Were The Mongol Conquests And Invasions The Most Brutal In History?

The Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan was the largest single state to ever exist. The Khan territory stretched from the coast of China to the edge of Poland, spanning most of Asia. Though some regions like Japan and Southeast Asia were able to stay out of his grasp, millions fell under Mongolian rule. While regions that submitted were spared any brutalization, resistance was punished with exceptional cruelty. Per History.com, around 40 million people are believed to have died as a result of the Mongolian invasion. 

A startlingly high number, but does hindsight allow Mongol expansion to be labeled the most brutal in history? Localized instances of brutality are well documented from other cultures as well. Roman legionaries indiscriminately killed the residents of Carthage before destroying it in 146 BC. Meanwhile Japanese troops not only massacred millions in the 1930s, but thousands of Korean civilians as well during their 16th-century invasion of the peninsula (via World History Encyclopedia). To consider exactly where Mongol expansion is in the hierarchy of mass atrocities, relativity must be taken into account.

Relative to population size, the Mongol Empire was one the single deadliest in history

Regimes responsible for killing tens of millions are sadly not hard to find in the modern world either. Nazi Germany and Maoist China, for instance, caused the direct and indirect deaths of 17-20 million (per Business Insider) and 40-80 million people respectively (per the Washington Post). In the 1200s, these numbers meant more simply by virtue of there having been significantly fewer people. In regard to individual instances of Mongolian brutality, few rival their thoroughness in wiping conquered cities from existence.

Hitler and Mao took varying measures to conceal the extent of death under their rule, for the Mongols, it was known policy that even the animals within a rebellious city were unlikely to survive (though there were instances of certain people being spared and/or enslaved according to Exploring History). The siege of Baghdad is one of the more infamous examples. When the city refused to submit, the end result was thousands civilians murdered and/or mutilated, most buildings torn down, and the texts of the city discarded in the river (via The Great Courses Daily). The aforementioned sacking of Carthage is comparable, yet while that represented a decades-long buildup of aggression against a singular foe, for the Mongols, such destruction was nearly standard practice.