Born c. 1162
Mongolian chieftain and conqueror
N o empire in history has ever been as large as that conquered in the 1200s by the Mongols, who began their conquests as a simple nation of shepherds and nomads in Central Asia. What welded them into a mighty fighting force was not a religion, or a political belief, or even a shared need for land or food; it was a man, a severe but shrewd warlord known to history as Genghis Khan.
The son of a chieftain
Today Mongolia is a quiet, underpopulated, and underdeveloped land to the north of China. For centuries, it had been home to a hardy nomadic people who had no written language or—until the Middle Ages—cities of their own. The man who briefly made Mongolia the most powerful nation on Earth was born with the name Temujin (TIM-yuh-jin) in 1162.
According to legend, Temujin came into the world grasping a lump of clotted blood, a sign of the forcefulness and violence that would dominate his life. His father was a chieftain named Yesugei (YES-oo-gay), who, when the boy was still young, arranged his marriage to Borte (BOHR-tuh), the daughter of a neighboring chieftain. The families celebrated with a feast, but while returning to his clan's area, Yesugei was poisoned by Tatars (TAT-arz), another nomadic group in the region.
A harsh childhood
Not only was Temujin's mother Ho'elun (hoh-LOON) left a widow and her children fatherless, but the status of nine-year-old Temujin, his father's designated heir, was uncertain. When the leader of another clan, Targutai (tar-goo-TY), seized all their possessions, Temujin's family was defenseless. They might have died had it not been for the resourcefulness and determination of his mother.
Over the next five years, Ho'elun kept her family— Temujin, a younger brother, two older half-brothers, and other smaller children—alive by avoiding the areas controlled by Targutai. This meant that they had to live off of the worst hunting and grazing grounds, and many times they barely made it through a winter without starving. The experience was unquestionably a hardening one for Temujin, who no doubt grew up quickly in the harsh environment of the Central Asia steppes (pronounced "steps"; vast areas of arid land with few or no trees).
When Temujin was fourteen, Targutai learned that he was still alive, and ordered his capture. Temujin managed to escape from a wooden harness in which his captors confined him, and taking advantage of their drunkenness during a feast, he fled their camp and returned to his family. The people who helped him in his escape, and the young men who joined forces with him immediately afterward, would later have honored places in his army. From among their ranks would come several of the hard-driving generals later referred to with admiration as the "Four Coursers of Genghis Khan."
Building his army
Steadily Temujin began taking what had been promised to him long before, and in due course he married
Borte. In honor of their marriage, his new father-in-law gave him a special cloak, and Temujin quickly gave the cloak as a present to Toghrul (tohg-ROOL), a powerful chieftain who had once been an ally of his father's. In the Mongolian culture, which placed a strong emphasis on honoring those more powerful, it was an extremely wise move.
Thus when Borte was kidnapped by a band of enemy tribesmen, Temujin was able to call on the aid of Toghrul. He also asked the help of a childhood friend named Jamukha, and their three forces—Temujin hastily raised an army of his own—defeated the enemy tribe and rescued Borte. For some time after this, Temujin and Jamukha were the closest of friends, but for some reason they later parted ways. Shortly after Jamukha and his men left Temujin's camp, in 1187, a group of clans proclaimed Temujin "Genghis Khan" (JING-us KAHN), meaning "rightful ruler."
Betrayed by old allies
Despite his impressive title, Genghis was but one of several khans, or chieftains, and in the years that followed, tensions between him and other leaders—particularly Jamukha—would grow. In 1198, both men aided the Chinese in a successful war against a common enemy, the Tatars. The shared effort, however, did little to reunite Genghis and Jamukha, and in 1191, clans opposed to Genghis's leadership recognized Jamukha as Gur Khan, or "sole ruler." They then launched an attack against Genghis, who managed to ward them off with the aid of Toghrul's troops.
There is no historical indication that Brian Boru (buh-ROO; c. 941–1014), king of Ireland, had any of the cruel ways typically attributed to Genghis Khan; nonetheless, there were similarities between the two men, though they were widely separated by time and space. Both grew up hiding from enemies, surrounded by a nation disunited and given to internal quarrels, and both would later unite their people and lead them to victory. The empire won by Genghis barely outlasted his grandchildren; Brian's united Ireland did not outlast his own lifetime.
