10 Genghis Khan Facts That Define History’s Most Famous Barbarian
The Mongol Empire was responsible for destroying thousands of tribes across Asia and China and is still the largest Empire ever formed in human history. At the height of their reign, the Mongols had conquered over 22% of the Earth’s total land and held authority over 100 million people. At the head of this tyranny was Mongolian warrior, Genghis Khan.
Between the 13th and 14th centuries, Khan conquered several territories and devised a system of laws to rule his empire. His reign spanned through Korea, China, Afghanistan, Persia, and Iraq, until eventually reaching Hungary and Russia. His reformed army consisted of 100,000 men, and a 10,000-strong Imperial Guard stretched across Asia. Collectively, under Khan’s rule, they left a wake of destruction that destroyed entire populations of people. In fact, under the leadership of Genghis Khan, the Mongols brutally murdered close to 40 million people, which makes him more ruthless than Joseph Stalin.
Although Khan and the Mongol Empire were responsible for millions of deaths, they also established new connections between the East and West. Additionally, Khan brought Chinese medicine to his people and was passionate about raising the levels of literacy in his country. The parallel between these two personalities has baffled historians for decades and continues to be a source of contention today.
Although he died hundreds of years ago, and his name is recognized all over the world, there is still plenty of mystery surrounding his legacy. To learn more about his life and conquests, here are 10 facts about the barbarian conqueror Genghis Khan.
10Genghis Khan Isn’t His Birth Name
Genghis Khan was born somewhere around 1162 under the name “Temujin.” The name, which belonged to a leader who was defeated by Khan’s father means “blacksmith,” or “iron.” As a member of the Borjigin tribe, Temujin was taught Mongol history and folklore from a very young age. It was believed that he was destined to be a leader and therefore, he was taught to face the reality of his future.
At the young age of 10, Temujin’s father was poisoned resulting in him rising to the reigns as chief. Unfortunately, his tribe left him for dead, and he was forced to forage for roots stay alive. Just a short three years later, he formed alliances and organized his first army, which is how he became famous for discipline and training. With his sheer personality alone, Temujin was able to gain supporters and attract followers.
When Temujin reached young adulthood, around the age of 20 years old, he was captured by an ally and enslaved. With the help of a fellow captor, he escaped and began to form his army. Temujin started what would be a very successful attempt at creating an army of over 20,000 men, aimed at destroying traditional divisions and uniting Mongols.
By 1206, Tumajin had achieved great success including defeating the Naiman tribe and earning control of Central and Eastern Mongolia. It was at this time when Tumajin was declared, “Genghis Khan,” the leader of the Mongols at a tribal meeting also referred to as a “kurultai.
9No One Knows What He Looks Like
Although Genghis Khan is widely popular and well-known, there is little information recorded about him regarding his physical appearance. There are some portraits depicting what he may have looked like, but no one knows what his exact features where. During the time of his reign, Mongolians lacked a common writing system, which meant that very little of what we know about him is recorded.
Most historians accept the portrait currently hanging in the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan. This depiction was drawn with the guidance of Khan’s grandson the Mongol Yuan dynasty, and it is believed to depict Genghis Khan with Mongol features.
Additionally, there are no modern sculptures or portraits of the legendary figure that have survived, and any information about him is widely disputed among historians. There are some accounts of him, however, which describe him as tall and strong with long hair and a bushy beard. Some even believed that his combined European and Asian characteristics, give him a unique appearance.
The most shocking description came from 14th century Persian reporter Rashid al-Din, who believed that Khan had red hair and green eyes. Per historians, Al-Din’s accounts are doubtful because he never met Khan in person. Additionally, the claims are questionable, because they do not match the standard features which are characteristic of a Mongol male.
Although there are paintings, sculptures, and images of him in existence, Mongol leader Genghis Khan, never allowed anyone to capture his likeness while he was alive. All the images that we see today appeared following his death.
8He Killed His Half Brother as a Child over a Hunting Dispute
When Temujin was a young boy his father was poisoned, he began a long struggle to his position as head chief. To avoid feeding them, the clan deserted Temujin, along with his mother, and six siblings. During that time in Mongolia, there were constant battles between rival clans. Thus, Temujin and his siblings had to learn how to fight early.
Temujin spent nearly three years in poverty surviving off small game and wild fruits with his mother, three brothers, sister, and his two half-brothers Bekhtar and Belgutei. One evening, after several days of starvation in exile, Temujin, and his half-brother Bekhtar Temujin embarked on a hunting expedition.
Young Temujin captured some small game on this trip and hid it away for later retrieval. After seeing his brother Behktar near where he had hidden his game, he followed him, only to find him eating it, which resulted in his family starving.
After seeing this, Temujin shot him with an arrow and returned to his family and confessed his sins. Upon hearing what he did, his mother, Hoelun banished him from the family and Temujin was forced to survive on his own in the wild. Eventually, some travelers took him in, they later moved on to become generals in his army.
Although Temujin was harshly punished by his mother for the actions he took against his brother, he was not remorseful for his actions. In fact, he felt it was warranted in light of Behtar’s greed.
