Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan

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Genghis Khan

It was said by a Mongolian Shaman, that the Eternal Blue Sky set the world aside for Genghis Khan. That statement rings quite true, for within his 65 years of life, Genghis Khan united the fragmented Mongolian people, conqueror most of Northern and Western China, and subjugated nearly all of the Eurasian steppe. At the time of his death, the empire spanned from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan, making it the largest contiguous empire in history.


Genghis Khan was born under the name of Temüjin, in 1162. He was the son of a tribe leader, who live a comfortable life until the age of 10, when his father was assassinated. Following the assassination, his family was ostracized by the tribe, they were forced to fend for themselves. For many years the family lived in poverty, foraging and hunting for what little they could. It was during this time that Temüjin’s became the patriarch of the family, after he murdered his older brother over a hunting dispute. Sometime during this period, Temüjin’s family managed to reconnect with an old friend of his father, the Khan of the Keraites, who offered the family his protection. This bond was tested in 1178, when Temüjin’s first wife was kidnapped by a rival tribe, the Merkits. Aided by the Keraites, the rescue mission was successful, bringing great renown to Temüjin. Somewhere between 1178 and 1186, Temüjin returned to his tribe, where he was elected Khan of the Mongols. With a tribe of his own, Temüjin was able to begin to expand his power. The first opportunity, arrived when his old friend turned enemy, the Khan of Jadaran, declared war on him. Using his newly assembled 20,000 man army, Temüjin was able to defeat the Jadaran. This first victory, allowed for Temüjin to begin his policy of assimilation, in which he would incorporate defeated tribes into his own. In practical terms, this meant that each time he conquered a tribe his power grew substantially. In 1197, both the Mongols and the Keraites declared a joint war on the Tatar tribe. It was during this war that the Mongols first employed new military tactics (primarily relating to signalling and command structure ), which greatly aided in the defeat of the Tatars. Being that it was the Tatars that had assassinated his father, Temüjin took the opportunity to enact his revenge. He did this by executing any male that was over the size of 3 feet. Following the defeat of the Tatars, Temüjin grew distant from the Keraites, which would lead to a war in 1206. But in the meanwhile, Temüjin conquered the remaining Mongolian tribes (the Merkits, Naimans, and Toghrul). After defeating the Keraites in 1206, Temüjin was given the title, Genghis Khan (“Universal Ruler”), by the Mongol people. With Mongolia fully united, Genghis began to look south, hoping to expand into China. He began this process by attacking the Xi Xia kingdom. Even though greatly outnumbered, the advanced tactics and brutality of the Mongols allowed them to defeat the kingdom, leading their ruler to submit to Mongol rule in 1211. Genghis then turned his attention towards the other North Chinese kingdom, the Jin kingdom. Early in the war the Mongols were able to destroy the main Jin army, leaving them defenseless. The Mongols capitalized on this by beginning a campaign of sieges, which ended with the capture of Beijing in 1215. The fall of Beijing marked a temporary end to the war (the war continue to be waged on and off for the next twenty years), and the surrender of Northern China to the Mongols. The next and arguable greatest war waged by the Mongols was against the Khwarazmian Empire, an Empire in the modern-day area of Turkmenistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. This empire had provoked the Mongols when a governor had killed an envoy of Mongol trade diplomats. When the Shah of the empire refused to give the governor to the Mongols, the Mongols responded with an invasion of 100,000 men. The war lasted from 1219-1221, and is largely considered a one-sided affair in which the Mongols besieged and slaughter city after city (killing the entire population of cities that did not immediately surrender to them). Upon conclusion of the war, Genghis was forced to return East to deal with the revolting Xi Xia kingdom which had allied with the remains of the Jin Empire. The Xi Xia were forced to surrendered in 1227 after their capital was taken. Genghis Khan died shortly after their surrender on August 18, 1227.


Genghis Khan is known to history because of his conquests. But, some of his more obscure contributions to history actually dwarf the significance of his conquests. These contributions are the opening up of trade from East to West, the spreading disease, and lastly the amount of people that he killed in his conquests.

With the Silk road firmly under Mongol control, trade was able to dramatically increase between the East and the West. This occurred for multiple reasons, but they can be simplified into protection, promotion of trade, and infrastructure construction. The Mongols were able to provide protection to traders, because they patrolled trade routes and killed highway men and bandits that they encountered. Since the routes were safer, there were more incentives for trader to move along the trade routes. In addition to the protection, Genghis Khan actually went out of his way to promote trade. He did this because he recognized that in addition to the economic boom that trade brings, it also makes parties reliant on one and other. He hoped that this inter-dependency would lead to greater loyalty among his subjects. Finally, the Mongols actually increased accessibility of trade routes, by building roads. They originally built these roads to serve as communication routes across their vast empire. But they also had the effect of making the terrain more traversal for merchants and other travelers.

The issue with the increase in trade between the East and the West was an increase in the spread of disease. As more and more people traveled between China and Europe a series of deadly disease were exchanged. The most noteworthy of these disease was the Black Plague, which is said to have been brought to the Byzantine Empire by the Mongols. The Black Plague would go on to kill about 50% of the population of Europe, leading to a whole host of social upheavals which completely restructured European society.

The worst thing that Genghis Khan is significant for is the deaths of about 40 million people. Throughout his conquests, Genghis employed a policy of severe cruelty if an enemy did not surrender immediately. This cruelty lead to the complete extermination of cities, meaning the executing of every man, woman, child, and even animals. There are some regions that were at the height of their civilization when the Mongols arrived, and after they left were mere wastelands. Some historians believe that there are some areas that never fully recovered from Genghis’s invasions.

Ultimately, Genghis Khan is significant to history, because he was able to conquer large tracks of territory, he promoted trade from East to West which marked the beginning of the Silk Road, his armies brought new diseases from Asia to the Mediterranean, and his conquests decimated entire regions of the world in ways which they never recovered from.

Genghis Khan’s Treasures

Of all the wonders in The Palace of the Great Khan, the silver fountain most captivated the visiting monk. It took the shape of “a great silver tree, and at its roots are four lions of silver, each with a conduit through it, and all belching forth white milk of mares,” wrote William of Rubruck, a Franciscan friar who toured the Mongol capital, Khara Khorum, in 1254. When a silver angel at the top of the tree trumpeted, still more beverages spouted out of the pipes: wine, clarified mare’s milk, a honey drink, rice mead – take your pick.

The Khans had come a long way in just a few decades. Like the rest of his fierce horsemen, Genghis Khan – whose cavalry pounded across the steppe to conquer much of Central Asia – was born a nomad. When Genghis took power in 1206, Mongolian tribes lived in tents, which they moved while migrating across the grasslands with their livestock. As the empire continued to expand, though, the Khans realized the need for a permanent administrative center. “They had to stop rampaging and start ruling,” says Morris Rossabi, who teaches Asian history at Columbia University. So in 1235, Genghis’s son, Ogodei, began building a city near the Orkhon River, on the wide-open plains.

“It was as if you put Venice in Kansas,” says Don Lessem, producer of a new Genghis Khan exhibit touring the country now.

