Genghis Khan
China History

Research Report
Web Resources


Temujin, later known as Genghis Khan was one of the most powerful, ruthless, and greatest military leaders of all time.  The great Mongolian leader  is seen as one of the most influential innovators of military and political policies.   His successful military campaigns of Asia created one of the largest empires in the history of the world.  This is Genghis Khan’s rise to power.

Historical Background

Genghis was originally born under the name Temujin in the year 1162 A.D.  The man that eventually united the Mongol tribes and forged them into a mighty force was the son of a chieftain of the Royal Borjigh clan.  When Temujin was only ten years old, rivals poisoned his father.  His tribe's laws of succession made no provision for the appointment of a regent, and the young boy Temujin was made chief.  However, upon his ascension to the throne, all of Temujin's tribesmen abandoned him, thus leaving the ten-year-old to fend for himself.  For the next three years of Genghis’ life, he endured tough times.  He had to dig up roots for food and he had only seven sheep.  To the Mongols, cattle were not only currency; they were tokens of honor as well, determining a tribesman's status in Mongol society (Martin 20-45).

 Since Temujin had only seven sheep that meant the young man was a pauper and he was also considered an outcast.  These three trying years are considered the most important period of Temujin's life.  The harsh teaching of life on the steppes of Mongolia hardened the young Genghis.  He was forced to sharpen his wits to a degree unheard of, even among the most hardy, wise, and cunning Mongols.  This period of struggle rewarded young Temujin a great deal of self-confidence, of which marked him among his fellow Mongols as an exceptionally strong personality.  Since he lived this period of time of his life with out a father, he was forced to learn the lessons of life on his own.  The necessity of survival on the steppes ensured that this future leader of the Mongols learned his lessons quickly, deeply, and thoroughly (Martin 20-45).

Temujin never forgot that his own community abandoned him, and he never forgave the society (More specifically the poorly neglected laws and traditions that enabled them to abandon him) for their actions.  Thus once he emerged from his three-year period of isolation, he arose with a deep understanding for the importance of a cohesive communal unit, an appreciation of law and tradition, and a sharp perceptive of organization.  The need to be able to endure the harshest of weathers, fighting off nomadic thieves, and the ability to take matters into his own hands, forged a masterful personality, a master statesman, and a military genius (Onon 35-68).

The harsh lessons learned over the past three years would pay off handsomely for the young Temujin. He expressed no hostility for the tribesmen, for he now deeply understood that it was a lack of tradition and law that had caused his tribe to deteriorate.  He encountered a group of his former tribesmen.  Instead of upbraiding them, Temujin sat with the men and discussed with them his views on political and military matters as he had come to recognize them under the cruel schoolmaster of deprivation.  The tribesmen clearly saw that the young Temujin had grown into a far more powerful man than any of them were in their adulthood.  They pledged loyalty to the young boy and, in time, more people came to see the remarkable young man and his growing legend.  Since Temujin had learned to recognize a window of opportunities, Temujin used these audiences to forge alliances and he raised his own military forces.  In time, his status as Chieftain was re-affirmed, and Temujin began to train his people's forces with the strictest discipline and harsh training.  His status grew exponentially, and he eventually married.

Research Report

Temujin's rise to power took place when the rival clan, the Merkit, captured his wife, Borte. He approached Toghril, Khan of the Kereit tribe and sworn brother of Temujin's father, for military assistance. Toghril provided Temujin with 20,000 soldiers and persuaded one of Temujin's childhood friends, Jamuka, to also provide an army. Temujin completely destroyed the Merkit.  One of Temujin's allies abandoned him during his raid and plundered his land. Temujin was enraged.  He enacted his revenge by exterminated his betrayer, recruited the males of the traitor's tribe and enslaved the females. By this time, Temujin found the excitement of battle and the treasure of conquest to be most agreeable with his temperament. One by one, he started to vanquish other clans, thus taking their people as his soldiers and servants. Soon after he began to be consistently victorious, allied tribes, the Toghril and Jamuka, turned against him.  These too were defeated.  With the help of his sons, the Great Conqueror Temujin, now proclaimed the "Universal Lord", better known as Genghis Khan, he unified all of Mongolia under his reign (Onon 35-68).

