War and Conflict

Genghis Khan

Who was Genghis Khan?

He was a Mongol conqueror who rose to power in the early thirteenth century to rule over one of the greatest continental empires the world has seen. Born Temüjin (c. 1167–1227), he was named Genghis Khan, meaning “universal ruler,” in 1206. He was a fearless military leader, a brilliant strategist, and a ruthless subjugator, known for his brutal methods.

Temuüjin was the first-born son of the leader of a small nomadic clan. When he was a young boy, his father was killed by a neighboring tribe (Tatars) and thus he rose to the status of chief. But instead of allowing a boy to lead them, clan members abandoned Temüjin and his family. He survived the hard-scrabbled youth of a destitute nomad. But by all accounts, he seemed destined to become a great leader.

By the time he was 20 years old, Temüjin had managed to forge alliances with various tribal leaders and claimed the leadership of a small clan. By 1189 he united two Mongol tribes, which he organized to conquer the rival Tatars by the year 1202. At a conference of Mongol leaders in 1206, Temüjin was pronounced the Great Ruler, or Genghis Khan, of the Unified Mongolian State. He began a transformation of the Mongol tribes, dividing them into military units, each one supported by a number of households. He imposed law and order, promoted education, and stimulated economic prosperity. Within five years, Mongol society was changed from a nomadic-tribal to a military-feudal system. Thus organized, Genghis Khan prepared his troops to expand the Mongolian empire.

Genghis Khan’s armies embarked on a series of military campaigns, claiming land and subjugating peoples—sometimes using barbaric methods. By 1213 he controlled northern China to the Great Wall. By 1219 he controlled most of China and began campaigns into the Muslim world. When he died in the field in 1227, Genghis Khan commanded the vast territory from China to the Caspian Sea. He was succeeded by his sons, who continued to expand the Mongol holdings. His grandson was Kublai Khan (1215–1294), under whose leadership the Mongolian empire reached its pinnacle.


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