The ruins now lie beneath sand and scrubby vegetation, but lately there’s been renewed interest in Khara Khorum. A book of new scholarship, “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire,” coming out in June details major finds that archeologists have made in recent years, which shed light on what life was like in the city as the Mongols transitioned from raiders to rulers. The traveling exhibit, at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Texas through September 7, 2009, and then at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for three months starting October 10, 2009, will showcase some of those artifacts for the first time on American soil.

Now archaeologists who’ve worked on the site believe that they might have located The Palace of the Great Khan, home of the fabled silver fountain.

The name Khara Khorum means “black tent,” Rossabi says. Surrounded by tall mud walls, The Mongol capital rose up out of the blank plains.

“It wasn’t Cairo, but people compared it to European cities,” says William W. Fitzhugh, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Natural History and a co-editor of the new book.

People of many nationalities walked its warrens of narrow streets: Chinese, Muslims, even a lone Frenchman -- Guillaume Boucher, the goldsmith who designed the fountain. Many of these foreigners lived in Khara Khorum involuntarily, conscripts from conquered cities. The city layout reflected their diversity: there were mosques, “idol temples” and even a Nestorian Christian church. Archaeologists have found Chinese-style tiles and turret decorations that probably adorned the roofs of buildings.

Khara Khorum was also a trade center and goods from far and wide have been recovered there: silver Muslim coins, pieces of Chinese pottery. The Texas show includes an obsidian mask that likely traveled to Khara Khorum all the way from Egypt, Lessem says.

Genghis Khan’s Secrets of Success

In Bukhara, one of the great cities of the Khwârazmian Empire, the Friday mosque was filled one day in the year 1220, the throng gathering to listen to the man who had just captured their city. The warrior who climbed into the pulpit after dismounting from a small horse was a foreigner, with clothing and armor indicating that he had come from a distant land. The audience of religious leaders, doctors, scholars and other eminent men waited for the strange warrior to speak. Finally he did, speaking through a translator:

O people, know that you have committed great sins, and that the great ones among you have committed these sins. If you ask me what proof I have for these words, I say it is because I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.

The self-styled scourge of God, however, did not come simply to lecture the citizens of Bukhara. His soldiers had plundered the city in a highly organized fashion. Then the people were herded into groups, and those who were not killed immediately were forced to march with the conquerors. These events bewildered the inhabitants, for many of those assembled in the mosque had little idea of who the warrior was or why his army had appeared before the walls of Bukhara. Shortly afterward, their conqueror and his army of Mongols would conquer the rest of the region, and much more. He was called Chinggis Khan.

The Mongol Empire founded by Chinggis Khan (also known as Genghis Khan in the West) became the largest contiguous empire in history, stretching from the Sea of Japan to the Mediterranean Sea and the Carpathian Mountains. At its peak, more than a million men were enrolled in the armies of the khan, or emperor of the Mongol Empire. The Mongol khans were determined to conquer the world, and indeed, with the resources at their disposal, there was little reason for them to fail. The empire did eventually collapse, partially under its own weight, but for more than a century the Mongol khans came close to conquering the world, thanks to their leadership and to the efficacy of their tactics, weapons and strategies.

While many of the tactics used by the Mongols were common on the steppe, the Mongols transformed them into sophisticated operational concepts that were characteristic of a permanent army. The tactics and strategies they developed enabled them to fight on several fronts and allowed a planned, steady expansion of the Mongol Empire rather than haphazard conquests over vast territories. As the Mongols’ methods of war and conquest became increasingly well-organized, the Mongol army evolved from a tribal force into a true army.

Like most steppe armies, the Mongols were primarily light horse archers. Their tactics exploited their abilities with archery and their mobility: They usually stayed out of reach of their opponents’ weapons and used hit-and-run tactics in waves while showering the enemy with arrows. Like the Turkic troops the Crusaders encountered in Anatolia, the Mongols initiated combat at bowshot range. They closed for combat only for the decisive encounter once the enemy’s formation had broken. Often they retreated before the enemy, utilizing the famous “Parthian shot” (a shot fired during a feigned retreat). At the right moment, normally when the enemy forces were drawn out, the Mongols wheeled around and annihilated them. These methods of war were augmented with surprise attacks, ambushes and encirclements, and such tactics ensured the Mongols did not require superior numbers to gain victory.

Arrow Storm and Rolling Barrage

The arrow storm was the most common tactic practiced by the Mongols: They enveloped their enemy, then shot a hail of arrows in such numbers that it seemed a phenomenon of nature. The range at which they attacked in this way varied: At 200 or 300 yards their shooting was still accurate enough to disrupt an enemy formation, and once it broke, the Mongols charged. In the course of an arrow storm, archers did not aim at a specific target, but loosed their arrows at a high trajectory into a predetermined “killing zone” or target area. While this practice probably caused few mortal wounds, it undoubtedly impacted morale as soldiers had to watch arrows wound their comrades while being unable to retaliate.

Concentrated Firepower

While the practice of concentrating firepower certainly existed prior to the Mongols, they were perhaps the first to use it to maximum effect in all aspects of war, from the arrow storm to batteries of siege weapons. At the siege of Nishapur in 1221, the Mongols amassed enough weaponry to overawe its defenders, who were reportedly defended by 300 ballistae and catapults, along with 3,000 crossbows. While those numbers are probably exaggerated, they indicate that the Mongols deployed a large number of siege weapons to demolish walls and pound cities or fortresses into submission.

Caracole Tactics

The Mongols combined the arrow storm with hit-and-run tactics: Approximately 80 men in each jaghun, or company, participated the remaining 20 acted as heavy cavalry. Each jaghun sent 20 men per wave of attackers. The waves fired several arrows as they charged and then circled back to the Mongols’ lines after completing their charge. They loosed their final shot roughly 40 to 50 meters from the enemy lines before wheeling around. This distance was close enough to pierce armor, but distant enough to evade a countercharge. While circling back, the Mongols often used the aforementioned Parthian shot. They changed horses frequently to keep their mounts fresh. Since each man was equipped with 60 arrows, the Mongols could maintain this barrage for almost an hour, and perhaps longer.

They used this technique throughout their era of dominance, as Marco Polo observed in the late 13th century:

When they come to an engagement with the enemy, they will gain the victory in this fashion. [They never let themselves get into a regular medley, but keep perpetually riding round and shooting into the enemy. And] as they do not count it any shame to run away in battle, they will [sometimes pretend to] do so, and in running away they turn in the saddle and shoot hard and strong at the foe, and in this way make great havoc.

Feigned Retreat

The feigned retreat was a classic tactic of steppe warfare practiced since ancient times: A token force charged the enemy and then retreated, pulling the enemy after them in pursuit. The retreat might extend a great distance in order to stretch the enemy’s ranks and formations. Then at a prearranged location, other Mongol forces attacked from the flanks while the initial force wheeled around and attacked the enemy’s front.

Perhaps the most renowned use of the feigned retreat took place in 1223, when Mongol generals Jebe and Sübedei encountered a combined army of Kipchak Turks and Rus’ along the Dnieper River. The Mongols retreated, luring the Kipchaks and Rus’ several days deeper into the steppe until they reached the Kalka River. Here the main Mongol force waited and promptly destroyed the allied force.

