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Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan
Birth name: Temüjin (Mongolian: Тэмүүжин)
Family name: Borjigin (Mongolian: Боржигин)
Title: Great Khan of Mongol Empire
(Khan of the Mongols)
Birth: 1155/1162/1167
Place of birth: Hentiy, Mongolia
Death: August 18, 1227
Place of death: uncertain, speculation in Hentiy
Dates of reign: 1206 - August 18, 1227
Succeeded by: Ogedei Khan
Marriage: Börte

Genghis Khan (Mongolian: Чингис Хаан, Jenghis Khan, Jinghis Khan, Chinghiz Khan, Jinghiz Khan, Chinggis Khan, Chingis Khan, etc., born as Temüjin, Temuchin, Mongolian: Тэмүүжин) (c. 1155/1162/1167August 18, 1227), (pronunciation: chi ng'g s hään) was a Khan and founder of the Mongol Empire (1206-1368), unifying independent Mongol tribes under his banner by 1206. A military and strategic genius and one of the foremost leaders in world history, he is regarded with great respect by Mongols as a leader who eliminated centuries of dissension and brought political and economic stability under Mongol Empire, although with considerable loss of life and property to those that opposed him. His grandson and successor Kublai Khan established China's Yuan Dynasty (12711368) by restarting the invasion of Southern Song Dynasty. Genghis Khan's descendants continued to claim leadership over Mongolia until the 17th century, when the last Chingissids were conquered by the Manchu. Genghis Khan and his descendants managed to create the largest contiguous and second largest empire after British Empire in human history in just under 200 years.

He is considered the most feared and one of the powerful leaders in world history. In a brief time period, he managed to make the Mongols the most feared and intimidating synonym throughout the known world that still continues today. He laid out many laws and customs, such as freedom of religion and meritocracy that many democratic societies use today. Genghis Khan died in leading a campaign against Western Xia in around the age of 65 years old.

Genghis Khan's reputation was so powerful that many later leaders claimed to be descended from him (e.g. Timur Lenk, the Turkic conquerer, and Babur, founder of India's Mughal Empire).


Early life

Genghis Khan was born with the name of Temüjin between 1155 and 1167, he was the second son of Yesükhei, a tribal chief of the Kiyad (singular: Kiyan). Yesükhei's clan was called Borjigin (plural: Borjigid). His mother was Hoelun of the Olkunut tribe. He was named after one of the more powerful chiefs of a rival tribe.

Temüjin's early life was a most difficult one. When he was only nine, his father delivered Temüjin to his future wife's family, where he was to live until he reached the marriageable age of 14. Shortly thereafter, his father was murdered by the neighboring Tartars while returning home , making Temüjin the clan's new chief. His clan soon abandoned him and his family, refusing to be led by a mere boy. For the next few years, he and his family lived the way of life of poor nomads, surviving primarily off rodents. In one incident he slew his half-brother over a dispute about sharing hunting spoils. In another, Temüjin was captured in a raid by his former tribe and held captive with a wooden collar around his neck. He later escaped with help from a sympathetic captor. His mother Hoelun taught him many lessons on how to survive in the harsh political climate of Mongolia, especially the need for alliances with others, which would shape his understanding in his later years.

Around the age of 16, Temüjin married Börte of the Konkirat tribe, and received a black sable coat as a dowry; this was the foundation of his later wealth from conquest. Later she was kidnapped in a raid by the Merkit tribe and Temüjin called on his friend and later rival, Jamuka, and his protector, Toghril of the Kereit tribe, for aid. The birth of Börte's first child, Jochi, suspiciously soon after she was freed led to doubt over whose son he was. Accordingly, Jochi and his descendants were never considered for the Mongol succession.

Uniting the tribes

Temüjin began his slow ascent to power by allying himself with his father's friend Toghril , a local chief. He traded his sable coat for an army and joined the Keriat, a confederacy of Mongols led by Wang Khan. After successful campaigns against the Tartars (1202), Temüjin was adopted as Wang Khan's heir. This led to bitterness on the part of Senggum, Wang's former heir, who planned to assassinate Temüjin. Temüjin, after learning of Senggum's intentions, eventually defeated Senggum and his loyalists and succeeded to the title of Wang Khan. Temüjin eventually created a written code of laws for the Mongols called Yassa, and he demanded it to be followed very strictly in order to strengthen his organization and his power among his people.

