The Pax Mongolica was one of the most important periods in human history. In this lesson, we’ll explore how it happened and why it made such a dramatic impact.
When we think of Genghis Khan and his hordes of nomadic Mongolian warriors, the last word that generally comes to mind is ‘peace’. But, believe it or not, this was one of the most enduring legacies of the Mongol Empire. Why? Well, to put it simply, the Mongols defeated so many people, there was no one left to fight.
Historians call the period from the 13th to 14th centuries, when most of Eurasia was under Mongol rule, the Pax Mongolica, which is Latin for ‘the Mongol Peace.’ It may not be what you’d expect from the Mongol Empire, but the impacts of this period really speak for themselves.
Okay, so how did this Mongol Peace start? Well, before Genghis Khan, the conqueror and founder of the Mongol Empire, started his campaign across Asia between 1206 and 1227 CE, the continent was filled with dozens of little kingdoms. These kingdoms were often at war with each other and most were very fearful of outsiders, so they discouraged trade with people from far away. Basically, if you wanted to travel from Italy to China, you’d have to pass through a hundred different kingdoms to get there. Almost all would charge you heavy taxes for importing or exporting or even for passing through, and some would just outright kill you.
However, as Genghis Khan began conquering Asia, he started unifying all of these kingdoms under a single empire. Under his successors, the Mongol Empire stretched even further, unifying more people. At its height, the Mongol Empire reached from China’s coast on the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Black Sea in Eastern Europe. It was one of the largest empires in human history, incorporating over 12 million square miles of land, and one of the simplest rules was no fighting within the empire. Thus, the Pax Mongolica was developed.
Influence of the Pax Mongolica
Under the Mongol Empire, Eurasia was unified. These cities no longer went to war against each other, and the Mongols mandated a policy of open trade. Items from China and Southeastern Asia made it into Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and vice versa.
The Mongols also maintained the roads needed to conduct this trade and used their army to protect the roads from bandits. Called the Silk Roads, these trade routes that ran across the Mongol Empire connected the world in a way that had never truly been done before.
Let’s look at some of the impacts of the Silk Roads. Italian merchants like Marco Polo traveled to China and opened up trade relations that made Italian trading cities incredibly wealthy. This wealth flowing into Europe was directly responsible for the rise of the powerful, educated, and art-obsessed cities that formed the basis of the Renaissance, one of the definitive eras in European history.
Spices, gems, and of course silks were exchanged between Europe and Asia, but so were ideas. Paper and gunpowder were first introduced into Europe from China thanks to the Silk Road trade. European missionaries wound up in India and China and translated Buddhist works into Latin and the Christian Bible into Mongolian. New systems of banking were developed to protect the investments of traders across the region. Islamic systems of math, astronomy, and science spread into China and Europe.
The ability to travel so far increased a need for new map-making technologies, prompting an increased focus on exploration and discovery. The Pax Mongolica was so important to the development of both Europe and Asia that many historians actually consider this the beginning of the modern world and the establishment of the cultural, economic, and political ideas that govern our lives to this day.
End of the Pax Mongolica
With such an incredible diffusion of wealth and ideas across Eurasia, it’s hard to imagine this period could ever end. However, the Mongol Empire was still an empire, and not everyone likes being ruled by someone else. The Chinese continuously fought to restore their control over China, as did other kingdoms. Plus, by the 14th century, the various territories of the Empire, called khanates, were starting to fight against each other.
Perhaps the final blow, however, was from something that ironically was created by the global trade networks of the Pax Mongolica. Disease spread as quickly as ideas or silks, and around 1346 the deadly disease called the bubonic plague was introduced in Europe from China. By the end of the 14th century, the Mongolian Empire was in pieces and the Pax Mongolica with it.
But ideas of the Pax Mongolica, particularly those surrounding international trade, were still alive. Europeans spent the next centuries looking for new ways to reopen trade with China, leading to a dramatic rise in maritime technology. Why did Henry the Navigator become the hero of Portugal? Where was Columbus trying to reach in 1492? The Pax Mongolica introduced the world to global trade, and this was something we never forgot.
In the early 13th century, Genghis Khan started the Mongol Empire and began unifying the many kingdoms of Eurasia under his control. His successors continued this, and for roughly 100 years the majority of the continent was under Mongol control. The resulting period of peace, international trade, and economic and cultural prosperity is known to historians as the Pax Mongolica, which translates to ‘the Mongol Peace.’
The Mongols opened their entire empire to trade, and even built and maintained a series of trade routes known as the Silk Roads. The Silk Roads connected people as far apart as Italy and China, and spices, products, technologies, ideas, and even bubonic plague traveled across Eurasia. This had such an impact on the kingdoms of Asia and Europe, including the Italian Renaissance, that many historians consider the Pax Mongolica to represent the beginning of the modern world. How’s that for a lasting legacy?