The lost fleet of Khubilai Khan

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. James Delgado from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. Dr. Delgado is giving a lecture at HMNS on Tuesday, April 21 at 6:30 p. m. Dr. Delgado will be discussing Khubilai Khan’s failed naval attacks on Japan in the thirteenth century; he was part of the expedition that uncovered part of Khubilai Khan’s lost fleet in 2001.

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When people hear the words “Mongol invasion,” they probably think of fast riders on horseback.  They most likely do not think of warriors on the decks of ships.  In 1274 and in 1281, however, Khubilai Khan, Great Khan of the Mongols and conqueror of the Song Dynasty in China, sent invading fleets against Japan.  His troops, consisting of Mongols, Korean vassals and conquered Chinese were defeated, according to legend, by a divine wind sent by the gods in answer to Japanese prayers for victory.  The Japanese term for those divine winds, “kamikaze,” has come down through history as a potent phrase more famous for its use in World War II, when pilots crashed their planes into the sides and decks of enemy ships.  Many people do not remember the legendary events of several hundred years ago, when Mongol invaders twice tried, and failed, to add Japan to the globe spanning empire started by Genghis Khan, Khubilai’s grandfather.

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Archaeologists seeking traces of Khubilai’s invasion were finally successful in the 1980s when evidence of the ships and the battles fought around them surfaced from Imari Bay, off the southern coast of Kyushu

I was fortunate to join a team of Japanese archaeologists in 2001 when they found and began to excavate the remains of the Khan’s lost fleet.  What they found and what I had the opportunity to dive on was amazing – scattered timbers, swords, armor, ceramic pots used to store food and water, and amazing technological marvels in the form of clay bombs, filled with gunpowder and metal shrapnel that the Mongols hurtled at the Japanese from ship-mounted catapults.  These bombs, the earliest explosive devices ever found and used in naval warfare, are a reminder that “modern” technology dates back centuries and that China, as one of the oldest civilizations on earth, was an early innovator and inventor of many things that we still use today such as gunpowder and paper.

In my presentation on Tuesday night, I am going to share images and impressions of the invasions of Japan by the Mongols, and show you what was found underwater and what we’ve learned from the excavations including the incredible work done by Texas A&M nautical archaeology graduate student Randall Sasaki.

Join us at HMNS Tuesday night as Dr. Delgado presents the story of Khubilai Khan and the findings from the Japenese archaeological team that uncovered the lost fleet.

Genghis Khan Invades HMNS – This Friday

Genghis Khan is back – with a vengeance. He’s popped up in a best-selling book, an award-winning movie - and now, a world premiere exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

During his life, Genghis Khan conquered more of the globe than any other man – including popular favorites Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. His fame and repute lasted for centuries: in The Canterbury Tales‘ longest story, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote of him –  

This noble king was called Genghis Khan
Who in his time was of so great renown
That there was nowhere in no region
So excellent a lord in all things.
He lacked nothing that belonged to a king
As of the sect of which he was born
He kept his law, to which he was sworn.
And thereto he was hardy, wise and rich
And piteous and just, always liked;
Soothe of his word, benign and honorable,
Of his courage as any center stable;
Young, fresh and strong, in arms desirous
As any bachelor of all his house.
A fair person he was and fortunate,
And kept always so well royal estate
That there was nowhere such another man.
This noble king, this Tartar Genghis Khan.

Compare this admiring portrayal to Genghis Khan in modern (OK, 80’s) pop culture. Or, what we think we all “know” of him – as the cunning barbarian who spread terror across Asia.  


In reality, Genghis Khan was also the brilliant architect of one of history’s most advanced civilizations. Though he was raised in a climate of brutal tribal warfare, he forbade looting and torture. Though unable to read, he gave his people a written language and a sophisticated society, with fair taxation, free trade, stable government, and freedom of religion and the arts.


Now, you can discover the real Genghis in our newest special exhibition, opening Friday – the largest-ever presentation of 13th century treasures related to his life. More than 200 spectacular artifacts will be on display, including the first-ever printing press and paper money, imperial gold, silk robes and sophisticated weaponry of the world’s most visionary ruler and his descendants.

Plus – we’re giving away cool stuff. Check out the exhibition web site for details on how to enter the “Conquer Your Fears” giveaway, and learn more about exhibition-related events. Hope to see you there!