Marco Polo also remarked on the effectiveness of the feigned retreat:

Thus they fight to as good purpose in running away as if they stood and faced the enemy, because of the vast volleys of arrows that they shoot in this way, turning round upon their pursuers, who are fancying that they have won the battle. But when the Tartars see that they have killed and wounded a good many horses and men, they wheel round bodily and return to the charge in perfect order and with loud cries and in a very short time the enemy are routed.

Fabian Tactics

At times the Mongols avoided combat with the enemy until they found an ideal location for battle or had regrouped far-flung forces to confront their opponent. This tactic differed from the feigned retreat Fabian tactics involved the avoidance of all direct contact with the enemy. The Mongol army often divided into small groups to avoid being surrounded, but then they regrouped and launched a surprise attack on the enemy at a more opportune time. Fabian tactics also exhausted the enemy through avoidance of combat, particularly when the enemy forces maintained a strong defensive posture, whether in the open or in a fortress. As long as the Mongols remained in the vicinity, the constant stress of anticipating an attack wore down the enemy.

When the Mongols were confronted by an enemy who, for instance, planted spears in the ground to prevent cavalry charges, they responded by withdrawing the bulk of their forces, leaving behind a few detachments to harass the enemy. Eventually, their enemy—having either decided that the main Mongol force had withdrawn for strategic reasons or had moved away because of hunger or thirst—emerged from their defenses. Then the main Mongol force would return to destroy them.

Flanking Tactics and Double Envelopment

Chinggis Khan used encircling tactics on several occasions. He sought to encircle his enemies, especially if their flanks and rear were exposed or, in the case of sieges, if the defenders were weak. When he was confronted by an enemy army that was using features of the terrain—a river, for instance—to its advantage, he attempted to encircle it on both sides of the riverbank.

The Mongols sometimes confused their enemy by feinting at the front and then unleashing the main attack on their rear. By attacking from several directions, the Mongols gave the enemy the impression that they were surrounded. By leaving a gap in the encirclement, the Mongols allowed the enemy what looked like a means of escape. In reality, the gap served as a trap. In their panic and desire to get away, the enemy rarely maintained their discipline and often discarded their weapons to flee faster. The Mongols then attacked from the rear much like they did to the Hungarians at Mohi in 1241. Mongol scholar Dalantai called this the “Open-the-End Tactic” and noted that the Mongols used it if the enemy seemed to be very strong and might fight to the death when trapped.

The practice of double envelopment or even encirclement, while a traditional method employed on the steppe, also stems from the Mongols’ training in the nerge or the battue style of hunting. Just as in the nerge, the warriors gradually tightened their circle around their prey, forming a dense mass from which it was difficult to escape. The Mongols did not always require large numbers of troops to achieve this their archery skills and mobility allowed them to encircle an enemy force even when they were outnumbered.

The nerge used in military operations essentially served as a double envelopment tactic, in which the wings of the Mongol army would wrap around an opposing army. At times the Mongols used it as a strategy on a broader front during an invasion, as they did when they attacked the Rus’ lands. After the capture of the city of Vladimir in 1237, “They turned back from there and held a council, deciding that they would proceed tümän by tümän in järge formation and take and destroy every town, province and fortress they came to.” In this fashion the Mongols encircled an area, then gradually closed in so that avenues of escape narrowed as they would in a battle.

In some instances, the Mongols sent a force of prisoners and conscripted levies to attack the enemy front, backed of course by Mongol troops to ensure the levy performed its duty. Meanwhile, Mongol columns marched out of sight until they reappeared on the flanks or in the rear of the enemy.

Siege Warfare

In the early days of the Mongol conquests, siege warfare was a weakness that Chinggis Khan and his generals had to overcome if they were to hold territory. As their success grew against their sedentary opponents, the Mongols incorporated engineers—either conscripted or volunteers—into their armies. For the entire existence of the Mongol Empire, they were dependent on Muslim and Chinese engineers who manned and manufactured artillery and other siege equipment.

The Mongols delayed sieges until the later part of a campaign. They began a campaign with the reduction of smaller outlying places before concentrating their armies on a greater target. Thus they ensured that they had sufficient manpower to besiege the larger towns. When they came up against an inaccessible city or fortress, the Mongols set up a blockade in order to starve an enemy into surrendering. They also dealt with strongholds by bypassing them once these were isolated, they lost their strategic importance. If the Mongols found they could not reduce the city or fortress, they often built a counter fortress to blockade it and waited until the enemy succumbed to hunger or agreed to a diplomatic settlement.

Prior to a siege, the Mongols collected numerous captives and conscripts from previously conquered cities and villages. These people served as forced labor and arrow fodder. After seizing a city, town or village, the Mongols divided the population into units of 10, and each Mongol soldier received a unit. These levies gathered grass, wood, earth and stone. If any of the captives fell behind during the march, the Mongols executed them. When the levies arrived at the city that was to be attacked, they filled the moat or defensive trench quickly with stones and other materials they carried—bundles of straw, wood and debris—so the Mongols could reach the walls. Captives were also forced to dig trenches and erect defenses and to undertake any other tasks that were necessary.

During a siege, the Mongols compelled prisoners to build siege engines, presumably under the direction of their Chinese or Persian engineers. With these engines and their own bows, the Mongols maintained a constant barrage on the city in order to prevent the enemy from resting. The Mongols also used naphtha and possibly Greek fire, and the Franciscan friar John de Plano Carpini noted a more gruesome fuel. According to him, “They even take the fat of the people they kill and, melting it, throw it on to the house, and wherever the fire falls on this fat, it is almost inextinguishable.”

Prisoners were forced to take an active part in the sieges. They carried battering rams which were operated under the cover of a canopy or perhaps a more hardened shelter. If the captives tried to run away, they were put to death. Thus they had a choice of certain death at the hands of the Mongols or probable death at the hands of the defenders of the city.

In addition to using catapults and rams to weaken the walls of a city, the Mongols dug tunnels to undermine them. If a river ran near a city—as in Xixia, for instance—they would dam it and flood the streets. The conscripted levies did most of the dangerous work, and the Mongols only exposed themselves when they were required to engage in combat. During a siege they tended to stay out of the range of fire from the city, thereby conserving their own troops while letting auxiliaries and local levies perform the most perilous jobs. Finally, once the wall was breached, the Mongols donned their armor and attacked, often at night.

These tactics were standard operating procedure for the Mongols throughout their conquests. The campaign in Russia demonstrated the sophistication and efficiency of their siege-warfare techniques the siege of Vladimir is a particularly good example: The Mongols isolated the city by surrounding it with a wall before bombarding it with catapults, arrows, fire arrows and attacks by levies with battering rams. Once they had breached a city wall, they mounted a quick assault at night to reduce casualties.

