Daily Life in the Mongol Empire


Food in the Mongolian Empire

During the Mongolian Empire there were two different groups of food,
“white foods” and “red foods”. “White foods” were usually dairy
products and were the main food source during the summer. The main
dairy product that Mongols lived on during the summer was “Koumiss”
or fermented mare’s milk which is still widely drunk today. The
Mongolians rarely drank milk fresh but often used it to create other
foods, including cheese and yogurt. “Red foods” were usually meat and
were the main food source during the winter. Anytime meat was served in
the Empire it was usually boiled and served with wild garlic or onions.
The Mongols had a unique way of slaughtering their animals to get meat.
The animal was laid on its back and restrained. Then the butcher would
cut its chest open and rip open the aorta, which would cause deadly
internal bleeding. Animals would be slaughtered in this fashion because
it would keep all of the blood inside of the carcass. Once all of the
internal organs were removed then the blood was then drained out and
used for sausages.[1]

The Mongols
also hunted animals as a food source. Some of these animals included
rabbit, deer, wild boar, and even wild rodents such as squirrels and
marmots. During the winter the Mongols would also get fish via ice
fishing. The Mongols rarely slaughtered animals during the summer but
if an animal died of natural causes they made sure to carefully
preserve it. This was done by cutting the meat into strips and then
letting it dry by the sun and the wind. During the winter sheep were
the only domestic animal slaughtered, but horses were occasionally
slaughtered for ceremonies.[2]

Meal etiquette existed only during large gatherings and ceremonies.
The meal, usually meat, was cut up into small pieces. Guests were
served their meat on skewers and the host determined the order of
serving. People of different social classes were assigned to different
parts of the meat and it was the responsibility of the server or the
“ba’urchis” to know who was in each social class. The meat was eaten
with fingers and the grease was wiped on the ground or on clothing. The
most commonly imported fare was liquor. Most popular was Chinese rice
wine and Turkestani grape wine. Chinggis Khan
was first presented grape wine in 1204 but he dismissed it as
dangerously strong. Drunkenness was common at festivals and gatherings.
Singing and dancing were also common after the consumption of alcohol.
Due to Turkestani and Middle Eastern influences noodles started to
appear in Mongolian food. Spices such as cardamom and other food such
as chickpeas and fenugreek seeds also became part of the diet due to
these external influences.[3][4]

Money in the Mongolian Empire

One of the most impressive discoveries that Marco Polo made on his
visit to Mongolia is how the empire’s monetary system worked. He was
not impressed by the silver Akçe that the empire used for a unified
currency, or that some realms of the empire still used local currency,
but he was most surprised by the fact that in some parts of the empire
the people used paper currency.[5]

Marco Polo
considered the use of paper currency in the Mongolian Empire one of the
marvels of the world. Paper currency wasn’t used in all of the empire.
The Chinese silver ingot was accepted as universal currency throughout
the empire and other local coins were used in the western part of the
kingdom. Paper currency was used in what was China before the Mongols
conquered it. The Chinese had mastered the technology of printmaking
and therefore it was relatively simple for them to print bills. Paper
currency was used in China because in 960 A.D. the Song Dynasty started
replacing their copper coinage with paper currency. When the Mongols
invaded the Song Dynasty they started issuing their own Mongolian bills in 1227. This first attempt by the Mongols
did not last long because the paper currency was not unified throughout
China and they expired after a couple of years. In 1260 Qubilai Khan
created China’s first unified paper currency with bills that did not
have any expiration date. To validate the currency it was fully
exchangeable to silver and gold and was accepted as tax payments.
Currency distribution was small at first but the war against the Song
in South China and Japan made the distribution of the currency increase
by 14 fold. With the defeat of the Song, their bills were taken out of
circulation and could be exchanged with the current currency with an
extraordinary value of 50 to 1. Being the first government to have any
sort of paper currency, foreigners understood nothing about it, and
some even considered it a form of magic. Regardless of persistent
inflation after 1272 paper currency backed by limited releases of coins
remained as the standard means of currency until 1345. Around 1345
rebellions, economic crisis and financial mismanagement of the paper
currency destroyed the public’s confidence in the bills.[6]

Paper money wasn’t extremely easy to adopt because it was a foreign
concept in the beginning and it wasn’t a precious metal, it was just a
piece of paper. To initiate the transition from other forms of
compensation to paper currency the government made refusing to accept
the bill punishable by death. To avoid devaluation the penalty for
forging or counterfeiting was death as well.[7][8]

Domestic Animals in the Mongolian Empire

The five domestic animals most important in the Mongolian Empire
were horses (most important), cattle, camels, sheep, and goats. All of
these animals were valued for their milk and all of the animals’ hides
were used for clothing and shelter. Though often considered
unattractive by other cultures, Mongolian domestic animals were well
adapted to cold weather as well as shortages of food and water. These
animals were and still are known to survive under these conditions
while animals from other regions perish.


