To maintain a long-lasting Transcontinental Connection, the Mongol Empire needed to occupy a cross-continental territory in the first place. The Mongol Empire didn’t conquer their vast territory with sheer manpower and horsepower, let alone to say a nomadic civilization usually doesn’t have advantage on population given their relatively unstable food production and heavy reliance on favorable weather; some representative settled civilization around the same time of the Mongol Empire outnumbered the Mongols significantly; for example, Northern Song Dynasty is estimated to have 90 million people[1] and the Europe as a whole reached a population of 75 million around 13th century[2] while the Mongol Empire, at the time of initial unification of Mongolia in 1206, was far from such numbers. The civilization they encountered were competitive and difficult target as well: the Southern Song Dynasty commanded a strong, if not the strongest at that time, economy with robust production and commerce[3], the kingdoms of Europe have been famous for their formidable knights, together with its advanced plate armor and sophisticated armaments[4]. Each civilization, adding upon their specialty, were all capable to extract their own potentials when its survival is at stake. Therefore, the Mongol Empire must rely on some special edge that could out-power their foes. And one of these edges is technology, which includes not only the arms and armor, but also what shored up their production to fulfill their increasing need of feeding and what enable them to travel with greater speed and endurance. In my sub-project, I plan to demonstrate specifically on iron forging and siege machines. Some of these technologies were incorporated from other civilization they have conquered, some were learned or traded, and some were invented by themselves, but eventually they become what helped to conquer and govern the Mongol Empire’s territory and helped to shape the Mongol’s Transcontinental Connection.

 

Although Iron forging was not an invention of the Song Dynasty, it was significantly improved in quality and quantity in this time period, which lends the Mongols a special tool for conquering. The invention of iron forging happened in the Epoch of “春秋”, or “spring and fall”. However, the iron technology was quite primitive. In Han Dynasty, the iron technology spread to the west by the silk road. However, in Song Dynasty, the iron forging technology got much improved and helped the Mongols to produce arms that are sharper and more enduring than their opponents’, especially many of the application of iron products significantly helped the construction in other aspects such as ship and siege. Some of these application may not be possible had the iron technology not progressed so much in Song Dynasty.[5]

 

Sources from different time and perspective illustrated the development and application of iron during the period of Song Dynasty and Mongol Empire. In Marco Polo’s Description of the World, he specifically wrote down how the craftsmen of Southern Song Dynasty produced large amounts of iron nails and threads while other regions in Asia didn’t have this luxury. While he was traveling around plain of Hormuz, where “The people are black and worship Muhammad,” local people “have no iron for making nails; therefore they make wooden pegs and thread stitching. For this reason it’s quite dangerous sailing in these ships. I tell you that many of them sink, because the Indian Sea is often very stormy.” Later in the book, as he traveled to Changlu, “another very large city toward the south which belongs to the Great Khan and is in the province of Cathay,” he observed that local people have already applied iron to the most common corner of their lives such as producing salt where “they take this water and put it in a big pot and in a big iron cauldron and boil it for a while. Then the salt is done—very beautiful, white, and fine.”[6]

 

The common iron appliances that Marco Polo had observed is all due to the improvement in the production technology of iron where people have wrote down a systematic approach to extract and purify iron from iron ores. In addition to this, they have also came up with new ways to fold new elements such as carbon into purified iron; although we now today can articulate that they were adding specific elements into iron in order to make it an alloy, people of the time didn’t have this system of Western technology and simply rubbed brunt ashes of plants, which is rich of carbon, onto the iron ingot. They also improved in how to refine and sharpen the iron products after it is finished from the stove. This whole system of iron forging was recorded in detail and spread around first across the Song Dynasty and later into surrounding regions such as Mongol and Persia.[7]

 

Acquiring iron forging technology is critical for their expansion and later to their Pan Mongolica; some of the most important iron appliances to their success such as iron horse shoes were utilized by the Mongol army after receiving this technology. During the period of Chingiz Khan, when they had not acquired the iron technology from Song Dynasty, the horse were not shoed, and this really pulled the army back from any considerably far voyages or marches, let alone to say tedious, continuous battles that could last for months. When Chingiz Khan’s army was conquering Syria, the lack of horse shoe showed its problem since“about the only thing that thwarted the Mongol cavalry was geography. The rock-strewn terrain of Syria initially hindered the Mongols who did not use horseshoes.” Later, in the period of Kubilai Khan, as they have incorporated iron technology from Song Dynasty, iron horse shoe was introduced to the Mongol arsenal for the first time as “the Mongols built onboard forges for blacksmiths to use in making horseshoes and repairing weapons” on their way to the conquest of Japan. [8]

 

