Women’s Role within the Mongol Empire
The Mongols were nomadic people that lived in tribes in Asia during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The joining of numerous tribes would eventually form one of the biggest empires in history. With the lack of rain though the region, the Mongols did not have wide spread agriculture, instead they would herd sheep, cattle, goats, horses, and camels that thrived on the grasses and shrubs of the steppe lands where they lived. The Mongol tribes would travel with their herds to lands with copious amounts of grasses so their animals could graze. When their herds exhausted the vegetation, they would migrate to a new area. The tribes were self-sufficient, they not only lived off the meat, milk, and hides provided by their animals, but also used them for trade purposes.
Despite the fact that the Mongols were nomadic people, they still utilized a caste system, of chieftains and khans that controlled the various tribes. The Mongols did not permit intermarrying within the clans, so abduction of women from other clans was not an unusual occurrence (Hartog 4). The stealing of woman however caused many conflicts between the different tribes. Although leaders of the tribes could have many wives, it was only the chief wife and her offspring that would inherit the tribe and continue the lineage after his death (Lane, Genghis Khan 4).
The role that women played in the Mongol society was often a complex one. Mongol woman were often bought or stolen by their husbands. The women were often treated like property and used just like any other type of bartering tool. However during the rule of Genghis Khan, the women were not merely mothers and tent wives, they also enjoyed considerable power within the family unit and enjoyed a much stronger social position among their tribes then women in other male controlled societies. One such woman was Börte, who was the chief wife to the Genghis Khan. Given great respect, Börte often advised her husband on matters concerning rule of the empire, his enemies, and the need to appoint a successor before his death. Börte was believed to have special skills of magic and witchcraft, as was the belief about Mongol women in general (Lane, Daily life 234). The Chinese viewed the Mongols and the independence that was afforded to Mongol women as barbaric and immoral (Stearns 55).
In spite the fact that Mongol living dictated that the men and women in the society share many of the duties of daily life, each also had more gender specific chores. When the men were not at war, they would make the necessary equipment for battle, and take care of the horses. The men of the tribe were also responsible for the hunting needs of the family. On the other hand, the women of the tribe were often responsible for driving the wagons, which contained all of the family’s belongings, when migrating from one location to the next. They also had the task of setting up and taking down the tents or yurts as they migrated...