How important was the Mongol empire to History? Is it still fairly important in today's world? What were the Mongols known for best?
After watching Marco Polo which is a series based around the Mongol empire when Kublai Khan was the emperor I have a sudden interest in this area but don't know an awful lot about them.
The effects of this (and especially the trading patronage) reached Europe, and it has been argued (perhaps not very convincingly) that the loss of the so-called Pax Mongolica on the also-so-called Silk Road led to the Portuguese trying to open new routes to the Indian Ocean- and we all know what that eventually led to.
Furthermore, on a political level, the Mongols effectively blitzed apart the old order in both of the major civilisations they controlled (China and Iran). In addition to the aforementioned unity, China saw the beginning of its modern province system, the absorption of the Yunnan into its realm, and probably some other stuff (I'm more interested in the Middle Eastern side ).
In Iran and the Middle East, the destruction of the Assassins and crucially the Caliphate, as well as a political tradition of their yasa laws which lay concurrent or opposed to sharia led to new types of Imperial authority in the Early Modern period. This, alongside tribal movements, political unity and greater power to nomadic clans led to the three "Gunpowder Empires" of the Ottomans, Mughals and Safavids, which along with the Uzbeks (ruled by Genghis Khan's dynasty and formed of a fracture of one of the many Mongol successor states) ruled the vast, vast majority of the Islamic world from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
TLDR: They recreated the power-structures and political systems of an enormous amount of world, as well as hugely changing the genearl makeup of Asia through creating a huge East-West empire which actively patronised merchants and other figures of value.
The Mongols were basically a giant whirlwind of a catalyst, ending the Middle Ages in the Islamic world, unifying China permanently, creating the Russian state and blurring and changing the cultural and intellectual boundaries of Asia. This and the other awesome things they did (genius admin, tolerance, meritocracy, legal codes in Inner Asia) tends to be overshadowed by how awfully, awfully evil they kinda were to anyone who did not immediately submit.