Psychological Tactics and Means of Deception

The Mongols realized it was more efficient to convince a city or fortress to surrender without resistance rather than to be drawn into a siege. As a consequence, the Mongols gained a notorious reputation for massacres. According to some chroniclers, most notably Jûzjânî and the Rus’ chroniclers, the Mongols rarely left a living soul wherever they conquered. Their massacres generally were not carried out in wanton blood lust—but served several purposes: The first was to discourage revolts by hostile populations behind the Mongol armies. Second, as news of the massacres spread, particularly in cases where the defenders had put up a determined resistance, other cities and peoples were intimidated and chose to surrender to the Mongols. Finally, a massacre served as a powerful deterrent to rebellion. According to anthropologist Thomas Barfield, the Mongols

…were extremely conscious of their small numbers and employed terror as a tool to discourage resistance against them. Cities…that surrendered and then revolted were put to the sword. The Mongols could not maintain strong garrisons and so preferred to wipe out whole areas that appeared troublesome. Such behavior was inexplicable to sedentary historians for whom conquest of productive populations was the goal of warfare.

In addition, the Mongols used propaganda and often spread rumors in advance that exaggerated the size of their army. In 1258 Möngke invaded Szechuan with 40,000, but spread rumors of 100,000. The Mongols resorted to other subterfuges to confuse and intimidate their enemies. When he fought the Naiman in 1204, Chinggis Khan ordered his soldiers to set up camp on the Sa’ari Steppe in western Mongolia, and in order to hide the true size of his army, he commanded that each soldier should light five campfires, giving the impression of a more numerous army. When confronting numerically superior forces, the Mongols often sent troops back to stir up dust behind their own lines by means of branches tied to the tails of their horses, to create the illusion of approaching reinforcements. They also mounted dummies on their spare horses, and rode in single file to mask their numbers at a distance.

The Mongols sought to weaken their opponents by promoting discord or rebellion and by courting the support of oppressed minorities (or majorities). While the Mongols made good use of their reputation for extreme brutality, they also pains to portray themselves as liberators when circumstances warranted. They also played rivals off against one another. As the French knight Jean de Joinville once wrote, “Whenever the Mongols wish to make war on the Saracens, they send Christians to fight against them, and on the other hand employ Saracens in any war against Christians.”

Supernatural Tactics

The Mongols resorted to supernatural means to assure their success. They asked Tenggri, or Heaven, for favor on the battlefield in the same way Muslim and Christian armies appealed to their god before battle. The Mongols also employed other supernatural tactics, the most important of which was weather magic conducted by a shaman known as the jadaci. The jadaci used special rocks, thought to be imbued with the power to control weather and known as “rain stones,” in order to summon rainstorms, or even snowstorms in the summer, which caught the enemy ill-prepared. During the storm, the Mongols, who had lured their opponents away from their base, would take shelter and then attack while the enemy was disoriented.

The most effective strategies in war exploit the strengths of the army, and for the Mongols this meant a strategy of high mobility. The horses used by the Mongols were surpassed in strength and speed by those of sedentary armies, but they were superior in endurance, and the Mongols had more of them. The average trooper in the Mongol army possessed three to five mounts, so he could remain mobile even if one or two of his mounts were lost or exhausted. In consequence the Mongols engaged in a highly mobile style of warfare that was not employed again until the 20th century, when armies were mechanized.

When preparing for war, the Mongols took several steps. First, they conducted a census in order to organize the mobilization of their troops. They also accumulated intelligence on their opponents. Only after sufficient intelligence had been obtained did they make a declaration of hostilities. The declarations of war varied, but by the peak of the empire, they outlined why the Mongols were invading and gave the enemy a few options such as surrendering and providing tribute and troops when requested—or facing destruction. At a quriltai, or Mongol assembly, the strategy for the upcoming war was agreed on and the commanders were chosen. Points of rendezvous were established, and mobilization began in earnest.

Mongol strategy at its best was based on a very careful planning of the military operations to be performed, and the essence of it lay in a very rigid timetable to which all Mongol commanders were expected to adhere strictly.

While timetables were important to Mongol armies, they were not afraid to alter their plans in order to take advantage of favorable weather and other environmental conditions. They sought to attack when their enemies least expected it, even when their own horses were lean or weak, or in the middle of winter. Although campaigns were meticulously planned, the Mongol generals maintained a high degree of independence. They could fulfill their objectives in their own way so long as they abided to the overall timetable.

Travel by Columns

Invading Mongol armies usually followed several routes of advance. Against the Khwârazmian Empire, Chinggis Khan used at least four and perhaps five routes, one of which ran through the Kyzyl Kum desert. During the invasion of Russia, generals Sübedei, Batu and Möngke approached from three directions. Ultimately, as in modern warfare, these columns converged upon a single target, usually the center of power. Against the Khwârazmian Empire it was Samarqand in Europe, Budapest. With their preplanned schedules and their skillful use of scouts, the Mongols marched divided, but fought united. Because their forces marched in small detachments, their advance was not slowed by large columns that stretched for miles, and their opponents were not able to concentrate their forces before the Mongols appeared on many fronts at the same time. While the Mongols were quite capable of concentrating their forces at a critical point in an enemy’s defenses, such as at a strategic fortress or a field army, instead they often overwhelmed their opponents by applying pressure to several points simultaneously.

Annihilation of Field Army

A multi-pronged invasion plan suited the Mongols’ favored method of engaging the enemy—that is, to destroy the opposing field army before moving deep into enemy territory. Screens of scouts ensured that the Mongols could rapidly locate enemy armies. After defeating an army, the Mongols pursued it until it was destroyed. Assaults on enemy strongholds were often delayed by this effort to put the enemy field army out of action. Of course, small fortresses and ones that could be surprised easily were taken in the course of the advance. The Khwârazmian campaign is perhaps the best example of this—smaller cities and fortresses were taken before the capital Samarqand was captured. This strategy had two obvious advantages. First, it prevented the principal city from communicating with other cities that might have come to its aid. Second, refugees from the smaller cities fled to the last stronghold. Reports from the defeated cities and the stream of refugees not only reduced the morale of the inhabitants and the garrison of the principal city, but also strained its resources of food and water. Upon destruction of the field army, the Mongols were then free to lay siege without interference.

Pursuit of Leaders

Once an enemy field army had been defeated, the Mongols concentrated on destroying their opponent’s capacity to rally. They targeted all the enemy leaders and harried them until they were killed. Chinggis Khan first pursued this policy during the wars of unification in Mongolia. In his first few campaigns his failure to eliminate the opposing leaders allowed them to regroup their forces and start the conflict anew. He learned from this experience, and in his later campaigns the merciless pursuit of the enemy commanders evolved into a standard operational procedure.

Key to Success

Altogether, the Mongols possessed a highly developed and complex military structure. This provided them an edge in warfare over their opponents, but a key to Mongol success in war and conquest was the melding of traditional and still effective steppe tactics with new tactics and forms of warfare they encountered. Throughout the expansion of their empire, the Mongols remained pragmatic and open to incorporating new methods of waging war and adopting new weapons and tactics. They ensured their soldiers were properly trained to execute the appropriate tactics when ordered. Finally, due to their extensive planning, the Mongols were better informed about their opponents than most medieval armies. The outcome was that for more than 150 years of conquest from Asia to Europe they suffered no serious defeats.

Originally published in the August 2007 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.

The &aposUniversal Ruler&apos

When Temujin was about 20, he was captured in a raid by former family allies, the Taichi&aposuts, and temporarily enslaved. He escaped with the help of a sympathetic captor, and joined his brothers and several other clansmen to form a fighting unit. Temujin began his slow ascent to power by building a large army of more than 20,000 men. He set out to destroy traditional divisions among the various tribes and unite the Mongols under his rule.

