Genghis Khan

Ancient History: The Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire and governed it from 1206 until he died in 1227. After uniting the Mongol tribes, he was given the title of Genghis Khan, meaning universal ruler. Genghis Khan, also known as Chinggis, Chingis, Jenghiz, or Jinghis, was born in 1162 near Lake Baikal in Mongolia. His original name was Temüjin, often written Temuchin.

Genghis Khan was a Mongolian warrior-ruler and one of history’s most renowned conquerors. He united tribes into a single Mongolia before expanding his kingdom beyond Asia to the Adriatic Sea. Despite his enormous achievements and fearsome reputation, we know little about Genghis Khan. For example, there isn’t a single real portrait of the man left today. All of his existing images were made after his death or by strangers. Furthermore, the Mongolians lacked a writing system until Genghis Khan seized control of the Uyghurs. As a result, many of the records about him that have survived were written by foreigners. 

Early Life of Genghis Khan

Early Life of Genghis Khan
Credit: History Extra

Genghis Khan was given the name Temujin when he was born. Many tribes and tribal groupings dominated Mongolia during the time. Yesukai, his father, was lord and commander of 40,000 tents or households. Hoelun, Temujin’s mother, had been kidnapped by his father’s clan and forced to marry Yesukai, as was typical in Mongolia. So the name Temujin was given to the kid in honour of his father’s victory against an opponent named Temujin.

When he was nine, Temujin was engaged to Börte, the 10-year-old daughter of Dai Sechen, the Jungirat tribe’s chief. Temujin resided with his father-in-law for a while. Yesukai, Temujin’s father, died of poisoning at some time, and Temujin arrived home to discover his father dead. As many of his father’s supporters fled them, the family’s authority waned.

Temujin, his family, and his remaining followers were forced to scratch out a livelihood on marginal pasturelands. They also had to battle robbers and Yesukai’s former foes who wanted to kill his family.

Things grew much worse when a rival clan chief kidnapped Temujin. This happened due to an event in which Temujin killed one of his elder half-brothers, Bekter. Nevertheless, Temujin was able to flee during the night, gathering the few remaining faithful supporters of his father. Moreover, he also joined forces with Toghril, chief of the Kerait, a tribe his father had previously aided.

Temujin’s leadership and martial skills soon earned him wins over local foes, and his army swelled in strength. One tribal chief was famed for cooking his prisoners in 70 big cauldrons throughout the fight. But, on the other hand, Temujin proved unstoppable. By forming a web of alliances, he was able to unite most of the nomadic tribes who wandered the grasslands of Central Asia.

Genghis Khan’s Ascend to the throne

Temujin decided after a few years that he was strong enough to return to Dai Sechen and marry Borte. But unfortunately, the Merkit tribe took Borte in a raid. To release her, Temujin needed the aid of his pals Jamuqa and Toghrul. During this period, Temujin brought the nomadic, formerly ever-rivalling Mongol tribes under his control by political manipulation and military strength. This act happened because of his wife’s kidnapping. Finally he regained his bride from the rebellious tribe.

According to Chinese historical accounts, Temujin was taken by the Jin Dynasty, who controlled a portion of China and held captive for several years. However, it’s unclear whether or not this is correct.

Temujin united with Toghrul around 1200 and planned a battle against the Tatars, which they defeated in 1202. However, after Temujin destroyed Toghrul’s soldiers, the two had a falling out, and Toghrul was slain. Temujin also fought with Jamuqa, whom he eventually killed. Finally, Temujin conquered much of Mongolia in 1206, forcing the surviving tribes to recognize him as their leader.

Temujin won the war, eliminating all the remaining opposing tribes between 1203 and 1205 and putting them under his control. Crowning of Temujin as the Great Mongol Nation’s leader happened in 1206 and the Mongol Empire was born.

Building the Mongol Empire

Through complex espionage operations, the first great Khan was able to gain control over diverse people and understand his adversary better. With promises of amnesty and neutrality, he also used a tolerant approach toward religion and local customs. This happened to persuade many people to follow his lead.

In the years after his conquest of Mongolia, Genghis Khan waged a victorious war against the Jin Dynasty, capturing Zhongdu, now Beijing, in 1215. He then focused on the west, penetrating deeper and deeper into Central Asia. Finally, with an army of 200,000 soldiers, he conducted a victorious campaign against the monarch of Khwarezm in modern-day Iran in 1219.

The medieval world was taken aback by his quick victories. While his tactics, such as the composite bow, cavalry, and feigned retreats, were not novel, he had to seek foreign assistance to learn how to execute siege warfare. In addition, Genghis Khan innovated in the areas of management and organization.

After conquering lands outside Mongolia, he established a more complex administrative framework and a systematic taxing system. Then, he began devising a more stable structure that may contribute to a more ordered administration. He also had specialized official posts, by recruiting captive Turks, Chinese, and others.