7He Was Responsible for the Creation of One of the First Postal Systems
Many people remember Genghis Khan for his brutality and the ruthless slaughtering of thousands of individuals, but what you may not know is he had a profound influence on the modernizing of European civilization. For instance, Khan was responsible for developing a supply route messaging system within his army called, “Yam.”
These relay stations were first used by the Mongol’s to supply army messengers with food, spare horses, and shelter. The yam stations operated in a chain within specific distances of each other, generally within 14-40 miles apart.
The Mongol army messengers would travel between relay stations offering information to the second messenger, while the next runner moved to the next location. Using this system, there was a constant flow of information and the messengers didn’t get tired.
These stations evolved greatly, and at the end of Khan’s rule he had installed an Empire-wide postal system titled “Ortoo.” In China alone, his system, has over 1,400 stations. Every station was staffed with enough individuals and horses which allowed for travelers to successfully take over. Eventually, the Mongol Empire’s postal system had nearly 50,000 horses and some horses that travelers could take over. As a result, the Mongol Empire’s postal system accumulated upwards of 50,000 horses. They also had close to 7,000 mules, 200 dogs, and 1,400 oxen, the postal system even had sheep to ensure reliable and trustworthy delivery of messages.
The postal system was considered especially unique because of its ability to send a variety of mail, messages, and reports within a vast area.
6He Fathered Many Children
Genghis Khan married at the young age of 16, which was the standard during that time in Mongolia. He betrothed, Borte, who bore him four sons named, Jochi, Chagatai, Ögedei, and Tolui. However, Khan believed the strength of a man was defined by the children he left behind, which is why he fathered children with the thousands of women within his harem.
Although he fathered many other children, only the four children he had with Borte were included in his succession. Additionally, any daughters he may have had are scarcely recorded in history. His eldest son, Jochi was a point of serious controversy throughout his life, and his paternity is still questioned today.
The four children he includes in his succession, and the few that are named throughout historical documents are nowhere near the amount that Khan fathered. In fact, per a study, 0.5% of the world’s total population might be a descendant of Genghis Khan. The data used for the study found that 8% of men who used to reside in the former Mongol Empire carry the same Y-chromosomes as Genghis Khan. Scientists also found that the lineage of this Y-chromosome began nearly 1,000 years ago, in Mongolia. The carrier of this chromosome would have a record number of descendants.
Without DNA, it is impossible to positively link Khan with this chromosomal lineage, but given with Khan’s behavior of raping and pillaging entire villages during that time period, it does appear that he is the carrier of the Y-chromosome and perhaps your ancestor.
5He Was a Brilliant Tactician
Genghis Khan and his generals were admired by many for their brilliant battle tactics. Khan built an enormous army of highly-skilled equestrians known for their quick maneuvers excellent battle defenses. Under Khan’s leadership, the Mongols created the use of several brilliant battle tactics including surprise attacks, taking hostages, psychological warfare, using human shields, and feigned flight.
Using concealment dummy methods to hide the size of the cavalry’s tremendous force, the Mongol army could advance and attack an enemy with little to no warning. These feats would not be possible without a brilliant leader, who could execute field maneuvers under any condition. Genghis Khan, although remembered for many terrible acts, also is historically remembered as one of the most brilliant leaders of our time. He devised tactics that allowed him to cover conquests across the entire Mongol Empire which stretched over 22% of the entire land area on Earth.
Khan’s versatile attacking style included missile cavalries, mounted archers, and a full infantry force. Together they made quick, and spry maneuvers to outsmart their enemies including coordinated attacks, ambush, wave attacks, and hit-and-runs. Khan spent several months scouting defense teams to set up spy networks before attacking. These networks would map out escape routes and gather the necessary intelligence to succeed.
His use of swift riders and relay stations to relay messages contributed largely to his success in battle. Eventually, traditional Mongol weapons were no longer effective in battle, so Khan adapted strategies including catapulting large stones, cutting off city supplies, and much more.
4Khan Promoted Religious Tolerance
The Mongol Empire was an extraordinary achievement for Genghis Khan during the 14th century, and although the Mongol warriors conquered much territory, they surprisingly practiced tolerance for varying religious and cultures.
The main religion practiced during the time of Genghis Khan was Tengerism, which is still practiced by many people in Mongolia today. This form of worship is like Shamanism, which believes that everything in the world has a soul including animals, rocks, trees, and people. Additionally, Tengerists believe that people have anywhere from four to five souls, which remain in nature after death. Further tenants of this religion believe in the concept of Karma, which maintains a balance of good and evil in society.
The Mongol Empire stretched across most of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, which meant that there was a great deal of religious diversity. In addition to Tengerism, there were Islamics, Buddhists, Christians, and Nestorians whom all coexisted together. In fact, the capital city of Kharakhorum, had one Christian church, 12 temples, two mosques, and a variety of other religious places of worship.