Through a combination of outstanding military tactics and merciless brutality, Temujin avenged his father&aposs murder by decimating the Tatar army, and ordered the killing of every Tatar male who was more than approximately 3 feet tall (taller than the linchpin, or axle pin, of a wagon wheel). Temujin&aposs Mongols then defeated the Taichi&aposut using a series of massive cavalry attacks, including having all of the Taichi&aposut chiefs boiled alive. By 1206, Temujin had also defeated the powerful Naiman tribe, thus giving him control of central and eastern Mongolia.

The early success of the Mongol army owed much to the brilliant military tactics of Genghis Khan, as well as his understanding of his enemies&apos motivations. He employed an extensive spy network and was quick to adopt new technologies from his enemies. The well-trained Mongol army of 80,000 fighters coordinated their advance with a sophisticated signaling system of smoke and burning torches. Large drums sounded commands to charge, and further orders were conveyed with flag signals. Every soldier was fully equipped with a bow, arrows, a shield, a dagger and a lasso. He also carried large saddlebags for food, tools and spare clothes. The saddlebag was waterproof and could be inflated to serve as a life preserver when crossing deep and swift-moving rivers. Cavalrymen carried a small sword, javelins, body armor, a battle-ax or mace, and a lance with a hook to pull enemies off of their horses. The Mongols were devastating in their attacks. Because they could maneuver a galloping horse using only their legs, their hands were free to shoot arrows. The entire army was followed by a well-organized supply system of oxcarts carrying food for soldiers and beasts alike, as well as military equipment, shamans for spiritual and medical aid, and officials to catalog the booty.

Following the victories over the rival Mongol tribes, other tribal leaders agreed to peace and bestowed on Temujin the title of "Genghis Khan," which means "universal ruler." The title carried not only political importance, but also spiritual significance. The leading shaman declared Genghis Khan the representative of Mongke Koko Tengri (the "Eternal Blue Sky"), the supreme god of the Mongols. With this declaration of divine status, it was accepted that his destiny was to rule the world. Religious tolerance was practiced in the Mongol Empire, but to defy the Great Khan was equal to defying the will of God. It was with such religious fervor that Genghis Khan is supposed to have said to one of his enemies, "I am the flail of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you."



Genghis Khan was related on his father's side to Khabul Khan, Ambaghai, and Hotula Khan, who had headed the Khamag Mongol confederation and were descendants of Bodonchar Munkhag (c. 900). When the Jurchen Jin dynasty switched support from the Mongols to the Tatars in 1161, they destroyed Khabul Khan. [22] [23]

Genghis Khan's father, Yesügei (leader of the Kiyat-Borjigin [10] clan and nephew to Ambaghai and Hotula Khan), emerged as the head of the ruling Mongol clan. This position was contested by the rival Tayichi'ud clan, who descended directly from Ambaghai. When the Tatars grew too powerful after 1161, the Jin switched their support from the Tatars to the Keraites. [24] [25]


Little is known about Genghis Khan's early life, due to the lack of contemporary written records. The few sources that give insight into this period often contradict.

Temüjin means "blacksmith". [26] According to Rashid al-Din Hamadani, Chinos constituted that branch of the Mongols which existed from Ergenekon through melting the iron mountain side. There existed a tradition which viewed Genghis Khan as a blacksmith. Genghis's given name was Temüjin was equated with Turco-Mongol temürči(n), "blacksmith". Paul Pelliot saw that the tradition according to which Genghis was a blacksmith was unfounded though well established by the middle of the 13th century. [27]

Genghis Khan was probably born in 1162 [note 2] in Delüün Boldog, near the mountain Burkhan Khaldun and the rivers Onon and Kherlen in modern-day northern Mongolia, close to the current capital Ulaanbaatar. The Secret History of the Mongols reports that Temüjin was born grasping a blood clot in his fist, a traditional sign that he was destined to become a great leader. He was the first son of Hoelun, second wife of his father Yesügei, who was a Kiyad chief prominent in the Khamag Mongol confederation and an ally of Toghrul of the Keraite tribe. [28] According to the Secret History, Temüjin was named after the Tatar chief Temüjin-üge whom his father had just captured.

Yesukhei's clan was Borjigin (Боржигин), and Hoelun was from the Olkhunut sub-lineage of the Khongirad tribe. [29] [30] Like other tribes, they were nomads. Temüjin's noble background made it easier for him to solicit help from and eventually consolidate the other Mongol tribes. [31]

Early life and family

Temüjin had three brothers Hasar, Hachiun, and Temüge, one sister Temülen, and two half-brothers Begter and Belgutei. Like many of the nomads of Mongolia, Temüjin's early life was difficult. [32] His father arranged a marriage for him and delivered him at age nine to the family of his future wife Börte of the tribe Khongirad. Temüjin was to live there serving the head of the household Dai Setsen until the marriageable age of 12. [33] [34]

While heading home, his father ran into the neighboring Tatars, who had long been Mongol enemies, and they offered him food that poisoned him. Upon learning this, Temüjin returned home to claim his father's position as chief. But the tribe refused this and abandoned the family, leaving it without protection. [35]

For the next several years, the family lived in poverty, surviving mostly on wild fruits, ox carcasses, marmots, and other small game killed by Temüjin and his brothers. Temüjin's older half-brother Begter began to exercise power as the eldest male in the family and would eventually have the right to claim Hoelun (who was not his own mother) as a wife. [36] Temüjin's resentment erupted during one hunting excursion when Temüjin and his brother Khasar killed Begter. [36]

In a raid around 1177, Temüjin was captured by his father's former allies, the Tayichi'ud, and enslaved, reportedly with a cangue (a sort of portable stocks). With the help of a sympathetic guard, he escaped from the ger (yurt) at night by hiding in a river crevice. [37] The escape earned Temüjin a reputation. Soon, Jelme and Bo'orchu joined forces with him. They and the guard's son Chilaun eventually became generals of Genghis Khan. [38]

At this time, none of the tribal confederations of Mongolia were united politically, and arranged marriages were often used to solidify temporary alliances. Temüjin grew up observing the tough political climate, which included tribal warfare, thievery, raids, corruption, and revenge between confederations, compounded by interference from abroad, such as from China to the south. [39] Temüjin's mother Hoelun taught him many lessons, especially the need for strong alliances to ensure stability in Mongolia. [40]

As was common for powerful Mongol men, Genghis Khan had many wives and concubines. [41] [42] He frequently acquired wives and concubines from empires and societies that he had conquered, these women were often princesses or queens that were taken captive or gifted to him. [42] Genghis Khan gave several of his high-status wives their own ordos or camps to live in and manage. Each camp also contained junior wives, concubines, and even children. It was the job of the Kheshig (Mongol imperial guard) to protect the yurts of Genghis Khan's wives. The guards had to pay particular attention to the individual yurt and camp in which Genghis Khan slept, which could change every night as he visited different wives. [43] When Genghis Khan set out on his military conquests, he usually took one wife with him and left the rest of his wives (and concubines) to manage the empire in his absence. [44]


The marriage between Börte and Genghis Khan (then known as Temüjin) was arranged by her father and Yesügei, Temüjin's father, when she was 10 and he was 9 years old. [45] [46] Temüjin stayed with her and her family until he was called back to take care of his mother and younger siblings, due to the poisoning of Yesügei by Tatar nomads. [47] In 1178, about 7 years later, Temüjin traveled downstream along the Kelüren River to find Börte. When Börte's father saw that Temüjin had returned to marry Börte, he had the pair "united as man and wife". With the permission of her father, Temüjin took Börte and her mother to live in his family yurt. Börte's dowry was a fine black sable jacket. [48] [49] Soon after the marriage between them took place, the Three Merkits attacked their family camp at dawn and kidnapped Börte. [50] She was given to one of their warriors as a spoil of war. Temüjin was deeply distressed by the abduction of his wife and remarked that his "bed was made empty" and his "breast was torn apart". [51] Temüjin rescued her several months later with the aid of his allies Wang Khan and Jamukha. [52] Many scholars describe this event as one of the key crossroads in Temüjin's life, which moved him along the path towards becoming a conqueror.

