Truth Behind The Lies - A Retelling of The Story of the Great Khan
Updated: Jun 21
Temujin’s mounted archers rode towards the enemy releasing arrows and almost always hitting their mark. The warriors are arranged into several lines each with bow and arrow ready. As the line in the front fire, they move to the back of the line clearing those behind them to shoot at the enemy.
This tactic proved devastating against Gur’s forces as it nearly killed off almost a fifth of his warriors in the initial onslaught but they would not be defeated so easily.
Gur formed his warriors into a wide line; a formation much wider than those of Temujin’s in an attempt to weaken the strikes of the latter’s arrows through sheer force of numbers and avoids being flanked. Ever the tactician, Temujin switched gears and had his army form a long drilling line to charge and brake the formation of his enemy.
The victory was swift and decisive for Temujin - while Gur left his army to hide in the woods - ironically, the same woods that Temujin hid in to escape from attackers when he was younger.
In the end, Gur was betrayed by his own men and turned over to Temujin - an act Temujin did not appreciate. He had his blood brother's traitors executed on the principle that betraying trust is punishable by death.
Upon meeting once more, Temujin offered his old friend and blood brother a return to status and rule with him. Gur, now Jamukha, declined respectfully and asked to be executed. His only request was that he not die a shameful death - that of blood and gore. Temujin agreed and had his warriors break Jamukha’s spine to kill him.
Temujin, ever the faithful brother, buried Gur with a gold belt. The same one he gave his friend when they were young to signify their blood brotherhood.
The stage was set for Temujin. A year later, he would call forth the most important, and largest Kurultai in the steppe’s history. A kurultai is essentially a voting procedure where minor khans, lesser, khans, and all their subordinates would show up on their horses to pledge their loyalty to the one calling for the assembly.
In this case, nearly all khans showed up on their horses. Technically, voting with their feet.
It is from this moment on - that Temujin Khan, the once young, shy, timid, and fun-loving boy became Genghis Khan.
What comes next is a slow rise to power of Genghis Khan, and eventual formation of the largest, contiguous, land empire in history. This represents nearly 12 million miles, from the pacific edges of Korea, the northern borders of the black sea.
Everything that happened in the steppes did not escape the ears of the rulers around the world, of course. One of them was the ruler of the Jurchids where modern-day Beijing now stands. The ruler asserts that Genghis Khan owes him his allegiance, as Ong Khan - who used to be the ruler of all in the steppe - once swore him his.
He sent an envoy to Genghis Khan with the intent of claiming this allegiance and use Genghis hordes to fight his enemies. The great khan took offense on this and marched his warriors on to the Jurchid’s capital.
This initial campaign was where Genghis Khan learned about siege warfare. About engineering dams across rivers to flood his enemy’s territory. About developing siege weapons, and building them right across his enemies’ walls.
Genghis, here also learned how to play propaganda to further his intentions. He would send out messengers to all the towns around the Jurchid’s home castle, to inform the people that he comes to liberate them from the oppression of the Jurchid monarchy - bringing back their freedom.
This brought many of the Jurchid to Genghis’s cause, completely winning over almost all the towns around the Jurchid’s home castle against them. Upon the successful defeat of the Jurchids, Genghis Khan - in his style assimilated all the Jurchid people, killed the oldest and the wealthiest, redistributed the wealth and resources of his newly captured people.
This victory reverberated throughout most of modern-day China - bringing many of the Chinese, to Genghis’s side. He now has control over most of China, bringing in the wealth of silk to Genghis’s people.
After winning this battle, people from Central Asia sent envoys to Genghis Khan to ask for his help. One of the local tribes from the steppe has taken over as monarchs and is instilling fear across what is now modern Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Coming from a tumultuous campaign, Genghis could not spare his entire army, and so sent a battalion of 20,000 men with his best general to assist the people of Central Asia. Genghis Khan’s army did - liberating them from their tyrant overlords.