Horses were by far the most important animal to the ancient Mongols.
Not only were they fairly self sufficient, but they were hardy and
fast. Smaller than most, these animals could travel long distances
without fatigue. They were also well adapted to the harsh winters and
dug through the snow looking for grass to feed off of. Almost every
family possessed at least one horse, and some cases, horses were buried
with their owners to serve with them in the next life. Mongolian horses
were probably the most important factor of the Mongolian Empire.
Without the extremely skilled, not to mention famous, cavalry, the
Mongols would not have been able to raid and capture the huge area they
did and the Mongols would not be known, even today, as skilled
horsemen. It also served as an animal that Mongols could drink blood
from, by cutting into vein of a horse and drinking it, especially on
harsh, long rides from place to place.[9]


Cattle were used mainly as beasts of burden but they were also
valued for their milk, though not as much so for their meat. They lived
on the open range and were fairly easy to maintain. They were released
early in the morning to graze without a herder or overseer and wandered
back on their own in the afternoon. Though they were a part of the
domestic animal population, they were not that common in the early
empire. In the early time period, only nine percent of all domestic
animals were cattle.[10]


Camels, along with cattle, were also used as beasts of burden. As
they were domesticated (between 4000-3000 BC), they became one of the
most important animals for land based trade in Asia. The reasons for
this were that they did not require roads to travel on, they could
carry up to 500 pounds of goods and supplies, and they did not require
much water for long journeys. Besides being beasts of burden, camels’
hair was used as a main fiber in Mongolian textiles. [11]


Sheep and goats were most valued for their milk, meat, and wool. The
wool of sheep in particular was very valuable. The shearing was usually
done in the spring before the herds were moved to mountain pastures.
Most importantly, it was used for making felt to insulate Mongolian
homes called yurts, however it was also used for rugs, saddle blankets,
and clothing. Ideal herd numbers were usually about 1000. To reach this
quota, groups of people would combine their herds and travel together
with their sheep and goats.[12]


Traditional Mongolian Clothing

During the Mongolian Empire, there was a uniform type of Mongol
dress though variations according to wealth, status, and gender did
occur. These differences included the design, color, cut, and
elaborateness of the outfit. The first layer consisted of a long, ankle
length robe called a caftan. Some caftans had a square collar but the
majority overlapped in the front to fasten under the arm creating a
slanting collar. The skirt of the caftan was sewn on separately, and
sometimes ruffles were added depending on the purpose and class of the
person wearing it. Men and unmarried women tied their caftans with two
belts, one thin, leather one beneath a large, broad sash that covered
the stomach. Once a woman became married, she stopped wearing the sash.
Instead she wore a very full caftan and some had a short-sleeved jacket
that opened in the front. For women of higher rank, the overlapping
collar of their caftan was decorated with elaborate brocade and they
wore full sleeves and a train that servants had to carry. For both
genders, trousers were worn under the caftan probably because of the
nomadic traditions of the Mongol people.

The materials used to create caftans varied according to status and
wealth. They ranged anywhere from silk, brocade, cotton, and valuable
furs for richer groups, to leather, wool, and felt for those less well
off. Season also dictated the type of fabric worn, especially for those
that could afford it. In the summer, Middle Eastern silk and brocades
were favored whereas in the winter furs were used to add additional
warmth. During the Mongolian Empire, people did not believe in washing
their clothes, or themselves. They refrained from doing this because it
was their traditional belief that by washing, they would pollute the
water and anger the dragons that controlled the water cycle. Therefore,
clothes were often not changed until they fell off or fell apart,
except for holidays when specialized robes were worn. Because of this,
the smell of the outfit was seen as an important aspect of the wearer.
For example, if the Great Khan were to give his previously worn
clothing (with his smell on it) to a loyal subject, it would be
considered a great honor to have not only the clothing, but the smell
as well.

