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What Geographic Issues Did Genghis Khan Overcome?
By:C. Paul Martin

In the early 13th century, a group of nomadic tribes in Mongolia suddenly transformed into one of the most powerful and aggressive military forces of all time under the leadership of Genghis Kahn. First establishing a strong rule over his own tribesmen, the Kahn eventually led the Mongols to great campaigns in China, Persia, and even eastern Europe. The ability of his armies to campaign in these areas rested on their mobility and reliance on only the bare necessities of supplies.

Scarcity of Grain in Northwestern China
Called to submit to the Chinese Jin dynasty, the Mongols instead chose war and pressed in on China's northwestern borders. Despite their sovereignty in those lands, the Chinese were unable to campaign effectively due to their army's reliance on grain, scarce in that region. While Chinese troops relied on a daily intake of grain, the Mongols carried with them much more filling foods, which they consumed sparingly. Meats, milk, yogurt and even horse blood fed the Mongol warriors where other food sources were inadequate.

Winter in the Desert
Insulted by the Khwarezmids during a routine diplomatic dialogue, Genghis Khan led his army west. They crossed the Mongolian desert during the coldest winter months to invade Transoxiana, an area just west of Siberia. Using multiple horses for each warrior, the Mongols rested very little so they could cross the wasteland as quickly as possible. Having made this journey successfully, the Mongols were free to begin their campaigns in the Middle East.

Lack of Shelter
With few natural forests or valleys, the Mongols lived in exposed encampments and had to endure the elements at all times. To survive the harsh conditions, the Mongols planned their encampments of yurts very carefully. Tightly packed walls of accommodations formed outer walls in order to protect the inner tents from the elements. In this way, the Mongols were able to move their encampments like large, organized cities that could be erected almost anywhere.

Scant Horse Feed
Warned that the Mongols were riding toward them, regional inhabitants sometimes scorched the earth in attempts to deny the invaders feed for their horses. The Mongols, however, quickly became accustomed to this tactic. They usually covered enough ground in a single day that an area with sufficient grass could be located so feed could be gathered and packed for future days' supplies for the horses. Mongolian horses, like their masters, learned to subsist on minimal food and drink and could live as long as a week without food.

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