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Genghis Khan, His Achievements and Influence on The World Today

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Genghis Khan, a poor Mongolian child grew to be the greatest military genius the world has ever seen. He was one of the most successful and strategic military leaders in history and had a strong influence on other more recent and famous leaders. His eloquent voice and clever tactics, along with his unforgiving behavior and great influence, led him to become one of the world’s most successful, and dangerous leaders. Throughout his life, he conquered most of Asia and controlled a merciless army. His achievements and successes are still learned and studied today, and though he has died, his legacy continues to thrive.

The “tyrant’s tyrant,” Genghis Khan was responsible for the death of around 20,000,000 people by the time he, himself died in 1227.

He had a major influence on not only many famous military and political leaders, but also on our world today. From a very early age, up until his death, Genghis Khan was feared and ruthless, but capable and a great military leader.

“I am the punishment of God… If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”

-Genghis Khan

Temujin, who later changed his name to Genghis Khan, was born around 1162 near the border between what is now known as Mongolia and Siberia. He was named Temujin, meaning “made of iron” or “blacksmith.” Legend has it that he came into the world clutching a blood clot in his right hand, a symbol of power and a great future to come. It is also said that his first ancestor was a grey wolf and that he was descended from heaven as a warning to people that had sinned.

He definitely was not born into a very fortunate family. His mother had been kidnapped by his father and forced into marriage. At the time of Temujin’s childhood, nomadic tribes like his were constantly fighting each other, stealing, and even burning each other alive, either for land, or power. Early life for Temujin was violent and extremely unpredictable.

Before he turned ten years old, his father was poisoned to death by an enemy clan. A clan was a group of people who shared a common ancestor and were led by its leader. Temujin’s own clan, or tribe, then left him and his family; his mother and his six siblings in order to avoid having to feed them. This was nothing out of the ordinary for tribes- when the father of a family died, the family would usually be deserted so as not to waste the clan’s time and hard earned food.

Temujin, his mother, five brothers, and sister, were left to wander, barely surviving. Luckily, they had lived their whole lives as nomads, never having a home, so they were all well familiar to this.

Young Temujin began his murderous rise to power at the age of twelve, when he shot his older half-brother with a bow and arrow in a dispute over who got to eat a fish. His mother could do nothing about her angry son- she knew he was possibly her only chance at survival. Shortly after he took over as head of the poverty-ridden family.

At one point during Temujin’s difficult childhood, he was captured and enslaved by the same clan that had abandoned him, his mother and siblings. He worked as a slave for a while, before soon making his daring escape and returning back to his family.

Chinese and Mongol historical sources say that at some point, Temujin was taken prisoner by the Jin Dynasty, who at the time controlled a part of China, and was held there, captive for a number of years. It is unknown whether this is true or not.

Before his father died, Temujin had been forced to marry Borte, a young woman from another tribe when he was to turn sixteen. In 1178 he went to live with the family of Borte, and soon after, married her. It is not known how many children Genghis Khan had by the time he died, but today he has one of the greatest numbers of descendants the world has ever seen. We do not know much about Temujin’s childhood- most of what we know today come from “The Secret History of the Mongols,” the oldest known artifact of Mongolian literature and history, which was written after his death.

Temujin gained his reputation when he rescued his wife, Borte after she was kidnapped by an enemy clan. It was not out of the ordinary for rival clans to attack others. They burned land, captured animals, and kidnapped and killed the people. Borte was captured during one these sudden attacks, Temujin witnessing it all, and he soon launched his intrepid rescue of his wife- after all, he had experience in planning escapes. He had the help of two of his friends, who agreed to help rescue her because they despised the clan that had kidnapped her. One of them, Jamuqa, which Temujin would end up murdering later because he was thirsty for power.

This earned him the respect and power he wanted. He soon began making alliances with other clans, which would soon result in uniting the Mongols. He also built a reputation as a warrior and he attracted a large number of followers that continued to grow. At this point in Temujin’s life, he decided it would be appropriate to change his name to Genghis Khan, a great honor. The name meant, “supreme leader of the universe.”

“I have committed many acts of cruelty and had an incalculable number of men killed, never knowing whether what I did was right. But I am indifferent to what people think of me.”

-Genghis Khan

The infamous tyrant’s rise to power was only the beginning. By the time he died, Genghis Khan conquered more than twice as much land as any other person in history. The Great Khan had a keen eye for talent and strength, and he usually promoted his officers on skill and experience rather than their class or ancestry, which other clans and empires did.

One famous and intriguing example of this was during a battle against the rival Taijut tribe in 1201 when Genghis was just about killed after his horse was shot from under him with an arrow. Later, when Genghis and his men interrogated the Taijut captives and prisoners and demanded to know who was responsible for the murder of his battle horse, one soldier bravely stood up and admitted to being the shooter. Greatly surprised by the archer’s boldness, Genghis made him an officer in his army and later gave him the nickname of “arrow,” in honor of their first meeting on the battlefield. Thanks to Genghis, this man would later go on to play a big role in the Mongol conquering of Europe and Asia.

