You’re Probably Pronouncing His Name Wrong
Genghis Wasn’t His Birth Name
Temujin Was Born Destined for Greatness
Temujin Had a Rough Childhood (and Murdered His Half-Brother)
He Was Taught a Great Military Lesson by His Mother
He Married Young and His First Son May Not Have Been His
Temujin/Genghis Had Many Other Wives and Children
While Borte was Temujin’s empress, he took a number of other wives. Some of their names were Kunju, Khulan, Yesugen, Yesulun, Isukhan, Gunju, Abika, Gurbasu, Chaga, and Moge.
Many of these women were taken as war trophies, and it’s not clear that all of these marriages were consensual. They bore him numerous children, including a number of daughters whose names weren’t recorded. For historical purposes, only Borte and her four sons are truly significant.
The Mongols of the 13th Centurty Were in Chaos
Nobody Knows What Genghis Looked Like
Temujin’s First Conquest Was the Tribe Who Stole His Wife
His Own Blood Brother Turned on Him
Temujin Vanished for 10 Years During the Late 1100s
He Got Revenge on His Father’s Killers, Exterminating Their Tribe
Temujin United the Mongol Tribes in 1206, Taking the Khan Title
Genghis Had a Complex Relationship with Culture
Genghis Khan is likely to have been illiterate, but established a tradition of Mongol literacy. He created the yam, a great postal system meant to send written orders to the far-flung outposts of his empire. He also adapted an official script in 1206 upon his election as Khan, and kept written books of his laws – a complex and far-reaching system of edicts called the yassa. Diplomatic exchanges with other empires became a crucial part of Mongol conquest, as Genghis would send letter-bearing emissaries out to empires he sought to sack, demanding they surrender.
At the same time, Genghis and his generals ordered the destruction of countless works of art, priceless artifacts, cultural sites, and precious objects. Chinese, Russian, Persian, and Muslim traditions of printing, sculpture, and painting were subjugated, with their masters almost always killed. While other Mongol leaders appreciate the cultures of the “sedentary people” they wiped out, the Mongols themselves left little in terms of cultural heritage, and almost no written works.
Genghis Khan Never Spilled Royal Blood
Genghis Mongol Completely Reorganized the Mongol Army
After uniting the tribes, Genghis organized his highly-trained warriors into an obedient and disciplined army. The tumen was the largest unit, with 10,000 men, 60% of which were horse archers. The tuman contained 10 minghans, with 1,000 men, and each minghan contained 10 zuuns of 100 men; Ten arbans of ten men each made up a zuun.
Tumens were lead by experienced generals, and often fought in groups of two or three. Men in a unit were given wide latitude to carry out their orders, with virtually no oversight. One rule was rigidly enforced, though – desertion of one man in an arban was punished by the execution of the entire unit.
Many of Genghis’s Best Generals Were Former Foes
The Khan Relied on His Four “Dogs of War”
In The Secret History of the Mongols, the chronicler claims Genghis Khan had four generals that he called his “dogs of war.” Besides his enemy-turned-confidant Jebe, he had Kublai (NOT the famous Mongol leader Kublai Khan, who was Genghis’s grandson); Jelme, the man who saved Genghis’s life when he was shot by Jebe; and Jelme’s brother Subutai.
Of these, Subutai was his best general, a truly gifted leader who it’s said personally led 20 campaigns, conquered 32 nations, and won 65 battles – taking more land than any conqueror in history.
The Khan Was a Master Tactician
How did the Mongols conquer massive empires like the Jin Chinese, the Khwarizmi, and much of Europe? Through tactics and strategy. Genghis made use of his small but expert army’s mobility, firepower, and speed. He had spy networks all across Europe and Asia, communications riders who could cross hundreds of miles per day, and time and again would trap enemy forces by faking defeat, retreating, then surrounding the pursuing foes.
He also developed siege techniques that would be used in warfare for centuries, including blockading, damming rivers, and the use of catapulted corpses to carry disease.
Genghis Turned Mongol Warriors Into the Best in the World
For All His Killing, Genghis Was a Religious Man
Genghis Khan passed laws declaring religious freedom in conquered lands, and even granted tax exemptions to places of worship. The Mongols generally had an exceptionally liberal attitude towards religion. While they subscribed to a shamanistic belief system that revered the Eternal Blue Sky, the Steppe peoples also included Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and others. No one was persecuted for their faith.
The Great Khan also had a personal interest in spirituality. He was known to pray in his tent for multiple days before important campaigns, and he often met with different religious leaders to discuss their faiths.
