Grrr!! ... No, It's "Ger" ... In This Land of Genghis Khan - Part II

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February 12th 2015
Published: February 12th 2015
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Before leaving home, what did I know about Mongolia? Not much. It was squeezed in somewhere between China and Russia in Central Asia. A country that we knew very little about and one that had always had an air of mystery about it for me as a young child. As I grew up, I still didn’t know much about it.

Several years ago whilst on a visit to China and hiking the Great Wall, at one point I stood gazing out at the rugged, mountainous country surrounding us as our guide, waving her arm in a wide arc, said to us – “that’s Mongolia over there”.

It still remained some mysterious faraway country to me that I knew very little about. About all I knew was that, I had heard of its nomadic people and of Genghis Khan and the Mongol hordes. From where we were standing that day, at that particular point, was part of the reason that the Great Wall of China had been built in the first place – to repel the Mongols.

The longer we were spending in Mongolia, the more it only whetted our appetite to want to know more about this fascinating country and, what follows is not meant to be a history lesson but, more of an insight for, if we were to be able to understand and appreciate the modern Mongolia of today, we needed to go back 8 centuries in time, to learn more from the turbulent history of those ancient Mongol invasions that created this wonderful country of today …

Genghis Khan …..

Back in the mid-12th and early 13th centuries, the very mention of his name struck fear into the hearts and minds of the nomadic tribes and other civilisations all across Eurasia.

Originally named “Temujin” after a Tartar chieftain that his father had previously captured, Genghis Khan, or Chinggis Khan, as he is called by the Mongolian people, (Khan meaning King or Chief – Khaan meaning Emperor or Great Khan) was born in northern central Mongolia around 1162. He is reputed to have been born with a blood clot clutched in his hand, a sign, according to Mongolian folklore, that he was destined to be a leader.

He married at the age of 16 and had four sons with his first wife, Borte, but had many other children with numerous other wives throughout his lifetime, as was Mongolian tradition. However, it was only his sons from his marriage to Borte who qualified for succession in the family and the Khan dynasty.

He was a fearless leader and a ruthless warlord but also a brilliant military tactician and, it is said that the only thing he was afraid of, were dogs - that their barking frightened him.

At around the age of 20, he began building a large army with the intent of decimating all the individual tribes of north-eastern Asia and uniting them under his rule.

Over the years, the Mongols were devastating and unrelenting in their attacks throughout the land and, having mastered the ability to be able to manouevure a galloping horse by controlling them with only their legs, this then left both of their hands entirely free for combat, earning them the reputation of being the most-feared expert horseback archers they were, able to fire bows and arrows or meet their foe in hand-to-hand combat without the restriction of having to hold onto the horse’s reins.

The Khan’s army was supported by a well-organized supply system which followed behind it in its pursuits, thereby keeping the soldiers and their animals, supplied with food and other necessities, military equipment as well as medical aid, thereby making it possible for the army to remain away for months at a time as they fought and plundered their enemies in their pursuit to conquer Eurasia.

Genghis Khan was also a great visionary who knew his enemies well and was also quick to employ any new technologies captured from them.

Following his successes over rival Mongol tribes, the leaders of those tribes bestowed upon him, the title of “Genghis Khan”, which means “universal ruler”. The title, as well as having political importance by naming him as the ruler of the new Mongol Empire, was also of spiritual significance which afforded him the status of “the supreme god of the Mongols”. To defy the laws of the Great Khaan was akin to defying the laws of God.

So seriously did Genghis Khan consider his role, he is supposed to have said to one of his enemies, “I am the flail of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would have not sent a punishment like me upon you.”

Dying in 1227 at the age of 62, the exact cause of his death is unknown. Some historians say that he died after a fall from a horse during a hunt and died from fatigue and his injuries. Others say that he died from a respiratory disease.

Whatever the cause, Genghis Khan was buried in an unmarked grave, according to the customs of his tribe, somewhere in northern Mongolia and, somewhere near his birthplace, the exact location of which still remains unknown.

Before his death, Genghis Khan had bestowed the supreme leadership to his third son, Ogedei, who ascended to the throne of the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire in 1229, two years after his father’s death and who then continued to oversee the expansion of the vast Mongol Empire into Europe.

During his reign as ruler, Genghis had surrounded himself with his most trusted generals namely, his sons and grandsons as they became of an age to carry out these roles. One of these was Kublai Khan, his grandson who went on to become the leader of the Yuan Dynasty which, by then, included the territories of Mongolia and China.

He finally ascended to the throne of the Grand Khan of the Mongol Empire, becoming the Emperor of China and ruling the Yuan Dynasty until his death in 1294. However, the Mongol Empire continued to endure for another two centuries throughout Asia and Europe via Genghis’ descendants, finally stretching all the way from China to Hungary in Eastern Europe and as far south to what we know today, as Vietnam. Even now, some 800 years later, Genghis Khan is considered to have conquered more territory in his lifetime than any other single conqueror in history.

Although probably mostly remembered throughout history as the ruthless and barbaric warlord that he was, in the aftermath, he also left behind many great legacies, the benefits of which set up much of the social structure that is known today not only throughout Mongolia but, the world as a whole.

He is deeply revered these days by the Mongolian people who consider him, “The Father of Mongolia”, having united the country and its peoples. You will find tributes to him everywhere throughout Mongolia today.


Introduced and practised religious tolerance and freedom of all religions throughout the Mongol Empire even though he personally remained loyal to Shamanism.

Was responsible for the creation of the first written Mongolian language in 1204.

Introduced the horse relay postal system in 1224, (centuries before the Pony Express of America) which was instrumental in the expansion of the Mongol Empire and communication and trade with Europe, with each rider covering 160 kms (100 miles) at a stretch.

In a 25-year period, his armies conquered a larger area than the Romans had managed to do in four centuries.

Forbade the killing of priests, monks, nuns, etc as well as the kidnapping of women because it frequently led to warfare among the different tribal groups. He also outlawed the common practice of livestock rustling for the same reason.

Revolutionised social structure and also reformed traditional law.

Was responsible for stimulating trade and communication between the Mongol Empire and Europe which not only ensured the economic survival of the Mongols but also re-established many trade routes along the Silk Road.

Instilled into his descendants and successors, to continue the practice of great reform when, in the 1260’s, his grandson, Kublai Khan, became more of an administrator than a warlord and spent many years trying to redevelop agricultural lands; rebuild towns and cities and restore much of the destruction caused by the initial Mongol invasions.

Kublai Khan also attempted to introduce public schooling; encouraged the widespread use of paper money; provided grain to widows and orphans which was really the rudimentary beginnings of a welfare system; he initiated and developed granaries across the country to guard against famine and other natural disasters as well as initiating many other social reforms for the benefit of the population.

We had previously visited the Museum of Natural History in Ulaan Bataar - in particular, the section devoted to Genghis Khan and his armies and learned something about his pursuit to unify the individual tribes of what was to ultimately become the country of Mongolia.

The longer we spent in Mongolia I found myself being drawn more and more into a total fascination for this virtually unknown country (on my part) and a desire to find out even more about its rich, turbulent cultural history and its people.

A little bit of Genghis trivia:

Today, throughout the modern world, there are 16 million direct descendants of Genghis Khan and, on every day of the year, 43,000 of his descendants celebrate their birthday.


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