Ogodai (to whom Genghis Khan had wished to give pre-eminence over the others) remained unaffected by the lure of foreign vanities and foreign subtleties of thought; faithful to the old Mongol way of life. And they found in Kaidu son of Kuyuk son of Ogodai son of Genghis Khan a chieftain worthy of them, “a hard soul, indifferent to religion, determined to lead the steppe dwellers to war”1 — a man who despised the refinements of decadence which others called civilisation. And Kaidu, to whom the elder Mongols had given the title of Khakhan2 and who was the master of High Asia from Afghanistan to the Altai ranges, fought all his life against hiss uncle Kubilai who had turned from both the letter and the spirit of the Yasa to become the founder of the Yuan Dynasty of Cathay.
But it is difficult to say how far Kaidu was (any more than Genghis Khan himself) a disinterested idealist. He doubtless deplored the gradual absorption of the conquerors by the conquered people, the submission of Mongols to strange religions, contrarily to the great Ancestor’s command the prevalence of a different strange etiquette at each of the different new Mongol courts. He doubtless deplored the fact that “the Mongol empire was dismembering swiftly into its four quarters;” that “the homelands had ceased to have any significance”3 and that it was probably already too late to try to put things right again in accordance with Genghis Khan’s dream. Yet, at least from the little we know of his ardent life, all his bravery and skill — just like his great-grandsire’s, and that of the other Mongol princes — were put to the service of one purpose: his own survival and power and that of his family in the narrow sense of the word. He certainly should have been proclaimed khakhan in the place of Mangu, at Kuyuk’s death. And Mangu — and Kubilai — should have acted as his lieutenants, stabilising and extending the Mongol conquests for him and with him, with selfless zeal, so as to make Genghis Khan’s work everlasting. If they did not do so, it is because they loved themselves and their own families
1 Harold Lamb, Ibid., p. 242-243.
2 Harold Lamb, Ibid., p. 273.
3 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 244.
— the children, of their own bodies — more than any great imperial dream that could no longer be directly and personally connected with them; because they failed to feel for their nephew of genius, of the privileged house of Ogodai, that sort of loyalty which a knight feels for his king. But nothing we know of Kaidu’s history goes to prove that he was, in any way, different from them in his purpose, however much he might have been in his tastes; nothing suggests that he was, any less that they or than Genghis Khan himself, what I have called in the beginning of this book a “man ‘in Time’.”
* * *
The actually disinterested characters, more than any others the makers of Mongol greatness in the thirteenth century, are to be sought among Genghis Khan’s devoted followers rather than among his own grandsons and great-grandsons. Towering above them all stands one of the finest war-lords — and also one of the finest men — of all times: Subodai.
The very embodiment of the highest and purest warrior-like virtues, he had, from the early days of Genghis Khan’s struggle for power — for fifty years; all his life — fought with irresistible efficiency, with vision, with genius, not for any profit or glory of his own but solely for the greatness and glory of the Leader whom he loved and revered. He had served him brilliantly in his westward lightning march, and scaled the Caucasus and raided the Russian plains at his command. And, after his death, he had conquered China down to Nanking for his successors, in a campaign that was a masterpiece of warfare, directing sieges with unfailing skill, and, just as in the West, ordering mass-massacres without a trace of either glee or horror — with perfect detachment — whenever he considered it a military necessity and had received no orders not to do so. He had conquered Russia, Poland, Hungary, — half Europe, — for Ogodai, Genghis Khan’s son, and turned his back on his conquests as a matter of course, without resentment, without regret, when, at Ogodai’s death, he had received the summons to attend the customary assembly of chiefs in far-away Karakorum. And then, when Kuyuk son of Ogodai was preparing to march against Bata, who had defied his authority; when, for the first time, Mongols were to fight
Mongols, he retired from active life, with the permission of the khakhan. He retired “to his yurt in the steppes by the River Tula.” And “there he put away the insignia of his rank and took to sitting on the sunny side of his yurt, watching his herds go out to grazing.”1
“A soldier without a weakness”2 in the words of John of Carpini, the first European to visit the Mongol realm of his own accord; “implacable as death itself,”3 in the words of the modern historian Harold Lamb, he had but one love: Genghis Khan, his Leader; and he knew but one law: the Yasa, expression of Genghis Khan’s will, and one morality: absolute obedience to that will. And when facts told him that that will no longer ruled the new world which he had helped to build, he retired from the world — back to his flocks, back to obscurity; back to the nothingness out of which Mongol grandeur had sprang through Genghis Khan, and into which it was, one day, to sink, once more, now that the conqueror’s command to “remain together” no longer bound the Golden Family. Absolute devotion can only exteriorise itself in absolute obedience or, — when obedience has lost all meaning; when the Leader’s will, which is the sole measure of right and wrong, is defeated on the material plane, — in silence.
