Climate Change and The Rule of Genghis Khan


Researchers at West Virginia University are using climate data to study the rise of empires. It’s been suggested already that periods of abnormal climate coincide with the decline and fall of empires, but this new approach is something out of the ordinary.

Dr. Amy Hessl and Dr. Neil Pederson have been using tree-ring studies to determine tree characteristics influenced by changes in climate patterns in Mongolia. They’ve found that the temperatures of the country in the 13th century were warmer than today, which encouraged greater precipitation levels, resulting in a larger quantity of vegetation that was used by Genghis Khan and his men to feed their horses. This increased food source for their mounts aided the Mongol army in its conquest of a haf of Eurasia.

You can check out the whole article in The Economist:

A clement climate lasting a generation would have provided richer grazing than normal. More fodder means more horses, and thus more of the wherewithal of empire—for if an army marches on its stomach, a horde surely gallops on its grazing. No one thinks that the Great Khan himself had nothing to do with it. But his strategic genius might have been for naught if the climate had provided him only with broken-down nags.

The next stage of the research, which also involves Nachin Baatarbileg of National University of Mongolia, will be to gather more samples. Tree-ring specialists like their trees old and stressed: old, because that gives insight into times for which no human records exist, and stressed because that exacerbates the climate’s effect on growth. The trees the team are studying, which scrape a living on a lava field north of Karakorum, Genghis’s capital, are both. The researchers also want to look at lake sediments. By counting spores from a fungus called Sporomiella, which grows in animal dung, they hope to find out whether there really was an animal-population boom at the time.


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