Genghis Khan is a name that resonates with all who have heard of his harrowing exploits. History books portray him as a brutal emperor who massacred millions of Asian and Eastern European people.
However, Khan brought law and civilization to Mongolia and he is regarded as a hero in his native land. His Mongolian Empire also practiced religious and racial tolerance and valued the leadership of women.
So who was the real Genghis Khan? Western impressions are heavily influenced by negative Persian accounts, whereas Eastern impressions vary. For a balanced perspective, the following list of 40 facts explores the full story of this fascinating historical figure.
A Portrait of Genghis Khan
The Life of Genghis Khan
1. Genghis Khan was born in Delüün Boldog in 1162. He died in 1227 at the age of 65. According to legend, he was born with a blood clot in his clenched fist, foretelling his emergence as a great leader.
2. Khan was tall, had a long beard, and likely sported red hair and green eyes, although he would have looked oriental. This mixing of European and Asian characteristics was quite common in Mongolia at the time.
3. Khan founded the Mongol Empire when he united the tribes occupying the Mongol plains. These plains are situated between China and Russia in central Asia.
4. The Mongol Empire went on to become the largest contiguous empire in history, stretching from the Pacific Ocean to eastern Europe.
Genghis Khan's Empire
5. As well as modern day Mongolia, Khan’s empire included most of China, Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and some parts of Russia.
6. Genghis Khan believed the strength of a man was defined by the children he left behind. He had thousands of women within his harem and fathered children with many of them.
7. Around 8% of men from Asia are his descendants. This Mongol lineage is known for men because the common DNA is within the Y-chromosome.
Genghis Khan, Forefather
8. Khan's armies may have slaughtered more people than Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler's combined. His military campaigns sometimes involved eliminating an entire civilian population. As many as 40 million people were killed under his rule.
9. On Genghis Khan’s order, he was buried in an unmarked grave at an unknown location in Mongolia. In order to conceal the location, his funeral escort executed everyone in their path.
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10. According to legend, Khan requested that a river be diverted over his grave so that he would never be disturbed. This followed the custom of burial for ancient leaders such as Gilgamesh and Attila the Hun.
Genghis Khan's Burial Place
11. Surprisingly, Khan promoted religious tolerance and was interested in the philosophies of other cultures. He studied Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity. When he attempted to befriend Persia, he sent a Muslim emissary.
12. Genghis Khan also supported ethnic diversity within his empire, allowing people from other cultures to administer his cities. The Mongolians lacked experience for this task, given their nomadic roots.
13. Women were also well respected in the Mongolian Empire, with Töregene Khatun ruling as regent for 5 years after the death of Genghis’ son, Ögedei.
14. Genghis Khan modernized Mongolian culture by adopting the Uyghur script as a writing system and by creating the Yassa code of law.
Genghis Khan on His Horse
15. Before he united Mongolia, the plains were occupied by nomadic tribes including the Tatars, Keraits, Mongols, Merkits, and Naimans. Khan belonged to one of the Mongol tribes. The Chinese Jin dynasty used to periodically switch their support between the tribes to ensure that none attained superiority. This made the Jin dynasty one of Khan’s first targets.
16. Genghis Khan’s birth name was Temujin, which was the name of a powerful warlord defeated by his chieftain father, Yesugei.
17. When Temujin was only 9 years old, Yesugei arranged for him to stay with Börte, Temujin's future wife. She was the daughter of a neighboring chieftain.
18. Yesugei was poisoned by the Tatars, forcing Temujin to return home to claim leadership. However, he was outcast and forced to live in squalor for a number of years with his mother and brothers.
The Tribes of the Mongol Plains
19. At the age of 10, Temujin killed one of his half-brothers in a fight over hunting spoils.
20. At the age of 15, he was enslaved by a neighboring Mongol tribe but escaped with the help of a guard. This enhanced his reputation and gained him valuable allies.
21. At 16, he married Börte and allied with her Mongol tribe. As was tradition, he took numerous other wives during his life, but Börte was his only Empress.
22. When Börte was kidnapped by the Merkits, Temujin rescued her with the help of the Kerait tribe (who were allied with his father) and another Mongol tribe led by Jamukha.