Brian's father led one of several kingdoms that constituted Ireland, and though the Irish had a single "high king," the position lacked any real authority to unite the nation. This made them vulnerable to attacks from outsiders, and in Brian's time Ireland was under constant threat from the Danes, descendants of the Vikings. Together with his older brother and others, Brian waged a long war against the Danes. Later, however, his brother tired of fighting and agreed to make peace with the enemy, but Brian refused to so, and continued fighting.
Eventually Brian won over enough kingdoms to pose a serious challenge to the Danes, and he set out to conquer all of Ireland. In 999, he won the capital city of Dublin, and in 1002 became high king. Now more than sixty years old, he turned his attention from battle to administration, seeking to solidify the position of the high
king. He also formed a strong alliance with the Catholic Church, and instituted a system of church schools to strengthen education throughout the country.
In later years, Brian referred to himself as "emperor of the Irish," and seems to have consciously modeled his rule on that of Charlemagne (see entry) and other great European figures. Though he had authority over the other kings of Ireland, many opposed his power. Eventually his enemies formed an alliance with the Danes, and marched against Brian on Good Friday, April 23, 1014. Brian was killed, and though ironically his side won the battle, their cause was lost without their leader. Brian's vision of Irish unity died with him.
In 1203, however, Jamukha influenced Toghrul to join his side, and they plotted to double-cross Genghis. Once again, the celebration of a betrothal—that is, the promise of a marriage, in this case of Toghrul's son to Genghis's daughter—would provide the occasion for the betrayal. Toghrul's son tried to lure Genghis to a feast, where they would kill him, but one of Genghis's advisors figured out what was going on, and urged him not to go.
Genghis gathered his forces, and called on the clans that had sworn their allegiance to him, but they doubted his ability to win against the superior forces of his enemies, so they chose to stay out of the battle. That battle was inconclusive, but soon afterward, Genghis defeated Toghrul. Next came Jamukha, who he captured some months later. Reportedly Genghis offered his old friend the opportunity to let bygones be bygones, but Jamukha was supposedly so ashamed at his capture that he demanded to be killed. Whether or not this is true, Genghis's men killed him, and in 1206 the Mongols united as a nation for the first time and proclaimed Genghis "ruler of all men."
With a swift and sudden fury, Genghis—then about forty-four years old—rode onto the pages of history, leaving an indelible mark in the twenty-one years that remained for him. The reasons behind his conquest of such a large empire are not clear, but it seems as though he simply started going and never stopped. The Mongols were extraordinarily fierce warriors who struck terror in the hearts of their victims, a terror that was justified by the heaps of corpses they left behind them. It simply did not occur to Genghis to let people live: in his mind, leaving survivors would require him to devote troops to overseeing them, and he wanted to keep on moving.
His viewpoint on conquered peoples began to change somewhat when, in 1211, after subduing several other peoples along the Chinese border, he and his armies went after China itself. The Chinese had long regarded the Mongols as just one of many "barbarian" groups at the fringes of their empire, and had believed that the Mongols' rightful place was as servants to China. Now that was about to change. By 1215, Genghis's hordes, as the Mongol troops were called, had reached Peking, now more commonly known as Beijing (bay-ZHEENG; capital of modern China), which they virtually destroyed. Soon afterward, a former official of the Chinese emperor pointed out to Genghis that if he allowed some people to continue living in the lands he conquered, they could pay him valuable tax money to finance further warfare. Genghis accepted this sound advice, and changed his tactics in the future.
The conquest of the world
In 1216, a sultan in Persia unwisely offended Genghis, who sent his troops westward to take what is now Iran, Afghanistan, southern Russia, Georgia, and Armenia. By 1223, the Mongols controlled a region that stretched from the borders of Turkey to northern India to China.
Genghis himself, about sixty-five years old, died on August 18, 1227, of complications resulting from falling off a horse. He was buried in northeastern Mongolia, and it was said that forty beautiful maidens and forty horses were slaughtered before his grave.
