Why Was Promoting International Commerce Important to the Mongols?


Posted by Julian Wymanton on Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The Mongol Empire, which existed during the 13th and 14th centuries CE, was the largest contiguous land empire in history. At the height of its power, the Mongol Empire stretched from Eastern Europe to the Sea of Japan, covering large parts of Asia and Europe. A key factor that enabled the Mongols to control such a vast territory was their promotion and support of international commerce.

Trade Networks Under the Mongols

As the Mongols expanded their empire through conquest, they actively worked to connect different regions and civilizations through trade. The Mongol rulers understood early on that trade and commercial exchanges benefitted their economy and facilitated cultural blending between their subjects. As a result, the Mongol Empire developed an extensive network of overland trade routes as well as maritime routes that came to be known collectively as the “Silk Road on land and sea.”

Silk Road

The Mongol Empire provided stability and security for merchants, traders, craftsmen, missionaries, and other travelers to move freely within their domains. They established yam, a system of posts stationed a day’s ride apart that provided lodging and fresh mounts to authorized persons traveling in the service of the Great Khan. This postal-relay system enabled the quick transmission of information and transport of lightweight goods across the empire. The Mongols also standardized currencies, measurements, taxation policies and documentation required for traversing borders. These measures significantly reduced the costs, risks, and uncertainties associated with long distance trade.

Consequently, there was a dramatic increase in the volume and scope of trade during the Pax Mongolica period as the system of roads, sea routes, and postal-relays enabled the diffusion of people, cultures, religions, ideas, technologies and commodities across Afro-Eurasia. Many cosmopolitan Mongol cities such as Sarai, Karakorum and Khanbaliq (Beijing) became thriving international commercial hubs buzzing with foreign merchants. Agriculture, pastoral nomadism and crafts production also intensified within Mongol realms in response to the demands of growing urban populations and long distance trade markets.

Why International Trade Was Important for the Mongols

There were several key reasons why promoting international commerce provided great value and utility for the Mongol Empire:

Revenue Generation

Trade generated significant revenues for the Mongol rulers in the form of customs duties and commercial taxes levied on foreign merchants at border trade posts and urban markets. As more trade flowed through their territories following the integration of Eurasia, these revenues increased substantially over time. The flourishing trade enriched the Mongol elite and enabled them to fund their large military forces that kept their empire together.

Mongol Travler

Facilitated Communication Across the Empire

Trade spread information quickly and easily across the vast Mongol realms enabling rulers and generals to coordinate administration and military efforts. For example, the great Mongol ruler Genghis Khan utilized the Silk Road network to relay messages rapidly from his central encampment to generals operating in the field. This communications ability gave him a strategic advantage in wartime.

Helped Mongol Control and Dominance

By encouraging trade centers to develop in strategic locations, the Mongols entrenched their political control over key trade routes and resources. Having foreign merchants travel freely and conduct business peacefully throughout their domains helped demonstrate the absolute power and dominance of the Mongol rulers within Asia. It enabled them to benefit economically from their conquests.

Cultural Blending and Innovation

As trade spread across Mongol territories, it enabled greater interaction between different cultures - Chinese, Islamic, Indian, and European. Technological innovations and manufacturing ideas flowed in many directions across land and sea routes traversing Asia. For example, Chinese technologies like printing, gunpowder, and the compass were transmitted westward during this period. Ideas from many civilizations blended to create new innovations. The Mongols were quite progressive in encouraging and benefitting from this fusion of cultures made possible by trade flows.

Enhanced Food Security and Living Standards

The flourishing trade promoted regional food security and improved living standards for many inside the Mongol domains. Agricultural products and food staples like rice and wheat were exchanged along trade routes moving surplus goods from grain-rich areas that had good harvests to regions experiencing shortages and famine. Mongol administrators facilitated these crucial food transfers. This helped stabilize prices and equalize supply between locations. The abundant trade also gave urban artisans and rural cultivators greater economic opportunities and income that improved nutrition and living conditions.



In summary, promoting international trade and commerce provided major economic and political advantages that strengthened the Mongol Empire while it expanded to its greatest territorial extent under Genghis Khan and his immediate successors. Keeping trade routes open and enabling merchants to move freely brought significant revenue, facilitated governance, helped dominance, enabled cultural synergies and enhanced nutrition for the Mongol regime. These vital benefits made nurturing international commercial exchange a key priority. This trade-centric policy helped underpin the Pax Mongolica era - a period of stability, mobility and thriving cultural blending across 13th century Eurasia ruled by the Mongols.

Frequently Asked Questions

What goods were traded extensively during the Mongol era?

Many goods were traded over long distances during the Pax Mongolica period thanks to Mongol facilitation. Key items included Chinese silk, porcelain and tea; Indian spices; Persian carpets; African ivory and gold; European wool and silver; horses from Central Asia, ceramics, glassware, perfumes, fruits and vegetables, grain and rice, wood, fur, weapons, precious stones and many more items. Ideas, religions and technologies spread widely as well.

How did Mongol women participate in commerce?

Mongol women had the freedom to control family assets, engage in business and interact closely with foreign merchants during the Pax Mongolica era. Some Mongol queens and aristocratic ladies financed trading ventures or received revenues from customs taxes. They also promoted crafts production on a large scale employing thousands of artisans.

Did all Mongol rulers promote trade to the same degree?

The early Mongol rulers such as Genghis Khan and Ogedei Khan were quite progressive in championing trade as they recognized its economic and political advantages early on. Later successors such as Kublai Khan went even further enhance commerce with sea trade, paper currency and other advances. However regional Ilkhans and Chagatai Khans failed to maintain the same trade focus. Trade declined post 1300 CE as Mongol realms became more unstable.

How did religion spread more due to Mongol trade expansion?

As trade spread more widely across Asia and Europe during the Pax Mongolica era, it enabled much wider and faster spread of various religions. For example Nestorian Christianity, Mahayana Buddhism, Roman Catholicism reached new communities as missionaries traveled alongside merchant caravans to proselytize new converts. The mobility facilitated by Mongol commerce enabled greater inter-mixing of faiths.


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Komaroff, Linda, and Stefano Carboni, eds. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256-1353. Yale University Press, 2003.

Rossabi, Morris. “The Mongols and Their Legacy.” The Wilson Quarterly (1976-) 13, no. 3 (1989): 46-56. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40257732.