Feeling the need to secure his borders from the south against the Jin Empire and from the west against the Xia, Temüjin organized his people to prepare for possible conflicts, especially with the Chinese. The Chinese had grown uncomfortable with the newly emergent Mongols, fearing that they would eventually restrict the Chinese supply of goods, as many trade routes ran through Mongol territory. With his personal charisma and strong will, Temüjin by 1206 managed to unite the tribes under a single system, a monumental feature for Mongols, who had a long history of internecine dispute and economic hardship. At a Kurultai (a council of Mongol chiefs) he was titled "Genghis Khan" (alternate spellings exist; see above) or Universal Ruler (also "Ruler of all between the oceans").

The foundations of an empire


At the time of the Khuriltai, Genghis was involved in a dispute with Western Xia, a state that demanded tribute from the Mongols. Genghis Khan led the Mongols to war and conquered Xia, despite initial difficulties in conquering well-defended cities in western Xia. By 1209, he was acknowledged by their emperor as overlord. The emperor, however, soon breached his agreement with the Mongols in 1211 and set about to bring the Jurchen completely under his dominion, and to prevent them from challenging the Mongols for teritory and resources. In 1215 Genghis besieged, captured, and sacked the Jin capital of Yanjing (later known as Beijing). The Jin emperor, Xuan Zong , however, did not surrender. Instead, he moved his capital to Kaifeng because of the growing threat of Mongols on the north. There his successors finally were defeated, but not until 1234.

Central Asia

Meanwhile, Kuchlug , the deposed khan of the Naiman Mongols, had fled west and had usurped the khanate of Kara-Khitan, the western allies that had decided to side with Genghis. By this time, the Mongol army was exhausted by ten years of continuous campaigning against the Western Xia and the Jin. Therefore, Genghis sent only two tumen under a brilliant young general, Jebe, against Kuchlug. An internal revolt was incited by Mongol agents; then Jebe overran the country. Kuchlug's forces were defeated west of Kashgar; he was captured and executed, and Kara-Khitan was annexed. By 1218 the Mongol state extended as far west as Lake Balkhash and adjoined Khwarizm, a Muslim state that reached to the Caspian Sea in the west and to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea in the south.

In 1218 Genghis sent emissaries to an eastern province of Khwarizm with the intention of discussing possible trade with the Khwarizmian Empire. The governor of the province had them killed, and Genghis Khan retaliated with a force of 200,000 troops. The Mongol army quickly took the town, using superior strategy and tactics, and executed the governor by pouring molten silver into his ears and eyes as retribution for the insult.

At this point (1219), Genghis decided to extend Mongol dominions into the Muslim world. The Mongol army methodically marched through Khwarizm's main cities (Bukhara, Samarkand, and Balkh), and the shah, Muhammad, prepared to battle them. However, he was outmaneuvered by the much swifter Mongol army and driven into extended retreat. In the end, the shah killed himself rather than surrender when he was cornered and by 1220, the Khwarizmian Empire was eradicated.

The Mongol armies then split into two component forces. Genghis led a division on a raid through Afghanistan and northern India, while another contingent, led by his general Subedei, marched through the Caucasus and Russia. Neither campaign added territory to the empire, but they pillaged settlements and defeated any armies they met that did not acknowledge Genghis Khan as the rightful leader of the world. In 1225 both divisions returned to Mongolia.

These invasions added Transoxiana and Persia to an already formidable empire and began to establish Genghis Khan's reputation as a bloodthirsty warrior.


While Genghis was gathering his forces in Persia and Armenia, 40,000 of his troops pushed deep into Armenia and Azerbaijan (see above in Central Asia). There Genghis destroyed Georgian crusaders, took a Genoese trade-fortress in Crimea, and stayed the winter near Black Sea. While Genghis was heading home, he met Prince Mstitslav of Kiev with his 80,000 troops, which was the presumed Battle of Kalka River in 1223. He destroyed Prince Mstitslav and his army.

