Written by Mohammad Hasib Emran

America is a melting pot of people of different ethnicities, religions, and political beliefs yet they all seem to be stable as a single state under a single flag with mostly common goals. That is cosmopolitanism, which is what Appiah was talking about in the quote mentioned in the question. But this definition is not only viable for the modern world but could have been viable since ancient times as well because while it may seem that tolerance is a new ideology created by the liberal left, it has been there since the Achaemenid Empire when they were respecting people of all faiths and beliefs systems. Our primary scope of discussion will revolve around the “barbarians”, Mongols, and Mughals. This essay will show that those mentioned entities were trying to form cosmopolitan states with the people they conquered and the level of difference between their strategies of conquest and tolerance. Various events such as the Fall of Rome and the adoption of Roman culture by the barbarians; the invasion of China, Kievan Rus, and Middle by Mongols with ultimately the Mongols adopting the administrations of the conquered; and how Akbar’s soft power policies had the most lasting legacy will explain why cosmopolitanism to consolidate power was the endgame of all the conquerors even over the employment of superior warfare tactics.

To provide a general background: The Huns’ conquest of Europe chased the barbarians and caused a Migration Period. The migrations led many Germanic people to go near the borders of the Western half of the Roman empire. The Romans treated the Visigoths harshly even though they (Romans) allowed them to pass through into Roman territory. Intuitively, the harsh treatment of the Goths led to hostilities and enemies for Rome. They later killed Roman emperor Valens in 378 CE during the Battle of Adrianople as revenge. Weapons such as the battle-axe (Franks), recurve bow and siege towers and battering rams (Huns), etc., were used by barbarians to inflict damage upon Rome (Andrews, 2019). Huns commonly used weapons that were used by Mongolian nomads. In 410 CE, Visigoth King Alaric sacked Rome. Finally, in 476 CE a German king Odoacer would lead a revolt and remove Emperor Romulus Augustus, which is commonly known as the Fall of Rome. While it is tempting to believe that the Goths and Franks were completely uncivilized people who only came to loot and plunder, it is not true. There were not enough Roman people to recruit as soldiers (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 292), so they (Diocletian and Constantine) started recruiting Germans into their army. While they were effective, they were simple mercenaries and no mercenary is loyal.

The same Germans recruited into the army would lead the revolts against Rome. So here we can see that there was no ethnic or cultural animosity coming from the barbarians and they were assimilating very well and forming a polity until the emperors such as Valens decided to break the trust of the barbarians by not integrating them well. Nevertheless, they also started developing a common goal of pushing back “Attila the Hun” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 294) because this nomadic group was also pushing the Romans. In 418 CE, when Goths settled in Rome, the Roman aristocrats welcomed their presence as local militias (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 294) because the cost of social revolution against the Goths and then a faceoff against the Huns would be immense, and so they came as friends of the aristocracy than enemies. Fall of Rome (476 CE) did not happen in a single day as people believe, it happened over the years as bits and bits of Western Rome were being taken by decentralized groups of barbarians who were easily assimilating without violence, not to mention the barbarians were also Christians which made the clash of faith unlikely.

The Franks were perhaps even more accepting than the Goths. According to Craughwell (2008, p. 114), the Franks served in the Roman army since Caesar’s time. The author also noted that the Franks converted to Catholic Christianity (after Clovis I, the first king, converted) and embraced the authority of Rome, and did not even impose their language on the people of Gaul. Clovis I also seemed to have followed Roman law (Craughwell, 2008, p. 117). These historical facts remove the negative notion of the word ‘barbarian’ from the Germanic tribes and establish the fact that they were just cosmopolitans who had no malevolence towards the ethnic Romans or their way of life. They either adopted Roman values or tolerated them.

Then we have the Mongol version of cosmopolitanism: first utter destruction and violence, and then later forming relationships. Beginning in the thirteenth century, Genghis Khan’s Mongol armies invaded northern China, routing the Jin army in the North China Plain, which was no match for the Mongols’ superior cavalry. The Mongol horsemen suffered from illnesses like malaria and their horses died from the heat below the Yangzi River, when the temperature and weather altered and so the Mongols used boats to navigate the semitropical south and engaged in river and canal battles (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 406).  After 1260, Kublai Khan (1215–1294) conquered southern China. His cavalries crossed southwest China’s upper plateaus and then launched an attack from the west on South China’s economic center.

