Want to know why you never get involved in a land war in Asia? Genghis Khannote (circa 1162 – August 18, 1227), birth name Temüjin Borjigin, is why.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest conquerors who ever lived, this guy did the impossible. He united the Mongols. After accomplishing that, he began the conquest of the rest of Asia, then expanding westwards until his armies clashed with both Muslim and Christian forces. The military strategy and laws he laid down allowed the next generation to expand the empire. During the height of the Mongol conquests, the Mongol armies reached all the way to Austria in Europe and Egypt in North Africa. When the dust settled, the Mongol Empire ruled over 17% of all land on earth, from Ukraine to Korea, and just about everything in between, forming the largest contiguous land empire in history. At its height, over 100 million people were subject to the Mongol Empire, which the core population, that being the Mongols themselves, only ever numbered to approximately one million. 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 was spared much of his wrath, save for sporadic raids that begin in the 1240s. In Western European (and by extension North American) culture, 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. While it's easy to cherry-pick his deeds to make him look unambiguously like one or the other, 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 long disintegration and decline of the Southern Song dynasty under the strain of fighting their fifty-year stalemate war with the Jin dynasty founded by the Jurchens (a Tungusic tribe ancestral to the Manchus who had taken the entire north China plain from them, thus the 'Southern' Song). On the other hand, he was absolutely ruthless to anyone who dared to resist his Mongol hordes. He was noted to have used early forms of biological warfare note , used living prisoners as human shields, and massacred civilian populations as punishment for resistance. The Iranian plateau lost three-quarters of its population during his conquest and didn't fully 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.
To say that he was brutal was an understatement, but those who got it the worst were traitors and anyone who killed his messengers. The former were killed in horrific fashions such as boiling them in oil, while he razed any nation stupid enough to do the later.
In fact, Genghis Khan's conquests possibly 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; this also led to a brief reversal of global climate as the take over of farmland by forests caused a noticeable dip in atmospheric carbon levels. One of the worst Mongol atrocities was the destruction of Baghdad, led by one of Genghis Khan's grandsons. At the time, Baghdad was a jewel of world civilization since it had been the Islamic center of commerce and learning for centuries. It is said that the Tigris River ran not only red with blood, but black due to the ink from the quantity of books thrown in the river. It's worth noting that Hulagu 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 excepting Kublai Khan. Before that, Hulagu's advance into Palestine was decisively defeated by the up-and-coming Mamluk Dynasty at the Battle of Ain Jalaut.
Speaking of disproportionate population, in 2003 it was discovered that a y-chromosomal lineage found in about 8% of the population of his former territory (and .5% of the entire world) probably came from him. His descendants — 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 Roman von 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's dynasty only ever commissioned one major historical text, The Secret History of the Mongols, written not long after Genghis Khan's death for the royal family. The original Mongolian manuscript was lost, but the text survived through an early Chinese translation. Only in the 20th Century did further translations (including English) finally become available. While it contains some folkloric exaggerations, it is generally considered a fairly honest account rather than the sort of glorified flattery one might expect, and is considered a major authority on the details of Genghis Khan's life. Probably indirectly responsible for a fair bit of recent re-evaluations of the Mongols as more than bloodthirsty barbarians.
Trope Namer for the Genghis Gambit, and Trope Maker for A Villain Named Khan.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Alternative Character Interpretation: In Mongolia and Central Asia he's the Big Good, China is mixed-to-positive-in-retrospect after Yuan rule displayed benefits for the country, Eastern Europe tends to be rather negative on him as his son's hordes actually hit there, held Russia for centuries and devastated Poland and Hungary, the Middle East is very negative on him as his troops wiped out a large portion of Persia's population and his grandson sacked Baghdad. In Western Europe, which was The Unfought except the Italian trade colony of Caffa in his descendants' time (which survived but had a role in The Plague), as stated above either seen as a just ruler, a vicious barbarian or Evil Is Cool.
- Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Legend has it he requested to be returned to Mongolia and buried in an unmarked grave, which to this day has never been found. The Secret History of the Mongols lists the year he died and no other details, while The Travels of Marco Polo suggests it was a Mongolian custom for khans to be buried in a mountain called Altaï. There are many legends surrounding his grave, such as a river being diverted over it (like Alaric I and King Gilgamesh), that it was trampled by horses, that trees were planted over it, that permafrost was involved, or that the gravediggers and pallbearers were killed after he was interred, followed by the killers then being killed by different soldiers to ensure no one would know or find the location of the Great Khan's grave.
