What was the context of this famous Genghis Khan quote?

What was the context of this famous Genghis Khan quote?

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It is often quoted that Genghis Khan said:

The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters.

Where does this quote come from? What did he mean when saying it? Do we actually have confirmation that he even did say this?

I've looked around and haven't found much. It's not in the Secret History of the Mongols. I've found a blog saying that it's quoted in Ibn Battuta's travelogues (writing over a hundred years after Genghis' death), possibly as a way to denigrate the Mongols:


But I don't have access to Battuta's original text.

Did Battuta get it from any earlier source? Is the quote actually consistent with Mongols' self-portrayal, or is it just a volley in the propaganda wars between the Mongols and their enemies?

I found a similar quote in Rashid-ad-din, (=Rashid al Din (1247-1318) in Wikipedia), Collection of chronicles, vol. 1, book 2 (Russian edition, 1952). The chapter is called Tales on Genghiz Khan, on his laudable features, qualities of his soul, etc. [very long title].

I translate the relevant place (from the Russian): Once Genghiz Khan asked Boorchi-noyon who was the chief of the emirs, what is the greatest joy and pleasure for a man. Boorchi said: "That a man takes a falcon… etc. [about hunting]

Then Genghis Khan said to Boragul: "You say too!" And Boragul said… [also something about hunting].

Then Cenghiz Khan asked the sons of Khublai. [they also replied something about hunting]

Then Genghiz Khan was willing to say: "You did not answer well! The greatest pleasure and joy for a man is to suppress a rebel and to defeat an enemy, uproot him and take everything he possesses, force his married women cry with tears, and to sit on his good and nice horses, and to make his beautiful wives… [I cannot translate into English in a public site, what he proposes to do to those beautiful wives].

The whole chapter in Rashid is about 10 pages of such stories and quotations of Genghiz Khan.

The quote comes from the Jami' al-tawarikh (the Ilkhanate's "History of the World"). The quote as given by d'Ohsson, translated from the French:

This conqueror once asked to noyan Bourgoudji, one of his first generals, what was, in his opinion, the delight of man. "It is, he said, to go to the hunt, a spring day, mounted on a beautiful horse, holding his fist on a hawk or a falcon, and see it cut down its prey." The prince made the same question to General Bourgoul, and then to other officers, who all answered as Bourgoudji. "No," said Chingiz Khan, "the greatest enjoyment of a man is to overcome his enemies, drive them before him, snatch what they have, to see the people to whom they are dear with their faces bathed in tears, to ride their horses, to squeeze in his arms their daughters and women."

As far as I know, there is no English translation of the Jami' al-tawarikh, but there is a French translation to which I do not have access.

The context is that in the essay (the book is a series of hundreds of essays) the author gives several anecdotes concerning Genghis Khan and this is one of them.

Genghis Khan quotes

Genghis Khan , also officially Genghis Emperor, was the founder and first Great Khan and Emperor of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death. He came to power by uniting many of the nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia. After founding the Empire and being proclaimed Genghis Khan, he launched the Mongol invasions that conquered most of Eurasia. Campaigns initiated in his lifetime include those against the Qara Khitai, Caucasus, and Khwarazmian, Western Xia and Jin dynasties. These campaigns were often accompanied by large-scale massacres of the civilian populations, especially in the Khwarazmian– and Western Xia–controlled lands. By the end of his life, the Mongol Empire occupied a substantial portion of Central Asia and China.

Before Genghis Khan died he assigned Ögedei Khan as his successor. Later his grandsons split his empire into khanates. Genghis Khan died in 1227 after defeating the Western Xia. By his request, his body was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Mongolia. His descendants extended the Mongol Empire across most of Eurasia by conquering or creating vassal states in all of modern-day China, Korea, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and substantial portions of Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia. Many of these invasions repeated the earlier large-scale slaughters of local populations. As a result, Genghis Khan and his empire have a fearsome reputation in local histories.Beyond his military accomplishments, Genghis Khan also advanced the Mongol Empire in other ways. He decreed the adoption of the Uyghur script as the Mongol Empire's writing system. He also practised meritocracy and encouraged religious tolerance in the Mongol Empire, unifying the nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia. Present-day Mongolians regard him as the founding father of Mongolia.Known for the brutality of his campaigns, Genghis Khan is considered by many to have been a genocidal ruler. However, he is also credited with bringing the Silk Road under one cohesive political environment. This brought relatively easy communication and trade between Northeast Asia, Muslim Southwest Asia, and Christian Europe, expanding the cultural horizons of all three areas. Wikipedia

Quotes Genghis Khan

„God is everywhere, and you can find him everywhere.“

Mohammad Habib and Khaliq Ahmad Nizami (ed.), A Comprehensive History of India, New Delhi, 1970, Volume V, The Sultanat, First Reprint, 1982. Quoted from Sita Ram Goel, The Calcutta Quran Petition (1999) ISBN 9788185990583 Chapter 10.



Genghis Khan was related on his father's side to Khabul Khan, Ambaghai, and Hotula Khan, who had headed the Khamag Mongol confederation and were descendants of Bodonchar Munkhag (c. 900). When the Jurchen Jin dynasty switched support from the Mongols to the Tatars in 1161, they destroyed Khabul Khan. [22] [23]

Genghis Khan's father, Yesügei (leader of the Kiyat-Borjigin [10] clan and nephew to Ambaghai and Hotula Khan), emerged as the head of the ruling Mongol clan. This position was contested by the rival Tayichi'ud clan, who descended directly from Ambaghai. When the Tatars grew too powerful after 1161, the Jin switched their support from the Tatars to the Keraites. [24] [25]


Little is known about Genghis Khan's early life, due to the lack of contemporary written records. The few sources that give insight into this period often contradict.

Temüjin means "blacksmith". [26] According to Rashid al-Din Hamadani, Chinos constituted that branch of the Mongols which existed from Ergenekon through melting the iron mountain side. There existed a tradition which viewed Genghis Khan as a blacksmith. Genghis's given name was Temüjin was equated with Turco-Mongol temürči(n), "blacksmith". Paul Pelliot saw that the tradition according to which Genghis was a blacksmith was unfounded though well established by the middle of the 13th century. [27]

Genghis Khan was probably born in 1162 [note 2] in Delüün Boldog, near the mountain Burkhan Khaldun and the rivers Onon and Kherlen in modern-day northern Mongolia, close to the current capital Ulaanbaatar. The Secret History of the Mongols reports that Temüjin was born grasping a blood clot in his fist, a traditional sign that he was destined to become a great leader. He was the first son of Hoelun, second wife of his father Yesügei, who was a Kiyad chief prominent in the Khamag Mongol confederation and an ally of Toghrul of the Keraite tribe. [28] According to the Secret History, Temüjin was named after the Tatar chief Temüjin-üge whom his father had just captured.

Yesukhei's clan was Borjigin (Боржигин), and Hoelun was from the Olkhunut sub-lineage of the Khongirad tribe. [29] [30] Like other tribes, they were nomads. Temüjin's noble background made it easier for him to solicit help from and eventually consolidate the other Mongol tribes. [31]

Early life and family

Temüjin had three brothers Hasar, Hachiun, and Temüge, one sister Temülen, and two half-brothers Begter and Belgutei. Like many of the nomads of Mongolia, Temüjin's early life was difficult. [32] His father arranged a marriage for him and delivered him at age nine to the family of his future wife Börte of the tribe Khongirad. Temüjin was to live there serving the head of the household Dai Setsen until the marriageable age of 12. [33] [34]

While heading home, his father ran into the neighboring Tatars, who had long been Mongol enemies, and they offered him food that poisoned him. Upon learning this, Temüjin returned home to claim his father's position as chief. But the tribe refused this and abandoned the family, leaving it without protection. [35]

For the next several years, the family lived in poverty, surviving mostly on wild fruits, ox carcasses, marmots, and other small game killed by Temüjin and his brothers. Temüjin's older half-brother Begter began to exercise power as the eldest male in the family and would eventually have the right to claim Hoelun (who was not his own mother) as a wife. [36] Temüjin's resentment erupted during one hunting excursion when Temüjin and his brother Khasar killed Begter. [36]

In a raid around 1177, Temüjin was captured by his father's former allies, the Tayichi'ud, and enslaved, reportedly with a cangue (a sort of portable stocks). With the help of a sympathetic guard, he escaped from the ger (yurt) at night by hiding in a river crevice. [37] The escape earned Temüjin a reputation. Soon, Jelme and Bo'orchu joined forces with him. They and the guard's son Chilaun eventually became generals of Genghis Khan. [38]

At this time, none of the tribal confederations of Mongolia were united politically, and arranged marriages were often used to solidify temporary alliances. Temüjin grew up observing the tough political climate, which included tribal warfare, thievery, raids, corruption, and revenge between confederations, compounded by interference from abroad, such as from China to the south. [39] Temüjin's mother Hoelun taught him many lessons, especially the need for strong alliances to ensure stability in Mongolia. [40]