In the years that followed Genghis's death, the Mongolian empire would grow to reach from the outskirts of Vienna, Austria, in the west, to the Korean Peninsula in the east. It was an almost unbelievably vast realm, and the driving force behind its conquest had been Genghis. Within less than two centuries, the Mongols' empire would fade into memory, and the Mongols themselves would retreat to their homeland.
For More Information
Brill, Marlene Targ. Extraordinary Young People. New York: Children's Press, 1996.
Demi. Chinghis Khan. New York: H. Holt, 1991.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, second edition. Detroit: Gale, 1998.
Lamb, Harold. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde. Illustrated by Elton Fax. Hamden, CT: Linnet Books, 1990.
Langley, Andrew. 100 Greatest Tyrants. Danbury, CT: Grolier Educational, 1997.
"Bios: Genghis Khan." [Online] Available http://library.thinkquest.org/17120/data/bios/khan/ (last accessed July 26, 2000).
"Boru." [Online] Available http://www.irishstoryteller.com/boru.html (last accessed July 26, 2000).
"Brian Boru." Clannada na Gadelica. [Online] Available http://www.clannada.org/docs/brianboru.htm (last accessed July 26, 2000).
"Empires beyond the Great Wall: The Heritage of Genghis Khan." [Online] Available http://vvv.com:80/khan/index.html (last accessed July 26, 2000).
"The History of Ireland—Irish Royalty." [Online] Available http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Aegean/7545/Ireland.html (last accessed July 26, 2000).
"P.M.A.: Virtual Exhibits—Genghis Khan." Provincial Museum of Alberta. [Online] Available http://www.pma.edmonton.ab.ca/vexhibit/genghis/intro.htm (last accessed July 26, 2000).
Genghis Khan (1167-1227) was the creator of the Mongol nation and the founder of one of the vastest empires the world has ever seen.
Genghis Khan, whose original name was Temüjin, was born on the banks of the river Onon in the extreme northeast corner of present-day Mongolia. He was left an orphan at the age of 9, his father, a nephew of the last khan of the Mongols, having met his death at the hands of the Tatars, who in the second half of the 12th century had displaced the Mongols as the dominant tribe in eastern Mongolia. Temüjin's mother was deserted by her husband's followers at the instigation of the Taichi'uts, a rival clan who wished to prevent his succeeding to his father's position, and she was reduced to bringing up her family in conditions of great hardship.
Rise to Power
When Temüjin had grown into young manhood, he was taken prisoner by the Taichi'uts, whose intention it was to keep him in perpetual captivity. However, he succeeded in escaping and soon afterward became the protégéof Toghril, the ruler of the Kereits, a Christian tribe in central Mongolia. It was with the aid of Toghril and a young Mongol chieftain called Jamuka that Temüjin was able to rescue his newly married wife, who had been carried off by the Merkits, a forest tribe in the region which is now the Buryatiya in present-day Russia. For a time after this joint operation Temüjin and Jamuka remained friends, but then, for some obscure reason, a rift developed between them and they parted company. It was at this time that certain of the Mongol princes acclaimed Temüjin as their ruler, bestowing upon him the title by which he is known in history, Chingiz-Khan (Genghis Khan), which bears some such meaning as "Universal Monarch."
Genghis Khan's patron Toghril was driven into exile and then restored to the throne by the efforts of his protégé2 years later, in 1198, the first precise date in Genghis Khan's career. The two chieftains allied themselves with the Chin rulers of North China in a campaign against the Tatars, Toghril being rewarded for his share in the joint victory with the Chinese title of wang (prince), whence his Mongol title of Ong-Khan, while Genghis Khan received a much inferior title. In 1199 they took the field against the Naimans, the most powerful tribe in western Mongolia, but the campaign was unsuccessful owing to Ong-Khan's pusillanimous conduct. In the years 1200-1202 the allies won several victories over a confederation of tribes led by Genghis Khan's former friend Jamuka; and in 1202 Genghis Khan made his final reckoning with the Tatars in a campaign which resulted in their total extinction as a people.