Color was also an important characteristic of clothing because it
had important symbolic meaning. During large festivities held by the
Khan, he would give his important diplomats special robes to wear with
specific colors according to what was being celebrated. These were worn
only during the specific festival, and if one was caught wearing it at
other times, punishments were extremely severe.

The footwear of the traditional Mongolian Empire consisted mainly of
boots. Both the left foot and the right foot were identical and they
were made of leather, cotton, or silk. Many layers were sewn together
to create the sole of the boot then separately made uppers were
attached. The upper sections of the boots were usually dark in color
and the soles were light. Light strips of fabric were sewn over the
seams to make them more durable. Boots usually had a pointed or
upturned toe but lacked a heel.[13][14][15] [16]


Tools of Warfare

From 1206 to 1405 the Mongolian Empire displayed their military
strength by conquering land between the Yellow Sea and the Eastern
European border. This would not have been possible without their
specialized horses, bows and arrows, and swords. They conquered
numerous neighboring territories, which eventually led to history’s
largest empire.

The Mongolian Empire utilized the swiftness and strength of the
horses to their advantage. Despite being only 12 to 13 hands high, the
Mongols respected these small animals. At a young age, boys trained
with the horses by hunting and herding with them. Eventually they
became experienced riders, which prepared them for the military life
that awaited them when they turned fifteen years old. Once these boys
become soldiers, four to seven horses were given to them to alternate
between. This large number of horses ensured that some were always
rested and ready to fight. Because of this, a soldier had little excuse
to fall behind in his tasks. Overall, the Mongol Society adored these
animals because of their gentleness and loyalty to its master. Anyone
who abused or neglected to feed these horses properly was subjected to
punishment by the government.

The Mongol Empire considered horses as an important factor to its
success and tailored other weapons to them. The bow and arrow was
created to be light enough to attack enemies while on horseback. The
Mongols used composite bows made from birch, sinew and the horns of
sheep. This made a sturdy but light bows. Three types of arrows were
created for different purposes. The most common arrow used for warfare
was the pointed iron head, which could travel as far as 200 metres. If
a soldier wanted to slice the flesh of the opposing member, the
v-shaped point was used. In times of war, soldiers would shoot the
third form of arrow with holes, used for signalling. By listening to
the whistling sounds that was produced from this arrow, soldiers were
able to march in a required direction.

Soldiers primarily used horses and the bow and arrow in times of
war, but the military took extra precautions. They prepared for any
close range combat by supplying the soldiers with swords, axes, spears,
and forks. Halberds, a pole with a two sided blade, were given to those
of wealth and the remaining members of the military carried clubs or
maces. Along with these necessities, the military provided their
soldiers with leather sacks and files. The leather sacks were used to
carry and keep items such as weapons dry also they could be inflated
and used as floats during river crossings, while the files were for
sharpening the arrows. If any soldier was found missing his weapons, he
would be punished.

Even though the military of the Mongol Empire provided weapons for
every soldier, armor was available only to the wealthier soldiers.
These individuals wore iron chains or scales, protected their arms and
legs with leather strips, wore iron helmets, and used iron shields. The
horses of the more well to do were also protected to their knees with
iron armor and a head plate. Unfortunately, majority of the soldiers in
the Mongol Empire were poor. Therefore, many walked into battle with
minimal protection in comparison to the lucky few although all of the
soldiers had very little armor compared to the knights in armor of
Europe.[17] [18] [19] [20] [21]

Females of the Mongolian Empire

Females of the Mongol Empire were inferior in status to the males.
In “The Travels”, Marco Polo recounts his visit to the Mongol Empire.
He was amazed by the “open-handed fashion which husbands [dealt] with
their wives”. When a stranger entered his home, the husband ordered her
to obey the orders of this individual and left the house. For the
duration of his stay, she was to obey the stranger’s commands until he
left. Once the stranger left the house, the husband returned home.

Compared to other civilizations, Mongol females had the power to
influence society. Even though males were dominant in society, many
turned to the females in their lives for advice. While developing
organizations within the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan asked for
assistance from his mother. He honored the advices the females in his
life offered. Genghis Khan permitted his wives to sit with him and
encouraged them to voice their opinions. Because of their help, Genghis
was able to choose his successor.

