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In his time, he was the most dreaded and dangerous man on Earth, he called himself “the punishment of God”. His unimaginable leadership quality formed an Empire which the World had never seen, an Empire running from Eastern Europe to the Sea of Japan, covering Siberia in the North, Middle East and the Indian subcontinent in the South. That is two times the area conquered by Alexander the Great and four times the Roman Empire at best. His merciless and loyal band of soldiers slaughtered everything which came in their way men, women, children, and even animals. It all started all most 800 years ago when a young boy was born to a Mongol tribal leader with blood clot in his hand, a sign of becoming a great conqueror and as the boy grew to a man, he became the “Great Khan”, or Chinghis Khan.
Genghis Khan as portrayed in a 14th-centuryYuan era album.
Sandwiched between two gigantic countries Russia and China is Mongolia, where miles after miles are vast Steppe lands providing wonderful grazing ground for horses. In Chinghis’s time the Mongols were divided in many factions, with each under one leader constantly fighting each other. Although he became famous as Chinghis Khan, his original name was Timujin, at an early age he lost his father who was poisoned by his adversary over factional rivalry. From there Timujin and his family led a harsh life, he was captured by his father’s former ally the Tayichiuds, but with the help of a family friend he escaped. When Timujin was sixteen he married Borte a lady of the Onggirat tribe, with whom his marriage was fixed by his father. However their honeymoon was shortened with the kidnapping of Borte by the Merkits who had attacked Timujin’s camp at the night. A shocked and defenseless Timujin had to flee in order to save his own life. Later he sought help from his best friend and blood brother Jamukha the duo saved Borte from the Merkits. However as there cannot be two Suns in the sky Timujin and Jamukha soon developed bad relations and ultimately in a battle that followed Timujin was defeated, his generals were taken prisoners and boiled to death by Jamukha. Timujin was approaching twenty at that time; he reorganized his army and set out to meet Jamukha. Two hundred kilometers away from Ulaanbaatar on a vast plain the armies of Jamukha and Timujin faced each other. In this battle Timujin earned a decisive victory, in spite of being outnumbered his disciplined soldiers performed every task like clockwork and won the day. Jamukha fled with his companions determined to face Timujin on another day, however on the route he was betrayed by his own generals who confined him and brought him before Timujin. Timujin immediately issued orders to execute the generals for their betrayal and received Jamukha with an open heart. He reminded Jamukha of their old friendship and the solemn oath they had taken to be blood brothers, but Jamukha was not in favor of this reunion. He made it clear that he and Timujin could not go together, rather he asked for a noble death, and requested not a drop of blood to be spilled. Timujin though surprised accepted his friends request; his soldiers executed Jamukha by breaking his back.
Chinghis Khan’s enthronement in 1206
What followed this victory was totally unprecedented, there were celebrations, jubilations and from that day it became clear that the Mongols had got their leader. In fact in 1206 through a national assembly the Mongols choose Chinghis as the Supreme Leader of all the Mughals, and conferred upon him the title of “Chinghis Khan”. This was a created title, there was no person, no Mongol before him who was given this title. To unite the entire Mongolia under one command Chinghis had repeatedly mentioned his subjects the old story of the arrows-that a single arrow can be broken very easily but a bunch of arrows are unbreakable. Now that the Mongols were ready it was time to release these ruthless forces against all the known parts of the World. First on the road lay China, the most civilized country in the world, with China under his flag, Chinghis would become the Master of the World. But to occupy China was not an easy task, because economically and technologically China was far ahead of the Mongols. The Chinese considered the Mongols a real nuisance, barbarians, and the Mongols never really trusted the Chinese. Chinghis knew that China would not tolerate the rise of the Mongols, and sooner later the Northern Chinese Emperor would surely his forces to subjugate them. Chinghis therefore launched a pre-emptive attack, surpassing many difficulties he crossed the Gobi desert with a large army, and invaded Northern China. Without siege equipments pulling down fortresses or laying siege was immensely difficult however Chinghis overcame it all. From 1207-1209 in two years time Chinghis ensured the fall of the Western Xia dynasty, his forces went round the Great Wall of China and in 1215 the Mongols arrived in Beijing.
