genghis khan mausoleumMausoleum of Genghis Khan in Erdos in Inner Mongolia

Genghis Khan (see Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Baotou, Central China's Inner Mongolia) and his grandson Kubulai Khan are among the most interesting emperors to most Westerners. This is partly because they don't know much about the Mongols. It also seems very odd that grassland nomads could rapidly overrun large civilizations that were much more advanced and had hundreds of times their population. Genghis Khan, the early Mongol conquests, and the early development of the Mongol empire are interesting topics.

Genghis Khan was successful in establishing a very large empire during his lifetime. During his lifetime, his armies conquered more land and killed or captured more people than did the armies of perhaps any other emperor in world history during their lifetimes. He can be compared with Alexander the Great in some ways, but the Mongol Empire was bigger, and it was perhaps more successful than the Greek Empire because his children and grandchildren went on to conquer much more of the earth. Like the Greek Empire, the Mongol Empire changed the cultures and societies of the subjugated regions.

Birth, Ancestry and Descendants

Genghis Khan was born in 1162 in Mongolia and he died in 1227. He had a hard youth. He was born in a region where there were continuous raids and battles between tribes and clans. Boys had to learn early how to fight and kill to survive, and they were taught how to hunt when they were children. While he was still a boy, he killed his half brother. His father who was a tribal leader was killed, and he tried to be recognized as the leader of the tribe, but he was rejected by his tribe. Temüjin married B?rte of the Olkuthun tribe when he was 16 in order to cement alliances between his tribe and his wife's tribe. B?rte had four sons who were named Jochi (1185–1226), Chagatai (1187—1241), ?gedei (1189—1241), and Tolui (1190–1232). He also had other children by other women, but their names are not remembered because they didn't receive an inheritance of authority in the clan.

There is evidence in historical records that his family and his children were Caucasians with red hair. An ancient historian named Rashid Al-din recorded that Genghis had red hair and green eyes, and that Genghis was surprised that his grandson Kublai who later became the Yuan Emperor over much of East Asia had dark hair. This ancestry is surprising partly because it was unknown that many Caucasians lived in the area. Recently, historians have recognized the existence in ancient times of large tribes and countries of Caucasians in the Far East around Mongolia,Northern China,Russia and Xinjiang. Before about twenty years ago, most anthropologists and historians thought that Caucasians in the region were rare. Caucasian Tarim Basin mummies were reported over a century ago, but their significance was overlooked. Twenty years ago, a historian named Victor Mair found a Caucasian mummy in a museum in Xinjiang, and he collected evidence of a widespread population in the area that predated other people. More recent discoveries make it clear that there was a sophisticated culture of Caucasians in the Far East 2,500 years ago and before. They may have been the original settlers of Xinjiang.

Organization of the Empire

The Mongol tribes fought each other, and there was constant warfare and political conflicts with the Jin Empire and other nomadic people around them. In order to protect themselves and spread their influence, the Jin court would side with first one and then another group in order to keep any powerful enemy from arising to attack them. The tribes attacked each other and tried to destroy each other. Genghis wanted to unify the tribes. Since his father was a tribe leader, he had a claim to leadership. His method of unifying the tribes under his leadership was by repaying loyalty with gifts, delegating authority based on merit rather than family ties, and encouraging an enemy's tribesmen to follow him by being lenient to them and not killing them. In this way, he unified the people under his rule. More and more clans and tribal groups sided with him.

By 1206, Temüjin had managed to unite or subdue several big nomadic tribes and small countries under his rule including the Merkits, Naimans, Mongols, Keraits, Tatars, and Uyghurs. At a Kurultai, a council of Mongol rulers, he was acknowledged as "Khan" of the consolidated tribes and was titled “Genghis Khan.” The people called themselves Mongols. In order to foster unity, he adopted the Uighur writing script as the official script of his empire. He also allowed people in his empire to have some freedom of religion. This encouraged people of various religions including Muslims to participate in the rule and benefit of the empire. He relied heavily on intelligence gathering, rapid communication through a system of horse riding messengers, and educated and wise advisers. In order to understand rival empires and to understand how to rule his own empire, he listened to teachers and advisers including religious teachers. He also encouraged the adaptation and use of technology and weapons of the enemies he encountered, and he integrated foreign technicians into his army. In this way, he was able to besiege and conquer large walled cities. His realized that his army was now big and strong enough to attack the large more civilized empires to the west, south and east.