With the newest gunpowder-based weaponry in hand—which the Mongols had stolen from Chinese designers to use against them—the Southern Song army was defeated (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 406). The Mongols also did not have any siege engineers of their own, so they captured Chinese engineers to aid them in siege warfare (Craughwell, 2008, p. 266). Huge stones were thrown by catapults, destroying the defensive walls, while flammable liquids in broken clay pots caused anything they touched to burst into flames. Mongol tactics against civilians were comparable to Assyrians – women were raped and civilians were indiscriminately killed unless they surrendered. Crops and cities would be burned and slaves would be taken (Craughwell, 2008, p. 271). Now comes the part where Mongols assimilated themselves into the people they conquered and formed a polity regardless of ethnic or religious differences. The Mandate of Heaven was kept in the now Yuan Dynasty of China under Mongol rule. Chutsai, a prisoner of Gengis Khan, convinced him that he will need Chinese people to rule the Chinese with the Chinese bureaucratic systems and the khan agreed (Craughwell, 2006, p. 273).

A similar social hierarchal system of the Chinese Jin was preserved: the upper class (Mongol minority), special class (Iraqi Muslims who helped develop siege weapons and other Turks), hanren (composed of Chinese ethnic groups), and lastly the nanren (former subjects of the Song China, who were turned into slaves). Mongols also did not impose their religion such as Shamanism on the Chinese, and let the Chinese keep practicing their religions and ethics (such as Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism). Middle Eastern Muslims were also allowed to take part in governmental affairs. The Chinese economy was integrated into a single economy because entire China (including all the separate kingdoms) was united under Mongol rule regardless of ethnicity or religion.

But Mongols in Russia had to deal with things differently. Halperin (1983) has said that the Mongols could not impose any culture of their own and were hated by the Slavic Christian people there. He also noted that there was a clash between Christian Slavs and Turkic Muslims. Turkic Muslims opposed any sort of iconography in their regions and the Christians opposed the diwan system of administration and tax collection imported by Mongols from Iran because it was ‘tainted’ with the name of Islam. The Mongols let it slide because they did not care if they were getting money. Most traditional historians believe that the Mongols did not have much sociocultural impact on the Russians and the Russians never accepted the Mongols (so we can safely say that cosmopolitanism failed in Russia).

The only thing that the Mongols did was fight other enemies of the Russians. Most historians like to shed light on the destruction caused by the Mongols, such as Craughwell (2008) who described Mongols as true barbarians throughout his book who would kill people indiscriminately. During the reign of Gedei, the Mongol Empire invaded Russia and Eastern Europe completely. Before they reached Western Europe, these armies came to a standstill due to altered terrain, scarce supplies, and the passing of a charismatic commander named Gedei in 1241 CE. Batu Khan (Gedei’s nephew who helped him as commander in the conquests) later founded the Golden Horde state in southern Russia, which was governed by his heirs for the following 200 years. The invasion was methodical: they would send a team to survey the invasion route before the actual invasion (Craughwell, 2008, p. 279). Craughwell also noted that the Mongols used similar siege weapons to establish the Yuan dynasty and a new technology that could be compared to modern-day smoke grenades that disoriented the enemy in battle.

Chinese gunpowder was also used but not in rifles, but rather gunpowder was loaded into clay pots and then thrown towards the enemy with their fuse lit using the catapults. Batu Khan also took slaves on a magnitude never seen before because he was awestruck by the beauty of Slavic men and women (especially their blonde hair). Russian society would make a comeback, but by the late fifteenth century (after 250 years of being occupied, the longest the Mongols ruled over other people), when the Russians were powerful enough to drive the Mongols from their territory, Russia was a different place—more used to centralized power and skeptical of outsiders less tolerant of the outdated ideas of independence and democracy of outsiders. I believe the damage caused by the Mongol invasions still reverberates to this day – the affinity towards authoritarianism and the xenophobia towards the West since the Cold War are still here. 