- Equal-Opportunity Evil: The man was certainly brutal, but he handed out promotions on merit, not on things like money, race, ethnicity, religion or birth. Some of his generals started out as slaves and climbed up the ranks. He also implemented complete freedom of religion at a time where Europe and the Middle-East were pissing away entire fortunes and wasting thousands of lives in wars against the Christians/Muslims/the wrong kind of Christian/the wrong kind of Muslim.
- Fiery Redhead: He was red-haired and violent according to Mongol and Kazakh folk tales, generally depicted as black or brown haired by Western accounts. An exception would have to be Mongol, which is actually a joint Russo-Kazakh-German film which is noted to be the only half-way historically accurate depiction of his life, where Genghis is played as a kid by Odnyam Odsuran, a red-haired child actor of Mongol descent. (Of course, Tadanobu Asano, the guy who played adult Genghis, was black-haired and Japanese and didn't look a a thing like him except for the beard and hairstyle.)
- 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 the fatalities 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.
- 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 , 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.
- Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire is also despised in the Middle-East since a large bulk of his victims originated from that region with some going as far as saying he embarked on a genocidal campaign against Muslims attributing destruction of the Khwarazmian Empire and Baghdad as evidence. As evidenced by his religious tolerance, Genghis didn't have a bone to pick with Islam itself, only some of his opponents such as the Kwarazmians happened to be Muslims - and they had slighted him first by executing his emissaries. Personally a Tengrist, he really didn't care if sworn enemies - or valued friends, were Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist. In addition, the sack of Baghdad perpetrated by his grandson Hulagu was criticized by Mongols that converted to Islam such as the Golden Horde's Berke, who fought Hulagu's Ilkhanate partially for this reason.
- Manly Facial Hair: Statues, coinage, books, posthumous portraits - the only thing they each have in common is giving Chinggis a massive beard. Justified, given that Mongolia is amongst the coldest places on Earth so keeping a beard would have been practical.
- Memetic Badass: In addition to actually cementing himself as this in popular folklore via spreading of rumors and actual war atrocities he committed in his conquests, Genghis Khan is universally seen as one of the biggest Four-Star Badass who ever lived in history, often to the point of both his supporters and haters genuinely admitting he was probably the best commander who ever lived in the Medieval period (or at least during his lifetime). Many authors and film directors often refer to the Khan's memetic folklore warrior image when portraying him in fictional works in which he destroys entire civilization within two weeks, if not several days, upon personally going to a region to take command of the local Mongol force. In so many fictional works taking place in the Medieval period when Khan was alive, there is almost always gossip among bystanders in the story about how the world is ending because the Mongols might be coming to their town next to invade and many generals and officers in such stories are often spending a good bulk of their screen time trying to debate how to fight off a possible Mongol Horde invasion. Even video game portrayals imitate Genghis Khan's popular military image where the Mongols are portrayed as the Lightning Bruiser faction of the game and AI controlling Mongols (often under the same or similar name as the Khan) are often the most difficult to defeat.
- Out with a Bang: One legend say that he died after raping a Chinese princess captured as a war prize, either from a heart attack or because she killed him with a blade she kept hidden. This is almost certainly false, modern historical consensus is that he died of the bubonic plague.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Downplayed or exaggerated depending on where the writer falls on the Alternate Character Interpretation. He certainly 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. A lot. Indeed, a lot of the control he exerted was so that he could weaponize it against those that would try to resist.
- Repressive, but Efficient: Under his rule - the Pax Mongolia - you could walk from modern day Ukraine to modern day Hong Kong without running into any bandits or other hostiles. If you were under the protection of the Mongols people thought twice about messing with you.
Appears in the following works:
- Mazinger Z: During a speech, Dr. Hell declared that he would achieve that Genghis Khan was unable to do (conquering the world).
