Ancient Mongol Women

Ancient Mongol Women

Ancient Mongol Women

The role of Ancient Mongol Women during Mongol Era


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How did women play a role in early Mongolian culture? In a nomadic society each member of the society was critical to the survival of the group. Women played a very important role in the economy and often took care of the animals. There was in effect, no civilian population. The Mongols had total male mobility for warfare. This made the Mongols a more daunting force than they might have been.

Women also played a role in the military. Many women who actually took part in battle were mentioned in Mongol, Chinese, and Persian chronicles. Accordingly Mongol women had rights and privileges that were not accorded to most East Asian women. Mongol women had the right to own property and to divorce. Although we don't know about ordinary Mongol women, we do know about prominent Mongol women among the elite. They were mentioned repeatedly in Mongol, Chinese, and European chronicles of the 13th century.

Ancient Mongol Women: SORGHAGHTANI BEKI

Probably the most famous of these women was Kublai Khan's mother, Chinggis Khan's daughter-in-law, Sorghaghtani Beki. She is mentioned in numerous sources as one of the great figures of the 13th century. European missionaries who visited the Mongols in the middle of the 13th century remarked that she was the most renowned of the Mongols. A Middle Eastern physician wrote that "if I were to see among the race of women another who is so remarkable a woman as this,

She set the stage for all four of her sons to become khans (kings). Although she herself was illiterate, she recognized that her sons had to be educated. Each one learned a different language that the Mongols needed in administering the vast domain that they had conquered.

Although she was a Nestorian Christian, she recognized that if the Mongols were to administer this vast empire one of the ways to do so was to ingratiate themselves to the clergy of these various religions. So she and her sons protected and provided support for each of the religions within the Mongol domains. She supported Muslims, Buddhists, and Confucianists. She introduced her son Kublai to the ideas of I would say that the race of women is superior to the race of men".

Confucian scholars to help him understand and be prepared to rule China. Another of her influences on Mongol rule was that she recognized that pure exploitation of subjected peoples would make no sense. Ravaging the economy of the conquered territories would ultimately be self defeating. Instead of turning China into one big pastureland, she advocated the support of the Chinese peasantry.

If the Mongols bolstered the local economy, eventually that would lead to increased production and increased tax collections. Each of her sons followed the same philosophy. Religious tolerance, support of indigenous economy, and literacy all proved crucial to her son Kublai, the man who really bridged the transition from nomadic steppe conquest to governance of the domains the Mongols had conquered.

Kublai identified with the Chinese. He realized he would have to make concessions to the Chinese in order to rule China. There was no way for the Mongols to succeed on their own. 100 million people couldn't be ruled with tens of thousands of Mongols. In addition the Mongols had no experience collecting taxes. In order to get that support from the Chinese, Khublai began to act like a typical Chinese emperor.



In the 1260s he began to restore Confucian rituals to the court. He moved the capital from Mongolia into China. He was responsible for selecting the location of present-day Beijing as the site for the center of the Mongolian Empire. He patronized painters in the Chinese tradition and supported Chinese drama. Chinese theater went through a tremendous cultural efflorescence during Kublai Khan's era.

Ancient Mongol Women: CHABI

In all of these efforts he was helped by his wife Chabi who played as important a rule as his mother had done. Chabi supported Tibetan monks who began converting the Mongol elite to Tibetan Buddhism. When Kublai conquered southern China, Chabi was influential in peacefully integrating this new area, into the Mongol empire. She took measures to maintain the Song imperial family, providing them with funds and a palace, and protecting them from enslavement or death. She too played a critical role in Mongol rule.

Ancient Mongol Women: KHUTULUN

One other extraordinary woman in Kublai Khan's era was Kublai's niece Khutulun. She relished the military life and loved combat. She even impressed Marco Polo who described her as so strong and brave that in all of her father's army no man could out do her in feats of strength.

Her parents were a little concerned when she didn't marry by the age of 22 or 23. They were constantly beseeching her to enter into a marriage arrangement. She said she would only consent if a prospective suitor bested her in a contest of physical strength. She agreed to accept any challenge as long as the young man gambled 100 horses for the chance to beat her. Within a short time she accumulated about 10,000 horses.

Finally a very handsome, confident, skillful young prince arrived at the court to challenge her. He was so confident of victory that he gambled a thousand horses rather than just the 100 she demanded. He bet he could beat her in a wrestling match. The night before the contest, Khutulun's parents implored their daughter to let herself be vanquished. But she would have none of that. She said that if she were vanquished in a fair contest, she would gladly be his wife but otherwise she wouldn't do it. The competition began as an even match.

The combatants grappled for quite a time. Then in a sudden movement, Khutulun flipped the prince over and won the contest. The prince took off and left the 1000 horses behind. She never did marry, and accompanied her father on all of his campaigns.

While some of the stories may be hyperbolic, They show that Mongol Woman, were confident and played an important role in Mongol society. The emphasis on women playing military, political, and economic roles in this period is unique.

Interestingly enough, by the 14th century, there are no more Mongol women playing roles as leaders. They become increasingly acculturated. By the next generation after Kublai Khan, women are no longer as prominent. They began accepting some of the restraints imposed on Chinese women. To this day Mongolian women still interact comfortably and confidently in all aspects of society.

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