Genghis Khan by the Numbers

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Historical accounts can only speak of the warlord’s trails of atrocities and massive scale of unprecedented destruction in his quest to conquer his adversaries. Regardless, Mongolians consider Genghis Khan their universal ruler – a person destined to be one of the greatest warlords ever lived. Genghis Khan did not only rise to power by demolishing foe after foe but by unifying his people, challenging traditions, and introducing new perspectives that helped build his enormous empire.

One of the appealing facts about the warlord is his humble beginnings riddled with conspiracies and betrayals. But, the most fascinating and intriguing account about his birth was the legend that he was born clenching a blood clot on his fist. In Mongolian culture, the said occurrence is a prophecy that the child’s destiny is to become a great leader. However, Genghis Khan had to claw his way from down below to the top before finally building the largest empire in the world.

Genghis Khan’s Lineage

The Mongolian conqueror had a noble ancestry, which in hindsight, was both a blessing and a curse in his early years. Before he became Genghis Khan, the future warlord was born Temüjin, which means “of iron” or “blacksmith.” His father, Yesügei, was a prominent leader of the Khamag Mongol confederation, while his mother, Hoelun, was also of noble lineage from the Olkhunut, a sub-lineage of the Khongirad tribe. While his heritage threatened his family’s life after his father’s death, it also aided him in amassing support to consolidate the tribes of ancient Mongolia later on.

Due to the lack of written records during that time, it is challenging to determine Genghis Khan’s lineage accurately. However, several sources, including the semi-mythical account, The Secret History of the Mongols, and other historical researches, give details about the great warlord’s family tree. Most common sources mention that Temüjin had only three full brothers (Qasar, Hachiun, and Temüge) and two stepbrothers (Belgutei and Behter).

Temujin’s Early Life 

Conflicts in Temujin’s life began at an early age of 9, some say 10, with the assassination of his father. Records hold that the tribal warrior chief was poisoned by an enemy of his clan, the Tatars. His father’s death commenced what would be the warlord’s most tragic event in his early life.

When nomadic tribes across Central Asia constantly fought for food and territory, his clan abandoned him and his entire family. Relieving the responsibility of looking after the dead man’s family, his clan turned their backs on them. His family was consequently forced to wander the Mongolian grasslands and fought their way to survival.

The young Temüjin became accustomed to the harshness and brutality of living across the Mongolian steppe. Foraging and hunting were the means of survival for his family. On one hunting trip, accounts claim that Temüjin might have killed one of his stepbrothers over a dispute about food, although some suggested that the reason was far deeper.

Such experiences, with the guidance of his mother, taught Temüjin the importance of forging alliances and establishing forces for himself as a key to survival. Growing up in the brutal grassland convinced him that one can survive only by maintaining excellent relations and seeking help from one’s allies. The revelation became the future Khan’s ultimate card in almost conquering the entire world.

Temüjin followed his philosophy and married a girl named Börte of the Olkhonud tribe. The Olkhonud girl was betrothed to Temüjin at a young age, arranged by Yesügei, Temüjin’s father, and Dei-Sechen, her father.

Abduction and Rescue of Borte

The Three Merkits raided the family camp in the morning shortly after Börte wedded Temüjin. Temüjin, his family, and friends could flee on horses, but there was none available for Börte. The Merkits kidnapped her and gave her to one of their warriors with Sochigel and a maid as a spoil of war.

The raid was retribution for Temüjin’s mother, Hoelun, who kidnapped his father Yesügei several years before. Temüjin was profoundly concerned by his wife’s kidnapping, remarking that his bed had been “rendered empty” and his breast had been “ripped apart.” He was desperate to reclaim Börte, and with the help of his allies Jamukha and Wang Khan, he did it many months later.

Some academics consider this one of Temüjin’s pivotal life events, which pushed him closer to becoming a conqueror.

Börte had been held hostage for eight months when she was rescued and gave birth to Jochi, raising questions about who the child’s father was because her captor treated her as a “wife” and thus may have impregnated her. On the other hand, Genghis allowed Jochi to stay with his family and recognized him as his own son.

He was meant to be Genghis’ successor, but his siblings would not acknowledge him as a ruler because the warlord doubted if he was Jochi’s biological father. Thus Genghis had to choose another son. Jochi then led the Golden Horde.