See also: Khwarezmid Empire

The final campaign

The vassal emperor of Western Xia had refused to take part in the war against the Khwarizm, and Genghis had vowed revenge. While he was in Persia, Western Xia and Jin had formed an alliance against the Mongols. After rest and a reorganization of his armies, Genghis prepared for war against their alliance.

By this time, his advancing age had led Genghis to prepare for the future and to assure an orderly succession among his descendants; he selected his third son Ögedei as his successor and established the method of selection of subsequent khans, specifying that they should come from his direct descendants. Meanwhile, he studied intelligence reports from Western Xia and Jin and readied a force of 180,000 troops for a new campaign.

At his death, Genghis Khan divided his empire amongst his four sons. Jochi was the eldest, but he was already dead and his paternity was in doubt, so the most distant lands conquered by the Mongols, then southern Ruthenia, were divided among his sons Batu, leader of the Blue Horde, and Orda , leader of the White Horde . Chagatai was the next-eldest son of Genghis, but he was considered a hothead, and so was given Central Asia and northern Iran. Ogedei, third oldest, was made Great Khan and given China. Tolui, the youngest, was given the Mongol homeland as per Mongol custom.

In 1226, Genghis Khan attacked the Tanguts (Western Xia) on the pretext that the Tanguts received the Mongols' enemies and he sought retribution for this betrayal. In February, Genghis Khan took Heisui City, Gan-zhou and Su-zhou and in the autumn, he took Xiliang-fu. A Western Xia general challenged the Mongols for a battle near Helanshan Mountain. (Helan means "great horse" in the northern dialect.) The Western Xia armies were defeated. In November, he laid siege to the Tangut city of Ling-zhou and then crossed the Yellow River and defeated the Tangut relief army. Genghis reportedly saw five stars arranged in a line in the sky, which he took to be an omen.

In 1227, Genghis Khan attacked the Tanguts' capital, and in February of that year, he took Lintiao-fu. In March, he took Xining prefecture and Xindu-fu. In April, he took Deshun prefecture. At Deshun, the Western Xia general Ma Jianlong resisted the Mongols for days and personally led charges against them outside of the city gate. Ma Jianlong later died from wounds received from many arrows. Genghis, after conquering Deshun, went to Liupanshan Mountain (Qingshui County, Gansu Province) for shelter from the severe summer.

The new Western Xia emperor surrendered to the Mongols. The Tanguts officially surrendered in 1227, after having ruled for 190 years, from 1038 to 1227. The Mongols killed the Tangut emperor and his royal family for their betrayal and dishonor.

On his deathbed in 1227, Genghis Khan outlined to his youngest son, Tolui, the plans that later would be used by his successors to complete the destruction of the Jin Empire.

In his last campaign leading the Mongol fight against Western Xia, Genghis Khan died on August 18, 1227. The reason for his death is uncertain. Many assume he fell off his horse, due to old age and physical wearing down; some contemporary observers even cited prophecies from his opponents. The Galician-Volhynian Chronicle alleges he was killed by the Tanguts, but as of today the truth is unclear.

After he died, his body was returned to Mongolia and presumably to his birthplace in Hentiy aimag , where many assume he is buried somewhere close to the Onon river. The funeral escort killed anyone and anything that strayed across their path to his burial, so as not to reveal where he was finally laid to rest. The Genghis Khan Mausoleum is his memorial, but not his burial site. As of October 6, 2004, there has been an alleged discovery of "Genghis Khan's palace" that makes a discovery of his burial site more likely.

Organization and accomplishments

Politics and economics

Genghis Khan was a strict and capable leader. He initiated a Mongol written code of law in which violaters would be put to death for minor offenses. Because of the ethnic, religious and tribal diversity of the civilians and soldiers of Mongol Empire, including modern day Persians, Chinese and Europeans, he transferred all loyalty only to himself (Great Khan) and no others. In order to sustain and replenish his army, Genghis Khan allowed leaders to remain in power as long as they provided military service, paid tribute and furnished labor on a constant basis. Having conquered a vast land, Genghis Khan encouraged trade and exchange; Mongols valued goods and trade that came from other lands and peoples. A unified Mongol Empire made travel across Asia far easier than it had been under a fractured group of minor kings, facilitating greater exposure to the West and travel for both Asians and Western traders (e.g. Marco Polo). Under Genghis Khan's rule, all "individuals and religions were equal under Mongol law".