It is the presence of such characters as Subodai — of men unconditionally devoted to Genghis Khan (or to his memory) without a trace of selfishness — at all levels of the Mongol military hierarchy, that enabled the conqueror’s work to last as long as it did. Had Genghis Khan’s own grandsons and great-grandsons all had that spirit, and had they “remained together,” contemptuously aloof from the beliefs and controversies and interests of the vanquished, — faithful to the Yasa alone, or at least to the purpose of the Yasa, — the stupendous Empire of the steppes might have endured for centuries. As things stood, it is, as I have said before, a wonder that it endured as long as it did.
For it was the monument of one extraordinary man’s successful ambition, not a historical structure based upon
1 Harold Lamb, loc. cit., p. 178.
2 Harold Lamb, loc. cit., p. 178.
3 Harold Lamb, loc. cit., p. 111.
truth; not a step towards a new world-order conceived on the model of the eternal Order of Life. And the Yasa, on the obedience to which its strength rested, was “a one man’s family code”1 not the charta of a new faith nearer to truth than the then existing ones. It had been deviced to keep the conquered world enslaved to the descendants of one man, because that man had fought and conquered for himself and for them, not because they had been given by Nature any special right to rule for ever; not because they represented in any way a permanently superior type of humanity.
One cannot but understand — and admire — Subodai’s devotion to his Leader. It was a glaring homage to the greatness of personality, that essence of leadership; a recognition of the unquestionable rights that personality enjoys, according to the laws of life. In devoting his genius to the strong man whom the Everlasting Blue Sky had appointed to rule the earth, Subodai was, in all humility and wisdom, faithful to those eternal Laws. And so were all those who, like him, followed Genghis Khan without even thinking of what advantages and glory they would thereby win for themselves.
But one has to admit that, beautiful as it certainly is in itself, such devotion is not enough to build up either a lasting empire or a lasting civilisation. That alone which is rooted in truth is lasting. And for absolute devotion to a Leader to have its full creative — and lasting — potency, (which is, sooner or later, bound to mould the course of history according to the Leader’s dreams) the Leader himself should be more than an ambitious self-centred man in quest of security and power for his own family; more than a man “in Time,” however great. He should be worthy of absolute devotion, worthy of life-long day to day unconditional sacrifice, not merely in the eyes of his enthusiastic followers, who might idealise him, but from the impersonal standpoint of what is called in the Bhagavad-Gita “the welfare of the Universe” — from the point of view of the purpose of Life. In other words, he should himself be a selfless soul; a man striving with detachment to “live in Truth” and calling others to do like-wise, — whether “above Time,” like King Akhnaton or the Buddha, or “against Time,” like Lord Krishna, the political
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 97.
karmayogi, in most ancient India; like the Prophet Mohamed or, in our times, the inspired Builder of the only order of truth in the world after many centuries: Adolf Hitler. In all other cases his work, however staggering it be, will perish with him or soon after him. Loyalty to him will die out, as it did in the instance of Genghis Khan, soon after the few of his contemporaries who followed him with disinterested love have all died, — or it will become as good as dead: an accepted tradition of reverence, perpetuating the leader’s memory, but incapable of holding down the passions that stand in the way of complete obedience to his will. Loyalty to a man always dies out, sooner or later, when it is not at the same time loyalty to a system, to a faith, to a scale of values — to something more than a man, which alone that type of leader who is himself a disinterested idealist can represent; when it is not loyalty to impersonal truth.
As I said, there was no Ideology behind Genghis Khan’s will to power; no conscious purpose other than the survival and welfare of himself and of his family. And therefore the Yasa represented no scale of values. Admittedly, it gave the Mongols special rights and forced upon them special duties, before all, the duty of remaining together, faithful to the Golden Family and aloof from the civilisations that they had set out to crush. But it laid down no rule of conduct that aimed at keeping them in fact — physically — different from the conquered nations. It forbade them to quarrel among themselves; it forbade them to yield, themselves to strange religions; but it omitted to forbid them to mingle their blood in marriage with that of the conquered Chinese, Persians, Russians, Magyars; to become, themselves, a new people. Genghis Khan, says Harold Lamb, had not allowed for “the effect of education on a simple people. He had thought, it appears, that they would learn and still remain nomads.”1 We believe that they could have “learnt” and still have remained, if not “nomads” at least Mongols united in the pride of their common strength round a united Golden Family, had they not taken to wife women of ail nations. One of the main reasons why the Golden Family itself was gradually absorbed into the civilisations of the conquered (with the
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 97
exception of the houses of Chagatai and Ogodai, that remained in the steppes, isolated from the outer world) was that, from the start, — in the very Yasa — no stress was ever laid upon the necessity of avoiding mixtures of blood. And the main reason why Genghis Khan had never mentioned — let alone stressed — such a necessity, is to be sought in the fact that all he wanted after his own survival and domination was the domination of his own family, solely because it was his own — not because it was the most able to lead the Mongols to endless conquests, nor because the Mongols, as a people, had, even in his eyes, any greater inherent value than other nations, and any natural right to rule the world (which indeed they had not). To him, in fact, it mattered little how far his descendants would or not remain full-fledged Mongols, provided that they were his descendants; provided that he would live in them, anyhow. (But would he — could he — continue living in them, after they no longer would be, physically, full-fledged Mongols? We believe he could not. He apparently believed he could and would or, more probably, did not even put himself the question). He thought his iron code of laws was sufficient to keep the Mongols and the conquered outer world in obedience to his descendants for ever, if they — the latter — “remained together.” He did not realise what factors would unavoidably lead them to fall apart.
