An empire founded by Genghis Khan early in the 13th century. Loosely related nomadic tribesmen who lived in felt huts (yurts) and subsisted on meat and milk – and fermented mares' milk (koumiss) – were united for the first time under his leadership. From Mongolia they swept out to Asia and eastern Europe. Splendid horsemen and archers, their onslaught was difficult to resist. Khakhans (Great Khans) elected from among Genghis's descendants continued his conquests. Central Russia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania were overrun, but following the death of the Khakhan Ogodei in 1241 the Mongols withdrew to attend an election in their capital, Karakorum, in Mongolia. However, the Golden Horde remained in control of Russia. In 1245 an advance towards Mesopotamia began. In 1258 Hulagu, Genghis's grandson, sacked Baghdad, but was defeated by the Mamelukes at Ain Jalut (1260). The conquest of China, begun under Genghis, was completed 65 years later under Kublai Khan.
After Kublai moved the capital to Khanbaligh (now Beijing), it became increasingly difficult to maintain the Khakhan's authority over remote parts of the empire. Quarrels over succession, corrupt and incompetent administration, and revolts accelerated disintegration. After 1300 the khanates were fully independent. By 1368 the Mongols were driven out of China and in 1372 a Chinese army burned Karakorum.