40 Facts About Genghis Khan
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, he also practiced religious and racial tolerance, and his Mongolian Empire valued the leadership of women. Khan also brought law and civilization to Mongolia and is regarded as a hero in his native land.
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.
Genghis Khan's Empire
4. The Mongol Empire went on to become the largest contiguous empire in history, stretching from the Pacific Ocean to eastern Europe.
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.
Genghis Khan, Forefather
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.
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.
Genghis Khan's Burial Place
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.
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.
Genghis Khan on His Horse
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.
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, he 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.
25. Temujin became ruler, or `Khan’, of the united Mongolian tribes around 1206 and adopted the name Genghis.
Temujin Becomes Khan
26. The name Genghis likely comes from the word Jenggis, meaning `right, just, and true,’ though 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. He 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, Khan's 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; though 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 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.
A Bust of Genghis Khan in Mongolia
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 a number of consumer products. He is regarded as the father of the Mongols.
Genghis Khan's Son, Ogedei 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, he was also a brutal despot who murdered millions of men, women, and children. Whichever perspective is accepted, it is certain that Genghis Khan was a complicated, unique, and remarkable individual who immortalized himself on the pages of history.