Monday, June 14, 2010

Conquerors, but also cultural carriers

In the marvelous introduction to his book, Genghis khan And The Making Of The Modern World, Jack Weatherford writes,
The Mongols made no technological breakthroughs, founded no new religions, wrote few books or dramas, and gave the world no new crops or methods of agriculture. Their own craftsmen could not weave cloth, cast metal, make pottery or even bake bread. They manufactured neither porcelain nor pottery, painted no pictures, and built no buildings. Yet, as their army conquered culture after culture, they collected and passed all of these skills from one civilization to next.

The Mongols deliberately opened the world to new commerce not only in goods, but also in ideas and knowledge. The Mongols brought German miners to China and Chinese doctors to Persia. The transfers ranged from the monumental to the trivial. They spread the use of carpets everywhere they went and transplanted lemons and carrots from Persia to China, as well as noodles, playing cards, and tea from China to the West. They brought a metal worker from Paris to build a fountain on the dry steppes of Mongolia, recruited an English nobleman to serve as interpreter in their army, and took the practice of Chinese fingerprinting to Persia. They financed the building of Christian churches in China, Buddhist temples and stupas in Persia, and Muslim Koranic schools in Russia. The Mongols swept across the globe as conquerors, but also as civilization´s greatest cultural carriers.

The Mongols who inherited Genghis Khan´s empire exercised a determiend drive to move products and commodities around and to combine them in ways that produced entirely novel products and unprecedented invention. When their highly skilled engineers from
China, Persia and Europe combined Chinese gunpowder with Muslim flamethrowers and applied European bell casting technology, they produced the canon, an entirely new order of technological innovation, from which sprang the vast modern arsenal of weapons from pistols to missiles. While each item had some significance the larger imnpact came from in the way the Mongols selected and combined technologies to create unusual hybrids.

Seemingly every aspect of European life -- technology, warfare, clothing, commerce, food, art,liteature and music -- changed during the Renaissance as a result of the Mongol influence. In addition to new forms of fighting, new machines and new foods, even the most mundane aspects of daily life changed as the Europeans switched to Mongol fabrics, wearing pants and jackets instead of tunics and robes, played their musical instruments with the steppe bow rather than plucking them with the fingers, and painted their pictures in a new style. The Europeans even picked up the Mogol exclamation hurray as an enthusiastic cry of bravado and mutual encouragement.


jal said...

Eastern influence on ancient and medieval Europe quite often tends to get overlooked especially in areas of philosophy and religion.

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