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Training Nomad Armies

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    The Training of an Inner Asian Nomad Army in the Pre-Modern Period

    Author(s): Timothy MayReviewed work(s):Source: The Journal of Military History, Vol. 70, No. 3 (Jul., 2006), pp. 617-635Published by: Society for Military HistoryStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4138118 .

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    The Trainingof an Inner AsianNomad Army in the Pre-Modern PeriodTimothy May

    AbstractOften the armies that emerged fromthe steppes of InnerAsia areviewed as throngs of horse-archers who overwhelmed their oppo-nents throughsheer ferocityorsuperiornumbers.The typicalobser-vationabouttheirmilitary bility s thatas nomads they were naturalwarriors nuredsince birth o ridingand archeryinthe harsh climateof the steppe. While this view has an element of truth,the armieswere actuallybetter trained than is generally assumed. This articleexamines the trainingof InnerAsian armies. Although t focuses onthe Mongols,italso explores the antecedents and evolutionof train-ing techniques across InnerAsia.

    ONE of the biligs, or maxims, of Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan) con-cerned the training of the army:Just as ortaqs [merchants] come with gold spun fabrics and are con-fident of making profits on those goods and textiles, military com-manders should teach their sons archery, horsemanship, andwrestling well. They should test them in these arts and make themaudacious and brave to the same degree that ortaqs are confident oftheir own skill.1

    1. Rashid al-Din, Jami'u't-Tawarikh: Compendium of Chronicles, vol. 2, trans.William Thackston (Cambridge,Mass.:HarvardUniversity, Department of Near East-ern Languagesand Civilizations, 1998), 297; Rashid al-Din Tabib,Jami' al-Tawarikh,Timothy May is an assistant professor of history at North Georgia College andState University in Dahlonega, Georgia, where he teaches Middle Eastern andCentral Asian History. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madi-son where he wrote his dissertation, The Mechanics of Governance and Con-quest: The Rise and Expansion of the Mongol Empire, 1185-1265. He is also theauthor of The Mongol Art of War (South Yorkshire, U.K.: Pen and Sword Pub-lishing, forthcoming).The Journal of Military History 70 (July 2006): 617-36 ? Society for Military History * 617

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    TIMOTHYMAY-Considering the importance that Chinggis Khan (d. 1227) placed onmilitary training, it is surprising that the training of the army is oftenoverlooked in the study of the Mongol Empire or other Inner Asian pow-

    ers. In many respects, this neglect of an integral component of a militaryestablishment is odd, given that copious amounts of research have beendevoted to the training of European knights, and to a lesser extent to thetraining of the Mamlfiks of Egypt and Syria.2 Of course, much of this isdue to the relative availability of source material. For the Mongols, aboutwhom we have more information than other Inner Asian groups, there isvirtually nothing demonstrating in detail the training of the Mongol war-rior. Nevertheless, historians of the Mongols, as well as those of othermedieval military systems, would do well to observe the methodology ofJ. F. Verbruggen in his modern classic, The Art of Warfare in WesternEurope During the Middle Ages From the Eighth Century to 1340, inwhich he closely examines the equipment and training of the medievalknight, including war games.3The typical observation concerning the training of the Mongols isthat, as they were nomads, they learned to ride and shoot arrows froman early age, thus giving them adequate competence as warriors. Addi-ed. Bahman Karimi(Tehran:Iqbal, 1983), 437. For more information on the ortaqs,or merchants, see Thomas T. Allsen, "MongolianPrinces and Their Merchant Part-ners, 1200-1260," Asia Major 2 (1989): 83-126; Elizabeth Endicott-West, "MerchantAssociations in Yiian China: The Ortogh,"Asia Major 2 (1989): 127-54.2. David Ayalon, Outsiders in the Lands of Islam: Mamluks, Mongols, andEunuchs (London: Ashgate 1988); David Ayalon, "Mamlikiyyit: (A) A First Attemptto Evaluate the MamlfikMilitarySystem," Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 2(1980): 321-39, reprinted in Ayalon, Outsiders in the Lands of Islam; David Ayalon,"Discharges from Service, Banishments and Imprisonments in Mamluk Society,"Israel Oriental Studies 2 (1972): 25-50; DavidAyalon, Gunpowder and Firearms inthe Mamluk Kingdom: A Challenge to a Medieval Society (London: Vallentine,Mitchell and Co., 1956); David Ayalon, "Studies on the Structure of the MamlukArmy-I," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 15 (1953): 203-28;David Ayalon, "Studies on the Structure of the Mamluk Army-II," Bulletin of theSchool of Oriental and African Studies 15 (1953): 448-76; DavidAyalon, "Studies onthe Structure of the Mamluk Army-III," Bulletin of the School of Oriental andAfrican Studies 16 (1954): 57-90; DavidAyalon, "PreliminaryRemarks on the Mam-likkMilitaryInstitution in Islam,"in War,Technology,and Society in the Middle East,ed. V. J. Parry and M. E. Yapp (London: Oxford University Press, 1975); P. M. Holt,"The Position and Power of the MamlfikSultan," Bulletin of the School of Orientaland African Studies 38 (1975): 237-49; John France, Western Warfarein the Age ofthe Crusades, 1000-1300 (Ithaca, N.Y.:Cornell University Press, 1999); J. F. Ver-bruggen, The Art of Warfare in Western Europe During the Middle Ages from theEighth Century to 1340, 2d ed., trans. Colonel Sumner Willardand R. W. Southern(Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell, 1997); Christopher Marshall, Warfare in the Latin East,1192-1291 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1992); R. C. Smail, CrusadingWarfare,1097-1193 (Cambridge:CambridgeUniversity Press 1995).3. Verbruggen,The Art of Warfare, 19-40.618 * THE JOURNALOF

