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Did Genghis Khan's people generally shoe their mounts?

If so, did it begin before they began their expansion, or did they acquire the practise along the way?

  • What has your own research showed so far? Which sources have you explored? – SPavel May 11 '18 at 13:07
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    Nothing, so far, wrt the Mongols. But shoeing was, for instance, known to the Romans. I am curious as to how far it had spread. – Mawg May 11 '18 at 13:32
  • I don't that you mean the Golden Horde. – John Dee May 11 '18 at 15:47
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During the time of Genghis Khan, horses were rarely shod. This from To Shoe or not to Shoe?

Genghis Khan led his cavalry to victory on barefoot horses.

Even several decades after the time of Genghis Khan, Roman Johann Jarymowycz in Cavalry from Hoof to Track notes that Mongol horses were not shod:

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.

However, at least some horses were shod, but not with iron. Rather, they used:

wet skin which was placed covering the entire hoof and allowed to dry in order to acquire the shape of the hoof. Later, Genghis Khan, the famous 12th century military leader, perfected this technique to cover the hoof, which offered great abilities to their armies to move faster and more efficiently than their opponents.

By the time of Kublai Khan (d. 1294), though, during the Mongol invasions of Japan metal horseshoes were in use:

One of the more unusual finds in the underwater archeological excavation of Kublai Khans fleet were bricks. The Mongols built onboard forges for blacksmiths to use in making horseshoes and repairing weapons.

Nonetheless, this was probably not the norm but rather because there was a perceived need for that particular campaign. George Fleming, in his hefty 1869 tome Horse-shoes and Horse-shoeing, makes several references, both historical and contemporary, to the absence of shod horses among the Mongols.

Metal horseshoes had been in use elsewhere for at least a couple of centuries before the time of Genghis Khan: Leo VI of Constantinople refers to them in a treatise in 900 AD and their use may date back to 500 AD or even earlier. It is thus likely that the Mongols during the time of Genghis Khan knew about metal horseshoes, yet they did not adopt them (while they did adopt the stirrup).

There are several likely explanations for this, one being that the terrain they generally roamed was easy on horses' hooves. Also, (acknowledgement: T.E.D.'s comment for highlighting this point) the Mongols

...generally left their horses unshod, since the hooves of animals raised in a dry climate like Mongolia were harder and resisted abrasions better than horses raised in a wet climate

Jarymowycz also notes the tougher hooves of Asiatic horses compared to western ones.

Another factor is that each Mongol had several horses (between 4 and 16, depending on which source you believe); carrying the materials necessary to shoe such a large number of horses for an army on the move would have been impractical, and the constant switching of mounts prevented horses from being 'over-ridden' (the hooves of a horse with a rider are subjected to more stress).


Other sources:

Stephen Turnbull, Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests 1190-1400

Michael Burgan, Empire of the Mongols

The Mongol Empire’s Best Weapon: The Mongolian Horse

  • 3
    Couldn't find as much as Lars, but this is consistent with my research as well. One thing he didn't mention is that climate has a lot to do with the need for shoes, and the steppe (being where the species evolved prior to domestication) is the climate where they are least nessecary. – T.E.D. May 11 '18 at 15:44
  • Perhaps the widespread adoption of horseshoes was due to Pax Mongolica. – John Dee May 11 '18 at 16:00
  • Perhaps another reason for the Mongols not to shoe their horses (at least with metal shoes) is that it's labor and material intensive, and steppe nomads aren't likely to have had that much of an industrial base. – jamesqf May 11 '18 at 17:10
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    @jamesqf - An anvil is pretty much the stereotypical thing you don't want to have to move around a lot. – T.E.D. May 11 '18 at 18:33
  • @T.E.D: Humm... Toting around an anvil is not your real problem. Figure a military unit of 100 men, with 5 horses apiece - roughly what a hard-working farrier could handle. Each horse needs 4 shoes, which weigh about 2 lbs/1 kg each, so that's about 4000 lbs/2000 kg of iron. My own horses need to be shod about every 2 months in summer. Though this is more a matter of hoof growth, the shoes do show noticable wear, so figure a set of shoes might last a year. The Mongol Horde was about 100K men, so that's 2000 tons of iron per year just for shoes. – jamesqf May 12 '18 at 5:30

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