Mongolians are known to be professional horse riders and swift marksmen with bow and arrows. Temujin learned how to shoot arrows when he was still a child. So how did a nation of horse riders and bow shooters conquer so much land? Genghis khan was not only a fierce warrior but also a brilliant tactician and studied his enemies very carefully. In his early years, he employed an extensive spy network and was quick to adopt new technologies from his enemies.

The Soldiers


Portrait of Mongol Calvarymen attacking on their horses (Source from Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Division orientale. Supplément persan 1113, fol. 231v)

The well-trained Mongol army of 80,000 fighters charged to battle after the sound of drums. A Mongolian soldier not only carried bow and arrows, but were also equipped with a shield, a dagger and a lasso. They also had carried not war-items like food, tools and clothes. These items were held in a saddlebag which was waterproof and can be inflated to act like a life preserver when needed to cross bodies of water. The cavalrymen are the stronger and heavier duty soldiers. They needed to carry a small sword, javelins, body armor, battle-ax and a lance with a hook to pull enemies off of their horses. The body armor they was were fairly light because they need to be swift and not restrict their movements. Since the Mongolians are advanced horse riders, they can gallop at top speed without their hands. This leaves their hands free to shoot arrows and swing their swords. The entire army was followed by a well-organized supply system of oxcarts carrying food for soldiers and beasts alike, as well as military equipment, shamans for spiritual and medical aid, and officials to catalog the booty. All Mongol soldier kept 3 or 4 horses with them. Since they travel at high speed all day for traveling and fights, it is important to not wear the horses out.

Tactics and Communication

The soldiers are constantly facing different climates and environments. The most important aspect of being a Mongolian solider is to be mobile and adaptive. This was the key to their survival and led them to many victories. During the invasion of Kievan Rus, the Mongols used frozen rivers as highways, and winter, the time of year usually off-limits for any major activity due to the intense cold, became the Mongols’ preferred time to strike. Their main attacking strategy was arrow shower. Thousands of soldiers would shoot arrows up diagonally(not straight) to increase distance and to penetrate any defense on the ground. Imagine raining except it’s not water but arrows coming down at you. To avoid the deadly hail of missiles, enemies would frequently spread out, or seek cover, breaking up their formations and making them more vulnerable to the lancers’ charges. However if they  decided to stay in a dense formation, they will become very vulnerable to the arrow shower attack. Once the enemy was deemed sufficiently weakened, the noyans or General would give the order. The drums would beat and the signal flags wave, telling the lancers to begin their charge. When they faced heavily armoured enemies, they would shoot arrows at long range to prevent close combat. They weaken their armor and often kill their horses so the enemy soldier would use mobility and be on foot.

Mongols in battle of Mohi split into more than three separate formations

Mongols in battle of Mohi split into more than three separate formations to flank their enemies (Own work from

Mongolians knew the importance of high ground. This allowed the commanders to see the battlefield and make tactical decisions. Being on high ground also allowed them to communicate better with their signal flags and it was much easier to defend.They practiced flanking; they would send portions of the troop to attack on different sides of the enemy. One of their famous tactics was the feigned retreat. They would retreat and act to in fear and panic on purpose only to draw out the enemies to attack them. The Mongolians would then charge them back when they are out of position. Sometimes, they would retreat days or even weeks to completely convince their enemies that they were defeated.


The Weapons

The bow was the primary weapon of Mongolian. It was a recurve bow made from composite materials (wood, horn, and sinew), and at the time unmatched for accuracy, force, and reach. The bow’s geometry allowed it to be made relatively small so it could be used and fired in any direction from horseback. The quivers held around sixty arrows.

The sword they used can also be called as a scimitar. It is a curved sword known for its slashing abilities. Because of its curved shape, it allows the soldiers to carry it with convenience.The sword could be used with a one-handed or two-handed grip and had a blade that was usually around 0.76 meter in length, with the overall length of the sword approximately a 1 meter

Siege Warfare

Siege Machine built by engineers

Siege Machine built by Chinese engineers (Taken from

If Mongols rode on horse and only used swords and arrows as weapons, how were they able to take over a castle? They aren’t as primitive as everybody thinks they are. They had skilled engineers captured from China and Persia and they would build siege engines from materials on site. These siege machines played a crucial part in raiding fortified cities. A commonly used tactic was the use of what was called the “kharash”. They would use local residents or surrendered enemies as human shields and forced them to charge forward into a siege.



1 "Genghis Khan Biography." A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. <>.

2 Keegan, John. A history of warfare. New York: Alfred A. Knopf :, 1993. Print.

3 Turnbull, Stephen R. Essential Histories: Genghis Khan & the Mongol Conquests 1190–1400 Hardback ed New York: Routledge, 2004

4 "Ancient Mongolian Weaponry - Weapons." Ancient Mongolian Weaponry - Weapons. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <

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