The years between 1000 and 1350 CE were a time of extreme highs and lows for the people living in the Eurasian land mass. China came close to industrializing and creating a Confucian meritocracy. An increasing percentage of Eurasia’s population converted to Islam, even as Christian military forces pushed Islamic civilization to the southern tip of Iberia and tried to wrest the eastern Mediterranean—the territory viewed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as “the Holy Land”—from Muslim rule. Europeans grappled with creating governments strong enough to protect the population but with robust enough checks on centralized authority to keep at least the elites from being abused. Enslaved people revolted and began to rule in the Nile delta and Indian subcontinent.
Nowhere, however, was change more dramatic and consequential than among the scattered seminomadic people of the Inner Asian Steppe. One of their number, written off and enslaved as a child, emerged to unite and lead a large faction of them into such a potent force that his descendants, who included Kublai Khan (Figure 14.1), marched as conquerors through the palaces of the Chinese Son of Heaven, the Caliph of God’s messenger, and countless cities. This leader was known to the world as Chinggis (Genghis) Khan. Uniting a million or so of the world’s 400 million people into the Mongol Empire, he not only altered the trajectory of their lives, he also unleashed forces that swept many old ways aside and laid the foundations for the modern world to emerge.