Because of the extent of his empire, Genghis Khan deeply affected the cultures of many Asian countries, most notably China and Russia. He destroyed the existing aristocracy of every region he controlled, creating a rough meritocracy during that time. He created a wide postal system and spread the use of a universal alphabet, though he for many years was believed to be illiterate due to the estimated recentness of the language, and his age at its implementation. Recently, however, findings by Chinese and Mongolian academics have shown that Genghis Khan was a highly literate man. A handwritten note was proven to be his, and the contents of the note indicated that he was able to read Taoist sermons [1]. Trade and travel between China, the Middle East and Europe flourished through the political stability that Mongol Empire provided, re-establishing the Silk Road. He outlawed torture in his provinces, exempted teachers and doctors from taxes, and established freedom of religion. Various languages spread, such as Turkish; also, many different kinds of religion flourished because of freedom of religion. The Mongols introduced most of Asia to the abacus and the compass, and brought to Europe the explosives that were first created in China, as well as high-powered siege engines that the Chinese developed for European compatriots. Genghis Khan also united all the Mongol tribes, which some argue was his most significant achievement. It's claimed that Genghis Khan also stopped the division between southern and northern China that began from the time of Song Dynasty.


This article or section should be merged with Mongols.

Genghis Khan's armies seemed to be incomparably superior in the 12th and 13th century because of their superior strategy and mobility.

Genghis organized the Mongol soldiers into groups based around the number ten (i.e. 10 (arban), 100 (jaghun), 1000(mingghan), 10,000(tumen), and each group of soldiers had a leader whom would report higher up in his rank, up to to the rank of tumen. This command structure proved to be highly flexible and allowed the Mongol army to attack en masse, divide into somewhat smaller groups to encircle and lead enemies into an ambush, or divide into small groups of 10 to mop up a fleeing and broken army. The Mongol army also was highly flexible due to the durability of its soldiers. Each Mongol soldier would have between 2 and 4 horses, allowing them to gallop for days without stopping or tiring. The Mongol soldier also could live for days off only his horse's blood and eating dried yak meat if times were hard.

When integrating new soldiers into the army, Genghis Khan divided the soldiers under different leaders to break up the social and tribal connections, so that there was no division based on heritage of tribal alliances. In all campaigns, the soldiers took their families along with them for the battle. Promotion was based only on merit. Each unit leader was responsible for the preparedness of his soldiers at any time and would be replaced if this was found lacking.

Mongol cavalry soldiers were extremely light troops compared to contemporary standards, allowing them to practice tactics and false retreats that would be impractical for a heavier enemy (such as European knights). Mongols under Genghis Khan and his descendants were the perfection of light cavalry/horse archer warfare. One of the commonly used techniques of Mongol soldiers was the feinted retreat. In the middle of battle, a Mongol unit or whole army would retreat suddenly, giving the opposition false confidence. After that, the opposition would find itself surrounded by Mongol soldiers that would eventually shower them with arrows. Mongols didn't favor close combat but rather preferred to fight from a distance with their bows and long-practiced marksmanship from horses.

In terms of battle detail, a Mongol army leader during battle might be anywhere in the formation and would use flags and horns to order his strategies during the battle. To the Mongols, victory seemed to matter most, and they couldn't afford to lose battles nor men because they were poor in logistics and had few spare troops (at best half as many soldiers in almost all major battles than their enemies, and travelling far away from their homeland). The main weapon of the Mongol soldiers was the Hun bow and curved sword, lighter and more efficient for slashing and parrying than the European long sword. The rules of engagement were clear under Genghis Khan. For a specific example, if two or more soldiers broke away from their group without their leader's approval, they would be put to death. The Mongol style of engaging in warfare seemed to be natural to their nomadic way of life, as they were very comfortable with travelling long distances. Genghis Khan added the one necessary ingredient, which was strict discipline, to his armies which were similar to many armies of the steppes during the time.

