1902 Encyclopedia > Jenghiz Khan (Genghis Khan)

Jenghiz Khan
(also known as: Genghis Khan, Chingiz Khan)
Mongol conqueror
(1162-1227)




JENGHIZ KHAN (1162-1227) Mongol emperor, was born in a tent on the banks of the river Onon, in 1162.

His father Yesukai was absent at the time of his birth, being engaged in a campaign against a Tatar chieftain named Remuchin. In this conflict the fortune of war favored the side of Yesukai, who having slain his enemy returned to his encampment in triumph. Here he was met by the news that his wife Yulun had given birth to a son. On examining the child he observed in its clenched fist a clot of coagulated blood like a red stone. In the eyes of the superstitious Mongol this circumstance took the shape of a mysterious reference to his victory over the Tatar chieftain, and he therefore named the infant Temuchin.

Jenghiz Khan (Genghis Khan) image

Jenghiz Khan (commonly known as: Genghis Khan)


The death of Yesukai, which placed Temuchin, who was then only thirteen years old, on the Mongol throne, was the signal also for the dispersal of several tribes whose allegiance the old chieftain had retained by the exercise of an iron rule. When remonstrated with by Temuchin on their desertion of his banner, the rebels replied: "The deepest wells are sometimes dry, and the hardest stone is sometimes broken; why should we cling to thee?"

But Yulun was by no means willing thus to see her son’s power melt away, and seizing the national standard she led those retainers who remained faithful against the deserters, and succeeded in bringing back fully one half to their allegiance. With this dountful material for the maintenance of his cheftainship, Temuchin succeeded in holding his ground against the insidious plots and open hostilities of the neighboring tribes, more especially of the Naimans, Keraits, and Merkits.

With one or other of these he maintained an almost unceasing warfare until the year 1206, when his power was so firmly established that he felt the time had arrived when he might proclaim himself the ruler of an empire. He therefore summoned the notables of his kingdom to an assembly on the banks of the Onon, and at their unanimous request adopted the name and title of Jenghiz Khan (Chinese Ching-sze, or "perfect warrior").

At this time there remained to him but one open enemy on the Mongolian steppes, namely, Polo the naiman khan. Against this chief he now led his troops, and in one battle so completely shattered his forces that Kushlek, the successor of Polo, who was left dead upon the field, fled with his ally Toto, the Merkit khan, to the river Irtish.

Having thus further consolidated his sovereignty, Jenghiz Khan now meditated an invasion of the empire of the Kin Tatars, whohad wrested northern China from the emperors of the Sung dynasty. As a first step in this programme he invaded western Hea, and, having captured several strong holds, retired in the summer of 1208 to Lung-ting to escape the great heat of the plains.

While there news reached him that Toto and Kushlek, the Merkit and Naiman khans, were preparing for war. He thereupon at once marched against them, and in a pitched battle on the river Irtish overthrew them completely. Toto was amongst the slain, and Kushlek fled for refuge to the Khitan Tatars.

Satisfied with his victory, Jenghiz [again directed his forces against Hea. There also good fortune attended him, and, after having defeated the Kin army under the leadership of a son of the sovereign, he captured the Wu-leang-hai Pass in the Great Wall, and penetrated as far as Ning-hea Fu in Kansuh. With unceasing vigour he pushed on his troops into the country, and even established his sway over the province of Leaou-tung.

The saying that nothing succeeds like success was eminently true in his case. Several of the Kin commanders, seeing how persistently victory attended his banners, deserted to him, and garrisons surrendered at his bidding.

Having thus secured a firm footing within the Great Wall, he dispatched three armies in the autumn of 1213 to overrun the empire. The right wing, under the command of his three sons Juji, Jagatai, and oghotai, marched towards the south; the left wing under his brothers Hochar, Kwang-tsin Noyen, and Chow-tse-te-po-shi, advanced eastward towards the sea; while Jenghiz and his son Tule with the centre directed their course in a south-easterly direction.

Complete success attended all three expeditions. The right wing advanced as far as Honan, and after having captured upwards of twenty-eight cities rejoined headquaters by the great western road. Hochar made himself master of the country as far as Leaou-se; and Jenghiz ceased his triumphal career only when he reached the cliffs of the Shan-tung promontory.

But either because he was weary of the strife, or because it was necessary to gain a respite that he might revisit his Mongolian empire, he sent an envoy to the Kin emperor in the spring of the following year (1214), saying, "All your possessions in Shan-tung and the whole country north of the Yellow river are now mine with the solitary exception of Yenking (the modern Peking). By the decree of heaven you are now as weak as I am strong, but I am willing to retire from my conquests; as a condition of my doing so, however, it will be necessary that you distribute largess to my officers and men to appease their fierce hostility."

These terms of safety the Kin emperor eagerly accepted, and a peace offering he presented Jenghiz with a daughter of the late emperor, another princess of the imperial house, 500 youths and maidens, and 3000 horses.

No sooner, however, had Jenghiz passed beyond the Great Wall than the Kin emperor, fearing to remain any longer so near the Mongol frontier, moved his court to Kai-fung Fu in Honan. This transfer of capital appearing to Jenghiz to indicate a hostile attitude, he again turned southward and once more marched his troops into the doomed empire.





While Jenghiz was thus adding city to city and province to rpovince in China, Kushlek, the fugitive Naiman chief, was not idle. With characteristic treachery he requested permission from his host, the Khitan khan, to collect the fragments of his army which had been scattered by Jenghiz at the battle on the Irtish, and thus having collected a considerable force he leagued himself with Muhammed, the shah of Khuarezm, against the confiding khan. After a short but decisive campaign the allies remained masters of the position, the khan was compelled to abdicate the throne in favour of his late guest.

