The Mongols and Princess Aiyaruk
The Mongols came from the plains of the north and northwest of China. In 1206 this nomadic group united around a tribal prince named Temujin who took the name Genghis Khan which means ‘universal ruler.
The Mongols were nomads. They had no settled homes and did not grow any crops. Their families lived in big tents called yurts or gers, which were made of thick woolen cloth stretched over a wooden frame. These nomad warriors moved from place to place, hunting wild animals for food and seeking fresh grass for their horses, sheep and cows.
Everyone travelled on horseback – Mongol children were taught to ride by the time they were five years old.
Mongol men and women valued warrior skills, such as toughness, bravery and strength. Rival tribes often fought one another, and other nations nearby. The Mongols were fearsome enemies – bold, bloodthirsty and cruel. They could shoot arrows to kill their enemies while riding at a gallop. They used four types of arrows to shoot long distances, pierce metal armor, set fire to enemy camps, or to send signals by making a whistling noise. They killed all who fought against them. But they spared anyone who surrendered immediately.
Mongol armies made gruesome “tower of skulls. They cut-off their conquered enemies’ heads and arranged them in a tall heap, supported by bricks or stones. As the heads rotted, the tower of skulls gave off a faint, ghostly light.
The Mongols brought northern China under their control in 1234. The devastation caused by the Mongol invasion was enormous. As much as 90% of the population of China disappeared. Some fled, but many were killed in the fighting or died in the famines or plagues. Many areas did not recover for centuries. In 1368 a Chinese peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang overthrew the Mongols and that's when the Ming dynasty was established.
Aiyaruk the Mongol princess
Aiyaruk was a Mongol princess, born in about 1265. Her name means “bright moon”, and she was very beautiful. When Aiyaruk was about 15 years old, her father arranged for her to marry a fine young prince from another Mongol tribe. But Aiyaruk would not agree. She was strong, brave and a superb rider. She had learned all the Mongol warrior skills, such as how to fight on horseback like all Mongol soldiers and how to shoot a moving target. So Aiyaruk decided that she would only marry a man who was stronger and braver than she was.
Many bold young warriors came to fight against Aiyaruk. She defeated them all. Aiyaruk never married, but lived her life as a soldier. She became a famous general and led her father’s army to war. This story was told by the explorer Marco Polo, who said that he had heard it from Mongol men and women he met on his travels. We do not know for certain whether it is true but many Mongol women did learn to ride and fight in wars. A few became famous war leaders.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia
The World and Its People: China in the Middle Centuries