“As the pillaging and plundering went on, Temüjin moved among the people that were hurriedly escaping, calling, ‘Börte, Börte!’ And so he came upon her, for Lady Börte was among those fleeing people. She heard the voice of Temüjin and, recognizing it, she got off the cart and came running towards him. Although it was still night, Lady Börte and Qo’aqčin both recognized Temüjin’s reins and tether and grabbed them. It was moonlight he looked at them, recognized Lady Börte, and they fell into each other’s arms.” -The Secret History of the Mongols [51]

Börte was held captive for eight months, and gave birth to Jochi soon after she was rescued. This left doubt as to who the father of the child was, because her captor took her as a "wife" and could have possibly impregnated her. [50] Despite this, Temüjin let Jochi remain in the family and claimed him as his own son. Börte had three more sons, Chagatai (1183–1242), Ögedei (1186–1241), and Tolui (1191–1232). Temüjin had many other children with other wives, but they were excluded from the succession, only Börte's sons could be considered to be his heirs. Börte was also the mother to several daughters, Kua Ujin Bekhi, Alakhai Bekhi, Alaltun, Checheikhen, Tümelün, and Tolai. However, the poor survival of Mongol records means it is unclear whether she gave birth to all of them. [53]


During his military campaign against the Tatars, Temüjin fell in love with Yesugen and took her in as a wife. She was the daughter of a Tatar leader named Yeke Cheren that Temüjin's army had killed during battle. After the military campaign against the Tatars was over, Yesugen, one of the survivors went to Temüjin, who slept with her. According to the Secret History of the Mongols, while they were having sex Yesugen asked Temüjin to treat her well and to not discard her. When Temüjin seemed to agree with this, Yesugen recommended that he also marry her sister Yesui. [54]

Being loved by him, Yisügen Qatun said, ‘If it pleases the Qa’an, he will take care of me, regarding me as a human being and a person worth keeping. But my elder sister, who is called Yisüi, is superior to me: she is indeed fit for a ruler.’

Both the Tatar sisters, Yesugen and Yesui, became a part of Temüjin's principal wives and were given their own camps to manage. Temüjin also took a third woman from the Tatars, an unknown concubine. [56]


At the recommendation of her sister Yesugen, Temüjin had his men track down and kidnap Yesui. When she was brought to Temüjin, he found her every bit as pleasing as promised and so he married her. [57] The other wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of the Tatars had been parceled out and given to Mongol men. [56] The Tatar sisters, Yesugen and Yesui, were two of Genghis Khan's most influential wives. Genghis Khan took Yesui with him when he set out on his final expedition against the Tangut empire. [58]


Khulan entered Mongol history when her father, the Merkit leader Dayir Usan, surrendered to Temüjin in the winter of 1203–04 and gave her to him. But at least according to the Secret History of the Mongols, Khulan and her father were detained by Naya'a, one of Temüjin's officers, who was apparently trying to protect them from Mongol soldiers who were nearby. After they arrived three days later than expected, Temüjin suspected that Naya'a was motivated by his carnal feelings towards Khulan to help her and her father. While Temüjin was interrogating Naya'a, Khulan spoke up in his defense and invited Temüjin to have sex with her and inspect her virginity personally, which pleased him. [59]

In the end Temüjin accepted Dayir Usan's surrender and Khulan as his new wife. However, Dayir Usan later retracted his surrender but he and his subjects were eventually subdued, his possessions plundered, and he himself killed. Temüjin continued to carry out military campaigns against the Merkits until their final dispersal in 1218. Khulan was able to achieve meaningful status as one of Temüjin's wives and managed one of the large wifely camps, in which other wives, concubines, children and animals lived. She gave birth to a son named Gelejian, who went on to participate with Börte's sons in their father's military campaigns. [60]

Möge Khatun

Möge Khatun was a concubine of Genghis Khan and she later became a wife of his son Ögedei Khan. [61] The Persian historian Ata-Malik Juvayni records that Möge Khatun "was given to Chinggis Khan by a chief of the Bakrin tribe, and he loved her very much." Ögedei favored her as well and she accompanied him on his hunting expeditions. [62] She is not recorded as having any children. [63]


Juerbiesu was an empress of Qara Khitai, Mongol Empire, and Naiman. She was a renowned beauty on the plains. She was originally a favored concubine of Inanch Bilge khan and after his death, she became the consort of his son Tayang Khan. Since Tayang Khan was a useless ruler, Juerbiesu was in control of almost all power in Naiman politics. [64]

She had a daughter named Princess Hunhu (渾忽公主) with Yelü Zhilugu, the ruler of Liao. After Genghis Khan destroyed the Naiman tribe and Tayang Khan was killed, Juerbiesu made several offensive remarks regarding Mongols, describing their clothes as dirty and smelly. Yet, she abruptly rescinded her claims and visited Genghis Khan's tent alone. He questioned her about the remarks but was immediately attracted to her beauty. After spending the night with him, Juerbiesu promised to serve him well and he took her as one of his empresses. Her status was only inferior to Khulan and Borte. [ citation needed ]

Ibaqa Beki

Ibaqa was the eldest daughter of the Kerait leader Jakha Gambhu, who allied with Genghis Khan to defeat the Naimans in 1204. As part of the alliance, Ibaqa was given to Genghis Khan as a wife. [65] She was the sister of Begtütmish, who married Genghis Khan's son Jochi, and Sorghaghtani Beki, who married Genghis Khan's son Tolui. [65] [66] After about two years of childless marriage, Genghis Khan abruptly divorced Ibaqa and gave her to the general Jürchedei, a member of the Uru'ut clan and who had killed Jakha Gambhu after the latter turned against Genghis Khan. [65] [67] The exact reason for this remarriage is unknown: According to The Secret History of the Mongols, Genghis Khan gave Ibaqa to Jürchedei as a reward for his service in wounding Nilga Senggum in 1203 and, later, in killing Jakha Gambhu. [65] Conversely, Rashid al-Din in Jami' al-tawarikh claims that Genghis Khan divorced Ibaqa due to a nightmare in which God commanded him to give her away immediately, and Jürchedei happened to be guarding the tent. [65] Regardless of the rationale, Genghis Khan allowed Ibaqa to keep her title as Khatun even in her remarriage, and asked that she would leave him a token of her dowry by which he could remember her. [65] [67] The sources also agree that Ibaqa was quite wealthy. [68]

In the early 12th century, the Central Asian plateau north of China was divided into several prominent tribal confederations, including Naimans, Merkits, Tatars, Khamag Mongols, and Keraites, that were often unfriendly towards each other, as evidenced by random raids, revenge attacks, and plundering.

