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Anciently, Mongolia was inhabited by warring nomadic tribes, who about 300 B.C. learned to ride horses. Their entire culture has been centered on the horse ever since. There have always been fierce struggles between neighboring tribes in Mongolia. Occasionally all or large portions of the region came under the control of a conqueror or a coalition of tribes. This led to the extermination or expulsion of some tribes and the intermingling of tribes. During periods when China was united and strong, they traded with Mongols and other Inner Asian peoples. In repeated cycles the nomadic people of Mongolia either became vassals of the Chinese emperor, or they retreated beyond his reach into the northern steppes. On the other hand, when China appeared weak, Mongol tribes made raids into rich Chinese lands. On several occasions, raids into northern China were so successful that the victorious nomads settled in the conquered land, established dynasties, and eventually became absorbed by the more numerous Chinese.
At a meeting of Mongol tribes in 1206, the powerful conqueror Temujin, then master of all of Mongolia, was proclaimed universal ruler with the title Chinggis Khan (better known in the West by the Persianized spelling of his name, Genghis Khan). The army of the Great Khan, although not particularly large for its day, was distinguished by its superb horsemanship and expert archery, the discipline and control of its aristocratic leaders, and Genghis’s own brilliant military strategy and tactics. The neighboring Chinese Empire and the Central Asian states, both militarily weak and fragmented, inevitably surrendered to the Mongol hordes racing over Asia, as did the decaying Arab-Turkish society of the Middle East.
The Mongol Empire extended from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, one of the largest land empires in history. After the death of Genghis, his grandson Khublai Khan was the first ruler in the Yuan dynasty, a period of Mongol rule of China which lasted nearly one hundred years. But after a century of Mongol dominance in China and the rest of Eurasia, the traditional patterns of Mongolian history reasserted themselves. Mongols living outside Mongolia were absorbed by the conquered populations, and Mongolia itself again became a land of incessantly warring nomadic tribes. Following the Yuan dynasty, various Mongolian khans attempted, but failed, to revive the great empire.
Tibetan Buddhism (also called Yellow Buddhism or Lamaism) became the leading religious force among the Mongols in the 1500s. An alliance of Buddhist theocracy and secular Mongol aristocracy ruled the country from the seventeenth until the twentieth century. Zanabazar was proclaimed the spiritual leader of Mongolian Lamaism in 1639 at the age of four. Zanabazar was given the title Javzandamba The Eurasian Mongol Empire 1227 to 1405 Hutagt [Incarnation of the Buddha] in 1650 after religious study in Tibet and became the official ruler of Mongolia. After Zanabazar’s death in 1735, Mongolia was officially ruled by a lineage of seven Buddhist Lamas, “Living Buddhas,” incarnations of the Buddha called the Bogdo Gegeen [holy enlightened ones]. These high-ranking Buddhist monks were both the religious and the political heads of state, ruling from the movable monastery city of Örgöö [Temple Tent]. The capital city was finally settled permanently at its present location in 1778 and called Ih Hüree [Great Monastery]. Nevertheless, the Mongol leaders were, in fact, subordinate to Tibetan Lamas, and to the Manchu emperors of China's Qing dynasty.
As Chinese power waned in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, Russian influence in Mongolia grew. After the Chinese revolution of 1911, Mongolia declared its independence from China. The rule of the “Living Buddha” was maintained and the city was renamed Niyslel Hüree [Capital Monastery]. In 1924, the Mongolian People's Republic was established. The current constitution was adopted in 1992.
In the twentieth century, many aspects of Mongolia’s historic culture were also stifled or destroyed. Family histories were destroyed and the people were forbidden to use their ancient surnames. The ancient Mongolian script was forbidden and the Mongolian language has been written in the Cyrillic alphabet since the 1940s.
- The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Mongolia,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 2001.
- Wikipedia contributors, "Mongolia," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongolia, accessed 2 June 2016.