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Mongolian history & facts
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| Early years  Early
‘Ghengis Khan’  ‘Khan of Khans’
In 1183 the Mongols that gathered declared Temujin their great
Khan, giving him the name Genghis. At this time, he was still a junior member
of the lineage, and his election is thus somewhat of a surprise. It may well
have been an attempt by senior members of the lineage to install a Khan they
thought they could control. This political maneuvering was not spectacularly
The meaning of Genghis, or Ghengis, is widely debated. Some say it means "precious warrior", others indicate "spirit of light". In any case, it meant power for Genghis and an empire to command. Ghengis is credited with the creation of the Ih Zasag (‘ the Great Law’, usually rendered into English as "The Great Yasa".) Although portrayed as a codified set of laws, this is debatable. Some scholars have suggested that the Ih Zasag was in fact a codification of existing steppe customs.
Despite Temujin being declared Khan, the Mongol people were not completely united into one entity. It took several campaigns to consolidate his position. The Keraits were led by a boyhood friend of Genghis's called Jamuga. Genghis offered Jamuga the change to surrender. This offer was declined and several great battles resulted. The first in 1201 nearly destroyed all Jamuga's forces; with the final destruction of the Kerait army in 1203. Jamuga asked to be put to death without his blood being spilled. Genghis honored his old friend by having him beaten and suffocated between two felt blankets without spilling blood. The last rogue Mongol clan was defeated in 1204.
"The greatest happiness is
to vanquish your enemies,
to chase them before you,
to rob them of their wealth,
to see those dear to them
bathed in tears, to clasp to
your bosom their wives
It was not until 1206 that Genghis was named Khan of Khans
or King of Kings and king of ‘all people who lived in felt tents’. With all
of the Mongol tribes united and under his control he could now concentrate his
forces on expanding his empire.
In 1207 he began a crusade to conquer the lands of China. At that time China was divided into three separate empires. They were the Qin, Tangut empires in the north and the Sung Empire in the South. He himself led battles against the Tangut state in what is now present day Xinjiang (northwest China), and the Qin in northern China, taking Peking in 1215. However, although most of northern China was under Mongol control Genghis's dream to dominate all Chinese territory would be achieved but occur until the reign his grandson Kublai Khan in 1279.
With northern China under his control he now turned his attention westward. In 1218, the Khwarazm (modern Uzbekistan) Shah, Mohammed II, slaughtered a Mongolian caravan and a following delegation of ambassadors. This precipitated Chinghis's attacks on Central Asia, although in any case it may well have been merely a matter of time before he attacked. Genghis sent a message to their leader Shah Mohammed, saying that the governor must be turned over to the Mongols or war would be declared on Kwarezm.
The Kwarezm Empire refused and war was declared. Genghis led an attack force of 90,000 men from the north and he sent a general with 30,000 men to attack from the east. Despite this large army he was outnumbered by the Shah's army more than 400,000 men. Genghis's army was victorious, allowing a full scale invasion and occupation of the Kwarezm Empire. From this campaign the Mongols acquired the knowledge of the "fire that flies", burning arrows. And with subsequent victories new methods of warfare were used to made his armies stronger and more deadly.
An army of 20,000 was then sent toward Russia. In 1223 that group of 20,000 Mongol warrior's devastated a Russian army of 80,000. This was the beginning of what would become known in Russian history as the ‘Tatar Yoke.’ Events which influenced the Russian empire until present times. The Mongols quickly fought there way through Russia and into Europe. Their armies destroyed entire cities in Russia, Hungary and Poland leaving devastation in their wake.
In 1227, Genghis Khan, a master horse rider fell from his horse during a hunt. He was severely injured and died shortly after.
With Heaven's aid I have conquered for you a huge empire.
But my life was too short to achieve the conquest of the world. That is left for you.
--Genghis Khan, to his sons at the end of his life
His body was taken back to his birthplace, northeast of Ulaanbaatar.
According to legend, anyone meeting the funeral procession was killed, so no
one would know of Ghengis's death. The cart carrying his body is said to have
bogged down in the Ordos region of China, and only began moving again after
the prayers to his spirit by one of his followers not to abandon his people.
As a result, however, a shrine was built in the Ordos region. A herd of horses
was said to have been driven back and forth over his grave in Hentei to obscure
it, and soldiers were posted until trees grew over the area. To this day, however
it is not really known where the ruler of the world’s largest empire is actually
Upon his death the main expansionist phase of Mongol conquest ended as the armies returned home to elect a new Khan. The vast empire, now came under the banner of his son Ogadai. It was divided into three, with each region controlled by another son of Ghengis.
While normally thought of as a despot Ghengis Khan was also
generous and loyal. A highly charismatic man, he nonetheless also expected loyalty
from everyone, including those who served his opponents. He is reputed to have
put to death people who, thinking they would gain his good graces, betrayed
their lords to him.
In the West, it is usually Ghengis's brilliance as a military commander that is dwelt upon. And indeed, this attention is deserved. It should be noted, however, that certain misconceptions appear to linger concerning the Mongols. They did not, in fact, invent the tactics they used with such effectiveness against their enemies, such as the feigned retreat. Rather, they brought to a new level old steppe nomad military tactics. Even Ghengis's much vaunted organization of the military on a decimal system was to be found among the Xiong-nu, although arranging it to cut across lineages, and thus ensure greatly loyalty to the leader, apparently was an innovation.
Innovative too, was Ghengis's tendency to pluck people from the ranks. Although noble birth may well have given one a headstart, one could only be assured of advancement through the ranks based on ability and loyalty. In present-day Mongolia, it is not so much his military attributes that are emphasized, but rather his administrative abilities.
One should further be aware that although we talk of the "Mongol" army, the reality is more complicated. The commanders were indeed "Mongol" (even defining Mongol in this context can be tricky), but the soldiers were drawn from allies and conquered areas. Engineers from conquered sedentary populations were put into action as siege experts, and even the cavalry was a mixture of Mongol and other nomadic groups.
The success of the Mongol conquests should also be attributed at least in part to two other factors. One was military intelligence. The Mongols had a extensive network of spies and usually had extensive information of an enemy before they engaged them in battle. The other was their use of psychological warfare. Much is made of the total destruction of cities in Central Asia by the Mongols. What is normally overlooked, however, is that this was more of an exception than a rule. If a city capitulated, Ghengis Khan was usually content to let them be, once their defences had been pulled down. Only those who resisted faced the sword. This not only wiped out resistance, but more importantly, word quickly spread of the wrath of Ghengis Khan, and many peoples found it easier to submit than to resist.
All who surrender will be spared;
whoever does not surrender but opposes with struggle and dissension,
shall be annihilated.
In short, although the Mongol successes may appear astounding, they are explainable by ordinary means. One need not look for some mystical explanation. Indeed, to do so does a disservice to the true talents of Ghengis Khan and the Mongols of the thirteenth century.
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