Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Conference: "The History and Culture of Iran and Central Asia in the First Millennium CE: From the Pre-Islamic to the Islamic Era"

Sunday, June 25, 2017 All Day

Location: 1 Suffolk Street, London SW1Y 4HG


History and Culture of Iran Conference Poster

London Global Gateway
June 25-27, 2017

This conference is jointly sponsored by the Medieval Institute of the University of Notre Dame, the Notre Dame Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, and the Kyoto University Institute for Research in Humanities and Graduate School of Letters.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Deborah Tor at dtor@nd.edu.
 

The full conference 

program is now available.
 

Conference participants include:
  • Arezou Azad (University of Birmingham)
  • Michael Bates (American Numismatic Society)
  • Matteo Compareti (Renmin University of China)
  • Francois de Blois (University College London)
  • Etienne de la Vaissiere (École des hautes études en sciences sociales)
  • Dilnoza Duturaeva (National University of Uzbekistan)
  • Robert Gleave (University of Exeter)
  • Frantz Grenet (Collège de France)
  • Minoru Inaba (Kyoto University)
  • Etsuko Kageyama (Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties)
  • Hugh Kennedy (School of Oriental and African Studies, the University of London)
  • Deborah Klimburg-Salter (University of Vienna)
  • Judith Lerner (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University)
  • Pavel Lurje (The State Hermitage Museum, Russia)
  • George Malagaris (University of Oxford)
  • Louise Marlow (Wellesley College)
  • Rocco Rante (The Louvre)
  • Florian Schwarz (Austrian Academy of Sciences and University of Vienna)
  • Dan Sheffield (Princeton University)
  • Michael Shenkar (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
  • Nicholas Sims-Williams (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)
  • D.G. Tor (University of Notre Dame)
  • Luke Treadwell (University of Oxford)
  • Gabrielle van den Berg (Leiden University)
  • Yutaka Yoshida (Kyoto University)

For further information, please contact Professor Deborah Tor at dtor@nd.edu.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Gandhara relics to be exhibited in Seoul


Published: June 24, 2017
PHOTO: REUTERS
PHOTO: REUTERS 
PESHAWAR: Forty artifacts belonging to the Gandhara civilisation will be exported to Seoul, South Korea to be displayed at a three-month long exhibition titled ‘Gandhara through international cooperation’.
The federal department of archaeology and museum has issued license to President of Inter Art Channel Yang Soo Kim and Director Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Directorate of Archaeology and Museums Dr Abdul Samad, for temporary export of the Gandhara civilisation relics to Seoul for exhibition.
The exhibition, which will begin on June 29 and will continue till September 30, will only feature the relics of Peshawar museum which are currently on display at the museum.
According to the officials of K-P directorate of archaeology and museums, the exhibition will help attract international tourists by showcasing the rich archaeological treasure trove of K-P.
“It will promote tourism and archeological site of the province,” said Asif Raza, the curator of Peshawar museum.
Raza said that delegations from 50 countries will participate in the inauguration ceremony of the exhibition in Seoul where different aspects of Gandhara civilization will be discussed. He added that the exhibition will also help in attracting donations for further archaeological excavations and for the preservation of archaeological sites.
An agreement was signed between the government of Pakistan and Inter Art Channel President Yang Soo Kim last year to exhibit the rich Buddhist archaeological treasure with an aim to create awareness about the life of Buddha and attract tourists to the archaeological sites of Pakistan.
Under the agreement, the government of Pakistan had agreed to provide the artifacts of Gandhara civilization for the exhibition.
A copy of license available with The Express Tribune issued under Pakistan Antiquates Act 1975 states that the transportation of these relics, from Pakistan to Seoul, will be made under the clause (a) of sub rule (1) of rule 3 of Exports of Antiquities Rule 1997.
Raza said that the K-P has some of the most magnificent archaeological sites most of which belong to the Gandhara civilization. He said that the province can earn huge revenue if international tourism to these sites is increased.
The relics which will be transported to Korea also include some 25 relics based on the life of Buddha. They also include the Kanishka casket or Kanishka reliquary, dating back to the first year of the reign of Kushan emperor Kanishka. This relic was found in 1992 in the relic chamber of the great stupa at Shah-Ji-ki Dheri in Peshawar.

