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Genghis Khan

Chingis Khan
Birth name:Borjigin Temüjin
Family name:Borjigin
Title:Great Khan of Mongol Empire
(Khan of the Mongols)
Place of birth:Hentiy, Mongolia
Death:August 18, 1227
Dates of reign:1206 – August 18, 1227
Succeeded by:Ogedei Khan
Marriage:Börte Chono
For the German pop band, see Dschinghis Khan

Chingis Khan (1155/1162/1167 – August 18, 1227) (Cyrillic: Чингис Хаан), also spelled as Genghis Khan, Jenghis Khan, etc., pronounced ching'is han, born as Temüjin (Тэмүүжин), was a Mongol political and military leader (Khan) and founder of the Mongolian Empire (1206 – 1368).

Table of contents


Chingis Khan is often considered a military and political genius and one of the most influential leaders in world history, making his mark as one of the most all-encompassing and paramount leaders to all. Highly persuasive and loyal to his Mongol tradition, he is regarded with great respect by Mongols for ending centuries of war, and bringing political and economic stability to the Mongolian Empire. Chingis Khan's descendants continued to claim leadership over Mongolia until the 17th century, when the last Khan was conquered by the Manchu.

Chingis Khan and his descendants managed to create the largest contiguous empire in history in just under 200 years, controlling most of Eurasian continent or half of the known world as of today's Eastern Europe, Middle East, Central, North, East and Southeast Asia (see Legacy).

In a brief time period, Chingis Khan managed to make the Mongols the most feared and intimidating nation throughout the known world. This was due in part to the considerable loss of life and possessions for those who opposed him, as well as many other advancements (see Khan of the Mongols).

Early life

Chingis Khan is believed to have been born with the name of Temüjin between 1155 and 1167 in Hentiy, Mongolia. If this is true, the birth place is presumably in mountain area of Burhan Haldun. He was the second son of Yesükhei, a tribal chief of the Kiyad. Yesükhei's clan was called Borjigin (Боржигин) . His mother was named Hoelun and she was of the Olkunut tribe. Chingis Khan was named after one of the more powerful chiefs of a rival tribe.

Chingis Khan's early life was a most difficult one. When he was only nine, his father delivered Temüjin to his future wife's family, where he was to live until he reached the marriageable age of 14. Shortly thereafter, his father was murdered by the neighboring Tartars while returning home. This event made Chingis Khan the clan's new chief, though his clan soon abandoned him and his family, refusing to be led by a mere boy. For the next few years, he and his family lived the life of poor nomads, surviving primarily on marmots. In one incident Chingis Khan slew his half-brother over a dispute about sharing hunting spoils. In another, Temüjin was captured in a raid by his former tribe and held captive with a wooden collar around his neck. He later escaped with help from a sympathetic captor. His mother Hoelun taught him many lessons on how to survive in the harsh political climate of Mongolia, especially the need for alliances with others, which would shape his understanding in his later years. Chingis Khan's spiritual alignment was Shamanism and his lifestyle was nomadic. He had good etiquette, preferring to approach topics with rationale and common sense.

Around the age of 16, Chingis Khan married Börte of the Konkirat tribe. Later she was kidnapped in a raid by the Merkit tribe and Chingis Khan called on his friend and later rival, Jamuka, and his protector, Toghril of the Kereit tribe, for aid. The birth of Börte's first child, Jochi, suspiciously soon after she was freed led to doubt over his paternity.

He was the first ever "Khan"- a term given to all their leaders.

Uniting the tribes and road to power

Representation of Chingis Khan and soldiers.

Chingis Khan began his slow ascent to power by allying himself with his father's friend Toghril, a local chief. He joined the Keriat, a confederacy of Mongols led by Wang Khan. After successful campaigns against the Tartars (1202), Chingis Khan was adopted as Wang Khan's heir. This led to bitterness on the part of Senggum, Wang's former heir, who planned to assassinate Chingis Khan. Temüjin, after learning of Senggum's intentions, eventually defeated Senggum and his loyalists and succeeded to the title of Wang Khan. Chingis Khan eventually created a written code of laws for the Mongols called Yassa, and he demanded it to be followed very strictly in order to strengthen his organization and his power among his people. He was looked on as a very common man, sharing his wealth and resources with his followers and followed his shamanic and nomadic tradition throughout his life.

