Most people have heard of Genghis Khan, but the majority probably don’t really know much about the man himself.
Okay, he was a renowned, blood-thirsty warrior, but surely there must have been a lot more to such a powerful man whose name still resonates today.
“I am a punishment of God…if you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you”.Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan was born in 1162. His father, Yesugei, was a Mongol chieftain, and he named his son Temujin after a powerful warlord he had defeated.
At the age of 9, Temujin was sent away from his father to live with a neighboring chieftain family. Within this family was the chieftain’s daughter, Borte, who would become Temujin’s wife.
A sign of the violence that was to characterize Temujin’s life was seen when he was just 10 years. After an argument over some hunting spoils, Temujin killed his half-brother.
When his father was poisoned by the Tatars, Temujin returned home to claim leadership of his father’s land. Upon returning, however, he was cast out and forced to live with nothing for several years, along with this mother and brothers.
At the age of 15, Temujin was enslaved by a neighboring Mongol tribe. He was able to escape with the help of a guard, and this feat was one of the first acts that brought fear and renown to his name.
At 16, he married Borte and allied his family with the tribe of his new wife. Over the years, Temujin would take many wives, but Borte was the only wife ever recognized as his Emperess once he rose to power.
Temujin embarked on his rise to becoming the Khan by uniting the Mongol tribes that roamed the plains which exist between the borders of Russia and China. Before Temujin united the tribes and created Mongolia, the plains were ruled by warring nomadic tribes.
The status quo of which tribe had more power than another was previously controlled by the interference from the Chinese Jin dynasty. They would switch their support between the tribes so that one never got too powerful.
Once Temujin succeeded in uniting the tribes, one of his first targets was the Jin dynasty.
The scope of his power
Upon officially being recognized as the head, or Khan, of the Mongolian tribes, Temujin took the name of Ghengis Khan. It is believed that Genghis comes from the word Jenggis which means “right, just, and true.”
At the height of his power, the Mongol Empire ruled over vast swathes of the earth, including most of China, Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and some parts of Russia.
While it is undoubtedly true that Ghengis Khan and the armies he controlled were blood-thirsty and merciless, Khan was also known for being tolerant of other religions. He is known to have studied Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, and Islam. And he also allowed people from different cultures to administer his cities, recognizing that these kinds of roles were not suited to his nomadic people’s nature.
Tolerance is not an attribute often associated with Ghengis Khan, and the two sides of the man are perhaps best illustrated in relation to his conflict with Persia. Khan was interested in befriending the Persian Khwarezmid Empire and sent a Muslim messenger to speak with them on his behalf.
His messenger was beheaded, and the Persians looted his caravan. In revenge, the Mongols invaded Persia in 1222 and are said to have killed 90% of the civilian population.
There is little doubt that Genghis Khan was one of the most despotic leaders to have ever lived. His armies killed millions of people, and a great many terrible deeds were conducted in his name.
It is also true that Genghis Khan brought law, wealth, culture, civilization, and great wealth to his own people. In Mongolia, Khan’s face appears on banknotes, and he is revered as the father of their county.
Whatever your take on Genghis Khan and the impact he left on the world and the history of civilization, one thing cannot be denied- he certainly left his mark.