Ever wonder how, in an era like the Middle Ages, an army could take over most of the known world in just a couple of decades? Well I have dammit. World events moved at a snail’s pace back then. France and England went to war for 116 years without deciding much of anything. The papacy took decades to render an opinion on whether or not Jesus owned his clothes. But the Mongols took over pretty much everything in the northern hemisphere in 70 years. I find that amazing. More so because that kind of thing wasn’t all that exceptional in the old world. The Arabs did something very similar in the 7th century when they established their Caliphate. The Romans did it hundreds of years before them. The Greeks, a couple of hundred years before the Romans, then there were the Persians, and well…you get the idea. But how was it possible for a relatively few people (say a few tens of thousands) to take over such huge swathes of territory in such short periods of time?
The answer is to a large extent: lack of communications. Say for a moment you’re a subsistence farmer living somewhere in 13th century Armenia. You get up to go milk your yak one morning only to find 3,000 Mongols camped on your front lawn. Seeing you, they politely invite you to join them on their campaign of conquest and plunder. Alternately, they offer to help arrange a sudden and personal introduction between you and your god-creator. I’ll wager the vast majority of us would raise up whatever garden implement was handy and shout “Death to Whoever!”, put on a fur vest and iron helmet and be gone.
Such is how armies of the day took territory and grew. And it was like that through most of human history. Without telegraphs or spy satellites to give advance warning, invading armies of one kind or another just tended to show up. And when they did there was precious little anyone could do about it. Waves of conquerors only tended to stop when they happened to encounter a large opposing force by accident, as the Moors did when they bumped into Charles Martel in southern France in 734 AD (marking the end of Mulsim expansion into Europe).
Oh Lordy me I’m well off the subject of noodles this morning. Maybe I should go get a good strong cup of tea and come back.