Feeling the need to secure his borders from the south against the Jin Empire and from the west against the Xia, Chingis Khan organized his people to prepare for possible conflicts, especially with the Chinese. The Chinese had grown uncomfortable with the newly emergent Mongols, fearing that they would eventually restrict the Chinese supply of goods, as many trade routes ran through Mongol territory. With his personal charisma and strong will, Chingis Khan by 1206 managed to unite the tribes under a single system, a monumental feat for the Mongols, who had a long history of internecine dispute and economic hardship. At a Kurultai (a council of Mongol chiefs) he was acknowledged as the first and only "Khan Khan" or Khagan, the ruler of rulers or an emperor in equivalent. He was further titled "Chingis Khan" (alternate spellings exist; see above) or Universal Ruler (also "Ruler of all between the oceans") at around the age of 40.

Khan of the Mongols



At the time of the Khuriltai, Chingis was involved in a dispute with Western Xia, a state that demanded tribute from the Mongols. Chingis Khan led the Mongols to war and conquered Xia, despite initial difficulties in conquering well-defended cities in western Xia. By 1209, he was acknowledged by their emperor as overlord. The emperor, however, soon broke his agreement with the Mongols in 1211 and set about to bring the Jurchen completely under his dominion, and to prevent them from challenging the Mongols for territory and resources. In 1215 Chingis besieged, captured, and sacked the Jin capital of Yanjing (later known as Beijing). The Jin emperor, Xuan Zong, however, did not surrender. Instead, he moved his capital to Kaifeng because of the growing threat of Mongols in the north. There Xuan's successors were finally defeated, but not until 1234.

Central Asia

Meanwhile, Kuchlug, the deposed khan of the Naiman Mongols, had fled west and had usurped the khanate of Kara-Khitan, the western allies that had decided to side with Chingis. By this time, the Mongol army was exhausted by ten years of continuous campaigning against the Western Xia and the Jin. Therefore, Chingis sent only two tumen under a brilliant young general, Jebe, against Kuchlug. An internal revolt was incited by Mongol agents; then Jebe overran the country. Kuchlug's forces were defeated west of Kashgar; he was captured and executed, and Kara-Khitan was annexed. By 1218 the Mongol state extended as far west as Lake Balkhash and adjoined Khwarizm, a Muslim state that reached to the Caspian Sea in the west and to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea in the south.

Middle East

In 1218 Chingis sent emissaries to an eastern province of Khwarizm with the intention of discussing possible trade with the Khwarizmian Empire. The governor of the province had them killed, and Chingis Khan retaliated with a force of 200,000 troops. The Mongol army quickly took the town, using superior strategy and tactics, and executed the governor by pouring molten silver into his ears and eyes as retribution for the insult.

At this point (1219), Chingis decided to extend Mongol dominions into the Muslim world. The Mongol army methodically marched through Khwarizm's main cities (Bukhara, Samarkand, and Balkh), and the shah, Muhammad, prepared to battle with them. However, he was outmaneuvered by the much swifter Mongol army and driven into extended retreat. In the end, the shah killed himself rather than surrender when he was cornered and by 1220, the Khwarizmian Empire was eradicated.

The Mongol armies then split into two component forces. Chingis led a division on a raid through Afghanistan and northern India, while another contingent, led by his general Subedei, marched through the Caucasus and Russia. Neither campaign added territory to the empire, but they pillaged settlements and defeated any armies they met that did not acknowledge Chingis Khan as the rightful leader of the world. In 1225 both divisions returned to Mongolia.

These invasions added Transoxiana and Persia to an already formidable empire and began to establish Chingis Khan's reputation as a bloodthirsty warrior.

Europe and Caucasus

While Chingis was gathering his forces in Persia and Armenia, 40,000 of his troops pushed deep into Armenia and Azerbaijan (see above in Central Asia). There Chingis destroyed Georgian crusaders, took a Genoese trade-fortress in Crimea, and stayed the winter near the Black Sea. While Chingis was heading home, he met Prince Mstitslav of Kiev with his 80,000 troops, which was the presumed Battle of Kalka River in 1223. He destroyed Prince Mstitslav and his army.

Political and economic accomplishments

Main article: Organization of state under Genghis Khan

He laid out many laws and customs, such as freedom of religion, meritocracy, cultural diversity, extensive trade, tax break/abolishment of taxes for certain sectors, capital punishment and patriotism that several democratic societies use today.

