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Genghis Khan is one of those figures from history that the average person has heard about, and perhaps knows a little something about, but the real biographical details may be fuzzy. This paper seeks to present the relevant data about Khan, along with a timeline and a map of the remarkable amount of territory that Khan ruled at one time.
Genghis Khan Biographical Information
Genghis Khan was born in Mongolia around the year 1155, although there is some disagreement about that precise date. He is said to have had many wives in his lifetime, and he started his marriage experiences quite young -- at the age of 16, according to Biography.com. By the age of 20, Khan already was developing a large army of men, with a specific goal to "…destroy individual tribes in Northeast Asia" and to unite them all under his leadership. He did not fail in his goal, in fact the Mongol Empire was "the largest in the world" prior to the British Empire was established (Biography.com).
In his early years, he was actually named "Temujin" after a Tartar chieftain his father had captured. His original tribe was called the Borjigin tribe, and he was a distant descendant of Khabul Khan, a Mongolian warrior who had united Mongols against one of China's dynasties in the early part of the 1100s (the dynasty was the Chin Dynasty). There is a story in the literature that Genghis Khan was born with a "blood clot in his hand," which to Mongol folklore at that time apparently was a foreshadowing that he would be destined to provide leadership to the Mongol tribes (Biography.com).
The story of his life is bizarre, including the fact that members of the Tartar tribe poisoned his father; subsequent to that, Genghis tried to become the tribal chief in lieu of his father's leadership. But at the age of 9, the clan wasn't buying into Genghis' desire to become the clan chief and in fact his younger brothers were "ostracized" and placed in "near-refugee status" (Biography.com). In a dispute over the meat from a hunting trip, Genghis killed a half-brother and hence he did become the head of the family. As mentioned earlier he married at the age of 16 (her name was Borte) but she was kidnapped by a rival tribe (Merkit) and given over to the chieftain of the Merkit tribe as his wife. Genghis rescued her though, and eventually he had four sons with Borte as well as "many other children with other wives" (Biography.com).
At the age of 20, Genghis was captured and enslaved for a while but he escaped and soon after formed his first fighting unit -- which developed into a huge army of "more than 20,000 men" (Biography.com). He had not forgotten the fact that the Tartars had killed his father so to avenge that murder he ordered the slaughter of "every Tartar male less than 3 feet tall." His murderous, merciless brutality and keen sense of military tactics served him and his massive army well as he slaughtered one tribe after another finally giving him control over central and eastern Mongolia.
The biography of Genghis reflects the fact that he was a very cunning and able military leader -- including the fact that he trained spies to stealthily learn the plans and tactics of other tribes so that he could plunder those tribes. But he would also take whatever advanced technologies those tribes had developed and use them for his own warrior ends.
He had 80,000 fighters and each one of them was equipped with "bow, arrows, shield, dagger, and lasso" and he had his plans down pat when it came to attacking a tribe or clan. His cavalry warriors each had a "small sword, javelins, body armor, a battle-ax or mace, and a lance with a hook to pull enemies off their horses" (Biography.com).
By 1213 Khan's warriors had attacked and conquered the capital of north China, Yenching, which today is known as Beijing. He wasn't satisfied with that, and continued marching across Asia until he had conquered "Turkistan, Transoxania, and Afghanistan," and had raided Persia and Eastern Europe to the Dnieper River" (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia) (CEE). He ruled one of the most massive empires of land and riches the world has ever known.
According to one of the Shamans that Khan kept with him as he marched and marauded across Asia -- Shaman Kokochu -- Kahn's status was raised well above that of warrior and conqueror. "Genghis Khan had been sent by the Eternal Heaven to rule the world," according to author Leo de Hartog. When Kokochu died, Khan made sure he kept that "myth" alive and proclaimed: "Heaven has ordered me to rule over all men… [and] the protection and the help of the Eternal Heaven has enabled me to destroy my enemies and attain this high dignity" (de Hartog, 2004, p. 35).
According to de Hartog, Khan never saw himself as the "head of a people"; rather, he saw himself as "the head of the Mongol aristocracy which he had united" (35). Another interesting fact about Khan is that he never addressed himself to "his inferiors," but only to his brothers, his sons and his senior military commanders.
Some of the tribes that Khan had conquered were not falling into line as often as Khan would have liked, and hence some of the ambitions that Khan originally had in mind were "curbed," de Hartog continues. "Mongols were largely a backward people, even in comparison with other tribes," de Hartog explains (36). Order at home had to be fully established prior to Khan's massive armies going in to attack "more educated countries.
While Khan himself was illiterate, he was smart enough to realize that there needed to be some kind of language for his empire. He is credited with the "…introduction of the Uighur script as the official alphabet," de Hartog reports (36). "He was shrewd enough to realize that his sons and leading officials" would certainly need to become literate, to read and write; hence Khan assigned Ta-ta-T'ong -- a was handed the responsibility of "keeper of the seals" and of official tutor to the sons of the new overlord (de Hartog, 36).
Hillary Mayell writes in the National Geographic News that Genghis Khan may have "helped populate" his empire. In fact an international group of geneticists that studied the Y-chromosome data have discovered that "…nearly 8% of the men living in the region of the former Mongol empire carry y-chromosomes that are nearly identical" (Mayell, 2003, p. 1). That means that about 0.5% of the male population in the world, or about 16 million descendents living today are related to Genghis Khan. Geneticist Spencer Wells, who was one of the co-authors, explains that it is the "…first documented case when human culture has caused a single genetic lineage to increase to such an enormous extend in just a few hundred years" (Mayell, p. 1).
TimeLine -- Genghis Khan and Mongolia / Royal Albert Museum
1160 -- 1200 -- Temujin (Genghis) is born in the 1160s; his father dies while he is still a child and in his teens he is already leading raids against neighboring tribes.
1206 -- Temujin is officially named Genghis Khan, ruler of all the Turko-Mongol peoples; he builds an army and divides his forces into like-minded tribal chieftains.
1209 -- 1221 -- Genghis and his army defeat the Tangut kingdom of Xi Xia; they take the capital of the Jin (Chin) Empire (now Beijing) and in 1218 they take the Kara-Khitai empire; in 1221 a caravan of Khan's traders is executed; a Mongol ambassador seeking justice is killed and that unleashes a bloody war with Khan's army slaughtering entire populations.
1226 -- 1227 -- Khan by now has conquered Western…[continue]
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