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Genghis Khan
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. note 

Want to know why you never fight a land war in Asia? Genghis Khannote  is why.

Undoubtedly the greatest conqueror who ever lived, this guy did the impossible. He united the Mongols. And, after accomplishing that, took the rest of Asia and made it look easy. China? Conquered. Korea? Conquered (somewhat). Afghanistan? Conquered — the only time this has ever properly happened (everyone else was bled out or went native). Japan? Would've happened if not for two freak typhoons. Russia? Conquered. Irannote ... it was more wiped out than conquered. Khwarezm? Oh, you never heard of that country? Exactly.

The list goes on and on. Conquering most of the Chinese Empire of the Songnote  and most of Central Asia in his own lifetime, the military strategy and laws he laid down allowed the next generation to expand the empire until it ruled over 22% of the world's land, from Kiev to Fusan, the second largest empire in history. He and his people were truly exceptional.

He's mentioned far more in Chinese and especially central-Asian stories and culture than in western Europe, the latter having had very little if anything to do with him, he is either shown as a tolerant and just ruler who helped bring order in a chaotic period, or as a ruthless barbarian who slaughtered swathes of innocents for personal gain. The truth is a mixture of the two. He was a revolutionary conqueror in Asia for the time in that he allowed almost total freedom of religion, did not impose on the cultures of the defeated, and established a vast and effective trade and postal network that were of great benefits to most parts of Asia, particularly given the ongoing disintegration and decline of The Empire of the Song. On the other hand, he was absolutely ruthless to anyone who dared to resist his Mongol hordes. He was not above biological warfare or using living prisoners as human shields. Plus, they would often massacre people who resisted. The Iranian plateau lost three-quarters of its population and didn't recover until the mid-20th century. Entire cities were leveled to the ground as examples; to this day, some areas in Central Asia are disproportionately populated compared to their surroundings thanks to these 13th century tactics.

In fact, Genghis Khan's conquests are one of the (possibly the) only human action to have caused an evolutionary shift, as wild species populations in Central Asia exploded because all the humans who would otherwise till the arable lands and keep them at bay were dead or refugees. To put this in perspective, after his death, one of his grandsons led The Horde into Baghdad. At the time, Baghdad was a jewel of world civilization since it had been the Indo-European center of commerce and learning for centuries (for example: Take the USA's Library of Congressnote , cross it with every prestigious educational institution in all of Europe and The Americas, steal every major artwork and architectural achievement ever constructed on those continents and dump in in ONE SPOT, then fill it with the population and commercial power of France-Germany and THEN you're getting somewhere). To get a sense of the destruction wrought, read that description again and then think of Baghdad and the surrounding region today. 'Fertile Crescent' no longer, indeed. It's worth noting that Helagu Khan (the bloke who did all that) later got his ass kicked from the Muslim Khans of the Mongol Hordes, particularly Berke Khan. This civil war eventually ended with Nogai Khan, a Muslim, ending as the most powerful figure and kingmaker amongst the Mongolian tribes.

Speaking of disproportionate population, in 2003 it was discovered that a y-chromosomal lineage found in about 8% of the population of Asia (and .5% of the entire world) probably came from him. His descendents — the Genghisids — made up a large part of the aristocracy of the various Imperial regions and vassals, and its successor states across Asia for centuries afterwards. Many leaders more dubiously claimed the "Golden Lineage" as a source of legitimacy, and the latest aspiring Khan in spirit was a mystically-minded Baltic German Tsarist, Baron Ungern-Sternberg.

In the 21st century, the clan name of Genghis Khan, the Borjigiin, became the most common surname in Mongolia, even among those who are almost certainly not descended from the Mongolian royal family. For decades, Mongolian communist government banned use of surnames, condemning it as an obsolete legacy of the feudal past. After the ban was lifted but original names were lost, many Mongols opted for an opportunity for Meaningful Rename, by choosing the surname of their country's greatest hero.

Note: In Korea it is taught that after many consistent invasions and after fighting back and surviving their attacks, the Koreans grew tired of them, giving some of their land to them and then forming an "alliance". Though partially debatable, it's true that the Koreans survived their attack 5 times and after the 6th they were "allies" with them. All of which extends to Japan, since the bulk of the army that attacked Japan consisted of Koreans under a Mongolian flag (who says being allies doesn't have its benefits?). However, that could also mean that the Mongolians didn't fail in their invasion of Japan, but Korea did. It all depends on who commissioned the historical text you're reading.

