Assignment Sample Paper on Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire
Originally known as Chinggis Qahan, Genghis Khan, had his destiny ordained for him at his birth. He was a descendant of Borte Chino, meaning ‘greyish white wolf’ (Onon 39). Khan’s rise made the Mongols enter history as one of the greatest tribes, having risen from a tribe of nomads to creating a world empire. The rise of the Mongols is largely attributed to the shift from disunity to unity, made possible through the personality and military skill of Genghis Khan, born around the 1160s (Turnbull 10). The military skill and personality of Genghis Khan endeared him to many, particularly the nine Mongol clans, who saw his military prowess and conquest of their enemies and crowned him ‘universal ruler.’
Genghis Khan’s given name was Temujin, born in the 1160s as a son of a tribal leader. His birth as the son of a tribal leader meant that he was to naturally take a leadership position, as a given right from his father. It is this position that set the precedence for his rise as a leader among the Mongols (Onon 2). As a Mongol, Khan grew up in a society of nomads, whose economy had foundations in hunting and gathering in the forest regions north of the Mongol heartland (Onon 2). From the economy of hunting and gathering in the forests, new terms emerged including mergen (good hunter), za’atar (hero), Nolan (lord), and can (transcribed to khan in English meaning ruler) (Onon 2). The emergence of the new titles and names largely signifies a nomadic way of life for the Mongols.
Within the nomadic life emerged powerful dynasties, which ruled the areas and people of the nomadic lifestyle. The first of the rulers to emerge was the Turkic nomadic tribe, which ruled from the sixth century to the middle of the seventh century, being replaced by the Uighurs who ruled until the ninth century (Onon 3). The Liao Dynasty (Kitan) took over in the 10th century, ruling the area between 916 and 1119, which then left the reins to the Jin Dynasty ruling between 1115 and 1234 (Onon 3). These Dynasties interchangeably ruled over the nomadic Mongols. Moreover, the tribal feuds and struggle for power that were present among the Mongols gave the ruling dynasties an advantage over the Mongols.
At the turn of the 12th century, however, the nations surrounding the Mongols were growing weaker. At the same time, the Mongols, as well as other nomadic tribes, began growing stronger economically given their large herds of cattle (Onon 3). The Mongols additionally sought to enjoy the new economic prosperity through unity, ending the tribal warfare, while at the same time presenting a united front against external enemies (Onon 3). Genghis Khan, born a few years into the 12th century, fulfilled the need for unity for the Mongols. Moreover, while many of the tribes were strong, they lacked a leader who could bring them into one to present a united front against their enemies.
In his early life, Khan learned to ride the horse and use bows and arrows as was customary of all Mongol children. He showed skill in the use of the bows and arrows, as well as in riding. Khan’s presentation of his military skills led him to focus on defeating his enemies and taking the leadership of the now unified Mongol tribes (Turnbull 14). With the presentation of a united front, the Mongols fought many battles, with Temujin as one of the commanders of the Mongol armies. However, the most decisive victory came with Khan’s defeat of the Naiman (Turnbull 14). The defeat prompted an assembly of the Mongol leaders in 1206 at the source of the Onon River, where they not only proclaimed the unity of the Mongol tribes but also proclaimed Temujin as Genghis Khan (Universal Leader) (Turnbull 14).
The unity of the Mongol Tribes and the proclamation of Temujin as Genghis Khan changed his priorities and strategic needs. Khan’s priorities shifted from the unification of the independent nomad to impressing the nomads through a demonstration of his military prowess against the agriculture-based communities that bordered them (Turnbull 14). While Khan’s objective for conquest was to bring the Chinese dynasties of Jin and Song, Xixia presented a problem as it threatened his sides if he moved against Jin (Turnbull 14). Xixia, therefore, became Khan’s first military campaign after his proclamation as the universal ruler, given the potential that it had to thwart his prospects against Jin and Song dynasties.
The campaign against Xixia was important, as not only did it give Mongols a clear passage into Jin, but it also allowed the Mongols to modify and develop new military skills that became their signature throughout their expansion as one of the largest empires in world history. Xixia lay over a mountain range, and during their attack, the Mongols could not progress, given the hurdle that the mountain range presented and the reinforcements from Tangut (Turnbull 14). The Mongols applied their first modified military tactic (which became a signature tactic) of false withdrawal, successfully luring the Xixia army out of their fortified camp (Turnbull 14).
Before Xixia, the Mongols employed a military tactic where they used mobile cavalry and a quick assault on their enemies, which ensured their victory. However, Xixia’s capital, Yinchuan, presented a problem as the Xixia military was prepared for a siege. The Mongols used a tactic, building a dyke from the Yellow River into the city, which then flooded the city causing the Xixia rule to submit to Khan.
Aside from the military skills that the Mongols displayed, the organization of the army was an additional reason for its success and expansion. The Mongol society (which had a little distinction between the civil and the military) had characteristic discipline. Society was especially obedient to the leaders, which made military organization and command easy (Turnbull 14). At the helm of the Mongol social and military structure was the ruling Khan family, which had grazing lands allocated to the four sons of the ruler. The four sons represented the aristocracy of steppes representing the feudal structure present in the military. There was an additional bond of personal loyalty, which connected the captains of ten (arban) with the captain of hundreds (jaghun). The personal loyalty further connected him (jaghun) with the captain of thousands (mingghan), and ten thousand (tumen). The decimal structure of the military thus helped in communication and delegation of duty. Further, the Great Khan had an elite bodyguard (Turnbull 14).
Genghis Khan’s expanse into the world and building an empire began with the Xixia campaign. In between the campaign and the eventual establishment of the Yuan dynasty that stretched into China, Khan had fought against the Syrians, Afghani, and the Khwarazm Empire (Turnbull 31). All the conquests were a precursor to the eventual military campaign against Jin and the Song dynasties, which essentially cemented Khan’s position as the ruler of the largest empire in world history. The fall of Beijing, the Jin dynasty’s capital, signified the beginning of Khan’s rule of China.
Although the death of Genghis Khan in 1227 was a respite for the Jin Dynasty, it was not entirely an end to the Mongols’ invasion. After the death of Genghis, Ogodei Khan took over the invasion, leading a strong operation against the Jin dynasty. The Jin dynasty finally submitted to the Mongols in 1234, after the emperor fled the city of Kaifeng, only to commit suicide after a pursuit by the Mongol army (Turnbull 35).
The death of Genghis Khan did not mean the end of the Mongol military operation against the surrounding dynasties. Each of the succeeding Khans continued with the military conquest of the lands, going into Korea, Russia, the Middle East, and Europe, eventually establishing the greatest empire in world history spanning Asia and Europe through military conquest. The small nomadic tribes of the Mongols had become united under each successive Khan, and used resilience, military wit, and sheer will to conquer lands and subdue their enemies. Throughout their military campaigns, the Mongol army took lessons, which enabled them to conquer their enemies and adversaries. The military might, the willingness to learn, and the use of military intelligence and tactics enabled the Mongols to expand, and even in their decline, they left a legacy of military superiority and wit, carried through the generations of the Khans.
Onon, Urgunge. The Secret History of the Mongols: The Life and Times of Chinggis Khan. Routledge Curzon, 2005.
Turnbull Stephen. Genghis Khan & the Mongol Conquests. Osprey Publishing, 2003.