The Mongol Horde: An Unstoppable Force

The Mongol Horde: An Unstoppable Force

The Mongol Horde enjoyed a fearsome reputation as an undefeated fighting force. They conquered China, terrorized Eastern Europe, sacked Baghdad, and tried to take on the Mamluks in Egypt.


3 - 12


Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations, World History


Mongol Taking of Baghdad

Among the conquests of the Mongol Horde in the 13th century was the taking of Baghdad. The siege of the city of in 1258 C.E. is shown here.

Photo of the print taken from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Division orientale, Supplément persan 1113, fol. 180v-181.
Among the conquests of the Mongol Horde in the 13th century was the taking of Baghdad. The siege of the city of in 1258 C.E. is shown here.
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The Mongol Horde was a powerful fighting force that was almost never defeated. They conquered China. They terrorized eastern Europe. They sacked Baghdad and attacked the Mamluks in Egypt.

The name Mongol Horde sounds like a giant swarming army that destroyed armies by having more fighters. But the Mongol word "horde" really means something like military camp or headquarters. The Mongols did win battles because of their superior horse riding. They also won them with special compound bows. These were made of several pieces of wood and animal parts glued together. These bows could shoot farther than most other bows.

The Mongols were also very skilled at surrounding cities. Then they laid siege to them. During sieges, the Mongols used technology they got from the Chinese. Some of these were gunpowder bombs, canons, and catapults.

Mongol Conquest of China

The Great Wall of China was built to keep away northern forces. However, in the 1200s, the wall provided little defense.

The Mongol invasion of China started in 1211. Genghis Khan was the Mongol ruler. His forces took on the northern Chinese Jin Empire. At this time, China was divided. It was split into the Song Empire in the south and the Jin Empire in the north. The Mongols took advantage of the division. The Jin state became part of the Mongol Empire in 1234.

Kublai Khan was the grandson of Genghis Khan. He began a second invasion of China. Mongol forces overtook the Song's city of Xianyang. The last Song emperor fled. He died in 1279. This marked the complete takeover of China by Mongol rulers. Kublai Khan became the first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. It lasted until 1368. It was the first dynasty in China not ruled by the Chinese. The Mongol Empire became the largest connected empire ever seen.

Mongols Go West

Conquering China was a major victory. However, it was just the beginning. In the 1230s, the Mongols looked to Eastern Europe. Batu was the grandson of Genghis Khan. He expanded Mongol rule to modern-day western Russia and Ukraine. In the east, he extended Mongol territory to Siberia. The Mongol army sacked the city of Kiev in Ukraine in 1240. Forces marched toward Hungary and Poland. They defeated the Hungarian and Polish armies. The Hungarian king fled.

However, by 1242, the Mongol forces turned back. The reason is unknown. Experts have a few ideas why. Some think it was because the Mongols needed to choose a new leader. Others think it was the weather. That spring was particularly wet. This would have caused difficulties for the horses. It is hard for them to graze on the muddy ground.

The Sack of Baghdad

Mongol forces sacked Baghdad in 1258. The Mongols defeated Muslim forces in modern-day Iran, Iraq and Syria. They did so under the direction of Hulegu Khan. He was the grandson of Genghis Khan.

The sack of Baghdad began in 1258. Hulegu sent a letter to the caliph of Baghdad. He demanded control of the city. He threatened to destroy everything. The caliph, Mustasim, did not take Hulegu's threat seriously. He did little to properly defend the city. The Mongols then destroyed Baghdad.

Mongol Defeat at Ain Jalut

The Mamluks were an enslaved army. They were a strong fighting force. Much like the Mongols, the Mamluks were especially skilled horsemen. They rode Arabian horses. They are much larger than the short, sturdy breeds used by the Mongols. Mamluks spent their whole lives training for all forms of combat.

The Mongols conquered Syria in 1260. Then, they marched on Egypt. Hulegu sent a threatening letter to the Mamluk Sultan Qutuz before sending an army. Meanwhile, Hulegu's brother, Mongke, had died. He was the Great Khan at the time. Hulegu had to return to Mongolia so a new leader could be chosen. He left an army of 20,000 under his general, Ketbugha.

The Mamluks took advantage of Hulegu's absence. They marched on this smaller Mongol army at Ain Jalut in Gaza. The Mamluks managed to kill almost the entire Mongol Horde, including General Ketbugha. This defeat forced the Mongols back to Iran. The battle of Ain Jalut is important. It was the Mongols' first major defeat.

Media Credits

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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