Genghis Khan himself only ever commissioned one historical text himself, the Secret History of the Mongols, which, in its original Mongolian incarnation was lost. A later version that was translated phonetically into Chinese was also made, from which most English translations of the document are derived.

Here's a webcomic about his childhood, by the unequalled Phobs.

Genghis Khan provides examples of the following:

  • Alternative Character Interpretation: As with all historical leaders, he was either evil or good depending on what side you were on, or what side your ancestors were. Let's put it this way, the only peoples who like GK are the ones he didn't invade (then again, it's not like anybody usually likes their invaders...).
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: This poor boy struggling to keep himself and his family alive in the middle of the Asian steppe went on to become the world's greatest conqueror through sheer badassery.
  • Badass: The world's most successful conqueror. No matter how many innocents he killed, this man was one of the greatest badasses to have walked this earth.
  • Badass Beard: He's often depicted with these, the film Mongol for instance. On another note, long hair and beards were fairly common amongst Turkic and Mongolian tribes (for good reason, Mongolia and the Turkic lands are cold as hell and it wasn't exactly easy to shave), and almost every historical depiction of Genghis Khan, even ones made by the Chinese, tend to depict him a flowing beard.
  • Badass Grandpa: he was still commanding armies at the age of 72. Especially impressive, when you consider the average lifespan of the time.
  • Beard of Barbarism: He has these sometimes.
  • Braids of Barbarism: He has these sometimes, too.
  • Barbarian Hero: More like Barbarian Well-Intentioned Extremist.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: He is often quoted saying: "The greatest joy for a man is to defeat his enemies, to drive them before him, to take from them all they possess, to see those they love in tears, to ride their horses, and to hold their wives and daughters in his arms." Most historians consider it unlikely that he actually said this.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Don't kill, humiliate or otherwise mistreat his ambassadors. He'll pour molten silver down your throat.
    • Don't insult his daughter.
    • Whatever you do, don't, DON'T play off his people against each other in order to secure your northern borders.
  • Cain and Abel: He killed his half-brother Begter when the latter refused to share his hunting spoils with the rest of the family while they were on the brink of starvation. The Secret History makes it clear that he came to regret this action as he learned of the importance of family.
  • The Chosen One: He viewed himself as this: chosen by his God, Tengri, the Lord of the Open Blue Sky.
  • Combat Pragmatist: He was certainly this compared to most of his "civilized" opponents. He grew up on the steppes, where the only rule of warfare was "Survive." Many of his successes came from learning about his enemies' rules of engagement and being willing to do what the other guy wouldn't.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: He was big on this.
    • One story tells how he killed a man for saying that his daughter looked like a frog (This was a common slur at the time in reference to Mongol's wide mouths).
    • The Khwarezmid empire executed one Mongol diplomatic caravan, and humiliated a second. Never heard of the Khwarezmid empire? Genghis erased the entire empire from the Earth for that insult. He had been offering them an alliance when they offered this insult. Hell, Genghis was even offering to turn the other cheek. note 
  • Determinator: He certainly couldn't have accomplished all of this without being persistent, could he?
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: He loved his mother Hoelun very much. He sent children orphaned in his raids on to her to raise, and she served as his advisor on some occasions. She was also one of the few people who could get away with telling him off to his face, and did so on several occasions.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Genghis Khan was punctiliously correct about observing diplomatic immunity. This punctiliousness led him to destroy the entire Khwarezmid Empire when they didn't observe it upon his own ambassadors. He also outlawed the practice of bride kidnapping, having seen the damage it could do to his own family.
  • Exact Words: Upon defeating and capturing his rival Jamuka, Temujin held to Jamuka's request that, since Jamuka was of noble blood, his blood would not be spilled. He then had his men wrap him up in a rug and beat him to death. True to Temujin's word, not one drop of Jamuka's blood touched the ground. note 
  • Fiery Redhead: He was red-haired and violent.
  • Folk Hero: To Mongols and northern Turks.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Spent most of his childhood as a fugitive from a vengeful rival tribal chief. He died as the single greatest conqueror and most feared man on Earth.
  • Fu Manchu: Often depicted with one (the mustache, not the evil mastermind). It's fairly unlikely he had one though, given that fu-manchus have never been popular with Mongols and most depictions of him by Mongolians have full beards.