- In the Marvel Universe, the Marvel version of Fu Manchu (who's now Exiled from Continuity), Iron Man villain The Mandarin (and by extension his son Temujin), and 50s Yellow Peril villain The Golden Claw all claim descent from Genghis Khan and continue their ancestor's dream of world conquest, the first through a crime empire, the second through technological expertise rather than sheer force, and the third through an ancient conspiracy of companies and entities named "Atlas". Notably, in-story, only the last, the Golden Claw, has a claim to be the true heir of the Khan, as he possesses the spirit banner of Temujin himself, and later makes the hero Khan of the Atlas Empire.
- DC Universe villain Vandal Savage, who is immortal, has used multiple aliases throughout his history as a conqueror and villain, with "Genghis Khan" merely having been one of them.
- Conan the Barbarian (1982) contains a sideways reference to the Khan in the title character's famous answer to the question "What is best in life?"note , which is paraphrased and condensed from a similiar line attributed to Temujin: "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 and daughters." Conan also has a sidekick named Subotai, which was the name of one of Genghis Khan's chief generals and strategists.
- The Conqueror, an unfortunate 1956 movie where the part of Genghis Khan is played by John Wayne in yellowface. Also unfortunate in that it was filmed downwind from a nuclear testing site, leading to the possibly-exaggerated story that an unusually-high number of people involved in the film - including Wayne himself - developed cancer in the following years.
- The Mongols (in which he's played by Italian actor Roldano Lupi - yellowface applies to him and every other actor playing Mongols in the film, Jack Palance as his son Ögedei included) anachronistically shows Genghis attempting to conquer Poland in 1240, while he actually died in 1227 when he besieged the rebellious Western Xia in China.
- Genghis Khan, an only slightly less unfortunate 1965 one where he's played by Omar Sharif.
- The Fall of Otrar, a 1991 Kazakhstani film directed by Ardak Amirkulov which shows Genghis Khan's destruction of the Khwarezmid Empire from the viewpoint of the latter. Genghis appears in only two scenes and painted as an overarching, albeit charismatic and frightening, Evil Overlord.
- Mongol, a much better 2007 biopic where he's played by Tadanobu Asano.
- He also joined Bill & Ted on their Excellent Adventure.
- 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 Mongolian and Turkic peoples (some Hungarians might also, due to the Hungarian people having also been Steppe warriors back in the day). All of whom are Eurasian Steppe peoples who consider themselves culturally and historically apart from other Asians.
- Shiwan Khan, nemesis of The Shadow made the absurdly improbable claim that he was his last descendant, and felt that it was his duty as his heir to finish the Great Khan's mission of conquering the entire world.
- Genghis Khan is one of the 100 revived souls featured in Kamen Rider Ghost The 100 Eyecons And Ghosts Fateful Moment.
- A novel in the Assassin's Creed expanded universe, The Secret Crusade, has Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad's son, Darim, joining fellow Assassin Qulan Gal in hunting Ghengis since he's not only a Templar ally, but also has a Sword of Eden. Qulan is the one that shoots Ghengis's horse to make him fall and while the Khan boasts his empire will last forever, Darim executes him with a crossbow bolt.
- A trilogy of novels in the Forgotten Realms setting revolve around Yamun Khahan, a clear stand-in for Genghis Khan.
- 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. Followed by other books about his successors.
- In the 14th century Genghis pops up in none other than The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. "The Squire's Tale" deals with Genghis (rendered in Chaucer as "Cambyuskan") looking for a husband for his beautiful daughter.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Mr. Prosser is unknowingly a descendant of Genghis Khan. His fondness of little furry hats, decorative battle-axes, and his visions of fiery rampages are hereditary.
- The Private Life Of Genghis Khan, a sketch by Douglas Adams and Graham Chapman, presents the man himself as a blood-thirsty warlord by day, paranoid neurotic by night.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Savage Curtain", a duplicate of Genghis 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.
- Was pitted against Hannibal on an episode of Deadliest Warrior.
- A Noodle Incident in Doctor Who has the Doctor mention that his army tried and failed to break into the TARDIS at some point.
- He's a minor character in The Legend of the Condor Heroes (2008), The Legend of the Condor Heroes (2017), and the novel's other adaptations.
- He appears in Marco Polo in a flashback to Kublai Khan's childhood, using birds with lit ropes tied to their feet to burn down a Chinese city.
- Legends of Tomorrow: In Season 5, he's one of the souls that Astra resurrects out of Hell to sow chaos throughout history. Though in his case, he only resurrected after he was already in his tomb, so he had to spend a few centuries digging his way out, finally succeeding in the 1990s. He then makes his way to Hong Kong, which the British are preparing to hand over to the Chinese, where he proceeds to take over the local triads and hatches a scheme to kidnap the visiting Prince Charles.