Temujin was always looking for ways to advance his people. Though illiterate when he was young and learned to read Taoist sermons later in his life, he himself quickly saw the advances of different languages when he encountered them amongst the conquered peoples, and took tutors with him to teach his children and himself to read and write. Chingis Khan took anything he found of technological advantage, even if he did not fully understand it, including the sciences of language, astronomy and advanced mathematics. The Mongols introduced most of Asia to the abacus and the compass, and brought to Europe the explosives that were first created in China, as well as high-powered siege engines that the Chinese developed for European compatriots. Chingis Khan also united all the Mongol tribes, which some argue was his most significant achievement.

Military accomplishments

Main article: Military advances of Genghis Khan

Representation of 12th and 13th century Mongol soldiers in Naadam.

Chingis Khan made advancements to military such as mobility, psychological warfare, intelligence, military autonomy and tactics.

Chingis Khan's armies seemed to be incomparably superior in the 12th and 13th century because of their superior strategy and mobility. The main advances Chingis Khan made were refusing to divide his troops into different ethnic enclaves. This created a "oneness" among the troops that allowed them to see themselves as Chingis Khan's army first and as their ethnic group second. Also, Chingis Khan divided his armies into smaller groups, which allowed his armies the ability to divide if need be. This allowed his armies to attack their enemies on several fronts at once. Finally, Mongol leaders did not use any set formations, so they could be anywhere among the troops, which made them difficult to track.

The final years

The vassal emperor of Western Xia had refused to take part in the war against the Khwarizm, and Chingis had vowed revenge. While he was in Persia, Western Xia and Jin had formed an alliance against the Mongols. After rest and a reorganization of his armies, Chingis prepared for war against their alliance.

By this time, his advancing age had led Chingis to prepare for the future and to assure an orderly succession among his descendants; he selected his third son Ögedei as his successor and established the method of selection of subsequent khans, specifying that they should come from his direct descendants. Meanwhile, he studied intelligence reports from Western Xia and Jin and readied a force of 180,000 troops for a new campaign.

Western Xia and Jin

Khanates of Mongolian Empire: Ilkhanate, Chagatai Khanate, Empire of the Great Khan (Yuan Dynasty), Golden Horde

In 1226, Chingis Khan attacked the Tanguts (Western Xia) on the pretext that the Tanguts received the Mongols' enemies and he sought retribution for this betrayal. In February, Chingis Khan took Heisui City, Gan-zhou and Su-zhou and in the autumn, he took Xiliang-fu. A Western Xia general challenged the Mongols for a battle near Helanshan Mountain. (Helan means "great horse" in the northern dialect.) The Western Xia armies were defeated. In November, he laid siege to the Tangut city of Ling-zhou and then crossed the Yellow River and defeated the Tangut relief army. Chingis reportedly saw five stars arranged in a line in the sky, which he took to be an omen.

In 1227, Chingis Khan attacked the Tanguts' capital, and in February of that year, he took Lintiao-fu. In March, he took Xining prefecture and Xindu-fu. In April, he took Deshun prefecture. At Deshun, the Western Xia general Ma Jianlong resisted the Mongols for days and personally led charges against them outside of the city gate. Ma Jianlong later died from wounds received from many arrows. Chingis, after conquering Deshun, went to Liupanshan Mountain (Qingshui County, Gansu Province) for shelter from the severe summer.

The new Western Xia emperor surrendered to the Mongols. The Tanguts officially surrendered in 1227, after having ruled for 190 years, from 1038 to 1227. The Mongols killed the Tangut emperor and his royal family for their betrayal and dishonor.


Mongolian Empire in 1227 at Genghis Khan's death.

At his death, Chingis Khan divided his empire amongst his four sons. Jochi was the eldest, but he was already dead and his paternity was in doubt, so the most distant lands conquered by the Mongols, then southern Ruthenia, were divided among his sons Batu, leader of the Blue Horde, and Orda, leader of the White Horde. Chagatai was the next-eldest son of Chingis, but he was considered a hothead, and so was given Central Asia and northern Iran. Ogedei, third oldest, was made Great Khan and given China. Tolui, the youngest, was given the Mongol homeland as per Mongol custom.

On his deathbed in 1227, Chingis Khan outlined to his youngest son, Tolui, the plans that later would be used by his successors to complete the destruction of the Jin Empire.

