The name Genghis Khan brings up images of the Mongol hordes raiding and pillaging their way across Central Asia, unstoppable and unbeatable. Although he is mostly associated with villainy and mass murders, it takes a particularly formidable badass to rise from nothing and singlehandedly conquer Central Asia, most of Russia, and Eastern Europe. Genghis Khan is the only person in history to have ruled and held the largest contiguous empire that stretched from the Pacific Ocean in the east to Eastern Europe in the west. He unified warring tribes of Mongolia to march under his banner, strengthening and fortifying his army. At the time of the unification of Mongolia, he held 4,000,000 sq/km, and at the time of his death, he ruled over 13,500,000 sq/km of land. Here are 11 more badass facts about the Mongolian emperor who, in every way, totally ruled.
1. Genghis Khan may have prevented an early global warming, making him an eco-friendly warrior, if nothing else. He killed about 40 million people, erasing 700 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere.
On the one hand, the death of 40 million people is staggering! However, it is believed his killings resulted in a man-made climate change and basically cooled the planet. Thus, the land that was previously occupied by human settlements and farmland was reclaimed by forests which in turn absorbed more carbon. Today, the global petroleum consumption generates approximately 700 million tons of carbon in a year, the same amount that Genghis Khan wiped out.(source)
2. One in 200 men today are direct descendants of Genghis Khan.
About 16 million men or 0.5 % of the male population today are his direct-line descendants, which means that they all carry Y chromosomes that have been passed down from a single individual who lived about a thousand years ago. The Y chromosomes are also passed from father to son. We will never know the total number of descendants which include females. Several ruling dynasties of Asia and Russia like the Mughal royal family from Timur through Babur, Yuan Dynasty of China, Ilkhanids of Persia, the Jochids of the Golden Horde, the Shaybanids of Siberia, and the Astrakhanids of Central Asia, Girays of Crimea, were also his descendants. In fact, it was considered a great honor and privilege to be able to trace your line back to the Mongolian warrior emperor.(1,2)
3. He was captured and enslaved in 1177 but eventually managed to escape after befriending one of his captors. His reputation grew manifold after his escape.
When Genghis Khan’s father was poisoned, Genghis was just nine and living with the tribe of the girl he was supposed to marry. When he heard the news, he went back to his tribe to take his father’s place as their chief. However, they refused to harbor the family and turned them out refusing them any protection. In 1177, during a raid, Genghis Khan was captured by that same tribe, called the Tayichi’ud. They tied him to a cangue (something like a yoke) which prevented him from moving his head or arms but left his legs free. He escaped with the help of one of the guards which earned him a fearsome reputation. He later appointed the guard’s son, Chilaun, as one of his generals.(source)
4. In 1218, when Genghis Khan sent a trade caravan to the Khwarezmid Empire, the governor of the town of Otrar seized it and killed the traders. Genghis Khan retaliated by invading the empire with 200,000 men killing the governor by pouring molten silver down his eyes and mouth.
Now we know where George R.R. Martin got some of his Dothraki inspiration from! When the governor of Otrar refused to pay compensation for destroying the caravan and killing his men, three more people were sent to meet the Shah of Khwarazmia who shaved two of them and beheaded the third, a Muslim. Not one to back down from this slight, Genghis Khan launched an all-out invasion of the cities of Bukhara, Gurganj, and the capital Samarkand with 200,000 soldiers and proceeded to kill or enslave the whole population. The war, which went on from 1219 to 1221, killed 1.25 million people. The Shah managed to escape, leading the Khan to deploy generals Subutai and Jebe and 20,000 men to go after him. He later perished “under mysterious circumstances” on a tiny island.(source)
5. He not only forgave the man who shot an arrow into his neck in battle but also raised him to be one of his best and most trusted generals.
One account of this story says that Genghis Khan was shot in the neck in 1201 in the Battle of the Thirteen Sides. After the battle was won, he demanded to meet the man who shot his horse in order to mask his real injury. The man, Zurgadai, confessed, but also vowed to serve the Khan with utmost loyalty so he was allowed to live. Since Genghis Khan valued merit over everything else, he forgave him and renamed him Jebe meaning “arrow” and “weapon” in Mongolian. Another account states that Jebe escaped and was recaptured by a group of soldiers but managed to kill Genghis Khan’s horse. He then pleaded for his life and also promised to bring him more horses in exchange for the one he killed.(source)
6. He would control the areas he conquered by marrying his daughters into the ruling families. He would then send his son-in-laws to war, thereby ensuring that his daughters rule in their stead. The son-in-laws usually died, and his daughters proved to be more successful at holding the kingdom together than his sons.