Relations with Ong-Khan had in the meanwhile so deteriorated that it came to open warfare. The first battle, though represented as indecisive, seems in fact to have been a defeat for Genghis Khan, who withdrew into a remote area of northeastern Mongolia. He soon rallied, however, and in a second battle (1203) gained a complete victory over Ong-Khan, who fled to the west to meet his death at the hands of the Naimans, while his people, the Kereits, lost their identity, being forcibly absorbed by the Mongols.
Genghis Khan now turned against his enemies in western Mongolia: the Naimans allied with Jamuka and the remnants of the Merkits. The Naimans were finally defeated in 1204, and Küchlüg, the son of their ruler, fled westward to find refuge with the Kara-Khitai, descendants of the Chinese Liao dynasty, who after their expulsion by the Chin had founded a new empire in the area of present-day south Kazakhstan and Xinjiang region of China. Jamuka, now a fugitive, was betrayed by his followers and was put to death by Genghis Khan, his former friend, who found himself at last in undisputed control of Mongolia. In 1206 a kuriltai, or diet, of the Mongol princes, meeting near the sources of the Onon, proclaimed him supreme ruler of the Mongol peoples, and he was now able to contemplate the conquest of foreign nations.
Conquest of China
Already, in 1205, Genghis Khan had attacked the Tanguts, a people of Tibetan origin in what is today Kansu and the Ordos Region of China, and two further campaigns against that people in 1207 and 1209 cleared the way for a frontal assault on China proper. In 1211 the Mongols invaded and overran the whole of the region north of the Great Wall; in 1213 the wall was breached, and their forces spread out over the North China plain; in the summer of 1215 Peking was captured and sacked, and the Chin emperor fled to Kaifeng on the southern banks of the Yellow River. Leaving one of his generals in charge of further operations in North China, Genghis Khan returned to Mongolia to devote his attention to events in central Asia.
Küchlüg the Naiman, who had taken refuge among the Kara-Khitai, had dethroned the ruler of that people and had possessed that kingdom. An army dispatched by Genghis Khan chased him from Kashghar across the Pamirs into Afghanistan, where Küchlüg was captured and put to death; and the acquisition of his territory gave the Mongols a common frontier with Sultan Muhammad, the hereditary ruler of Khiva, who as the result of recent conquests had annexed the whole of central Asia as well as Afghanistan and the greater part of Persia.
Campaign in the West
War between the two empires was probably inevitable; it was precipitated by the execution of Genghis Khan's ambassadors and a group of merchants accompanying them at the frontier town of Otrar on the Syr Darya. Genghis Khan set out from Mongolia in the spring of 1219; he had reached Otrar by the autumn and, leaving a detachment to lay siege to it, advanced on Bukhara, which fell in March 1220, and on Samarkand, which capitulated a month later, the victors of Otrar having taken part in the siege. From Samarkand, Genghis Khan sent his two best generals in pursuit of Sultan Muhammad, who crisscrossed Persia in flight until he met his end on an island in the Caspian Sea. Continuing their westward sweep, the generals crossed the Caucasus and defeated an army of Russians and Kipchak Turks in the Crimea before returning along the northern shores of the Caspian to rejoin their master on his homeward journey. Genghis Khan, in the meantime, having passed the summer of 1220 in the mountains south of Samarkand, attacked and captured Termez in the autumn and spent the winter of 1220/1221 in operations in what is now Tajikistan.
Early in 1221 he crossed the Oxus to destroy the ancient city of Balkh, then part of the Persian province of Khurasan, and dispatched his youngest son, Tolui (Tulë), the father of the Great Khans Mangu (Möngkë) and Kublai, to complete the subjugation of that province, which he subjected to such devastation that it has not fully recovered to this day. In the late summer Genghis Khan advanced southward through Afghanistan to attack Sultan Jalal al-Din, the son of Sultan Muhammad, who at Parvan near Kabul had inflicted a defeat upon a Mongol army. He gave battle to Jalal al-Din on the banks of the Indus; the sultan was decisively defeated and escaped captured only by swimming across the river.
With Jalal al-Din's defeat the campaign in the west was virtually concluded, and Genghis Khan returned by slow stages to Mongolia, which he did not reach till the spring of 1225. In the autumn of the following year he was again at war with the Tanguts; he died, while the campaign was still in progress, in the Liupan Mountains in Kansu on Aug. 25, 1227.
