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History of Mongolia


There are many sites in the country shows that Homo erectus inhabited Mongolia from 800,000 years ago. Also it is possible to examine the findings, monuments, burial mounds related to ancient periods.

Sites such as Tsagaan Agui (White Cave) in Bayankhongor Province show that Homo erectus inhabited Mongolia from 800,000 years ago. Modern humans reached Mongolia approximately 40,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic. The Khoid Tsenkher Cave in Khovd Province shows lively pink, brown and red ochre paintings (20,000 years ago) of mammoths, lynx, bactrian camels and ostriches, earning it the nickname "the Lascaux of Mongolia". The Mal'ta Venus (21,000 years ago) testifies to the level of Upper Paleolithic art in northern Mongolia, though Mal'ta is now part of Russia.

Neolithic agricultural settlements (c. 5500-3500 BC) such as those at Norovlin, Tamsagbulag, Bayanzag and Rashaan Khad predated the introduction of horse-riding nomadism, a pivotal event in the history of Mongolia as it became the dominant lifestyle. Horse-riding nomadism is first seen in Mongolia during the Copper and Bronze Age Afanasevo culture (3500-2500 BC) which stretched to the Khangai Mountains in Central Mongolia. The wheeled vehicles found in the burials of the Afanasevans have been dated to before 2200 BC. Pastoral nomadism and metalworking became more and more developed with the later Okunev Culture (2nd millennium BC), Andronovo culture (2300-1000 BC) and Karasuk culture (1500-300 BC), culminating with the Iron Age Xiongnu Empire in 209 BC. Monuments of the pre-Xiongnu Bronze Age include deer stones, keregsur kurgans, square slab tombs and rock paintings.

Although cultivation of crops continued since the Neolithic it always remained small-scale compared to pastoral nomadism, which was first introduced from the west. The population during the Copper Age has been described as paleomongoloid in the east of what is now Mongolia, and as europoid in the west. Tocharians (Yuezhi) and Scythians inhabited western Mongolia during the Bronze Age. The mummy of a Scythian warrior, which is believed to be about 2,500 years old was a 30-to-40 year-old man with blond hair, and was found in the Altai, Mongolia. As horse nomadism was introduced into Mongolia the political center of the Eurasian Steppe also shifted to Mongolia, where it remained until the 18th century CE.

Early History

The land of current Mongolia had been ruled by various nomadic empires including Xiongnu, Xianbei, Uigur, and Turkig states. Mongolia, since prehistoric times, has been inhabited by nomads who, from time to time, formed great confederations that rose to prominence. The first of these, the Xiongnu of undetermined ethnicity, were brought together to form a confederation by Modun Shanyu in 209 BC. Soon they emerged as the greatest threat to the Qin Dynasty, forcing the latter to construct the Great Wall of China, itself being guarded by up to almost 300,000 soldiers during marshal Meng Tian's tenure, as a means of defense against the destructive Xiongnu raids.

The vast Xiongnu empire (209 BC-93 AD) was followed by the Mongolic Xianbei empire (93-234) which also ruled more than the entirety of present-day Mongolia. The Mongolic Rouran Khaganate (330-555), of Xianbei provenance, ruled a massive empire before being defeated by the Gokturks (555-745) whose empire was even bigger (laid siege to Panticapaeum, present-day Kerch, in 576). They were succeeded by the Uyghur Khaganate (745-840) who were defeated by the Kyrgyz. The Mongolic Khitans ruled Mongolia during the Liao Dynasty (907-1125) after which the Khamag Mongol (1125-1206) rose to prominence.

Mongol Empire

In the chaos of the late 12th century, a chieftain named Temujin finally succeeded in uniting the Mongol tribes between Manchuria and the Altai Mountains. Chinggis Khan consolidated tribes into a unified and established Great Mongolia in 1206 and conquered the world with his intelligence, powerful military and strategy and forming the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous land empire in world history. Under his successors it stretched from present-day Poland in the west to Korea in the east, and from Siberia in the north to the Gulf of Oman and Vietnam in the south, covering some 33,000,000 square kilometres (13,000,000 sq mi), (22% of Earth's total land area) and having a population of over 100 million people. The emergence of Pax Mongolica also significantly eased trade and commerce across Asia during its height.

After Chinggis Khan's death, the empire was subdivided into four kingdoms or Khanates which eventually became quasi-independent after Munkh's death in 1259. One of the khanates, the "Great Khanate", consisting of the Mongol homeland and China, became the Yuan Dynasty under Kubilai Khan, the grandson of Chinggis Khan. He set up his capital in present day Beijing but after more than a century of power, the Yuan was replaced by the Ming Dynasty in 1368, with the Mongol court fleeing to the north. As the Ming armies pursued the Mongols into their homeland, they successfully sacked and destroyed the Mongol capital Karakorum among a few other cities, although some of these attempts were expelled by the Mongols under Ayushridar and his general Khukh Tumur.

Post-imperial period

After the expulsion of the Yuan Dynasty from China, the Mongols continued to rule Mongolia, also referred to as the Northern Yuan. The next centuries were marked by violent power struggles between various factions, notably the Chinggisids and the non- Chinggisids Oirads and numerous invasions of Ming China (like the five expeditions led by the Yongle Emperor). In the early 15th century, the Oirads under Esen Tayisi gained the upper hand, and even raided China in 1449 in a conflict over Esen's right to pay tribute, capturing the Ming emperor in the process. However, Esen was murdered in 1454, and the Borjigids recovered.

