Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 November 2020
The Mongol Empire marks the transition from the medieval world to the modern world. The post-Mongol world looked considerably different from when the Mongols first arrived on history's stage. This change included not only the political map of Europe, but also in terms of religion, culture, technology, and ideas are part of what I term the Chinggis Exchange. This diffusion had an impact in world history similar to Alfred Crosby's Columbian Exchange, albeit perhaps more subtle. This impact can be seen in political geography, the religious map of the world, and trade and information networks across Eurasia and beyond.
The Impact on Political Geography Today
Starting with the political geography, the most notable change brought about by the Mongol Empire occurred in China. Rather than three empires, there was only one, the Ming Empire. The Ming Empire benefitted greatly from the Mongol Empire and in many ways can truly be considered a successor state, particularly in the early decades of its existence. The Ming Empire was notable for the inclusion of Yunnan (the former kingdom of Dali), which had previously never been part of a Chinese state. In the north, there was Mongolia—it was not simply the steppes, but viewed distinctly as the home of the Mongols, who were ruled by Chinggisid khans. Although they briefly experienced unity under Dayan Khan, the Mongols once again fractured into a number of “tribes.” The border, which fluctuated considerably, became fixed as the Ming constructed the Great Wall at huge cost. While the wall served as a defence against the Mongols, it was also intended to prevent Chinese from escaping to the freedom of the steppes as well as to demarcate the extent of Chinese territory.
In Central Asia, by the sixteenth century the Uzbeks moved into Māwarānnahr and occupied what would become, in the twentieth century, Uzbekistan. In the meantime, their empire fragmented into a number of small states known variously as the Emirates or Khanates of Bukhara, Khiva, and Kokand. These lasted until their conquest by the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century. Further north, the Kazakh Khanate formed. It too fragmented into three separate polities due to internal issues as well as external pressure from the Oirats and then later from the Zhungar Empire