Jebe: Genghis Khan’s Would-be Assassin Becomes His Sharpshooting General
Jebe was a prominent Mongolian general who served under Genghis Khan. He was a converted enemy soldier who lucked out after shooting an arrow at the infamous Khan during battle. In a strange turn of events, Genghis saw the value of his almost-assassin and took Jebe into his service. And Jebe did not disappoint his new master; he actually went on to become one of Genghis Khan’s most talented and loyal generals.
Jebe was probably born sometime during the 12th century. His birth name is said to have been Zurgudai, and he is recorded to have belonged to the Besud clan, which was part of the Taichud tribe. In 1201, he participated in the Battle of the Thirteen Sides, fighting against Genghis Khan.
A modern representation of Jebe. (Autumn-Sacura/Deviant Art)
The Story of Jebe and the Arrow
According to one version of the story, Jebe had wounded Genghis Khan during the battle with an arrow. Genghis Khan emerged victorious from the battle and wanted to know who had wounded him. Instead of asking the question directly, however, he asked the captured prisoners who had shot his horse. Jebe admitted that he was the one, adding that he was not afraid of death, but if his life was spared, he would serve the Great Khan faithfully.
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In another account, Jebe was fleeing from Genghis Khan’s men after the battle. Jebe managed to kill Genghis Khan’s horse with an arrow before being captured. In exchange for his life, Jebe promised to replace Genghis Khan’s dead horse by providing him with many more good ones.
Mongol light cavalryman. Chinese miniature, Ming dynasty. Ink and colour on paper. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (Public Domain)
In any event, Genghis Khan was impressed by this defeated soldier, and took him into his service. It was Genghis Khan who gave him the name Jebe, which is supposed to mean ‘arrow’ in Mongolian. Jebe served Genghis Khan loyally, and with his talents he climbed up the hierarchy of the Mongol army. According to one tale, Jebe was so capable that rumors began spreading that he was planning to rebel against Genghis Khan. In order to demonstrate his loyalty, he immediately returned to his overlord with a gift of a hundred white horses. From then on, Genghis Khan placed his trust completely in Jebe.
Jebe was a highly capable general. In 1204, Genghis Khan had defeated the Naimans, a powerful Mongolian tribe, whose leader had formed a league to oppose him. Those who survived the battle fled westwards, hoping to escape. Realizing that these tribes could form new alliances and threaten him in the future, Genghis Khan decided to pursue and eliminate them.
Jebe was one of the generals who were given this task. For the next few years, Jebe was occupied with tracking the survivors, but he was soon called back to participate in the campaign against the Jin Dynasty, which began in 1211. In 1215, the Jin capital, Zhongdu, fell to the Mongols, and Jebe was sent to the west once more, where he was tasked with pursuing Kuchlug, the Naiman leader whom he was sent after years earlier.
Mongol cavalry vs the Jin army in the mountains. (Public Domain)
The Battle of the Kalka River
Jebe was also part of the force sent to invade the Khwarazmian Empire. After the Khwarazmians were defeated, and their empire destroyed, Jebe and Subutai were given the task of leading an expeditionary force around the Caspian Sea. The Mongols raided Azerbaijan, invaded Georgia, and, moving along the western shore of the Caspian Sea, entered the southern Russian steppes. Along the way, the Mongols defeated the Georgians, an alliance of Turkic tribes from the steppes, and the Cumans. A few Cuman survivors appealed for help from the Russian princes.
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The Russians raised an army, and along with their Cuman allies, attempted to surround the Mongols on the banks of the River Dnieper. The Mongols, however, feigned retreat eastwards, causing the Russians to pursue them for nine days. Finally, the Mongols arrived on the banks of the Kalka River, where they turned around and attacked the Russians.
The Battle of the Kalka River. (Public Domain)
At the Battle of the Kalka River in 1223, the Russians were decimated by the Mongols. This was the Mongol’s first encounter with the Russians and it paved the way for their invasion of Eastern Europe 15 years later. Jebe died on his way back home after this successful expedition.
Top image: A Mongol warrior. Although Jebe started out as an enemy of the Mongols, he eventually became on the Genghis Khan’s most trusted generals. Source: soft-h/Deviant Art
By Wu Mingren
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