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The Mongolian Empire reached quite a vast extent according to the map below and leaders such as Genghis Khan seemed to defeat all their enemies consistently. Yet, the empire never extended into Europe, or even the Baltic states. What prevented them from invading and succeeding like the Huns did, for example?

Mongolian Empire

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    You are wrong, it occupied about a half of Europe. – Anixx Sep 17 '14 at 0:07
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    The Huns rampaged around Central Europe for a century or so, and then settled in the only part of Central Europe that vaguely resembles a steppe: the Hungarian Plain. As ferocious as they were, the Huns never really conquered any other part of Europe, they merely looted much of it. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 17 '14 at 3:36
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    The question is about the Mongolian empire (c. 1300), not the Huns (c.400). Huns were a Turkic people, not a Mongolian people. – Tyler Durden Nov 18 '14 at 16:31
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    Europe simply did not seem as interesting as China, which still wasn unconquered. Then the Empire split into the Khanates, and they kept each other busy, so they couldn't invade Europe. – Firebug Feb 11 '15 at 12:21
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    @PieterGeerkens The Huns and Hungarians has no connection with each other via language, ethnicity or other way. – Greg Jan 15 '16 at 12:09
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Three factors.

1) The death of Ögedei Khan forced the hordes rampaging through Europe under Subutai to break off and return for the Kuraltai to choose a successor. Interrupting their hard-earned momentum, and giving the Europeans time to regroup, recover, reflect and prepare, was the deciding factor - also, Talabuga was not the general Subutai was.

2) Hungary is the end of the great Eurasian steppe - the "sea of grass" - that sustained Mongolian logistical supremacy. They were successful in the short term in pursuing conquests beyond this area - usually due to Chinese and Islamic engineering, the co-option of which was a significant factor in their success - but the setbacks they did encounter occurred away from the steppe, where reinforcements by the tens of thousands could be summoned in devastatingly short order. The Viet and Champa in their thick jungle, the Majapitt and their thalassocracy, the Mamluks in the desert hills - all of them counted geography as major allies. So it was with the Europeans who were even a little successful against the Mongols.

3) Some of the Europeans adapted faster than others against their Mongolian opponents. The Georgians almost beat them, the Croatians and then the Serbians did beat them (tho not decisively, and Serbia did acknowledge suzerainty of the Mongols to stop them from coming back) - Bela IV of Hungary, and his grandson, Ladislaus IV, took what worked, and built a successful strategy to repel the Golden Horde when they returned.

  • Innumerable stone castles in very defensible locations, well stocked and garrisoned with trained and equipped forces, capable of supporting each other.

  • A scorched-earth strategy, denying the invading armies of provender and supply.

  • Harrying tactics borrowed from the Cumans, steppe horse-archers similar to the Mongols that Ladislaus IV had defeated prior to the Golden Horde's arrival.

The Mongols could loot at will, but were constantly under attack. The Hungarians refused to give them a decisive battle, until the invaders were weakened and depleted and in conditions favorable to the defenders, who were wise to Mongolian battle tactics thanks to the influence of the Cumans.

And what could be more European than the Fabian strategy?

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A very important reason was the death of Genghis Khan, the "maximum leader" in 1227. This caused his Empire to be divided into four "Khanates" (see bottom of link), Russia (yellow), the Middle East (purple), Central Asia (red), and China-Mongolia (green) in the map above.

None of these entities had the power of the whole. More to the point, most empires lose "steam" after the founder dies because he is an "outlier" that none of the heirs can replicate. (In business, WalMart lost a lot of momentum after founder Sam Walton died.)