René Grousset, The Conqueror of the World (1944; trans. 1967), is still the best biography, though clearly no longer abreast of contemporary research. Other biographies include Henry Desmond Martin, The Rise of Chingis Khan and His Conquest of North China (1950), and Franklin MacKenzie, The Ocean and the Steppe: The Life and Times of the Mongol Conqueror Genghis Khan, 1155-1227 (1963). Several original sources are available in English translation; the work of the Persian historian Juvaini is available as The History of the World-Conqueror (trans. 1958), and extracts of the native chronicle, The Secret History of the Mongols, are in Arthur Waley, The Secret History of the Mongols and Other Pieces (1963). For details of the campaigns in central Asia and eastern Persia see Wilhelm Barthold, Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion (trans. 1928), and John Andrew Boyle, ed., Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 5 (1968). □
Born: c. 1155
Died: August 25, 1227
Mongolian conqueror and ruler
Genghis Khan was the creator of the Mongol nation and the founder of one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen.
Genghis Khan, whose original name was Temüjin, was born near the river Onon in the northeast corner of present-day Mongolia. When he was nine years old his father Yesugei took him to another tribe to find him a wife. On the way back Yesugei was killed by the Tatars, who in the second half of the twelfth century had displaced the Mongols as the strongest tribe in eastern Mongolia. Yesugei's followers deserted his widow and children, who were then forced to live in conditions of great hardship. Temüjin survived by hunting and fishing.
Rise to power
Temüjin began to attract followers who liked how he handled himself in battle. He became a follower of Toghril, the ruler of a Christian tribe in central Mongolia. Toghril and a young Mongol chief named Jamuka helped Temüjin rescue his wife, who had been captured by the Merkits, a tribe in present-day Russia. Some of the Mongol princes named Temüjin as their ruler, giving him the title of Chingiz-Khan (Genghis Khan), or "Supreme Ruler of the Ocean." Genghis Khan and Toghril later helped North China in a successful battle against the Tatars.
Relations between Genghis Khan and Toghril worsened and eventually led to open warfare. Genghis Khan was defeated in the first battle and withdrew into a remote area of northeastern Mongolia. In 1203, however, he gained a complete victory over Toghril, who fled and was killed by the Naimans. Toghril's people were absorbed by the Mongols. Genghis Khan now turned against his enemies in western Mongolia, including the Naimans allied with Jamuka and the rest of the Merkits. The Naimans were defeated in 1204. Jamuka was soon given up by his followers and put to death by his former friend. In 1206 a group of Mongol princes proclaimed Genghis Khan supreme ruler of the Mongol peoples.
Conquest of China
Genghis Khan did more than just invade and conquer. He established a code of laws for the empire and a standard written language for his people, and he set up a kind of postal system to help different parts of the empire communicate with each other. His greatest skill, though, was as a military leader. In 1211 the Mongols began a full assault on China by invading the entire region north of the Great Wall. In the summer of 1215 Peking, China, was captured. Leaving one of his generals in charge of further operations in North China, Genghis Khan returned to Mongolia to devote his attention to events in central Asia.
Küchlüg the Naiman, who had taken refuge among the Kara-Khitai, had overthrown the ruler of that people and taken over that kingdom. An army sent by Genghis Khan chased him into Afghanistan, where he was captured and put to death; the takeover of his territory gave the Mongols a common frontier with Sultan Muhammad, the ruler of Khiva, who after recent conquests had claimed all of central Asia as well as Afghanistan and the greater part of Persia.
Campaign in the West
It was only a matter of time before the two empires went to war; it began with the execution of some of Genghis Khan's supporters and merchants accompanying them at the town of Otrar. Genghis Khan set out for revenge in the spring of 1219. By April 1220 he had captured Otrar as well as the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. Genghis Khan sent his two best generals in pursuit of Sultan Muhammad, who fled across Persia and was killed on an island in the Caspian Sea. Continuing westward, the generals defeated an army of Russians and Turks before rejoining their master on his journey homeward. Genghis Khan, in the meantime, had attacked and captured Termez in the autumn of 1220 and spent the winter in what is now Tajikistan.
