Genghis Khan

From Academic Kids

Genghis Khan was a Mongol Khan (Emperor) as well as a brilliant and sometimes brutal military leader who founded the Mongol Empire (12061368). He is considered a national hero in modern Mongolia for his historical role in giving a common identity to Mongols after their centuries of internal feud.



Genghis Khan was arguably the most successful military leader in world history. Born in modern day Mongolia, he united the Mongol tribes of Central Asia, forging a powerful army that he used to create one of the world's largest empires. Though often outnumbered, he used superior military intelligence and the mobility of his mounted warriors to defeat opponents, rapidly conquering more territory than any other single ruler.

His invasions, and strategy of slaughtering the entire populations of resisting cities such as Herat, led to many millions of deaths, and, in the longer term, resulted in massive depopulation of much of Asia [1] ( The exact number of people killed during and after his reign is not, and likely will not ever be, conclusively known.

The Mongols under Genghis Khan and his successors ruled most of Eurasia, including Central Asia, North Asia, Eastern Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Central Europe almost as far as Vienna, Austria. Genghis Khan's successors continued to rule the Mongol Empire he founded after his death, and, even after the unified empire dissolved a century and a half later, separate Khanates existed for centuries afterwards.

Genghis Khan's descendants included Kublai Khan, Babur, and, allegedly, Timur, although it is unlikely that the Tartar conquerer was actually related. His family ruled the Mongols until the 17th century, when the last Khan of his house was conquered by the Manchu. Many of his rules and customs continued to be followed by his descendents, and he is regarded as the founder of Mongolia and an important figure in history of the Mongols.

Early life


Genghis Khan is believed to have been born with the name Tem?' between 1155 and 1167 in Hentiy, Mongolia. If this is true, his birthplace is most likely the mountainous area of Burhan Haldun. He was the second son of [[Yesugay Ba'atur|Yes?], a tribal chief of the Kiyad. Yes?s clan was called Borjigin (Боржигин). His mother was named Hoelun and was of the Olkunut tribe. Tem?as named after one of the more powerful chiefs of a rival tribe.

His early life was difficult: His father delivered him to his future wife's family when he was only nine. He lived there until he reached the marriageable age of 14. Shortly thereafter, his father was murdered by the neighboring Tatars while returning home. This made Tem?he clan's chief, though his clan refused to be led by a boy and soon abandoned him and his family. For the next few years, he and his family lived the life of impoverished nomads, surviving primarily on marmots and other small game.

In one incident, Tem?eportedly slew his half-brother over a dispute about sharing hunting spoils. In another, he was captured in a raid by his former tribe and held captive with a wooden collar around his neck. He escaped with help from a sympathetic captor. His mother, Hoelun, taught him many lessons on survival in the harsh political climate of Mongolia, especially the need for alliances with others, a lesson which would shape his understanding in his later years.

Around the age of 16, Tem?arried B? of the Konkirat tribe. Later she was kidnapped in a raid by the Merkit tribe, and Tem?alled on his friend and later rival, Jamuka, and his protector, Wang Khan of the Kerait tribe, for aid. B?'s first child, Jochi, was born suspiciously soon after she was freed from the Merkit, leading to questions regarding the child's paternity.

Uniting the tribes and early Mongol Empire

Missing image
Representation of Genghis Khan and soldiers.

Genghis Khan began his slow ascent to power by allying himself with his father's anda (sworn brother or blood brother). Genghis's ally was Toghril, khan of the Kerait and better known by the Chinese title Wang Khan which the Jin Empire granted him in 1197. Tem?as adopted as Wang Khan's heir after successful campaigns against the Tatars (1202). This led to jealousy on the part of Senggum, Wang's former heir, who planned to assassinate Tem?Tem?earnt of Senggum's intentions, eventually defeated him and his loyalists and succeeded to the title of Wang Khan.

His borders were threatened to the the south by the Jin who then ruled North China and to the west by the Xia. Genghis Khan organized his people to prepare for possible conflicts, especially with the Jin. The Chinese had grown uncomfortable with the newly unified Mongols. Many trade routes ran through Mongol territory, and they feared that the Mongols would eventually restrict the supply of goods.

Genghis Khan managed to unite the tribes under a single system by 1206 using his personal charisma and strong will. It was a monumental feat for the Mongols, who had a long history of internecine dispute and economic hardship. At a Kurultai (a council of Mongol chiefs) he was acknowledged as the first and only "Genghis Khan" or Khagan, the ruler of rulers or emperor. He was further titled "Genghis Khan" (alternate spellings exist; see above) or Rightful Ruler (also "Ruler of all between the oceans") at around the age of 40. The name "Genghis" (written "Chinggis" by the Uighur scribes who first recorded it) is based on the Chinese word "zh讧", meaning "true" or "just"1.