Genghis would often end up killing his allies in arguments or battles. In around 1200, Genghis had allied himself and his clan of nomads with another tribe, and together they were going to campaign against the Tartars, a Nomadic group of people living in what is present-day Russia. Genghis defeated the Tatars two years later, in 1202. The two allied clans would later have a dispute, which would end up in Genghis killing the tribe leader and defeating his forces.

This is what happened to Jamuqa and eventually had himself killed, also, after a slight disagreement. The friendship of Genghis and Jamuqa only lasted about what guessed a year and a half after helping rescue Borte. One day, while the two were moving camp, Jamuqa let a remark about the choice of camping site slip from his mouth, which encouraged Borte to advise to Genghis that it was about time the two friends went their separate ways. It is said that Jamuqa was trying to provoke disruption in the leadership of the clans. It seemed that Genghis found it difficult to desert his longtime comrade, but in the end, like in any event, he took Borte’s advice. When Genghis recognized that he had to do this, Jamuqa was outraged. His fowl behavior led some of his officers to lean toward Genghis. This argument ended in the murder of Jamuqa, in front of all his men, who then sided with the stronger, more powerful leader- Genghis Khan.

By 1205, the Great Khan had vanquished all of his rivals, including his former best friend, Jamuqa. The following year, in 1206, he held a famous meeting called the Khuriltai, that consisted of representatives from each allied territory tribe and created a nation the size of what is modern-day Mongolia.

By that year, 1206, Genghis Khan had conquered most of Mongolia by helping to unite the Mongols under his rule. The remaining tribes were forced to acknowledge him as their leader. He invaded clans and defeated their leader and forced them to join him. When a Clan resisted, he would burn them alive. After uniting all the nomadic tribes, Genghis Khan led a Mongol army of what is guessed to be over 100,000 men in a series of military missions to expand their Mongol territory. Many people actually believe that uniting the Mongols- rather than conquering Asia after unifying the Mongols- was Genghis’ biggest accomplishment.

One of Genghis Khan’s greatest accomplishments was his first campaign, or mission, outside of Mongolia. It took place against the Xi Xia kingdom- one of the three kingdoms of China. In 1209, after many raids, the Mongols made their way to the capital Xi Xia. They rode their horses, the riders were deadly experts with a bow and arrows, training sometimes from the time they learned to walk. Once at the capital, the Genghis Khan and his Mongol army attempted to flood the city but failed. Their next plan was to imitate a false withdrawal- one of their signature tactics- and then initiated a blockade. At this, the Xi Xia ruler surrendered and gave tribute to the victorious Mongols.

The Mongols next invaded the Jin dynasty of China, another of the three Chinese kingdoms. From 1211 to 1214 the outnumbered, undefeatable Mongol army ravaged the country, sending unwanted refugees flooding into cities. There was a mass amount of food shortages, and to solve this problem, the Jin army ended up killing thousands of its own people.

Because of this, in 1214 the Mongols mobbed the capital of China, Zhongdu- now Beijing- and the Jin ruler gave tribute of great amounts of silk, silver and gold, and horses for battle. Soon after, with the help of the skilled Jin refugees, Genghis Khan demolished the city of Zhongdu, another one his great achievements. This caused him to turn his attention more westward, invading deeper into central Asia, and expanding his army to 200,000 men.

Up until the tyrant’s death, Genghis Khan, along with his Mongol army conquered parts of what is modern-day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and small sections of Russia. These battles and wars were extremely brutal and devastating, often decreasing populations drastically, and destroying many great cities. Amazingly, in only twenty-five years, Genghis Khan had conquered more land and gained more military officers than the powerful Romans did during their entire 400-year rule. In 1225 Genghis returned back to Mongolia, but definitely did not think to turn his back to remaining vulnerable lands, but instead kept contact through his military officials.

But in 1227, just before making a possibly epic conquest of part of Europe, the powerful, seemingly indestructible Genghis Khan is said to have fallen off his horse, immediately dying. Some also say that he had malaria, or had been shot with an arrow in the knee, and receiving no medical attention, died from an infection. However he died, the great Khan to it to large measures to make sure his burial place was a secret. According to legend, following his funeral was the slaughter of everyone who had attended or had come into contacts with during the journey to the burial place. Then, horses were ridden repeatedly over the grave to conceal it. Those who did this committed suicide, and even killed their horses. To this day the precise location of the tomb is unknown.

“One arrow alone can be easily broken, but many arrows together are indestructible.”

-Genghis Khan

At the edge of the battlefield on a campaign across China, Genghis Khan stood in front of his army of what would soon be tens of thousands of men. He held before them all a single arrow, explaining to them that that arrow alone was vulnerable and could easily be broken. He then added several other arrows together, showing them to his men, and telling them that together, these arrow to strong and sturdy, and therefore could not be broken. This analogy is just an example of one of the many inspirational speeches Genghis Khan gave his army before battle. The way in which he spoke, with force and with passion, obligated people to give him their attention. Similar to how more modern leaders spoke, such as Adolf Hitler and the great Napoleon Bonaparte. But this was just one of the Khan’s strategies.