Early attempts at power

Temüjin began his ascent to power by offering himself as an ally (or, according to other sources, a vassal) to his father's anda (sworn brother or blood brother) Toghrul, who was Khan of the Keraites, and is better known by the Chinese title "Wang Khan", which the Jurchen Jin dynasty granted him in 1197. This relationship was first reinforced when Börte was captured by the Merkits. Temüjin turned to Toghrul for support, and Toghrul offered 20,000 of his Keraite warriors and suggested that Temüjin involve his childhood friend Jamukha, who had himself become Khan of his own tribe, the Jadaran. [69]

Although the campaign rescued Börte and utterly defeated the Merkits, it also paved the way for the split between Temüjin and Jamukha. Before this, they were blood brothers (anda) vowing to remain eternally faithful.

Rift with Jamukha and defeat at Dalan Balzhut

As Jamukha and Temüjin drifted apart in their friendship, each began consolidating power, and they became rivals. Jamukha supported the traditional Mongolian aristocracy, while Temüjin followed a meritocratic method, and attracted a broader range and lower class of followers. [70] Following his earlier defeat of the Merkits, and a proclamation by the shaman Kokochu that the Eternal Blue Sky had set aside the world for Temüjin, Temüjin began rising to power. [71] In 1186, Temüjin was elected khan of the Mongols. Threatened by this rise, Jamukha attacked Temujin in 1187 with an army of 30,000 troops. Temüjin gathered his followers to defend against the attack, but was decisively beaten in the Battle of Dalan Balzhut. [71] [72] However, Jamukha horrified and alienated potential followers by boiling 70 young male captives alive in cauldrons. [73] Toghrul, as Temüjin's patron, was exiled to the Qara Khitai. [74] The life of Temüjin for the next 10 years is unclear, as historical records are mostly silent on that period. [74]

Return to power

Around the year 1197, the Jin initiated an attack against their formal vassal, the Tatars, with help from the Keraites and Mongols. Temüjin commanded part of this attack, and after victory, he and Toghrul were restored by the Jin to positions of power. [74] The Jin bestowed Toghrul with the honorable title of Ong Khan, and Temüjin with a lesser title of j'aut quri. [75]

Around 1200, the main rivals of the Mongol confederation (traditionally the "Mongols") were the Naimans to the west, the Merkits to the north, the Tanguts to the south, and the Jin to the east.

In his rule and his conquest of rival tribes, Temüjin broke with Mongol tradition in a few crucial ways. He delegated authority based on merit and loyalty, rather than family ties. [76] As an incentive for absolute obedience and the Yassa code of law, Temüjin promised civilians and soldiers wealth from future war spoils. When he defeated rival tribes, he did not drive away their soldiers and abandon their civilians. Instead, he took the conquered tribe under his protection and integrated its members into his own tribe. He would even have his mother adopt orphans from the conquered tribe, bringing them into his family. These political innovations inspired great loyalty among the conquered people, making Temüjin stronger with each victory. [76]

Rift with Toghrul

Senggum, son of Toghrul (Wang Khan), envied Genghis Khan's growing power and affinity with his father. He allegedly planned to assassinate Genghis Khan. Although Toghrul was allegedly saved on multiple occasions by Genghis Khan, he gave in to his son [77] and became uncooperative with Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan learned of Senggum's intentions and eventually defeated him and his loyalists.

One of the later ruptures between Genghis Khan and Toghrul was Toghrul's refusal to give his daughter in marriage to Jochi, Genghis Khan's first son. This was disrespectful in Mongolian culture and led to a war. Toghrul allied with Jamukha, who already opposed Genghis Khan's forces. However, the dispute between Toghrul and Jamukha, plus the desertion of a number of their allies to Genghis Khan, led to Toghrul's defeat. Jamukha escaped during the conflict. This defeat was a catalyst for the fall and eventual dissolution of the Keraite tribe. [78]

After conquering his way steadily through the Alchi Tatars, Keraites, and Uhaz Merkits and acquiring at least one wife each time, Temüjin turned to the next threat on the steppe, the Turkic Naimans under the leadership of Tayang Khan with whom Jamukha and his followers took refuge. [60] The Naimans did not surrender, although enough sectors again voluntarily sided with Genghis Khan.

In 1201, a khuruldai elected Jamukha as Gür Khan, "universal ruler", a title used by the rulers of the Qara Khitai. Jamukha's assumption of this title was the final breach with Genghis Khan, and Jamukha formed a coalition of tribes to oppose him. Before the conflict, several generals abandoned Jamukha, including Subutai, Jelme's well-known younger brother. After several battles, Jamukha was turned over to Genghis Khan by his own men in 1206. [ citation needed ]

According to the Secret History, Genghis Khan again offered his friendship to Jamukha. Genghis Khan had killed the men who betrayed Jamukha, stating that he did not want disloyal men in his army. Jamukha refused the offer, saying that there can only be one sun in the sky, and he asked for a noble death. The custom was to die without spilling blood, specifically by having one's back broken. Jamukha requested this form of death, although he was known to have boiled his opponents' generals alive. [ citation needed ]

Sole ruler of the Mongol plains (1206)

The part of the Merkit clan that sided with the Naimans were defeated by Subutai, who was by then a member of Genghis Khan's personal guard and later became one of Genghis Khan's most successful commanders. The Naimans' defeat left Genghis Khan as the sole ruler of the Mongol steppe – all the prominent confederations fell or united under his Mongol confederation.

Accounts of Genghis Khan's life are marked by claims of a series of betrayals and conspiracies. These include rifts with his early allies such as Jamukha (who also wanted to be a ruler of Mongol tribes) and Wang Khan (his and his father's ally), his son Jochi, and problems with the most important shaman, who allegedly tried to drive a wedge between him and his loyal brother Khasar. His military strategies showed a deep interest in gathering intelligence and understanding the motivations of his rivals, exemplified by his extensive spy network and Yam route systems. He seemed to be a quick student, adopting new technologies and ideas that he encountered, such as siege warfare from the Chinese. He was also ruthless, demonstrated by his tactic of measuring against the linchpin, used against the tribes led by Jamukha.

As a result, by 1206, Genghis Khan had managed to unite or subdue the Merkits, Naimans, Mongols, Keraites, Tatars, Uyghurs, and other disparate smaller tribes under his rule. This was a monumental feat. It resulted in peace between previously warring tribes, and a single political and military force. The union became known as the Mongols. At a Khuruldai, a council of Mongol chiefs, Genghis Khan was acknowledged as Khan of the consolidated tribes and took the new title "Genghis Khan". The title Khagan was conferred posthumously by his son and successor Ögedei who took the title for himself (as he was also to be posthumously declared the founder of the Yuan dynasty).

