Originally Posted by Exsubmariner
The Mongols didn't get around to conquering Europe, but they totally decimated two entire civilizations. Genghis Khan hated cities and liked to burn them to the ground and slaughter everyone who lived there.
No, not really. The Khans liked cities just fine, and were happy to collect the income that they drew. They usually offered cities the choice to surrender, and were *relatively* merciful to those who submitted (relative since we're still talking about fairly brutal conquest here), but utterly merciless to those who resisted (like Baghdad). The Mongols never tore down Chinese cities in this way, and the Yuan Dynasty mostly conducted business as usual in China. The extent to which the Mongols "set back" China is almost certainly exaggerated, since it was they who opened up China to trade to a much larger extent than the preceding and succeeding dynasties. This was the highly-advanced court that Marco Polo visited, after all. I'd recommend looking at Jack Weatherford's Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
and/or Janet Abu-Lughod's Before European Hegemony
for a couple fresh take on Genghis Khan and the Mongols, who probably take a little more heat than they deserve relative to their contemporaries.
The fate of the Islamic world is more complicated, and frankly tragic. Baghdad was brutally sacked (by Hulagu Khan, not Genghis Khan), destroying the cultural and intellectual center of the entire Near East. Though the city was rebuilt, the great libraries were burned, creating an incalculable loss for generations of Islamic scholars. Subsequent Islamic regimes south of Turkey became increasingly paranoid, skeptical, and reactionary toward outsiders, leading to a general decline of the Islamic world, especially during the key years of European ascendancy.
I would, however, agree that the collapse of the Eastern Mongol Empires helped set the stage for a rise in the West, partly because European merchants began searching for cheaper ways to acquire the goods they'd become accustomed to in the heyday of the Mongol trading system.
Originally Posted by Bill Haywood
He makes a similar argument about the decline of China. The introduction of corn from the Americas allows fast new areas of China to be settled. Very hilly regions are heavily terraced and planted with corn, also sweet potato from Americas. This leads to vast amounts of erosion which change the nature of major rivers like the Yellow river. The way the sediment builds up, it makes whole river valleys very prone to catastrophic floods.
Interesting, but I'd have to dissent from this. Afaik, the Yellow River was known even in ancient times to be violent or unpredictable, hence its alternative name, "the river of sorrows." I think Mann does have a good point on a link between food production and the centralization of government (since a food surplus means less reliance on feudal lords), but there is also a corresponding change in military technology (ie gunpowder) that had the advantage of nullifying the traditional military advantages of the feudal aristocracy (this is what happened in the Middle East, allowing the creation of three strong, centralized states in the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals). So I'd argue it's a dual process. But in any case, the advantage conferred on Europe through the domination of the New World should not be underestimated. Two continents essentially emptied of their people (via conquest and especially disease), ripe for mineral extraction and the raising of cash crops is a huge
advantage in both the short and long term.