Legacy on China

By conquering the Western Xia Empire(See Mausolem of Western Xia Dynasty, Jin Empire, Dali Empire, and the Song Empire, the Genghis Khan and his successors brought political unity to the region. The Mongols also extended the empire to Korea, Central Asia, Russia and Persia. They transferred soldiers from captured territories in the East to help capture the West, and they transferred officials from the West to help them rule and administrate their domain in the East. During the height of their empire while there was still unity, Chinese craftsmen and artists were sent to learn and teach their skills in other places, and Western craftsmen and artists went to live and teach in the East. So Eurasia became more standardized culturally and artistically. The teachings of Islam were spread both by traveling merchants and by administrators who were brought to the East to rule. The reestablishment of Silk Road trade allowed greater overall prosperity. Operatic drama, theatrical entertainment for the masses and popular novels in the colloquial language reached a height of quality. However, perhaps because the Yuan rulers did not appreciate scientific advance, it seems that scientific advancement stalled. The scientific advances of the Song scientists were unused or forgotten. However, Song-era technologies such as gunpowder weapons were introduced to the West.

Large Scale Conquests and Death

genghis khan mausoleum

He wanted to rule the whole world. Around him were the Kara-Khitan Khanate, the Caucasus, the Khwarezmid Empire, the Western Xia Empire and the Jin Empire. The Western Xia Dynasty ruled part of the territory of the former Tang Empire. The Western Xia was smaller than the Southern Song Empire and the Jin Empire, but they fought off attacks until the Mongols conquered them. They were closer to the Mongols than the Jin Dynasty, and they controlled the strategic Hexi Corridor of the Silk Road trade route. The Western Xia Empire had a ruling tribe called the Tanguts. It is thought that the empire had a population of about 3 million, and Genghis Khan conquered the territory in 1209. He installed a puppet king to rule the territory.

He then planned an attack on the bigger Jin Dynasty that had earlier defeated the Song Dynasty and forced them to retreat south. The Jin Dynasty included about 30 million people of the Song Dynasty, and they used the advanced weaponry such as guns and explosives that were invented during the Song era. In 1215, Genghis besieged and captured the Jin capital in the area of Beijing. The emperor retreated south, but the rest of the Jin territory wasn't defeated until about 9 years after Genghis Khan's death. They were known as fierce fighters, and they used the missiles, guns and explosives. The Mongols used their technology and soldiers in their campaigns in the West.

A former rival had fled to the Kara-Khitan Empire that was a large empire to the west of the Tarim Basin that the Mongols controlled. This empire's culture and religion was a mix of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, and Chinese influences. Genghis Khan wanted to expand the empire to the west, but by this time the Mongol army was exhausted from ten years of wars against the Western Xia and Jin Dynasty. Therefore Genghis sent only two tumen (a battalion with about 10,000 soldiers) or 20,000 men. The battalions were under a general named Jebe. This was a small force, but the Mongol strategy of inciting internal revolt worked. By 1218, the Mongol Empire absorbed the territory, and it then stretched to the Khwarezmid Islamic Empire.

Genghis Khan sent 200,000 troops against the Khwarezmid Empire in the year 1220. The empire had internal divisions, and the defenders' strategy was to defend fortified cities. The Mongols chased the Shah of the empire everywhere he fled to. He then fled to an island and died there. Afterwards, the Mongols went all over the territory killing the inhabitants and destroying the towns, cities, and farmland that they found.

In 1220, Genghis Khan was close to Europe. Genghis Khan gathered most of his forces to return to Mongolia. But he sent 20,000 men (two tumen) into the Caucasus and Russia under the generals Jebe and Subutai. The Mongols destroyed Georgia and other small kingdoms and defeated an army of Rus. It is thought that the Mongol attacks on Europe were mainly to reconnoiter the territory. It is thought that they determined that it was possible for them to attack Europe by using the large grassland areas that were like the grasslands in Mongolia.

Genghis Khan had subjected the Western Xia twelve years earlier, but installed a vassal emperor. This emperor refused to support Genghis Khan's attack on the Khwarezmid Empire. While the large Mongol army and Genghis Khan was in the west, the Western Xia rebelled and allied with the Jin Dynasty and the Song Dynasty. After fighting for several years in the southern part of Central Asia and in the northern part of India, he returned to the Far East. He then sent armies against the Western Xia and conquered the territory again in 1227. He died soon after this victory however. Historians do not know why he died, though they speculate it may have been from wounds during this war with the Western Xia or from wounds in other campaigns. He named his son Ogedei as his successor. He also divided up the large Mongol territory between his sons. At the time of his death, Genghis Khan and his children ruled an empire that stretched from the Pacific Ocean almost to the Caspian Sea. When he died, he was buried secretly in an unmarked grave according to his wish and according to Mongol custom. Nobody knows where his grave is.