In his last campaign leading the Mongol fight against Western Xia, Chingis Khan died on August 18, 1227. The reason for his death is uncertain. Many assume he fell off his horse, due to old age and physical wearing down; some contemporary observers even cited prophecies from his opponents. The Galician-Volhynian Chronicle alleges he was killed by the Tanguts, but as of today the truth is unclear.


It is alleged that Chingis Khan asked to be buried without markings. After he died, his body was returned to Mongolia and presumably to his birthplace in Hentiy aymag, where many assume he is buried somewhere close to the Onon river. The funeral escort killed anyone and anything that strayed across their path to his burial, so as not to reveal where he was finally laid to rest. The Genghis Khan Mausoleum is his memorial, but not his burial site. As of October 6, 2004, there has been an alleged discovery of "Chingis Khan's palace" that makes a discovery of his burial site more likely. In folklore it is said that a river was diverted over his grave to make it impossible to find and/or his grave was stamped over by many horses.

Marriages and children

Main article: Family tree of Genghis Khan

Chingis Khan's empress was Borte, his childhood friend that his father left Temujin with her and her family when he was 9. Borte gave birth to the following four sons of Chingis Khan:

Jochi is not completely certain to be a biological child of Chingis Khan, because he was born soon after Borte was freed from her captors. All 4 children of Chingis Khan held the title of Khan by controlling the khanates after Chingis Khan's death as it was Chingis Khan's wish. All four children took part in the Chingis Khan's campaign in one way or another. Ogedei was proclaimed Great Khan by direcly succeeding the Chingis Khan.

Personality of Chingis Khan

The most common argument of Chingis Khan's personality is one based upon acute vision of facts and tendencies of things. This was probably due to the many hardships that the Chingis Khan faced when he was young and the time that it took to unify the Mongol nation around 40 years old. He is portrayed as a very curious learner of new ideas from different places, and saw both, what worked and what didn't work. Chingis Khan was the total supporter of the Mongol people's nomadic way of life and their beliefs. He seemed to get increasingly aware of the consequences of numerous victories and expansion of the Mongol dominion, in which he illustrated that maybe his children and grandchildren might choose to live in sedentary lifestyle, such as in buildings and houses, but not him. As according to the many quotations from his later years, he urged the future leaders wherever they may be, to follow his teachings that is Yassa, so that they refrain from surrounding themselves with increased wealth and pleasure. Unfortunately like any other empires in the past, there came a time where the Chingis Khan's philosophy of conduct of nation began to weaken, and the Mongolian Empire was based increasingly upon wealth and sedentary charactertistics especially among the ruling class.

Public perceptions

Chingis is an extremely polarizing figure to many. In the West and the Middle East, the perception of Chingis Khan is negative due to the destruction brought about by his armies. While those in the East acknowledge this, they nonetheless admire his superior military command and historical legacy. On the other hand, in the Middle East, people have mixed views about Chingis Khan and his descendants because their armies conquered and destroyed Baghdad; on the other hand, some Mongol armies eventually converted to Islam and adopted its way of life, because the religious tolerance faciliated cultural exchange and assimilation. Many scholars and scientists, depending heavily on their nationality, consider Mongols as some of the greatest builders and destroyers.

Views toward Chingis Khan in the modern day People's Republic of China are ambivalent, with current Chinese historians seeing him as neither strongly positive or negative. While acknowledging the vast amount of damage the Chingis Khan caused, his reputation is somewhat redeemed by the fact that he would set into motion events which would later end the non-Han dynasties of the north and the Han south divisions of China that had begun during the Song Dynasty.


Mongolian Empire from 1300 to 1405.

Later emperial expansion and its costs

Main article: Mongolian Empire

Chingis Khan's successors expanded the empire even further, into south China, Russia, Iraq, Korea, and Tibet. The Mongols eventually conquered Poland and Hungary under Batu Khan's rule, and (with varying degrees of success) Syria, Japan, and Vietnam. The European expansion came to halt when high-ranking members of Mongols returned to modern day Mongolia to participate in selection of the next great Khan. The Mongols might have been ready to conquer all of Europe, having conquered Poland and Hungary in a month. The Mongolian Empire reached its height under Khan's grandson Kublai Khan, but broke apart into separate and less powerful khanates shortly afterward.

