Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire

Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

Home | Prev | Next | Contents

Chapter LXIV: Moguls, Ottoman Turks. Part I.

Conquests Of Zingis Khan And The Moguls From China To Poland. -- Escape Of Constantinople And The Greeks. -- Origin Of The Ottoman Turks In Bithynia. -- Reigns And Victories Of Othman, Orchan, Amurath The First, And Bajazet The First. -- Foundation And Progress Of The Turkish Monarchy In Asia And Europe. -- Danger Of Constantinople And The Greek Empire.

From the petty quarrels of a city and her suburbs, from the cowardice and discord of the falling Greeks, I shall now ascend to the victorious Turks; whose domestic slavery was ennobled by martial discipline, religious enthusiasm, and the energy of the national character. The rise and progress of the Ottomans, the present sovereigns of Constantinople, are connected with the most important scenes of modern history; but they are founded on a previous knowledge of the great eruption of the Moguls ^* and Tartars; whose rapid conquests may be compared with the primitive convulsions of nature, which have agitated and altered the surface of the globe. I have long since asserted my claim to introduce the nations, the immediate or remote authors of the fall of the Roman empire; nor can I refuse myself to those events, which, from their uncommon magnitude, will interest a philosophic mind in the history of blood. ^1

[Footnote *: Mongol seems to approach the nearest to the proper name of this race. The Chinese call them Mong-kou; the Mondchoux, their neighbors, Monggo or Monggou. They called themselves also Beda. This fact seems to have been proved by M. Schmidt against the French Orientalists. See De Brosset. Note on Le Beau, tom. xxii p. 402.]

[Footnote 1: The reader is invited to review chapters xxii. to xxvi., and xxiii. to xxxviii., the manners of pastoral nations, the conquests of Attila and the Huns, which were composed at a time when I entertained the wish, rather than the hope, of concluding my history.]

From the spacious highlands between China, Siberia, and the Caspian Sea, the tide of emigration and war has repeatedly been poured. These ancient seats of the Huns and Turks were occupied in the twelfth century by many pastoral tribes, of the same descent and similar manners, which were united and led to conquest by the formidable Zingis. ^* In his ascent to greatness, that Barbarian (whose private appellation was Temugin) had trampled on the necks of his equals. His birth was noble; but it was the pride of victory, that the prince or people deduced his seventh ancestor from the immaculate conception of a virgin. His father had reigned over thirteen hordes, which composed about thirty or forty thousand families: above two thirds refused to pay tithes or obedience to his infant son; and at the age of thirteen, Temugin fought a battle against his rebellious subjects. The future conqueror of Asia was reduced to fly and to obey; but he rose superior to his fortune, and in his fortieth year he had established his fame and dominion over the circumjacent tribes. In a state of society, in which policy is rude and valor is universal, the ascendant of one man must be founded on his power and resolution to punish his enemies and recompense his friends. His first military league was ratified by the simple rites of sacrificing a horse and tasting of a running stream: Temugin pledged himself to divide with his followers the sweets and the bitters of life; and when he had shared among them his horses and apparel, he was rich in their gratitude and his own hopes. After his first victory, he placed seventy caldrons on the fire, and seventy of the most guilty rebels were cast headlong into the boiling water. The sphere of his attraction was continually enlarged by the ruin of the proud and the submission of the prudent; and the boldest chieftains might tremble, when they beheld, enchased in silver, the skull of the khan of Keraites; ^2 who, under the name of Prester John, had corresponded with the Roman pontiff and the princes of Europe. The ambition of Temugin condescended to employ the arts of superstition; and it was from a naked prophet, who could ascend to heaven on a white horse, that he accepted the title of Zingis, ^3 the most great; and a divine right to the conquest and dominion of the earth. In a general couroultai, or diet, he was seated on a felt, which was long afterwards revered as a relic, and solemnly proclaimed great khan, or emperor of the Moguls ^4 and Tartars. ^5 Of these kindred, though rival, names, the former had given birth to the imperial race; and the latter has been extended by accident or error over the spacious wilderness of the north.

[Footnote *: On the traditions of the early life of Zingis, see D'Ohson, Hist des Mongols; Histoire des Mongols, Paris, 1824. Schmidt, Geschichte des Ost-Mongolen, p. 66, &c., and Notes. -- M.]

[Footnote 2: The khans of the Keraites were most probably incapable of reading the pompous epistles composed in their name by the Nestorian missionaries, who endowed them with the fabulous wonders of an Indian kingdom. Perhaps these Tartars (the Presbyter or Priest John) had submitted to the rites of baptism and ordination, (Asseman, Bibliot Orient tom. iii. p. ii. p. 487--503.)]

[Footnote 3: Since the history and tragedy of Voltaire, Gengis, at least in French, seems to be the more fashionable spelling; but Abulghazi Khan must have known the true name of his ancestor. His etymology appears just: Zin, in the Mogul tongue, signifies great, and gis is the superlative termination, (Hist. Généalogique des Tatars, part iii. p.

Prev | Next | Contents

Preface | Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3 | Volume 4 | Volume 5 | Volume 6 |

Fall of Roman Empire