Mongol hordes sudden retreat from Hungary in 1242 attributed to bad weather
It has mystified historians ever since. After a string of major victories, the Mongol army suddenly retreated from central Europe in 1242.
|Mongol warriors on horseback [Credit: Sayf al-Vâhidî/WikiCommons]|
The Mongol cavalry fed its horses on the grass of the Eurasian steppe, says Nicola Di Cosmo of Princeton University, one of the authors of the study published Scientific Reports. A warm climate in the early 1200s helped make the grasslands lush and this, in turn, helped the Mongols extend their empire into Russia, he says.
In 1241, the Mongol army reached the plains’ western limit in Hungary. Led by Genghis Khan’s grandson Batu, the Mongols crushed the Polish and Hungarian armies on open, flat terrain that suited their mobile warfare tactics.
“They were familiar with that environment,” says Di Cosmo. “What they didn’t know is how prone to flooding that particular area was.”
rings hold a record of annual growth, which researchers can use to
extrapolate weather. This is fir timber from a |
historical building in southern Poland [Credit: Ulf Büntgen]
Analysing tree rings in the region, Di Cosmo and his colleagues found that Hungary had a cold, wet winter in early 1242. This probably turned Hungary’s central plain into a huge swamp.
Historical documents the team studied back up this claim, recording, for example, that melting snows kept the Mongol army from attacking a Hungarian castle surrounded by marshes.
Lacking pasture for its horses, the Mongols fell back to drier highlands and then to Russia in search of better grass.
While climate wasn’t the only factor in the reteat, it would be a mistake to ignore it, says Di Cosmo. “It’s like saying the winter in Russia had no effect on Napoleon’s army,” he says.
|A microscopic view of four oak rings that were used to help reconstruct the weather of 1241 and 1242 in Eastern Europe, |
when the Mongols invaded Hungary and then abruptly retreated [Credit: Willy Tegel]
But Aaron Putnam of the University of Maine in Orono says that the study steered clear of determinism, taking into account all potential factors. “I think it’s convincing,” he says. “The previous explanations of the Mongol withdrawal didn’t add up.”
Horse logistics limited the Mongols, Putnam says. “They were incredibly technologically savvy, but they got into a place where horses just didn’t do well.”
Putnam says that natural weather records like tree rings have much more to tell us about the history of premodern civilisations, which depended heavily on environmental conditions. “It’s just an incredible archive.”
Author: Conor Gearin | Source: New Scientist [May 28,2016]