As was common for powerful Mongol men, Genghis Khan had many wives and concubines. [41] [42] He frequently acquired wives and concubines from empires and societies that he had conquered, these women were often princesses or queens that were taken captive or gifted to him. [42] Genghis Khan gave several of his high-status wives their own ordos or camps to live in and manage. Each camp also contained junior wives, concubines, and even children. It was the job of the Kheshig (Mongol imperial guard) to protect the yurts of Genghis Khan's wives. The guards had to pay particular attention to the individual yurt and camp in which Genghis Khan slept, which could change every night as he visited different wives. [43] When Genghis Khan set out on his military conquests, he usually took one wife with him and left the rest of his wives (and concubines) to manage the empire in his absence. [44]


The marriage between Börte and Genghis Khan (then known as Temüjin) was arranged by her father and Yesügei, Temüjin's father, when she was 10 and he was 9 years old. [45] [46] Temüjin stayed with her and her family until he was called back to take care of his mother and younger siblings, due to the poisoning of Yesügei by Tatar nomads. [47] In 1178, about 7 years later, Temüjin traveled downstream along the Kelüren River to find Börte. When Börte's father saw that Temüjin had returned to marry Börte, he had the pair "united as man and wife". With the permission of her father, Temüjin took Börte and her mother to live in his family yurt. Börte's dowry was a fine black sable jacket. [48] [49] Soon after the marriage between them took place, the Three Merkits attacked their family camp at dawn and kidnapped Börte. [50] She was given to one of their warriors as a spoil of war. Temüjin was deeply distressed by the abduction of his wife and remarked that his "bed was made empty" and his "breast was torn apart". [51] Temüjin rescued her several months later with the aid of his allies Wang Khan and Jamukha. [52] Many scholars describe this event as one of the key crossroads in Temüjin's life, which moved him along the path towards becoming a conqueror.

“As the pillaging and plundering went on, Temüjin moved among the people that were hurriedly escaping, calling, ‘Börte, Börte!’ And so he came upon her, for Lady Börte was among those fleeing people. She heard the voice of Temüjin and, recognizing it, she got off the cart and came running towards him. Although it was still night, Lady Börte and Qo’aqčin both recognized Temüjin’s reins and tether and grabbed them. It was moonlight he looked at them, recognized Lady Börte, and they fell into each other’s arms.” -The Secret History of the Mongols [51]

Börte was held captive for eight months, and gave birth to Jochi soon after she was rescued. This left doubt as to who the father of the child was, because her captor took her as a "wife" and could have possibly impregnated her. [50] Despite this, Temüjin let Jochi remain in the family and claimed him as his own son. Börte had three more sons, Chagatai (1183–1242), Ögedei (1186–1241), and Tolui (1191–1232). Temüjin had many other children with other wives, but they were excluded from the succession, only Börte's sons could be considered to be his heirs. Börte was also the mother to several daughters, Kua Ujin Bekhi, Alakhai Bekhi, Alaltun, Checheikhen, Tümelün, and Tolai. However, the poor survival of Mongol records means it is unclear whether she gave birth to all of them. [53]


During his military campaign against the Tatars, Temüjin fell in love with Yesugen and took her in as a wife. She was the daughter of a Tatar leader named Yeke Cheren that Temüjin's army had killed during battle. After the military campaign against the Tatars was over, Yesugen, one of the survivors went to Temüjin, who slept with her. According to the Secret History of the Mongols, while they were having sex Yesugen asked Temüjin to treat her well and to not discard her. When Temüjin seemed to agree with this, Yesugen recommended that he also marry her sister Yesui. [54]

Being loved by him, Yisügen Qatun said, ‘If it pleases the Qa’an, he will take care of me, regarding me as a human being and a person worth keeping. But my elder sister, who is called Yisüi, is superior to me: she is indeed fit for a ruler.’

Both the Tatar sisters, Yesugen and Yesui, became a part of Temüjin's principal wives and were given their own camps to manage. Temüjin also took a third woman from the Tatars, an unknown concubine. [56]


At the recommendation of her sister Yesugen, Temüjin had his men track down and kidnap Yesui. When she was brought to Temüjin, he found her every bit as pleasing as promised and so he married her. [57] The other wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of the Tatars had been parceled out and given to Mongol men. [56] The Tatar sisters, Yesugen and Yesui, were two of Genghis Khan's most influential wives. Genghis Khan took Yesui with him when he set out on his final expedition against the Tangut empire. [58]


Khulan entered Mongol history when her father, the Merkit leader Dayir Usan, surrendered to Temüjin in the winter of 1203–04 and gave her to him. But at least according to the Secret History of the Mongols, Khulan and her father were detained by Naya'a, one of Temüjin's officers, who was apparently trying to protect them from Mongol soldiers who were nearby. After they arrived three days later than expected, Temüjin suspected that Naya'a was motivated by his carnal feelings towards Khulan to help her and her father. While Temüjin was interrogating Naya'a, Khulan spoke up in his defense and invited Temüjin to have sex with her and inspect her virginity personally, which pleased him. [59]

In the end Temüjin accepted Dayir Usan's surrender and Khulan as his new wife. However, Dayir Usan later retracted his surrender but he and his subjects were eventually subdued, his possessions plundered, and he himself killed. Temüjin continued to carry out military campaigns against the Merkits until their final dispersal in 1218. Khulan was able to achieve meaningful status as one of Temüjin's wives and managed one of the large wifely camps, in which other wives, concubines, children and animals lived. She gave birth to a son named Gelejian, who went on to participate with Börte's sons in their father's military campaigns. [60]

Möge Khatun

Möge Khatun was a concubine of Genghis Khan and she later became a wife of his son Ögedei Khan. [61] The Persian historian Ata-Malik Juvayni records that Möge Khatun "was given to Chinggis Khan by a chief of the Bakrin tribe, and he loved her very much." Ögedei favored her as well and she accompanied him on his hunting expeditions. [62] She is not recorded as having any children. [63]


Juerbiesu was an empress of Qara Khitai, Mongol Empire, and Naiman. She was a renowned beauty on the plains. She was originally a favored concubine of Inanch Bilge khan and after his death, she became the consort of his son Tayang Khan. Since Tayang Khan was a useless ruler, Juerbiesu was in control of almost all power in Naiman politics. [64]

She had a daughter named Princess Hunhu (渾忽公主) with Yelü Zhilugu, the ruler of Liao. After Genghis Khan destroyed the Naiman tribe and Tayang Khan was killed, Juerbiesu made several offensive remarks regarding Mongols, describing their clothes as dirty and smelly. Yet, she abruptly rescinded her claims and visited Genghis Khan's tent alone. He questioned her about the remarks but was immediately attracted to her beauty. After spending the night with him, Juerbiesu promised to serve him well and he took her as one of his empresses. Her status was only inferior to Khulan and Borte. [ citation needed ]

Ibaqa Beki

Ibaqa was the eldest daughter of the Kerait leader Jakha Gambhu, who allied with Genghis Khan to defeat the Naimans in 1204. As part of the alliance, Ibaqa was given to Genghis Khan as a wife. [65] She was the sister of Begtütmish, who married Genghis Khan's son Jochi, and Sorghaghtani Beki, who married Genghis Khan's son Tolui. [65] [66] After about two years of childless marriage, Genghis Khan abruptly divorced Ibaqa and gave her to the general Jürchedei, a member of the Uru'ut clan and who had killed Jakha Gambhu after the latter turned against Genghis Khan. [65] [67] The exact reason for this remarriage is unknown: According to The Secret History of the Mongols, Genghis Khan gave Ibaqa to Jürchedei as a reward for his service in wounding Nilga Senggum in 1203 and, later, in killing Jakha Gambhu. [65] Conversely, Rashid al-Din in Jami' al-tawarikh claims that Genghis Khan divorced Ibaqa due to a nightmare in which God commanded him to give her away immediately, and Jürchedei happened to be guarding the tent. [65] Regardless of the rationale, Genghis Khan allowed Ibaqa to keep her title as Khatun even in her remarriage, and asked that she would leave him a token of her dowry by which he could remember her. [65] [67] The sources also agree that Ibaqa was quite wealthy. [68]

In the early 12th century, the Central Asian plateau north of China was divided into several prominent tribal confederations, including Naimans, Merkits, Tatars, Khamag Mongols, and Keraites, that were often unfriendly towards each other, as evidenced by random raids, revenge attacks, and plundering.