Batumunkh Dayan Khan and his queen Mandukhai reunited the entire Mongol nation under the Chinggisids in the early 16th century. In the mid-16th century, Altan Khan of the Tumed, a grandson of Dayan Khan - but no legitimate Khan himself - became powerful. He founded Hohhot in 1557 and his meeting with the Dalai Lama in 1578 sparked the second introduction of Tibetan Buddhism to Mongolia. Abtai Khan of the Khalkha converted to Buddhism and founded the Erdene Zuu monastery in 1585. His grandson Zanabazar became the first Jebtsundamba Khutughtu in 1640.

Under the Qing Dynasty

The last Mongol Khan was Ligden Khan in the early 17th century. He got into conflicts with the Manchus over the looting of Chinese cities, and managed to alienate most Mongol tribes. He died in 1634 on his way to Tibet, in an attempt to evade the Manchus and destroy the Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism. By 1636, most Inner Mongolian tribes had submitted to the Manchus, who founded the Qing Dynasty. The Khalkha eventually submitted to Qing rule in 1691, thus bringing all of today's Mongolia under Beijing's rule. After several wars, the Dzungars (the western Mongols or Oirads) were virtually annihilated in 1757-58. Outer Mongolia was given relative autonomy, being administered by the hereditary Chinggisid khanates of Tusheet Khan, Setsen Khan, Zasagt Khan and Sain Noyon Khan. The Jebtsundamba Khutuktu of Mongolia had immense de-facto authority. The Manchus also forbade mass Chinese immigration, allowing the Mongols to keep their culture.

Until 1911, Qing Dynasty maintained control of Mongolia with a series of alliances and intermarriages, as well as military and economic measures. Ambans, Manchu "high officials", were installed in Khuree, Uliastai, and Khovd, and the country was subdivided into ever more feudal and ecclesiastical fiefdoms. Over the course of the 19th century, the feudal lords attached more importance to representation and less importance to the responsibilities towards their subjects. The behaviour of Mongolia's nobility, together with the usurious practices of the Chinese traders and the collection of imperial taxes in silver instead of animals, resulted in poverty becoming ever more rampant.


With the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Mongolia under the Bogd Khaan declared independence in 1911. However, the newly established Republic of China considered Mongolia as part of its own territory. The area controlled by the Bogd Khaan was approximately that of the former Outer Mongolia during Qing period. In 1919, after the October Revolution in Russia, Chinese troops led by Xu Shuzheng occupied Mongolia.

However, as a result of the Russian Civil War, the White Russian adventurer Baron Ungern led his troops into Mongolia in October 1920, defeating the Chinese forces in Niislel Khuree (Ulaanbaatar) in early February 1921. In order to eliminate the threat posed by Ungern, Bolshevik Russia decided to support the establishment of a communist Mongolian government and army. This Mongolian army took the Mongolian part of Kyakhta from Chinese forces on March 18, 1921, and on July 6 Russian and Mongolian troops arrived in Khuree. Mongolia's independence was declared once again on July 11, 1921. These events led to Mongolia's close alignment with the Soviet Union over the next seven decades.

Mongolian People's Republic

In 1928, Khorloogiin Choibalsan rose to power. He instituted collectivization of livestock, the destruction of Buddhist monasteries and the Mongolia's enemies of the people persecution resulting in the murder of monks and other people. In Mongolia during the 1920s, approximately one third of the male population were monks. By the beginning of the 20th century about 750 monasteries were functioning in Mongolia. The Stalinist purges in Mongolia beginning in 1937, affected the Republic as it left more than 30,000 people dead. Japanese imperialism became even more alarming after the invasion of neighboring Manchuria in 1931. During the Soviet-Japanese Border War of 1939, the Soviet Union successfully defended Mongolia against Japanese expansionism.

In August 1945 Mongolian forces also took part in the Soviet Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation in Inner Mongolia. The Soviet threat of seizing parts of Inner Mongolia induced China to recognize Outer Mongolia's independence, provided that a referendum was held. The referendum took place on October 20, 1945, with (according to official numbers) 100% of the electorate voting for independence. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, both countries confirmed their mutual recognition on October 6, 1949.

On January 26, 1952, Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal took power. In 1956 and again in 1962, Choibalsan's personality cult was condemned at the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party Central Committee plenums. Mongolia continued to align itself closely with the Soviet Union, especially after the Sino-Soviet split of the late 1950s. In the 1980s, an estimated 55,000 Soviet troops were based in Mongolia. While Tsedenbal was visiting Moscow in August 1984, his severe illness prompted the parliament to announce his retirement and replace him with Jambyn Batmunkh.

Democratic Revolution

The introduction of perestroika and glasnost in the USSR by Mikhail Gorbachev strongly influenced Mongolian politics leading to the peaceful Democratic Revolution and the introduction of a multi-party system and market economy. A new constitution was introduced in 1992, and the "People's Republic" was dropped from the country's name. The transition to market economy was often rocky, the early 1990s saw high inflation and food shortages. The first election wins for non-communist parties came in 1993 (presidential elections) and 1996 (parliamentary elections). The signing of the Oyu Tolgoi mine contract is considered a major milestone in modern Mongolian history. The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party renamed itself the Mongolian People's Party in 2010.