According to history, Genghis Khan was interested in all religious and was tolerant of everyone’s right to practice his or her individual beliefs. He even employed several advisors who practiced Buddhism and other varying religions. Eventually, Genghis Khan made religious tolerance a policy and way of life. The authority of the Mongol Empire would never have reached the height and success it did, without Khan’s and the Mongols policy of religious tolerance.
3He Had a Rough Childhood
From what history and legend could tell, Temujin, who would later become the great, Genghis Khan, had a tough early life. He was the oldest son of a tribal chief named Yesugay, and although little is known about his life during that period, he may have come from a family of blacksmiths, or merchants.
At the age of nine Temujin’s father arranged a marriage for him, and he was sent to the family of his future wife to serve as head of the household, until he reached the appropriate marrying age of 12. Shortly after that, his father was poisoned, leaving Temujin alone with his mother and siblings.
Since his father died when he was so young, his mother taught him everything about Mongolian politics, and he was groomed to be a great leader. She also stressed upon him the importance of strong alliances. During that time, no tribe was on good terms with one another, often leading to turbulence and the need for alliances.
After the death of his father and his unsuccessful attempts to claim his father’s position as chief, Temujin was forced to live in poverty, eating mostly carcasses and wild fruits to live. This lasted for many years until he was rescued and rose to power.
Throughout the course of his childhood, Temujin observed tribal warfare, raids, robbery, and a rough political climate. Some believe his exposure to the corruption, and revenge between China, the South, and other rivaling nations contributed largely in part to who and what he became.
2Khan Allowed His Conquered Enemies to Fight for Him
The rise of Genghis Khan’s was quite significant in the sheer number of over 80,000 men he was able to use to conquer and destroy every aspect of people’s lives. Khan employed psychological warfare to let his enemies know that he was a powerful and merciful force to be rivaled. Khan used these intimidation tactics to strike fear in the hearts of his enemies, which helped him to build an army of carefully selected generals and loyal confidants.
Khan had a keen eye that enabled him to spot the skill and experience necessary to promote an officer. One famous example recorded in history occurred during the 1201 battle against the Taijut tribe after Genghis almost lost his life. After asking the prisoners who was responsible, one brave soldier admitted to being the shooter. As a result of his boldness, Genghis immediately made him an officer in his army. The commander, nicknamed, “Jebe,” went on to become one of the greatest commanders in his army.
After realizing that he required people to help govern the cities and states that he conquered, Genghis began bringing in people to rule under him. He also found that his own Mongol people could not rule because they were nomadic, and therefore had no experience governing cities. To solve these issues, he had to employ the use of enemies, or individuals he had previously captured. For instance, he brought in Khitan prince Chu’Tsai, whom had been captured previously by the Mongol Army. Chu’Tsai went on to become a confidant of the Mongols.
1No One Knows How Genghis Khan Died or Where He is Buried
The death of leader Genghis Khan is a mystery that began on August 18, 1227, when he passed of unknown causes while leading his army on a campaign through China. Legend says that during while on the way to the Mongol capital of Karakorum, his soldiers killed anyone who witnessed Khan’s funeral procession. Over 800 soldiers reportedly massacred the 2,000 people who attended his funeral, then executed themselves.
Following the orders of Genghis Khan, his corpse was then placed in an unmarked grave to ensure he is undisturbed. Some even say that horses trampled any evidence of his burial and that a river was added to flow over the site. The location of Khan’s tomb remains a mystery still almost 900 years later because of his extreme measures.
Many historians believe that Genghis Khan was buried somewhere near Khenti Aimag, in Mongolia along with many of his descendants. Since his death over 800 years ago, people have not given up searching for the ruler’s hidden tomb and many people continue to speculate over his cause of death.
Many people believe he died from wounds sustained in battle while others believe he fell off his horse or died from illness. Although his final resting place has never been found, scientists continue to search, and some believe they have found what might even be his Hidden Grave.
Following his death, the Mongol Empire continued to grow and eventually took over most of Eurasia, however, the Empire crumbled after the turn of the 14th century.
Whether you know him as a feared and brutal conqueror, or a brilliant innovator, Mongol leader Genghis Khan had a profound effect on human history. From an early age, he was shown through brutality and force the life of Mongol politics and taught how to forge alliances. After losing his father and being rejected by his clan, a grief-stricken Khan found himself drowning in poverty, which gave him a sense of indifference against humanity.
After killing his half-brother and facing the harsh punishments of his mother, Khan rose to a power that would grow to conquer nations. Under the direction of Temujin, the army of Mongols was formed and so was the great universal leader, “Genghis Khan.” His army reached upwards of 100,000 men, some of whom were Khan’s own enemies or prisoners.
While he ruled his empire of over one million people, he established many laws including abolishing the kidnapping of women and the enslavement of other Mongols. Although he is known for his brutality, he also promoted religious freedom, orders the creation of a writing system, and granted diplomatic immunity to foreign ambassadors.
Genghis Khan conquered more land any other person in history, and he murdered a total of 40 million people, rivaling names like Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler. Much of the leader’s life remained a mystery including his appearance and how many descendants he has. Even today, many people wonder where Genghis Khan is buried and continue to search for his tomb and a cause for his death.