Early attempts at power

Temüjin began his ascent to power by offering himself as an ally (or, according to other sources, a vassal) to his father's anda (sworn brother or blood brother) Toghrul, who was Khan of the Keraites, and is better known by the Chinese title "Wang Khan", which the Jurchen Jin dynasty granted him in 1197. This relationship was first reinforced when Börte was captured by the Merkits. Temüjin turned to Toghrul for support, and Toghrul offered 20,000 of his Keraite warriors and suggested that Temüjin involve his childhood friend Jamukha, who had himself become Khan of his own tribe, the Jadaran. [69]

Although the campaign rescued Börte and utterly defeated the Merkits, it also paved the way for the split between Temüjin and Jamukha. Before this, they were blood brothers (anda) vowing to remain eternally faithful.

Rift with Jamukha and defeat at Dalan Balzhut

As Jamukha and Temüjin drifted apart in their friendship, each began consolidating power, and they became rivals. Jamukha supported the traditional Mongolian aristocracy, while Temüjin followed a meritocratic method, and attracted a broader range and lower class of followers. [70] Following his earlier defeat of the Merkits, and a proclamation by the shaman Kokochu that the Eternal Blue Sky had set aside the world for Temüjin, Temüjin began rising to power. [71] In 1186, Temüjin was elected khan of the Mongols. Threatened by this rise, Jamukha attacked Temujin in 1187 with an army of 30,000 troops. Temüjin gathered his followers to defend against the attack, but was decisively beaten in the Battle of Dalan Balzhut. [71] [72] However, Jamukha horrified and alienated potential followers by boiling 70 young male captives alive in cauldrons. [73] Toghrul, as Temüjin's patron, was exiled to the Qara Khitai. [74] The life of Temüjin for the next 10 years is unclear, as historical records are mostly silent on that period. [74]

Return to power

Around the year 1197, the Jin initiated an attack against their formal vassal, the Tatars, with help from the Keraites and Mongols. Temüjin commanded part of this attack, and after victory, he and Toghrul were restored by the Jin to positions of power. [74] The Jin bestowed Toghrul with the honorable title of Ong Khan, and Temüjin with a lesser title of j'aut quri. [75]

Around 1200, the main rivals of the Mongol confederation (traditionally the "Mongols") were the Naimans to the west, the Merkits to the north, the Tanguts to the south, and the Jin to the east.

In his rule and his conquest of rival tribes, Temüjin broke with Mongol tradition in a few crucial ways. He delegated authority based on merit and loyalty, rather than family ties. [76] As an incentive for absolute obedience and the Yassa code of law, Temüjin promised civilians and soldiers wealth from future war spoils. When he defeated rival tribes, he did not drive away their soldiers and abandon their civilians. Instead, he took the conquered tribe under his protection and integrated its members into his own tribe. He would even have his mother adopt orphans from the conquered tribe, bringing them into his family. These political innovations inspired great loyalty among the conquered people, making Temüjin stronger with each victory. [76]

Rift with Toghrul

Senggum, son of Toghrul (Wang Khan), envied Genghis Khan's growing power and affinity with his father. He allegedly planned to assassinate Genghis Khan. Although Toghrul was allegedly saved on multiple occasions by Genghis Khan, he gave in to his son [77] and became uncooperative with Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan learned of Senggum's intentions and eventually defeated him and his loyalists.

One of the later ruptures between Genghis Khan and Toghrul was Toghrul's refusal to give his daughter in marriage to Jochi, Genghis Khan's first son. This was disrespectful in Mongolian culture and led to a war. Toghrul allied with Jamukha, who already opposed Genghis Khan's forces. However, the dispute between Toghrul and Jamukha, plus the desertion of a number of their allies to Genghis Khan, led to Toghrul's defeat. Jamukha escaped during the conflict. This defeat was a catalyst for the fall and eventual dissolution of the Keraite tribe. [78]

After conquering his way steadily through the Alchi Tatars, Keraites, and Uhaz Merkits and acquiring at least one wife each time, Temüjin turned to the next threat on the steppe, the Turkic Naimans under the leadership of Tayang Khan with whom Jamukha and his followers took refuge. [60] The Naimans did not surrender, although enough sectors again voluntarily sided with Genghis Khan.

In 1201, a khuruldai elected Jamukha as Gür Khan, "universal ruler", a title used by the rulers of the Qara Khitai. Jamukha's assumption of this title was the final breach with Genghis Khan, and Jamukha formed a coalition of tribes to oppose him. Before the conflict, several generals abandoned Jamukha, including Subutai, Jelme's well-known younger brother. After several battles, Jamukha was turned over to Genghis Khan by his own men in 1206. [ citation needed ]

According to the Secret History, Genghis Khan again offered his friendship to Jamukha. Genghis Khan had killed the men who betrayed Jamukha, stating that he did not want disloyal men in his army. Jamukha refused the offer, saying that there can only be one sun in the sky, and he asked for a noble death. The custom was to die without spilling blood, specifically by having one's back broken. Jamukha requested this form of death, although he was known to have boiled his opponents' generals alive. [ citation needed ]

Sole ruler of the Mongol plains (1206)

The part of the Merkit clan that sided with the Naimans were defeated by Subutai, who was by then a member of Genghis Khan's personal guard and later became one of Genghis Khan's most successful commanders. The Naimans' defeat left Genghis Khan as the sole ruler of the Mongol steppe – all the prominent confederations fell or united under his Mongol confederation.

Accounts of Genghis Khan's life are marked by claims of a series of betrayals and conspiracies. These include rifts with his early allies such as Jamukha (who also wanted to be a ruler of Mongol tribes) and Wang Khan (his and his father's ally), his son Jochi, and problems with the most important shaman, who allegedly tried to drive a wedge between him and his loyal brother Khasar. His military strategies showed a deep interest in gathering intelligence and understanding the motivations of his rivals, exemplified by his extensive spy network and Yam route systems. He seemed to be a quick student, adopting new technologies and ideas that he encountered, such as siege warfare from the Chinese. He was also ruthless, demonstrated by his tactic of measuring against the linchpin, used against the tribes led by Jamukha.

As a result, by 1206, Genghis Khan had managed to unite or subdue the Merkits, Naimans, Mongols, Keraites, Tatars, Uyghurs, and other disparate smaller tribes under his rule. This was a monumental feat. It resulted in peace between previously warring tribes, and a single political and military force. The union became known as the Mongols. At a Khuruldai, a council of Mongol chiefs, Genghis Khan was acknowledged as Khan of the consolidated tribes and took the new title "Genghis Khan". The title Khagan was conferred posthumously by his son and successor Ögedei who took the title for himself (as he was also to be posthumously declared the founder of the Yuan dynasty).

According to the Secret History of the Mongols, the chieftains of the conquered tribes pledged to Genghis Khan by proclaiming:

"We will make you Khan you shall ride at our head, against our foes. We will throw ourselves like lightning on your enemies. We will bring you their finest women and girls, their rich tents like palaces." [79] [80]

Genghis Khan was a Tengrist, but was religiously tolerant and interested in learning philosophical and moral lessons from other religions. He consulted Buddhist monks (including the Zen monk Haiyun), Muslims, Christian missionaries, and the Taoist monk Qiu Chuji. [81]

According to the Fozu Lidai Tongzai written by Nian Chang (b. 1282) Genghis Khan's viceroy Muqali was pacifying Shanxi in 1219, the homeland of Zen Buddhist monk Haiyun (海雲, 1203–1257), when one of Muqali's Chinese generals, impressed with Haiyun and his master Zhongguan's demeanor, recommended them to Muqali. Muqali then reported on the two to Genghis Khan who issued the following decree on their behalf: "They truly are men who pray to Heaven. I should like to support them with clothes and food and make them chiefs. I'm planning on gathering many of this kind of people. While praying to Heaven, they should not have difficulties imposed on them. To forbid any mistreatment, they will be authorized to act as darqan (possessor of immunity)." Genghis Khan had already met Haiyun in 1214 and been impressed by his reply refusing to grow his hair in the Mongol hairstyle and allowed him to keep his head shaven. [82] After the death of his master Zhongguan in 1220, Haiyun became the head of the Chan (Chinese Zen) school during Genghis Khan's rule and was repeatedly recognized as the chief monk in Chinese Buddhism by subsequent Khans until 1257 when he was succeeded as chief monk by another Chan master Xueting Fuyu the Mongol-appointed abbot of Shaolin monastery. [83]

