Mongol Empire Expansion Hindered By Wet Weather

Even mighty empires in history were at the mercy of Mother Nature—researchers theorize that the Mongol army withdrew from Hungary in 1242 CE due to sudden cold, wet conditions.

AsianScientist (Jun. 3, 2016) – The Mongol Empire in the 13th century was the largest contiguous land empire ever. During its westernmost expansion into Europe, the sudden withdrawal of the Mongols from Hungary in 1242 CE still generates much speculation.

A new study, published in Scientific Reports, presents a new ‘environmental theory’ to this long-debated mystery, and shows how minor environmental fluctuations can influence major historical events.

Professor Nicola Di Cosmo from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton University and tree-ring specialist Dr. Ulf Büntgen from the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL compiled and investigated available documentary sources and tree-ring chronologies from between 1230 and 1250 CE. This unique data set indicated that warm and dry summers from 1238-1241 were followed by cold and wet conditions in early 1242.

The authors suggest that marshy terrain across the Hungarian plain most likely reduced pastureland and decreased mobility, as well as the military effectiveness of the Mongol cavalry. These circumstances arguably contributed to the Mongol commanders’ decision to abandon Hungary and return to Russia.

“This case study proves the critical role of environmental factors in the study of pre-modern societies, and it is of particular importance in the study of macroscopic events such as the formation of the Mongol empire,” said Di Cosmo.

“Historians may have underestimated not only the challenges met by the Mongols as they expanded across different ecological zones, but also the effects of climate variability upon the operations of the Mongol armies. These effects can only be assessed precisely through the collection and analysis of climate data from natural archives.”

The article can be found at: Büntgen & Di Cosmo (2016) Climatic and Environmental Aspects of the Mongol Withdrawal from Hungary in 1242 CE.


Source: Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL; Photo: J. Paul Getty Museum.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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