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
It is dismounting and governing that is hard.
— Genghis Khan
Want to know why you never fight a land war in Asia
? Genghis Khan is why ("Chinggis Haan" is a closer pronunciation of his name, but generations of Western cultures have pronounced it "Genghis Khan", so "toe-may-tow/toe-mah-tow").
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. Iran... it was more wiped out
than conquered. Khwarezm? Oh, you never heard of that country? Exactly
The list goes on and on. Taking over much of China 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
Mentioned more in Asian stories and culture than in the West, 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 people for its own 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 hugely benefited the Asian nations. 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 actual 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 scale, after his death, his grandson led The Horde into Baghdad. At the time, Baghdad was a jewel of world civilization since it was the center of commerce and learning for centuries (for example: Take the Library of Congress, cross it with every prestigious school in the world, steal every major artwork and architectural achievement ever constructed by mankind and dump in in ONE SPOT, then fill it with the population and commercial power of New York City, 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 of today...Yeah, they're STILL recovering from a siege that occurred the better part of a millennium ago thanks to Genghis' supreme military
Speaking of disproportionate population, in 2003 it was discovered that a y-chromosomal lineage found in about 8% of the population of Asia (.5% of the entire world) probably came from him
. His descendents - 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
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 which historical text you're reading
Here's a webcomic about his childhood
, by the unequalable Phobs.
Genghis Khan provides examples of the following:
- Alternate 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.
- Beard of Barbarism
- Braids of Barbarism: He has these sometimes, too.
- Barbarian Hero: More like Barbarian Well-Intentioned Extremist. YMMV, really.
- 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:
- Cain and Abel: He killed his half-brother Begter.
- 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? Well, Genghis erased the entire empire from the Earth for that insult. And Genghis had been offering them an alliance when they offered this insult. Hell, Genghis was even offering to turn the other cheek, even.
- Determinator: Well, 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.
- 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.
- Exact Words: Upon defeating and capturing his rival Jamuka, Temujin promised him 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.
- Fiery Redhead: He was red-haired and violent.
- Folk Hero: To Mongols and Turks.
- Fu Manchu: Often depicted with one (the mustache, not the evil mastermind).
- 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.
- Happily Married: To Borte.
- Historical Villain Upgrade:
- Most western people 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, and introduced total religious freedom (virtually unheard of at the time).
- It's worth noting, though, that he perpetrated the scary rumors about himself and his hordes to enhance his reputation as Memetic Badass, so he's as much to blame for this trope as anyone else.
- 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 43,000,000 (1.4% of the world's population) in the Great Chinese Famine of 1959-61, and he is remembered as one of the most evil men of the 20th Century. Genghis was not a nice man, regardless of how "badass" he was.
- Hollywood Tactics: Completely averted by the Mongols, 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 moral.
- The Horde / Hordes from the East: Trope Codifier. Contrary to popular belief, it was actually a very organized army, similar to the earlier Roman army. And 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".
- Human Shield: Used during the conquest of Khwarezm (For those who don't know: One of the most spectacular Roaring Rampages of Revenge in history).
- Meaningful Name: Temujin means "Iron Man".
- 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.
- The Messiah: How modern Mongols view him. Some even go so far as to believe in a second coming!
- 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.
- Noble Savage: Most charitable depictions.
- Outside Context Villain: He certainly seemed like this as far as Europe and the Middle East was 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.
- 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. That's not to say he wasn't big on battle.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Mostly subverted. As mentioned above, he outlawed the kidnapping of women, and looting was done in an orderly fashion. The burning part was mostly played straight, though.
- More like Double Subverted. 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, too.
- Rated M for Manly : Doubtlessly.
- 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 apparently 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. And 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. He learned quickly from the first Chinese nation he conquered how to build siege weapons. Before, when those raiders came, you could just hang out in your city. Against Genghis Khan, doing that just makes a nice target for those catapulted diseased cows to land on.
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 the Chinese siege experts after conquering their nations.
- 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.
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.
- And an only slightly less unfortunate 1965 one where he's played by Omar Sharif.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 in reality, most Asians (including the Chinese Fu Manchu) would view Khan as a foreign invader rather than a great leader.