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Political divisions and vassals of the Mongol Empire

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Political divisions and vassals of the Mongol Empire

The Mongol world, ca. 1300. The gray area is the later Timurid empire. By 1270, The Goryeo was fully integrated into the imperialism of the Mongol Empire.[1][2][3][4][5]

Political divisions of the early Mongol Empire consisted of five main parts[6] in addition to appanage khanates - there were:

When Genghis Khan was campaigning in Central Asia, his entrusted general Muqali (1170–1223) attempted to set up provinces and established branch departments of state affairs. But Ögedei abolished them and divided the areas of North China into 10 routes (lu, 路) according to the suggestion of Yelü Chucai, a prominent Confucian statesman of Khitan ethnicity. He also divided the empire into Beshbalik administration, Yanjing administration while the headquarters in Karakorum directly dealt with Manchuria, Mongolia and Southern Siberia. Late in his reign, Amu Darya administration was established. Under Möngke, these administrations were renamed Branch Departments.


Kublai Khan, the founder of the Yuan Dynasty, made significant reforms to the existing institutions. He established the Yuan Dynasty in 1271 and assumed the role of a Chinese emperor. The Yuan forces seized South China by defeating the Southern Song Dynasty and Kublai became the emperor of all China, but he, on the other hand, had effectively lost control over the western khanates. The territory of the Yuan Dynasty was divided into the Central Region (腹裏) and places under control of various Xing Zhongshusheng (行中書省, "branch secretariats") or the Xuanzheng Institute (宣政院).

Vassals and tributary states

The Mongol Empire at its greatest extent included all of modern-day Armenia, Persia, Iraq, Korea, and Central Asia. In the mean time, many countries became vassals or tributary states of the Mongol Empire.

European vassals

  • Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the nominal vassal. However, Mongols under Orda and Burundai successfully invaded southern regions of Lithuania in 1241 and in 1259 (Later Nogai), Jogaila, the Grand Duke of Lithuania and the King of Poland, officially acknowledged Tokhtamysh as overlord in 1382 after the fall of the Yuan in 1368. Mongols of Golden Horde always counted the Lithuanians among their subjects, and Tokhtamysh demanded Lithuanian king to collect taxes from Kiev (then under Jogaila and his successors) for his campaign against the Timurids.[8]
  • A number of Russian states, incl. the Republic of Novgorod, Pskov and Smolensk[9] Batu khan could not reach northern part of Russia due to the marshlands surrounding city-states such as Novgorod and Pskov in 1239. But combined effects of Alexander Nevsky's diplomacy, Mongol threats and Teutonic order invasion, forced Novgorod and later Pskov accepted the term of vassalage. In 1274, the last of Russian principalities became subject to the Horde of Möngke-Temür.
  • Second Bulgarian Empire[10] During the end of Mongol invasion of Europe, the Bulgarians under Ivan Asen II tried to destroy Mongol tumen. But Kadan's raids through Bulgaria on his retreat from Central Europe induced the young Kaliman I of Bulgaria to pay tribute and accept Mongol suzerainty. According to a letter of Béla IV to the pope written in 1254 indicates that at that time the Bulgarians were still paying tribute to the Mongols.
  • Kingdom of Serbia.[10] Around 1288 Milutin launched an invasion to pacify two Bulgarian nobles in today's north-east Serbia, in the Branicevo region, but those nobles were vassals of the Bulgarian prince of Vidin Shishman. Shishman attacked Milutin but was defeated and Milutin in return sacked his capital Vidin. But Shishman was a vassal of Nogai Khan, de facto ruler of the Golden Horde. Nogai Khan threatened to punish Milutin for his insolence, but changed his mind when the Serbian king sent him gifts and hostages. Among the hostages was his son Stefan Dečanski who managed to escape back to Serbia after Nogai Khan's death in 1299.

Southeast Asian and Korean vassals

  • Đại Việt (Vietnam).[11] After the Vietnamese captured Mongol envoys sent to ask a route to attack Southern China, the Mongol forces invaded the Trần Dynasty in 1257. The Mongols routed city defenders and massacred inhabitants of capital Thăng Long (Hanoi). King Than Tong agreed to pay tributes to Möngke Khan to spare his country. When Kublai Khan demanded full submission of the Dynasty where Mongol darughachis were well received before,[12] the relationship between two states deteriorated in 1264. After series of invasions in 1278-1288, the king of Đại Việt or Trần Dynasty accepted Mongol suzerainty. By the time, each side had suffered from heavy losses because of large but ineffective wars.
  • Champa.[11] Although king Ve Indrawarman of Champa expressed his desire to accept the Yuan rule in 1278, his son and subjects ignored the submission. The Mongol forces lost in the country and their general was killed, however, they defeated all forces of Champa in open battles in 1283. The king of Champa started sending tributes two years later to avoid Mongol invasions.
  • Khmer Empire.[11] In 1278, a Mongol envoy was executed by the Khmer king. An envoy was sent again to demand submission when the Yuan army was besieging the fortress in Champa. 100 Mongol cavalries sent to Khmer after the imprisonment of the second envoy. They were ambushed and destroyed by the Khmers. However, the King of Khmer Empire asked a pardon and sent tribute in 1285 due to his war-like neighbours and Kublai Khan's rage.
  • Sukhothai Kingdom and Chiangmai or Taiyo. When Kublai sent Mongol forces to protect his vassals in Burma, Thai states including Sukhotai and Taiyo accepted Mongol supremacy. King Ramkhamhaeng and other Thai and Khmer leaders visited the Yuan court to show their loyalty several times.[13]
  • The Kingdom of Goryeo. The Mongol invasions of Korea consisted of a series of campaigns by the Mongol Empire against Korea, then known as Goryeo, from 1231 to 1270. There were six major campaigns at tremendous cost to civilian lives throughout the Korean peninsula, ultimately resulting in Korea becoming a vassal of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty for approximately eighty years.[14] The Mongol Empire and the Kingdom of Goryeo tied with marriages as Mongol princes married Korean princesses and Korean princes married Mongol princesses. A Korean princess called the Empress Gi became an empress through her marriage with Ukhaantu Khan, and her son, Biligtü Khan of Northern Yuan, became a Mongol Khan. King Chungnyeol of Goryeo married a daughter of Kubilai Khan, and marriages between Mongol and Korea continued for eighty years. The Goryeo dynasty survived under Mongolian influence until King Gongmin began to push Mongolian garrisons back starting in the 1350s.

