Want to know why you never get involved in a land war in Asia? Genghis Khannote (circa 1162 – August 18, 1227), birth name Temujin, is why.
Undoubtedly the greatest conqueror who ever lived, this guy did the impossible. He united the Mongols. And, after accomplishing that, began the conquest of the rest of Asia and made it look easy. 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 largest contiguous land 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. 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. 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 tribe from modern-day Manchuria 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 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 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 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 his former territory (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.
The Mongols themselves 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 script incarnation was lost but the text itself survived in transcripted form with Chinese characters. Only in the 20th Century did English translations (among others) finally become available. It has folklore elements but is considered actually pretty honest next to the sort of glorified flattery one might expect from such a work and is the now a major authority on details of Genghis Khan's life. Probably indirectly responsible for a fair bit of recent re-evaluations of the Mongols as more then blood thirsty barbarians.
Here's a webcomic about his childhood, by the unequalled Phobs.
Also, you might be related to him.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Badass Beard: 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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 Kahn is universally seen as one of the biggest Four-Star Badass who ever lived in history. Often to the point of 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 life time). 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 screentime 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.
- 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.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: About as reasonable as most rulers in the Medieval period, and in some ways even more so. In addition to the above information, he introduced the idea of merit advancement in his army. Instead of relying on nobles to lead his troops, he chose the best, no matter what class. A large percentage of his upper echelon were commoners. Several generals were supposedly slaves when they joined. Others were enemy soldiers who changed sides after being conquered. He also mixed up groups of recruits when they joined, both as a way to ensure loyalty to the army rather than neighbors, and as a way to ensure peace among the troops. He instituted pensions and a welfare system to take care of the widows and orphaned children of his soldiers. He also required all nobility and military commanders to learn to read.
- A Villain Named Khan: His notoriety presumably did a lot to establish "Khan" as a fearsome name for bad guys.
Appears in the following works:
- 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.
- The Conqueror, an unfortunate 1956 movie where the part of Genghis Khan is played by John Wayne.
- Genghis Khan, an only slightly less unfortunate 1965 one where he's played by Omar Sharif.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.