One of the most interesting things I have learned this last week is that there were Christian Mongols in the 10th and 11th centuries. I guess I should have known, I mean, religions spread readily and what would stop some Mongols from adopting a new religion?
I think I was surprised by this fact because of the stereotypes I still hold about the Mongols. I am glad that I am learning more about them and their civilization because it helps to dispel such foolish beliefs. Obviously, for the most part, the things we learn about the Mongols are from the Western vantage point. As we all know, the West was not happy to meet the Mongols because their only experiences with them involved sackings and bloody losses. Due to this Western perspective, all I ever learned about the Mongols was that they were fierce warriors - scary people who were not to be messed with.
So why is it that we never hear about the Mongolian point of view? Because Mongol history is still kept under-wraps in The Secret History of the Mongols, a book that is still exclusively only for Mongols to access and write in. What little we actually do know about the Mongol culture and history has been based off of the bits and pieces that have leaked out from the book or from rare documents that tell us about the Mongols without a severely Western biased opinion of these people.
Anyway, if you are wondering what inspired me to bring this up, it was Eliot's blog. He had some posts about religion on his site and that reminded me of the Mongols. The Mongols who did convert to Christianity, did not convert to the Christianity that most people are familiar with; it was not the Christianity of the Byzantine Empire. The Mongols actually converted to Nestorian Christianity. The Nestorians were dissenters of Byzantine Christianity who broke away from the religious practices of the Byzantines because they believed in the diophysite (dual nature, divine and mortal) existence of Christ while the Byzantines believed in his monophysite (the belief that even as Jesus, Christ was essentially divine in nature) existence. When these dissenters broke away and formed the Nestorian branch of Christianity, they moved east of the Byzantine Empire to escape persecution.
Thus it came that the people who then adapted Nestorian Christianity were the people in Central Asia, the Sogdians (interchangeably called the Parthians or the Persians). Many Sogdians were merchants who traveled the Silk Road and during their travels, they passed through a great part of Central Asia. It is not surprising that they met some Mongols along the way and that some of these Mongols were influenced and persuaded by the Sogdians to convert to Nestorian Christianity.
There are many reasons why the Mongols were not barbaric or uncivilized, but I think the fact that some of them did adopt a monotheistic religion suffices as proof to those who believe that they were just "heathens." There is a lot more that I can say about the Mongol culture but I do not think I will get into all of that yet. However, the Mongols were an advanced group in their own way. Did you know they had a complex system of roads known as the Yam? During its time the Yam was comparable to the Roman Roads and the Persian Royal Road, in fact, it was such a successful and admirable network of transportation that the Mamluks (of Egypt) adopted their own version of it! Just as remnants of the Roman roads still remain and are used today, parts of the Yam exist and are also used in contemporary times.