The Man Before Greatness
The year was 1201 of the common era.
It was summer and it was raining like cats and dogs as we would say in today’s slang. But back then, shamans considered something like that a blessing. It was a sign of great things to happen. So it was that on a summer’s day, as it rained, there stood 2 large armies in the steppe; one led by Temujin Khan, and another by Gur Khan.
Gur Khan was Temujin’s blood brother. Having met when they were little, the two boys would play together, hunt together, and soon enough they’d be raiding together. They were both strong and powerful in their own way. Today, however, Gur had an advantage over Temujin.
Gur was the khan of all khans, as such is the meaning of his name. He commands all other khans from across the steppe. In this battle, almost all important khans showed up to participate - equally divided into Temujin and Gur’s army.
Temujin’s army, on the other hand, was sporting only the lesser of the minor khans. Almost all of them were not of aristocratic nature. Nearly all tribes behind Temujin were the poorest of the poor.
But Temujin had something that even Gur does not have from his army of aristocrats. Their adoration. Nearly every single person in Temujin’s army would die for him and his cause. They all believe in what Temujin is fighting for, no one is afraid to die in this fight - as they chanted.
How did, the most feared man in the world, he who would be known as Genghis Khan, achieved such devotion?
Let’s look back at the achievements that led to the love of Temujin’s people.
Throughout his life of conquering across the steppe, Temujin learned that violence is necessary to ensure his family and himself would remain safe. But he believed in fairness and justice - throughout the people, he will rule.
He had his word, and he kept every single one of it. An example of which is his rule to ensure proper distribution of spoils throughout the raids. This occurred to him after observing the cycle of repeated violence across his young life.
When an Urdu or horde would raid a village for spoils, they almost always leave everyone who did not fight back alone, they would do the same to the richest in the camps raided - because these are the people likely to replenish their wealth after a time and therefore would be a good target for another raid.
Problem was that these wealthy were also the same people like to assemble armies to fight back and take revenge. Another problem - the more direct one to the issue I raised, was that warriors and raiders would loot and pillage completely forgetting the survivors around them - they would fight among themselves for loot and plunder. Temujin figured this out, and so one of his main policies was to eliminate two birds with one stone.
Temujin set up a new rule. Fight until every member of the camp was rounded up. Kill the wealthy and the elders that were strong enough to retaliate. Assimilate the rest onto his camp, and move his headquarters into the camp of the conquered people. The loot would then be split up evenly after being presented to him.
This served each warrior better because now that they were able to round up everyone, none escaped with their belongings, therefore, bringing more loot to the pile. This made Temujin’s warriors very happy and therefore brought more loyalty towards him.
Furthermore, killing all the wealthy people in the opposing camp means no one will stand one day to take revenge on Temujin’s people. It’s also very interesting to note that those left alive, actually were happy to be liberated from the oppressive ruling class and be under Temujin’s rule of equal kinship.
While moving to the camp of the conquered was a laborious task, it also meant that leaving the previous camps behind represents a growth in the territory of Temujin’s horde. This means, as they conquer people - they grow land and therefore resources. Completely different from the traditional steppe rule of taking only what you need. Slowly growing Temujin’s influence.
This became a problem however, as more khans hear stories of Temujin’s rise, they grow more fearful of what he represents, they’re downfall. So they rounded up a group of raiders and hit Temujin’s camp in the dead of night, just before dawn - to ensure he was caught by surprise.
It was chaos, many people died, and Temujin had to leave Borte behind - what most historians consider a calculated move - but was for me, actually an act inspired by Hoelun towards Temujin. At this point in time, Temujin had not yet reared a child.
So Temujin approached his old friend, Jamukha, and his adoptive father, Ong Khan - close friend and confidante to his father, Yesugei. They all agreed to conquer the khans that raided Temujin.
In the raid, Temujin was reunited with his wife Borte. But Borte was with child, one out of an act of violence by one of her captors - she was raped. Temujin accepted this and reared his son as his own - in spite of knowing. For he loved Borte.
This rescue and subsequent vanquishing of the lesser khans - higher than Temujin - captured the loyalty for Temujin, not just by his own tribesmen and conquered people, but most importantly that of Jamukha’s followers - this started the rift between the two old friends.
However, the two old friends decided it would be best to join camps. Temujin and Jamukha co-ruled their camps. Temujin’s decisions always favored merit and loyalty over the family. Which contradicted Jamukha’s family first policies - disregarding the working class in their camps.
Sadly, this would grow their divide even more. Nevertheless, Temujin’s influence grew, more as time went by. Plenty more families and camps around the two’s combined camp joined them. Until one day, Jamukha’s actions would be too much for Temujin to swallow.
Jamukha proposed to Temujin to camp in the middle of a running river, on one side would be Jamukha’s and the other Temujin’s. Jamukha’s side would have management over the horses, while Temujin’s the sheep and the goats. This was a power move by Jamukha - to assert his dominance.
You see between Jamukha and Temujin, the former came from a ruling elite in the steppe, while Temujin was of the lowly poor. By keeping the horses, Jamukha slapped the fact that he was of better linage and therefore should have control over the prize of the camp - the horses - across Temujin’s face.
Enraged, Temujin left Jamukha’s camp and set up their own, with his people and kinsmen. Jamukha - anticipated this, but did not see what comes next.
For each day to pass means lesser people for Jamukha in his camp. More and more wants to join Temujin in his - due to his belief in equality and meritocracy. Keep it simple, they can move up the social ladder if they worked hard enough.
One day, Jamukha - having the support of the ruling elites, bestowed upon himself the title of Gur Khan, or ruler of all the khans. To intimidate Temujin into subservience. But Temujin would not budge.
In an act of defiance, Temujin attempted to cement his reign over the majority of the people of the steppes, and so he approached his adoptive father, the current - most influential khan - next to Jamukha to ask for his son’s hand to marry Temujin’s daughter.
Unfortunately, Ong Khan decided to have his son marry Jamukha’s daughter instead, and the two devised a plot to rid themselves of Temujin. Ong Khan would pretend to accept Temujin’s request and asked Temujin to have a feast at Ong Khan’s camp, alone as a sign of trust.
Temujin - knowing none the wiser, accepted, and happily rode to Ong Khan’s camp - luckily, a loyalist intercepted Temujin and informed him about the deception. Temujin was enraged, he went back to his camp - with his enemies on his heels. He was distraught to see his camp deserted. Everyone was alerted of the incoming army and fled having no leader in the camp.
He did not fraught however and sent messengers far and wide calling his people to his cause. If they will come - he would be glad, if they don’t he would understand.
Amazingly - they did. More warriors than Temujin can count arrived for his cause. Everyone who stood by him before, stood by him again - fighting for the cause that this charismatic ruler would fight for until the day he died.
Such was the devotion that followed a man who would stop at nothing to live life in equality, and with meritocracy.
And so we go back to the battle that was brewing. Common Era of the year 1201. It was raining profusely. Temujin was fighting against his old friend, his blood brother Jamukha - now Gur Khan.
Behind him was an army larger than Gur's, but Gur’s was an army of elites and well-armed men.
Who would win?
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