Friday, 16 June 2017

More news about the Shigir Idol (from the Ural Mountains)

Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'

Dating back 11,000 years - with a coded message left by ancient man from the Mesolithic Age - the Shigir Idol is almost three times as old as the Egyptian pyramids.
Two years ago German scientists dated the Idol as being 11,000 years old. Picture: The Siberian Times
New scientific findings suggest that images and hieroglyphics on the wooden statue were carved with the jaw of a beaver, its teeth intact.
Originally dug out of a peat bog by gold miners in the Ural Mountains in 1890, the remarkable seven-faced Idol is now on display in a glass sarcophagus in a museum in Yekaterinburg.
Two years ago German scientists dated the Idol as being 11,000 years old.
At a conference involving international experts held in the city this week, Professor Mikhail Zhilin said the wooden statue, originally 5.3 metres tall, was made of larch, with  the basement and head carved using silicon faceted tools. 
'The surface was polished with a fine-grained abrasive, after which the ornament was carved with a chisel,' said the expert. 
'At least three were used, and they had different blade widths.
The faces were 'the last to be carved because apart from chisels,  some very interesting tools - made of halves of beaver lower jaws - were used'.
He said: 'Beavers are created to carve trees. If you sharpen a beaver's cutter teeth, you will get an excellent tool that is very convenient for carving concave surfaces.' 
Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'
Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'

Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'
'This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force'. Pictures: The Siberian Times, Svetlana Savchenko

The professor has found such a 'tool' made from beaver jaw at another archeological site - Beregovaya 2, dating to the same period. 
Studying the Idol, he believed the tool is consistent with its markings, 'for example when making holes more circular', said Svetlana Panina, head of the archaeology department at Sverdlovsk Regional Local History Museum.
The idol was put on a stone basement, not dug in the ground, said Zhilin. 
It stood like this for around 50 years before falling into a pond, and was later covered in turf.
The peat preserved it as if in a time capsule. 
Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'

Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'

Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'

Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'
It is a unique sculpture, there is nothing else in the world like this. Pictures: The Siberian Times

Zhilin, leading researcher of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Archeology, has spoken previously of his 'feeling of awe' when studying the Idol, more than twice as old as the Stonehenge monuments in England.
'This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force,' he said.
'It is a unique sculpture, there is nothing else in the world like this.  It is very alive, and very complicated at the same time. 
'The ornament is covered with nothing but encrypted information. People were passing on knowledge with the help of the Idol.'
Only one of the seven faces is three dimensional. 
While the messages remain 'an utter mystery to modern man', it was clear that its creators 'lived in total harmony with the world, had advanced intellectual development, and a complicated spiritual world', he said.

The Shigir Idol is almost three times as old as the Egyptian pyramids. Pictures: The Siberian Times
Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'

Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'

Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'

Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'

Beaver's teeth 'used to carve the oldest wooden statue in the world'



Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Famous Buddhist Fugan Temple in Chengdu rediscovered

Remains of the famous Fugan Temple that was recently discovered in Chengdu, China.


Buried for Almost a Millennium, Archaeologists Recover Over 1,500 Religious Artifacts at Lost Chinese Temple


A team of archaeologists has uncovered more than 1000 tablets inscribed with Buddhist scriptures and over 500 pieces of stone sculpture, as well as glazed tiles with inscriptions, at the site of a temple that had disappeared almost a millennium ago in China.


The “Divine” Role of Fugan Temple


A team of archaeologists has spent several months excavating a temple that was lost for almost a millennium in southwest China's Sichuan Province, as China.org.cn reports.
The Fugan Temple, located in downtown Chengdu, was a famous temple that lasted from the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317- 420 AD) to the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 AD). The temple is mentioned by Daoxuan, a famous Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) monk, who recorded that an official religious ceremony was once held in front of the temple for the civilians to pray for rain to end a persistent drought. Interestingly, after the rite was over it rained heavily, a fact that elevated the temple’s prestige in the eyes of thousands of believers.
Because of this miraculous incident, the temple got its name “Fugan”, which means "perceive the blessing." Furthermore, a popular Tang Dynasty poet named Liu Yuxi left a poem to honor and celebrate the temple's renovation, describing its divine character and its important role during that period.
Workers inside an unearthed ditch at the excavation site of the Fugan Temple, Chengdu, China.
Workers inside an unearthed ditch at the excavation site of the Fugan Temple, Chengdu, China. (XINHUA)