Genghis Khan’s Empire and Conquests

By the time Genghis Khan died in 1227, he had a total land area of 13,500,000 km² (5,210,000 sq mi), or nearly a third of Asia. His empire extends from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea. His realm was more than double the size of Alexander the Great’s Greek Empire. [10]

According to various estimates, his conquests killed between 20 and 40 million people, or around 5% to 10% of the world’s population. Famine and disease claimed the lives of a significant number of individuals. He wiped down numerous cities and countries that stood in his way. [10]

Genghis Khan’s Wives, Concubines, and Offspring

Historians would often write about Genghis Khan as a ‘prolific lover’ who fathered hundreds of offspring from several different women throughout his lifetime. Although only a few sources give detailed information about his married life and offspring, the warlord undoubtedly had over 500 concubines. With these numbers, scholars assume that Genghis Khan may have produced hundreds of offspring. Nevertheless, out of 500 concubines he amassed throughout his conquest, only a handful became prominent and made their way into the historical records.

Some of Genghis Khan’s Wives

This list shows some of the famous wives and concubines of the Mongolian warlord mentioned in several historical accounts. [1]

Genghis Khan’s Wives, Concubines, and Offspring

Genghis Khan considered only one woman as the Grand Empress among all his wives and concubines. Börte, his first wife, was influential in Genghis Khan’s life and imperial duties decisions. She bore four sons and five daughters to Genghis Khan. Their four sons, Jochi, Chagatai, Ögedei, and Tolui, became the only candidates for succeeding the warlord as Khans.

Genghis Khan’s Successors

figures of soldier and horses clay in China

The Mongol empire encompassed most of the Eurasian landmass at its peak, yet it was not the work of a single man. The Mongols were yet to arrive in Europe, seize the Middle East, or occupy China when Genghis Khan succumbed to death in 1227. Genghis Khan’s sons and grandsons were tasked with completing these conquests. [2]

Jochi

Jochi was a Mongol army leader and the eldest son of Genghis Khan. He was one of Genghis Khan’s four sons by his main wife, Börte, though paternity questions dogged him throughout his life. He was an accomplished military leader who, together with his brothers and uncles, took part in his father’s annexation of Central Asia.

The true parentage of Jochi is a subject of debate. Mergid confederation members kidnaped Börte shortly after her marriage to Genghis Khan (then known as Temüjin). As a spoil of war, she was delivered to a certain Chilger Bökh, the Yehe Chiledu’s brother.

She was held captive by Chilger Bökh for a few months until being rescued by Temüjin. She gave birth to Jochi not long after that. Genghis Khan treated Jochi as his first son, but it was never certain if Temüjin or Chilger Bökh was his biological father.

Even though Jochi’s descendants were the eldest branch of Genghis Khan’s family, they were never considered for succession when claiming their father’s ancestry, and there was evidence of animosity between Jochi and Genghis Khan.

Jochi conquered various Siberian forest peoples in 1207, extending the Mongol Empire’s northern boundary for the first time. Jochi commanded two wars against the Kyrgyz on behalf of his father in 1210 and 1218. During the Khwarezm war in Central Asia from 1219 to 1221, Jochi’s soldiers took the towns of Jand, Signak, and Yanikant in April of that year.

He was assigned command of an attack against the Khwarezmian Empire’s capital, Urgench (Gurganj, in modern-day Turkmenistan). Because Jochi participated in extensive negotiations with the town to encourage it to surrender peacefully and preserve it from destruction, the siege of the town was delayed. Chagatai, Jochi’s brother, thought this decision was unwise militarily: Chagatai wished to destroy the city, but Genghis Khan had promised Jochi the city after his triumph.

This disagreement over military matters widened the chasm between Chagatai and Jochi. Genghis Khan interfered in the campaign and named Ögedei the operation’s leader. Ögedei resumed his efforts with vigor, seizing, plundering, and completely destroying the town and massacring its residents (1221).

Early in 1221, differences in strategies between Jochi and Chagatai exacerbated their personal feud over the succession. Genghis Khan convened a “kurultai,” a military and political council – a formal assembly used in familial and state concerns to settle the dispute.

Temüjin had been elected or appointed Khan of his tribe on a kurultai. He used them frequently during his early campaigns to gain public support for his wars — such gatherings were crucial to Genghis Khan’s legitimacy. The tribal tradition was also vital.

Jochi was favored to head the clan and the empire once his father passed away since he was Genghis Khan’s first-born son. Chagatai addressed the problem of Jochi’s legitimacy at the familial kurultai in 1222. Genghis Khan made it quite clear at that encounter that Jochi was his legitimate first-born son.

He was concerned, though, that the two’s squabbles would divide the empire. Genghis Khan had chosen Ögedei, his third son, as his heir by early 1223.

Both Jochi and Chagatai concurred for the sake of the empire’s survival, but the schism between them never mended. Their feud would irrevocably split the Mongol Empire’s European and Asian parts on a political level.

Chagatai

Genghis Khan and Börte had a son named Chagatai. Following his father’s death, he inherited most of what are currently the five Central Asian states. Genghis Khan appointed him to supervise the enforcement of the Yassa, Genghis Khan’s codified law code.