  • Genghis Gambit: The Trope Namer.
    • How do you keep together a group of nomadic, badass warrior tribes who had been in a state of near constant warfare with each other over a blighted cold desert hellscape for the past few centuries? Take over Asia. His terrifying reputation also sought to discourage this being used against him, as you would be given leniency for surrendering.
  • Grim Up North: To the Chin, most of Asia, and southern Europe. Mongolia is a pretty cold place. According to some accounts, the ancestors of the Borjigin clan were actually Kirghiz tribesmen, who at the time were living in north-central Russia.
    • In addition, Chinggis Haan's birthplace is generally accepted to have been Dulun-Boldaq, which isn't very far from Ulanbaatar, in the far north of Mongolia.
  • Happily Married: To Borte.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Whilst he did indeed introduce some progressive policies for the time, his conquests caused the deaths of as many as 60,000,000 people (which is almost as many as died in World War II) if you go with a high estimate and 30,000,000 if you go low (still more than died in World War I.) 60,000,000 in the Middle Ages would have been 17.1% of the world's total population. However, many still remember Genghis with admiration. By comparison, Mao Zedong killed 28,000,000 (1.4% of the world's population) in the Great Chinese Famine of 1958-61, and he is remembered as one of the most evil men of the 20th Century. Genghis was not a nice man.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Most Europeans think of him as a barely sentient barbarian warlord, leading his horde on an orgy of Rape, Pillage, and Burn. In reality, he outlawed the kidnapping and selling of women, opposed slavery and torture, lowered taxes, usually made a point of sparing women and children in his raids [[note]]emphasis on the usually, and introduced total religious freedom (virtually unheard of at the time). However, he perpetrated the scary rumors about himself and his hordes to enhance his reputation as a Memetic Badass so he's as much to blame for this trope as anyone else.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Completely averted by the Mongols and played straight by a lot of his enemies. With how lightly his army traveled, he could move a force 100 miles a day if the terrain allowed (catching the enemy off guard who were expecting the attack to come days if not weeks later). His forces were also glad to feign retreat to lead entire armies into a trap, or just spend a lot of time harassing foot troops with horse archers, wearing down both their numbers and morale.
  • The Horde / Hordes from the East: Trope Codifier. Contrary to popular belief, it was a very organized army, similar to the earlier Roman army. Even more ironically, from the geographic viewpoint of a lot (though not all) of the people he was conquering, Genghis was coming from the north.
    • Also the Trope Namer, as the word "horde" derives Mongolian "ordo", referring to a military headquarters. Over the centuries, a Mongol empire (or "khanate") came to be known as a "horde".
    • Despite the modern connotation numbers were actually smaller then the term "horde" would indicate. However, aside from face-saving, their large supply of replacement horses and their habit of marching in divided columns gave the illusion of numbers to enemy scouts.
  • Human Shield: Used during the conquest of Khwarezm.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Though Genghis himself apparently accepted him, doubts about the true paternity of his eldest son Jochi, who was conceived around the time that Borte was abducted by a rival chieftain named Chilger Bökh for several months, eventually led to the premature collapse of the Mongol Empire when it fed into a Succession Crisis a few generations later.
  • Meaningful Name: Temujin means "Iron Man". It may be derived from a Siberian Tatar word.
  • Memetic Sex God: Considering that he banged enough women that .5% of the entire human population today carries his DNA, he definitely qualifies as this.
  • Misaimed Fandom: Some Neo-Nazis use him as an example of white supremacy. Because a red-haired, green eyed Mongolian had to be Aryan, right? Wrong!note 
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Not only would his count, even in his own lifetime, but adding "Khan" to someone's name in a work of fiction is a sure way to show he's not someone you mess with.
  • Noble Savage: Most charitable depictions slid toward the "tolerant and just ruler" who happens to be a nomad from far away.
  • Outside-Context Villain: He certainly seemed like this as far as Europe and the Middle East were concerned. With the Crusades still going on, and with Christians and Muslims busy trying to wipe each other out and take possession of the Holy Land, no one was prepared for this horde of nightmares on horseback that wasn't interested in anything they were fighting about.
  • Papa Wolf: Very protective of his daughters. As previously stated, one story tells how he killed a man for simply making a casual insult towards one of them.