23. Eight months after Börte’s capture, she gave birth to her first son, Jochi. This led to questions about the paternity and later challenges from Khan’s other sons.
24. With the Mongol tribes united and the Merkit tribe defeated, Temujin found himself at war with his previous allies, the Keraits. After defeating them, he destroyed the Naimans. In each case he was successful in convincing a greater number of tribes to become his allies. He was also helped by the alliance of the formidable general, Subutai, a family friend from Siberia (to the north).
25. Temujin became ruler, or "Khan," of the united Mongolian tribes around 1206 and adopted the name Genghis.
Temujin Becomes Genghis Khan
26. The name Genghis likely comes from the word Jenggis, meaning "right, just, and true," although it could also come from the word Tenggis, meaning "ocean" and "wide-spreading."
27. Khan had four sons in total: Jochi, Chagatai, Ögedei, and Tolui.
28. He assigned his son, Ögedei Khan, as his successor because Ögedei had no quarrel with Genghis’ other sons.
29. Khan valued loyalty and brotherhood and promoted his generals on the basis of merit rather than noble standing. This system of meritocracy contributed greatly to the success of his armies. In the early years, he allowed captured soldiers to join his army, growing his forces with each victory.
A Portrait of Genghis Khan with His Sons
30. Genghis Khan was a master tactician and organizer, employing novel and sometimes brutal methods. As well as forging alliances where possible, his military meritocracy used siege warfare, spy networks, and supply routes with way-stations to aid the communication of covert intelligence.
31. On the battlefield, his army used cavalry charges, feigned retreats (before ambush), pincer assaults, and prisoners as human shields to achieve victory. He also liked to foster discord in enemy countries before an assault, inciting revolution or civil war.
32. Khan forced the surrender of Xia China in 1209 after correctly predicting that Jin China would not aid them. He then defeated the Jin dynasty in 1215 by gathering intelligence about the location of their army.
33. He turned west and defeated the Kaira-Khitan Khanate in 1218 by using a small force to incite a revolution within the country.
34. The Persian Khwarezmid Empire offended Genghis Khan by beheading his messenger and looting his trade caravan. The insult led to a huge Mongol invasion by 200,000 men. The Persians were crushed by the Mongol's superior tactics in 1222. The civilian population were decimated with as many as 90% killed, although skilled workers were sent back to Mongolia.
35. Khan’s army split for the journey home. Generals Subutai and Jebe went north to conquer large swathes of Russia and the Ukraine, while Khan ploughed through Afghanistan and Northern India in the south.
36. During this time, the Xia and Jin had allied to resist Mongolian rule. In his final military victory, Khan returned and defeated them both in 1226. To prevent further betrayal, he had the Chinese Xia royal family executed.
37. Genghis Khan died in 1227. According to legend, a Chinese princess castrated him with a concealed dagger, leading to his death. This was said to be an act of revenge for the death of her family and a way to prevent him from raping her.
38. A more likely theory about his death is that he was thrown from his horse and died from his injuries. Another theory claims he died from pneumonia and another suggests he was killed in his final battle with the Chinese.
Genghis Khan's Son, Ogedei Khan
39. To avoid conflict among his sons, he divided his empire among them in his will. The new Khan, Ögedei, expanded the Mongolian Empire further.
40. Today, Genghis Khan is very popular in Mongolia, with his face appearing on bank notes and several consumer products. He is regarded as the father of the Mongols.
Genghis Khan on a Mongolian Bank Note
Cultural Perceptions of Genghis Khan
It is easy to see how polar perceptions of Genghis Khan emerged. While he brought law, wealth, civilization, culture, and power to the Mongolian people, he brought death and destruction to many other countries.
Despite practicing religious and racial tolerance and being a builder of alliances, Khan was clearly also a brutal despot who murdered millions of men, women, and children. Whichever perspective is supported, it is certain that Genghis Khan was a complicated, unique, and remarkable individual who immortalized himself on the pages of history.
Mr Kairo on December 30, 2019:
The human race has a primary behavior so specific and marked that it is even suspiciously unnatural, taking as a reference the majority of biological beings, except for an organism that, due to its simplicity, is at the limit of what, because it is alive, can be considered ... viruses.