Genghis Khan's military philosophy in general was to defeat opponents with the least risk and cost to the Mongols, relying on his loyal and meritocratically chosen generals and his soldiers.

Genghis Khan employed psychological warfare successfully in his battles, especially in terms of spreading terror and fear to other towns and cities. For example if he found that there was an opposition, Genghis Khan would offer an opportunity for the enemy to surrender and pay tribute. If the offer was refused, he would invade the cities and towns and let a few civilians flee to spread words of their loss to other cities. When words got out that Genghis Khan's force destroyed any resistance, it became much harder for other leaders to persuade their people to resist Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan's stance against opponents was for them to surrender and pay tribute or have them die. When besieging, Genghis Khan usually left the town unharmed and guaranteed them protection as a resource for future campaigns and logistics; if they resisted, however, he would attack without mercy. It is said, however, that he saved many lives because of intimidation of opponents.

Technology was one of the important facets of his warfare. For instance siege machines were an important part of Genghis Khan's warfare especially in attacking fortified cities. He used Chinese technicians that were very advanced for the time. The siege engines were disassembled and were carried on horses to be rebuilt at the site of the battle.

Before invasion of an opposing area, Genghis Khan and his generals made extensive preparations in Kurultai to decide how the upcoming war would be conducted and as well which generals would participate; meanwhile they would thoroughly accumulate intelligence about their opponents, after which the course of hostilities would be calculated through. From this campaign planning, they decided how many units would be needed. Nevertheless, Mongol generals were armed with a high degree of independent decision-making privilege, as long as they abided by Genghis Khan's general directives and got the job done. Because of the light nature of Mongol armies, Genghis Khan built a sophisticated intelligence network through the Mongol army, trade networks and vassals. It is said that in preparation of warfare, the generals would send out 200 horsemen to four geographic directions to scout for possible enemy activity. Soldiers riding 300 km in one or two days was common on such occasions.

Even though Mongol strategy seemed to vary slightly in response to their enemies, their technique might have been the same. Mongols would engage in columns, usually three separate columns, so that the two side columns could diverge from the center when they figured out where they should split up. Once they had let their presence be known and had scouted for surrounding fields and cities, they would somewhere reunite with the center column and give one final push against the main army or city. The idea and the advantage of flanking forces was to spread terror, gather intelligence on their opponents and eliminate smaller opponent armies. In other words, it was a sort of divide and conquer approach. These flanking columns had messengers that quickly relayed intelligence to the mother column. Mongol armies were willing to engage field armies before seeking battle with the main opposition. Mongols were good at siege warfare and diverting rivers and food from cities; they also sent off refugees to other unconquered cities, in order to strain enemy resources. They were continuously expanding their fighting power with conquered land, resources, knowledge, technology and manpower.

Once the main battle and siege was over, the Mongol army would follow the enemy leader until he was killed in order to prevent him from being a rallying point for his army after war. Most times the enemy leaders would try to escape realizing that they would likely lose the war, but the Mongol forces followed until they made sure they died.



Genghis is an extremely polarizing figure to many who look at him from both the Eastern and Western points of view. In the West and the Middle East, the perception of Genghis Khan is negative due to the destruction brought about by his armies. While those in the East acknowledge this, they nonetheless admire his superior military command and historical legacy. On the other hand, in the Middle East, people have mixed views about Genghis Khan and his descendants because their armies conquered and destroyed Baghdad; on the other hand, some Mongol armies eventually converted to Islam and adopted its way of life, because the religious tolerance faciliated cultural exchange and assimilation. Many scholars and scientists, depending heavily on their nationality, consider Mongols as some of the greatest builders and destroyers.

Views toward Genghis Khan in the modern day People's Republic of China are ambivalent, with current Chinese historians seeing him as neither strongly positive or negative. While acknowledging the vast amount of damage the Genghis Khan caused, his reputation is somewhat redeemed by the fact that he would set into motion events which would later end the north-south division of China that had begun during the Song Dynasty. In addition, to vilify Genghis would greatly offend Chinese citizens of Mongol descent, who like their relations in Mongolia regard Genghis Khan as an ethnic folk hero, and so the tendency in modern Chinese histories has been to avoid doing so.