To govern his new dominion, he developed a set of rules and regulations. For example, Genghis Khan made it a requirement to divide the spoils of his expeditions among his warriors. In return that they pursue a rigorous hunting training regimen. These policies helped him keep his troops united even though they were far from home.

While Genghis Khan was infamous for his ferocity, he frequently instructed his warriors to honour holy men of different religions and not injure artisans or clergy. In addition, Khan personally adhered to a religious system centred on Mongolian shamanism.

Expansions of the Mongol Empire by Genghis Khan

Expansions of the Mongol Empire by Genghis Khan
Credit: Quora

Despite his many successful political and social advances, Genghis Khan was a destructive and threatening leader. With the union of the Mongol and Turkic confederations on the Mongolian plateau in 1206, he established the Mongol Empire in Central Asia. The Mongols then attacked Central Asia from the west.

The Mongol Empire’s troops had stormed over and outward from the Asian steppes by 1260. The destruction of old and great kingdoms in the Middle East, Egypt, and Poland exemplifies Genghis Khan’s terrible side. Mongol invasions in China replaced the Sung Dynasty with the Yuan Dynasty at the same time. Many people in what is now India, Pakistan, and Iran saw the great Khan as a bloodthirsty warrior bent on destruction.

Expansion in the Western Xia Dynasty

The Western Xia Dynastys’ rule over what is now northern China was on the Mongol kingdoms’ southern boundary. The Xia Dynasty had a complicated relationship with the Jin Dynasty, even serving as a subordinate state to Jin for a while until Mongol armies arrived.

Genghis Khan first planned a fight with the Western Xia, anticipating that the Jin Dynasty’s youthful, more powerful Emperor would not come to their rescue. His first attempt to obtain power began in 1205.  The year before he was crowned Mongol supreme emperor. His earliest attempts were on the basis of a thin political pretence. However, he did know that this territory would be an excellent starting point for defeating the Jin Dynasty to the south and east. Despite initial difficulties in taking the well-defended towns of Western Xia, Genghis Khan compelled their surrender in 1209 and 1210 with much siege warfare.

The Xia region benefited greatly from Genghis’s persistent war tactics. While he conquered territory in 1209, his second invasion of Western Xia in the 1220s illustrated the destruction and slaughter of cities and populations who refused to follow his instructions.

Expansion in the Jin Dynasty

Genghis Khan utilized the same tactics and military prowess in the Western Xia region when he conquered the bigger and more powerful Jin Dynasty in 1211 CE, starting a 23-year struggle known as the Mongol-Jin War. Long before the Mongol invasions, the Mongolian tribes demanded vassal tribute from Jin kings along their common border. Some kings even promoted conflicts between these nomadic tribes to enhance their influence along their northern frontier.

However, when the conflict broke out during the first Mongol invasion, the tides turned against this mighty dynasty. Jin’s army commander committed a tactical error by failing to assault the Mongols when the chance arose. Instead, he dispatched a Mongol envoy. However, the messenger betrayed the Mongols and informed them that the Jin Dynasty army was waiting for them on the opposite side of the Badger Pass. The Mongols killed hundreds of Jin warriors here, beginning a long and gruelling conflict that would cost the province dearly.

Genghis Khan invaded and devastated the Jin city of Zhongdu in 1215 CE. As a result, Emperor Xuanzong had to relocate his capital to the south, handing up the northern portion of his realm to the Mongols. The siege of Caizhou in 1234 CE, which marked the end of the Jin Dynasty, was the final significant fight between Jin and the Mongols.

Despite the hardships of battle and the Mongol armies’ use of siege and heavy cavalry tactics, the Mongol Empire’s uniting and centralizing effects produced an extended commerce route and exposed these far eastern territories to western influence and products. In addition, more stability along the Silk Road enabled commodities and ideas to traverse large distances and formed a link between eastern European princes such as Russia’s territory.

Expansion of the Kara-Khitan Khanate

In 1216-1218 CE, the Mongol Dynasty subjugated the Kara-Khitan Khanate, a Central Asian empire made up of former nomads. Prince Küchlüg, who had converted to Buddhism and oppressed the Muslim majority among the Khitan, ruled the khanate. This oppression separated him from most of his people, providing excellent conditions for Genghis Khan’s invasion.

When the Kara-Khitai attacked Almaliq, a city belonging to Mongol vassals, they drew the notice of Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan deployed an army, which destroyed the Kara-Khitai in their capital, Balasagun, under the command of General Jebe, and Küchlüg fled. By proclaiming that Küchlüg’s cruel policy of religious persecution had stopped, Jebe garnered sympathy among the Kara-Khitan people. In 1217, when his army pursued Küchlüg to Kashgar, the people revolted and turned on him, compelling him to flee for his life once more. Jebe chased Küchlüg into contemporary Afghanistan. In 1218, a party of hunters captured Küchlüg and brought him over to the Mongols, who swiftly executed him, according to Persian historian Ata-Malik Juvayni.