The Temple is Rediscovered


Despite its undeniable glory and significance for the local population, the temple suffered a lot of damage during the later period of the Tang and Song dynasties, especially after the Song emperors began to experience fiscal difficulties. For example, the population’s growth in China had outdistanced economic growth, while military expenses associated with northern border wars had drained China economically, as did the cost of an ever-increasing governmental bureaucracy.
The bureaucracy, moreover, was torn by factions proposing different measures regarding tax reform and land distribution. These reforms failed, as they had during the Han dynasty, and for the same reason: opposition from the largely Confucianist gentry, who put their individual economic interests ahead of the common good. Eventually, the temple became the ultimate victim of that situation and disappeared during the many wars that took place.
Almost a millennium later though, a team of archaeologists excavating the area where the legendary temple was “hiding” all these centuries, uncovered more than 1000 tablets inscribed with Buddhist scriptures and over 500 pieces of stone sculpture as well as glazed tiles with inscriptions. "We have only excavated a part of the temple's area, but already have a glimpse of its past glory," Yi Li, lead director of the excavation project, told the media; while adding that his team has also discovered the temple's foundation, ruins of surrounding buildings, wells, roads, and ditches.

A stone Bodhisattva head unearthed at the excavation site of the Fugan Temple in Chengdu, China
A stone Bodhisattva head unearthed at the excavation site of the Fugan Temple in Chengdu, China. (news.cn)


More than 80 Ancient Tombs Found Near the Temple 


Interestingly, during the excavation archaeologists found around 80 ancient tombs dispersed near the temple, dating back to the Shang and Zhou dynasties (1600-256 BC). Additionally, they also unearthed large amounts of household tools, utensils, and building materials dating back to different periods from the Song to Ming dynasties.
Experts and archaeologists are optimistic and suggest that the temple's discovery could significantly contribute to the examination of the spread of Buddhism in China during that time, as Wang Yi, director of the Chengdu Cultural Relic Research Institute told China.org.cn
More than 1,000 tablets inscribed with Buddhist scriptures were found at the site of the famous Fugan temple in Chengdu, China
More than 1,000 tablets inscribed with Buddhist scriptures were found at the site of the famous Fugan temple in Chengdu, China. (Western China Metropolis Daily)
Top Image: Remains of the famous Fugan Temple that was recently discovered in Chengdu, China. (XINHUA) Insert: A stone Bodhisattva head unearthed at the excavation site. (news.cn)

Monday, 12 June 2017

New book by Donald Lopez: Hyecho's Journey: The World of Buddhism


Hyecho's Journey: The World of Buddhism   

            

8 Dec 2017

by Donald S. Lopez Jr

208 pages | 27 color plates, 1 halftone | 7 x 10 | © 2017

The university of Chicago Press books

In the year 721, a young Buddhist monk named Hyecho set out from the kingdom of Silla, on the Korean peninsula, on what would become one of the most extraordinary journeys in history. Sailing first to China, Hyecho continued to what is today Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, before taking the Silk Road and heading back east, where he ended his days on the sacred mountain of Wutaishan in China.
            With Hyecho’s Journey, eminent scholar of Buddhism Donald S. Lopez Jr. re-creates Hyecho’s trek. Using the surviving fragments of Hyecho’s travel memoir, along with numerous other textual and visual sources, Lopez imagines the thriving Buddhist world the monk explored. Along the way, Lopez introduces key elements of Buddhism, including its basic doctrines, monastic institutions, works of art, and the many stories that have inspired Buddhist pilgrimage. Through the eyes of one remarkable Korean monk, we discover a vibrant tradition flourishing across a vast stretch of Asia. Hyecho’s Journey is simultaneously a rediscovery of a forgotten pilgrim, an accessible primer on Buddhist history and doctrine, and a gripping, beautifully illustrated account of travel in a world long lost.
Close
List of Illustrations
About This Book
About the Maps

