Mongolia is a rather small country bordered by China and Russia. It is mostly known for its vast plains and nomadic culture. However, Mongolia was once the heart of the Mongol Empire, founded by Genghis Khan in the 13th century.
The Mongol Empire was, for a time, the second largest empire that ever existed, and historians often emphasize its expansive politics, bloody conquests and a merciless attitude towards enemies.
The Mongol people did not have a written language until the Middle Ages; most of what we know about their ancient history comes from their oral legends, myths, and proverbs. However, there are many written sources that document the affairs of the Mongol Empire, and from these sources, historians have learned that Mongols were not merely ruthless slaughterers, but a progressive nation which contributed to the overall development of Western culture.
The Mongol Empire spread from Eastern Asia towards the Middle East, and an important consequence of this expansion was the creation of the so-called “Silk Road”, a crucial economic route that connected the countries of Europe with the farthest corners of Asia. The Mongols carried new inventions back and forth across Eurasia, and many of these inventions eventually found their way to Europe.
For example, the Chinese invented paper and had been using a movable type printing press since around 1041; the Mongol Empire used paper instead of parchment and transported it to the Middle East, from where European merchants brought it to European cities.
Also, the Chinese invented the triangular plow, gunpowder, and the blast furnace. The blast furnace improved European metal production, the triangular plow revolutionized agriculture, and gunpowder was responsible for the development of modern warfare. The Mongols used gunpowder to develop hand grenades and were the first nation in history to use them.
The Mongols were not only the transporters of important inventions, they were prolific inventors themselves. They were the first nation to use dried milk, a product that is nowadays used all over the world.
Famous Italian explorer Marco Polo wrote of the vicious Mongolian Tatar troops that were active during the reign of Kublai Khan and mentioned that they carried paste made of sun-dried milk and used it as a dietary supplement.
Furthermore, many Mongol inventions were of military nature: their most important military invention was the composite bow. Europeans of the time used simple bows made from single pieces of wood. These bows were short-ranged and not particularly accurate. On the other hand, the Mongols used small and precise composite bows that were made of wood, horn, and sinew. They also designed many types of arrows, including hollow arrows that created a distinctive whistling sound when shot.
Many people think that the Mongols were nothing but roaming barbarian hordes that slaughtered everyone in their path.
However, we should be thankful to them for their inventions, for they greatly improved the quality of life in Western civilization.