Genghis Khan summoned and met the Daoist master Qiu Chuji (1148–1227) in Afghanistan in 1222. He thanked Qiu Chuji for accepting his invitation and asked if Qiu Chuji had brought the medicine of immortality with him. Qiu Chuji said there was no such thing as a medicine of immortality but that life can be extended through abstinence. Genghis Khan appreciated his honest reply and asked Qiu Chuji who it is that calls him eternal heavenly man, he himself or others. [84] After Qiu Chuji replied that others call him by that name Genghis Khan decreed that from thenceforth Qiu Chuji should be called "Immortal" and appointed him master of all monks in China, noting that heaven had sent Qiu Chuji to him. Qiu Chuji died in Beijing the same year as Genghis Khan and his shrine became the White Cloud Temple. Following Khans continued appointing Daoist masters of the Quanzhen School at White Cloud Temple. The Daoists lost their privilege in 1258 after the Great Debate organized by Genghis Khan's grandson Möngke Khan when Chinese Buddhists (led by the Mongol-appointed abbot or shaolim zhanglao of Shaolin monastery), Confucians and Tibetan Buddhists allied against the Daoists. Kublai Khan was appointed to preside over this debate (in Shangdu/Xanadu, the third meeting after two debates in Karakorum in 1255 and 1256) in which 700 dignitaries were present. Kublai Khan had already met Haiyun in 1242 and been swayed towards Buddhism. [85]

Genghis Khan's decree exempting Daoists (xiansheng), Buddhists (toyin), Christians (erke'üd) and Muslims (dashmad) from tax duties were continued by his successors until the end of the Yuan dynasty in 1368. All the decrees use the same formula and state that Genghis Khan first gave the decree of exemption. [86] Kublai Khan's 1261 decree in Mongolian appointing the elder of the Shaolin monastery uses the same formula and states "Činggis qan-u jrlg-tur toyid erkegü:d šingšingü:d dašmad aliba alba gubčiri ülü üjen tngri-yi jalbariju bidan-a irüge:r ögün atugai keme:gsen jrlg-un yosuga:r. ene Šaolim janglau-da bariju yabuga:i jrlg ögbei" (According to the decree of Genghis Khan which says may the Buddhists, Christians, Daoists and Muslims be exempt from all taxation and may they pray to God and continue offering us blessings. I have given this decree to the Shaolin elder to carry it). According to Juvaini, Genghis Khan allowed religious freedom to Muslims during his conquest of Khwarezmia "permitting the recitation of the takbir and the azan". However, Rashid-al-Din states there were occasions when Genghis Khan forbade Halal butchering. Kublai Khan revived the decree in 1280 after Muslims refused to eat at a banquet. He forbade Halal butchering and circumcision. The decree of Kublai Khan was revoked after a decade. Genghis Khan met Wahid-ud-Din in Afghanistan in 1221 and asked him if the prophet Muhammad predicted a Mongol conqueror. He was initially pleased with Wahid-ud-Din but then dismissed him from his service saying "I used to consider you a wise and prudent man, but from this speech of yours, it has become evident to me that you do not possess complete understanding and that your comprehension is but small". [87]

When I met the descendent of Genghis Khan in New York .

In the short time I spent talking to him, he told me that Genghis Khan was not as bad as historians have painted him. When I returned from the trip, I read a little about Genghis Khan. I found that there were actually some positives that came from Genghis Khan's empire, for example he started an international post system. While there may have been some good things that Genghis Khan did, but in the end because he killed millions of people, I would say he is correctly categorized as a monster in history.

In my research, I found that around 1 out of every 200 men living in the world are descendents of Genghis Khan. See here. Hmmm!

- Evan Andrews

Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire and became one of the most feared conquerors of all time.

Between 1206 and his death in 1227, the Mongol leader Genghis Khan conquered nearly 12 million square miles of territory—more than any individual in history. Along the way, he cut a ruthless path through Asia and Europe that left untold millions dead, but he also modernized Mongolian culture, embraced religious freedom and helped open contact between East and West. Explore 10 facts about a great ruler who was equal parts military genius, political statesman and bloodthirsty terror.

“Genghis” wasn’t his real name.

The man who would become the “Great Khan” of the Mongols was born along the banks of the Onon River sometime around 1162 and originally named Temujin, which means “of iron” or “blacksmith.” He didn’t get the honorific name “Genghis Kahn” until 1206, when he was proclaimed leader of the Mongols at a tribal meeting known as a “kurultai.” While “Khan” is a traditional title meaning “leader” or “ruler,” historians are still unsure of the origins of “Genghis.” It may have may have meant “ocean” or “just,” but in context it is usually translated as “supreme ruler” or “universal ruler.”

From an early age, Genghis was forced to contend with the brutality of life on the Mongolian Steppe. Rival Tatars poisoned his father when he was only nine, and his own tribe later expelled his family and left his mother to raise her seven children alone. Genghis grew up hunting and foraging to survive, and as an adolescent he may have even murdered his own half-brother in a dispute over food. During his teenage years, rival clans abducted both he and his young wife, and Genghis spent time as a slave before making a daring escape. Despite all these hardships, by his early 20s he had established himself as a formidable warrior and leader. After amassing an army of supporters, he began forging alliances with the heads of important tribes. By 1206, he had successfully consolidated the steppe confederations under his banner and began to turn his attention to outside conquest.

There is no definitive record of what he looked like.

For such an influential figure, very little is known about Genghis Kahn’s personal life or even his physical appearance. No contemporary portraits or sculptures of him have survived, and what little information historians do have is often contradictory or unreliable. Most accounts describe him as tall and strong with a flowing mane of hair and a long, bushy beard. Perhaps the most surprising description comes courtesy of the 14th century Persian chronicler Rashid al-Din, who claimed Genghis had red hair and green eyes. Al-Din’s account is questionable—he never met the Khan in person—but these striking features were not unheard of among the ethnically diverse Mongols.

Some of his most trusted generals were former enemies.

The Great Khan had a keen eye for talent, and he usually promoted his officers on skill and experience rather than class, ancestry or even past allegiances. One famous example of this belief in meritocracy came during a 1201 battle against the rival Taijut tribe, when Genghis was nearly killed after his horse was shot out from under him with an arrow. When he later addressed the Taijut prisoners and demanded to know who was responsible, one soldier bravely stood up and admitted to being the shooter. Stirred by the archer’s boldness, Genghis made him an officer in his army and later nicknamed him “Jebe,” or “arrow,” in honor of their first meeting on the battlefield. Along with the famed general Subutai, Jebe would go on to become one of the Mongols’ greatest field commanders during their conquests in Asia and Europe.

He rarely left a score unsettled.

Genghis Khan often gave other kingdoms a chance to peacefully submit to Mongol rule, but he didn’t hesitate to bring down the sword on any society that resisted. One of his most famous campaigns of revenge came in 1219, after the Shah of the Khwarezmid Empire broke a treaty with the Mongols. Genghis had offered the Shah a valuable trade agreement to exchange goods along the Silk Road, but when his first emissaries were murdered, the enraged Khan responded by unleashing the full force of his Mongol hordes on the Khwarezmid territories in Persia. The subsequent war left millions dead and the Shah’s empire in utter ruin, but the Khan didn’t stop there. He followed up on his victory by returning east and waging war on the Tanguts of Xi Xia, a group of Mongol subjects who had refused his order to provide troops for his invasion of Khwarizm. After routing the Tangut forces and sacking their capital, the Great Khan ordered the execution of the entire Tangut royal family as punishment for their defiance.

He was responsible for the deaths of as many as 40 million people.

While it’s impossible to know for sure how many people perished during the Mongol conquests, many historians put the number at somewhere around 40 million. Censuses from the Middle Ages show that the population of China plummeted by tens of millions during the Khan’s lifetime, and scholars estimate that he may have killed a full three-fourths of modern-day Iran’s population during his war with the Khwarezmid Empire. All told, the Mongols’ attacks may have reduced the entire world population by as much as 11 percent.

He was tolerant of different religions.

Unlike many empire builders, Genghis Khan embraced the diversity of his newly conquered territories. He passed laws declaring religious freedom for all and even granted tax exemptions to places of worship. This tolerance had a political side—the Khan knew that happy subjects were less likely to rebel—but the Mongols also had an exceptionally liberal attitude towards religion. While Genghis and many others subscribed to a shamanistic belief system that revered the spirits of the sky, winds and mountains, the Steppe peoples were a diverse bunch that included Nestorian Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and other animistic traditions. The Great Khan also had a personal interest in spirituality. He was known to pray in his tent for multiple days before important campaigns, and he often met with different religious leaders to discuss the details of their faiths. In his old age, he even summoned the Taoist leader Qiu Chuji to his camp, and the pair supposedly had long conversations on immortality and philosophy.

He created one of the first international postal systems.

Along with the bow and the horse, the Mongols most potent weapon may have been their vast communication network. One of his earliest decrees as Khan involved the formation of a mounted courier service known as the “Yam.” This medieval express consisted of a well-organized series of post houses and way stations strung out across the whole of the Empire. By stopping to rest or take on a fresh mount every few miles, official riders could often travel as far as 200 miles a day. The system allowed goods and information to travel with unprecedented speed, but it also acted as the eyes and ears of the Khan. Thanks to the Yam, he could easily keep abreast of military and political developments and maintain contact with his extensive network of spies and scouts. The Yam also helped protect foreign dignitaries and merchants during their travels. In later years, the service was famously used by the likes of Marco Polo and John of Plano Carpini.