Genghis never forgot the harsh lessons of his earlier years, and never forgot that they were brought about through inadequate laws and traditions.  He improved his military organization, which was also to serve as a mobile political bureaucracy, and he broke up what was left of old enemy tribes, leaving as ethnically the same only those tribes that had demonstrated loyalty to him.   Next he formulated laws for his tribe:  these were the first written laws in Mongolia.  The new laws were actually a re-affirmation of oral tradition coupled with newer laws to ensure the strengthening of the tribe into a nation. One such law stated that officers and councilors must be chosen, not on the basis of family, but rather on the basis of achievement.  Clearly Genghis wanted to ensure a strong and dynamic state that would not stagnate under the yoke of hereditary rule, as his own tribe had done years earlier.  Genghis also instituted policies that would ensure bonds of personal loyalty between himself and his warriors.  Within a matter of years, all the tribes of Mongolia were united under his banner.  The reforms to the old tribal system, combined with a respect for Mongol tradition, won him the favor of his people (Liddell Hart).

Genghis Khan had now succeeded in taking a large number of nomadic tribes and turning them into a nation.  However, the great Khan still remembered the necessity of tradition, and thus, even as the great capitol city of Kharakorum was being built, the Khan remained a nomad like his people.  To this end, a gigantic, mobile yurt was built to serve as the Warlord's palace.  It was, in effect, a portable palace that accompanied Genghis wherever he went.  This was his way to ensure his hold on the center of power while maintaining the mobilized tradition of the nomadic Mongols.  His place as ruler of his people was ensured, and a great dynasty was born (Lister).

Now that Genghis Khan had united the Mongols, he set his ambitions on the conquest of China.  For Genghis to accomplish this, he would have to defeat the three empires that constituted China at that time: the Xi Xia, the empire of the Q'in, and finally Nan Chung, the most challenging.  Genghis Khan new that he must be attacked in ascending order.  The first kingdom, Xi Xia, presented no real challenge for the Mongols, since its standing armies numbered no more than 100 soldiers altogether.  The battle for Xi Xia was an easy victory for the Mongols.  Basically, it was nothing less than a wholesale slaughter.  Mongol casualties were minimal (Onon).

However, the Q'in provided more of a challenge.  Occupying a position north of the Xi Xia, the Q'in had the advantage of being located behind the Great Wall.  Genghis determined that his forces had to break through the mighty barrier in order to invade Q'in, and so his forces reconnoitered the wall in order to find its weakest point.  In time, this weak spot was found, and the hordes from the Mongolian steppes broke into China. Although the kingdoms of China had by this time become renown for their difficult defenses and their refinements to the chariot, they were not ready to take on the Mongol forces.  The Mongols used lighter armor than their opponents, thus they doubled the amount of arrows the average horseman could fire in any direction.  Whereas the average Chinese cavalryman of that time was known to fire three arrows a minute, the average Mongol could fire six (Liddell Hart 145-150).

Despite these advantages, the Mongols found the Q'in much more difficult a conquest than the little kingdom of Xi Xia.  Q'in's army of mercenaries were easy prey for the Mongol cavalry, most of them fleeing at the site of hundreds of thousands of Mongol horsemen.  Furthermore, other nations began to take notice of the burgeoning strength of the Horde.  One of the Khan's greatest rivals at this period would be the Khwarazmians, whose leader, Muhammed, had agreed to lend support to the Q'in.  A treaty was struck between Muhammed and the great Khan, but the Khan began to take a dim view of the treaty when Muhammed had a Mongol ambassador beheaded.  The Mongols overwhelmed the Khwarazmians and killed them to the last man.  The Great Khan then had Muhammed executed.  The capitol of the Q'in, Beijing, was soon under the control of the Horde (Martin).