Curiously enough, it is precisely because his descendants had exactly the same outlook as he himself — because they too sought their own immediate welfare, their own power, and the future of their own sons, in other words, themselves, and not the triumph of any impersonal Ideology, in all their achievements; because they had no Ideology (any more than he had had) — that they started to disobey him: to quarrel among themselves; to build up separate kingdoms; to champion their newly acquired foreign faiths against one another; to turn their backs to the Yasa.
They had not for Genghis Khan, whom many of them had never known personally, the selfless devotion that Subodai had. And the conqueror had given them nothing to which they could, throughout centuries, pin their faith and give their love; nothing for which they could fight unceasingly, regardless of personal advantages and even of glory, as Subodai and so many others had fought for him. On the contrary,
he had left them the memory of a man who had struggled all his life for himself alone and whose patient, cunning, thorough, ruthless service of himself had led to the mastery of more than half Asia. They followed his example (not Subodai’s), every one of them for his own account. They followed it without his genius, and without that spirit of binding solidarity that he had tried so hard to give them but failed to put into their hearts in the sole name of their common descent from him; — without that spirit of solidarity which it is not possible to infuse into any human collectivity for long, save in the name of some higher truth, rooted in the lives of the people but exceeding them by far; in the name of some higher purpose, sustained in the consciousness of absolute, eternal Truth. And after the third or fourth generation, they followed it without even being, most of them, as pure Mongols as before.
The result was the splitting up of the Mongol Empire and the acceleration of the material and moral decay of Asia as a whole, and, — after the empire had altogether ceased to, exist; after the sons of Kaidu had sunk back into obscurity, and after the Mongol dynasties directly sprung from Genghis Khan had been overthrown in Persia, China, and finally Russia, — the tragic absence of any great force capable of helping Asia to rise from the ruins of the worn-out kingdoms that the Mongol horsemen had smashed or from the increasing apathy of the others (such as the Indian ones). Tamerlane and, a century later, Baber, warriors of Genghis Khan’s race and, like him, men essentially “in Time” — centred round themselves, — were not able to arrest the decay, even though the latter built up in India an empire that endured over two hundred and fifty years; on the contrary, they rather hastened it, in the long run. And if the selfless warrior-like spirit, the true immemorial Aryan spirit expressed in the Bhagavad-Gita, never died in India, where it was in constant clash with foreign ideas, it was not alive enough to raise out of India such a Kshattriya as could play, on the) political plane, a part of lasting international importance.
“The sword of Genghis Khan wrought a great revolution, but it was Asia in the end which lost by it, Europe, which gained,”1 writes Ralph Fox, meaning thereby that the failure
1 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936).
of Genghis Khan’s descendants to create and to organise a new Asia on the basis of his Yasa resulted in the whole continent soon becoming the competition ground — and the prey — of merchants from Europe, whether Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, French or British; that it contributed more than one is generally inclined to believe to the growth of the new, cynically money worshipping world which was to replace mediaeval Christendom in the West and to subdue the whole earthly sphere (save an irreducible minority of genuine idealists) to the tyranny of its false values; of the ugly world dominated to this day by international Finance.
It is a noteworthy (and, in our eyes, not an accidental fact) that the only country in Asia that escaped both slavery to the great European trade Companies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the infection of modern Democracy in the twentieth, while on the other hand it also resisted the influence of the Christian missionaries (and even openly fought it, for a long time at least), is Japan — the one country to have victoriously defied the might of Kubilai Khan with the help of the “divine Wind of Ise.”1 And it is hardly possible not to oppose the self-centred attitude of Genghis Khan’s descendants no less than his own, to that disinterested, active, devotional nationalism of the Japanese, expressed to this day in the highest form of Shintoism: in the Emperor-cult and the cult of the Race, both merged into the cult of the Sun, the cult of Life; to that spirit that was, one day, to give birth to Toyoma and to make Tojo and the Japanese warlords and soldiers and people of 1941 the allies of the great European Man “against Time,” champion par excellence of the rights of Life in the modern phase of Life’s age-old struggle against the dark Forces of disintegration and death.
Written in Lyons (France) in 1951 and 1952
1 On the 14th August, 1281.