Genghis Khan – Greatest Conqueror Ever?

To the Chinese he was the barbarian scourge
born from the wastes. To the Europeans he was a demonic servant,
leading a “detestable nation of Satan that poured like devils from Tartarus”. To human history though he was one of the
greatest warlords in history. We’re talking of course, about Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan was born sometime around 1162
AD, and originally named “Temujin” after a Tatar chieftain that his father had captured. Genghis had been born a member of the Borjigin
tribe and was a descendant of the fabled Khabul Khan, who had done what so few Mongols had
ever managed to do- unite the many disparate tribes against the Jin dynasty of China six
decades earlier. Greatness marked Genghis from birth, not just
in the heritage of his mighty bloodline, but physically with a literal mark caused by a
blood clot in his hand- to the superstitious mongols this meant that Genghis was destined
to become a great leader. Young Genghis though would have a hard education
in survival ahead of him amidst the various clans that made up Mongol lands. When he was just nine years old, his father
took him to live with the family of his future bride, and on the return trip his father encountered
members of a rival tribe who invited him home with them to share in a conciliatory meal. Believing that the rival tribal members meant
to bury the hatchet over past transgressions, Genghis’ father agreed and dined with them,
only to be poisoned. When Genghis learned of his father’s death
he immediately returned home to claim his position as clan chief, however the rest of
the clan refused to acknowledge the leadership of a nine year old boy and his family was
ostracized, becoming near-refugees in their own tribe. Genghis vowed revenge, and to never be laughed
at again, so when during a dispute over the spoils of a hunting expedition he quarreled
with his half-brother, Genghis killed him and confirmed his position as the head of
his family. The young chieftain was yet a child and had
already learned the harsh truths of Mongol life: power is won by blood spilled, and very
often held the same way. At sixteen years old Genghis married the woman
he had long ago been promised to, a young girl by the name of Borte. The marriage cemented the alliance between
her tribe and his, but soon after the wedding Genghis’ wife was kidnapped by a rival tribe
and given to their chieftain as a wife. Genghis, along with his close friend Jamukha
and his older protector, Toghrul, raided the rival tribe’s camp and rescued his bride. However when she gave birth to a son nine
months later, Jochi, there were doubts about who the real father was, though Genghis accepted
young Jochi as his own, daring any of his rivals to question his judgement. Eventually, Genghis would have four sons with
Borte, and though during the course of his rule he would take many other wives and have
many other children, Borte alone would remain his lifelong companion, and only his male
children with her would qualify for succession in the family. Troubles typically precede greatness though,
and at age twenty Genghis was captured in a raid by a tribe that had formerly been his
family’s allies, the Taichi’uts. Genghis was enslaved briefly, though his iron
will would prove difficult to break and he was often punished for refusing to submit. With the help of a sympathetic captor who
perhaps still held some loyalty to Genghis’ family, Genghis was able to escape. His daring escape from captivity fueled Genghi’s
reputation, and he formed a fighting unit out of his brothers and some of his most trusted
clansmen. Believing that his people would never truly
become great until they ceased the petty infighting and rivalries between the various clans, Genghis
took his small force out into the steppes and began to unite the clans together one
by one. His goal was simple: he would destroy all
the divisions between his people, through slaughter if he had to, and the Mongols would
at last become one people, a mighty nation to rival the powers of China. Young Genghis’ small force would swell to
an elite fighting force of twenty thousand battle hardened warriors. A brilliant tactical mind combined with savage
brutality, Genghis proved an exceptional battlefield commander, and his fighting force met its
first true challenge when Genghis turned his army on the Tatars, who had murdered his father
so long ago. Easily defeated, Genghis then ordered as punishment
that every Tatar male who was taller than the axle pin of a wagon wheel to be killed,
ensuring that only children who could be molded to be obedient to the young Khan would be
left alive. With one vengeance satisfied, Genghis turned
next to the Taichi’ut, the former family allies who had attempted to enslave him. Relying on an army of expert horsemen, his
cavalry easily routed the Taichi’ut forces and as revenge Genghis had every single Taichi’ut
chief boiled alive. A few years later he would go on to defeat
the powerful Naiman tribe, who stood between Genghis and his ambitions of a unified Mongolia. Their defeat would give the young Genghis
control over central and eastern Mongolia- more territory than any khan had held in centuries. Genghis was a shrewd battlefield commander
who combined expert tactical thinking with ruthless brutality, yet he was also keenly
aware of the value of military intelligence. He employed a huge network of spies which
he sent out amongst his enemies to learn the strengths and weaknesses of those he faced. Sometimes his spies also acted as assassins,
eliminating important rival military commanders and thus weakening the effectiveness of the
fighting forces that opposed him. He was also quick to adopt new technologies
from those he defeated, and these would include improved bows which allowed his men to shoot
further and more accurately, as well as techniques for quickly relaying messages between his
forces. Most famously, Genghis adopted a system of
smoke and burning torches to relay long distance commands, as well as large drums and flags
to give signals in the midst of combat. This allowed Genghis to issue commands to
his forces even in the midst of battle, making them incredibly mobile and able to respond
to an evolving battle, often outmaneuvering an enemy. Genghis’ great military success also relied
heavily on the individual expertise of his soldiers. Unlike most ancient commanders, Genghis did
not accept just anyone into his fighting forces, and ensured that each man who rode into battle
with him was an expert rider who could handle and ride a horse without a saddle. His soldiers had to be expert marksmen with
