Genghis Khan: What Transformed Temujin Borjigin into an Unstoppable Force Bent on World Domination?
Genghis Khan was one of the most famous conquerors in the world history. He was the founder and first Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. Although his beginnings were obscure and seemingly insignificant, Genghis Khan would rise to become one of the most successful empire-builders in history. After the death of Genghis Khan, the task of conquering the world continued under his descendants, and the Mongol Empire eventually became the largest contiguous land empire the world had ever seen. Only the British Empire, formed centuries after Genghis Khan’s death, eventually exceeded the Mongol Empire in size.
Genghis Khan’s Family and Upbringing
Genghis Khan (also transliterated from Mongolian as Chinggis Khan) was born in north central Mongolia around 1162 as Temujin Borjigin . His father was a minor Mongolian chief by the name of Yesukhei, and his mother, Hoelun, had been kidnapped by Yesukhei, and forced into marriage.
According to legend, Temujin was born clutching a blood clot in his right hand, which was a sign that the baby was destined to become a great ruler. But if Temujin was indeed destined for greatness, it did not seem obvious at first. Yesukhei was assassinated by a rival Tatar tribe when Temujin was merely nine years old. As a result, Temujin, his mother, and his six siblings were deserted by their own clan, who were not willing to feed them, leaving the family to fend for themselves.
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At the age of 16, the future Genghis Khan married Borte, thus forming an alliance with her tribe, the Konkirats. At this point of time, the Merkits, Hoelun’s tribe, decided to avenge her capture by Yesukhei. As a result, Borte was kidnapped and presented to their chief as a wife. Temujin was not going to stand by and allow his bride to be stolen by another and at once enlisted help for a daring rescue mission. The raid was a success and he and he brought Borte home. Not long after, their first son, Jochi, was born.
Emboldened by his success, Temujin now embarked on a quest to unite the various nomadic tribes that roamed the steppes . Each time a rival tribe was defeated, their leaders were executed, and the remaining men incorporated into Temujin’s own tribe. The exception was the Tatars, who were massacred to avenge the assassination of Yesukhei. Temujin was now on the road to gaining ultimate power in the region.
Was Genghis Khan on a Religious Quest?
By 1205, Temujin was master of the Mongol steppes, and in the following year, a kuriltai (an assembly of representatives from the various tribes) was called. At this assembly the title of Genghis Khan, which roughly means ‘Universal Ruler,’ was conferred on Temujin.
Some have argued that the Mongol conquests had a spiritual dimension, as Genghis Khan was declared the representative of Mongke Koko Tengri (the ‘Eternal Blue Sky’), the supreme god of the Mongols. This bestowed upon Genghis Khan a divine status, thus making his quest for world domination a mission from Heaven. Others, however, have suggested that the conquests were meant to reinforce and to preserve the newly-formed Mongol identity. And others have speculated that the conquests were necessary to sustain the growing Mongolian population.
Genghis Khan proclaimed Khagan of all Mongols. Illustration from a 15th-century Jami' al-tawarikh manuscript. ( Public Domain )
Genghis Khan’s Empire Grows
Whatever the reason, Genghis Khan’s first target was the Xi Xia, a kingdom in northwestern China. The campaign against the Xi Xia began in 1207 and was concluded two years later, when its ruler submitted to Genghis Khan .
The Mongols then set their sights on the Jin Dynasty, whose rulers controlled the northern part of China. The campaign began in 1211 and lasted just over 20 years, resulting in the destruction of the Jin Dynasty.
Genghis Khan entering Beijing. ( Public Domain )
Whilst the war with the Jin was underway, Genghis Khan launched other campaigns as well. For instance, the Khwarazmian Empire was attacked in 1219, ending in its destruction in 1221. By the time of Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, the Mongol Empire stretched from the Sea of Japan in the east to the Caspian Sea in the west.
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The Mongolian Conqueror’s Legacy
The military campaigns of Genghis Khan resulted in the slaughter of millions, the sacking of countless cities, and the destruction of many civilizations. Nevertheless, these conquests brought some benefit as well. For instance, trade between the East and the West was re-established, as the Mongols now controlled the Silk Route.
Additionally, the subjects of the Mongol Empire were treated decently, provided that they paid tribute to the Mongols and remained absolutely loyal to their overlords. Amongst other things, the subjects of the Mongol Empire enjoyed freedom of religion and were protected by a system of universal law known as the Yassa.
By Wu Mingren
Updated on June 5, 2020.
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