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The Death of Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan's death is a mystery but some theories are more likely than others.

Genghis Khan's death is a mystery but some theories are more likely than others.

How Did Genghis Khan Die?

Genghis Khan died in 1227 A.D. at the age of 65. There are several conflicting theories about his death. Many of these are legends created by friends or foes to honor or denigrate his memory.

A common story is that Khan died from injuries sustained after falling from his horse. Other popular accounts include dying from pneumonia, falling in battle during his final conquest of the Chinese Xia and Jin dynasties, and succumbing to blood loss after being castrated by a captive Chinese princess.

As Genghis Khan's body has never been found, no autopsy or forensic evidence can be offered to conclusively prove one of the above theories. Instead, we must rely on what little history there is from this period and the motivations of those who created and disseminated the stories.

Was Genghis Khan Castrated?

This salacious and insulting theory about Genghis Khan's death is disputed, although the motive for its dissemination is fascinating.

In 1226, Khan had returned from his military campaign in Persia to quash a rebellion in China. Despite conquering the Chinese Xia and Jin dynasties over a decade earlier, both had sought to restore their independence in his absence.

Khan quickly crushed the uprising and, in 1227, he had most of the Xia royal family (the Tangut lineage) executed to prevent another betrayal.

Khan's invasions of China. He returned to destroy the Xia dynasty (Tanguts) in 1226.

Khan's invasions of China. He returned to destroy the Xia dynasty (Tanguts) in 1226.

On the night of the final battle against the last defiant Tangut prince, Khan reportedly had a dream about "red blood on white snow" that caused him to consult his oracles (according to a story passed down by Mongol tribesman; see the book "In the footsteps of Genghis Khan"). Khan's oracles told him the blood was that of the prince, and the white snow signified the prince's beautiful daughter who had rejected the advances of all suitors.

The next day, when the prince was killed in battle, Khan took the Tangut princess to his bedchamber. He was preparing to rape her when she drew a hidden dagger from her hair and castrated him.

Genghis probably died soon after from blood loss, although the Mongol version contends that he fell into a deep sleep, awaiting a divine instruction to lead the Mongol people once again.

The princess committed suicide (to avoid her inevitable execution) by throwing herself into the Yellow river. Ever since, the river has been known as the River of the Princess (Khatun Gol).

The Yellow River; also known as River of the Princess (Khatun Gol).

The Yellow River; also known as River of the Princess (Khatun Gol).

If Genghis Khan was murdered in this way, the motive was clearly revenge and the prevention of a physical assault. However, many authors have noted that it was an unusually humiliating way to die.

Some of these authors have suggested the story was created by the Chinese or by the Oirat tribe of "Western Mongols" who, for centuries, had been rivals to Khan's Eastern Mongols. This tribe had fought under Genghis' enemy, Jamukha, and had only submitted to his leadership when their cause was lost. Furthermore, whenever Khan or his descendants were threatened with an uprising, the Oirats had sided against them.

The castration legend can also be dated to the 17th century, long after Khan's death, which does suggest it was an invention of malicious gossip. It is also within the time frame of later hostilities between these tribes.

Was Genghis Khan Killed in Battle?

According to the Hypatian Codex, which includes a copy of the original Galician-Volhynian Chronicle, Genghis Khan died in his final battle against the Chinese in 1227. The Chronicle is an account of the historical period 1201-1292, written at the end of the 13th century. The Hypatian Codex was written in 1425 and is stored at the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg.

Was Khan felled in battle?

Was Khan felled in battle?

This historical account of Khan's death claims that he was killed by the Tanguts, which seems unlikely as he was 65 years old and would have been well protected. However, it is possible that he wanted to die in battle to prevent his weakening condition from threatening the integrity of the Mongol Empire.

The Galician-Volhynian Chronicle was written approximately 70 years after Khan's death, meaning it was not an eye-witness account. However, if true, a death in battle is somewhat vague and could be referring to injuries sustained on the battlefield that later led to his death. It may even refer to exhaustion from illnesses (such as pneumonia) that were referred to later as battle injuries.

Did Genghis Khan Fall from His Horse?

In the Mongol chronicle "Secret History of the Mongols," it is alleged that Genghis Khan died from injuries sustained after falling from his horse.

According to this chronicle, Khan had just proposed that his army "set forth against the Tang'ud people" (the final conquest of the Chinese). In preparation, he had stayed for the winter in southern Mongolia where he "hunted the many wild horses of Arbuqa."

However, disaster struck: "When the wild horses came passing by, Josutu Boro became terrified when Khan fell from his horse." Companions then spoke of how Genghis "has passed the night; his flesh has become hot," which appears to refer to a feverish illness such as pneumonia.

Although Khan lived to direct the slaughter of the Tangut Chinese, it is claimed that he died slowly from this illness during the war.

Did Khan die from injuries sustained after falling from his horse?

Did Khan die from injuries sustained after falling from his horse?

The Secret History of the Mongols was written by an unknown author in 1240 A.D. and is said to be the eye-witness testimony of Khan's adopted son, Sigi-quduqu (among other possible candidates). The only surviving version is a Chinese translation, although there doesn't appear to be any manipulation of the text.

This account of Khan's death appears to be both plausible, and from a primary source. A man of 65 years may well have contracted pneumonia during the winter, especially after suffering injuries from a fall. It also appears to be unbiased, given that the death is neither heroic nor humiliating.

Genghis Khan's Burial

At Khan's request, he was buried in an unmarked grave, somewhere close to the Onon River. To keep the location secret, all who observed the funeral caravan were executed. Thus. even in death, he found a way to slaughter innocents.

According to legend, a river (possibly the Onon River or a tributary) was diverted over his resting place to ensure that he would never be found. Ancient leaders including Gilgamesh and Attila the Hun are said to have been granted the same elaborate burial. Another story claims that a thousand horses were driven over the grave before trees were planted to conceal it.

Is the Onon River the location of Genghis Khan's resting place?

Is the Onon River the location of Genghis Khan's resting place?

The Most Likely Theory About Khan's Death

Despite there being several theories about Genghis Khan's death, the most likely theory is that he died from a protracted and feverish illness that followed an injurious fall from a horse.

The injury would have left his 65-year-old body in a weakened state during the winter of 1226 and the subsequent battles against the Chinese. This story is the oldest, most plausible, and has the least apparent bias. It can also be made to agree with two of the other theories about his death, namely, that he died from pneumonia, and that he was killed (or at least died) during the battle with the Chinese.

The only inconsistent theory contends that Genghis Khan was castrated by a Tangut princess. However, as described above, this humiliating account may have been created by the rival Oirat tribe, and it has been dated to around 400 years after Khan's death.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Thomas Swan

Comments

Ghenghis khan was killed by Dada Jashraj in Lahore on January 21, 2019:

I am from lohana sect and we found that islamic book jalal e jugnuma itself describes how ghenghis khan was killed by dada Jashraj, an indian lohana raghuvanshi ksatriya king, but lohana didnt rule long after that and hence history was tried to be manipulated by mughals to rule india.