Introduction: Tracing Hyecho’s Route
1. Dunhuang: The Discovery of the Pilgrim’s Account
2. Silla: The Birthplace of the Pilgrim
3. At Sea: The Pilgrim Sails for the Holy Land
4. Kuśinagara: The Buddha Enters Nirvana
5. Vulture Peak: Two Buddhas Seated Side by Side
6. Bodh Gayā: The Buddha Attains Enlightenment
7. Lumbinī: The Buddha Is Born
8. Śrāvastī: City of the Buddha’s Miracles
9. Sāṃkāśya: The Buddha Descends from Heaven
10. Gandhāra: Past Lives of the Buddha
11. Arabia: Buddhism Encounters Islam
12. Wutaishan: The Pilgrim Passes Away
Coda

Thursday, 8 June 2017

"Some of the myths concerning the Mongolians and other Inner Asian peoples" dispelled and edited by Morris Rossabi

How Mongolia Matters: War, Law, and Society 

(Brill's Inner Asian Library) 

Hardcover – 18 May 2017



Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Globalisation, Mongol style: From Silk to Silicon, a new book by Jeffrey E. Garten


How Genghis Khan's heirs used the principles of tolerance to build the first wave of globalisation

An excerpt from a new book on the pioneers of globalised business


Genghis’s heirs continued to expand the Mongol empire. Over the next century they would double its size, adding southern China, all of Iran, most of Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, most of habitable Russia, Ukraine, and half of Poland – in all, roughly 20 percent of the world’s land area.
Genghis had established not only an empire but a governing foundation that his heirs would build into the Pax Mongolica, the period of relative peace and stability that extended over much of Eurasia from 1206 to the mid-fourteenth century. This empire underpinned an era of globalisation that was unprecedented. The Mongols revolutionised warfare, which made their conquests possible, but the empire lasted so long because of the expansion of trade, transportation, and communication; the intermixing of people, ideas, and culture; and the unification of administrative procedures. 
The big advantage that the Mongols had over previous empire builders is that they themselves had nothing in the way of deeply ingrained ideas of politics, economics, or culture to spread abroad. They were not driven by ideology or any messianic impulse – only by the hunger to amass wealth. As a result, they did not impose political ideology or cultural or religious ideas on others but, rather, created an environment of extreme tolerance, so long as the basic governing regime wasn’t fundamentally challenged and so long as the booty owed smoothly from the far-flung territories to the Mongolian centre.

Tolerance for religious freedom was particularly notable and reflected the way Genghis thought. 

He understood that he had much to gain by showing respect for proud local cultures and influential religious leaders, and he sought out strong relations with them. 
Indifferent to controlling matters of religion or culture, the Mongols focused on building commerce and the physical, administrative, and legal infrastructure to help it flow freely. Before the Mongol Empire, for example, few traders were able to travel the entire Silk Road in large part because Arab middlemen in places such as what are today Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon insisted on standing between the buyer and the seller, imposing high taxes on all sides. 
At the height of Pax Mongolica, however, there were no significant trade barriers on the road from the Mediterranean to China, where the big cities became cosmopolitan metropolises. In what today is Beijing, Genghis’s grandson Kublai Khan (1260-1294) established special sections for merchants of multiple nationalities from all over the empire, some who came from as far away as Italy, India, and North Africa. The Mongols also encouraged their subjects, particularly the Chinese, to emigrate to foreign trading posts in order to facilitate more commerce.

Genghis’s offspring became great transmitters of art and culture through the trading channels they established. 

Their tastes for colorful clothing, silver jewellery, and images of animals provoked a desire throughout the empire to create items that pleased them, leading to a convergence of styles. Moreover, the interconnection among societies resulted in Chinese textiles and painting becoming even more popular in Persia, where Iranian tile work began to re ect the images of the dragon and phoenix that were popular in the Middle Kingdom. 
As the number of travelers on the empire’s roads rose, some became notable figures. Marco Polo is the most widely known of these travellers today, but there were many others, including the Muslim jurist Ibn Battuta, the Nestorian Christian Rabban Sauma, the Franciscans John Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck, and the Chinese Confucian Zhou Daguan. Their writings described places from Angkor Wat to Hangzhou to Tabriz to Paris, making these special sites cultural touchstones for elites across the empire. 
Under Mongol rule, China’s lustre as an empire was restored. Starting with Genghis Khan, the Mongol leadership transformed the Middle Kingdom from a civilisation torn asunder by civil war and hostile dynasties into a unified nation, capable of outlasting revolts, invasions, and other attempts at foreign domination for six centuries. 
In western Asia, the Mongols were able to forge unity among competing Islamic chieftains, giving birth to the modern Persian Empire. Although the Mongols never occupied eastern Europe and the Mediterranean countries, they stimulated a revolution in productivity in these regions by exposing the West to specialised tools, new blast furnace technology, new crops that required less work to plant, and to new concepts such as paper money, primacy of state over church, and freedom of religion. 