Early in 1221 Genghis Khan destroyed the city of Balkh, in the Persian province of Khurasan. He sent his son Tolui (Tulë) to complete the takeover of that province, which has not fully recovered from the damage to this day. Genghis Khan advanced through Afghanistan to attack Sultan Jalal al-Din, the son of Sultan Muhammad, who had defeated a Mongol army near Kabul. He fought with Jalal al-Din on the banks of the Indus; the sultan escaped capture only by swimming across the river. Jalal al-Din's defeat concluded the campaign in the west, and Genghis Khan returned to Mongolia. In 1226 he resumed war with the Tanguts, a Tibetan people. He died, with the war still in progress, in the Liupan Mountains in Kansu on August 25, 1227.
For More Information
Greenblatt, Miriam. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2000.
Grousset, René. The Conqueror of the World. New York: Orion Press, 1967.
Lister, R. P. Genghis Khan. New York: Stein and Day, 1969. Reprint, Lanham, MD: Cooper Square Press, 2000.
Taylor, Robert. Life in Genghis Khan's Mongolia. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2001.
In 1206, the nomadic Mongol tribes of northern Central Asia united for the first time, and chose as their leader a chieftain, nearly 40 years old, by the name of Temujin. Long before, he had been given the title by which history knows him: Genghis Khan, or "rightful ruler"; now his compatriots declared him "ruler of all men." During the two decades that followed, Genghis would live up to that title, laying the foundations for the largest empire ever known.
According to legend, Temujin came into the world grasping a lump of clotted blood, a sign of the forcefulness and violence that would dominate his life. His father, a chieftain named Yesugei, was poisoned by Tatars, a rival nomadic group in the region, and thereafter Temujin's mother Ho'elun managed to keep her family alive only through sheer will and resourcefulness. As designated heir to Yesugei, young Temujin was in a particularly vulnerable position, and for many years the family hid from Targutai, a leader of another clan who had seized all their possessions.
At the age of 14, Temujin survived an assassination attempt at Targutai's hands, and in the process recruited his first subordinates, men who would later hold places of honor in his army. He soon married a girl named Borte, a marriage that had been arranged long before by his father. When Borte was kidnapped by enemy tribesmen, Temujin called on the aid of two men: Jamukha, a childhood friend; and Toghrul, a powerful chieftain who had once been an ally of his father's. The three succeeded in rescuing Borte, but when a group of clans in 1187 proclaimed Temujin "Genghis Khan" (sometimes translated as "rightful ruler"), this created tension with Jamukha.
Over the years that followed, this enmity grew, and in time Jamukha and Toghrul formed an alliance against Genghis. Genghis had difficulty organizing an army to deal with his two enemies, but with a small force he eliminated first Toghrul, then Jamukha. It was at that point, in 1206, that he united all Mongols under his rule.
It was as though the years of conflict with his countrymen had created an unstoppable momentum in Genghis, who then embarked on a campaign of conquest that seems to have had no immediate cause. His first target consisted of enemy tribes around him; then in 1211, his forces assaulted China. By 1213, they had crossed the Great Wall, spreading out through northern China; and in 1215, Genghis's hordes sacked Peking.
In those early years of conquest, Genghis had simply killed everyone who stood in his way. But the gradual absorption of China added an aspect of sophistication previously lacking in the Mongol tactics. In particular, a former official of the Chinese emperor pointed out to Genghis that if he allowed some people to continue living in the lands he conquered, they could pay him valuable tax money to finance further warfare. Genghis accepted this sound advice.
Certainly Genghis was much more of an empire-builder than he was an administrator, and he placed Mongol-controlled portions of China under the control of a general while he moved into Central Asia. In their pursuit of Küchlüg, a rival chieftain who had fled to Afghanistan, the Mongols had found themselves faced with Sultan Muhammad, who controlled much of Persia, Afghanistan, and neighboring Central Asian territories. After Muhammad's forces executed a group of Genghis's ambassadors, war was virtually inevitable.