Middle East vassals

  • The Principality of Antioch and the County of Tripoli.[15] - The small crusader state paid annual tributes for many years. The closest thing to actual Frankish cooperation with Mongol military actions was the overlord-subject relationship between the Mongols and the Franks of Antioch and others. Mongols lost their vassal and ally Franks as the fall of Antioch in 1268 and Tripoli in 1289 to the Mamluks.
  • The Empire of Trebizond- The Seljuks and the military forces of Trebizond were defeated by the Mongols in 1243. After that, Kaykhusraw II, the Sultan of Iconium was compelled to pay tribute and supply annually horses, hunting dogs, and jewels. The emperor Manuel I of Trebizond, realizing the impossibility of fighting the Mongols, made a speedy peace with them and, on condition of paying an annual tribute, became a Mongol vassal. The empire reached its greatest prosperity and had opportunity to export the produce of its own rich hinterland during the era of Ilkhans. But with the decline of Mongol power in 1335, Trebizond suffered increasingly from Turkish attacks, civil wars, and domestic intrigues.[16]

Tributary states

  • The indigenous people of Sakhalin. The Mongol forces made several attacks on Sakhalin, beginning in 1264 and continuing until 1308.[17] Economically, the conquest of new peoples provided further wealth for the tribute-based Mongol Dynasty. The Nivkhs and the Oroks were subjugated by the Mongols. However, the Ainu people raided Mongol posts every year.[18] The Ainus finally accepted Mongol supremacy in 1308.
  • The Byzantine Empire.[19] When an Egyptian diplomat was arrested by emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, Sultan Baibars insisted his ally Berke Khan to attack the Greek Empire. In the winter of 1265 Nogai Khan led a Mongol raid on Byzantine Thrace with his vassal Bulgaria. In the spring of 1265 he defeated the armies of Michael and freed the diplomat and former Seljuk sultan Kaykaus II. Instead of fighting, most of the Byzantines fled. Michael managed to escape with the assistance of Italian merchants. After this Thrace was plundered by Nogai's army, and the Byzantine emperor signed a treaty with Berke of the Golden Horde, giving his daughter Euphrosyne in marriage to Nogai. Michael also sent much valuable fabric to the Golden Horde as a tribute thereafter. But the court of Byzantium had good relationship with both Golden Horde and Ilkhanate as allies.
  • Small states of Malay Peninsula. Kublai sent surrounding nations his envoys to demand their submission in 1270-1280. Most of states in Indo-China and Malay accepted the demand. According to Marco Polo, those subjects sent tribute on to the Mongol court, including elephants, rhinoceroses, jewels and a tooth of Buddha. One notable scholar identified that these acts of submission were more ceremonial in some regard. During the Mongol invasion of Java in 1293, small states of Malay and Sumatra submitted and sent envoys or hostages to them. Native people of modern Taiwan and Philippines helped the Mongol armada but they were never conquered.


  1. ^ C. P. Atwood Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.403
  2. ^ Herbert Franke, Denis Twitchett, John King Fairbank The Cambridge History of China: Volume 6, "Alien Regimes and Border States", p.473
  3. ^ Colin Mackerras China's minorities, p.29
  4. ^ George Alexander Ballard-The influence of the sea on the political history of Japan, p.21
  5. ^ Conrad Schirokauer A brief history of Chinese and Japanese civilizations, p.211
  6. ^ A COMPENDIUM OF CHRONICLES: Rashid al-Din's Illustrated History of the World (The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, VOL XXVII) ISBN 0-19-727627-X, the reign of Möngke
  7. ^ A. P. Grigorev and O. B. Frolova "Geographicheskoy opisaniye Zolotoy Ordi" in Encyclopedia al-Kashkandi-Tyurkologicheskyh sbornik,2001-p. 262-302
  8. ^ René Grousset The Empire of the Steppes, Ж.Бор Еварзийн дипломат шашстир II боть
  9. ^ Л.Н.Гумилев - Древняя Русь и великая степь
  10. ^ a b Ринчен Хара Даван - Чингис хан гений
  11. ^ a b c René Grousset - The Empire of the Steppes, Ж.Бор Евразийн дипломат шашстир II боть
  12. ^ "The History of Yuan Dynasty", J.Bor, p.313, Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol empire, p.581
  13. ^ The Empire of the Steppes by René Grousset, trans. N. Walford, p.291
  14. ^
  15. ^ Reuven Amitei Press Mamluk Ilkhanid war 1260-1280
  16. ^ A History of the Byzantine Empire by Al. Vasilief, © 2007
  17. ^ Mark Hudson Ruins of Identity, p.226
  18. ^ Brett L. Walker The Conquest of Ainu Lands, p.133
  19. ^ Ринчен Хара-Даван: Чингис хан гений, Ж.Бор: Евразийн дипломат шашстир II боть
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