No one knows how he died or where he is buried.

Of all the enigmas surrounding the Khan’s life, perhaps the most famous concerns how it ended. The traditional narrative says he died in 1227 from injuries sustained in a fall from a horse, but other sources list everything from malaria to an arrow wound in the knee. One of the more questionable accounts even claims he was murdered while trying to force himself on a Chinese princess. However he died, the Khan took great pains to keep his final resting place a secret. According to legend, his funeral procession slaughtered everyone they came in contact with during their journey and then repeatedly rode horses over his grave to help conceal it. The tomb is most likely on or around a Mongolian mountain called Burkhan Khaldun, but to this day its precise location is unknown.

The Soviets tried to snuff out his memory in Mongolia.

Genghis Khan is now seen as a national hero and founding father of Mongolia, but during the era of Soviet rule in the 20th century, the mere mention of his name was banned. Hoping to stamp out all traces of Mongolian nationalism, the Soviets tried to suppress the Khan’s memory by removing his story from school textbooks and forbidding people from making pilgrimages to his birthplace in Khentii. Genghis Khan was eventually restored to Mongolian history after the country won independence in the early 1990s, and he’s since become a recurring motif in art and popular culture. The Great Khan lends his name to the nation’s main airport in the city of Ulan Bator, and his portrait even appears on Mongolian currency.

Pompey: 'Stop quoting laws - we carry weapons.'

The context: This quote comes from the ancient historian Plutarch, who wrote a short biography of the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (AKA Pompey the Great). Pompey, who would later become one of Julius Caesar's chief rivals, earlier in his career was sent to Sicily by the dictator Sulla to pacify the region and detain Sulla's opponent, Marcus Perperna Vento.

Pompey was generally lenient in restoring order to the Sicilian cities, but when the elders of Messina defied him, citing centuries-old precedent, an exasperated Pompey made the above statement. (It is alternatively translated as "What! Will you never cease prating of laws to us that have swords by our sides?")

Attila’s Final Years and Death

In the spring of 451, Attila launched an attack on Gaul (France) with 200,000 of his men. He went up against the Roman army led by his old ally General Aetius, who had joined forces with the Visigoths and Gaul’s other �rbaric” tribes (Franks, Burgundians and Alans).

The armies finally clashed at the famous Battle of Catalaunian Plains (also called the Battle of Chalons). In the end, the Visigoth king (Theodorid) died and most of the Western Roman army was destroyed, but the allied forces against the Huns held ground.

Attila retreated his army back to central Europe. The battle is largely considered Attila’s first and only battlefield loss.

Despite the failed campaign into Gaul, Attila launched an attack on Italy the very next year in 452. He sacked both Milan and Aquileia (among other places) but reportedly decided to pull back after meeting with Pope Leo I.

In A.D. 453, Attila died in bed – supposedly due to a nosebleed caused by a brain hemorrhage – after a heavy feast and drinking on his wedding night to new bride Ildico.

What's the consensus on "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World"?

I read Jack Weatherford's book a few years ago. I found it quite enjoyable and it really taught me a lot of about the Mongols, but I'm not totally convinced by Weatherford's claims. Leaving aside the glaring factual errors, what do historians generally think of this book? I realize it's "pop history" but the flaws in that are not really what I'm looking for--how strong are his claims and arguments?

The one from 'Technology and Culture' is quite praiseful, but it is looking at it in terms of the history of Technology, not the Mongols specifically.

In 'Inner Asia', Chris Kaplonski gives a much more nuanced review, and the end take away is that it has flaws, and gets some facts wrong, but it not to be taken as anything more than an introduction to the topic. To quote:

In the end [it] is an enjoyable read and can easily be recommended to people interested in taking their first steps in learning about Chinggis and the Mongol Empire.

Oh hey, a flaired user. I've been reading David Morgan's The Mongols recently. Is that more credible?

You should may habs also post this question to our loyal comrades at the great Sub r/askhistorians

your link confused me with it's lack of css design, informative posts, and plural indicators.

I have it. He does really tend to gloss over the sheer brutality of the Mongol conquests he seems to be bent on portraying them in a positive light or at least highlighting the things they did besides killing lots of people.

To be fair to Weatherford, Genghiz Khan didn't exactly live in a time that was known for its restraint when it came to human life.

On the other hand, the Mongols killed a LOT of people. I would venture to say they killed an unreasonable amount of people. More than their quota.

I personally do not buy into Weatherfords thesis, but I think several of you should take a look at what he's actually saying. The main assertion of Weatherfords book is thus:

Genghis Khans actions indirectly lead to the renaissance and thus the formation of the modern world

I think what a lot of people see is:

Genghis Khan was awesome because his actions indirectly lead to the renaissance and thus the formation of the modern world

And so many are directing their criticism in the wrong places.

The reviews in this post actually address and critique Weatherford's assertions based on historical evidence, not on whether killing people makes you a bad guy or not (which doesn't address the point in the first place)

It's not just the assertions that matter though. The book isn't just the assertions, it's the evidence he presents and the evidence he doesn't put forth and the narrative he constructs. I agree that Weatherford never comes out and says that the Mongols were great for leading to the Renaissance, only that they did lead to the Renaissance. And after reading his book, that seems like a fair enough conclusion. But the fact that he whitewashes the Mongols' actions while also acting like he is presenting an objective survey of Mongol history by publishing a history book for the general public indicates that his narrative is suspect and should not be taken at face value.

Historical Context

The Silk Road did not only promote commodity exchange but also cultural. For example, Buddhism as one of the religions of theKushan kingdom reached China. Together with merchant caravans Buddhist monks went from India to Central Asia and China, preaching the new religion. Buddhist monuments were discovered in numerous cities along the Silk Road. In the first centuries of Christian era Manicheism (originated in the 3rd century in Iran and was a synthesis of Zoroastrism and Christianity) and Christianity (Nestorians) penetrated from the Near East to Central Asia and further to China. In the 13th century the Silk Road was the route for the new wave of Christian doctrine dissemination connected with the activity of Catholic missions. Warriors of Arabian caliphate brought Islāmic doctrine in the 7th century and the Mongolian travelled along the Silk Road in the 12th and 13th century the other way. The Silk Road was not only the source of goods but also information on their making, i.e. technologies. In particular, the ways of silk, stained glass, paper, books, gunpowder and guns production.

Agents of transmission

In the late 13th century A.D., Gregory Chionades travelled from Byzantium to Persia to study mathematics and astronomy under Shams ad-Din al-Bukhari, who was associated with the Maragha school of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi. Chioniades translated many works from Arabic and Persian into Greek, and is probably the person responsible for introducing such Persian innovations as the so-called “Tusi Couple” to the West. The transmission of Tusi’s work from Iran to the West is discussed in Otto Neugenauer’s History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy. Choniades later translated the Zij-i Ilkhani into Byzantine Greek and took it to the Byzantine Empire. Al-Tusi’s deftness and ideological flexibility in pursuit of the resources to do science paid off. The road to modern astronomy, winds from Athens to Alexandria, Byzanz, Baghdad, Damascus and it was traveled not just by astronomy but by all science. In the end the observatories and science failed to take root in the Islamic dominated countries. It may be fair to assume, that the orthodox Islamic belief system would have been too rigid to adjust to their findings. Furthermore Islam (as Christianity) was connecting astronomy with astrology, which was heresy. Western Renaissance thinkers later sought out in Europe’s monastic libraries and this crumbling Byzantine Empire and Greek and Arabic works of natural sciences, philosophy and mathematics. The transmission of the Arabic, Persian and Indian astronomy (and astrology),did indeed exist, and was important but used many routes.

The fall of the Roman and Persian Empire

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the late 5th century, the Byzantine (East Roman) and Persian Empires dominated the world scene for a while. In Western Europe books were made using parchment which made them enormously expensive. In the eight and ninth centuries the Almagest was translated first into Syriac. Under the Islamic rule, Jews and Christians participated in the state of Dhimmni, significantly to art, medicine and philosophy, which endured for at least 500 years and spread from Spain to Persia. However, by the end of the 11th century AD, the Golden Age was over for many reasons including political/economic stagnation and foreign attacks. The great families who supported the translation movement and promoted advancement of science and philosophy in Persian, Byzantine and other territories were eradicated. The Muslim schools were fully established and were dominated by the fundamentalists where political ideology emphasized fate over reason. The Hellenistic cultures of Egypt, Syria and the Holy Land with its’ Greek and Syriac elements and the Byzantine (Turkey) did not survive. They lost their language and their culture of scientific tradition and enquiry. Persian culture partially survived but empirical knowledge and scientific traditions were lost. Astronomy like other branches of empirical science was virtually vanished and like medicine was only revived in the 20th century.

