Genghis Wipes Out His Own Bloodline with the Slaughter of the Merkit People
Genghis Khan may have been the supreme khan of the Mongol people and ruled over a vast territory in Mongolia and far beyond, but he had some opposition from other peoples of the region early on, including the Merkit people.
The Merkit lived in six tribes on the southern border of the forest people of Russia, north of the Kereit people and west of China. Their lands were southeast of Lake Baikal. They were nomadic pastoralists (herders) but also did some farming.
Merkit history is little known. Historical references are made about them in Chinese chronicles, as they had allied with the Kereit people in fighting the dominant Liao dynasty in the 11 th century AD.
And while the Mongols eventually subjugated, killed and enslaved the Merkit, it seems the mother of Temujin, as Genghis Khan was known earlier in life, was a Merkit woman who had been kidnapped by Temujin’s father.
The Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ordos, Inner Mongolia China; note the fact that if the legend is true that his mother was a kidnapped Merkit woman, he eradicated his own people. (Creative Commons/ Photo by Fanghong)
The Merkit were known among other nearby tribes and settled Western Chinese as a belligerent people who frequently made war. While their name merged means both ‘wise’ or ‘skillful marksman,’ some might question the wisdom of trying to take on the Mongols.
The Secret History of the Mongols says a Mongol chieftain by the name of Yesugai Baatur kidnapped a Merkit woman who had just been married. She became the mother of Temujin.
The Mongols and the Merkits were constantly at war thereafter. The Merkits also had conflicts with other neighboring tribes. But their hostility for the Mongols would eventually be their undoing. Genghis Khan became too powerful for them in the end.
The Kidnapping of Genghis’ Bride
There is little written about the Merkit until they started to play a role in the life of Genghis Khan. The Merkit kidnapped his wife, Borte, before he became khan and was still known as Temujin. The operation to rescue her took months. When they got her back, she was pregnant. Temujin recognized the child as his, but there were whispers the boy, Jochi, was a Merkit child.
During the surprise attack to get Temujin’s family back, the Merkit were scattered. After the attack, the Merkit were the targets of frequent raids by the Mongols and Kereits. In response, the Merkit made an alliance with the Naiman people and with Jomuqa or Jamukha, Temujin’s chief rival for the khanate of the Mongols.
Toqtoa Beki, an important personage among the Merkit, cemented the alliance of the Merkit and Naiman by marrying Princess Torgene.
The Mongol Empire of around 1207; note that the Merkit (Mergid) people are near the center of the map of that year. ( Creative Commons /Map by Khiruge)
At the battle of Charikmaut in 1204 Merkit warriors fought alongside the Naiman against the Mongols. But the next year at the battle of Qaradal Juja-ur, the Merkits submitted to the supremacy of the Mongols.
However, some Merkits under Toqtoa Beki got away and joined again with the Naiman on the other side of the Altai Mountains. The Mongols and their adversaries, the Merkit and Naiman, subsequently had another battle, at the Irtysh River, and there the Mongols killed Toqtoa Beki.
Refuge among the Kipchaks
The defeat of the Merkit and Naiman made them split and go in different directions. The Naiman found refuge in Kara Khitai (see map). The Merkit went to the Kipchak steppes and found refuge there among the Kipchak people, but that proved short-lived.
The Merkit rebelled against Genghis Khan in 1216, but a Mongol army led by Subedei eradicated the Merkit troops in 1218. Genghis Khan thought the Merkit might rebel again if the sons of Toqtoa Bekie returned, so he sent the troops under Subedei to suppress them completely. After that, the Mongols enslaved any surviving Merkit people and the remainder of the Merkit peoples were absorbed into the Mongol nation.
Wild horses grazing in Mongolian valley. (Image: Elizabeth via Fotolia)
While some neighbors of the Merkit converted to Nestorian Christianity, scholars believe the main Merkit religion remained shamanism. The Merkit tradition was to live a nomadic life and hunt, but some of them farmed part time too.
The first area of the Mongol empire is the Gobi Desert, though the conquering Mongols spread their lands beyond there to most of Eurasia . The Mongols, Merkit, Kereit, Naiman and all the other peoples of the desert and steppes were famed for their horsemanship. The Mongols were able to conquer so much territory because of the mobility their horses gave them and their skill and ferocity as warriors. Their skill and perhaps superior numbers meant the undoing of the Merkit people was inevitable.
Top image: The Merkit were known as belligerent people, having made war on neighboring tribes, including the Mongols. ( Image from the Web page The Nomadic Horse Peoples of Central Asia)
May, Timothy, ‘ The Mongol Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia .’ ABC-CLIO publishing house. Available at: https://books.google.com.ec/books?id=4gB9DQAAQBAJ&pg=PA226&dq=merkit+kipchak+naiman&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=merkit%20kipchak%20naiman&f=false
Theobald, Ulrich, Mierqui, Merkit, ChinaKnowledge.de –
An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art. Available at: http://www.chinaknowledge.de/History/Altera/merkits.html.
Richey, Stephen W., The Nomadic Horse Peoples of Central Asia, Available at: https://www.horsenomads.info/section8.html