As isolated beings, they are able to reach unimaginable levels of intellectual and spiritual elevation, but when they meet in groups of more than three, a gradual disintegration of these traits begins, one could even, with patience and data collection, develop an equation about it, conquers and the subsequent consumption and consumption of material resources by the group made by land any individual elevation construction.
Taking as reference the historical cases the facts cannot be ignored, the great conquerors like Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Napoleon until arriving at the modern era with the European dictators of half of Century XX mark a direction in this sense.
But after WWII things began to change and accelerated with the fall of Orthodox Communism until the arrival of digital technology, 1980 with the first start of cable TV networks hit the right switch preparing the masses for their Final captivity, Internet first and cellular technology years later.
Global wars are no longer necessary where millions of people are annihilated, with what logic would you kill millions of slaves? If you believe that this is not the case, I respect your position but nothing that can be discussed in this regard will modify the fact that what I mention is real.
It is very easy to disqualify an opinion as conspiracy, I do not doubt it but there are millions of people who learned to look and not only notice things by appreciation within the visual field, something can be done about it ?, no, unfortunately the system is perfectly protected, it has no cracks so relax, just enjoy the trip, if you can.
Uncomfortable truth: Genghis Khan was, by acts and existence at a time in history, the human who contributed most to the ecology of planet Earth, the approximate elimination of 40 million people in a relatively short period of time in an era devoid of factors generating industrial pollution resulted in a sharp fall in carbon emissions in the atmosphere, the repopulation of fauna and subtropical forests and recomposition of low tundra ecosystems among other issues, macabre from the human perspective but ultimately true what which can lead us to question whether this planet is available to man as one of the most widespread religions in the world says.
Mathphile on March 18, 2019:
Men like Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great....were all from a time before them, when warfare almost ended the human race. About 7000 years ago, much before the above conquerors, there was so much blood shed, that there was only one male for every 14 females. The Human Race calmed down, but those fighting, aggressive genes persisted in some and these men carried them and used them, to slaughter millions. After the last century seeing monsters like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin....the Human Race had finally had enough. In a killing orgy that outdid even these killers on horseback, Hitler and Stalin killed nearly 60 million people, if you count the war dead. Neither Hitler nor Stalin would have lasted 30 seconds in a fight with Attila or Genghis, but they used advanced weapons and vast armies and propaganda, to bring their version of Death. Hopefully, this Century will be the beginning of a new era for Mankind, and the end of mass killing. This, is what we should learn, from the study of History.
joshua cruz on December 06, 2018:
best helpful source for my classwork.
Cathy Denney on October 02, 2018:
It is very hard to under stand how people could go in and kill people and that is woman and children.but that is war in anytime and place.I found the story you told us about Genghis Khan's very chilling and interesting.
Robert Levine on July 30, 2018:
Much is made of Genghis Khan's religious tolerance. But I read elsewhere that he forbade Jews and Muslims from practicing circumcision and observing their dietary laws
idk on January 25, 2018:
very good info thanks alot
Robert Levine from Brookline, Massachusetts on December 19, 2017:
Much is made of Genghis Khan's religious tolerance. But I read elsewhere that he forbade Jews and Muslims from practicing circumcision and observing their dietary laws.
poop on November 29, 2017:
four sons????? he had 1000-2000 children how would he only have four sons
Hannah Macenczak from Burtonsville, MD on March 23, 2017:
Thank you so much. This has helped me with my research paper
dardad on January 27, 2017:
very helpful thanks
Curious!! on November 29, 2016:
Thank you for the interesting article, however I'm very interested to what source do you refer to about the 40 million deaths?
An Uzbek on September 21, 2016:
hi mr Thomas, nice work. But this article has mistake on 34th fact: That Khwarazmid Empire wasn't Persian. Ancient Kwarazmia was really piece of persian Empire, but by the year 1200 Central Asia was in authority of turks because of great migration of turkic tribes in 500-1200 years. That fleeing Kharezmshah was Jalaliddin Mengruberdi. Megruberdi is a Turkic name. His mother was Tekina Khatun, a chieftain of a turkic tribe. Khatun means 'a woman' in all turkic languages.
chefmukesh on August 15, 2015:
very useful and precious information indeed. thanks a lot. Genghis Khan was truly a great administrator and a brutal killer.. He will always be remembered for his positives as well as negatives.
