Many of us have heard about the legendary Genghis Khan, either in history books, TV shows, movies, or brief articles about Russia or Mongolia. But in reality, who was he, and why is he so famous? His legacy lives on in this part of the world.
He was born, Temujin in Mongolia in 1162. He married at 16 and had many wives during his lifetime. He amassed a large army at the age of twenty, with the intention of taking over, uniting, and ruling the tribes of northeast Asia. He was successful, building the largest empire in the world before the British Empire. It lasted well beyond his death, the empire that is.
His original name came form a Tatar chieftain that his father, Yesukhei, had captured. Young Temujin was a member of the Borjigin tribe, and a descendant of Khabul Khan. According to Mongol history and tradition, Temujin was born with a clot in his hand, a sign in Mongol culture that he would be a leader of men. Yet it was his mother, Hoelun, taught him how to live in Mongol society, and the value of making alliances.
After his father’s death and some family in-fighting, Temujin married Borte, from the Konkirat tribe, cementing that family alliance. He had four sons with Borte, and many other children with other wives, per Mongolian custom. But as in many Asian cultures, only the males qualified for succession to leadership.
About the age of 20, he was captured, then escaped, joining his brothers and other clansmen to form a fighting unit. From this humble beginning, he began to build a bigger army of about 20,000 men, destroying traditional divisions and uniting the Mongols under his rule. Through both superior military intellect, and hateful revenge for his father’s death, he decimated the Tatar army, killing every Tatar over 3 feet tall. His brutality included boiling alive all of the Taichi’ut chiefs.
By 1206, he also defeated the powerful Naiman tribe, giving him control of central and eastern Mongolia. He was both a brilliant military tactician, utilized an extensive spy network, and was quick to adopt successful tactics and technologies of his enemies. His army grew to more than 80,000 men, and the victories continued. He was bestowed the title of Genghis Khan by virtue of his victories over Mongol tribes. A leading shaman even declared him to be the supreme god of the Mongols.
Genghis Khan wasted no time continuing his conquests, if for no other reason than to gather food and resources for his massive troops. In 1211, he took on the Jin Dynasty in northern China, mostly for the rice fields and wealth. Concomitantly, he also established trade relations on the western border and the Muslim world. But Shah Muhammad, the leader of the Khwarizm Dynasty, not only refused the demand, but in defiance sent back the head of the Mongol diplomat. This set off a three-pronged attack by Genghis with over 200,000 Mongol soldiers.
As he slaughtered everything in his path, he eventually prevailed, bringing an end to the Khwarizm Dynasty in 1221. This period is described by scholars as Pax Mongolica. The empire was government by a legal code called Yassa. This code was “based on Mongol common law but contained edicts that prohibited blood feuds, adultery, theft and bearing false witness. Also included were laws that reflected Mongol respect for the environment such as forbidding bathing in rivers and streams and orders for any soldier following another to pick up anything that the first soldier dropped. Infraction of any of these laws was usually punishable by death. Advancement within military and government ranks was not based on traditional lines of heredity or ethnicity, but on merit.”
After the Khwarizm annihilation, he refocused his efforts on China and took the Tangut capital of Ning Hia. Genghis died in 1227 on unknown causes, and was buried without markings near his birthplace, according to tribal custom. Before his death, he established leadership for most of his empire to his son, Ogedei, though other portions of the empire were given to his other sons. The empire continued to expand under Ogedei, to include Persia, the Song Dynasty in southern China, and the Balkans.
Among his many descendants is Kublai Khan. But why do I spend so much time on Genghis Khan and his empire? An international group of geneticists studying Y-chromosome data have found that nearly 8 percent of the men living in the region of the former Mongol empire carry y-chromosomes that are nearly identical. That translates to 0.5 percent of the male population in the world, or roughly 16 million descendants living today. To have such a startling impact on a population required a special set of circumstances, all of which are met by Genghis Khan and his male relatives, the authors note in the study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
So, the big question is, are you one of his descendants? I have a feeling I know who you are. Now do you know why I digressed?