The Rise of the Islam

Commanded by the Koran to conquer and utilize all resources, and inspired by a treasure trove of ancient Greek learning, Muslims took over a Syrian, Jewish and Christian intellectuals and knowledge. Later the Chinese and Indian Science was adopted. The Arabic language must be used as official language of the oppressors. The rise of Arabic to the status of a major world language is inextricably intertwined with the rise of Islam.

When Muhammad’s armies swept out from the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh and eighth centuries, annexing territory from Spain to Persia, they also annexed the works of Plato, Aristotle, Democritus, Pythagoras, Archimedes, Hippocrates and other Greek thinkers. The largely illiterate conquerors very effectively turned to the local intelligentsia to help them govern. Although the Babylonians, Indians and Egyptians had astronomical observatories, those founded under Mongol (operated by Persian, Indian and Chinese) rulers in Maragha and Samarkand were sophisticated, equipped with an impressive array of astrolabes, sundials, sextants, celestial globes and armillary spheres. Muhammad, the prophet entrusted by God to deliver the Islamic message, Arabic had become the official language of a world empire whose boundaries stretched from the Oxus Riverin Central Asia to the Atlantic Ocean, and had even moved northward into the Iberian Peninsula of Europe.

Subutai in Temujin’s Army

Before Temujin could become Genghis Khan, he had the incredibly daunting task of uniting the feuding and unruly Mongol clans. This was probably the most difficult military proposition that Genghis faced in his entire life because the Mongol clan’s rivalries was often bitter, marred in violence and vocal in their opposition of one another. Compared to the orderly army enemies of Genghis’ later military career, the Mongol clans were barbaric and a different proposition altogether.

Subutai’s greatest victory during the clan wars came on his first outing as a military commander. Genghis had long had a deep hatred of the Merkit clan (who had previously kidnapped and raped his wife Borte) and felt that they would be a great adversary to overcome. He offered Subutai his elite horde in the hope that Subutai would be able to bring about the Merkit downfall quickly by sheer brute force.

Subutai had other plans and declined the offer of the elite force, instead he set out on horseback to the Merkit camp and entered alone. He struck up a rapport with the Merkit leaders and insisted that they were currently safe as the bulk of Temujin’s forces were a long way off. Upon hearing this the Merkits were far more relaxed with camp arrangements, lowered their patrols and reduced their guard. Subutai took the opportunity to surround the camp with his own troops and quickly over ran the Merkit camp, capturing two Merkit generals in the process.

Subutai had an uncanny ability to approach battle situations in unorthodox and often baffling ways to achieve decisive victories with little cost to life. This victory over the Merkits further cemented him as an exception leader in Genghis’ eyes and he was quickly entrusted with more responsibility.

Subutai was identified almost immediately by Genghis as a warrior and someone that possessed extreme ability to innovate and execute military operations. Given that he had no blood ties to Genghis, it is even more impressive the amount of trust and recognition Subutai was afforded. He quickly rose the ranks in the army and by the time Genghis was crowned the universal ruler of the Mongols, Subutai was a well decorated general.

What was the context of this famous Genghis Khan quote? - History

In 2004, a groundbreaking scientific study claimed that the infamous emperor Genghis Khan was the direct ancestor of one in 200 men in the world. Further, the study said, a simple DNA test could prove whether you (or your males relatives) were one of the his descendants. This discovery brought about a surge in interest in ancestral DNA testing, which continues even today. So how did it all get started?

Who was Genghis Khan?

Genghis Khan, born in 1162, established and led the legendary Mongol empire. He died in 1227 at the age of 65 during a battle with the Chinese kingdom Xi Xia. His empire was led by his direct descendants for hundreds of years more, though it gradually broke off into smaller entities over time.

Genghis Khan grew up in an area dominated by constantly warring clans on the border of modern-day Siberia and Mongolia. “Temujin,” as he was named at birth, was born to a mother who had been kidnapped and forced into marriage by his father, a practice in which Genghis Khan himself would later engage. Genghis had six siblings, all of whom grew up around instability and violence over land and livestock, the essentials for survival. After their father was killed by poisoning by an opposing clan, Genghis Khan got his first taste for blood when he killed his older half-brother to become the dominant male of the family.

As he got older, Genghis Khan develop a unique strategy for acquiring power. Instead of appointing family or clan members to powerful positions, which was the typical political strategy, he chose allies from other clans to assist him in his conquests. He and his men would kill the heads of other clans then force the survivors to join their united “super-clan.” In this way, Genghis Khan united the previously warring communities.

Genghis Khan was able to repeat this strategy until he had conquered half the known world and ruled over 1 million people. He ruled the areas of modern-day China, Iran, Pakistan, Korea and South Russia. At the height of his conquest, he controlled a land area the size of the continent of Africa.

Each time he conquered a new clan or people, Genghis Khan would force marriage upon the women, either to himself or to his head chiefs. This is how he acquired enough wives to father the number of sons necessary to provide the DNA lineage which we know today.

Why do we care about Genghis Khan’s DNA?

In 2003, an evolutionary geneticist named Chris Tyler-Smith discovered that 8 percent of men across 16 different ethnic populations in Asia shared a common Y-chromosome pattern. This pattern was eventually traced back to a common origin who must have existed about 1,000 years ago. However, to create so many descendants, this common origin would have had to have an abnormally large number of sons. (He may also have had many daughters, of course, but they would not carry the Y-chromosome necessary to indicate they were directly linked to the paternal origin. Women have two X-chromosomes while men have an X and a Y).

Since Genghis Khan was known in contemporary writings for fathering hundreds of children in this area of Asia, historians and geneticists together presumed this common origin was most likely the first Mongolian emperor himself.

Together with a genetics research team, Tyler-Smith was able to further show that 1 in 200 men in the world are direct descendants of Genghis Khan. In modern-day Mongolia alone, as many 35% of men shared the “Khan” Y-chromosome pattern. The team’s study was published in 2003 under the title “The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols” in the journal European Journal of Human Genetics.

To put these figures another way, Tyler-Smith’s findings mean that up to 0.5% of the world’s population (or around 17 million people), primarily located in Asia, can trace their lineage to Genghis Khan directly along their paternal bloodlines. The data also indicates that 8% of men who live in the area of the “former Mongol empire” carry nearly identical Y-chromosomes. According to Tyler-Smith and other experts, this is statistically improbable to occur in any way except from one common paternal origin.

To further prove Tyler-Smith’s theory, historians have pointed to the attested lineage of Genghis Khan’s sons. In documents from the time period, one of Khan’s sons was written to have had 40 sons who would have carried on that unique Y-chromosome pattern. Similarly, one of Genghis Khan’s grandsons was said to have had 22 acknowledged sons however, he likely had many more “illegitimate” sons because he added 30 women to his personal harem each year.

A follow-up study from a team of Russian scientists analyzed further ethnic groups including Kurds, Persians, Russians and other central Asian ethnic groups. They were surprised to find that despite Genghis Khan’s empire controlling eastern Russia for two and a half centuries, they were unable to find any evidence of his direct descendants being present in modern-day Russia. As they put it, “…[M]en from the Genghis Khan clan left no genetic trace in Russia.”

The fascination with claiming Genghis Khan ancestry is not new

Since this study came out in 2003, there has been a rush for ancestry DNA test kits. People around the world, particularly those with known roots in Asia, wanted to know if they, too, were descendants of the infamous Mongolian emperor. Although DNA is now able to prove it more definitively, humans have boasted of this lineage for centuries.

In fact, even in early Islamic societies where the most respected lineage was directly through the prophet Mohammad, men still found prestige in Genghis Khan lineage. The Muslim founder of the Timurid Empire, who lived from 1370 to 1405, claimed he was directly descended from Genghis Khan. He even used this pedigree to support his political goals of “restoring” the Mongol empire. To this day, many of the Timurid people (now found in modern-day India) have pride in their heritage from one of the greatest emperors known to man.

Similarly, the Tartars of Russia and the Uzbeks of central Asia, both Muslim populations, revered men who claimed they were the blood of Genghis Khan. These men were often promoted as effective military men and rulers just like their ancestor.

Is there a DNA test I can take to see if I’m a descendant of Genghis Khan?

The answer is yes and no. The science behind this particular lineage DNA is still heavily debated.

If you’re a man, you can submit your DNA sample to a lab for analysis of your paternal haplotypes and haplogroup. The patterns the Tyler-Smith researchers have linked with Genghis Khan are only located on the Y chromosome, which women do not carry. A woman who is interested in learning whether she is a descendant of Genghis Khan can use a male relative’s DNA, including a father, uncle, grandfather, brother or nephew.

Most companies will not explicitly tell you which famous (or infamous) historical figures you are related to. However, they will tell you your Y-DNA STR marker, which you can then compare to the results from the Tyler-Smith study.