Keep posting interesting facts like these...
Joseph Santacruz from Warsaw, Poland on January 11, 2015:
outstanding content !
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on February 28, 2014:
Thanks. I did read all of the sources. I agree with the perspective of the one who compiled and summarized them.
Brian on February 27, 2014:
Genghis' s successors expanded the mongol empire considerably. During his lifetime southern china, the arab world and eastern europe had yet to be conquered.
The Chinese census taken includes not just Jin China but the Yuan dynasty(north and south china) as well which lasted until the 14th century. If you keep reading the additional sources they indicate the population crash of 30 million chinese includes the period after genghis died as southern china had not been conquered yet during his lifetime. Also within the same text the remaining sources are more specific to how many died under genghis khan. All these state a death toll of 20 million or less.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on February 27, 2014:
Yes, his successors did expand the empire a little more, though the Chinese census was taken in 1234, only 7 years after he died... and that accounts for about 80% of the 40m. Also was the census just for Jin China? The source seems to suggest it is (Twentieth Century Atlas). There was Xia China too. The source also attributes these deaths to Chinggis Khan, not the Mongol invasions as a whole.
I do wonder about the census data though. If we're blaming Hitler for everyone killed in the European WW2 conflict, then Khan should be blamed for everyone killed in his conflicts. I could be wrong, but I don't think the census data goes beyond the population of China. Likewise, there is an estimate for those killed in Khwarezm and Persia. I don't think there is an estimate for those killed on the Mongol side, or those fighting with the Mongols. If we want a true comparison, we'd have to remove German soldiers and civilians (and their allies) from Hitler's number.
Brian on February 25, 2014:
Glad you read the sources I provided Thomas. Just remember that the estimate for 40 million encompasses the mongol conquests as a whole and not just those limited during genghis' s lifetime.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on February 25, 2014:
Thanks, lot of good information there. I googled the twentieth century atlas, which gives 40m for Khan and 20m for Stalin. There is 66m for WW2, though about a third may have been in the pacific conflict. Then you have to consider the unnecessary deaths caused by the Soviets and the bombing of Germany by the allies. When I read the section on Khan, the estimates ranged from 12m-60m. The low estimate was from "How bad were the Mongols?" and, with a title like that, it got my `skepti-sense' tingling! So, given the census' gave reductions of 50m-60m, then 40m for Khan seems fairly reliable. For Hitler it gives very similar numbers. Very interesting reading.
Brian on February 25, 2014:
Another good source to google that breaks down the casualties inflicted by the mongol empire is "How Bad Were the Mongols?" by Quodlibeta
Brian on February 25, 2014:
Thanks Thomas. The problem with medieval sources is that they mainly look at the population decline via census when examining atrocities such as the mongols. It doesn't initially examine other factors such as disease(ie.the black death in 13th century china) and atrocities that may have been committed by the other party in conflict. Like you said the nazis didn't kill everyone in WW2 which is true but their actions in europe led to the death of around 40 million within the continent whether that be through direct persecution or unnatural deaths brought about by the movement of nazi forces which resulted in collateral loss. This is the same metric used to judge the mongols from a historical standpoint except the nazis inflicted the same number of casualties whether directly or indirectly within a much shorter period. I recommend that you google "Twentieth Century Atlas - historical body count" by Matthew White. He has a list of numerous credible sources on the Mongol empire's death toll with each one breaking down war casualties and some giving reasons behind them. An average is then given from the tally of sources. It should make for an interesting read.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on February 25, 2014:
Thanks Brian. Bear in mind that I did say "as many as 40 million". However, I did unequivocally say that he slaughtered more than Hitler and Stalin. I used a credible source for the numbers, but as they're all based on estimates, I've now edited it slightly based on your recommendation (I added the words "may have"). With Hitler, I'm not sure we can say Hitler's forces killed everyone who died in WW2. If merely instigating a war is enough to be blamed for all who died, Khan's numbers may be higher still. Even so, there are two sides to every conflict, and many unnecessary atrocities were committed by the allies. With Stalin, the estimates are so varied, it's hard to know. If I can remember, when it came to the source I was using, I either used "confirmed dead" or the midpoint between the upper and lower estimates.
