Ogedei Khan: Only His Death Could Save Europe from the Mongols
Ogedei Khan was the second Khagan (meaning ‘Great Khan’) of the Mongol Empire. He was the third son of Genghis Khan and succeeded his father in 1229. Ogedei continued to expand the Mongol Empire, a task that he inherited along with the throne. During Ogedei’s reign, the Mongols finally destroyed the Jin Dynasty and began their war against the Southern Song. It was also during his time that the Mongols launched their first campaigns against Korea. To the west, the Mongols established permanent control of Persia. The Russian steppes and Eastern Europe were conquered as well and Western Europe was only spared by the Great Khan’s death in 1241.
Ogedei Khan’s Early Life
Ogedei Khan was born around 1186 as the third son of Genghis Khan. His mother was Borte Khatun, Genghis Khan’s first wife. Ogedei is said to have been his father’s favorite son, though his designation as heir to the throne was made partially due to a feud between his two older brothers, Jochi and Chagatai.
Genghis Khan with three of his four sons. ( Public Domain )
Before the invasion of the Khwarazmian Empire, Genghis Khan summoned his family to a kurultai to select a successor. As the eldest, Jochi was expected to succeed his father. Genghis Khan’s second son, Chagatai, however, refused to acknowledge this and suggested Ogedei be designated as the heir instead, to which Genghis Khan agreed.
- Subutai: The Forgotten Force Behind the Fearsome Mongol Military
- The Famous and Powerful Khanates that Followed the Mongol Empire
- Karakorum: A Silver Tree and Other Unique Elements of a 13th Century Mongol Capital
Ogedei Khan’s First Conquests
Ogedei is recorded to have been a capable military commander. He took part in his father’s campaign against the Jin Dynasty, as well as the invasion of the Khwarazmian Empire. At Samarkand, Ogedei is recorded to have been given command of the siege due to a disagreement between his two older brothers regarding military strategy. The city was eventually captured and destroyed.
Ögedei Khan. ( Assassin’s Creed Wiki )
Genghis Khan died in 1227, and Tolui, his youngest son, was ruler for two years, after which Ogedei was proclaimed the new Khagan of the Mongol Empire. Ogedei’s personal charisma helped maintain the unity of the Mongol Empire after Genghis Khan’s death. Thanks to the internal stability of the empire, Ogedei was able to focus his energies on external enemies, expanding the empire, and consolidating the conquests made by his father.
Coronation of Ogedei Khan, 1229. ( Public Domain )
Ogedei as the Great Khan
In 1234, for example, the Jin Dynasty finally fell to the Mongols after a campaign that began in 1211. With northern China under Mongol control, Ogedei could turn his attention to the neighboring Southern Song Dynasty. The campaign against the Song began in 1235 and was only concluded with the final defeat of the Song loyalists in 1279, several decades after Ogedei’s death. It was also during Ogedei’s reign that the first campaigns against the Korean kingdom of Goryeo were launched. Like the war against the Song, the Mongol invasion of Korea ended after Ogedei’s death, with Goryeo becoming a vassal state of the Yuan Dynasty.
Further to the west, Ogedei continued the conquest of Persia, sending his general Chomaqan to get the job done. Meanwhile, a Mongol army under the command of Batu, a son of Jochi, was sent to campaign against the Russian principalities. In 1240, Kiev was sacked by the Mongols, marking the end of the Russian resistance. The Mongols continued their advance into Europe with the invasion of Central Europe, and were intent on conquering the rest of the continent all the way to the ‘Great Sea’, i.e. the Atlantic Ocean.
- Jebe: Genghis Khan’s Would-be Assassin Becomes His Sharpshooting General
- Military stronghold for Mongolian Conqueror Genghis Khan Found by Archaeologists
- Kublai Khan: Mongol Warrior, Horseman, Hunter and Powerful Emperor
The Mongol army captures a Rus' city. ( Public Domain )
How Did Ogedei Khan Die?
In December 1241, as the Mongols were about to invade Western Europe, Ogedei died during a drinking bout . When his commanders, who were marching towards Vienna, heard the news, they abandoned their campaign, and returned for the kurultai in Mongolia.
It has often been speculated that had Ogedei not died so suddenly, the Mongols would have succeeded in conquering the rest of Europe. In any case, this was the furthest west that the Mongols were able to reach. Ogedei was succeeded by his son, Gyuk, who became the next Great Khan after a five year regency under Ogedei’s widow, Toregene Khatun.
Ögedei Khan. ( Public Domain )
Top image: Ogedei Khan. Source: Assassin’s Creed Wiki
By Wu Mingren
Choudhary, V., 2017. Mongol Empire under Ögedei Khan. Available at: http://www.humanhistoryinbrief.net/2017/12/mongol-empire-under-ogedei-khan.html
Hays, J., 2013. Mongol Khans After Genghis. Available at: http://factsanddetails.com/asian/cat65/sub423/item2693.html
mongolhistorypodcast.wordpress.com, 2018. Ogodei Khan. Available at: https://mongolhistorypodcast.wordpress.com/ogodei-khan/
New World Encyclopedia, 2014. Ögedei Khan. Available at: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/%C3%96gedei_Khan
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2012. Ögödei. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ogodei