Now, let us come to the incursions into the Islamic world. Mongol tribesmen poured out of the steppes in the thirteenth century, traveling over all of Asia and into eastern Europe. The Mongol goal to rule the world was made explicit by Mongke Khan, a grandson of Genghis. He directed his brother, Hulagu, to conquer modern-day Iran, Armenia, Syria, Egypt, and the then Byzantine empire. He chose his brother Kubilai to govern the Yuan dynasty and northern India. Hulagu with his army of 200000 slaughtered the Baghdad horsemen numbering around 10000 in 1258 CE (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 407). The author described the fighting as similar to the “total war” method which was again not surprising since they were Mongols – they pursued them into the higher levels of buildings, where they killed them on roofs after hunting them in wells, latrines, and sewers. While it is true that Mongols were tolerant, they were not exactly tolerant the way we normally perceive them to be. Mongols tolerated people when the people submitted to them. In my opinion, tolerating religions was a part of the game plan to reduce internal stability.

Groups that would prove beneficial were tolerated, and beneficiary groups’ enemies would not be tolerated, for example, Ismaili Shias were not tolerated in the Mongol regime because they were considered heretics by virtually most Islamic sects, even other Shias and Daoism were not tolerated too when Gengis Khan’s laws (the Yassa) were being broken (Kings and Generals, 2021b). During the initial stages after the Fall of Baghdad, “halal”, “haram”, and circumcision concepts and washing dirty things in large water bodies were forbidden under Gengis Khan’s commands because it went against the Yassa (Kings and Generals, 2021a). But soon after they realized the Muslims were skilled in the arts of science and philosophy, they started to become integrated into society and many Muslims were put in high-status administrative positions and were also sent to China under the Yuan dynasty. I believe after Berke’s conversion to Islam, things became easier for Muslims in the Islamic khanates as Berke was reported to have halal meals (Kings and Generals, 2021a). Three out of the four khanates turned Muslim. It is also believed that conversion to Islam by the Ilkhanate was to make it easier for the Mamluks of Egypt to surrender to an Islamic entity (Kings and Generals, 2021a). But Mamluks would not yield and successfully defend themselves in the Battle of Ain Jalut.

After conquering China, Russia, Eastern Europe, and parts of the Middle East and Eurasia, the Mongol World Order of Gengis Khan to dominate the entire had been finally realized. China was broken up into many kingdoms and Russia was not united, but under Mongol rule, they would all become united, and the economies spanning from the East to the West would be integrated. Chinese cultures and ideas would flow to the West via the Silk Road, and eventually influence Christian and Islamic entities. By 1300 CE, there were unprecedented connections between the Afro-Eurasian cultures due to commerce, migration, and fighting. When Mongol forces invaded China, Southeast Asia, and the heart of Islam, they consolidated already-existing commercial ties and provided a thin, surface-like covering of political unity to these vast territories. But the Mongols, however, failed to leave any long-lasting legacy. The only legacy they left is the history of globalization they caused across Asia and Eastern Europe. Today, descendants of the Mongols are concentrated in the nation of Mongolia with little sovereignty as they are currently heavily influenced by China. Even during the Cold War, Mongolia was a satellite state of the USSR. 

Moving to India while the Mongol empire was near the end, Timur attacked the Delhi Sultanate first in 1303 CE, a Turkic warrior from Central Asia. He attacked twice, the first attack was unsuccessful because the Delhi Sultanate was strong. He later attacked again when the Sultanate was weak, and this time he was successful in defeating Rao Baljit and the Sultan. That also resulted in the Sultanate becoming fragmented. However, he had to go back to defend his Timurid Empire against Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I. His great-great-great-grandson, Babur would eventually form the Mughal Empire in India after a decisive conflict in the Battle of Panipat against Ibrahim Lodi. He assembled an army of matchlock cannon-equipped Turks and Afghans and quickly overcame the defense’s wall of elephants (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 426). Babur also made use of artillery cannons in his battles, and for that, it was popularized throughout India. While the Mongols were certainly tolerant, they were also “fluid” in the sense the Mongols themselves assimilated into the cultures of the majority. On the other hand, the Mughals were not fluid but were tolerant enough to promote syncretism in their empire, that is, they would find a ‘middle ground’ between the faiths and form systems that would fuse different belief systems, or just tolerate the non-Muslims in general but not go out of their way to convert to other religions.

