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.
10. Genghis 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.
9. No 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.
8. He 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.
7. He 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.
6. He 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.