The Mongols considered marriage as the passage into adulthood.
Before marriages could proceed, the bride’s family was required to
offer “a dowry of clothing or household ornaments” to the groom’s
mother. To avoid paying the dowry, families could exchange daughters or
the groom could work for his future father-in-law. Once the dowry was
settled, the bride’s family presented her with an inheritance to the
livestock or to the servants. Typically, married females of the Mongol
Empire wore headdresses and sat in lavish carts to distinguish
themselves from the unmarried females. Marriages in the Mongol Empire
were arranged, but males were permitted to practice polygamy. Since
each wife had their own yurt, the husband had the opportunity to choose
where he wanted to sleep each night. Visitors to this region found it
remarkable that marital complications did not arise. The location of
the yurts between the wives differed depending on who married first.
The first wife placed her yurt to the east and the other wives placed
their yurts to the west. Even though a husband remained attached to his
first wife, the women were “docile, diligent, and lacked jealousy”
towards one another.

After the husband has slept with one of his wives, the others
congregated to her yurt to share drinks with the couple. The wives of
the Mongol Empire were not bothered by the presence of the other
females in their household. As a married woman, she displayed her
“maturity and independence from her father” to society. The Females
devoted their lives to their daily tasks, which included physical work
outside the household. Females worked by loading the yurts, herding and
milking all the livestock, and making felt for the yurt. Along with
these chores, she was expected to cook and sew for her husband, her
children, and her elders.

A wife’s devotion to her husband continued after his death.
Remarriages during the Mongol Empire did not occur often. Instead, her
youngest son or her youngest brother took care of her.[22] [23] [24] [25] [26]

Mongol Dwellings

Mongols have been living in virtually the same dwellings since at
least the 6th century A.D. These dwellings are called yurts and during
the Mongol Empire, they consisted of a round, collapsible wooden frame
covered in felt. The roof was formed from about 80 wooden rods attached
at one end to the wall frame and at the other to an iron ring in the
center, providing a sturdy base for the felt roof. Without the roof in
place, this frame would have resembled a large wooden wheel with the
wooden spokes converging at the iron ring. The top of the roof was
usually about five feet higher than the walls so precipitation would
run to the ground. The ring at the peak of the yurt could be left open
as a vent for smoke and a window for sunlight, or it could be closed
with a piece of felt. Doors were made from a felt flap or, for richer
families, out of wood.

The word yurt means “homeland” in Turkish and it was probably never
used to describe the tent. When the dwelling made its way to Mongolia,
it adopted the name “ger” which means “home” in Mongolian. Yurts were
always set up with the door facing the south and tended to have an
altar across from the door whether the inhabitant were Buddhist or
shamanist. The floors were dirt, but richer families were able to cover
the floors with felt rugs. Sometimes beds were used, but most people
slept on the floor between hides, around the fire pit that was in the
center of the dwelling.

The first known yurt was seen engraved on a bronze bowl that was
found in Zagros Mountains of southern Iran, dating back to 600 B.C.,
but the felt tent probably did not arrive in Mongolia for another
thousand years. When the yurt did arrive, however, it quickly came into
widespread use because of its ability to act in concert with the
nomadic lifestyle of the Mongols. Most of the Mongol people were
herders and moved constantly from southern regions in the winter months
to the northern steppes in summer as well as moving periodically to
fresh pastures. The yurts size and the felt walls made them relatively
cool in the summers and warm in the winters allowing the Mongols to
live in the same dwelling year-round. Disassembling the yurts only took
about an hour, as did putting them back up in a new location. As
explorer Marco Polo observed, the yurts were pulled in carts by oxen
from camp to camp. “They [the Mongols] have circular houses made of
wood and covered with felt, which they carry about with them on four
wheeled wagons wherever they go. For the framework of rods is so neatly
constructed that it is light to carry.” (Polo, 97) Yurts could be
heated with cow pies, found in abundance with the traveling herds, so
no timber was needed. The felt for the covering was made from wool that
was taken from sheep also present in most Mongol’s herds. The wooden
frame was handed down from one generation to the next and seldom had to
be replaced.

