Genghis Khan grew up on the harsh cold plains of Mongolia. His name as a boy was Temujin, which meant “finest steel”. His father, Yesugai, was the khan (the great chieftain of their tribe). Even though times were rough, Temujin liked his life. He rode horses from a young age and enjoyed hunting with his brothers.
Sent to Another Tribe
When Temujin was only nine years old he was sent to live with the tribe of his future wife, Borte. However, after a few years, Temujin discovered that his father (the Kahn) had been poisoned by some enemy Tartars. He returned to his home tribe to become the khan.
Upon returning home, Temujin discovered that his family had been betrayed. After another warrior took up the role as khan they kicked Temujin and his family from the tribe. They bravely survived by themselves. But Temujin was not one to surrender.
He helped his family to survive the terrible winter and started plotting his revenge on the Tartars who killed his father.
Building an Army
Over the next several years Temujin built up his own tribe. He was finally old enough to marry Borte and formed an alliance with her tribe. He was a fierce and brutal leader and was looked up to by many of the Mongols for his courage. His army continued to grow until he finally had enough men to take on the Tartars.
Revenge on the Tartars
When Temujin finally fought the Tartars, he showed no mercy. He decimated their army and executed their leaders. He then began to fight and conquer his enemy Mongol tribes. He knew the Mongols needed to unite. After conquering his greatest enemies, the other Mongol tribes agreed to ally and follow Temujin. They named him Genghis Khan or “ruler of all”.
Genghis Khan was a great general. He organized his troops into groups of 1000 called “gurans”. They trained every day on different battlefield tactics. They communicated using smoke signals, flags, and drums to send messages quickly throughout the army. This communication gave him a distinct advantage.
His soldiers were expert horsemen, adept with their weapons and were well equipped. They learned these things from a young age. They had an advantage because they could ride so well so they could control their horses using only their legs and fire deadly arrows while riding at full speed.
Genghis Khan used innovative tactics on the battlefield. Sometimes he would send in a small force and then have them retreat. When the enemy chased the fleeing smaller force they would soon find themselves surrounded by a horde of Mongol warriors.
Genghis Khan was a strong leader. He put fear into his enemies, but was loyal to his allies. He introduced a written code of law called the Yasak. He promoted the soldiers who performed regardless of their background. He even expected his own sons to perform well or they would not get promoted.
After Genghis Khan united the Mongol tribes, they turned to the rich lands of the south. He first attacked the Xi Xia. It only took him two years to conquer the Xi Xia after starting in 1207.
In 1211, Genghis Khan turned to the Jin Dynasty in China. He wanted to exact revenge on the people who tortured the Mongols. By 1215 he had captured Yanjing (which now Beijing) the capital city of the Jin and the Mongols ruled over the northern part of China.
Genghis Khan wanted to establish trade with the Muslim lands to the west. He sent a trade delegation there to meet with their leaders. However, the leaders of one of their cities had the men of the delegation killed. Genghis was furious. Trade delegations were not usually killed because if trade delegations were routinely killed there would be now way to communicate.
Genghis Khan took up the command of 200,000 warriors and spent the next several years destroying the cities to the west. He went as far as Eastern Europe destroying everything along the way. He was merciless, leaving no one alive.
The land to the west was called the Kwarizmian Empire. It was led by the Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad. The dynasty was brought to an end in 1221 when Genghis Khan had both the Shah and his son executed.
Genghis returned to China and died in 1227. No one is quite sure how he died, but some people think he was injured in a fall from his horse. He named his son Ogedei as his successor.
Interesting Facts about Genghis Khan
- He had a general named Jebe. Jebe was once an enemy who shot Genghis in battle with an arrow. Genghis was so impressed he spared Jebe’s life and made him a general. Jebe’s nickname became “The Arrow”.
- Despite being one of the most powerful rulers in the world, he preferred to live in a tent called a yurt.
- One of the Mongols most powerful weapons was communication. Genghis Khan used a system of mounted messengers similar system to the Pony Express to carry messages quickly throughout the empire.
- His four favorite sons were Ogedei, Tolui, Chagatai, and Jochi. Tolui’s son was Kublai Khan who would conquer all of China and establish the Yuan Dynasty.
- He once said that “conquering the world on horseback is easy; it is dismounting and governing that is hard.”