Beijing was a very important city, a meeting point of traders all-round the World and its defenses exceptional. Huge wall surrounded the entire city, measuring about 28 kilometers in circumference, and about 40 meters high, with about 900 guard towers. The garrison soldiers inside the fort were no mercenaries, they were professional soldiers, well trained and equipped with the most advanced weapons of that time. After initial failure Chinghis laid a siege, his army surrounded the entire city allowing nothing to entire Beijing thus starving the people inside the walls while the Mongol soldiers feasting on the plunder. Gradually the acute shortage of food inside the city forced many to adopt cannibalism. Chinghis was waiting for this opportunity and once he knew that the moral of the enemy was going down he launched his attack. It was a bloody battle, and Chinghis had planned it well, he included the Chinese prisoners in his army, and forced them to fight their own men. He even had hired siege engineers to design various kinds of catapults and battering rams for the battle. The Mongol commanders rallied the Chinese prisoner troops into the walls, they were showered with arrows from the fortress, in spite of heavy casualties the Mongols finally made their way. Beijing could not withstand the force of the Mongols. On entering Beijing he ordered a general massacre, and plunder. The loot he got was immense, but most importantly in this invasion he was acquainted with the military technologies of China which was the real treasure and which would help him in his future conquest.
As a matter of fact Chinghis was not only a great military commander but also a proficient administrator. He knew that the Chinese could be of real help to him, the Chinese doctors could heal his soldiers, the engineers could make siege equipments, the scholars could write a whole biography of him and he utilized them all. He was more interested in practical science, technologies which could improve his army and make them more sophisticated. As his Empire grew larger and larger he established an efficient postal system, where horsemen carried posts and covered almost seventy miles a day. Through this postal system he sent rich gifts of ivory, gold and camel wool to the Shah Muhammad of the Khwarizm Empire. The Khwarizm Empire comprised of modern day Iran and Afghanistan. The Shah Muhammad thought of the messengers as spies, had them executed and sent their heads to the Great Khan. Chinghis Khan was infuriated to see the consequences of his messengers since he believed in diplomatic immunity. He was so angry that he went to the top a mountain and stayed there three nights asking God “for the strength to exact vengeance”. Later he made his preparations and with over two hundred thousand men he attacked the Khwarizm Empire.
In fact he attacked all most all the major cities of the Empire one by one, first Bukhara, followed by Samarkand and then Nishapur. In Samarkand the Mongols had to fight an entirely different element of war, the elephants, however the huge machines of war failed before the mighty spirit of the Mongols. The Mongol archers played a pivotal part in routing the elephants, the rain of arrows fired from the re-curve bow frightened the elephants and as they hurried back to the city walls it caused a stampede and blockage. The battle was lost and the Mongols entered the city. In Nishapur the defenders had made all sorts of preparations to stop the Mongols, they had three thousand crossbows, hundreds of mangonels and ballistas but all these could not stop the Mongols. In the heat of the battle an arrow struck and killed Chinghis Khan’s son-in-law Tokuchar. The Mongols resolved to avenge his death they sotmred into the city with a thirst of vengeance, slaughtering indiscriminately, and at the end of everything there were separate piles of human heads, of men, women, children, even dogs and cats. It is said that Chnghis’ army pulled down everything that was standing, every building, and every wall. The Persian chroniclers report that over 17,00,000 people were killed by the Mongols. This may be an exaggeration but it is true that Chinghis Khan’s anger knew no bounds; he converted his anger, pain and remorse by levelling conquered cities. Perhaps he was more of a destroyer than a mass murderer. After massive destruction of Khwarizm Empire Chinghis thought of going back through India, however information of Xixia’s rebellion came and he changed his plans and of course India was spared.
