Genghis Khan is one of the world’s most infamous leaders, despite the fact that his reign ended nearly 800 years ago. This interest could be tied to a few things–the “exoticness” of the Mongol Empire, their supposed status as the exception to every historical rule, the sheer size of the empire at its peak, their legendary law code, Yassa, or the fact that Genghis Khan was the first to truly unite the Mongols under one ruler. Whatever the cause, Genghis Khan and his empire are sure to continue to fascinate historians, amateur and otherwise, for centuries to come.
Discover just a taste of what makes the Mongol Empire so fascinating with these Genghis Khan facts.
Genghis Khan was supposedly born holding a blood clot in his fist.
A contemporaneous account of Mongol life, The Secret History of the Mongols, says that the baby was born clutching a blood clot. According to the folklore of his people, this meant that the child was destined to become a leader. His mother might not have been picturing just how far her newborn would go.
Genghis Khan’s actual name was Temüjin.
Genghis Khan is actually his title–roughly translated, it means universal leader. Some sources claim that Temüjin was the name of a chieftain captured by the Khan-to-be’s father. Genghis Khan’s birth name was far less lofty than his title: It translates to something like blacksmith.
His father was killed when Genghis Khan was only nine.
Genghis Khan was able to unite the Mongol tribe, creating control over previously disparate and warring tribes. His father, Yesügei, was the head of one of those tribes–really, he was the leader of the Mongol confederation, but Yesügei never received the official title. His status led to a number of rivals and plots. Contemporary sources record that he was poisoned at a wedding feast by the Tatars. Yesügei had been on his way home after bringing young Temüjin to the home of a man whose daughter would become the Khan’s first wife.
Genghis Khan was briefly enslaved as a child.
After his father’s death, Temüjin’s family was left in poverty. They fended for themselves for many years, even as tension grew among the family. Temüjin and one of his full brothers even killed their eldest brother, who was beginning to position himself as leader of the family. Feeling more in power and mature after this, Temüjin sometimes went out on his own. One day, he was captured by another tribe and enslaved. After some time, he managed to escape–gaining him some notoriety among the Mongol chiefs before his eventual ascendance.
The expansion of the Mongol empire wasn’t just about landmass.
Although gaining land, and therefore greater riches, was a major motivator for the Mongols’ expansion, Genghis Khan was after riches of a different manner as well. As the Mongol empire grew, the collective scientific and communicative abilities of its people also grew. Trade and technology grew enormously under the Mongol Empire, as the Silk Road was revived, a writing system was introduced, and an oral law code was created. Of course, all of these gains came at the cost of often horrific slaughters as the Mongols conquered the lands that would make these innovations possible.
The cause of Genghis Khan’s death is unknown.
Genghis Khan died sometime during the fall of Yinchuan. It’s unclear if he was killed in battle, if he died of an illness, or of some sort of accident. The most contemporaneous source available, The Secret History of the Mongols, claims that he fell from the saddle while hunting and later died of his injuries. Since The Secret History was commissioned by the Mongol royal family, it’s hard to know if this is true or if other claims, like Marco Polo’s that Genghis Khan was killed after an arrow wound become infected, are what really occurred. Regardless, Genghis Khan died in August of 1227, at about 65 years of age.
Genghis Khan’s body is buried in an unmarked grave.
According to Mongol custom, Genghis Khan asked to be buried in an unmarked, unremembered grave. There are legends that the soldiers who escorted his body to its grave killed anyone who ventured across their path. Years later, a mausoleum was built in Genghis Khan’s memory.
A descendant of Genghis Khan ruled until 1920.
Mohammed Alim Khan (pictured above) was the last ruling descendant of Genghis Khan. Mohammed, who was the emir of the Manghit Dynasty, became governor of the Nasef region at 18, two years after becoming formally appointed Crown Prince of Bukhara. He became Emir of Bukhara in 1910–a precarious time in many parts of the world. Bukhara was a protectorate of the Russian Empire, and as such, experienced much of the same strife. In 1920, Mohammed was dethroned by the Red Army. He fled to Afghanistan, where he died 24 years later. The Emirate of Bukhara is now known as Uzbekistan.
Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons