The Mongols and Eurasian Trade

cash (2)

AP Theme

Economic Systems

Learning Objective 2C

Explain how the expansion of empires influenced trade and communication over time.

Historical Development 1

The Mongol empire led to increased trade across Afro-Eurasia. 

Historical Development 2

The Mongol empire led to increased communication and contact between distant civilizations.


The Mongol Empire Resulted in Increased Trade Across Afro-Eurasia

The growth of the Mongol empire brought a boom of increased interregional connections between distant peoples and civilizations. For the first time in history, the Mongols had connected nearly the whole of the Eurasian landmass under a single group’s leadership. While the Mongol empire and khanates peaked rapidly and declined rapidly, their impacts left a lasting mark upon global history. Their empire set the world up for its entrance into the modern age. The international connections they built remained after their demise as a global power.

The expansion of the Mongol Empire brought great devastation to many civilizations and populations. However, the 13th and 14th centuries in Eurasia are referred to as Pax Mongolia (the Mongol peace) for the period of peace and prosperity that arose across vast areas of Eurasia forced under Mongol leadership. Land-based trade routes such as the Silk Roads blossomed once again under their supervision.

Causes of Mongol Economic Success and Increased Trade Volumes

As nomadic pastoralists, the Mongols had always understood the importance of trade and actively supported its growth.

The Mongols financially supported trade

The Mongols also supported trade both with financial incentives and support for modern banking practices.

  • Mongol khans (leaders) often paid higher than the asking price for merchants’ goods. 
  • They also provided loans and financial backing to merchants. 
  • It was also common for merchants to receive tax breaks on their goods’ value as they paid their taxes at Mongol tax collection points. 
  • Yuan Dynasty China continued the use of paper money that had begun under previous Chinese dynasties. 
  • Mongol rulers also supported the use of credit and bills of exchange. These financial instruments made trade more profitable and straightforward to transact by decreasing the financial risk of losing physical currency as goods moved across Mongol territories. 

The Mongols standardized trading practices

The Mongols provided standard trading practices, which lowered trading costs by making exchanges more predictable. Instead of being subjected to different laws, currencies, tariffs, taxes, and weights and measures within fragmented territories under various rulers, traders across the Mongol Empire and the Silk Road could expect those items to remain the same across Mongol lands.

The Mongols protected trade with their military

The fighting strength of the Mongols also helped facilitate trade. With their military garrisons (units) positioned across the empire, Mongol leadership provided security to trading cities and traders from thieves and bandits.

Historical trend: Trade flour under strong military powers. 

The Mongols directly supported merchants

In Mongol China, merchants held a higher status than they did in traditional Confucian China. During merchant’s travel’s they could stay and resupply at Mongol postal stations along major trade routes. The Mongols also established Merchant associations to promote long-distance trade. Through these associations, merchants could combine their resources into one large caravan that moved as a group. Merchants across the group shared profits or losses, making long-distance trade less financially risky for individual traders.

The Mongol Empire Increased Communication and Contact Between Distant Civilizations

Long-distance trade networks also functioned as networks of communication. These networks directly linked leaders in Europe and Asia for the first time in recorded history.

  • Across the Mongol Empire, a vast postal system developed and was known as the Yam system. Mongol horseback riders passed messages across a relay network consisting of riders who operated 24 hours a day. This system allowed information to travel thousands of miles within days. 
  • Through expanded communication networks, civilizations as far as Europe entered into direct communication with the Mongols. On March 13, 1245, Roman Catholic Pope Innocent IV wrote a letter to the Mongols in which he requested the Mongol armies stop attacking Christian territories. Italian diplomate and Church archbishop John of Plano Carpini carried the message to the Mongol capital in Karakorum, Mongolia. The Mongols were unmoved, and John of Plano returned home with a reply demanding the Pope submit to Mongol authority. 
  • It was during the Mongol period that some of early history’s great explorations took place. The Italian explorer Marco Polo reached China. The Morrocan Muslim explorer Ibn Batutta also reached China during this period.