Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan

(c. 1167-1227)

Possibly no world leader has ever inspired more fear and dread as Temujin, better known as Genghis Khan. Born near the Onon River in present-day Mongolia,

Temujin was the son of Yesugei, chief of the Borjigin tribe of Mongols. His father was poi¬ soned by Tatar tribespeople when Temujin was nine, and he grew up on his own in the fierce environment of the competing Mongol tribes.

Early on he set a pattern of skillful leadership both in diplomacy and battle. In 1206, the huraltai (great assembly) of Mongols named him “Genghis Khan,” or supreme leader.

Khan united the Tatar, Kereit, Naiman and Merkit tribes into one fearsome band of Mongol warriors. The Mongols had long been renowned as warriors, but Khan molded them into a more disciplined force that allowed them to win greater victories. He developed a system of mobile horse columns which would encircle and entrap a foe, and then kill them using armor-piercing arrows.

Khan began his campaign for world mastery by attacking the Chin Empire of northern China. The Chin people had long withstood invasions behind their Great Wall of China, but the Mongols out¬ flanked the defenders and attacked the heartland of northern China. The Mongols captured the great city of Peking in 1215, showing that they could employ sophisticated strategies in siege warfare as well as in combat on the open plains.

Khan then turned his wrath upon the Kharismian Empire of present-day Afghanistan and Iran. After the Kharismian ruler killed Khan’s envoys, the Mongols descended on their new enemy with a speed and ferocity that scarcely seemed possible. Khan besieged and captured Samarkand, the center of the empire; the sack that followed was the worst of the many conducted by the Mongols.

Khan sent his best general, Subotai (see no. 31), north to pursue the son of the Kharismian leader who had died. Subotai pur¬ sued, but did not catch the prince, he was, however, drawn north to Russia, where he defeated a large army led by the princes of Kiev. The result was that southern Russia would be under the “Mongol yoke” for three centuries and therefore would miss the effects of the Renaissance in Europe.

Khan conducted another successful cam¬ paign in northern India. He ravaged Moslem cities there before returning to Mongolia in 1224. Khan then turned his attention to China once more.

He attacked the Hsi Hsia Empire, located in north-central China. As the campaign began, Khan fell from his horse while on a hunting expedition. He suffered internal injuries and a fever and died rather sud¬ denly, at the height of his power and prestige.

Khan’s Mongol warriors buried his body on a hill in the Kentei Mountains of present-day Mongolia. The hill was known as the sacred mountain of Burdan-kaldun; several of Genghis Khan’s descendants would later be buried beside him. Trees then grew up obscuring the spot, and no one today can identify the grave of one of the world’s greatest conquerors.