Khutulun: The Undefeated Bad-Ass Mongolian Warrior Princess
Khutulun was a Mongolian noblewoman who lived during the time of the Mongol Empire. She is recorded to have been a great warrior and was especially noted for her prowess in the sport of wrestling. Such was her renown that she was written about by Rashid al-Din, a Persian writer living in the Ilkhanate, and the famed Venetian travel, Marco Polo.
Great Grandfather Khan and the Rest of Khutulun’s Family
Khutulun was also known as Aigiarne (which is said to mean ‘shining moon’), Aiyurug, and Khotol Tsagaan, and is believed to have been born around 1260. Her father was Kaidu, a grandson of Ogedei Khan and a cousin of Kublai Khan . Unlike Kublai Khan, who founded the Yuan Dynasty and adopted the lifestyle of the Chinese people, Kaidu chose to maintain the nomadic lifestyle of his forefathers. By 1280, Kaidu was one of the most powerful rulers in the Mongol Empire and he maintained a firm hold on the Chagatai Khanate, which was based in Central Asia.
Ogedei Khan. ( Public Domain ) Khutulun’s father Kaidu was a grandson of this Khan.
By this time, the Mongol Empire had fragmented and the title of ‘Great Khan’, which was held by Kublai Khan, was merely a nominal title. Instead of expanding the frontiers of the empire, the various Mongol khans were now engaged in futile warfare against each other. Kaidu was one of the Mongol rulers who opposed Kublai Khan and his allies. It was into these circumstances that Khutulun was born.
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Khutulun was brought up by her father in the nomadic way of life , just like her 14 other brothers. Her training included wrestling, horse-riding, and archery. As she grew up, Khutulun excelled in these sports. It has also often been said that she was Kaidu’s favorite child, and as she shone in military matters, her father would frequently seek her advice on such issues.
A female archer in elegant Mongolian dress during the Naadam Festival. (Pius Lee/ Daily Travel Photos )
Marco Polo on Khutulun
One of the sources of information about Khutulun comes from the writings of Marco Polo . The Venetian traveler wrote that Khutulun was “so well-made in all her limbs, and so tall and strongly built, that she might almost be taken for a giantess” and that she was “so strong, that there was no young man in the whole kingdom who could overcome her, but she vanquished them all”.
In addition, Marco Polo wrote that Khutulun’s valor in battle was second to none in her father’s army and that her preferred method of combat was to rush into the thick of battle, seize upon an enemy horseman, and drag him off to her own people.
Warrior Khutulun in the series Marco Polo. ( Marco Polo Wiki )
Khutulun’s Wrestling Challenge
According to Marco Polo, when Khutulun came of age, Kaidu wanted to marry her off. Khutulun, however, declined, setting the condition that she would only marry the man who was able to beat her in her favorite sport – wrestling. Kaidu agreed to his daughter’s request, and allowed her to marry the man of her choice. Khutulun had it proclaimed throughout the Mongol Empire that any man was welcomed to challenge her in wrestling. If the man should defeat her, she would be his wife, whereas if the man lost to her, he would have to give her 100 horses.
As Khutulun was the daughter of one of the most powerful men in the empire, many men were tempted to try their luck. Thus, it did not take long before suitors arrived at Kaidu’s palace. None, however, were able to defeat Khutulun. Apparently, she gained over 10,000 horses from defeating her suitors. Eventually, a young prince arrived, whom Kaidu instantly took a liking to. Khutulun was asked by her father to lose to the prince on purpose, which she refused to do. Much to the disappointment of Kaidu, the prince was defeated.
‘Qutulun, daughter of Qaidu.’ ( Public Domain ) This is a representation dating from 1410-1412 of Khutulun wrestling a potential suitor.
Marco Polo does not mention the fate of Khutulun, though other sources state that she eventually got married. Some have claimed that she ended up marrying a war prisoner whom she found ‘good-looking’, whilst others have speculated that she married a soldier in her father’s army.
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Princess Khutulun Inspired an Opera
Kaidu died in 1301 and some have claimed that he wanted Khutulun to succeed him after his death. This did not go well with her brothers and Kaidu was succeeded by one of his sons instead.
Khutulun is thought to have died around 1306, just a few years after her father. Interestingly, the character of Turandot (made famous by the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini in his opera of the same name) is thought to have been inspired by the figure of Khutulun.
Turandot directed by Roberto De Simone. January 2012, Teatro Comunale Bologna. (Lorenzo Gaudenzi/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
Top Image: Warrior Khutulun in the series Marco Polo. Source: Marco Polo Wiki
By Wu Mingren
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Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian . [Rhys, E. (ed.), 1908. Marco Polo’s The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian ] Available at: https://archive.org/stream/marcopolo00polouoft/marcopolo00polouoft_djvu.txt
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