Women in the Mongol Empire


Posted by Julian Wymanton on Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Mongol Empire, which existed during the 13th and 14th centuries, was the largest contiguous land empire in history. At its peak, it stretched from Eastern Europe to the Sea of Japan. This empire had a tremendous impact on the status and roles of Mongolian women.

Mongol Woman

Political Influence

Women in the upper echelons of Mongolian society wielded impressive political influence. As the wives and mothers of khans (rulers), they served as confidants and advisors to their husbands and sons. Some even temporarily took over administrative duties when their male relatives were absent or after they passed away.

For example, Sorghaghtani Beki was the wife of Tolui Khan and the mother of Mongke Khan and Kublai Khan. As a widowed queen mother, she ruled the Mongol homeland from 1248-1251 CE in place of her young son Mongke. She made important fiscal and administrative decisions that helped keep the Mongol nation running smoothly during an interregnum period.

Another powerful woman was Töregene Khatun, the wife of Ögedei Khan. After Ögedei died in 1241 CE, Töregene became the de facto ruler of the Mongol Empire for several years. As regent, she handled complex diplomatic relations and significantly delayed major military campaigns until her son Güyük came of age to be elected the next Great Khan.

Daily Life and Work

The nomadic pastoral lifestyle of the Mongols gave women important daily duties and freedoms. Since men were often away fighting wars, Mongol women bore responsibility for setting up camp, milking animals, making clothing and food, and raising children.

Many wives joined their husbands in travel and battle as well. They worked as armorers, provisioners, and administrators within the Mongol military structure. If their husbands died in combat, these widowed “bahatar” had the right to continue serving in active duty.

The hard work and contributions of women enabled the Mongol armies to conduct lengthy campaigns across Asia and Europe. Their skills in animal husbandry were also vital to maintaining the cavalry and transport animals that gave Mongol forces tactical and strategic advantages against sedentary civilizations.

Mongal Woman Working in a camp

Marriage Practices

Women held a relatively favorable position in Mongolian marriage customs. Wives were generally not required to wear veils in public or be secluded in quarters apart from men. The Mongols did not allow forced marriages or child brides, and widow remarriage was accepted.

Moreover, divorce was easily obtainable for either partner. A woman could divorce her husband for infidelity or abuse, and retain custody of her children. Men seeking divorce were penalized by having to hand over property to his ex-wife.

Mongol rulers often practiced polygamy with multiple wives. This was linked with political motives rather than lust or love. Establishing marriage alliances with foreign princesses allowed them to incorporate new groups into their empire. Wives also displayed a husband’s prestige and wealth.

However, the primary wife still held the highest rank and influence. For example, Chabi was the lifelong companion and favorite of Kublai Khan. As his principal empress, she received the greatest honors and managed the imperial household in the Yuan Dynasty capital.

Exceptional Examples

While most Mongol women lived out their lives as ordinary wives, some exceptional individuals served as soldiers, commanders and envoys. Khutulun was a warrior princess who lived from 1260–1306 CE. The great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan reportedly participated in more than sixty battles. She gained fame for her military prowess and athleticism during wrestling competitions.

Another noteworthy woman was Fatima, a 13th century female scholar commissioned by Kublai Khan to travel across Persia. Her accounts of these journeys documented details of climate, food, politics and culture previously unknown to the Mongols. This set the stage for the first official diplomatic exchanges between the Mongol Empire and their Ilkhanate successors in Persia.

Mongol Woman Hunting


In conclusion, Mongol women enjoyed meaningful autonomy along with unique opportunities compared to many sedentary civilizations at the time. They made vital contributions to the strength and longevity of the Mongol Empire through their labor, talents, wisdom and courage. Analysis of their roles shatters stereotypes about oppressed women lacking agency in the medieval Central Asian steppes.

Further research is still needed, however, since the Mongols transmitted few written records themselves. Often the accounts that survived came from foreign observers and subjects, introducing bias. Accessing Mongolian women’s perspectives would provide richer insight about their status and influence during this dynamic empire.

Frequently Asked Questions

How were Mongol women educated?

Formal schooling was not common, but Mongol women learned domestic skills, animal husbandry, child-rearing, and management of the ger (felt tents the Mongols resided in). Elite women sometimes learned to read and write, enabling them to handle diplomatic correspondence.

Did Mongol women fight or just support military efforts?

Many Mongol women provided crucial support managing supply trains, remounts, and armor production. Some fought alongside men as well, wielding bows and arrows, spears, and swords. Exceptional warrior women gained fame for exploits and battlefield victories.

What rights did Mongol widows enjoy?

Widows could inherit property, choose to remarry anyone, and continue serving in their husband’s roles. The Mongols prohibited the idea of sati where a widow must die upon her husband’s death. Instead, widows managed families, herds, and armies until their sons came of age.

How did Mongol women influence foreign lands?

As wives and diplomats from Mongol controlled territories, women served as cultured intermediaries importing Central Asian aesthetics. For example, Persian artisans incorporated Mongolian textile patterns and motifs into ceramics glazes. Some foreign consorts also promoted their native culture and religion at court.

Were Mongol women forced into arranged marriages?

Parents and matchmakers facilitated marriages but coercion was illegal. Women had the right to make agreements or refusals. They could also divorce husbands over abuse or infidelity. However, political marriages helped expand Mongol influence across Asia, Europe and the Middle East as women married foreign rulers.


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Rossabi, Morris. “The Women Who Ruled the Mongol Empire.” Smithsonian Magazine, 1 June 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/women-ruled-mongol-empire-180970996/. Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

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“Mongol Empire.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 27 May 2022. Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Pegg, Carole. “Mongolian Nomadic Practices and the Impact of Imperial Conquest on Women.” Journal of Social History, vol. 46, no. 1, 2012, pp. 186–202. JSTOR. Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.