Genghis Khan eventually created a written code of laws for the Mongols called Yassa and demanded that it be followed very strictly in order to strengthen his organization and power among his people. He was looked on as a "man of the people," sharing his wealth and resources with his followers. He remained true to his shamanistic and nomadic traditions throughout his life, despite the spread of various other religions among the Mongol populace.

See also: Mongols before Genghis Khan

Mongol Empire

Main article: Mongol Empire

Genghis Khan is one of the central figures in world history, undoubtly in the history of the Mongols and Central Asia. He unified the disbanded Central Asian tribes, mostly of the Mongol heritage under one unified system and was regarded as their undisputed leader who founded the Mongol Empire thereafter. For centuries before Mongol Empire, various dynasties and empires (Western Xia, Jin Empire, etc.) in modern day China were established causing constant warfare and conquests that made lives of many Central Asian tribes harder, plus feud amongst each other.

Map of Mongolian Empire and Successor States around 1400
Map of Mongolian Empire and Successor States around 1400

Politics and economics

Main article: Organization of state under Genghis Khan

The Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan was tolerant of the people it had conquered, provided that they did not resist, and often let conquered nations keep local rulers. The Mongols ruled themselves under the code of Yasa, a chivalric code of honor. Generally, the Mongol Empire was also friendly to outside trade along the Silk Road, although the Mongol's conquests led to a collapse of many of the ancient trading cities of Central Asia. Taxes were also heavy, and conquered people were used as forced labor.

Temujim was illiterate when he was young but learned to read Taoist sermons later in his life. He brought tutors with him to teach his children and himself to read and write. Genghis Khan promoted and used anything he found of technological advantage, even if he did not fully understand it, including the sciences of linguistics, astronomy, and mathematics.


Main article: Military advances of Genghis Khan

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Re-enactment of 12th and 13th century Mongol soldiers in Naadam.

Genghis Khan made advances in military disciplines, such as mobility, psychological warfare, intelligence, military autonomy, and tactics.

Genghis Khan's armies were generally able to best their enemies in the 12th and 13th century because of their superior strategy, mobility, and military intelligence. Genghis developed a well organized and trained army. He refused to divide his troops into different ethnic enclaves, creating a sense of unity, while he punished even small infractions against discipline severely. He also divided his armies into a number smaller groups, taking advantage of the superb mobility of his well-trained mounted archers to attack their enemies on several fronts at once.

Ghengis Khan preferred to offer opponents the chance to submit to his rule without a fight, but was merciless if he encountered any resistance. Genghis Khan's conquests were characterized by wholesale destruction on unprecedented scale and radically changed the demographic situation in Asia. According to the works of Iranian historian Rashid al-Din, 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. How many of these deaths were attributable directly to Ghengis and his forces is unclear.



At the time of the 1206 Khuriltai, Genghis was involved in a dispute with the Tangut Empire of Western Xia, which was demanding tribute from the Mongols. Genghis Khan led the Mongols against Xia, and conquered the empire despite initial difficulties in defeating its well-defended cities. By 1209, the Tangut emperor acknowledged Genghis Khan as overlord. In 1211, the Mongol Khan set about bringing the Rurzhen (the founders of the Jin Dynasty) completely under his dominion, in order to prevent them from challenging the Mongols for territory and resources. The Mongol army crossed the Great Wall of China in 1213, and in 1215 Genghis besieged, captured, and sacked the Jin capital of Yanjing (later known as Beijing. This forced the Jin Emperor Xuan Zong to move his capital south to Kaifeng. Genghis Khan's successor, Ogedei Khan, finally destroyed the Jin Dynasty in 1234.

Central Asia

Meanwhile, Kuchlug, the deposed Khan of the Naiman tribe, had fled west and had usurped the Khanate of Kara-Khitan (also known as Kara Kitay), the western allies that had decided to side with Genghis Khan. By this time the Mongol army was exhausted from ten years of continuous campaigning in China against the Tangut and the Rurzhen. Therefore, Genghis sent only two tumen (roughly 20,000 soldiers) under a brilliant young general, Jebe (known as "The Arrow"), against Kuchlug. An internal revolt was incited by Mongol agents against Kuchlug, leaving the Naiman forces open for Jebe to overrun the country. Kuchlug's forces were defeated west of Kashgar; he was captured and executed and Kara-Khitan was annexed by Genghis Khan. By 1218, the Mongol Empire 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.

