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The Conquering Nomads of Asia

The Wars of the Cross and Crescent were but another phase in the struggle between East and West, which we have considered again and again -- the struggle of Persia with Greece, of Carthage with Rome, of Franks with Huns and others, of Mohammed's followers with Christians.

The peoples of Asia have, at different times, contributed to human life much that is good and helpful in many ways. Asia is "the land of births and beginnings:" the beginnings of civilization in its great river valleys -- the Tigris and Euphrates, the Hoang-ho (or Yellow River), the Ganges; the beginnings of great inventions which did not find their way to Europe till much later.

To China especially, Europe is indebted for silk and fine porcelain, and the re-invention of paper and printing; from Japan the modern world has much to learn in discipline and in art; from India, in both art and philosophy.

From Asia have sprung all the great religious leaders of the world. In the sixth century B.C., when the Greek thinkers on the Asiatic coast were beginning their fruitful inquiry, Confucius was teaching in China, Buddha in India, and the Hebrew prophets in Palestine -- where also, six centuries later, the Son of a Hebrew carpenter, born in a village on a Roman highway, preached a new and startling ideal of love and peace on earth. And in the seventh century A.D., Mohammed arose in the desert of Arabia.

Again, all through history, Asia has been the great reservoir of nomads or wanderers. For example, from the desert of Arabia came those peoples who, in ancient times, made themselves homes in the Fertile Crescent -- Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, Hebrews; and, in mediaeval times, the Arabs.

From the vast plains of central Asia have come not only the great Indo-European peoples, but also the Asian races -- Huns, Turks, Mongols, and others. And the nomadic ages in history have recurred again and again, like the ice ages in pre-history.

All through the ages, these nomads have poured over Eurasian lands, led often by the most inhuman of conquerors. For Asia was also the home of despotic empires. It was on the soil of Europe that mankind developed towards political freedom. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the terrible Tartar shepherd-warriors, Jengis Khan and Tamerlane, using the Chinese invention of gunpowder, spread indescribable havoc. "These two men rivalled Attila the Hun in their wholesale barbarities. Attila vaunted that the grass never grew again under his horse's hoof; so it was the boast of Jengis that when he destroyed a city he did it so completely that his horse could gallop across its site without stumbling. He depopulated the whole country from the Danube to the Baltic in a season; and the ruins of the cities and churches were strewed with the bones of the inhabitants. He allured the fugitives from the woods, where they lay hid, under a promise of pardon and peace; he made them gather in the harvest and the vintage, and then he put them to death. His devastation of the fine countries between the Caspian and the Indus -- a tract of many hundred miles -- was so complete, that six centuries have been unable to repair the ravages of four years.

"Tamerlane equalled Jengis -- if he could not surpass him -- in barbarity. At Delhi, the capital of his future dynasty, he massacred 100,000 prisoners because some of them were seen to smile when the army of their countrymen came in sight. He burned, or sacked, or razed to the ground, the cities of Delhi, Bagdad, Damascus, and a thousand others. We seem to be reading of some antediluvian giant rather than of a mediaeval conqueror."

Indeed, such stories remind us of the spectre of world destruction which Shakespeare faced in his most tragic play: "It will come; humanity must prey on itself like monsters of the deep."

A bare recital of outstanding facts will show the importance in world history of these Tartar and Turkish conquests. Jengis Khan (1162-1227) led his hordes right across Asia to Russia, which lay under the Tartar heel for two centuries. His grandson, Kublai Khan, the greatest of all Tartar rulers, became Emperor of China (1280). Next, Tamerlane, the most savage of them all, spread destruction from Delhi (1398) to the Mediterranean. And it was his civilized descendants who ruled the great Mogul Empire in India, which endured till the time of Clive.

Again, it was the pressure of the Tartars that drove the Turks out of their first home in Turkestan into Asia Minor. The Crusades followed and failed. Then the Turks crossed over to Europe, conquered the Balkan lands, and finally took Constantinople (1453), and so gravely menaced Europe. The following century, under Soliman the Magnificent (152O-66), they ruled from Hungary to Bagdad.

But the Muslim tide had already begun to roll back. Moscow gained its independence (1480); Granada fell to the Spaniards (1492); Vienna was relieved by the Poles (1683).

Now, in our own times, the story of Asia has become of increasing importance, for steamship, telegraph, and wireless have once again brought the West into close contact with the East.