Founding father of Mongolia – good guy or bad?
When you travel to Mongolia, you’ll hear all about Genghis Khan. Most of us think of him as a blood-thirsty leader that left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as he went on to conquer China, Beijing and Russia to create the world’s largest empire. It stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan, with over 700 tribes and cities under his rule. Over a period of 21 years he conquered nearly 12-million square miles of territory. But was he such a bad guy?
Yes, the Mongol leader cut a ruthless path through Asia and Europe and had the blood of countless tribesmen on his hands but he also modernised Mongolian culture, embraced religious freedom and established contact between the East and West. For this reason, he is revered by Mongolians today and held in high esteem. He has the status of a national hero and is regarded as the founding father of Mongolia. A travel package with Lekker Adventures will take you to the 40m statue of Genghis Khan erected in the capital city, Ulan Bator, in his honour.
By the way, his real name was Temujin. Genghis Khan was a name bestowed on him when he proved himself to be a great leader. Khan is a traditional title meaning ‘leader’ or ‘ruler’ but historians are not sure of the origin of the title ‘Genghis’; some suspect it means ‘universal’ or ‘superior’.
He was famous for his strict discipline and training and had a superior army, which is surprising considering he grew up foraging in the forest and hunting wild animals to survive. He didn’t have a good start in life; his father was chief of the Yakka Mongols but he was poisoned by jealous tribesmen. Temujin took over the role of chief at the age of 10 but the tribe deserted him and he found himself alone in the wilderness having to fend for himself, his mother and siblings.
Before the age most of us have just started college, he had formed alliances and created a rudimentary army. Bear in mind, that at the time, Mongolia was run by scattered groups of nomadic ‘gangsters’. Kkan’s army pretty much did what everybody did – attack and pillage their way across the country to gain territory; they just did it on a far grander scale.
But what Genghis Khan managed to do was to unite the nomadic, lawless tribes and create a blended Mongolian empire. The only problem seems to be that he kept the tribes united by giving them something to do; and that was to join his forces and go on massive ‘hunts’ to conquer all of mainland Asia.
Historians maintain Genghis Khan wasn’t as savage as he was depicted in those days. Yes, many thousands died under his brutal leadership but he was apparently more of a politician than a vicious warrior. He always gave the leaders of the neighbouring territory the option of handing over their land peacefully. If they, surprisingly, didn’t submit willingly, he’d move in with brutal force.
It is believed that the death toll during his reign is more a fabrication than reality as he allegedly would instruct his army to keep the writers and scribes alive when he attacked a region. They’d be forced to write horrific tales of torture, rape and death at the hands of his army. Rumours of his atrocities spread far and wide and no doubt encouraged surrender and cooperation from his enemies. This was the earliest form of political propaganda but didn’t do much for his reputation in historical archives.
Much more than a warrior
Genghis Khan also pioneered the world’s earliest communication network when he established a mounted courier system known as the ‘Yam’. It was a military tactic and one of his most potent weapons. A well-organised series of post houses and way stations were spread out across the whole of the Empire which meant his forces and their horses could stop to rest and refuel between battles. The Yam system also acted as his ‘eyes and ears’, being made up of an extensive network of spies and scouts.
Over and above being a warrior, this great leader is probably most famous for embracing different cultures and permitting religious freedom among all Mongolians. This wasn’t because he was a nice guy; he figured out that if he had happy subjects, they were less likely to rebel. Genghis Khan had a greater interest in spirituality than any specific religion and this deep connection to the spirits of the sky, winds and mountains lives on in Mongolian culture.
It is estimated that at least a third of the Mongolian population today are descendants of Genghis Khan. Although he had a violent reputation, he was an advocate of women’s rights. He permitted freedom of speech among women and encouraged them to take on roles and responsibilities only men at that time were expected to hold.
So, what do you think? Good guy or bad guy?
With whatever means that presented itself, Genghis Khan united the nomadic tribes of Mongolia and laid the foundation for an indomitable empire. Not bad for someone who grew up scavenging for roots and shoots in the forest.
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