Syncretism was widely carried out by Abu Akbar and I think he should be credited with being the most tolerant and the most influential in forming the liberal Islam framework in India. While Babur as a founder was tolerant of the building of temples and the abolishment of killing cows, his grandson Akbar would take things to the next level. BBC (2009) website has concisely stated all the actions of Akbar that showed he was tolerant and which gave off a positive aura about Islam: abolishment of jizya (tax paid by non-Muslims); letting non-Muslims enter high-status government jobs, and doing bidah (innovation) were non-Muslims were allowed to govern themselves using their religious laws. While Sufism (a form of syncretic Islam) already existed that attracted the most converts to Islam using its narrative that God only wants love and by accepting polytheistic traditions and making it easier for Hindus to convert, Akbar went ahead further and founded his religion called Din-i-ilahi (which fused the beliefs of Islamic, Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist teachings) which was not well received by most but it showed how determined Akbar was to form a cosmopolitan.

Another major cosmopolitan idea of his was that fairs and festivals were open to everyone, and non-Muslims could have their festivals celebrated too. To prove that his cosmopolitan system was working with everyone working together despite religious differences, I will bring the case of Aurangzeb, who was an orthodox Muslim and he started destroying temples, opposing Sufism, and got rid of all the innovations instilled by Akbar and so the Muslim governor in Hydrabad in retaliation declared a free Shia state and reinstalled Akbar’s values (BBC, 2009). Hindus became resistant too. It is commonly believed among historians that Aurangzeb’s empire went to decline during his time and emperors after he became the puppet of European colonialists. 

However, despite the Mughal empire coming to a tragic end in 1858 CE after the British arrived, it still provided a more lasting legacy than the Mongols ever could and that was – Pakistan. The Mughals were the major part of India from 16th to 17th centuries (except the southern tip of the peninsula), and so the Mughals were bound to have a huge impact on increasing Muslim populations in India. It was also the largest empire in India. Delhi Sultanate was large too, but it was not a theocracy, so they did not force conversions to Islam, but they were not tolerant enough either with the syncretism that Mughals had to capture the “hearts and minds” of the non-Muslims. Many non-Muslims converted to Islam, and a separate and strong identity was born, that would be involved in various anti-colonial movements against the British.

Finally, a country named Pakistan was born for a unique reason – the religion of Islam. A country would be carved away from the Indian subcontinent to make space for Muslims, which would have various impacts on this world in terms of the geopolitics of the West and the East since the Cold War and the continuing Arab Cold War. And from that country, another country named Bangladesh would be born because the only country in the world to have gained independence by fighting to protect the freedom to speak its language in Bangladesh.

And so to conclude we understand that the “barbarians”, Mongols, and Mughals – everyone tried to form a symbiotic relationship with the people they conquered, whether it was through getting Romanized by adopting Roman laws, or being fluid like the Mongols which means the invader assimilates themselves into the conquered people or trying to find a ‘middle ground’ by forming hybrid systems commonly known as syncretism as practiced by the Mongols. Each entity discussed in this essay had proven that they were trying to form a cosmopolitan wherever they went, despite varying successes, and some left more impact than others through their tolerance and acceptance while winning the hearts and minds of the people they conquered, such as how the modern world still has a nation known as Pakistan that was born out of Islamic sentiments most likely seeded by the Mughals, whereas Mongol’s Mongolia today has become a satellite state of the Chinese.
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Andrews, E. (2019, May). These are the 7 weapons the barbarians used to take down Rome. History. https://www.history.com/news/7-legendary-barbarian-weapons#:~:text=While%20most%20tribal%20warriors%20carried,helmet%20in%20a%20single%20blow.

BBC. (2009, September 7). Mughal Empire. https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/history/mughalempire_1.shtml#:~:text=The%20Mughals%20were%20Muslims%20who,brought%20together%20many%20smaller%20kingdoms

Craughwell, T., J. (2008). How the barbarian invasions shaped the modern world. ‎Fair Winds Press.

Halperin, C., J. (1983). Russia in the Mongol Empire in comparative perspective. 43(1), 239-261. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2719023

Kings and Generals. (2021a, August 12). Why and how the Mongols became Muslim [Video]. https://youtu.be/esuvYHZe22c

Kings and Generals. (2021b, October 12). Why the Mongols tolerated other religions [Video]. https://youtu.be/c2ZhXLbbfrkTignor, R., Adelman, A., & Aron, S. (2018). Worlds together, worlds apart: A history of the world from the beginnings of humankind to the present (3rd ed.). W.W. Norton & Company.

Featured image credit: John William Waterhouse, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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