According to the Secret History of the Mongols, the chieftains of the conquered tribes pledged to Genghis Khan by proclaiming:

"We will make you Khan you shall ride at our head, against our foes. We will throw ourselves like lightning on your enemies. We will bring you their finest women and girls, their rich tents like palaces." [79] [80]

Genghis Khan was a Tengrist, but was religiously tolerant and interested in learning philosophical and moral lessons from other religions. He consulted Buddhist monks (including the Zen monk Haiyun), Muslims, Christian missionaries, and the Taoist monk Qiu Chuji. [81]

According to the Fozu Lidai Tongzai written by Nian Chang (b. 1282) Genghis Khan's viceroy Muqali was pacifying Shanxi in 1219, the homeland of Zen Buddhist monk Haiyun (海雲, 1203–1257), when one of Muqali's Chinese generals, impressed with Haiyun and his master Zhongguan's demeanor, recommended them to Muqali. Muqali then reported on the two to Genghis Khan who issued the following decree on their behalf: "They truly are men who pray to Heaven. I should like to support them with clothes and food and make them chiefs. I'm planning on gathering many of this kind of people. While praying to Heaven, they should not have difficulties imposed on them. To forbid any mistreatment, they will be authorized to act as darqan (possessor of immunity)." Genghis Khan had already met Haiyun in 1214 and been impressed by his reply refusing to grow his hair in the Mongol hairstyle and allowed him to keep his head shaven. [82] After the death of his master Zhongguan in 1220, Haiyun became the head of the Chan (Chinese Zen) school during Genghis Khan's rule and was repeatedly recognized as the chief monk in Chinese Buddhism by subsequent Khans until 1257 when he was succeeded as chief monk by another Chan master Xueting Fuyu the Mongol-appointed abbot of Shaolin monastery. [83]

Genghis Khan summoned and met the Daoist master Qiu Chuji (1148–1227) in Afghanistan in 1222. He thanked Qiu Chuji for accepting his invitation and asked if Qiu Chuji had brought the medicine of immortality with him. Qiu Chuji said there was no such thing as a medicine of immortality but that life can be extended through abstinence. Genghis Khan appreciated his honest reply and asked Qiu Chuji who it is that calls him eternal heavenly man, he himself or others. [84] After Qiu Chuji replied that others call him by that name Genghis Khan decreed that from thenceforth Qiu Chuji should be called "Immortal" and appointed him master of all monks in China, noting that heaven had sent Qiu Chuji to him. Qiu Chuji died in Beijing the same year as Genghis Khan and his shrine became the White Cloud Temple. Following Khans continued appointing Daoist masters of the Quanzhen School at White Cloud Temple. The Daoists lost their privilege in 1258 after the Great Debate organized by Genghis Khan's grandson Möngke Khan when Chinese Buddhists (led by the Mongol-appointed abbot or shaolim zhanglao of Shaolin monastery), Confucians and Tibetan Buddhists allied against the Daoists. Kublai Khan was appointed to preside over this debate (in Shangdu/Xanadu, the third meeting after two debates in Karakorum in 1255 and 1256) in which 700 dignitaries were present. Kublai Khan had already met Haiyun in 1242 and been swayed towards Buddhism. [85]

Genghis Khan's decree exempting Daoists (xiansheng), Buddhists (toyin), Christians (erke'üd) and Muslims (dashmad) from tax duties were continued by his successors until the end of the Yuan dynasty in 1368. All the decrees use the same formula and state that Genghis Khan first gave the decree of exemption. [86] Kublai Khan's 1261 decree in Mongolian appointing the elder of the Shaolin monastery uses the same formula and states "Činggis qan-u jrlg-tur toyid erkegü:d šingšingü:d dašmad aliba alba gubčiri ülü üjen tngri-yi jalbariju bidan-a irüge:r ögün atugai keme:gsen jrlg-un yosuga:r. ene Šaolim janglau-da bariju yabuga:i jrlg ögbei" (According to the decree of Genghis Khan which says may the Buddhists, Christians, Daoists and Muslims be exempt from all taxation and may they pray to God and continue offering us blessings. I have given this decree to the Shaolin elder to carry it). According to Juvaini, Genghis Khan allowed religious freedom to Muslims during his conquest of Khwarezmia "permitting the recitation of the takbir and the azan". However, Rashid-al-Din states there were occasions when Genghis Khan forbade Halal butchering. Kublai Khan revived the decree in 1280 after Muslims refused to eat at a banquet. He forbade Halal butchering and circumcision. The decree of Kublai Khan was revoked after a decade. Genghis Khan met Wahid-ud-Din in Afghanistan in 1221 and asked him if the prophet Muhammad predicted a Mongol conqueror. He was initially pleased with Wahid-ud-Din but then dismissed him from his service saying "I used to consider you a wise and prudent man, but from this speech of yours, it has become evident to me that you do not possess complete understanding and that your comprehension is but small". [87]

Ending slavery

Prior to Genghis Khan, it was common practice to capture a man and use him as a slave in Mongolia. As a result, kidnapping a human would eventually lead to retaliation, ensuing in centuries of feuding among the tribes. Genghis himself was a slave for nearly a decade, and like most reformists, his life experiences influenced his decision.

Genghis Khan outlawed the heinous practice of slavery among Mongols. This resulted in peace and harmony. The social fabric remained intact, and humans no longer had to live in fear of being enslaved.

It should be noted, however, that while he abolished slavery among Mongols, captured women from enemy territories were given to Mongol women as personal attendants and servants.

Genghis and his Y-chromosome

In the study of historical genetics, published in 2003, geneticists focused on Y-chromosomes.

The Y-chromosome passes down directly and only from father to son. The chromosome is basically unchanged, except for random, traceable mutations, called markers.

Once geneticists find a marker, they can trace which males are genetically linked. The Y-chromosome that was traced in the study belongs to sixteen million males in Asia.

There is only one man in history who could father a lot of children all over the Middle East to China. The concerned area corresponds with the area of the Mongol Empire at the time of his death.

Obviously, Genghis Khan had plenty of sex with a huge number of women.

The descendants of Genghis ruled across Asia for centuries after his death. Their position in society meant they could have more women and consequently more children.

For example, Genghis’s son Toshi had forty sons. Genghis’s grandson, Kublai Khan, known for hosting Marco Polo, had twenty-two legitimate sons. Also, he added thirty virgins to his harem each year. Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, was also the direct descendant of Genghis Khan. He had six wives and eighteen children.

For Genghis, a ruler with absolute power and god-like status, getting women was not a problem.

1 Everyone Involved In Burying Him Was Killed

When Genghis Khan died, he wanted to be buried where no one could find his corpse. In honor of his wishes, his body was carried miles into the wilderness by a group of slaves escorted by soldiers.

The slaves buried Genghis Khan in a place no one would ever find. To make sure the slaves would never divulge the secret, the warriors massacred them and threw them into the grave. Then the soldiers rode their horses over it and planted trees on top of it to hide the spot.

When the warriors who buried him made their way back to camp, they were promptly slaughtered as well, just to make sure they would never talk. And so Genghis Khan died in a massacre like the ones that pervaded his life, hidden away in a tomb that has yet to be found.