Once Ruler of the Mongols, Genghis Conquered Northern China
After his election as Khan, Genghis turned the unified Mongols east, against China. First, he sacked the Western Xia dynasty. Then came the Jin, his former allies – who had had hundreds of thousands of troops killed by a Mongol force 10 times smaller. In 1215, the Mongols sacked Zhongdu, modern-day Beijing, leveling the city and killing the population.
After 10 years of combat, the Mongols had all of Northern China under their control, leaving a swath ofmurder and plunder in their wake. Populations were enslaved, then either executed or used as human shields.
After China, He Had a Million People Killed
Conquering the Western Xia and Jin was a matter of survival for Genghis. He had no intention of war with the powerful Khwarezmid Empire, in modern day Iran, but it became inevitable after the Kwarizmian Shah executed Genghis’s ambassadors to him and massacred a peaceful caravan. In a war lasting just three years, from 1218 to 1221, the Khwarezmid Empire was annihilated, with its population culled and its beautiful walled cities sacked.
Final defeat was inflicted at the Battle of the Indus River, where 50,000 men, led by the Shah’s son, were beaten and killed. The Mongols exacted such a toll on the Khwarezmid Empire that of its nearly three million people, at least one million were killed – usually executed methodically, using swords or axes.
He Split His Force Into Two and Brought Russia to Its Knees
After destroying the Khwarezmid Empire, Genghis split his army into two units. One, which he led personally, headed back to Mongolia, but not before laying waste to Northern India. The other, a small unit of two tumen led by Subutai and Jebe, headed west, toward what’s now Russia, pursuing the Kwarezmian Shah. They didn’t catch him, but they made history anyway.
In a raid of such power and destructiveness that it’s never been equaled, two of Genghis’s “Dogs of War” sacked Georgia, Armenia, and defeated a gigantic Kievan Rus force at the legendary Battle of the Kalka River. In keeping with Mongol tradition, the Russian princes who resisted were crushed to death under a platform, their blood never spilling. Hundreds of thousands of peasants weren’t so exalted, and were slaughtered. Russia itself would take centuries to recover from the Mongol invasion, and its geography was permanently changed.
Genghis Had to Put China in Its Place More Than Once
In 1225, Subutai and his men returned from the great raid on Russia, but Jebe died along the way. Genghis consolidated his territory, which included huge swaths of Northern China, Russia, the Baltic States, India, and Iran. He prepared his army to head west again, this time for the fertile lands said to lie west of Russia. But first, he needed to finish off the Western Xia in China.
The Xia had refused to fight alongside the Khan in Persia, which was a death sentence. In 1226, the Khan led a huge force against them, and crushed a coalition of Xia and surviving Jin. The Tangut royal family was executed in its entirety, ending their lineage – a problem that would soon engulf the Khan.
In 1227, Genghis Khan Died, but Nobody Knows How
During the sack of the Western Xia capitol, in August 1227, Genghis Khan died. Historians of both the time and the future are still completely in the dark as to how it happened. Some say he was killed in battle, others that he died of illness; still others say that he fell off a horse while hunting. One chronicle even says he was killed by a Western Xia princess he was attempting to add to his harem.
After his death, the traditional kurultai was held, meaning all Mongol conquests were put on hold, and all leaders met at the Onon River. Bypassing Jochi, whose parentage was never confirmed, they elected Genghis’s third son, Ogedai, as the new Khan.
The Location of His Grave Is Unknown
After His Death, His Empire Grew Mighty
Once declared Khan, Genghis’s third son Ogedai picked up where his father left off. From 1229 through 1241, Mongol armies reestablished control in Northern China by finishing off the Jin, invaded and sacked the mighty Song Dynasty, invaded and conquered much of India, conquered most of Korea, and most notably, invaded Western Europe.
Ogedai’s forces re-took much of Russia, crushed two massive European armies in three days in April 1241, sacked Poland and Bulgaria, crossed into the Holy Roman Empire, and had riders scouting battle sites near Vienna. Then news that Ogedai had died reached the Mongol force in late 1241, a kurultai was called, and the Mongol leadership fell into disarray. Western Europe was never threatened so badly again.
Genghis Khan Radically Altered the World’s Population
By the time they finally petered out in the late 1300s, the Mongol conquests had killed as many as 40 million people around the world. China, Russia, and the Baltic states didn’t recover for centuries, while Iran and Iraq, which were brutally conquered by Genghis’s successors, only did so in the 20th century. As much as 10 percent of the entire world’s population died due to the Mongols.
Beyond that, Genghis Khan’s legendary ability to father children permanently changed the genetic makeup of humanity. A 2003 DNA analysis of over 40 populations living the areas conquered by Genghis and his brood (each of whom had dozens of children as well) showed that as much as 0.5% of the entire male population has the same Y-chromosome sequence, and can eventually trace their lineage back to the former Temujin.