Chagatai’s early life is shrouded in mystery. He was Genghis Khan’s and Börte’s second son. Because he refused to acknowledge Jochi as a full brother, his relatives regarded Chagatai as hot-headed and temperamental.

Among his relatives, he was the most outspoken on the subject. In 1206 his father handed him four mingghans and an appanage around the Altai Mountains (headed by Müge of Jalairs, Kököchü of Baarin, Qarachar of Barlas, and Idiqudai Noyan).

In 1211, he accompanied Jochi and Ögedei in an invasion of the Jin Empire, seizing various cities and invading Henan and Shaanxi in 1213, ravaging Yanggu. Later, Chagatai joined his father and brothers in a battle against the Khwarazmian Empire, taking Otrar in 1218, Samarkand in 1220, and Urgench in March-April 1221. Since Chagatai and Jochi refused to cooperate, the Urgench campaign was substantially more difficult.

Following this episode, Ögedei was named commander of the besieging forces, while Chagatai was tasked with maintaining contact with Mongol armies by repairing roads and erecting bridges. During his siege of Talaqan, he returned to his father’s side. When Chagatai’s son Mutukan was murdered during the invasion of Bamiyan in 1221, he was devastated.

He was there at the fight at the Indus River where Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu was defeated. Later, during the invasion of Western Xia, he led the rear guard.

In 1227, Chagatai Khan succeeded Genghis Khan in his realms, establishing the Chagatai Khanate, with its capital in the Upper Ili Valley, in Almaliq city, near the present-day Kulja, and thus in the furthest east of his dominion.  It was most likely a matter of necessity that he placed it in that remote location rather than Bukhara or Samarkand. His Mongol tribesmen and supporters, who were the backbone of his power, were enamored with the life on the steppes.

He was present at Ögedei’s enthronement ceremony on 13 September 1229 as the head of the family and eldest surviving son, and he supported his reign. Güyük was sent as Chagatai’s ward by Ögedei. Although Rashidaddin said Chagatai perished shortly before Ögedei, Juvayni reported on Chagatai’s subsequent activities, including his strong support for Töregene’s regency. He died, though, not long after.

Ögedei

Ögedei was Genghis Khan’s third son and the Mongol Empire’s second khagan-emperor, succeeding his father. He maintained his father’s empire’s expansion and became a global figure during the Mongol conquests of Europe and China when the Mongol Empire hit its furthest west and south. He took part in conquests in Iran, China, and Central Asia, as did Genghis’ principal sons.

Genghis Khan suffered the devastating defeat of Khalakhaljid Sands versus the army of Jamukha when Ögedei was 17 years old. On the battlefield, Ögedei was severely wounded and lost. Borokhula, his father’s adopted brother and comrade, saved him.

His father handed him Töregene, the widow of a vanquished Merkit chief, in 1204, even though he was already married. In steppe society, having such a wife wasn’t uncommon.

After Genghis was declared Emperor or Khagan in 1206, he was given myangans (thousands) of appanage from the Jalayir, Besud, Suldus, and Khongqatan clans. The Hobok and Emil rivers were part of Ögedei’s domain. Ilugei, the captain of the Jalayir, became Ögedei’s instructor at his father’s request.

In November 1211, Ögedei and his brothers launched their first independent war against the Jin dynasty. In 1213, he was dispatched to devastate the country south of Hebei and north of Shanxi. The Jin garrison was driven out of Ordos by Ögedei’s soldiers, and he rode to the intersection of the Jin, Xi Xia, and Song realms.

After a five-month siege in 1219–20, Ögedei and Chagatai killed the inhabitants of Otrar and joined Jochi, who was beyond the walls of Urganch, during the Mongol invasion of Khwarezmia. Genghis Khan assigned Ögedei to command the siege of Urganch since Jochi and Chagatai were at odds over military tactics. In 1221, they conquered the city.

Ghazni was likewise pacified by Gedei when the insurrection broke out in Afghanistan and Southeast Persia.

Tolui

Tolui was Genghis Khan’s fourth son by his principal khatun, Börte. At his father’s death in 1227, his ulus, or geographical inheritance, were Mongolia’s homelands. He also served as civil governor until 1229, when Ögedei was confirmed as the second Great Khan of the empire from 1206 to 1368.

He had previously distinguished himself in wars against the Jin dynasty, the Western Xia, and the Khwarezmid Empire, where he played a key role in the capture and massacre of Jin at Merv and Nishapur. Most Ilkhanids have him as a direct ancestor.

Unlike the neighboring Chinese kingdoms to the south, Tolui never used the title of Khagan; neither Genghis Khan nor his subsequent three successors would use any reigning titles. When his son Möngke formed the Yuan dynasty several decades later, Tolui was given the title of Khagan and a temple name by Kublai, his other son.

