Born in 1162, Genghis Khan turned a humble start into an empire the size of Africa. While most people associate his name with brutal murders, he also supported trade, granted religious freedom, and eliminated torture.
The Early Years
Genghis Khan was actually named Temujin when he was born near the border of Siberia and Mongolia. He is rumored to have been born holding a blood clot in his hand. Temujin grew up around violence, as dozens of nomadic tribes were constantly stealing from and fighting with each other.
While Temujin was still a young boy, his father was fatally poisoned by an enemy clan, leaving his own clan to desert him, his mother, and her six other children. This drove Temujin to kill his older half-brother to become the head of his hungry, poor household.
He married Borte in 1178, with whom he had four sons and numerous daughters. It was the kidnap and daring rescue of his wife that started Temujin down the path of forging alliances, building a name for himself as a warrior, and steadily growing his followers.
Genghis Khan and the Mongols
The Mongols had long been nomadic, happily living in tribes and almost constantly at war with each other. In moves that went against tradition, Temujin named allies to important positions (instead of family) and killed leaders of enemy tribes so he could assimilate the remaining members into his clan.
All of his rivals had been vanquished by 1205, including a former friend. His followers, with warriors organized into units of 10, were a range of religions, including Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists.
In 1206, Temujin called for a meeting with representatives from all across the territory, establishing a nation comparable to modern-day Mongolia. It was at this meeting and unification that he was given a new name: Chinggis Khan (known in the west as Genghis Khan).
Genghis Khan Forges an Empire
Uniting the nomadic tribes of his homeland wasn’t enough, even though he ruled over approximately one million people. To maintain order, he implemented some important changes, like eliminating aristocratic titles, forbidding the enslavement of Mongols, outlawing the kidnapping and selling of women, and giving a death sentence to those who stole livestock.
Genghis Khan also had a writing system adopted, permitted religious freedom, and gave foreign ambassadors diplomatic immunity.
His First Campaign
Genghis Khan and the Mongols first traveled to northwestern China, to the Xi Xia kingdom, in 1209. They made it all the way to the capital, thanks to their lack of a supply train and the use of clever military tactics (like a false withdrawal).
After Xi Xia, the Mongols moved on to the Jin Dynasty, where they spent three years ransacking the countryside. This created serious food shortages, forcing the Jin army to kill tens of thousands of innocent peasants. Eventually, the Jin ruler essentially paid off Genghis Khan with horses, silks, and gold. However, when the Jin ruler moved his court south, Genghis Khan viewed this as a betrayal and destroyed the former capital city completely.
Genghis Khan Fights the Khwarezm Empire
In 1219, the Mongols continued their conquest and headed west to modern-day Afghanistan. Even though the sultan had agreed to trade, he ordered his men to steal the goods and kill the merchants, and then murdered a few of Genghis Khan’s ambassadors.
Displeased by these actions, Genghis Khan and his men tore through the Khwarezm Empire city by city, saving only skilled workers like artisans and jewelers.
Genghis Khan Returns to Mongolia
By the time of his return in 1225, Genghis Khan controlled a massive expanse of territory, ranging from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan. He didn’t stop for long and returned to the Xi Xia kingdom for not giving any troops for the invasion of Khwarezm.
Genghis Khan was thrown from a horse in early 1227, causing serious internal injuries. He continued with his campaign anyways, surviving until August 18, 1227, shortly before the Mongols defeated the Xi Xia kingdom.
Genghis Khan and His Legacy
Not only was he a revolutionary in terms of uniting a previously nomadic territory and instilling policies (like religious freedom) that were unheard of elsewhere at the time, but he successfully conquered more than double the amount of land as anyone else in history.
His descendants also proved to be prolific at conquering, controlling China, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. For a time, the Mongols were also in Japan.
The Mongol Empire formed by Genghis Khan began to fall apart in the 1300s, but his last ruling descendant stayed in power until 1920.