the bow, but also able to fight in close quarters with swords and daggers when needed. Typically the average Mongol carried a bow,
arrows, a shield made of wood or leather, and a lasso. They could also carry javelins, body armor
made of hardened leathers, and a lance with a hook in order to pull enemies off their
own horses. As expert riders, each of Genghis’ soldiers
could handle their horse with just their legs, leaving their hands free to shoot a bow or
wield a lance and shield in combat. Yet as a keen tactician, Genghis recognized
that an army was more than just the fighting men at the front. Thus his armies were always followed by a
very well-organized supply system of oxcarts loaded with supplies and extra military equipment,
shamans to provide spiritual leadership, maintain morale, and treat the wounded, and even government
officials whose job was to catalog the plunder. After his initial victories over the major
Mongol tribes, the other tribes unified and agreed to peace, at last bestowing upon Genghis
the title of “Khan”, or “universal ruler”. A title of not just political but also spiritual
importance, a great shaman declared that Genghis Khan was the living representative of Mongke
Koko Tengri, or the Eternal Blue Sky, who was the supreme god of the Mongols. With his newfound divine status, it was clear
that Genghis’ destiny was to rule the world. Genghis immediately led his forces to fresh
conquests, striking out in 1207 against the kingdom of Xi Xia, which had flourished in
Northwest China since 1000 AD. Two years later the kingdom surrendered unconditionally,
and Genghis turned his attention against the Jin Dynasty in northern China in an epic struggle
that would last for twenty years. Yet even as he fought for control of China,
Genghis’ armies also struck out West. He established diplomatic relations with the
Khwarizm Dynasty, a Turkish empire that included Turkestan, Persia, and Afghanistan, but relations
quickly soured when the Mongol diplomatic mission was attacked by the governor of Otrar,
a prosperous and important city. When the 450 strong Mongol trade caravan arrived
at the city, the governor, Inalchuq, accused the traders and ambassadors of being Mongol
spies, and executed the entire caravan. Genghis Khan then sent a delegation of three
diplomats to the Khwarizm sultan, demanding that Inalchuq be punished for the murders,
and instead the sultan beheaded the lead ambassador and shaved the beards of the other two, sending
them back to Genghis with the lead ambassador’s head. This would prove to be a mistake. In 1219 Genghis Khan personally lead an army
of 200,000 Mongols against the Khwarizm Dynasty, sweeping through every major city and razing
them to the ground. Anybody who wasn’t immediately slaughtered
was forced to march in front of the army to act as human shields as Genghis laid siege
to the next city. Genghis spared no living thing in the empire,
killing everything from children to small domestic animals and even livestock. Two years later in 1221, the Sultan and his
son were captured and killed, ending the Khwarizm Dynasty forever. The invasion of the Khwarizm Dynasty brought
Genghis Khan and his hordes to eastern Europe, and began an age known as the Pax Mongolica. Despite being known as a brutal warleader,
Genghis Khan was also a great statesman, and valued peace and prosperity as much as conquest. His invasions brought law and order to wide
swathes of lands which had for centuries been ruled by brutal warlords, and his prohibition
of blood feuds forced a lasting peace and an end to the petty conflicts which saw constant
warfare between clans and villages. Genghis’ law also forbade adultery, theft,
and false witnesses, and reflected the Mongols’ great respect for the environment, making
it the law for people to treat their natural resources with great respect. Decency was made a part of a soldier’s life
as much as obedience, and soldiers were taught to pick up anything that the soldier they
were following dropped. Unity was preached over traditional selfishness,
and Genghis’ laws helped weave together the many disparate people under his great empire. A stunningly progressive leader for his time,
Genghis also outlawed the tradition of earning promotions in either the military or in government
solely due to hereditary or ethnicity, and instead made it law that only merit would
be used to judge the worthiness of a man. In Genghis Khan’s empire, a non-Mongol had
as much chance to rise in the ranks as a Mongol, and efficiency and competence were valued
over social status. Genghis Khan’s empire also gave tax exemptions
to religious organizations, something that would take centuries to be adopted by Western
powers. There was also a great degree of religious
tolerance, reflecting the long-held Mongol tradition of religion as a personal conviction
free from the law and interference. Genghis Khan even established a mail system
which would see packages and letters safely delivered from as far as Europe all the way
to the coasts of China, a wonder which would not be repeated again for centuries. Genghis Khan would die in 1227 AD, though
historians remain unsure as to the exact nature of his death, it is suspected it was either
from injury or natural causes. Following Mongol tradition, the grave of the
greatest warchief in history was ultimately unadorned without any great monument. Instead the funeral party carried the great
Khan’s body to a secret place and slew any they encountered to ensure that his grave
would never be found. It is rumored that they even diverted a river
to run over the grave and thus ensure that Genghis’ resting place would never be disturbed. Under the leadership of his sons, the Mongol
Horde’s power would climax as his forces reached all the way to the gates of Vienna in Austria,
when the death of his son Ogedei forced the horde’s commander to return to Mongolia. Europe was ultimately saved from the great
Mongol hordes, though given the incredibly progressive values of Genghis Khan’s empire,
there’s an argument to be made that Europe would have been better served by not being
spared from invasion. The great Mongol Empire was ultimately short-lived,
but without a doubt ranks among the greatest in history. What do you think world history would have
been like if the Mongol empire had lasted as long as the Roman empire? Let us know in the comments! And as always if you enjoyed this video don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe for more great content!

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