Brian on February 25, 2014:
Overall nice article Thomas. But I really have to disagree with #8. Sources which examine the 40 million dead were from the entire period of the mongol conquests which lasted long after Ghenghis Khan covering a period of over 100 years. And many credible sources now put the majority of the 40 million dead as victims of disease when the Black death hit china in the 13th century. So in the final analysis Hitler and Stalin were worse than Khan. Hitler alone led a war that killed 40 million within 6 years time and Stalin on his own may have killed up to 60 million in less than 30 years time
nqobizitha siziba on February 01, 2014:
An interesting read. He surely was a great military strategist and admnistrator-hence we know of him even today!
srividya on January 06, 2014:
Amazing facts...... :]
Marko Vucinic from Cuprija, Sebia on December 03, 2013:
Nice article and fascinating facts. I read a John Man book about Genghis Khan and seems like it was really interesting era.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on September 25, 2013:
Thanks unen. They probably do it because Genghis is the only Mongolian that most tourists have heard of. I like your point and agree with it though. I would rather learn about other Mongolians.
unen-tsogt on September 25, 2013:
Hi Thomas, a very nice hub. I just wanted to add the facts 41, 42.
41. The international airport has been named after him in 2005.
42. The Central Square has been named after him in 2013. The name of the square was named after the hero of the Mongolian People's Revolution, Sukhbaatar.
The massage is that the Mongols push too hard to rename everything after him. It is completely ridiculous for my eyes.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on May 20, 2013:
I didn't know that about Tibet actually. It seems he was into nation building, which may be quite a modern practice generally. An interesting point, thank you.
Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on May 20, 2013:
Hi Thomas: On the comparative atrocities, you got the point. And 40 million is a much bigger chunk of the world in his time than now!
On Tibet: Just to be clear, (and I think you understand this already), the Tibetan lineage is not descended from Genghis Khan in a biological or cultural sense. He put the lineage into power in a political way, so as to create a peaceful, neutral nation on one border.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on May 07, 2013:
Thanks Sid. He was certainly a master of war techniques. As he conquered other civilizations, he learnt their methods for war.
Ah, I didn't know that about Tibet. I suppose there are many descendants of Khan that retained their power.
I have edited #8 to include the generally accepted figure of 40 million dead from Ghengis Khan's atrocities. I'm not sure why he wasn't included on that wiki page. Perhaps his campaigns didn't fit the single event categories on the page. Stalin and WW2 may have higher numbers. However Stalin ranges from 8 million to 61 million. It's not confirmed to be higher than 40 million, and to take a midpoint would put it lower. WW2 includes the ~30 million deaths in the Pacific war against Japan - many being Chinese civilians. That can't really be blamed on Hitler. So I think #8 is accurate, but if I missed the point, let me know.
Thanks for commenting and discussing. I appreciate that, and the vote!
Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on May 07, 2013:
This is a very fine hub, and an introduction to a subject I've long wondered about. It links to my own interests in a number of ways.
1) It is clear that Genghis Khan was a master of techniques written in the Art of War, which was over 500 years old at the time (whether he read it or not).
2) One you didn't mention - Genghis Khan founded the ruling lineage of Tibet, putting the first Dalai Lama in power. (The current Dalai Lama is the 14th.)
3) I question #8. You might check your figures at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_and_anth...
Voted up, awesome, and interesting.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on May 07, 2013:
No problem Educateurself. I was just reading about the Hazara people on wikipedia. You have some fascinating Mongolian roots and are right to be proud of them. I think I was quite neutral in my assessment of Temujin, so hopefully I didn't cause any offense!
Educateurself on May 06, 2013:
Thanks Thomas for this hub because I am also mongolian hazara and we are descendants of Genghis Khan. We are proud of it.