Genghis Khan (Mongolian: Chinggis Khaan) is famous for building the Mongol Empire — the biggest empire in history up to that time. His territory included much of what is now modern China. He and his armies killed, destroyed, and reformed on an amazing scale. He's famous as the world's greatest conqueror, but much is now unknown about him.
Here follow factual answers to the top 11 FAQs about Genghis Khan.
- Name: Temüjin
- Honorific title: Genghis Khan (meaning "universal ruler")
- Born: 1162
- Died: 1227
- Reign: 1206–1227
- Successor: Ögedei Khan (his third son)
1. Where did Genghis Khan come from?
Genghis Khan had a rough life in his childhood. Genghis Khan was born in the upper region of the Onun River (present-day Khentii in Mongolia). His father, Yesugai, was the leader of the Qiyan tribe, one of many Mongol tribes.
When Genghis Khan was nine, his father was poisoned to death. Then, the Qiyan tribe was declining in power and the people of the tribe were defecting to other tribes, leaving his family behind. They lived in poverty, surviving mostly on wild fruits, tree roots, and fishing. They also faced raids from other tribes.
2. How did Genghis Khan start the Mongol Empire?
While the Qiyan tribe was in decline, it was oppressed by other tribes. In a raid by the Tayichi'ud tribe, Genghis Khan was captured, but luckily he got away.
Genghis Khan understood that to resist oppression, he had to seek refuge from a greater power. So, he turned to Toghrul, his father's friend and leader of the clan of Keraites. From then on, he began to gather strength and old followers.
The Mongol tribes could not tolerate Genghis Khan's growing power and launched attacks. Through defeating his enemies, forming alliances, and winning the loyalty of others, he managed to unite or subdue several big nomadic tribes and small countries that came under his rule, and finally he unified the Mongols.
At a council of Mongol rulers in 1206, he was acknowledged as "Khan" ('ruler' or 'military leader') and was titled Genghis Khan.
3. What territory did Genghis Khan conquer?
After the founding of Mongolia, Genghis Khan began to launch large-scale wars of conquest. He conquered China (the Western Xia, Jin, and Song dynasties) Central Asia, and other countries as far west as Eastern Europe.
By the time he died in 1227, he controlled 13,500,000 km² (5,210,000 sq mi) or almost 1/3 of Asia. His empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. His empire was more than two times bigger than the approximately 6,000,000-km² Greek Empire of Alexander the Great.
4. How many people did Genghis Khan kill?
Figures vary, but about 20 to 40 million people or from 5 to 10 percent of the world population at that time were killed or died because of Genghis Khan's attacks. Famine and disease resulting from war killed a large portion of the people. He eradicated many cities and countries that opposed him.
5. What was Genghis Khan's Most Famous Annihilation?
It happened in 1219 because Khwarazm (large parts of present-day Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran) broke their trade agreement with Mongolia.
Genghis Khan sent a caravan to establish official trade ties with the empire, but the governor of the Khwarazm city of Otrar attacked the caravan and claimed that the caravan contained spies.
Without knowing the truth, the Shah of Khwarazm executed the caravan people, and confiscated all their belongings.
The enraged Genghis Khan responded by unleashing the full force of his army on the whole of Khwarazm.
Under the attack of the Mongol cavalry, Bukhara, Samarkand, Nishapuran, and Urgench fell one after another. Khwarazm, which had once flourished, was destroyed.
The Mongols continued their advance into Persia, eventually reaching the Crimean Peninsula.
6. How did Genghis Khan die?
Regarding Genghis Khan's death, the official History of the Yuan Dynasty only has a simple record stating that Genghis Khan died in the fall of 1227 due to illness in the course of his attack on Western Xia. This lack of detail has led to various speculations.
- The Secret History of the Mongols said Genghis Khan fell from his horse and died because of wound infection.
- Marco Polo wrote that Genghis Khan died of an infection due to an arrow wound he received in a battle with the Western Xia.
- Mongolia Origin says Genghis Khan was killed by a captured Princess of the Western Xia.
- An even stranger legend has it that Genghis Khan was struck by lightning when he strayed into a minefield!
7. Where is Genghis Khan's grave?
The reason for the mystery of Genghis Khan's grave is that the royal family of the Mongol Empire practiced a secret burial system (so did the Yuan Dynasty). All imperial tombs were not published, recorded, or marked.
There are many stories and legends about his tomb including one that everyone who built his grave and attended his funeral were killed, a river was diverted to cover his grave, and that trees were planted to hide his grave. The mausoleum of Genghis Khan in present-day Inner Mongolia is just a cenotaph.
8. What were Genghis Khan's achievements?
- He established a giant and unified empire.
- He created the first Mongol writing system and their first postal system.
- He built the world's most powerful fast cavalry.
- He was the first to lead an "entire nation" in arms.
- He created the world's first artillery.
- He expanded trade across Asia and Eastern Europe.
- He espoused meritocracy and encouraged religious tolerance.
9. What did Genghis Khan look like?
Genghis Khan's appearance is a mystery. An ancient historian named Rashid al-Din recorded that Genghis Khan had red hair and green eyes. However, this may have been a misinterpretation of accounts of his reddish skin color and legends of his tribal origins. Other accounts say he was tall, muscular, cat-eyed, and big-bearded, but this doesn't match with the majority of portraits.
Genghis Khan deliberately left his appearance a mystery, not commissioning any portraits or sculptures, though after his passing Chinese-style, Mongolian-style, even Western-style paintings and statues of the great Khan proliferated, but are likely more motivated by cultural ideals than fact.
10. How many wives did Genghis Khan have?
Genghis Khan had more than 40 queens and concubines (Khatun), most of whom were captured from tribes and countries he conquered. His wives were classified by rank as great empresses, empresses, and concubines.
There were four great empresses. Each of them lived in and managed a yurt. Each yurt also contained empresses, concubines, and his children.
The highest ranking of the great empresses, Börte Khatun, occupied the first yurt. She was Genghis Khan's first wife.
11. What is Genghis Khan's legacy?
Genghis Khan left a vast empire for his descendants, laying the foundation for the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) and the reunification of China. Before he died, he left three wills, declaring his successor, decreeing a continued attack against the Western Xia, and decreeing the destruction of Jin.
He also left behind his powerful genes. He had a large harem of the most beautiful women he could capture or acquire in other ways of about 2,000 to 3,000 women. His sons and grandsons followed suit. His grandson, the Yuan Emperor Kublai Khan, had a harem of 7,000. Scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences estimated he has 16 million male descendants living in Central Asia in 2003.
About 1 in 200 people today are estimated to be descendants of Genghis Khan. He has the most descendants of anyone of his time or later in history.
Discover More About Genghis Khan in China
Many descendants of Genghis Khan's people still live in yurts in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and Mongolia. A favorite tourist activity is to visit the plains, stay overnight in their yurts, and sightsee, walk and ride horses.
- 5-Day Inner Mongolia Grass & Sand with Nomadic Life Experience
- 6-Day Inner Mongolia Wild Heartlands with Hiking and Camping
- 8-Day Hohhot–Ordos Tour with Hiking, Camping, and Culture