  • Pet the Dog: Reportedly, on his way back from Afghanistan he passed through Bukhara and while there, he asked about Islam and was very impressed by its tenants. Except for the Hajj, which he felt was unnecessary.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: One story says he was going to rape and pillage China, until one of his advisors pointed out that they will get more over time by taxing the Chinese people rather than sacking them. It is known that he made his appearance as a ruthless barbarian just so the enemy was more likely to surrender before even a single battle had been fought. He generally did offer a chance to surrender before hand.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Modern depictions tend to show him as one of these. Justified given that the Mongolia in which he grew up was characterized by tribal warfare.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: A Downplayed Trope that is also exploited. He tolerated it all to some degree, and certainly could and did control and regulate it more than most, but that didn't mean it didn't happen. Indeed, a lot of the control he exerted was so that he could *weaponize* it against those that would try to resist.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: He was big on this when his berserk button was pressed. There are several on this page.
  • Rated M for Manly : Doubtlessly. Just look at his beard and his bow.
  • Savage South: To the Russians.
  • The Scourge of God: To his enemies. In contrast, the people of Kasgar (Muslims who he had liberated and given religious freedom) proclaimed him "to be one of the mercies of the Lord and one of the bounties of divine grace."
  • Shoot the Messenger: Genghis Khan decided to make a trade alliance with the Khwarezmian Dynasty of Persia so he sent a caravan of merchants and messengers to the capital of Samarkand. On the way, the Khwarezmian governor Inalchuq attacked the caravan under the pretext that it contained Mongolian spies. The murder of a messenger or diplomat was considered a heinous crime by the Mongolians, but, Genghis Khan decided to be diplomatic about the incident, and sent a second envoy of 3 ambassadors (2 Mongols and a Muslim) to the Shah to demand restitution for the governor's crime, as well as to continue trying to push for a trade alliance between Persia and the Khanate. The Shah humiliated the the Mongolian ambassadors by shaving their heads, and then had the Muslim ambassador beheaded, all just to spite the Khan. Genghis Khan responded to this even more grievous insult mobilizing the Mongol Army to invade Persia: the Shah was pursued to a small island where he died under mysterious circumstances, and Inalchuq was caught, and punished by having molten silver poured into his eyes and ears. To drive home the point that the Khan was pissed off, when the capital of Samarkand finally fell to the Mongols, he had all of the survivors slaughtered, and their decapitated heads stacked into huge pyramids outside the city.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Used to his advantage to make his enemies fear him.
  • Siege Engines:
    • What really set him apart from other nomadic tribal warlords of the era. Defectors from The Empire of the Song, and subjects from those bits of it he conquered, taught his Mongol troops how to build siege weapons. Before, when Mongol-raiders came along, you could sit safe behind city-walls while you waited for reinforcements to come and help you drive them off. Against Genghis Khan, staying put just made you a nice target for those catapulted diseased cows to land on... and facing him in open battle with anything less than overwhelming numbers on your side could only end badly.
    • The Khwarezmid empire (see above) concentrated their armies in their fortress-cities, because they had been informed that the Mongols weren't any good a siege warfare. Nobody bothered to tell the Khwarezmid sultan that Genghis had recruited Song siege-experts after conquering the entire north-China plain right down to the Yangzi.
    • A touch up to this is, he not only recruits craftsmen from conquered areas to build weapons but also he mobilized scholars to help his psychological warfare.
  • Succession Crisis: Genghis attempted to defy this with his own sons, including one famous incident where he held up a single arrow and effortlessly snapped it in half, only to then take out a bunch and fail to do the same when he held them together as a metaphor for how they had to stand by each other, and he eventually got them to agree that his second son Ögedei would take the throne after his death. This worked... for about a generation, until Genghis' grandsons began quarreling over succession and eventually caused the empire to collapse prematurely.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Whenever Genghis Khan encountered a new adversary, he spared NO ONE when he made an Ultimatum of Surrender towards them. The horde rides to the closest town, slays every living thing, burns down every building, sows the fields with salt, and makes a mountain of skulls. It is estimated that 40 million were killed by Genghis Khan's hordes.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Dogs?: He was afraid of dogs. Understandable, as Mongol dogs aren't very nice.
  • You Killed My Father: To the Tatars. It's ironic considering the amount of people who mistake Tatars and Mongols as the same thing.