The test you will want to have performed is an analysis of your Y-DNA STR marker, i.e., a “paternal ancestry test.” Once you know this marker, you can compare it to many historical figures whose ancestral DNA is well-documented, including Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon Bonaparte, Jesse James, Luke the Evangelist and other well-known figures.

The following table from Family Tree DNA lists the 25 Y-DNA STR markers associated with the C3c-M48 haplogroup which the Tyler-Smith researchers have linked with Genghis Khan.

Y-STR Name 385a 385b 388 389i 389ii 390 391 392 393 394 426 437 439 447 448 449 454 455 458 459a 459b 464a 464b 464c 464d
Haplotype 12 13 14 13 29 25 10 11 13 16 11 14 10 26 22 27 12 11 18 8 8 11 11 12 16

However, the science behind these tests cannot say with 100% certainty that you are a descendant of Genghis Khan.

“It is almost impossible to say for definite that you are a descendant of Genghis Khan as we are talking about very, very ancient paternal ancestry and a time frame of at least seven centuries,” said David Ashworth, chief executive of Oxford Ancestors in an interview with BBC. “But there is scientific evidence that if you do have this Y-chromosome then there is a very strong probability that you are descended from Genghis Khan.”

The main reason for this uncertainty is that the DNA of Genghis Khan is unknown. His body and the bodies of his closest relatives have never been located for DNA testing. The researchers are still assuming that the common DNA origin of this Y-chromosome pattern is Genghis Khan based on historical evidence and convenient timeline alignment.

Recently, an opposing theory has challenged everything we believed for the past decade. In September 2016, a new study entitled “Molecular Genealogy of a Mongol Queen’s Family and Her Possible Kinship with Genghis Khan” was published in the academic journal PloS ONE. This scientific study suggests that the previous Tyler-Smith conclusions had Genghis Khan pegged as the incorrect haplogroup. Instead of being one of the 25 Y-DNA STR markers listed above, this new team of researchers believe he is of the R1b-M343 haplogroup, which is prevalent in western Eurasia.

The researchers used DNA evidence from a burial ground discovered in 2004. The five bodies were found in Mongolia and estimated to have lived around 1130 to 1250 A.D. They are believed to be related to the “Golden Family” of Genghis Khan, yet they carry a completely different haplogroup from the one suggested in the 2004 study.

So it is clear that there is still much we do not know definitively about the DNA evidence linking present-day men to Genghis Khan. Still, many people are interested in learning about their heritage using DNA labs like 23andme.com, Ancestry.com and Family Tree DNA, among others.

How accurate are Genghis Khan ancestry DNA tests?

Remember that your heritage DNA results are just for fun. Sometimes the results are given to you with only a 50% confidence rating, which means they can often be wrong.

This happened in a notable way to a University of Miami professor named Thomas R. Robinson. He had submitted a DNA sample in 2003 to determine his English heritage. Several years later, the DNA testing company, Oxford Ancestors, notified him that a recent scan of its database had shown he was a direct descendant of Genghis Khan.

The news was picked up by the New York Times for its unusual nature. Experts were astounded that this man of British heritage was also related to Genghis Khan, and soon a movie company was asking Thomas to come film his story in Mongolia. But Robinson was skeptical of his results and submitted a second sample to a different DNA testing facility, Family Tree DNA, which proved he was not related to Genghis Khan.

Chris Tyler-Smith, the man behind the original 2004 study that brought the Genghis Khan Y-DNA to fame, confirmed the results of the second test, saying it “conclusively rules out a link to the Genghis Khan haplotype.”

In a similar story, a March 2017 report by Inside Edition proved the inaccuracy of some ancestry DNA tests by carrying out a simple experiment. They found three sets of identical triplets and a set of identical quadruplets and encouraged them to submit their DNA to various testing companies. Most of the sibling groups had varying results when they should have been identical, suggesting the accuracy is still not 100%.

This video shows the surprising results. One set of triplets had a range from 59% to 70% British Isle origin. In that same sibling group, one triplet showed 6% Scandinavian ancestry while her identical sisters showed 0%.


Clearly, the science of ancestral DNA testing is not exact…yet. We are learning more and correcting our past findings every day. Yet when it comes to the DNA of Genghis Khan and his descendants, we are fascinated at the possibilities and still seek the “bragging rights” of being a part of his incredible family legacy. This says a lot about the kind of impact the first Emperor of Mongolia had on the world not just 800 years ago but straight through to the modern day.

The brutal brilliance of Genghis Khan

Yes, he was a ruthless killer, but the Mongol leader was also one of the most gifted military innovators of any age.

This competition is now closed

Published: February 22, 2019 at 3:55 pm

Genghis Khan was the greatest conqueror the world has ever known. He is a legendary figure, perhaps second in fame only to Jesus Christ, and in popular imagery is the very avatar of savagery and barbarism. And what could be more damning for the modern reactionary politician than to be accused of being to the ‘right of Genghis Khan’?

The real Genghis, however, was a genuine phenomenon. He and his sons vanquished peoples from the Adriatic to the Pacific, reaching modern Austria, Finland, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Vietnam, Burma, Japan and Indonesia. The Mongol empire covered 12 million contiguous square miles – an area as large as Africa. In contrast, the Roman empire was about half the size of the continental USA. By 1240, Mongol conquests covered most of the known world – since the Americas and Australasia were unknown to the ‘world island’ of Europe, Asia and Africa. Modern countries that formed part of the Mongol empire at its greatest extent contain 3 billion of the world’s 7 billion population.

Genghis (1162–1227) and his sons waged major wars on two fronts simultaneously and conquered Russia in winter – both feats that eluded Napoleon and Hitler. How was this possible for a land of 2 million illiterate nomads? The answer was a quantum leap in military technology, which brought mounted archery to its acme. The speed and mobility of Mongol archers, the accuracy of their long-range shooting, their uncanny horsemanship – all allied to Genghis’s ruthless ‘surrender or die’ policy and his brilliant perception that this gave him the possibility of living off tribute from the rest of the world – combined to make the Mongols unbeatable. As the military historian Basil Liddell Hart pointed out, Genghis was a military innovator in two important respects: he realised that cavalry did not need to have infantry backup, and he grasped the importance of massed artillery barrages.

Most historians claim that this astonishing achievement was the result of massacre and bloodshed not seen again until the 20th century. It is the task of the honest historian to attempt a balanced, judicious estimate of this conventional appraisal, all the more so since modern revisionism has seen something of an ‘overswing’ of the critical pendulum. One school of thought would make the Mongols culpable for every military atrocity that has ever occurred the opposing one would make them harbingers of world peace and security, beset by a few regrettable excesses.

Military historian Sir John Keegan made Genghis responsible for the savagery of the Spanish Reconquista against the Moors in the late 15th century and their massacre of the Aztecs and Incas. The Mongols are supposed to have imported ruthless ferocity to Islam, which in turn transmitted it to the crusaders, thence back to Spain and, after Columbus’s voyages of discovery, the New World: “The awful fate of the Incas and Aztecs… ultimately washed back to Genghis Khan himself.” The Harvard historian Donald Ostrowski replied, correctly, that “ruthless ferocity” was actually introduced to Islam by the crusaders.

In contrast to the ‘Genghis as monster’ take on events, the anthropologist Jack Weatherford, in his 2004 hagiography of Genghis, soft-pedalled the casualties caused by the Mongols and stressed instead their enlightened attitude to women, their avoidance (mostly) of torture, their transmission of culture and the arts, and even their (alleged) role as fount and origin of the Renaissance.

These divergent modern views are a projection across the centuries of diametrically opposed views of the Mongols entertained in the 13th century. For the English chronicler Matthew Paris, the Mongols were Gog and Magog aroused from their slumber they were the demons of Tartarus, the myrmidons of Satan himself. For the great Franciscan thinker Roger Bacon, the Mongols represented the triumph of science and philosophy over ignorance.

Since one version of Genghis Khan is that of a cruel despot who raised mountains of human skulls, we should first ask: how many died as a result of his wars and conquests? The answer can only be guesswork, however sophisticated, for three main reasons. Ancient and medieval chroniclers routinely multiplied numbers, sometimes 10‑fold, so we have to discount their figures. Estimates of fatalities can be made only when we have accurate population statistics, but medieval census figures are unreliable. And the assessment of war casualties is a notorious minefield, even in the modern age (scholars cannot agree on the figures for deaths in the Second World War).

There were three great Mongol campaigns between 1206 (when the local warlord Temujin was acclaimed as Genghis Khan, emperor of Mongolia) and 1242 when the Mongols withdrew from Europe following the death of Ogodei, Genghis’s son and successor as Great Khan. The European conquest of 1237–42 probably accounted for a million deaths while the subjugation of modern Iran and Afghanistan from 1219–22 cost 2.5 million lives.