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    - TheTrainingof an InnerAsian NomadArmy

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    tionally, their maneuvers were based on the practice of the nerge, whichwas essentially a mass hunt often referred to as the battue.4In the practice of the nerge the Mongols would fan out over severalmiles forming a circle. Gradually this circle would close and contractuntil all of the animals were trapped within this ring of men and horses.

    4. Ala al-Din Ata MalikJuvaini, Genghis Khan: The History of the World Con-queror, trans. John Andrew Boyle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997),27-28; Ala al-Din 'Ata MalikJuvaini, Ta'rikh-i-Jahatn-Gusha,ed. Mirza MuhammadQazvini, 3 vols., E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Series (Leiden: Brill, 1912, 1916, 1937),1:19-20. The nerge is also referred to as the jerge or jdirge in the Mongolian andMuslimsources. See GerhardDoerfer,Tiirkische und Mongolische Elemente im Neu-persischen, Unter Besonderer Beriicksichtigung alterer Neupersischer Geschichts-quellen, vor Allem der Mongolen- und Timuridenzeit, 4 vols. (Wiesbaden:F. Steiner,1963-75), 1:291-93, forjerge. The primary meaning appears to mean rank, row, orperhaps even a military column.MILITARY HISTORY * 619

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    TIMOTHYMAYAfter the Khan, or ruler, killed a few animals, others would begin theirhunt. Some animals were allowed to escape in a symbolic act ofclemency. A hunt of this size naturally required excellent communica-tion and discipline in order to maintain the circle in addition to pre-venting animals from escaping until the appropriate time.The nerge was then adapted to warfare and applied through severaltechniques. The most obvious was the encirclement of the enemy, ordouble envelopment, in which the wings of the Mongol army would wraparound the opposing army so that they overlapped. In addition to mak-ing it possible to attack the enemy from multiple angles, the surround-ing of enemy forces allowed the Mongols to employ another tactic. Byleaving a gap in their encirclement, the Mongols created a seeminglyinnocuous hole that appeared to be a means of escape for those enclosedby the Mongol ranks, much as animals were permitted to flee during thenerge. During war, however, the gap served as a trap. Realizing that whencornered, the enemy would resist stubbornly, the Mongols allowed asafety valve in order to let the enemy escape. However, the fleeing troopsquickly discovered to their detriment that the Mongols simply pursuedand hunted them. Often discarding their weapons in their haste, theenemy rarely could maintain any semblance of effective defense oncethey chose to escape.5

    As in the nerge, the warriors gradually tightened their circle aroundthe enemy, forming a dense mass from which none could escape. It isthought that large numbers were required to perform this maneuver andmaintain t

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