At its height, the Mongolian Empire stretched from Southeast Asia to Europe, covering 35 million square kilometers (13.8 million square miles), little less than the British Empire with its 14.1 million square miles, or 36 million square kilometers. According to some sources, the empire encompassed almost 50% of the world population and included the most advanced and populous nations of that time; China and many of the main contemporary states of the Islamic world in Iraq, Persia, and Asia Minor. It holds the record for the longest continuous landmass controlled by any empire in history.

It can't be denied that Chingis Khan's waging of war was characterized by wholesale destruction on unprecedented scale and radically changed the demographic situation in Asia. According to the works of Iranian historian Rashid-ad-Din Fadl Allah, Mongols killed over 70,000 people in Merv and more than a million in Nishapur. China suffered a drastic decline in population. Before the Mongol invasion, China had about 100 million inhabitants; after the complete conquest in 1279, the census in 1300 showed it to have roughly 60 million people. This does not, of course, mean that Chingis Khan's men were directly responsible for the deaths of 40 million people but it does give a sense of the ferocity of the onslaught. Historical bias might have also played role in these numbers (See Historical misrepresentations).

Tamerlane based much of his early legitimacy on a supposed lineage descending from Genghis.

Mongolia as a nation

In recent times, Chingis Khan has become a symbol for Mongolia's attempts to regain its identity after many long years of Communism under Russia. Chingis Khan's face appears on Mongolian bank notes and vodka labels. Later Mongol Chingis Khans encouraged the people to even worship Chingis Khan as a religious entity throughout the empire. Without Chingis Khan, there would seem to be no Mongolia, as the Mongolian Empire consistenly shrank from what was built by Chingis Khan when he was titled in 1206.

A recent genetic survey (Zerjal et al. 2003, pdf of paper) found a cluster of Y chromosome variants in 1/12 of the men in the area of the Mongolian Empire, and 1/200 of men worldwide. The age of the cluster, estimated from the mutation rate, places its origin around the time of Chingis Khan, and it is especially common among the Hazara people, who claim to be descended from Chingis Khan, which has traditionally been rejected by most scientists because it was assumed to be local folklore. Through this it is popularly reasoned that over 0.5% of the world's population (as the study was only able to cover direct male decendants) is descended from Chingis Khan, although there isn't a scientific evidence to support this claim and modern science doesn't favor this assumption.

He is remembered for his destruction, strong willpower, persuasiveness, power, but in Eastern Asia also for his achievements as a unifying, even cosmopolitan ruler, who nonetheless valued his Mongol identity over all. He is one of the most popular military and intimidating leaders and remains a unique figure to few.

Historical biases

Most of the historical record about Chingis Khan and Mongols in general are recorded from the viewpoint of the victims of Chingis Khan. So there has been consistent misconceptions and biased truths to the actual losses and historical records about the Chingis Khan more towards the negative. There has been tremendous exageration of assaults, barbarism, and cost of lives about Chingis Khan and his descendants.

The Secret History of the Mongols is the original Mongol literature that looks at the Chingis Khan from the Mongols' viewpoint.

See also

External links


Wikiquote quotations related to:
Genghis Khan
  • Zerjal, Tatiana, Yali Xue, Giorgio Bertorelle, R. Spencer Wells, Weidong Bao, Suling Zhu, Raheel Qamar, Qasim Ayub, Aisha Mohyuddin, Songbin Fu, Pu Li, Nadira Yuldasheva, Ruslan Ruzibakiev, Jiujin Xu, Qunfang Shu, Ruofu Du, Huanming Yang, Matthew E. Hurles, Elizabeth Robinson, Tudevdagva Gerelsaikhan, Bumbein Dashnyam, S. Qasim Mehdi, and Chris Tyler-Smith. 2003. The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols. The American Journal of Human Genetics 72:718–721
  • "Genghis Khan and the Mongols." Genghis Khan and the Mongols. Accessed on October 12, 2004.
  • "Mongol Arms." Mongol Arms. Accessed on June 24, 2003.
  • Weatherford, Jack. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, 2004.

Further reading

  • Cable, Mildred and French, Francesca. 1943. The Gobi Desert. London. Landsborough Publications.
  • Man, John. 1997. Gobi : Tracking the Desert. Weidenfield & Nicolson. Paperback by Phoenix, Orion Books. London. 1998.
  • Stewart, Stanley. 2001. In the Empire of Genghis Khan: A Journey among Nomads. HarperCollinsPublishers, London. ISBN 0–00–653027–3.

Preceded by:
Great Khan of Mongolian Empire
Followed by:
Ogedei Khan

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