Genghis began moving westward in 1219, and by the spring of 1220 had taken Bukhara and Samarkand. After they destroyed Sultan Muhammad, Genghis's troops kept going, swarming into the Caucasus and thus beginning the centuries-long occupation of Russia under the Golden Horde. Genghis himself occupied what is now Tajikistanin the winter of 1220-21, and in the latter year laid waste to the ancient city of Balkh in Khurasan. By summer he was on the shores of the Indus River, dealing a decisive blow against Muhammad's son Jalal al-Din.
Genghis returned to Mongolia in the spring of 1225, and was soon embroiled in another conflict with yet another tribe. It was during this campaign that he died at age 65 on August 18, 1227, of complications resulting from falling off a horse. By this point, the Mongols controlled a region that stretched from the borders of Turkey to Russia to northern India to China—an empire already as large as that of Rome at its peak. In the years that followed Genghis's death, the Mongol realms would stretch from the Korean peninsula to the outskirts of Vienna, and from Siberia to the Indian subcontinent.
Thus Genghis, known to history as a blood-thirsty and merciless conqueror, actually provided the world with an orderly, unified governmental system. For the century that followed, Mongol rule made travel between East and West relatively safe, which it had not been since the declining days of the Roman Empire. This in turn made possible journeys of discovery—most notably that of Marco Polo (1254-1324)—that added greatly to Europeans' emerging knowledge of the world around them.
Founder of the mongol empire
Tribal Leader. The origins of the great Mongol leader Genghis Khan are obscure. Originally called Temujin, he was the son of a Mongolian tribal chieftain poisoned by the Tatars. Forced into exile, he spent several years wandering, and during this time he developed a following and claimed the leadership of his tribe. Many who knew Temujin found him to be quite charismatic and ruthless, a young man with strong leadership skills, great determination, and courage. He steadily defeated rival clans and tribes, and, at a great meeting of the Mongo tribes held in 1206, he became Genghis Khan, meanin “Universal Ruler.” He claimed to be Heaven’s chosen instrument and declared that those against him were in defiance of Heaven’s will. As the supreme ruler he organized the Mongols into a keen fighting force and began military campaigns to conquer other territories to enlarge his empire.
Army. Clans and tribes represented the basic units of Mongol social organization, but at a higher level Mongols were bound together by loyalty to the Great Khan and by a law code first issued in 1206 and later enlarged. The Great Khan organized his army on a decimal system in units of tens, hundreds, and thousands. An elite corps of 10,000 men formed its core, and during campaigns the army had nearly 130,000 men in addition to an almost equal number of non-Mongol soldiers. Superb horsemen, the Mongols had a reputation for ferociousness and destructiveness, and the use of terror greatly aided them in their conquests.
Campaigns. In 1210 Genghis Khan invaded the Xi Xia kingdom, making it a tribute state and cutting China’s trade routes to the Northwest. Five years later he captured Yanjing, the capital of the Jin dynasty (1115-1234), and sacked ninety other towns before turning westward to occupy Bokhara and Samarkand. For the moment he began to employ Chinese and Qidan officials and sent Mukhali, one of his most loyal generals, to govern the Chinese territory he had conquered. In 1226 he launched another campaign against the Xi Xia kingdom but died the next year. By the time of his death, he set up a great Mongol empire in Central Asia and dispatched military expeditions as far east as Russia. His headquarters remained in Mongolia, where Karakorum served as the capital, although it did not have any city walls or permanent buildings until 1235.
Aftermath.. The death of Genghis Khan did not stop Mongol conquests. His sons divided the kingdom into four khanates: Persia, South Russia, Central Asia, and China. In 1231 the Mongols crossed the Yalu River to invade Korea and continued their advance in North China, taking the capital city, Luoyang, in 1234. In the same year they completely destroyed the Jin dynasty. However, it was not until 1279 that Kublai Khan, the Great Khan’s grandson, completed the Mongol con-quest of China and established the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368).
Herbert Franke, China under Mongol Rule (Brookfield, Vt.: Variorum, 1994).
John Langois, ed., China under Mongol Rule (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981).
R. P. Lister, Genghis Khan (New York: Stein & Day, 1969).
Paul Ratchnevsky, Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy, translated by Thomas N. Haining (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992).
Morris Rossabi, Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).