The real problem of historical interpretation comes in the great campaign to conquer the Jin regime of northern China, which lasted from 1211–34. We can have only the haziest idea of the population of northern China at the time, but it was probably somewhere in the 60–90 million mark. Medieval and early modern demography of China is an inexact science, to put it mildly. A distinguished Sinologist has concluded that, depending on which model you use, the population of China in 1600 could have been 66 million, 150 million or 230 million. What is clear is that sustained warfare in China always generates massive casualties.

Two obvious analogies for Genghis’s 23-year war against the Jin are the An-Lushan revolt against the Tang dynasty in 755–63 and the great Taiping rebellion of 1850–64. The An-Lushan convulsion caused 26 million deaths and the Taiping 30 million. We should also note that 27 million were killed in the Sino-Japanese conflict of 1937–45. Using these statistics as a lodestone, scholars argue that the likely fatalities from 1211–34 were 30 million. If we then include casualties in the ‘little wars’ Genghis and his sons waged against people like the Tanguts, the Bulgars, the Armenians and the Georgians, we arrive at a total of some 35–37 million deaths attributable to the Mongols.

Why was the death toll so high, and why were the Mongols so ferocious? Different reasons have been adduced: the Mongols spread terror and cruelty because they had a small-scale steppe mentality transposed onto a global stage because, in terms of the Mongols’ divine mission to conquer the world for their supreme god Tengeri, resistance was blasphemy because they feared and hated walled cities and expended their fury on them once taken because it was the most efficient way to warn already conquered peoples not to attempt ‘stab in the back’ revolts as the Mongols pressed ever forwards.

The simplest explanation for the chilling policy of ‘surrender or die’ was that the Mongols, as a far from numerous people totalling at most 2 million souls, were obsessed with casualties. For them, the best-case scenario was a walkover surrender in which none of their troops died. This explains why nearly all the cities that surrendered without even token resistance received relatively good treatment.

There are no signs in Genghis of a mindless or psychopathic cruelty everything was done for a purpose. It is important not to judge him by 21st-century standards but to see him in the context of general behaviour in the 13th century. He exceeded in degree but not in kind the other killers of the age. One could give any number of other instances: from the slaughter of the southern Chinese (Song) by the Jin in Tsao-Chia in 1128, through the massacre of the Albigensians by fellow Christians at Béziers and Carcassonne in 1209, to the killing of 30,000 Hindus at Chitor in 1303 by the troops of Ala-ad-din Khilji.

It is wisest to accept the judgment of a notable historian of medieval Russia, Charles J Halperin: “(Genghis) was no more cruel, and no less, than empire builders before and since. Moral judgments are of little help in understanding his importance.” Moreover, it is only fair to point out that great wartime leaders, whether Lincoln during the American Civil War or Churchill and Roosevelt in the Second World War, sent hundreds of thousands to their death for causes that a Martian observer might not necessarily see as noble. Julius Caesar is supposed to have caused a million deaths during his 10-year conquest of Gaul, but the Caesar that predominates in the public consciousness is the statesman, military genius and superb writer of prose, not the butcher. In the 21st century we may take a dim view of Genghis’s projects and ambitions but we should remember, as Plato pointed out long ago in the Protagoras, that even the Hitlers, Stalins and Maos do not consider themselves evil, but rather driven by some quasi-divine mission (the Reich, the classless society, the New Man).

The pro-Genghis camp asserts that it was as a result of his activities that China was brought into contact with the Islamic world and thus with the west, since the west had already made its presence felt in the Muslim world during the crusades. Trade, the Mongol courier or ‘pony express’ system, and Genghis’s law code, the yasa, were the main pillars of the Mongol peace (Pax Mongolica), a period sparked by the stabilising effects of the Mongol empire.

After 1220 the Mongol propensity for trade rather than war gradually increased, particularly when Genghis himself was won over to the idea that agriculture generated more wealth than nomadism. It was said that you could travel from Palestine to Mongolia with a gold plate on your head and not be molested, but the journey was still an arduous one because of primitive transport. Even in the halcyon days of the Pax Mongolica, it took a traveller 295 days to get from Turkey to Beijing. Yet the Mongols undoubtedly opened up the world.

Until 1250 there was in the west a narrow European viewpoint that saw the world virtually end at Jerusalem. The journeys of the Franciscans Carpini and Rubruck, and the more famous one of Marco Polo (and that of the Chinese traveller Rabban Bar Sauma in the opposite direction), cleared the way for new vistas. Learned people finally got a sense of the size of the world and its population. The globe shrank as Venetian traders appeared in Beijing, Mongolian envoys in Bordeaux and Northampton, and Genoese consuls in Tabriz. There were Arab tax officials in China, Mongolian lawyers in Egypt, French craftsmen in the Mongol capital of Karakorum. The art of Iran was influenced by Uighur and Chinese motifs.

From China to the Islamic world and Europe came the knowledge of firearms, silk cultivation, ceramics and woodblock printing. The Mongol empire served as a transmission belt for technology, science and culture – particularly, but not solely, between China and Iran. In short, the Mongol conquests were a rivet that held the ‘world system’ together. The southern route of the Silk Road, which had fallen into disuse in favour of the northern and middle routes, was revived and linked the Aral and Caspian Seas with Byzantium. Some writers even trace a causal line from the Pax Mongolica to the discovery of the New World by Columbus, the age of European exploration and expansion and the Renaissance itself.

There is a good deal of truth in all of this, but anti-Mongolists have made some forceful rebuttals. Some historians claim that the alleged era of peace and tranquillity ushered in by the Pax Mongolica has been overdone, that pro-Mongolists have concentrated on the untypical 20-year period from 1242 when the great peace was a reality, and have ignored its collapse when Genghis’s empire shivered into four fragments. Others claim that the ‘world system’ view is overstated, since the intercourse between east and west was largely one-way traffic, with no real Chinese equivalents of Rubruck, Carpini or Marco Polo. They also contend that the importance of journeys across Asia from the west has been exaggerated, and that they cannot be compared with the achievements of the Age of Discovery.

A refinement of this view is that a true ‘world system’ is possible only if maritime trade is brought into the picture, but the Mongols feared the sea (rightly, as it turned out, from their later abortive invasion of Japan) and preferred a gruelling journey overland of possibly 18 months to the terrors of the ocean, with the Indian Ocean being the main obstacle.

Finally, there are those who say that, even if we concede the reality of a ‘world system’, its unintended consequences were largely baneful, since the Mongol empire served as a vector for devastating disease. Rinderpest or steppe murrain, a disease in ungulate animals similar to measles in humans, devastated cattle herds in Eurasia from the 1240s on, spread by the Mongols’ conquests in Russia and eastern Europe from 1236–42. Even worse, the Mongols may have been responsible for the spread of the Black Death. Although there are many conflicting views on the origin of this pandemic, it seems clear that central Asia was a major vector of the disease, in particular the new avenues of the Silk Route opened up by the Mongols, which had their terminus at the Crimea.

There are two final counts in the anti-Mongol indictment. One is that, although the Mongols were phenomenal warriors and outstanding conquerors, their system was always inherently unstable, since they neither traded nor produced, lived by extracting a surplus from the conquered and so depended entirely on the toil of the vanquished. And since more and more Mongol princelings arose with ‘entitlement’ to privilege, this meant a never-ending cycle of conquest, subjugation and exploitation. Like the shark or Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, the Mongols could not stand still and had to move constantly forward. Even if they had reached the Atlantic – and but for the death of Great Khan Ogodei (Genghis’s son) in 1241, they almost certainly would have done – sooner or later the bubble would have burst, and the subsequent contraction would have been exponential.

More seriously perhaps, the Mongols were a culturally unbalanced people. They had achieved a quantum leap in military technology, putting them far ahead of western Europe, but the Europeans were meanwhile producing Robert Bacon, Anthony of Padua, Thomas Aquinas and St Louis. Although the Europeans could match the Mongols in slaughterous behaviour (especially the atrocities visited on the Albigensians), they were at least producing the Divine Comedy, the Carmina Burana, the Roman de la Rose and the amazing series of cathedrals, either completed or begun in the 13th century, at Chartres, Amiens, Reims, Beauvais, Toledo, Burgos, Cologne, York and Lichfield.

Genghis Khan, an illiterate nomad, was a genius at many levels, not least in that his achievements, as it were, came from nowhere. All other great conquerors were literate and had a huge background of tradition and knowledge to draw on – Alexander the Great from Aristotle, Julius Caesar from the whole canon of ancient Greece, Napoleon from the Enlightenment and the Romantic movement. Yet when Genghis is weighed in the balance against his contemporary Francis of Assisi, he is bound to seem a moral pygmy. Interestingly, it was Francis’s followers who first made contact with the Mongols and brought back an amazing story that will endure as long as mankind itself: the career of Genghis Khan.

Frank McLynn is a historian and author whose books include critically acclaimed biographies of Napoleon and Richard the Lionheart.

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