Born Temujin, Genghis Khan was born around 1162 near the border between Siberia and modern Mongolia. Legend has it that he was born holding a blood clot in his right hand. His father kidnapped his mother and forced her into marriage. During that time, many nomadic tribes on the central Asian steppe were continuously stealing from and fighting each other, and life for Genghis Khan was unpredictable and violent. His father was poisoned to death by an enemy clan before Genghis Khan was 10. Genghis Khan, his mother and six siblings were then deserted by his own clan in order to avoid having to feed them.
Not long after that, Temujin killed his older half-brother and became head of the poverty-stricken household. Once, he was captured and enslaved by the same clan that abandoned him, but he was finally able to escape. Temujin married Borte in 1178. The couple had four sons and an unknown number of daughters. After Borte was captured, Temujin launched a daring rescue of her, and he soon started making alliances, attracting a growing number of followers and building a reputation as a warrior.
The Mongols United by Genghis Khan
Temujin placed competent allies instead of relatives in key positions and killed the leaders of enemy tribes while bringing the remaining members into his clan. Despite the fact that Temujin was an animist, his followers included Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. He had vanquished all rivals by 1205, including Jamuka, his former best friend. The next year, he established a nation about the size of modern Mongolia. He also became known as “Chinggis Khan” – (Universal Ruler) – a name which became known in the west as Genghis Khan.
Genghis Khan Establishes an Empire
After uniting the steppe tribes, Genghis Khan ruled over about 1 million people. In order to restrict the traditional causes of tribal warfare, he eliminated inherited aristocratic titles. He also outlawed the kidnapping and selling of women, made livestock theft punishable by death and banned the enslavement of any Mongol. Furthermore, Genghis Khan commanded the adoption of a writing system, allowed freedom of religion, granted diplomatic immunity to foreign ambassadors and conducted a regular census.
His first campaign outside of Mongolia was against the Xi Xia kingdom of northwest China. In 1209, the Mongols began a major initiative that brought them to the doorstep of the Xi Xia capital, Yinchuan. The Mongols, unlike other armies, traveled with no supply train other than a big reserve of horses. Although their efforts to flood the city failed, the ruler of Xi Xia submitted and presented tribute.
Next to be attacked by the Mongols was the Jin Dynasty of northern China, whose ruler made the error of demanding Genghis Khan’s submission. Between 1211 and 1214, the outnumbered Mongols raided the countryside and sent refugees running into the cities. The Jin army ended up killing thousands of its own peasants due to food shortages. The Mongols surrounded the capital of Zhongdu (now Beijing), and the Jin ruler agreed to hand over large quantities of horses, gold, silver and silk. However, when the Jin ruler moved his court south, Genghis Khan took this as a breach and sacked Zhongdu to the ground.
Genghis Khan went to war against the Khwarezm Empire which is now modern day Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Although they were once again outnumbered, the Mongol army charged through one Khwarezm city after the other. Aristocrats and resisting soldiers were killed, while skilled workers such as carpenters were saved. It is uncertain how many people were killed during Genghis Khan’s wars, partly because the Mongols spread their violent image as a way of spreading terror.
Genghis Khan’s death
Early in 1227, a horse threw Genghis Khan to the ground, resulting in internal injuries. His health never recovered, and Genghis Khan died on 18 August 1227 shortly before the Xi Xia were crushed.
Genghis Khan conquered over two times as much land as any other person in history, in the process bringing Western and Eastern civilizations in contact. Before their empire broke apart in the 14th century, the Mongols even invaded Japan. Genghis Khan’s last ruling descendant was finally overthrown in 1920.