After years of campaign, Chinghis was gradually becoming old now in his sixties he nominated his third son Ogedei to be the next Khan. For many reason Ogedei was Chinghis’s favorite, he was physically huge, had charismatic personality, and above all modest enough to accept that he could not surpass the glory of his father. As a matter of fact Chinghis Khan at the end of his life became weary about the growing animosity between his sons, especially of Jochi and Chagatai. He tried to civilize them, often rebuked them for their foolishness and haughtiness. Occasionally he offered great counselling he taught them that the basic thing behind great leadership is self control, to master pride something he said was more difficult than taming a wild lion or defeating a great wrestler. He discouraged them to think of themselves as the strongest or the smartest, in contrary he said that even the highest mountain has wild animals that step on it, and when the animal reaches the top he becomes even higher than the mountain itself. Like Alexander the Great he believed in having an aim and vision in life, without it he said that a leader cannot guide himself let alone leading a country. Many things he said allure men and divert them from achieving their dream. One can live a merry life, with all sorts of comfort, enjoyment with beautiful women, and live of luxury but these are the things he warned make men worse than slaves. After all this legendary conquests Chinghis Khan died in 1227 after of course defeating the Western Xia dynasty and his Ogedei became the next Khan. Ogedei would be a different Khan than his father was, he started from where his father finished and carried the flag of conquest to Eastern Europe.
The Expansion of the Mongol Empire (you have to click on the pic to see the expansion, better use next tab option)
One of the reasons behind Chinghis Khan’s military achievement was his belief and confidence over his trusted commanders, one of them was a world class general, perhaps one of the greatest commanders if not the best. His name who Subudei, this man entered the Great Khan’s army when he was just seventeen. Gradually he proved his merits, and took part in over twenty campaigns, fought sixty five battles across thirty two nations! He was the shrewdest commander ever; Chinghis fondly called him his “war dog”, and why not he was instrumental in so many Mongol victories against all odds.
All significant conquests and movements of Genghis Khan and his generals during his lifetime
It is simply amazing to think how Chinghis Khan conducted his army to battle, what sort of psychological boost he offered his armies, how he managed to conduct the complex battle maneuvers? In fact like all great leaders he made brilliant commanders out of ordinary soldiers, the promotion was purely based on merit. He treated his generals like his own brothers, and gave them enough liberty to fight battles in their own way. That is why Subodei could fight battles very ingeniously, riding with great speed, his forces gave no chances to the enemy for preparations and the Mongol soldiers benefited from this weakness. Being very experienced in battle Subodei knew his enemies through constant feedback from his spies, and accordingly he planned his attack. Another great advantage the Mongols had was that their army entirely comprised of cavalry men, no foot soldiers, and therefore they could cover seventy miles a day; when others struggled to make even ten. The Mongols normally disliked hand to hand combat, the cavalry archers would shower arrows at the enemy and by a sudden retreat would entice the enemy to pursue them, until they arrived at a selected place where fresh Mongol troops waited patiently for their prey, and the job was done, the whole exercise worked like magic. The European knights became immediate victim of this grand strategy and thousands of them were killed this way. As the great horde rode East major cities in Russia fell under them, they stormed into Hungary, invaded Romania and Croatia and reached as far as Poland.
A Mongol Warrior
Such jaw dropping story of conquest was never heard nor repeated. In fact the odds which Chinghis Khan and successors overcame were very high. The Mongols changed the world order once and for all; rarely do we see in History that a super power like China is pulverized by people considered as barbarians. History we know is written by the victors however in case of Mongols, history was written by the victims. The Persian and the Chinese wrote volumes about the Great Khan virtually making the most dreadful man in history. We can criticize his actions, call him messenger of death but in reality Chinghis was an outstanding leader. His ambition knew no bounds, I guess we can visualize a young hunter boy riding a horse and gazing the vast green plains that lay before him, and the rolling mountains that stood near the horizon, inviting him to surpass all physical boundaries and carry the solemn flag of his subjugated tribe into the ends of the World.
After typing more than 2500 words for two days about this unforgettable man in History, I wonder what choice I would have if I was thirteenth century civilian somewhere in China or Samarkand and just heard the dreadful news of the Mongols approaching my city. Perhaps I would run to the highest tower along with my comrades and look from there into the plains until I saw a black banner carried by a Mongol soldier. The war drums beating, the Mongol riders slowly approaching the walls in disciplined lines, there unsheathed curved sword glittering in the afternoon Sun. What would I do, wait for the Mongols to cut my throat or bow before the World Conquering force and surrender myself to the Great Khan, Genghis Khan.
Pic Acknowledgement : Wikipedia
Sumit Soren is the founder of Livelystories. Basically an Agricultural Engineer, Sumit has interest in varied topics. He regularly writes on tribal history, internet and science related topics.