In 1620, the English scientist Francis Bacon named three innovations that changed the world, citing the printing press, gunpowder, and the compass. All three came to the West during the heyday of the Mongol Empire.

Historian and journalist Nayan Chanda put it well. “Empires played a key role in the rise of governance as they extended rules and regulations over an expanding territory,” he wrote. After pointing to the advances made in the Roman Empire, the Mauryan Empire in India, and the Han Empire in China, he continued: 

“The scope of governance grew to a new height under the Mongol Empire...Deep Mongol interest in trading meant that the Silk Road across Central Asia emerged as a well-guarded conveyer belt of goods, people, and ideas. The road, with its Mongol sentry points and inns, its postal system, and its rudimentary passport and credit card (paiza) system, provided unprecedented governance for land-based trade and transportation.”
The empire’s impact on governance in China, in particular, was notable. The administration begun under Genghis would reach its peak under heirs like Kublai Khan, who guaranteed landowners property rights and reduced taxes. Kublai also built an extensive network of schools, professionalised the civil service, and introduced paper money and bankruptcy laws. He established an office for the stimulation of agriculture to improve farmers’ lives and crop yields, and a Cotton Promotion Bureau to improve planting, weaving, and textile manufacturing techniques. 
He promoted the arts and literature, translating Persian and other classics into Chinese. He instituted universal education five hundred years before any ruler in Europe did, and he refused to allow public execution of criminals at a time when they were a popular spectacle in Europe. These achievements occurred well after Genghis Khan, but they evolved from his early attempts at establishing a multicultural society spanning vast territory. 

Globalisation, Mongol style

It is often said that the first golden age of globalisation began near the start of the industrial revolution in Europe around 1870 and ended in 1914, when the outbreak of World War I shattered the idea that growing political and economic bonds between nations would guarantee peace. This period had indeed experienced a great boom in global trade, investment, migration, and innovations in communications such as the telegraph. But that period is the wrong starting point. 
The first golden age was the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It was in the era of Genghis and his sons and grandsons when the routes they built and secured opened a new world of possibilities. Europeans were able to buy silk and other rare textiles, exotic spices, even paper-making technology from China. Chinese iron-smelting technology was mixed with Persian engineering skills to build advanced weapons. Medicines from India, China, and Persia were combined to create great advances in pharmacology. 
Indeed, the story of Genghis Khan is in microcosm a story about globalisation itself. It illustrates the force that military conquest has played in furthering the connections among disparate societies. It shows how commerce follows conquest, how commerce and culture intersect, and how transport and communications networks become so important. Together with his sons and grandsons, Genghis also faced the enduring challenge of balancing central administrative control with tolerance for local institutions and culture. 

In world history no group has contributed more to the expansion and deepening of globalisation than those who built empires encompassing many millions of people and large swaths of geography. After all, globalisation is about connecting on multiple levels and breaking down many of the walls that separate populations of various origins, customs, and beliefs. 
Globalisation also entails developing systems of government that centralise administration and enforce common standards of behaviour. The empire that Genghis Khan established in the thirteenth century did both with unprecedented scale and scope. It thus provided one of the most powerful boosts to globalisation ever seen. 
Excerpted with permission from From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization Through Ten Extraordinary Lives, Jeffrey E Garten, Tranquebar.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Mongols built an empire with one technological breakthrough, the stirrup



The humble stirrup was a game-changing invention that altered history.


