Link #90: The Mongol Empire Used 50,000 Horses For Their Postal System!



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Link #90: The Mongol Empire Used 50,000 Horses For Their Postal System!

Horse and Groom, after Li Gonglin by Zhao Yong, PD image.

In our last post, we described how the prehistoric ancestors of horses were the size of ducks. In fact, the size of prehistoric horses varied greatly with their weights ranging from 4 kg to 7 kg at different times.

While horses may have had an eventful evolutionary journey, once they reached their current size, they’ve always been a crucial part of human culture. They’ve been farm animals. They’ve been the steeds of great men. And, they’ve even been the most important component of the postal system employed by the Mongol Empire of old.

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How Many Horses Did the Mongols Have in Their Postal System?

An early post system by V. Langer, PD image.

The postal system that was used by the Mongol Empire was a simple relay system. The idea was to have stations at certain distances between two locations far apart. These stations acted as supply points for travellers and messengers between two farther points.

Since the Mongol Empire grew very quickly, the number of stations they had to establish grew too. At one time, the Mongol Empire had more than 1,400 stations and that was just in China.

Each station was staffed by some people and had some horses that travellers could take over. As a result, the Mongol Empire’s postal system accumulated upwards of 50,000 horses.

What Is Special about the Mongol Empire’s Postal System?


The famous Mongol Empire postal system was known as Örtöö. In fact, they had the same name for their supply stations too. Outside of the Mongol Empire, the Örtöö was often called the Yam which is the name that is used for it these days. Yam is a derivation of the word Zam which means road or way in Mongolian.

The main reason why Yam is considered to be special is its vastness. Another key quality of the Yam was that it was highly reliable and extremely efficient. The Mongols used the Yam for a wide variety of purposes including sending messages, mail, intelligence reports, trade and even tributes.

Furthermore, in later years, the Yam also became a sort of waypoint for travellers such as officials, military personnel and even foreign dignitaries. Each Örtöö or station in the Yam was separated from the next Örtöö by anything between 24 km to 64 km.

Furthermore, each station had highly reliable and trustworthy individuals who were the backbone of the entire system. The Mongolian Yam didn’t only have 50,000 horses at its disposal but a number of other things too. For instance, the Yam had 6,700 mules, 1,400 oxen, more than 200 dogs, and even 1,150 sheep. In addition to this, the Örtöö also boasted of 6,000 boats and 400 carts.

Who Set Up the Mongolian Postal System?

Taizu, better known as Genghis Khan. Portrait cropped out of a page from an album depicting several Yuan emperors (Yuandjai di banshenxiang), now located in the National Palace Museum in Taipei (inv. nr. zhonghua 000324). PD image.

The Yam was established around 1200 by the then ruler of the Mongolians, Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan is often referred to as the Great Khan because of his feats of bringing various Mongolian tribes together and then conquering large swathes of Asia and Europe. The Mongolian postal system survived the death of the Great Khan and was operational till the time of his grandson, Kublai Khan.

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