How Did They Do It? Masters of the Steppe: The Gear and Guts of the Mongol Military—Part I
Much is known about the ancient Mongol military and their incredible victories on the battlefield, but little is ever discussed about their arms, armor, horses, and logistics. What gear did they use? How did they deal with their wounded? How did they partner with horses to become masters of the steppe?
Indeed, it’s said there was no separate word for ‘soldier’ in the Middle Mongol language, meaning that the society was so adept at survival and conquering that there was little difference in preparedness between a civilian and a warrior. This may have been one of the keys to their adaptability, and ultimate success.
Here we take a detailed look into the Mongol military apparatus (Arms, Armor, Supplies, Horses, and Medicine): How did they do it?
The Lightning-Quick Light Cavalryman
The attire of the Mongol light cavalryman was no different from his everyday outfit. The Mongol warrior’s attire was practical, in the sense that its main function was to protect him from the harsh conditions of the climate he traversed. His undershirt was long with wide sleeves. His attire consisted of a heavy, double-breasted knee-length coat called deel or degel.
A Mongolian coat, or deel ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
This coat was secured with a button a few inches below the armpit and was fastened by a leather belt at the waist. Furthermore, the Mongols utilized two types of coats. One was a heavy coat for the colder seasons but they also wore a coat to keep them dry from the rains during the warmer seasons. As for material, Flemish Franciscan monk, William of Rubruck (1210-ca. 1270) said that the “poor make their outside (gowns) of dog and kid (skins).” As for pants, Rubruck mentions that they “make also breeches with furs,” and “line their clothes with cotton cloth, or with the fine wool which they are able to pick out of the coarser.”
When it comes to armor, many Mongols did not wear much, particularly lamellar. The reason was that the role of the light cavalryman was to be light, flexible, agile, and above all, fast.
This Japanese lamellar cuirass was typically too heavy for light cavalry ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Other items that a light cavalryman would have used, as well did the heavy cavalryman, were “two or three bows or at least one good one, and three large quivers filled with arrows” along with a sword, which hung from his belt. He may have carried a dagger, axe, or both. His coat pocket possibly consisted of a sharpening stone for weapons and arrowheads, or perishable items, such as dried meat, dried curds, perhaps berries.
Steadfast and Indomitable Heavy Cavalrymen
William of Rubruck describes heavy cavalry as wearing the same clothing as light cavalry underneath their armor when they went on military campaigns. However, most heavy cavalrymen were wealthy and could afford, particularly later on, better clothing to wear.
The voyage of William of Rubruck in 1253–1255. Franciscan missionary and explorer, he documented details of the Mongol Empire ( Public Domain )
“Of their clothing and customs you must know, that from Cataia [China], and other regions of the east, and also from Persia and other regions of the south, are brought to them silken and golden stuffs and cloth of cotton, which they wear in summer. From Ruscia, Moxel, and from Greater Bulgaria [a region in the middle Volga, not to be confused with minor Bulgaria mentioned above] and Pascatir [a region between the upperl Volga and Ural R.], which is greater Hungary, and Kerkis [Kerghiz], all of which are countries to the north and full of forests, and which obey them, are brought to them costly furs of many kinds, which I never saw in our parts, and which they wear in winter.”…
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Top Image: Painting depicting the Battle of Cheoin (Korea) between Goryeo and Mongol Empire forces in the Korean peninsula in 1232; Deriv. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
By Cam Rea