The Mongol Empire & Dynasty in China

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Literature & Art of Golden Age China

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Song Weakness
  • 2:11 Mongol Expansion
  • 3:45 Yuan Dynasty
  • 5:25 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

The Mongol Empire was the second-largest empire in history, and the largest ever seen up until its time. This lesson explains how the Mongols were able to conquer China, as well as innovations that allowed them to conquer other regions, before concluding with a discussion on the Yuan Dynasty.

Song Weakness

By the start of the 13th century, the Song Dynasty was no longer the great power it had once been. Instead, regional revolts threatened the integrity of the Chinese state, and for one of the first times in Chinese history, the Song Emperor, the holder of the Mandate of Heaven that acted as the moral high ground in the Chinese mindset, reached out to barbarians for help. Unfortunately for the Song, the barbarians whom the Song Emperor requested help from were fresh from conquering Central Asia and Korea, as well as their own contentious homeland, and these barbarians from the north, the Mongols, would threaten the Song within a year.

It would take nearly 40 years for the Mongols to conquer the Song Dynasty under the masterful rule of their leader, Genghis Khan (pronounced Chien-gis, not Gang-gus), which was impressive, as normally the Mongols could conquer lands in mere months. Granted, some of this was owed to the sheer size of China, but China itself was remarkably only a small part of the eventual Mongol domains. Instead, China presented the Mongols with few initial weaknesses, but over time, the Song made more and more mistakes, while the Mongols made fewer and fewer. Importantly, the Chinese Confucian system considerably undervalued the role of the military in society, meaning that some of China's greatest generals instead ended up as bureaucrats in order to achieve greater recognition, and those who did serve as generals were often ignored. Further, Chinese experts in siege technology, instead of being well kept like today's nuclear physicists, were instead free to offer their services to the Mongols, who would pay handsomely. Combined with considerable infighting among the Song, it is perhaps a better question to ask, how they managed to offer the Mongols any resistance at all.

Mongol Expansion

Of course, the Mongol army would need a few advantages for their conquests. During a time when most armies were still lined up for battle, the Mongols used highly mobile horse archers at the core of their armies. These riders were very adept in the saddle, able to turn completely around to fire their arrows while maintaining control of their mounts, allowing them to fire at enemy soldiers while riding away from them. Also, Mongol armies were kept small, often being outnumbered ten to one by their foes. Instead, the Mongols relied on high levels of morale, as well as considerable training, to maintain their advantages.

That said, superior horsemanship was not enough to build an empire that stretched from the Danube to the Pacific, which is precisely what the Mongols did. They also used superior forms of organization, taking experts from each newly conquered district and learning what they needed from them, whether it was Chinese siege techniques or Germanic blacksmithing. The Mongols were also incredibly resourceful, able to find innovative ways of cracking difficult foes. This added to their reputation of being ruthless killers, which was a legacy that the Mongols went out of their way to build with more and more stories of the terror that they wrought upon those who refused their rule.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account