With the death of Küchlüg, the Mongol Empire gained control of the Kara-Khitai and its environs. The Mongols established a stronghold in Central Asia, immediately abutting Greater Iran’s Khwarazmian Empire. Relations with the Khwarazms gradually deteriorated, resulting in a Mongol invasion of the region in 1219.

Expansion of the Khwarazmian Empire

Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad ruled the Khwarazmian Empire in the early 13th century. Genghis Khan noticed Khwarazmia’s potential as a Silk Road commercial trading partner and dispatched a caravan to establish official trade links with the empire. On the other hand, a Khwarazmian governor assaulted the caravan, saying it included spies. So instead of meeting with the governor, Genghis Khan dispatched the second set of emissaries to meet with the Shah personally. The Muslim ambassador was decapitated, and they sent back his head with the other two diplomats.

Genghis Khan out of rage prepare one of his greatest and most ruthless invasion expeditions, dividing 200,000 men into three divisions. From 1219 to 1221 CE, he invaded Khwarazmia. Jochi led the first division into the northeast, while Jebe led the second division into the southeast, forming a pincer attack on Samarkand with the first division. Finally, Genghis Khan and Tolui led the third division from the northwest. On the other hand, the Shah’s army didn’t have any organization, contributing to their downfall because the Mongols did not face a coordinated defence.

The invasion of Samarkand, the capital of the Khwarazm, was decisive, leaving the local populace impoverished and in ruins. Mongol soldiers enslaved or massacred civilians after capturing a city or territory, creating a new rule of law and emphasizing Mongol control. According to legend, Genghis Khan assassinated the Khwarazm governor by pouring molten silver into his ears and eyes. The Shah eventually fled rather than submit, and he died soon after, probably due to the Mongols. The Mongol Empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea by the time Genghis Khan died in 1227, an empire twice the size of the Roman Empire and Muslim Caliphate.

Expansion of the Far West

The Mongols overran the Caucasus, Iran, Iraq, Syria and parts of Turkey. In 1260 and 1300, more Mongol incursions went as far south as Gaza, in the Palestine area. The Siege of Baghdad in 1258, when the Mongols devastated the city that had been the heart of Islamic authority for 500 years, and the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260, when the Muslim Egyptians were able to stop the Mongol march for the first time.

Due to political and natural problems, such as a lack of appropriate grazing space for their horses, the Mongols could never expand west of the Middle East.

Mongol War Tactics

Mongol War Tactics
Credit: Facts and Details

The Mongol army was now cohesive, and it had numerous advantages against its bigger and more powerful neighbours. They were superb archers with long-range composite bows and hardy soldiers. His soldiers could ride with little food or drink for days. Their stocky, agile horses were weapons in and of themselves, capable of withstanding extreme temperatures. The Mongols possessed both light and heavy cavalry, with each rider having up to 16 extra horses, allowing them a wide range of maneuverability. Furthermore, the Mongols never turned down the chance to use enemy tactics and technology for themselves.

They not only introduced furious mobility to Asian combat, but were also fast to master other forms of a fight. Owing to their adaptability, they also introduced siege warfare and the employment of gunpowder missiles and catapults. Moreover, as the Khan’s ministers and commanders came from over 20 different countries, adopting the abilities and inventions of others became a strength in general.

Another benefit was that Genghis Khan knew how to exploit internal enemy splits and rekindle ancient rivalries to undermine enemy coalitions, the knowledge that spies and merchants often gathered. In addition, successful commanders might expect enormous swaths of the country to govern as they wanted. At the same time, the Great Khan did allow collection of payment from those monarchs who happened to remain in power as Mongol vassals. In short, once mobilized, the Mongol hordes would be extremely difficult to contain.

Genghis Khans Death & Conclusion

On August 18, 1227, Genghis Khan died of an unexplained sickness, perhaps induced by a fall off his horse while hunting a few months before. He was besieging the capital of the Xia kingdom, Zhongxing, in northwest China at the time. His body was eventually returned to Mongolia for burial. But the site of his tomb was kept hidden, a choice that has since sparked much debate. According to medieval traditions, the grave was near the sacred mountain Burkan Kuldun.

Genghis understood that his heirs would fight to control the Mongol Empire after his death, so he had planned. Jochi, Chagatai, Tolui, and Ogedei, his sons, were to rule a khanate each. Ogedei, his third son, became the next Great Khan in 1229, until his death in 1241. The next major stride forward occurred under the reign of Kublai Khan (1260-1294 CE), Genghis Khan’s grandson. He conquered much of what remained of China beginning in 1275 and brought the Song Dynasty to an end in 1279. In China, Kublai declared himself Emperor of the new Yuan Dynasty. As a result, the Mongols would completely conquer China during the following two decades. The Mongol Empire would fight other campaigns, eventually becoming one of the world’s greatest empires.


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