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    Yet today, Walmart is the #1 retailer with sales higher than #2, #3, #4, & #5 combined. This is a clear indicator that we need to keep a close eye on Mongolia...just in case. – coburne Sep 16 '14 at 19:36
  • @coburne surly your joking? – user1990 Sep 17 '14 at 0:50
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    This answer is ahistorical. Ogegai, not Genghis, commanded Subutai to conquer west to the Atlantic, and it was Ogedai's death that caused their recall. Further, it wasn't until the death of Möngke that the Mongol Empire became disunited. – RI Swamp Yankee Sep 17 '14 at 13:56
  • @RISwampYankee: "Divided" is different for "disunited." The follow-on observation was "None of these entities had the power of the whole." But they didn't begin fighting among themselves until Mongke. As for the difference between Ogetai's and Genghis' military leadership, "amateurs think about tactics while professionals think about logistics." – Tom Au Sep 17 '14 at 21:28
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    @TomAu - Ummm - this comment is also ahistorical. Dan Carlin's "Hard Core History" podcast series on the Mongol conquest is a great introduction to the topic, and offers a number of points of departure for further inquiry. It may be a good tool to refine your answer. – RI Swamp Yankee Sep 19 '14 at 0:02
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The Death of Ogedei Khan in December of 1241 is the most attributed reason for the discontinuation of the invasion of Europe. Batu, son of Jochi, son of Genghis was the supreme commander over the European assault and a potential candidate for the successor of Ogedei. He knew he was less favorable and probably never going to be great khan so he wanted to continue but most of his generals withdrew due to their obligation to attend the Kurultai. A thing to possibly consider is maybe Tsubodei received information from his covert agents and/or reconnaissance scouts that further invasion into Germany or Italy would cause most of the remaining European nations to form coalitions and crusades against them.

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The Lithuanians prevented the spread of the Golden Horde (and Islam) throughout Europe, they liberated Ukraine (Kiev) at the Battle of Blue Waters (1362) which accelerated the decline of the Western sphere of influence of the Mongol Empire. They were never able to regain the region after that point.

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    Far too late to be relevant I think. – Pieter Geerkens Feb 11 '16 at 5:01
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    Could you provide a few links in case some of us are interested in the argument you're making? – Mark C. Wallace Feb 11 '16 at 9:37
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    Golden horde themselves had converted to Islam only like two decades before the battle you are mentioning, which was of course solely for political reasons as majority of their subjects were Muslims. Had they actually made it in Europe and won majority of Christian subjects, who's to say they would not have converted to Christianity? Your point about "Stopping spread of islam" is absurd. – NSNoob May 11 '16 at 13:52
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    Other than that, battle of blue waters was a minor setback when you consider the size of Golden Horde. The real set-back were the succession disputes and internal wars which eventually lead to a defeat at Blue waters. While gaining Kiev was huge for Lithuania, it was nothing major for the horde. Therefore I consider the internal turmoil 1359–1381 to be reason of decline of Golden horde, not loss of 15000 men and a duchy to Lithuania. – NSNoob May 11 '16 at 13:55
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1) distance - the mongols could only have projected a relatively small amount of power into Europe, yes they could send a horde of mongols, but their allies marching from china is another matter, and their commitments to their heartlands would restrict the amount of power they could project.

2) logistics the mongol hordes required a lot of grass, sustained campaigns were difficult. expansion into western Europe would have all sorts of problems.

3) societal structure, the mongols simply did not have any effective way to command and control a vast empire, any projection would just be an adventurer without real support. returning because a leader dies shows the lack of a real structure for ruling large empires. without the well defined an organised structure the mongol empire ws splitting apart before it was finished being created.

4) the mongols are not quite the invincible force they are often made out, the key factors in the mongol conquest of china was china was divided and the existence of local allies willingly to work with the mongols. conquered china with the help of the mongols themselves.

5) feudal structure of Europe made it pretty resistant to conquest. empires are easy chop of the head and the rest is long used to subservience, with the feudal structure each little lord was independent not used to obeying their own kings and long used to rebellion.

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Well firstly, the Mongol empire was spread out across a massive landscape, but they held it down nonetheless. That takes high military might and a sheer grip of terror on the peoples of the land to hold that huge amount of conquered land in those rough days. That wouldn't matter had the Khan of Khans been running a campaign against Europe though. Make no mistake, the Mongols conquered the landscape size that they did due to their cunning as much as their brutality. We might be living in a VERY different world if Obedai Khan hadn't died and forced the Kurultai to choose a new successor. Subutai had been starting the very beginning of their campaign in Europe and had already trounced Russia and slaughtered their forces, brave though they fought to nearly the last man.

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    I'm not sure that this adds anything that's not already mentioned in other answers. – Steve Bird Aug 4 '16 at 5:10
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One piece of conjecture is that "Germans" invaded from Europe to the East joining up with the Mongolian Horde in the total annihilation of Baghdad. There is apparently much written in Islamic History about an "overland attack from the West" in conjunction with the Armies from the East as the reason for Baghdad's extermination. My understanding is that Polish Armies did engage the Mongols "for the defense of Europe" but were annihilated as well. As far as settlements go though the Golden Horde went no further than Crimea where they built a massive fortification to prevent any invaders from striking from the West.

Those fortifications and the slave trade that was common in Crimea lasted for Centuries thereafter.

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