All that remained of China was now the kingdom of Nan Chung.  However, this was the largest of the three, and the Khan knew that taking it could entail significant losses if the siege was not prepared and executed correctly.  Thus, Genghis Khan directed the wrath of the Mongols northward, toward Russia.  The pack now had to face a nearly equal opponent in the Cossacks.  The Cossacks, from the northeast of Russia, had long enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as one of the world's most feared cavalry forces.  At this time, Genghis Khan had supplemented his agile archers and cavalrymen with the advantage of the Chinese kwan do, the long, wooden staff (about 4 to 6 feet long) topped with a two foot long blade as wide across as one or two outstretched palms, invented by the Chinese warlord General Kwan.  The purpose of this blade was to slice through the legs of an enemy's horse.  This, combined with the streamlined Mongolian bow and arrow (derived from the double bow of the Huns), along with the large masses of forces, Genghis ensured the defeat of the Russian forces.  Genghis settled a "treaty" with the Russian Tsar.  Genghis Khan decreed that the Russians now supplied the Horde with an additional force to fight alongside the Mongolian cavalry whenever it was needed (Lister).

What first appeared as a retreat to the Chinese now revealed itself as part of the wily Khan's master plan.  With a sizeable supplement of Russian troops, the Mongol Horde swept back south into China, and proceeded to lay siege to the kingdom of Nan Chung.  The assault took three years and claimed 60,000 lives, but eventually the greatest and most powerful of the kingdoms of China fell to the forces of Genghis Khan. All of China was now his.  Now the Horde was directed back into Russia, cutting a swath across Belarus, taking Hungary, threatening Poland and Rumania (Lister).

In 1227, the Great Khan passed from this world. Although his empire's reach temporarily receded with the political chaos ensuing from his death, Genghis Khan had laid the foundation for an empire that would eventually come to control more land than that of Alexander the Great.  In time, the Great Khan's grandson, Khublai, would reinforce the political stronghold his grandfather had forged, and resume the Great Khan's legacy of power.  The Mongols eventually ruled one-quarter of the Earth.  No ruler has since repeated this feat.  In line with the myths of central Asia, Genghis Khan now assuredly rides the Dragon of Heaven (Severin).

Historical Significance

Genghis Khan lived 65 years on this earth, back during the 12th and 13th centuries.  The legend of the ruler does not show the same signs of sharing his mortality. Genghis’ icy eyes grace Mongolian money, and his people still attach themselves to the legend that the great ruler will come again.  Genghis welded rival tribes into one nation, then made that nation the heart of the largest land empire the world has ever seen.  Genghis’s dominion stretched from Central Asia’s Aral Sea to the Yellow Sea of China.  After his death, in 1227, his descendants pressed farther by reaching the Volga, clutching the Black Sea, and unifying China (Marshall).


Lister, Richard Percival.  Genghis Khan 1162-1227.  New York: Dorset Press.  1989.

Liddell Hart, Basil Henry, Sir.  Great Captains Unveiled.  Freeport, NY: Books for Library Press.  1967.

Marshall, Robert.  Storm from the East: From Genghis Khan to Khubilai Khan.  London: BBC Books.  1993.

Martin, Henry Desmond.  The Rise Chinggis Khan and His Conquest of North China.  New York: Octagon Books.  1971.

Onon, Urgungge.  The History and Life of Chinggis Khan: The Secret History of the Mongols.  New York: E.J. Brill.  1990.

Severin, Timothy.  In Search of Genghis Khan.  New York: Maxwell Macmillan International.  1992.

Web Resources   (This page offers a quick insight to Genghis Khan and offers links.)    (This page offers a quick general history of Genghis Khan.)    (This page offers more history and stories from the life and times of Genghis Khan.)    (This page offers a full biography of Genghis Khan.)    (This page offers a link to Washington State University's Genghis Khan web page.)

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