Tolui was too young to participate in the battles during the emergence of Genghis Khan. When Tolui was approximately five years old, he was almost slain by a Tatar. His sister Altani and two comrades of Genghis rescued him.

Tolui’s father married Sorghaghtani, Ong Khan’s niece, in 1203. Möngke, their first son, was born in 1209.

In 1213, he fought the Jin dynasty for the first time, storming the walls of Dexing alongside his brother-in-law Chiqu.

Genghis Khan sent him to Khorasan, Iran, in 1221. Several times, the cities in this region had revolted. In November 1220, the defenders of Nishapur assassinated Toquchar, Tolui’s brother-in-law. Nishapur was evacuated onto the plains by Tolui’s army. He commanded the massacres of  Merv and Nishapur in their entirety.

Genghis Khan had to choose between his four sons when considering who should succeed him. Tolui was well-known for his military prowess and was a successful general, but Genghis Khan preferred Ögodei, who was more skilled diplomatically. Tolui, according to Genghis Khan, would be too careful to be an effective leader. In 1227, Tolui accompanied his father in a war against Xi Xia.

Tolui was in charge of the Mongol Empire for two years after Genghis Khan’s death. Tolui had the greatest and strongest army in central Mongolia at the time, which the Mongol nobility accepted partially because of the tradition that the youngest son inherited his father’s property and partially because Tolui had the most powerful and largest army in central Mongolia at the time. Tolui favored electing the next Khagan, and Ögedei was selected, fulfilling his father’s intentions.

In 1231–32, Tolui fought alongside Ögedei in northern China as a strategist and field commander. Two armies had been sent to invade Kaifeng, Jin’s capital. They returned north once most of Jin’s defenses were breached.

During a war in China, Tolui sacrificed himself to heal Ögedei of a serious disease, as per The Secret History of the Mongols. The shamans had deduced that Ögedei’s illness was caused by China’s soil and water spirits, who were enraged that their people had been chased away and their country had been damaged.

Offering animals, land, and people had only worsened Ögedei’s condition, but when they promised to sacrifice a family member, Ögedei suddenly improved. Tolui volunteered and perished as soon as he drank the cursed potion. Ata-Malik Juvayni, on the other hand, claims he died of drunkenness.

Genghis Khan’s Descendants

Genghis-Khaan-monument-in-Ulaanbaatar-Mongolia-in-front-of-the-parliament

According to a recently released genetic study, Genghis Khan, the ferocious Mongolian warlord of the 13th century, might just have done more than manage the world’s largest empire; he may have also helped populate it.

A worldwide group of geneticists investigating Y-chromosome data discovered that approximately 8% of men living in the old Mongol empire territory have nearly identical y-chromosomes. This equates to 0.5% of the world’s male population, or around 16 million surviving descendants today.

The propagation of the chromosome could be the outcome of natural selection, in which a biological advantage is passed down from one individual to the next. This situation, according to the authors, is improbable. They claim that the spread was caused by a unique set of conditions surrounding the formation of the Mongol empire.

This is an excellent illustration of how culture influences patterns of genetic variation and diversity in human populations. It’s the first documented instance of human culture causing a single genetic lineage to grow rapidly in just a few hundred years.

Genghis Khan’s Legacy

The study’s authors, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, emphasize that having such a dramatic impact on a population necessitated a unique set of circumstances, all of which were satisfied by Genghis Khan and his male ancestors.

Khan’s kingdom stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea at the time of his death. The indiscriminate massacre of the defeated typically marked his military victories.

His descendants enlarged the empire and retained dominance in the region for several hundred years in civilizations where harems and concubines were the norms. The males were more productive.

Tushi, Khan’s eldest son, is said to have had 40 sons. Pillaging, rape, and looting were the spoils of war among all soldiers following a conquest, according to documents written during or shortly after Khan’s reign, but Khan received the first selection of beautiful women. Kubilai Khan, the founder of  China’s Yuan Dynasty, had 22 legitimate sons and was said to have added 30 virgins to his harem annually.

The authors conclude that the historically documented events surrounding the creation of the Mongol empire would have significantly contributed to the dissemination of this lineage.

Tracking the Y-Chromosome

For the study, blood samples from over 40 populations residing in and around the erstwhile Mongol kingdom were gathered over ten years.

The Y-chromosome is used in population studies because it does not recombine like other genome portions. Every parent contributes 50% of a child’s DNA, which joins together to generate a new genetic combination, whether height, eye color, illness resistance, or susceptibility.

The Y-chromosome is passed down through the generations as a piece of DNA from parent to child, essentially intact except for random alterations.

These naturally occurring and typically innocuous alterations are referred to as markers. Once the markers are identified, geneticists can trace them back to the point when they first appeared, establishing a distinct lineage of descent.

