The list of military figures throughout history who I am in awe of includes this somewhat obscure Mongol general, Ghengis Khan’s right hand man. I just finished reading Subotai the Valiant And while the book is not a serious academic exercise in any respect, it was an enjoyable read for someone dabbling in the time period.

What impresses me most about Subodei, the Mongols and their conquests was the apparent disregard for casualties; winning was all that mattered. In this particular warrior culture they continually went against opponents who vastly outnumbered them and always won, largely because of superior tactics, discipline and ferocity. For example, upon invading the Kwarzim Empire in central Asia the Mongols had two thrusts of their attack–the smaller force crossed over the Himalaya Mountains (not for the first time since they had also done so while circling around the Chin empire in China to attack from the south), while the larger thrust crossed a desert. The smaller force (think 20,000 troops) defeated an army of 50,000 upon getting back off the mountain, and the larger one massacred city after city.

Subodei ended up chasing the Shah west to the Caspian sea before being recalled whereupon he rode 1,200 miles in a bit over a week, campaigning some more, then returning to his force. Here he led his 30,000 troops on a reconnaissance mission that lasted three years, traveling 5,500 miles and winning numerous battles. On this scouting mission Subodei crushed the Georgian army (supposedly one of the greatest Christian armies in Europe) not once, but twice, entirely ending any hope they had of joining a crusade; then the Mongols entered Russia and smashed a joint army from the principalities. Even taking into account exaggeration, Subodei lost around 15,000 men in three years, a full half of his force, but killed upwards of 200,000 men in battle and countless other citizens. Survivors were a rarity from battles that the Mongols won simply because they gave chase and killed everyone.

Subodei had a brilliant tactical mind and an even better strategic one, making full use of his mobile forces and their ability to launch coordinated, continuous and ferocious attacks.

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