China’s salvation had rested with the fragmentation of the nomadic tribes until 1211, when the great Genghis Khan (1162–1227) unified these Mongol tribes into one sweeping confederacy which then convulsed the world.
The intrepid Mongol warriors were by far the most effective and ruthless cavalry forces of all time. They were said to be able to travel for 10 days, getting by on milk from their mares, which made up the majority of their chargers, and in the worst situations, horse’s blood, which they drank from a pierced vein. The Mongols’ success in sweeping through Central Asia and Europe, despite their being often vastly outnumbered by those they met in their path, was the result of their cavalry tactics and the advantages they had developed over centuries. The formidable and infamous Mongol armies did not directly confront their rivals with sheer numerical superiority, but would send mounted detachments to create chaos, confusion and panic through skirmishes and by attacking their rivals’ flanks and rear. If this approach succeeded in causing utter disorganization among their opponents, they would finish them off by raining lances and arrows at them. Facing cataphracts, a form of heavy cavalry in western Eurasia and the Eurasian Steppe where horse and rider wore whole-body armour, the elusive Mongol troopers and horses were clad in only lightweight leather amour that gave them the advantage of unequalled mobility to scout, spy, escape, ambush, sneak and strike. Mounted Mongol scouts could travel at incomparable speeds in a day to share intelligence. Each Mongol trooper typically kept three or four horses in reserve to prevent the horses from becoming exhausted while at the same time maintaining high mobility. Such mounted spies would find campsites with plentiful natural resources so that both soldiers and horses could live off the land. This reduced the logistical burden of carrying supplies.