The ancestry in question dates back 1,000 years in this case. The authors aren’t claiming that the lineage’s genetic changes started with Khan, born in 1162; they’re more likely to have come from a great great grandfather.

Only one population beyond the erstwhile Mongolian empire, Pakistan, carried the lineage.

The Hazaras [of Pakistan] provided the first hint of a link to Genghis Khan. According to a long oral tradition, they claim to be his direct descendants.

Of course, a link to Genghis Khan will never be proven unless his grave is discovered and his DNA taken. Until that day, geneticists will continue to look for isolated communities in the hopes of solving the puzzles of our genetic origins and relatedness. [3]

Rise of the Universal Ruler

the great Genghis Khan monument in Tov province of mongolia

Unifying the Nomadic Mongolian Tribes

The Central Asian plain north of China was split into several powerful tribal confederations in the early 12th century, including Merkits, Naimans, Khamag Mongols, Tatars, and Keraites, who were often hostile to one another, as indicated by raids, reprisal assaults, and plundering.

Ascent to Power

Temüjin routed the Merkit with the support of powerful allies and his force, using a method that Temüjin regularly used to scotch the seeds of eventual rebellion. Genghis Khan made it a point never to leave an opponent in his rear, and years later, before approaching China, he would make sure no nomad commander survived to strike him in the back.

He handled the aristocracy of the Jürkin clan similar to how he treated the Merkit nobles not long after the Merkit was destroyed. These princes, ostensibly his allies, had taken advantage of his absence to steal his property while raiding against the Tatars. Temüjin wiped out the clan’s aristocracy and enslaved the peasants to serve as his soldiers and servants.

When his power had grown so he could risk a last confrontation with the powerful Tatars, he defeated them in combat first, then murdered all those taller than a cart axle. The youngsters would likely grow up unaware of their prior identities and become devoted Mongols. When Temüjin’s relationship with Toghril of the Kereit finally fell apart and he needed to eliminate this impediment to supreme authority, he scattered the Kereit people as servants and troops among the Mongols.

This harshness wasn’t just a case of indiscriminate cruelty. Temüjin aimed to kill none of the old, competing aristocrats who would have been a source of resistance, arm himself with a military force, and, most all, break the sense of clan loyalty that favored fragmentation by uniting all the nomads in personal devotion to his family. When he was crowned Emperor of the Steppe People in 1206, he was tasked to distribute thousands of families to his companions and relatives, replacing the traditional pattern of clans and tribes with something more akin to a feudal framework.

Temüjin aimed for dominion over the steppes for himself, at least since the defeat of the Merkits. Jamuka’s restored friendship lasted only one year and a half. Jamuka made an intriguing remark about the choice of camping location one day when the two friends were marching, prompting Temüjin’s wife Börte to tell him that it was finally time for the two friends to part ways.

It isn’t easy to see what’s underlying this episode. The Secret History’s story is too perplexing in its shortness and allusive language to allow for a reliable interpretation. It’s been argued that Jamuka was attempting to cause a leadership crisis.

It’s also possible that the language is purposefully cryptic to hide the fact that Temüjin was ready to abandon his companion. Temüjin, in any case, followed Börte’s suggestion. Many of Jamuka’s troops deserted him, possibly recognizing Temüjin as the one who would prevail in the end.

In epic terms, The Secret History supports their actions. One of the men informs Temüjin about a vision he had, which could only be taken as Heaven and Earth agreeing that Temüjin should be the lord of the empire.

Looking at the big picture more practically, the interplay of the steppe’s shifting allegiance may be seen. The clansmen were aware of what was going on, and some rushed to Temüjin’s side, thinking that a strong leader was on the way and that it would be good to announce early support for him.

The breach with Jamuka created a schism within the Mongol world that could only be healed by one or both adversaries’ disappearance. Jamuka has never had a supporter in history. The Secret History has a lot to say about him, not always in a good way, but it’s primarily the narrative of Temüjin’s family, and Jamuka is the antagonist, albeit a reluctant one.

He is a mystique, a guy with enough personality to head a competing coalition of princes and be elected by them as gur-khān or supreme khan. He was, nevertheless, an intriguer, a man who took the short view, willing to abandon, if not turn on, his friends for the sake of a quick profit. It may have been within Jamuka’s power to conquer the Mongols if it hadn’t been for Temüjin, but Temüjin was indisputably the greater man, and the rivalry crushed Jamuka.

Clan leaders coalesced around Temüjin and Jamuka, and a few years before the beginning of the century, some of them urged making Temüjin the Mongol khan. The terms they used, pledging him allegiance in battle and the hunt, show that all they wanted was a trustworthy commander, not the overlord he would become. Indeed, several of them would subsequently abandon him.

