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To the Gates of Vienna

Late in the life of Genghis Khan something common occurred: members of his family fought over who was to be his heir. To end the dispute, Genghis Khan chose his third son, Ogedei (pronounced oh-go-day). And in 1229, after Genghis Khan's death, a great Mongol assembly confirmed the succession of Ogedei as the Great Khan.

Ogedei Khan began his rule aiming to live up to his mandate as ruler of the world. In earnest he began drafting conquered people into his armies. Around one in ten young men from agricultural societies went into the Mongol infantry, and tent dwellers (nomadic herdsmen) joined the Mongol cavalry.

In 1231, Ogedei sent an army to police Korean defiance of an agreement made in 1218 to pay annual tribute. The Koreans rebelled, and a struggle ensued that was to last for decades.

Ogodei Khan

Ogedei Khan

Ogedei Khan also sent his armies against the Jurchens, and in 1234 his armies completed the conquest of northern China. In the mid-1230s Ogedei sent armies toward Slavic principalities in Eastern Europe. He sent his military against Asiatic tribes between the Volga and Ural rivers, and their resistance was greater than he had expected, delaying his plans of conquest west of the Ural Mountains. Finally, in 1237, his army pushed against the Russians, conquering the cities of Vladimir, Kolomna and Moscow in 1238. In December 1240, Ogedei's army entered the city of Kiev and reduced the city to ashes, and the Mongols would dominate Russia into the 1400s.

In Hungary and Poland the Mongols were outnumbered but tactically superior. They defeated several Hungarian armies. In early April, 1241, at the Battle of Lenica (Liegnitz) in Poland, they defeated an army that is said to have included heavily armored Teutonic knights. Dying in the battle was the most powerful of Polish dukes, Henryk II (Henry II). In December the Mongols crossed the Danube River and approached Vienna. Then, mysteriously to Europeans, the Mongols retreated from central Europe. To the Europeans it seemed they had been saved by a miracle. A myth was to rise among the Poles that their brave warriors saved Europe from the Mongols. In reality, the Mongol withdrawal was in response to Ogedei's death, on December 11 after 12 years of rule. High ranking Mongol army leaders believed they had to return to confirm selection of a new ruler.



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