Genghis Khan was a Mongolian Emperor and prominent military leader in the 13-14th centuries AD. He is notably one of the most prominent leaders of the region and strongly contributed to the spread of the Mongol Empire which encompassed most of Eurasia and Southeast Asia becoming the second largest empire in human civilization. Genghis Khan is viewed as the founding father and symbolic figure of Mongolia contributing significantly to its civil development just as much as its military conquests.
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Early life and Rise to Prominence
Genghis Khan was born around 1161 in Central Mongolia into the Borjigin tribe, given the birth name Temujin. His father was the tribe chieftain and after being poisoned by a rival Tatar tribe, Temujin took over leadership of the clan at the age of 9 but was ostracized due to the tribe not recognizing his claim to leadership. At the age of 16, Temujin married his wife Borte of the Konkirat tribe, with whom he had four sons.
Although, in accordance to Mongolian customs, he had numerous other wives and children, but Borte and his sons were his primary family. At the age of 20, Temujin was captured by a former ally tribe, the Taichi’uts and enslaved. He eventually escaped and joined his brothers and other clansmen to form a fighting unit, eventually amassing an army of more than 20,000 men due to his ability to form strategic alliances with other clans (Bawden).
Rule and Military Campaigns
It is at this point, Temujin began his military campaigns. He went against traditional Mongolian customs of putting relatives in key leadership positions, but rather competent allies. He was also known for executing leaders of enemy tribes and incorporating the remaining loyal members into his clan, often organizing units without regard of kin which was highly unorthodox. Temujin was an animist but was religiously tolerable as his followers included a mixture of Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. By 1205, he had conquered all his rival clans and by calling all representatives together, he formed a nation similarly in size and location to modern-day Mongolia. He took upon the name, Chnggis Khan, known in the West as Genghis Khan, translating as “Universal Ruler” (“Genghis Khan”).
Having established a Mongolian nation with the united steppe tribes, Genghis Khan began implementing domestic reforms, primarily for the purpose of suppressing causes of tribal warfare that has dominated the region for centuries. All aristocratic titles were abolished, which solidified his rule. Provisions banning selling and kidnapping of women, enslavement of fellow Mongols, and livestock theft were passed and punishable by death.
Khan also began to introduce a writing and literacy system for the Mongol language. Later through his conquests, he assigned experts to develop governing systems and creation of towns as well as systems of taxation and artisanship. Nationwide and foreign policies were conducted as Mongolia established diplomatic relationships and solidified freedom of religion, becoming essentially the first state to do so in world history (Carboni and Adamjee).
Genghis Khan’s first conquests took place against the Xi Xia kingdom in Northwestern China, eventually conquering its capital Yinchuan by 1209. The Mongol army initially travelled with no supply train other than reserve horses. From 1211 to 1214, Mongols continued to dominate Northern China, eventually besieging Zhongdu (modern day Beijing). By 1219, Khan declared war on the Khwarazm Empire which included present-day Iran, Afghanistan and other smaller nations.
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Khan’s conquest was systemic as he attacked one city after another. Khan rarely engaged in diplomatic negotiations and was known for his brutality and genocides, supposedly leading to deaths of approximately 40 million people through his conquests. Aristocrats and resisting soldiers were always killed massively, while skilled artisans were saved for the Mongolian empire.
Unskilled workers were used for human shields for the next siege. Through this brutality, Khan waged not only tactical but psychological warfare, spreading terror in the region about Mongolian herds. By 1225, when Khan returned to Mongolia, the empire stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan. Khan died in 1227 after suffering internal injuries due to being thrown off a horse during another campaign against Xi Xia. His health never recovered (Bawden).
Khan was known as a brilliant military tactician deploying a number of tactics. Khan formed and trained a professional army of cavalry which were expert long-range riders and deadly with bows. A signature early tactic for Mongols was to use a false withdrawal and then to initiate a siege. The early success of Khan was due to brilliance of military tactics since he had not yet amassed a large army. Khan employed a large network of spies and assimilated military technologies and expertise from his enemies.
The Mongol army developed a signaling system of torches, smoke, and drums to coordinate its attacks. Eventually, the army also had extensive supply lines and each of the cavalrymen was well-equipped with both weaponry and toolkits to survive if abandoned. Khan’s brilliance was also attributed to his strive for learning and strong understanding of enemy motivations and tactics (“Genghis Khan Biography”).
Genghis Khan’s impact on history is best known for his military conquests and formation of the Mongolian state by unifying the tribes and eventually conquering most of Eurasia. It shifted the dynamics of history and culture in the region for many centuries and his conquests had profound impacts on the population as he killed such a significant amount of people and eradicated whole cities while assimilating local cultures. Khan’s humble beginnings and the enormous accomplishment of creating an empire of divided nomad tribes places this man in civilization history as both a brilliant leader, statesman, and tactician but also as an infamous and genocidal warrior.
Bawden, Charles. “Genghis Khan Mongol Ruler.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Web.
Carboni, Stefano, and Qamar Adamjee. ” The Legacy of Genghis Khan.” The Met Museum. Web.
“Genghis Khan.” Biography. 2019. Web.
“Genghis Khan Biography.” Biography. 2019. Web.