Temüjin was still a minor chieftain at this time, as evidenced by the Secret History’s next major event, a brawl at a feast sparked by his nominal allies, the Jürkin princes, who he eventually massacred. In northern China, the Jin emperor, too, saw him as insignificant. The Jin fought their former allies, the Tatars, in one of the policy reversals typical of their exploitation of the nomads.

Temüjin and Toghril took advantage of the opportunity to continue the clan feud by attacking the Tatars from behind. Toghril was given the Chinese title of wang (prince) by the Jin emperor, while Temüjin was given a lesser title.

And the Jin had little to fear from Temüjin for the next few years. He focused entirely on consolidating his power in the steppes, and he posed no imminent threat to China.

Temüjin then set about eliminating all of his competitors one by one. Jamuka’s successive coalitions have been defeated. The Tatars were wiped out.

Toghril and his Kereit people were annihilated due to Jamuka’s machinations and his own son’s ambitions and suspicions, which led to open warfare against Temüjin. Ultimately, in the west, afraid of the Mongols’ expanding might, the Naiman monarch attempted to establish another alliance with Jamuka’s help but was thoroughly beaten and lost his realm. Jamuka, ever unreliable, abandoned the Naiman khan at the very last moment.

These campaigns occurred in the years leading up to 1206 and made Temüjin the ruler of the steppes. Temüjin was declared Genghis Khan at a grand assembly convened by the River Onon that year; the title likely meant Universal Ruler. [4]

Mongolian Conquests

Genghis Khan's Mongol Empire in 1227 and at its greatest extent in 1279

Studies estimate that approximately 40 million lives have perished through the warlord’s lifetime. The sheer amount of collateral damage was more than enough reason for people to look at the image of Genghis Khan as a bleak, dark historical figure. Regardless, most agree that the warlord was more than a genocidal general. He was a brilliant military strategist, a consensual leader, and an idealist who challenged traditions and embraced change.

Tanguts of the Western Xia Dynasty

The Mongol invasion of Western Xia was a series of battles in northwestern China between the Tangut-led Western Xia dynasty and the Mongol Empire. Genghis Khan, the Mongol leader, led some initial attacks against Western Xia with the hopes of gaining both plunder and a vassal state before going into full invasion in 1209. This was both Genghis Khan’s first major invasion and the first major Mongol siege of China.

Jin Dynasty

The Mongol–Jin War, also called the Mongol–Jin Conquest, was fought between the Jurchen-led Jin dynasty and the Mongol Empire in Manchuria and north China. The conflict began in 1211 and continued for 23 years, culminating in the Mongols’ total subjugation of the Jin dynasty in 1234.

Qara Khitai

In 1218 AD, the Mongol Empire invaded the Qara Khitai (Western Liao dynasty). The Qara Khitai had been weakened by conflict with the Khwarazmian Empire and the assumption of leadership by the Naiman prince Kuchlug before the invasion. When Kuchlug assaulted Almaliq, a city owned by the Karluks, Mongol vassals, and assassinated their ruler Ozar, who was Genghis Khan’s grandson-in-law, Genghis Khan ordered a force led by Barchuk and Jebe to pursue Kuchlug.

Kuchlug suffered rebellions over his unpopular reign when his force of 30,000 was destroyed by Jebe at the Khitan capital Balasagun, causing him to flee to modern-day Afghanistan, where hunters caught him in 1218. Kuchlug was handed over to the Mongols, who executed him. The Mongols now had a direct line with the Khwarazmian Empire that they would invade in 1219 after defeating the Qara Khitai.

Khwarazmian Empire

The Mongol invasion of Persia/Iran, also known as the Mongol conquest of Khwarezmia, was a Mongol conquest of the Khwarazmian Empire led by Hulagu Khan and Genghis Khan. The Mongol conquest of the Islamic world and Central Asia started with the thorough defeat and destruction of the Turco-Persian empire at the fingertips of the Mongols.

The chain of events culminating in the Mongol invasion began when Shah Muhammad II, the Shah of Khwarazm, broke a peace pact with Genghis Khan. The Mongol army decimated the Shah’s dominion in the ensuing dispute, which lasted under two years. Genghis Khan used existing conflicts and weaknesses in the Khwarazmian Empire to separate and murder his foes, leading a force of roughly 100,000 warriors.

The powerful Ilkhanate would control much of the Khwarazmian areas conquered by Genghis. The Chagatai Khanate ruled several of the northern lands when the Empire later broke into four distinct khanates. Timur would commence his large-scale assaults against the remainder of Asia from these northern areas.