Middle East

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 the emissaries executed, and the Genghis Khan retaliated with an invasion force of 20 tumen (200,000 troops). The Mongol army quickly seized the town, relying on superior strategy and tactics. Once he had conquered the city, he killed many of the inhabitants 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 control into the Muslim world. The Mongol army methodically marched through and sacked Khwarizm's main cities (Bukhara, Samarkand, and Balkh), and the shah, Muhammad, prepared to battle with 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 Khan 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.

Europe and Caucasus

While he was gathering his forces in Persia and Armenia, a detached force of 40,000 troops commanded by Batu Khan pushed deep into Armenia and Azerbaijan Batu destroyed Georgian crusaders, sacked the Genoese trade-fortress of Kaffa in Crimea, and stayed the winter near the Black Sea. While he was heading home, Batu met Prince Mstislav of Kiev with his 80,000 troops. This encounter is thought to be the Battle of Kalka River in 1223, which resulted in the destruction of both Prince Mstislav and his army.

The final years

The vassal emperor of the Tanguts (Western Xia) had refused to take part in the war against the Khwarizm. While Genghis Khan was busy with the campaign in Persia, Tangut and Jin had formed an alliance against the Mongols. In retaliation, the Mongol emperor prepared for war against their alliance.

By this time, his advancing age had led Genghis to make preparations for his death and to assure an orderly succession among his descendants; he selected his third son ֧edei as his successor and established the method of selection of subsequent Genghis 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.

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Khanates of Mongolian Empire: Il-Khanate, Chagatai Khanate, Empire of the Great Khan (Yuan Dynasty), Golden Horde

In 1226, Genghis Khan attacked the Tanguts on the pretext that the Tanguts had received the Mongols' and they were seeking retribution for this betrayal. In February, he took Heisui, Ganzhou and Suzhou and in the autumn, he took Xiliang-fu. One of Western Xia's generals challenged the Mongols for a battle near Helanshan (Helan means "great horse" in the northern dialect, shan means "mountain"). The Western Xia armies were soundly defeated. In November, the Genghis Khan laid siege to the Tangut city of Lingzhou 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 of his victory.

In 1227, the Genghis Khan attacked the Tanguts' capital, and continued to advance, seizing Lintiao-fu in February, Xining province and Xindu-fu in March, and Deshun province in April. At Deshun, the Tangut general Ma Jianlong put up a fierce resistance for several days and personally led charges against the invaders outside of the city gate. Ma Jianlong later died from wounds received from arrows in battle. Genghis Khan, after conquering Deshun, went to Liupanshan (Qingshui County, Gansu Province) for shelter from the severe summer.

The new Tangut emperor quickly surrendered to the Mongols. The Tanguts officially surrendered in 1227, after having ruled for 189 years, starting in 1038. In the end, Genghis Khan had the Tangut emperor and his family executed for their betrayal.

Death and burial

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Mongolian Empire in 1227 at Genghis Khan's death.

At his death, Genghis Khan divided his empire amongst his four surviving sons. The 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.

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 the Tangut Empire, 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.

It is alleged that Genghis Khan asked to be buried without markings. After he died, his body was returned to Mongolia and presumably to his birthplace in Hentiy aymag, 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. In folklore it is said that a river was diverted over his grave to make it impossible to find and/or his grave was stamped over by many horses.

The Mongol Empire after Genghis

Main article: Mongol Empire

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 a halt when a number high-ranking leaders had to return to Mongolia to participate in the khuriltai for the election 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 after.

At its height, the Mongolian 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 holds the record for the longest continuous landmass controlled by any empire in history.

Timur based much of his early legitimacy on claiming descent from Genghis Khan.

Family and personality

Character of Genghis Khan

It is not entirely clear what Genghis Khan was truly like, but his personality and character were doubtless molded by the many hardships he faced when he was young and during the time that it took to unify the Mongol nation. Genghis Khan appeared to fully embrace the Mongol people's nomadic way of life and did not act to change their customs or beliefs. As he aged, he seemed to become increasingly aware of the consequences of numerous victories and expansion of the Mongol Empire, including the possibility that succeeding generations might choose to live a sedentary lifestyle. According to quotations attributed to him in his later years, he urged future leaders to follow the Yasa teachings, and refrain from surrounding themselves with wealth and pleasure. He valued honesty and loyalty highly, even an enemy soldier's loyalty to his leader. His military strategies showed a deep interest in gathering good intelligence and understanding the motivations of his rivals. He seemed to be a quick study, adopting new technologies and ideas that he encountered, although he never learned a foreign language or showed much interest in the cultures of other people. He certainly appears to have believed that he was the rightful ruler of the World, in terms of bringing the Mongol tribes and other states that he attempted to unify.