Media where Genghis plays an important role:

  • The Chaos Timeline is an Alternate History based on the premise that Genghis dies early, before he can start his conquests. The world soon looks very different...
  • A trilogy of novels in the Forgotten Realms setting revolve around Yamun Khahan, a clear stand-in for Genghis Khan.
  • An unfortunate 1956 movie where the part of Genghis Khan is played by John Wayne.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Savage Curtain", a duplicate of Ghengis Khan was created by the Excalbians as part of an experiment to better understand the concepts of "good" and "evil". (Clearly, the show's writers perceived him as evil; see Alternate Character Interpretation above.)
    • Less forgiveably the writers perceived him as almost childishly barbaric. Whatever else he was, he wasn't stupid.
  • The Conqueror trilogy (Wolf of the Plains, Lords of the Bow and Bones of the Hills) by British author Conn Iggulden follows the story of Genghis Khan from birth to death.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, it was (in the earlier editions, at least) the Mongol invasions that created Khorne. Also, Khorne's first and most powerful Daemon Prince, Doombreed, is said to have been a bloodthirsty warlord, anterior to the public appearance of the God Emperor. Among fans, Genghis is the favorite candidate, through he isn't the only one.
  • The usual leader of Mongolia in Civilization, and while aggressive, not as warlike as the Aztecs, Zulus or Huns. In Civilization V, he gets a combat bonus against City States, and a speed buff to all mounted units. The AI flavouring does take the City State attack bonus to heart, so you might not get along with him if you're allied with many city states.
  • Epic Rap Battles of History had him go up against the Easter Bunny. Needless to say, there was no contest.
  • He has a campaign in Age of Empires II. He's also a Hero Unit, altough it appears only at the first minutes of the first level and he isn't playable. However, he is the strongest Hero Unit, with 300 Health, 25 attack, 2/2 armor, 5 of range and he's a Horse Archer. There's a reason why the "Blood" type Multiplayer Scenarios has him as the last unit that you unlock.
  • Koei made an entire series of strategy games centering around him. You can either choose to fight him or be him.
  • He also joined Bill & Ted on their Excellent Adventure.
  • In The Ancient Art Of War, Genghis Khan is the only opponent accompanied by another character: his general, Subotai.
  • Not Genghis Khan per se, but the Mongol Empire as a whole is a Running Gag on Crash Course, where John Green will make a declarative statement, then follow it up with "unless you are the Mongols" ("We're the exception!")
  • The English writer Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem about the famous Khan, painting him as an ideal and just ruler.
  • The Mask of Fu Manchu involves the titular villain trying to obtain the sword and mask of Genghis Khan, hoping to reincarnate as Khan, unite the peoples of Asia, and make war on the white race. This makes little sense as most Asiatics (including the stereotypically-Chinese Fu Manchu) would regard a resurrected Khan as a foreign tyrant to be resisted and not rallied-around. If he were to be magically resurrected, the people who would follow him are Mongolians (obviously), Khazakhs and most other Turks, and maybe even some Bosniaks. All of whom are Eurasian Steppe people who consider themselves culturally and historically apart from other Asians.
  • Shows up in Crusader Kings II as a historical character, and as of The Old Gods DLC, he and the massive army he brings with him are playable. He is however referred to (marginally more accurately) as Temujin Khagan.
  • Fought Mahatma Gandhi on Celebrity Deathmatch, and lost, though only because their personalities had been accidentally swapped in a time-travel accident.
  • The German disco band Dschinghis Khan was named for him, and they wrote a song of the same name about him too.
  • Was pitted against Hannibal on an episode of Deadliest Warrior.


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