When a man named Temüjin was given the title of Genghis Khan in 1206, the Mongols were a recently united people, tucked away in the northeast corner of Asia. By the time Genghis Khan died in 1227, they were sunning themselves on the shores of both the Pacific Ocean and the Caspian Sea. By 1241 they were knocking at Vienna's door, and they remained the terror of eastern Europe for the rest of the century. The Mongols claimed the largest consolidated land empire in history. Seemingly the only way to keep them out was to put the Himalayas between you and them. And many historians believe their power stemmed from an incredibly simple technological innovation: the stirrup.
No one knows when the stirrup was first invented, but it was a boon to any military that used it. Even the simplest of stirrups, a leather loop, let mounted soldiers ride longer distances and stay mounted on their horses during battle. The military success of the forebears of the Cossacks is often attributed to two loops of leather. Same with the Goths and the Huns. Some believe the stirrup even shifted the balance of power in Europe from foot soldiers to mounted knights, dubbed the "armored tanks" of the medieval world by historian Roman Johann Jarymowycz.
The Mongols took things further. Historians think they not only had leather stirrups, but metal ones as well. In 2016, archaeologists at the Center of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia unearthed the remains of a Mongolian woman dating back to the 10th century AD. Along with sturdy leather boots and some changes of clothes, she was buried with a saddle and metal stirrups described as in such good condition that they could still be used today. The stirrups are one continuous thick piece of metal with an open loop for a saddle strap on the top and a wide, flattened, and slightly rounded foot rest. The stirrups had to be comfortable and tough, because Mongols used them to ride in a way no one else rode.

This pair of 1,100-year-old metal stirrups was unearthed from a Mongolian woman's grave in 2016. They were part of a well-preserved saddle with reinforcements that would have allowed the rider unprecedented mobility.
Enlarge / This pair of 1,100-year-old metal stirrups was unearthed from a Mongolian woman's grave in 2016. They were part of a well-preserved saddle with reinforcements that would have allowed the rider unprecedented mobility.
The Center of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia.

A general of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) described the Mongols riding long distances standing up in the saddle, with "the main weight of the body upon the calves or lower part of the leg with some weight upon the feet and ankles." The stirrups were meant to keep the rider centered and upright in even the most tumultuous situation. They hung from a saddle that was made of wood and had a high back and front. These, supplemented with endless hours of practice, gave a Mongol rider unprecedented stability. The rider could maintain hands-free balance on the horse while the horse twisted and turned and while the rider himself turned in the saddle. A fluidly mobile rider could then use his hands to fire arrows in any direction as he rode.
At a time when most armies won by driving ineluctably forward, the Mongols advanced and retreated while never letting up on their assault. When they met their opposition, their cavalry galloped forward with wild agility, shooting arrows continuously, presenting a terrifying united front. As they got within a few yards of the other army, the charging horsemen's unity broke. They turned and galloped away as quickly as they'd come.

The power of retreat

Historian Thomas Craughwell explains that an ability to twist in their saddles meant that, even as the Mongols rode away, they could shoot arrows back toward the enemy army. As the army continued to charge and retreat, their patterns became ever more chaotic. Marco Polo, who saw the Mongols in action, described their technique: "They never let themselves get into a regular melee, but keep perpetually riding around and shooting into the enemy."
If traditional mounted troops were like tanks, Mongol-mounted warriors were fighter pilots. Their mastery of movement made them unbeatable. The other army would advance on a shifting, uniting, scattering, and reuniting foe.

This is a representation of a battle between Mongols and the Chinese, recorded in 1211 in the <em>Jami' al-tawarikh</em>, by Rashid al-Din. Note the Mongols standing in their saddles.
Enlarge / This is a representation of a battle between Mongols and the Chinese, recorded in 1211 in the Jami' al-tawarikh, by Rashid al-Din. Note the Mongols standing in their saddles. 

When all else failed, the Mongols used psychology. At a signal, the cavalry could wheel around and make a convincingly jumbled false retreat. Unwary opposition forces would often then charge after them, believing that the battle had, unexpectedly, gone their way. The Mongol cavalry would then turn right back around, having lured a few overconfident souls too close. More often, though, they would continue their retreat and then maneuver out of the way. Then, unmounted archers would shower the pursuing army with arrows, and more heavily armored cavalry could charge in with lances. At that point, the battle was as good as over.
The Mongolian Empire's stunning rise to power reveals how one technological development provided a literal stepping point for a new style of warfare—one that could not be resisted by any existing army. The largest land empire the world has ever known did not exist because of any one factor. A thousand different circumstances helped Genghis Khan and his immediate descendants conquer most of a continent. But the stirrup played an indispensable role. Engineering the perfect stirrup gave an army, and a people, an ineradicable place in history.