Genghis Khan would organize his warriors into units of ten, a strategy with great effect, and also regardless of kin or status, something no other army did. Though he was an animist, a person who worshiped their ancestors, Genghis was tolerant of many types of religions and people, his followers including Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. He allowed freedom of religion well before the idea caught on anywhere else. Genghis elevated men based on their abilities, courage, and loyalty to him. If a man showed cunning tactics in a battle, he would be promoted more quickly, regardless of his caste.

Genghis Khan practiced many advanced and ingenious battle tactics. His brilliant generals and their armies of killed horsemen and bow masters made up some of the world’s greatest spy networks which would spend months scouting out before an attack, mapping roads and escape routes, and even gathering and noting supplies on the local defense infrastructures. They coordinated attacks such as ambush, hit-and-run, and wave attacks.

One of their most successful strategies and commonly used was the feigned retreat, in which the troops would fake a defeat and run away, only to turn on their pursuing enemies. The Mongols were able to do this because Genghis Khan cared nothing for appearances. Other armies would have been too prideful to carry out this tactic. Once the Mongol army attacked the lands of Germany and Hungary, where 125,000 knights in shining armor foolishly chased down the retreating Mongol army, ending in their own deaths.

The Mongols also were known to catapult large stones, dead animals, or flaming bombs of gunpowder over the stone castle walls of their victims. They would blockade a city they were attacking, cutting off its supplies and starving its inhabitants to death. While doing this, instead of starving themselves, the Mongol armies learned to survive off the blood and raw meat of their own horses, bringing extra sometimes.

Another common strategy of Genghis Khan’s army could be argued as the most brilliant- simply lighting extra campfires to make it seem as though the Mongol army was larger than it was. Genghis Khan told his army to light five fires per person, making his enemies scared, and possibly surrendering. Of course, this tactic could have backfired, if the opposing army brought in reinforcements, but this never did happen. The Mongols would also place straw soldiers on spare horses.

These are just a few of the many ways Genghis Khan and his ruthless army won their battles. The Mongols were very different from other armies because they accepted the fact they could learn from their enemies. The Mongol spies would watch their enemies carefully, sometimes months before a battle, sometimes only days. They would watch them closely enough to know their enemy’s weaknesses, strengths, and also just learn.

The Mongols also established a horse express, because they knew that communication was essential to power. He had men ride up to the battlefield before war, to see what they were up against, and where to attack- another strategy the Mongols had that no other army did- guerrilla warfare. They would attack from unknown areas, catching their enemies off guard and toying with the rules of war.

“Conquering the world on horseback is easy; it is dismounting and governing that is hard.”

-Genghis Khan

It is impossible to deny that Genghis Khan had a powerful influence on more recent and successful military leaders. Some famous, including well-known tyrant, Adolf Hitler, and Napoleon Bonaparte. Even his grandson, the great Kublai Khan was influenced by Genghis.

One example of this is Genghis Khan’s legacy that could have definitely influenced Napoleon’s battle tactics. Napoleon, a military officer during the French revolution, once said, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” This sounds very much alike to Genghis’ idea to learn from your enemies- do not interrupt them when they are making a mistake-learn from them. Though Genghis Khan originated this idea, Napoleon could have picked it up as well, later on. Napoleon was extremely intelligent and clever on the battlefield, also known as a military genius like Genghis Khan before him.

“There is no good in anything until it is finished.”

-Genghis Khan

For such an interesting and influential figure in history, there is very little to nothing known about Genghis Khan’s personal life or physical appearance. The Mongol leader never allowed anyone to paint his portrait, sculpt his image, or even engrave him on a coin. Even if there was such a thing, it did not survive. The first actual images of him appeared after his death. Most accounts describe him tall but stocky and strong, with a mane of hair, like many Mongols at the time, along with a bushy beard.

Along with his looks, nobody really knows why Genghis Khan launched all his campaigns to conquer Asia and Europe. Some say it is possible that Genghis Khan needed to raid other countries to avoid starvation, while others say great leader was just thirsty for power and bloodshed or felt he had the divine right to conquer the world.

Whatever his reasons were, his rapid conquests stunned the world. Genghis Khan is now seen as a national hero and founding father of Mongolia, though during the rule of the Soviet Union, the mention of his name was banned and punished. The Soviets removed Genghis’ story from school textbooks but was eventually restored to Mongolian and Chinese history after the country won its independence. The Great Khan’s portrait even appears on Mongolian currency.

This powerful and fascinating Khan could have been the greatest and most successful and influential military leader the world has ever seen. He united the Mongol tribes, conquered Asia and parts of Europe, and led a vicious, merciless army. He launched campaigns across countries, killing thousands of people at a time. His tactics and strategies shocked the world, but most of all, he was a genius of war, the “punishment of God.” This is why Genghis Khan was one of the most successful and strategic military leaders of all time. 

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