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Genghis Khan Biography

also spelled Jingis or Chingis Khan (‘Very Mighty Ruler’), originally Temujin

(1155 - 1162)

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Genghis Khan: Mongolian Warlord
Genghis Khan: A Ruthless Legacy

In less than 100 years, Genghis Khan and his descendents established the largest empire in the world, exceeded only by the British Empire in the 19th century. Through cunning diplomacy, spiritual mission, and brute force, Genghis Khan unified the incompatible Mongols and then set out east and west to swiftly conquer vast parts of Asia. The Mongol army swept down on cities and villages, taking anything as booty or victims. By 1280, Mongol rule stretched from China's Yellow Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, a total of 12 million square miles. Among the descendants of Genghis Khan, the most well-known is his grandson, Kublai Khan, admired for his enlightened rule and famous for his opulent lifestyle. During its brief existence, the Mongol Empire was responsible for an estimated 30 to 40 million deaths, the destruction of several major dynasties, and retarding or altering the development of many other civilizations. Yet, at the same time, Genghis Khan and his descendants increased Europe's knowledge of the Orient, established major trade routes between East and West, and unified large regions in western Russia and China that remain united today.

Genghis Khan was born in north central Mongolia and named "Temujin" after a Tatar chieftain that his father, Yesukhei, had captured. Young Temujin was a member of the Borjigin tribe and descendant of Khabul Khan, who briefly united Mongols against the Jin (Chin) Dynasty of northern China in the early 1100s. According to the "Secret History of the Mongols" (a contemporary account of Mongol history), Temujin was born with a blood clot in his hand, a sign in Mongol folklore that he was destined to become a leader. His mother, Hoelun, taught him the grim reality of living in turbulent Mongol tribal society and the need for alliances.

When Temujin was 9, his father took him to live with the family of his future bride, Borte. On the return trip home, Yesukhei encountered members of the rival Tatar tribe, who invited him to a conciliatory meal, where he was poisoned for past transgressions against the Tatars. Upon hearing of his father's death, Temujin returned home to claim his position as clan chief. However, the clan refused to recognize the young boy's leadership and ostracized his family of younger brothers and half-brothers to near-refugee status. The pressure on the family was great, and in a dispute over the spoils of a hunting expedition, Temujin quarreled with and killed his half-brother Bekhter, confirming his position as head of the family.

At 16, Temujin married Borte, cementing the alliance between the Konkirat tribe and his own. Soon after, Borte was kidnapped by the rival Merkit tribe and given to a chieftain as a wife. Temujin was able to rescue her and soon after she gave birth to her first son, Jochi. Though Borte's captivity with the Konkirat tribe cast doubt on Jochi's birth, Temujhin accepted him as his own. With Borte, Temujin had four sons and many other children with other wives, as was Mongolian custom. However, only his male children with Borte qualified for succession in the family.

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