Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 November 2020
The policies of the Mongols were as important as the actual institutions of their government as they dictated not only the Mongols’ actions and their view of the world, but also how others interacted with them as neighbours or subjects. What follows discusses the general policies of the Mongols. Exceptions can always be found but the following suffices to give a sense of how the Mongols operated.
The Will of Heaven
Militarily and diplomatically, the Mongols had a very narrow sense of the world. As they believed that Köke Möngke Tengri or the Blue Eternal Heaven had bequeathed the world to Chinggis Khan and his successors for them to rule it, therefore all peoples should submit before the Mongols. Failure to do so meant that they were in violation with the will of Heaven and thus a rebel. On this matter, there was no discussion. Various khans provided evidence to why this point was non-negotiable, such as the size of their empire and whom they defeated—if not for the will of Heaven, then how could this have been achieved? Thus while some observers found them arrogant, the Mongols also possessed a sense of awe for their accomplishments and expected others to accept what they viewed as self-evident truths. As a result, before the Mongols invaded a kingdom, they sent envoys who gave the ruler very simple terms which equated to “submit or die.” There was no third course of action. Attempts to negotiate terms did not go over well and may have been viewed as an effort to stall or as a passive form of resistance. Indeed, those who did resist would be destroyed, and usually the more determined the resistance, the greater the level of destruc-tion by the Mongols. Those who harmed the Mongols’ envoys could expect no mercy.
These policies contributed to the Mongols’ success in a number of ways. First, the ideology of Heaven's Decree assisted in providing legitimacy to Chinggisid rule and a counter to the claims of other authorities, such as China's own Heaven's Mandate, the authority of the Abbasid Caliph, and that of the Pope. The Mongols did not appeal to a higher power—that power had chosen them.