Genghis Khan's Empire

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan

By Eric Iverson

The Mongolians of the 12th and 13th century were seen as nothing more than savage barbarians by their enemies, who inhabited what is now China, Russia, and the Middle East (Nicolle 7). Because the Mongolians were brutal and because Mongol history was mostly recorded by Mongol victims, this view has lasted almost eight hundred years (Nicolle 7). However under their greatest leader, Genghis Khan, the Mongolians were much more than wild and undisciplined crushers of cities, agriculture, and established civilizations. Genghis Khan created more than he destroyed.

A military genius, Genghis led methodical campaigns that first brought together the warring tribes of Mongolia into a nation and then conquered Mongolia’s powerful neighboring empires (USA Today 1). Not only did Genghis create Mongolia the ruler brought education, including Mongolia’s first written language, and a code of laws to the country (USA Today 1). Finally, Genghis Khan laid the foundation for the Mongol Empire, one of the greatest empires of all time (Marshall 64-65). Heritage of Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan was born "Temuchin" around 1167 (Marshall 24). The name was taken from one of the Tartars (a rival nomadic tribe) who Temuchin’s father, Yesugei, had killed (Nicolle 17-18). According to legend, Temuchin was born holding a blood clot in his fist (Lister 18). This was considered to be a symbol that the child would be a heroic fighter (Lister 18). Temuchin became head of the family at the age of just 12 or 13 after Yesugei was slain by a group of Tartars (Nicolle 17). Yesugei had been a lesser chief of the Borjigin clan but the clan rejected the young Temuchin as leader and cast his family out (Nicolle 17). For a period of time Temuchin’s family lived in extreme poverty but through courageous deeds, such as escaping capture and retrieving stolen horses, Temuchin was able to attract followers and build a reputation that spread across Mongolia ( 2-3).

In addition to many followers Temuchin was also able to attract two strong allies. The most important was Yesugei’s blood brother Togrul, leader of the Kereit tribe, one of the most powerful Mongolian tribes at that time (Humphrey 39). Togrul helped gather together Yesguei’s followers under Temuchin when the Merkits (another Mongolian tribe) kidnapped Temichin’s wife Borte (Humphrey 39). Matters of "honor" and "revenge" were the source of much tribal conflict and the motive for this kidnapping (Lister 68-69). Yesugei’s wife had been taken from the Merkits and so Borte was taken to even the score (Nicolle 18).

In the end this benefited Temuchin enormously since Togrul also convinced Jamuga (a childhood friend of Temuchin who now led a large tribe) to join Temuchin and Togrul in a war against the Merkits (Humphrey 44). The three men defeated the Merkits and retrieved Borte (Humphrey 44). This was Temuchin's first command and the victory greatly improved his image and increased his power (Marshall 27-28). Large numbers of young, devoted warriors were drawn to him (Lister 102-103). After Jamuga helped Temuchin defeat the Merkits the friendship was renewed and followers were combined (Humphrey 46). When the two strong leaders came into conflict and separated about a year and a half later many of Jamuga’s followers decided to remain with Temuchin (Humphrey 46). At the age of about twenty Temuchin was declared "Khan," or ruler, of several tribes (Lister 99-101). Genghis Khan

Now with a larger following and the help of Togrul and the Chin (a large civilization in northern China), Temuchin was able to defeat the
Tartars and avenge his father’s death (Nicolle 18). Temuchin continued to build power by removing rivals (Nicolle 18-19). Deals were struck with most Mongol chieftains giving them leadership roles and wives (Humphrey 47). These chiefs who would not serve under other chiefs were willing to serve under the dominating Temuchin (Humphrey 47). Eventually Jamuga became Temuchin’s primary rival allying with Temuchin’s enemies in a series of campaigns which came to include even Togrul and the Kereits (Nicolle 19). Using superior political and military skill, Temuchin defeated and integrated all opposing Mongol tribes (Marshall 28-32). By 1206 Temuchin led more than two million people and ruled land stretching a 1000 miles from west to east and 600 miles from Siberia in the north to the Gobi Desert in the south (Humphrey 57, 63). Temuchin’s followers, while still nomadic, were now united behind their leader and considered themselves one nation of Mongols (Humphrey 59). Temuchin took the name Genghis which appropriately meant universal leader (USA Today 1).

Having created a nation Genghis now looked to build an empire (Humphrey 77-78). During his lifetime Genghis conquered Hsi Hsia a southwestern border country of Mongolia, the Chin empire of north China, and (after being provoked by the massacre of a trade caravan and subsequent murder of his ambassador) the medieval Muslim kingdom of Khwarezm (Marshall 42-57). Genghis was able to consistently defeat larger forces by using ruthless military strategies which are well-known and innovative military strategies which should be well known (Marshall 37-57). Genghis’ highly disciplined troops were equally capable of slaughtering civilians whose armies refused to surrender and mastering the advanced methods required to capture fortified cities (Humphrey 82-83). Well supplied and constantly drilled in war games, the Mongolian men were always prepared for war (Humphrey 68). In the field of battle Genghis maintained close communications with commanders using swift "arrow messengers, signal flags, and fire (Humphrey 79-78). The entire army moved and attacked on horseback and there were always one or two fresh horses available for each man (Humphrey 65). Combined with other tactics, the incredible mobility of Genghis’ forces (which was probably not matched until the German blitzkrieg of WWII) always gave him the advantage of surprise (Humphrey 67-68). The History of Mongolia

Most of the Western world views Genghis Khan as a simple savage who overwhelmed others by brute force (Marshall 64). However, Genghis was a cunning warrior, a superb motivator, an organized leader, and a wise ruler who valued loyalty, education, strict laws, and the exchange of knowledge and goods with other cultures. Genghis created Mongolia and established an empire that reached from the Pacific Ocean to the Black Sea and from Siberia to Tibet (USA Today 1). Genghis died in 1227 but the structure and tradition the great leader established did not (Nicolle 46-47). Descendants were well positioned to expand Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire from the Pacific to the Danube and from Siberia to the Indian Ocean, an area in which half the population of the world then lived (Humphrey 107). It took a genius, not a savage, to accomplish this. The Mongolian Empire.


Humphrey, Judy. Genghis Khan. New York: Chelsea House of Publishers, 1987.

Lister, R.P. Genghis Khan. New York: Dorset Press, 1969.

Marshall, Robert. Storm from the East. Berkely: University of California Press, 1952.

Nicolle, David. The Mongol Warlords. United Kingdom: Firebird Books, 1990.

"The Historical Mongol Empire." Genghis Khan. 19pars. Online. Internet. 20 March 1998.
Available: http.//

"Treasures from Inner Mongolia." USA Today Magazine May 1994. 15pars. Online EBSCOHost. 10 March 1998.

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