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When the Mongols Set Out to Conquer the World, There Was Only One Limiting Factor: Grass

The forces of the expanding Mongol Empire swept across the steppes of western Eurasia from 1236 to 1240, folding in many nomadic populations as they went. Along the way the Mongols also sacked and came to rule the cities of the Rus principalities, ultimately establishing what would become known as the “Golden Horde.” For the 1241 campaign season, Batu Khan, the Mongol commander who was directing the westward advance, set his sights on the Kingdom of Hungary. The kingdom was centered in the Great Hungarian Plain, a thumb-shaped extension of the Eurasian steppe, encircled by the Carpathian Mountains to the east and assorted other mountain ranges to the west, north, and south. King Béla IV of Hungary, aware of the wave of Mongol conquests just beyond the Carpathians, remained hopeful that the ring of mountains would prove defensible, especially after he had welcomed as nominal allies the Cuman Turks (also known as the Kipchaks or…

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