Today, yurts follow the same basic design though they are usually
covered in canvas, use an iron stove and stovepipe, and use a
collapsible lattice work frame for the walls. They are still used in
parts of rural China, central Mongolia, and by the Kyrgyz of Kyrgyzstan.[27][28][29][30]


  1. ^ Allsen, Thomas T. Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 128-129
  2. ^ Amitai-Preiss, Reuven, and David O. Morgan, eds. The Mongol Empire and Its Legacy. Leiden: Brill, 1999. 200-222
  3. ^
    Atwood, Christopher P. "Daily Food in the Mongol Empire." The
    Encyclopedia of The Mongols and the Mongolian Empire. 1 vols. New York:
    Facts on File, 2004
  4. ^
    Atwood, Christopher P. "Food and Drink." The Encyclopedia of The
    Mongols and the Mongolian Empire. 1 vols. New York: Facts on File, 2004.
  5. ^ Allsen, Thomas T. Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 177-179.
  6. ^ Amitai-Preiss, Reuven, and David O. Morgan, eds. The Mongol Empire and Its Legacy. Leiden: Brill, 1999. 200-222.
  7. ^
    Atwood, Christopher P. "Paper Currency in the Mongol Empire." The
    Encyclopedia of The Mongols and the Mongolian Empire. 1 vols. New York:
    Facts on File, 2004.
  8. ^
    Atwood, Christopher P. "Money in the Mongol Empire." The Encyclopedia
    of The Mongols and the Mongolian Empire. 1 vols. New York: Facts on
    File, 2004.
  9. ^ Atwood, Christopher P. “Cattle”. The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. 1 vol. New York: Facts on File, 2004.
  10. ^ Polo, Marco. The Travels. Ed. Ronald Latham London: Penguin Books, 1598.
  11. ^
    Central Asian Nomads. University of Washington Web Page. 19 Sept. 2006.
  12. ^ Atwood, Christopher P. “Sheep”. The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. 1 vol. New York: Facts on File, 2004.
  13. ^
    Allsen, Thomas T. Commodity and Trade in the Mongol Empire: A Cultural
    History of Islamic Textiles. Massachusetts. Cambridge University Press,
  14. ^ Atwood, Christopher P. “Clothing”. The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. 1 vol. New York: Facts on File, 2004.
  15. ^ Atwood, Christopher P. “Footwear”. The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. 1 vol. New York: Facts on File, 2004.
  16. ^ Polo, Marco. The Travels. Ed. Ronald Latham London: Penguin Books, 1598.
  17. ^
    Atwood, Christopher P. “The Soldiers:Weaponry, Training, Rewards.” The
    Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. 1 vol. New York: Facts
    on File, 2004.
  18. ^ Howorth, Sir Henry H. History of the Mongols:Part IV. Taipei: Ch’eng Wen Publishing Company, 1970.
  19. ^ Hyer, Paul, and Sechin Jagchid. Mongolia’s Culture and Society. Boulder: Westview Press, 1979.
  20. ^ Lamb, Harold. The March of the Barbarians. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc, 1940.
  21. ^ Phillips, E.D. Ancient Peoples and Placed: The Mongols. 64 vols. London: Thames and Hudson, 1969.
  22. ^
    Atwood, Christopher P. “The Mongol Empire.” The Encyclopedia of
    Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. 1 vol. New York: Facts on File, 2004.
  23. ^ Howorth, Sir Henry H. History of the Mongols:Part IV. Taipei: Ch’eng Wen Publishing Company, 1970.
  24. ^ Hyer, Paul, and Sechin Jagchid. Mongolia’s Culture and Society. Boulder: Westview Press, 1979.
  25. ^ Lamb, Harold. The March of the Barbarians. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc, 1940.
  26. ^ Polo, Marco. The Travels. Ed. Ronald Latham London: Penguin Books, 1958
  27. ^ Atwood, Christopher P. Encyclopidia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. New York, NY: Facts on File, 2004.
  28. ^ Howorth, Henry H. History of the Mongols. Vol. 4. New York, NY: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1927.
  29. ^ Polo, Marco. The Travels. Trans. Ronald Latham. England: Penguin Books, 1958.
  30. ^ "UlaanTaij - Bringing Mongolia to the World." UlaanTaij. 19 Sept. 2006 [1]
 This page was last modified 08:47, 8 July 2007.All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. (See Copyrights for details.) Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daily_Life_in_the_Mongol_Empire#References
Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)
Archived Comments