This not only secured Genghis Khan the region where silk was produced but also secured for him the heart of the silk road trade. He ingeniously reinvigorated the dying Silk Road and rerouted all the minor causeways to run across the steppe’s heartland, ensuring all the richest from both sides of the Eurasian continent will come through his homeland.
The once poor people of the steppes who have never used silk robes before, now wear silk and gold-laden robes. They now also have control of the cotton production and redistribution across Eurasia - making Genghis Khan’s horde, possibly the richest of all the peoples in the region.
Over time, Temujin heard some news about metal, so pure that it can cut even the toughest of bronze and dent even iron. He had heard the news of this wonderful metal, the purest of all metals in the sultanate of Afghanistan. With this Temujin also learned that cotton was also produced here, and so is glass.
To form a bond of trade and friendship - Temujin sent envoys with gifts of silk and gold to the ruler of what is now modern-day Afghanistan, which was ruled at the time by the Persians - with a simple request, allow trade between Temujin’s territories and his for steel. The ruler agreed.
So caravans upon caravans were prepared by Temujin to travel to this new land - it would never reach the ruler’s palace though. On the way, a local official in a small highway town stopped the caravans and took the treasures for himself - not knowing the cataclysm he would bring upon his people.
Temujin was furious. He marched his army down to Afghanistan passing the territories of Khwarezm, sowing fear in the hearts of many in his path. On the way to Afghanistan - he conquered all of Central Asia, leaving nothing but ruins in his wake where modern-day Konye-Urgench now lies.
The warriors in spite of their success knew no craft and had no need to learn of such - apart from their mastery of archery, horseback riding, and conquering. Genghis Khan’s ingenious method of separating the people he conquered across his territory - bringing the astronomers, mathematicians, agriculturalists, and engineers where they’re most needed.
This system ensured that none can present a threat to his conquest. He now has control over modern-day China, Mongolia, Korea, Central Asia, and parts of Russia.
Almost, as though a cliché of all great conquerors, Genghis Khan failed to consider - early in his career - how to manage successorship. He has been off conquering and widening the expanse of his territory so much that he failed to look back and educate his sons for leadership.
His oldest son, Ogedai - who should hold his title after him, is overshadowed by the ruthlessness of his second son - Chagatai, who knows only brutality and strength. While his youngest son - Jochin - the one closest to Genghis’s demeanor when he was younger, was too aloof and would arrive at war councils inebriated.
After a long discussion, it was agreed that both Chagatai and Ogedai would hold equal amounts of territory and their camps would be far away from each other, while Jochin would hold the smallest territory but will be the great khan after his father - with Genghis hoping that Jochin’s demeanor would do well to stand in between the rivalry of his two older brothers.
Sadly the succession - as wanted by Genghis would not be followed.
Off to another campaign, Genghis Khan would die of unknown causes. Some would say he died in his sleep. Others would say he died due to wounds in battle, while others would say an arrow hit him in the knee and killed him through infection. No one knows the full story - but in one of his adventures, Marco Polo described the latter as the reason for Genghis’s death - as told by Kublai Khan, Genghis’s grandson.
A procession went on, back to the steppes, with his spirit banner leading the way and his trusty steed right behind him on a simple cart.
Interesting factoid: every day is the birthday of 43,000 of Genghis Khan’s direct descendants. There are an estimated 16,000,000 people alive today that can trace back their ancestry to Genghis Khan.
We hear tales and stories about the monster of the Mongol horde who killed for sport. We learn tales about Genghis Khan’s definition of happiness which is:
"The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to rob them of their wealth, to see their loved ones bathed in tears, to hold to your bosom their wives and daughters.”
And yet - we know that these are stories. And stories are often told in the context of the teller - with bias, and in most cases, for those who lost - fear.
Genghis Khan may be the enemy in all the stories told about him, but for his people - the millions of people who he helped and assimilated into his empire - he was the hero.
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Rhiz Manalo is the co-partner to CentrAsia Tours, Co-Founder, and Co-Owner of The White Dog Collective. He is a seasoned digital marketing expert, an experienced blogger, systems architect, web designer, and a loving father to a beautiful 7-year-old girl whom he misses so much!
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