Georgia and Armenia and Volga Bulgaria

Throughout the 13th century, Mongol conquests of the Kingdom of Georgia, which included Armenia, Georgia proper, and much of the Caucasus, included repeated invasions and large-scale raids. Generals Subutai and Jebe chased Muhammad II of Khwarezm during the collapse of the Khwarezmian Empire in the Caucasus in 1220 for the first time. Subutai and Jebe moved north to conquer Kievan Rus’ after a series of raids wherein they destroyed the united Georgian and Armenian troops.

In 1236, a full-scale Mongol conquest of the Caucasus and eastern Anatolia began, with the Sultanate of Rum, the Kingdom of Georgia, and the Empire of Trebizond subjugated, the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and other Crusader states accepting Mongol vassalage voluntarily, and the Assassins being defeated. The Mongols ruled the Caucasus until the later 1330s. During that time, King George V the Brilliant rebuilt the Georgian kingdom for a short time before it finally crumbled owing to Timur’s invasions.

a map of the significant conquests and movements of Genghis Khan and his generals

The Mongols invaded Volga Bulgaria from 1223 until 1236. The Bulgar state, located on the lower Kama and Volga, was Eurasia’s fur trade epicenter throughout history. Before the Mongol invasion, Russians from Vladimir and Novgorod stole and invaded the Bulgar Empire, diminishing its military capability and economy.

In late 1223 or early 1224, Vladimir ambushed the Mongols. There were several clashes between 1229 and 1234, and the Mongol Empire subjugated the Bulgars in 1236.

Western Xia and Jin Dynasty Alliance

The Tanguts’ Western Xia had previously refused to join the Mongol war with the Khwarezmid Empire. Western Xia and the defeated Jin dynasty formed a partnership to confront the Mongols, hoping that the Khwarazmians’ campaign would stop the Mongols from countering effectively.

In 1226, Genghis Khan launched a punitive attack against the Tanguts, having just returned from the west. Ganzhou, His army rapidly conquered Heisui and Suzhou, and Xiliang-fu was conquered in the fall.

One of the Tangut generals contested the Mongols in a battle near the Helan Mountains but was defeated. In November, Genghis Khan besieged the Tangut city of Lingzhou and defeated the Tangut rescue force by crossing the Yellow River. Genghis Khan’s army razed to the ground the Tangut capital of Ning Hia in 1227 and continued to march in the spring, conquering Xindu-fu and Deshun province and Lintiao-fu, Xining province in rapid succession. Genghis Khan relocated to Liupanshan after capturing Deshun to avoid the harsh summer.

Soon after, the new Tangut emperor promptly submitted to the Mongols, and the Tanguts soon followed suit. Genghis Khan, enraged by their betrayal and defiance, ordered the execution of the whole imperial family, thus putting an end to the Tangut royal bloodline

All in all, the Mongolian Empire seized control of around 9 million square miles of territory.

Timeline of the Mongol Empire During Genghis Khan’s Rule [8]

Timeline of the Mongol Empire During Genghis Khan’s Rule

The Mongolian Force

Indeed, it is a wonder how the nomadic tribes of Central Asia managed to expand their influence and amassed territories beyond the 13th Century’s imagination. But, historians believe that Genghis Khan’s clever politics and military tactics built what would be the largest contiguous empire in the world.

Genghis Khan’s Army

The Mongol armies were the supreme power on the battlegrounds of Asia and Europe. Absolute discipline, a well-understood chain of command, a great communications system, exceptional mobility, and a cohesive and highly effective tactical organization and doctrine defined Mongol troops, made up of talented fighters well trained in shooting and horseback. [5]

Only 23,000 horsemen made up the nucleus of Genghis Khan’s army, who fought with hand axes and composite bows and were covered by waterproof leather armor. Engineers from China and the Middle East were employed to attack fortified cities with catapults and other siege weapons.

Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan both had armies of similar size. The Mongol army was organized into 10-man squads, 100-man companies, 1,000-man battalions, and 10,000-man divisions, with a 10,000-man imperial guard guarding the khan and prominent generals. An army of 100,000 fighting men may be transported in a large city-sized caravan with support animals and family members. [6]

In reality, the Mongol army was typically significantly smaller than those of its main enemies. Genghis Khan’s largest force was the one he used to conquer the Khwarizmian Empire: less than 240,000 warriors. Mongol armies conquered Russia, and Central and Eastern Europe never totaled more than 150,000 warriors. [9]

The Mongol army’s superior agility was due to quality, not quantity, and organizational simplicity.