Family and heirs

Main article: Family tree of Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan was related through his father to Qabul Khan, Ambaghai and Qutula Khan who had headed the Mongol confederation under Jin patronage until the Jin switched their support to the Tatars in 1161 and destroyed Qutula Khan. The successor as head of the ruling clan of the Mongols was Genghis Khan's father, Yesugei, khan of the Borjigin, a nephew of Ambaghai and Qutula Khan. although that position was contested by the rival Tayichi?ud clan, who descended directly from Ambaghai. When the Tatars, in turn, grew too powerful after 1161 the Jin moved their support from the Tatars to the Kerait.

Genghis Khan's empress was Borte, his childhood friend that his father left Temujin with her and her family when he was 9. Borte gave birth to the following four sons of Genghis Khan:

Jochi is not completely certain to be a biological child of Genghis Khan, because he was born soon after Borte was freed from her captors. All four children of Genghis Khan held the title of Khan by controlling the Khanates after Genghis Khan's death as it was Genghis Khan's wish. All four children took part in the Genghis Khan's campaign in one way or another. Ogedei was proclaimed Great Khan by directly succeeding the Genghis Khan.

The legacy of Genghis Khan

Historical legacy

Near-contemporary middle-eastern accounts by Juvayni and Rashid al-Din have survived, along with the anonymous Uighur / Chinese document known as The Secret History of the Mongols, which presents Genghis Khan from the Mongol point of view.

However, Genghis Khan's legacy is perceived very differently in Mongolia from the rest of the world. In the West and the Middle East, the perception of Genghis Khan is strongly negative due to the destruction his forces caused, though there have been recent efforts by Western historians to explore the positive aspects of Genghis Khan's conquest. Views toward Genghis Khan in the modern day People's Republic of China are more ambivalent. While Chinese historians acknowledge the vast amount of damage and death that Genghis Khan caused, his reputation is somewhat redeemed by the fact that he would set into motion events which would later end the non-Han dynasties of the north and the southern divisions of China that had begun during the Song Dynasty.

Particularly in Central and East Asia, and certainly in Mongolia where Genghis Khan is a national hero, there is much concern about the negative bias in historical records about Genghis Khan which emphasize his assaults, barbarism, and butchery. There is a feeling that his military and administrative genius is undervalued, as is his undisputed status as the conqueror of one of the largest empires in history.

Influence in Mongolia

Missing image
Genghis Khan on the 1000 tugrug Mongolian banknote

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 Mongolian Empire consistently 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 Mongolian 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 (a claim traditionally rejected by most scientists because it was assumed to be local folklore). From this genetic evidence it is popularly reasoned that over 0.5% of the world's population (as the study was only able to cover direct male descendants) is descended from Genghis Khan, although there is no direct evidence to support this claim and modern science doesn't favor this assumption.

He is remembered for his destruction, strong willpower, persuasiveness, and power, but in Eastern Asia also for his achievements as a unifying, even cosmopolitan ruler, who nonetheless valued his Mongol identity.

See also

External links



  • Lister, R. P. Genghis Khan. Cooper Square Press, 1969. ISBN 0-8154-1052-2.
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  • Weatherford, Jack. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, 2004.
  • 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 GerelsaiGenghis Khan, 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
  • Man, John. Genghis Khan -- Life, Death and Resurrection. Bantam Press, 2004. ISBN 0-553-81498-2.
  • [ Heirs to Discord: The Supratribal Aspirations of Jamuqa, Toghrul, and Tem?

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.


Note 1: There are many theories for the origins of Genghis Khan's title. One theory places the etymology as stemming from a palatalised version of the Turkish word tenggiz, meaning "oceanic" or "wide-spreading". Lake Baikal was referred to as tenggiz by the Mongols, however it seems like that if they had meant to call Genghis Khan tenggiz they could very well have said (and written) "Tenggiz Khan", which they did not. Zh讧 (Chinese: 正, pron. "jung" in English) meaning "right", "just", or "true", would have received the Mongolian adjectival modifier -s, creating "Jenggis", which was then modified by later scribes in India or Persia to read as "Genghis". Likely, contemporary Mongols would have pronounced the word more like "Chinggis". Chingis Khan is the spelling ( used by the modern Republic of Mongolia. See R.P. Lister, referenced above, for further reading.

Preceded by:
Great Khan of Mongolian Empire
Followed by:
Ogedei Khan

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