Improvement in iron technology not only helped the Mongol army to use appliances that could unleash their military power, but also made some other new inventions possible such as siege machines, which were important as the Mongol army encountered fortified walls that their army was not expected to fight against. As Chingiz Khan first encountered fortified cities in this conquest to Hsi-Hsia and Chin Dynasty, he could still use some finesses and strategies to make up his army’s weakness in conquering cities; however, as he and his successors went southward and westward, they had to bring down cities that have been built and fortified carefully, having not only one line of wall but several layers of them circulating into a complicated system of defense such as that of XiangYangFu.[9] The battle of XiangYangFu is one that really signifies the peak of this face-off between defensive walls and offensive siege machines. In Marco Polo’s Description of the World, he allegedly claimed that he witnessed the siege of this city and even helped the Mongols to bring it down. However, Marco Polo only said the city of XiangYang held for three years after all the Mangi surrendered, from which we can deduct that the so claimed year is around 1279. However, this account is controversial because according to “The Reign of Kubilai Khan” by Rossabi, XiangYangFu fell to Mongol siege by 1273, which is before the polos could reach Mongol Empire.[10] Although the Description of the World claims that the three polos helped the Mongols who were stuck under XiangYangFu for two years and built sieges machines for them. Other sources show that the sieges machines were built by Muslim engineers who were sent from Persia by Kubilai Khan’s nephew, Ilkhan Aqaba, according to the Yuan Shi. This is relevant to Mongol’s Transcontinental Connection is that despite whether this was the case of the polos helping the Mongols out or the Muslim engineers, it all showed how technology, in this case the mechanism of the siege machines, flowed in between different parts of the empire across continents. In this case, the siege technology was transported from the Middle East to Eastern Asia, possibly by sea. And therefore, this account of the siege of XiangYangFu is an example of technological Transcontinental connections.

 

In all, technological advancement paved way for Mongol Empire’s conquest, which then is the premise for a Mongolian Transcontinental Connection. Most of these technologies were not invented by the Mongols at all; in fact, the Mongols had barely any academics other than their expertise in animal husbandry which is largely endowed due to their push for survival on the prairie; and this mode of technological advancement is quite unique for that period since there were no such high barrier to acquire any technology, which is very different today when we reflect on how the monopoly of a few patents and technology and bring a huge power over all the others. This special mode of trans-national and trans-cultural technological advancement was possible due to its historical background and also gave rise to a splendid Transcontinental Connection under the Mongol Empire.

Notes
    1. Durand, John D. “The Population Statistics of China, A.D. 2-1953.” Population Studies, vol. 13, no. 3, 1960, pp. 209–256. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2172247. Accessed 21 Dec. 2020.

    2. Russell, Josiah C. (1972). “Population in Europe”. In Cipolla, Carlo M. (ed.). The Middle Ages. The Fontana Economic History of Europe. 1. Collins/Fontana. pp. 25–71.

    3. Yeguo, Wu, and 吳業國 . “Economic Development and the Urbanization Process in China during the Southern Song (1127–1279): A Study on the Role of Primary Markets in the Area of Zhejiang.” Journal of Asian History, vol. 54, no. 1, 2020, pp. 107–130. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.13173/jasiahist.54.1.0107. Accessed 21 Dec. 2020.

    4. Peirce, Ian (1990), “The Development of the Medieval Sword c.850–1300”, in Christopher Harper-Bill, Ruth Harvey (eds.), The Ideals and Practice of Medieval Knighthood III: Papers from the Fourth Strawberry Hill Conference, 1988, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, pp. 139–158.

    5. 杨宽。 “中国古代冶铁技术发展史(外三种)” 第一章。 上海人民出版社。2019-12-01. ISBN:9787208161207.

    6. Polo, Marco. The Description of the World (p. 31). Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

    7. 汪舜民。《弘治徽州府志》卷八。上海古籍书店。1964

    8. Jarymowycz, R. J. (2008). Chapter 3. In Cavalry from hoof to track. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International.

    9. David Morgan. The Mongols (The Peoples of Europe) (Kindle Location 775). Kindle Edition.

    10. Rossabi, Morris. 1994. “The Reign of Khubilai Khan.” In Franke and Twitchett 1994, 414–89.

References
    1. Durand, John D. “The Population Statistics of China, A.D. 2-1953.” Population Studies, vol. 13, no. 3, 1960, pp. 209–256. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2172247. Accessed 21 Dec.2020.

    2. Russell, Josiah C. (1972). “Population in Europe”. In Cipolla, Carlo M. (ed.). The Middle Ages. The Fontana Economic History of Europe. 1. Collins/Fontana. pp. 25–71.

    3. Yeguo, Wu, and 吳業國 . “Economic Development and the Urbanization Process in China during the Southern Song (1127–1279): A Study on the Role of Primary Markets in the Area of Zhejiang.” Journal of Asian History, vol. 54, no. 1, 2020, pp. 107–130. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.13173/jasiahist.54.1.0107. Accessed 21 Dec. 2020.

    4. Peirce, Ian (1990), “The Development of the Medieval Sword c.850–1300”, in Christopher Harper-Bill, Ruth Harvey (eds.), The Ideals and Practice of Medieval Knighthood III: Papers from the Fourth Strawberry Hill Conference, 1988, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, pp. 139–158.

    5. Polo, Marco. The Description of the World (p. 31). Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

    6. Jarymowycz, R. J. (2008). Chapter 3. In Cavalry from hoof to track. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International.

    7. David Morgan. The Mongols (The Peoples of Europe) (Kindle Location 775). Kindle Edition.

    8. Rossabi, Morris. 1994. “The Reign of Khubilai Khan.” In Franke and Twitchett 1994, 414–89.

    9. 杨宽。中国古代冶铁技术发展史(外三种)” 第一章。 上海人民出版社。2019-12-01. ISBN9787208161207

    10. 汪舜民。《弘治徽州府志》卷八。上海古籍书店。1964

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