Genghis Khan’s Military Generals

Mongolian horse riders take part in the traditional outdoor historical show of the Genghis Khan era in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Genghis Khan, who built the world’s largest empire, had three brilliant military generals: Zev (Jebe), Mukhulai (Muqali), and Subedei (Subutai). None of the three were related to Genghis Khan or his successors. Mongol armies triumphed on all battlefields and fronts across Europe and Asia thanks to these great commanders from various Mongol clans. [7]

Genghis Khan’s Military Generals

Mukhulai (Muqali)

Under Genghis Khan, Muqali rose to prominence as a trusted and respected commander. He was the son of Gü’ün U’a, a Jalair commander who had sworn devotion to the Mongols and earned the moniker “Muqali,” or “one who dulls,” for his dedicated and capable service to the Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire.

Muqali served as Genghis Khan’s second-in-command during the conquest of Jin China, was appointed Viceroy of China, and was given considerable authority once Genghis Khan left to conquer Central Asia. Unlike many Mongol kings who were eager to murder for any benefit, Muqali preferred to use more diplomatic methods to turn enemies into friends.

Muqali was regarded as the best of the highly talented Mongol generals by the time of Ögedei’s reign (1229-1241). He could be considered one of history’s greatest military commanders, given his perfect record despite inadequate resources.

He was undeniably among the most powerful Mongol figures and a magnificent leader. His ability to cope with local issues has been commended.

Zev (Jebe)

Jebe was one of Genghis Khan’s most powerful Noyans (generals). He was a member of the Taichud tribe’s Besud clan, which Targudai Khiriltug led during the reign of Genghis Khan. Even though Jebe was an enemy soldier at the time, Genghis Khan enlisted him and made him one of his most powerful generals.

Jebe was instrumental in assisting Genghis Khan in expanding his empire’s borders. Despite his significant role as a Genghis Khan general, there are few records or biographies of his life. Jebe has been dubbed “the greatest cavalry general in history for his unconventional and daring movements.”

Subedei (Subutai)

Subutai was Genghis Khan’s and Gedei Khan’s principal military strategist. As part of the Mongol Empire’s expansion, the world’s biggest contiguous empire, he led over 20 campaigns and won 65 pitched battles, conquering or overrunning more territory than any other leader in history.

He frequently won battles by employing ingenious methods and routinely coordinated maneuvers of forces operating hundreds of kilometers apart. Subutai is famous for his voyages’ geographical variety and success, which brought him from Central Asia to the Russian steppe and Europe. He is largely considered to be among history’s greatest strategists and military commanders.

References

[1] Frank McLynn, 2015. Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy. Hachette Books. [Accessed November 1, 2021].

[2] Ringmar.net Editors. Genghis Khan’s family tree. Ringmar.net. Available at:

http://ringmar.net/irhistorynew/index.php/welcome/introduction-4/from-temujin-to-genghis-khan/genghis-khans-family-tree/ [Accessed November 1, 2021].

[3] Hillary Mayell, 2003. Genghis Khan a Prolific Lover, DNA Data Implies. National Geographic. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/mongolia-genghis-khan-dna [Accessed November 1, 2021].

[4] Charles R. Bawden, 2021. Genghis Khan. Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Genghis-Khan/Rise-to-power [Accessed November 1, 2021].

[5] Invictus, 2001. The Mongol Empire. All Empires. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20090618031319/http://www.allempires.com/article/index.php?q=The_Mongol_Empire [Accessed November 1, 2021].

[6] Salem Media, 2020-2021. What Made the Mongol Army So Successful? History on the Net. Available at: https://www.historyonthenet.com/what-made-the-mongol-army-so-successful [Accessed November 1, 2021].

[7] Mongolianz Editors, 2017. Military Generals of Genghis Khan. Mongolianz. Available at: https://www.mongolianz.com/post/2017/10/05/military-generals-of-genghis-khan/ [Accessed November 1, 2021].

[8] World History Encyclopedia Editors. Mongol Empire Timeline. World History Encyclopedia. Available at: https://www.worldhistory.org/timeline/Mongol_Empire/ [Accessed November 14, 2021].

[9] James Chambers, 1979. The Devil’s Horsemen. Atheneum Publishers, N.Y. p 96. [Accessed November 14, 2021].

[10] Gavin, 2021. 10 Amazing Facts about Genghis Khan. China Highlights. Available at: https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/china-history/genghis-khan.htm [Accessed November 14, 2021].

Primary Sources:

Juvaynī et al, 1997. Genghis Khan: The History of the World-Conqueror [Tarīkh-i jahāngushā]. Translated by John Andrew Boyle. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Igor de Rachewiltz, 2004. The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century. Brill’s Inner Asian Library.

Rashid al-Din Tabib, 1971. The Successors of Genghis Khan (extracts from Jami’ Al-Tawarikh). UNESCO Collection of Representative Works: Persian heritage series. Translated by John Andrew Boyle from the Persian. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Ala Ad Din Ata Malik Juvaini, 1958. The History Of The World Conqueror Vol I. Harvard University Press.

Jacob Abbott, 1888. Genghis Khan. Manybooks.net.

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