Not only was he a great warrior who commanded a fierce army, he was a strategic mastermind who didn’t mind playing the long game and apparently, a feminist as well. He had about seven or eight daughters, and when they married allied kings, the latter’s wives would be sent away or disregarded. He made sure that not only his sons but his daughters aided in the expansion of his empire. Eventually, his daughters ruled over areas from the Yellow Sea to the Caspian Sea.(source)
7. Most of the time, his army was outnumbered. They won by employing warfare tactics like surrounding the opposing army and giving a false impression of their numbers or putting dummy soldiers on horses.
It would be wrong to assume that Ghenghis Khan won his battles through sheer force of numbers and cruelty. He was capable of devising cunning traps and deceptions for his enemies. The Mongols had a great number of horses, at least five to six per soldier, and they would always use this resource to get the upper hand in battles. And because they had so many, they could move faster through the land by changing horses. The soldiers bringing up the rear would tie sticks to horses’ tails to kick up dust, making the enemies think that the reinforcements were larger than they actually were. Additionally, they would also seat prisoners and civilians atop the extra horses before an attack to showcase their false strength. (source)
8. Genghis Khan was responsible for one of the earliest instances of biological warfare where the Mongols would catapult the dead bodies of soldiers infected by the bubonic plague over city walls during sieges.
In 1346, the Tatar army used plague-ridden bodies of Mongol soldiers as weapons in the siege of Kafa (present-day Feodosia, Crimea). Once the plague spread, the defending army withdrew its forces leaving the path clear for conquest by the Mongolian army. Bubonic plague was and is prevalent in small rodents in the steppes of Mongolia. The army somehow managed to carry it to their enemies without breaking the chain of infection. They were then infected along with the rodents. It is believed that this could have been ground zero of the Black Death that killed almost one-third of Europe’s population in the ensuing years. In all fairness though, they probably thought it was the smell killing them, not the disease.(source)
9. He would go so far as to divert the course of rivers to flood and cut off provisions to the kingdom he was planning to conquer.
In 1209, Genghis Khan wanted to strike at the Tangut kingdom in China. They vanquished the forward posts of the Tangut army and marched on to Chung H’sing (present-day Yinchuan) on the banks of the Yellow River. When his headlong, direct attacks proved unsuccessful, he finally ordered the waters of the Yellow River to be diverted into the city. The city was flooded. Even though the plan was only partially successful, as their own camps were flooded when the dikes broke, he finally won the siege and added another kingdom to his empire.
Genghis Khan proved to be quite an open-minded and forward-thinking leader. He would march with a team of artisan and engineers who would simply innovate when faced with a problem. Whenever he conquered a land, its artisans, craftsmen, engineers, etc., would be recruited to “problem-solve” tactics of his mostly siege warfare. They would build a taller wall to get over a wall, hurl iron balls stuffed with gunpowder, divert rivers to flood a city, or stop its provisions. He absorbed new technologies and engineering from each kingdom he conquered, especially the Chinese and Arabic.(1,2)
10. Genghis Khan surrounded himself with men of power and intelligence. One among them was his chief advisor, a captured Confucian scholar named Yelu Chucai who came up with the idea of taxation instead of annihilation.
Yelu Chucai is best known for his wise words, “empires may be conquered on horseback, they could not be ruled on horseback.” He was just 28 when he joined Genghis Khan’s administration and served him and his son until his death in 1244. He was instrumental in splitting civil and military power which further streamlined administration and prevented unchecked violence. Yelu Chucai even encouraged the Chinese under Mongol rule to share their technologies and weapons which in turn helped to grab the Song dynasty.(source)
11. In adherence to Genghis Khan’s wishes, not a single soul was told of his burial site. Not one person who knew the location of his grave was left alive, including the soldiers who carried out the killing.
Genghis Khan died in 1227, at the age of 65, during the battle for Western Xia. There is no formal account of how he died, but there are several theories none of which can actually be confirmed. He could have died from an illness, injury during battle, or falling off his horse. Before dying, he gave express instructions that his grave be unmarked and no one be told about its location. The slaves who built his tomb were silenced with death and so were the soldiers who killed them. It is said that once the soldiered killed everyone else, they started killing each other and themselves. According to folklore, horses were let loose to stampede the ground to hide any traces of a tomb. Another legend claims that a river was diverted over it forever concealing his burial place. To this day, nobody has succeeded in finding his tomb. An archaeologist, Maury Kravitz, spent 40 years searching for it in vain. He died in 2012 without ever coming close.(source)