- Genghis Khan's likeness is used in Kamen Rider X as the basis for the kaijin Genghis Khan Condor.
- The German disco band Dschinghis Khan was named for him, and they wrote a song of the same name about him too.
- Iron Maiden also named an instrumental track after him, appearing on their album Killers.
- Mongolian folk metal band The HU devotes one of their singles for him, "The Great Chinggis Khaan." The focus is on Genghis as a unifier and lawgiver.
- Dan Carlin's Hardcore History covered the conquests of Genghis Khan, and his successors, in his Wrath of the Khans series.
- 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 loyalist Primarch Jaghatai Khan also count as a stand-in for the guy.
- Mogul Kamir from the same franchise is basically Genghis Khan with a super-strong cyborg arm, a laser firing bionic eye, AND A ROBOTIC WARHORSE.
- The Great Kurgan, as described in Forgeworld's Tamurkhan: The Throne of Chaos supplement for Warhammer Fantasy Battle is basically his Chaos-worshiping, spiky daemonic super-human warrior equivalent. Tamurkhan himself is very loosely based on the later Turco-Mongolic warlord Tamerlane...despite being a Body Surfing maggot.
- As with other Historical Domain Characters, Julius Carn from the World Heroes series is based on him..
- 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. He's among the most loyal leaders if you get on his good side. In Civilization VI, he gives his cavalry units bonus combat strength and the ability to capture enemy cavalry units, even cavalry units exclusive to other civilizations.
- He has a campaign in Age of Empires II. He's also a Hero Unit, although 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. A glitch in early versions (long since patched out) could cause him to come under player control by accident, making the first level ridiculously easy.
- Koei made an entire series of strategy games centering around him. You can either choose to fight him or be him.
- In The Ancient Art of War, Genghis Khan is the only opponent accompanied by another character: his general, Subotai.
- 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. The Horse Lords DLC gave him and other steppe nomads an unique form of "nomadic" government. It's also possible for a Mongol Player Character other than Temujin himself to declare themselves Genghis Khan.
- Part of the backstory of the eponymous jewel in The Diamond heist in PAYDAY 2. The trailer for the heist's release states that according to legend, the beginning of its travels was with the great Khans, and it holds the nickname (among others) of the "Eye of Temujin".
- Escape From Hell! has Genghis Khan bored in Hell's reception area and eager to join your party.
- Although Genghis Khan doesn't appear in Ghost of Tsushima, as the game is set during the historical 1274 Mongol invasion of Japan, Big Bad Khotun Khan proclaims himself as the warlord's grandson and cousin of Kublai.
- Genghis Khan is one of the non-Chinese people to be included in the mostly Chinese roster of Honor of Kings as an marksman-type hero that rides on a beast and can lay traps on the battlefield to catch enemies off guard.
- 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...
- Epic Rap Battles of History had him go up against the Easter Bunny. Needless to say, there was no contest.
- 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!")
- Fought Mahatma Gandhi on Celebrity Deathmatch, and lost, though only because their personalities had been accidentally swapped in a time-travel accident.
- He was a contender for the role of Part-Time Villain on Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero, but lost the role to Rippen due to his Evil Laugh.
- His clone is a recurring character in Clone High, but is instead a hulking dimwitted Gentle Giant.
- The third episode of Time Warp Trio, "You Can't, But Genghis Khan", has a surprisingly benevolent portrayal. The boys wind up in Mongolia due to the magic book accidentally homing in on a Mongolian Barbeque menu. There they meet and befriend a young Temüjin, nicknaming him "TJ", alongside his future wife, Börte. The pair help the trio in finding the magic book to get them back home, whilst the trio help them against some of "TJ's" early enemies after the death of his father.
- In Young Justice, the villain Vandal Savage has been known by many names and titles over the course of his 50,000-year life, among them Genghis Khan.
- He appears in the prologue of the Bob Morane episode "The Crown of Golconda". His name is typically mispronounced as it is in the west and he neither has the red hair or green eyes he actually had, but rather the stereotypical black hair and dark eyes. His alleged descendant Mr. Ming is the main antagonist of the series.