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Wisdom: 10 Interesting Facts About Genghis Khan

Not many things are known about Genghis Khan, apart from what’s usually read about him in history books. The ruthless warrior-ruler founded the Mongolian Empire, the largest empire in the world before the British Empire. His professional army destroyed tribes to expand their territories across Europe and Asia, leaving millions dead along the way. Who was the man behind Genghis Khan? Evan Andrews of History has some facts about the Mongol warlord.

1. Many Names

The guy had many names. His real name, Temujin, means “blacksmith” or “of iron.” He was named Genghis Khan 44 years later at a tribal meeting. He was also called Chinggis Khan, and Jingis. “Khan” means “leader,” while “Genghis” might have meant “ocean.”

2. Rough Life

As a child, the boy Temujin lived a rough life on the Mongolian steppes. At 9 years old, his father was poisoned by rival Tatar tribesmen. When the boy claimed his father’s position as clan chief, the clan refused his claim and expelled the whole family from the tribe. This led to a more turbulent life, with Temujin taking the role as head of the family. He married at 16 years old, became a slave, escaped from his captors, built an army, and later established himself as a fearsome warrior and leader.

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3. What Did He Look Like?

Although sketches of his physical appearance show the typical Mongol features, there is no definite proof of what he looked like. The physical descriptions and accounts about him are often contradictory. He was portrayed as long-haired with a bushy beard. Rashid al-Din, a Persian historian, describes the Mongol ruler as red-haired and green-eyed. Most famous persons, even in the ancient ages, had sculptures or portraits; Genghis Khan obviously didn’t share the same vanity.

4. Unusual Admiration

He had an unusual way of showing admiration and respect for real talent and fearlessness. Former enemies made it to the ranks of his generals for showing extraordinary valor. One of the popular accounts about him was when a prisoner of war nearly killed him with an arrow shot from under his horse. The soldier impressed Genghis with his boldness and was made an officer in the army. Later, he became one of Genghis’ most trusted field commanders.

5. Ruthless Revenge

He never forgot to exact revenge in the most ruthless way. The Khan offered a trade treaty with the Shah of Khwarezmid Empire. Genghis was enraged. When his initial emissaries were murdered, a bloody war was waged against the Khwarezmid Empire and its allies, executing millions and leaving the whole territory in ruins.

6. Astronomical Death Tolls

Around 40 million deaths were attributed to Genghis Khan. Historians estimate that Genghis Khan’s exploits may have diminished the world population by 11%.

7. Tolerant of Different Faiths

For an exacting conqueror, Genghis Khan was tolerant of different faiths. When he conquered territories, he allowed diverse religions to exist and exempted places of worship from taxes. The Great Khan was extremely religious, too. He had deep interests in spirituality, immortality, and philosophy. He often congregated with religious leaders. Records show that he spent long conversations with Taoist leader Qiu Chuji, whom he invited to his camp.

8. Communications Specialist

The war specialist was also a communications specialist. He established what may have been the precursor of the modern postal system – the mounted courier service, called “Yam.” Riders carried merchandise and information across the whole Mongol Empire. The Yam system was also the Khan’s news network. It also served to secure merchants and foreign dignitaries traversing the roads. An account shows that Marco Polo once used the medieval service during one of his expeditions.

9. Cause of Death and Burying Place Unknown

For a very influential and prominent figure in history, Khan’s death and burying place is unknown. Many stories circulated – he allegedly died of injuries when he fell from a horse; severe malaria struck him down; an arrow pierced his knee and caused his death; he forced himself on a princess and was murdered for it. Legendary accounts suggest that his funeral procession was stealthily carried out, with more people getting killed simply because they crossed paths with the funeral procession.

10. He Was Banned

Before Mongolia’s independence from the Soviets, Genghis Khan was a banned topic.  The story of the great Khan was deleted out of history books and pilgrimages in his name were strictly prohibited. When the Mongols gained independence in the early 1990s, these accounts were restored and he is now remembered as a prominent name in Mongolia’s history and culture. He’s remembered in the country’s airports, currency, and other local venues.