Genghis Khan's successors expanded the empire even further, into south China, Russia, Iraq, Korea, and Tibet. The Mongols eventually conquered Poland and Hungary under Batu Khan's rule, and (with varying degrees of success) Syria, Japan, and Vietnam. The European expansion came to halt when high-ranking members of Mongols returned to modern day Mongolia to participate in selection of the next great Khan. The Mongols might have been ready to conquer all of Europe, having conquered Poland and Hungary in a month. The Mongol Empire reached its height under Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan, but broke apart into separate and less powerful khanates shortly afterward.

At its height, the Mongol Empire stretched from Southeast Asia to Europe, covering 35 million square kilometers (13.8 million square miles), little less than the British Empire with its 14.1 million square miles, or 36 million square kilometers. According to some sources, the empire encompassed almost 50% of the world population and included the most advanced and populous nations of that time; China and many of the main contemporary states of the Islamic world in Iraq, Persia, and Asia Minor.

It can't be denied that Genghis Khan's waging of war was characterized by wholesale destruction on unprecedented scale and radically changed the demographic situation in Asia. According to the works of Iranian historian Rashid-ad-Din Fadl Allah , Mongols killed over 70,000 people in Merv and more than a million in Nishapur. China suffered a drastic decline in population. Before the Mongol invasion, China had about 100 million inhabitants; after the complete conquest in 1279, the census in 1300 showed it to have roughly 60 million people. This does not, of course, mean that Genghis Khan's men were directly responsible for the deaths of 40 million people but it does give a sense of the ferocity of the onslaught.

In recent times, Genghis Khan has become a symbol for Mongolia's attempts to regain its identity after many long years of Communism under Russia. Genghis Khan's face appears on Mongolian bank notes and vodka labels. Later Mongol Khans encouraged the people to even worship Genghis Khan as a religious entity throughout the empire. Without Genghis Khan, there would seem to be no Mongolia, as the Mongol Empire consistenly shrank from what was built by Genghis Khan when he was titled in 1206.

A recent genetic survey (Zerjal et al. 2003, pdf of paper) found a cluster of Y chromosome variants in 1/12 of the men in the area of the Mongol Empire, and 1/200 of men worldwide. The age of the cluster, estimated from the mutation rate, places its origin around the time of Genghis Khan, and it is especially common among the Hazara people, who claim to be descended from Genghis Khan, which has traditionally been rejected by most scientists because it was assumed to be local folklore.

He is remembered for his wholesale destruction, his strong willpower, persuasiveness, but in Eastern Asia also for his achievements as a unifying, even cosmopolitan ruler, who nonetheless valued his Mongol identity over all. He is by far one of the most popular military leaders.

See also

External links


  • Zerjal, Tatiana, Yali Xue, Giorgio Bertorelle, R. Spencer Wells, Weidong Bao, Suling Zhu, Raheel Qamar, Qasim Ayub, Aisha Mohyuddin, Songbin Fu, Pu Li, Nadira Yuldasheva, Ruslan Ruzibakiev, Jiujin Xu, Qunfang Shu, Ruofu Du, Huanming Yang, Matthew E. Hurles, Elizabeth Robinson, Tudevdagva Gerelsaikhan, Bumbein Dashnyam, S. Qasim Mehdi, and Chris Tyler-Smith. 2003. The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols. The American Journal of Human Genetics 72:718-721
  • "Mongol Arms." Mongol Arms. Accessed on June 24, 2003.
  • Weatherford, Jack. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, 2004.

Further reading

  • Cable, Mildred and French, Francesca. 1943. The Gobi Desert. London. Landsborough Publications.
  • Man, John. 1997. Gobi : Tracking the Desert. Weidenfield & Nicolson. Paperback by Phoenix, Orion Books. London. 1998.
  • Stewart, Stanley. 2001. In the Empire of Genghis Khan: A Journey among Nomads. HarperCollinsPublishers, London. ISBN 0-00-653027-3.

Preceded by:
Great Khan of Mongol Empire
Succeeded by:
Ogedei Khan

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