Food That Conquered The World: The Mongols — Nomads And Chaos
Murder, mutilation and mare’s milk
The Mongols were, quite simply, the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen. By some counts, at its peak, the Mongol Empire stretched nearly 12 million square miles (31 million square kilometres), an area of land roughly the size of the African continent, from the walls of Constantinople to the Korean Peninsula, from Calcutta to Novgorod.
In 1206, a man named Temujin brought together the Mongols under his singular leader. From then on, he would be known as Genghis Khan, the Great Khan, and go onto form the largest continuous land empire in history, killing some 40 million people in the process, roughly 11% of the world population at the time. The unique culture and food of the Mongols was huge part of why they became the mighty, yet divisive, empire history knows them as today.
A world without farming
The discovery of agriculture is considered one of the single greatest human discoveries, on the same level as the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel. Yet, a great many peoples didn’t practice much in the way of farming, and the most famous example of this are the Mongols.
Mongolia is located on the Asian Steppe, a vast plateau covered in large part by huge deserts and grasslands. It is a challenging place to survive at the best of times and the only way people have been able to do so is to constantly move. The nomadic lifestyle was forced upon the Mongols by their environment and it’s a testament to them that they turned that into a strength, but it did leave them with one colossal problem. What do you eat when you can’t grow food?
Foraging and Hunting
The Mongols were accomplished foragers, their environment demanded it. Wild garlic and onions were highly prized, as will have been many others and as they expanded their empire, many local vegetables will also have become available to them. Traditional Mongol foraging knowledge has been passed down to the people of Mongolia today, but isn’t widely available outside of that. We can assume from the lack of reports of malnutrition and scurvy though that the Mongols of Genghis Khan’s era ate enough fruits and vegetables…