With the power and prestige thus acquired, Kushlek prepared once again to measure swords with the Mongol chief. On receiving the news of his hostile preparations, Jenghiz at once took the field, and in the first battle routed the Naiman troops and made Kushlek a prisoner. A short shrift was given to the treacherous Niaman, and his ill-gotten kingdom became an apanage of the Mongol empire. Jenghiz now held sway up to the Khuarezm frontier.

Beyond this he had no immediate desire to go, and he therefore sent envoys to Muhammed, the shah, with presents, saying, "I send thee greeting; I know thy power and the vast extent of thine empire; I regard thee as my most cherished son. On my part thou must know that I have conquered China and all the Turkish nations north of it; thou knowest that my country is a magazine of warriors, a mine of silver, and that I have no need of other lands. I take it that we have an equal interest in encouraging trade between our subjects."

This peaceful message was well received by the shah, and in all probability the Mongol armies would never had appeared in Europe but for an unfortunate occurrence which turned Jenghiz’s friendly overtures into a declaration of war. Shortly after the dispatch of this first mission Jenghiz sent a party of traders into Transoxiana who were seized and put to death as spies by Inaljuk, the governor of Otrar.

As satisfaction for this outrage Jenghiz demanded the extradition of the offending governor. Far from yielding to thus summons, however, Muhammed beheaded the chief of the Mongol envoys, and sent the others back without their beards. This insult made war inevitable, and in the spring of 1219 Jenghiz set out from Karakoram on a campaign which was destined to be as startling in its immediate results as its ulterior effects were far reaching.

The invading force was in the first instance divided into armies: one commanded by Jenghiz’s second son Jagatai was directed to march against the Kankalis, the northern defenders of the Khuarezm empire; and the other, led by Juji, his eldest son, advanced by way of Sighnak against Jend.

Against this latter force Muhammed led an army of 400,000 men, who after a bloody battle with the invaders were completely routed, leaving it is said 160,000 dead upon the field. With the remnant of his host Muhammed fled to Samarkand.

Meanwhile Jagatai marched down upon the Jaxartes by the pass of Taras and invested Otrar, the offending city. After a siege of five months the citadel was taken by assault, and Inaljuk and his followers were put to the sword. To mark their sense of crime of which it had been the scene, the conquerors leveled the walls with the ground, after having given the city over to pillage.

At the same time a third army besieged and took Khogend on the Jaxartes; and yet a fourth, led by Jenghiz and his youngest son Tule, advanced in the direction of Bokhara. Tashkend and Nur surrendered on their approach, and after a short siege Bokhara fell into their hands.

On entering the town Jenghiz ascended the steps of the principal mosque, and shouted to his followers, "The hay is cut; give your horses folder." No second invitation to plunder was needed; the city was sacked, and the inhabitants either escaped beyond the walls or were compelled to submit to infamies which were worse than death.

As a final act of vengeance the town was fired, and before the last of the Mongols left the district, the great mosque and certain palaces were the only buildings left to mark the spot where the "center of science" once stood.

From the ruins of Bokhara Jenghiz advanced along the valley of the Sogd to Samarkand, which, weakened by treachery, surrendered to him, as did also Balkh. But in neither case did submission save either the inhabitants from slaughter or the city from pillage.

Beyond this point Jenghiz went no further westward, but sent Tule, at the head of 70,000 men, to ravage Khorassan, and two flying columns under Chepe and Sabutai Nahadar to pursue after Muhammed, who had taken refuge in Nishapoor.

Defeated and almost alone, Muhammed fled before his pursuers to the village of Astara on the shore of the Caspian Sea, where he died of an attack of pleurisy, leaving the cause of his empire to his son Jalaluddin.

Meanwhile Tule carried his arms into he fertile province of Khorassan, and after having captured Nessa by assault appeared before Merv. By an act of atrocious treachery the Mongols gained possession of the city, and, after their manner, sacked and burnt the town.

From Merv Tule marched upon Nishapoor, where he met with a most determined resistance. For four days the garrison fought desperately on the walls and in the streets, but at length they were overpowered, and, with the exception of 400 artisans who were sent into Mongolia, every man, woman, and child was slain.

Herat escaped the fate which had overtaken Merv and Nishapoor by opening its gates to the Mongols. At this point of his victorious career Tule received an order to join Jenghiz before Talikhan in Badakshan, where that chieftain was preparing to renew his pursuit of Jalaluddin, after a check he sustained in an engagement fought before Ghazni.

As soon as sufficient reinforcements arrived Jenghiz advanced against Jalaluddin, who had taken up a position on the banks of the Indus. Here a desperate battle was fought. The Turks, though far outnumbered, defended their ground with undaunted courage, until, beaten at all points, they fled in confusion.

Jalaluddin, seeing that all was lost, mounted a fresh horse and jumped into the river, which flowed 20 feet below. With admiring gaze Jenghiz watched the desperate venture of his enemy, and even saw without regret the dripping horseman mount the opposite bank.

From the Indus Jenghiz sent in pursuit of Jalaluddin, who fled to Delhi, but failing to capture the fugitive the Mongols returned to Ghazni after having ravaged the provinces of Lahore, Peshawur, and Melikpoor.

At this moment news reached Jenghiz that the inhabitants of Herat had deposed the governor whom Tule had appointed over the city, and had placed one of their own choice in his room. To punish this act of rebellion Jenghiz sent an army of 80,000 men against the offending city, which after a siege of six months was taken by assault. For a whole week the Mongols ceased not to kill, burn, and destroy, and 1,600,000 persons are said to have been massacred within the walls. Having consummated this act of vengeance, Jenghiz returned to Mongolia by way of Balkh, Bokhara, and Samarkand.





Meanwhile Chepe and Sabutai marched through Azerbijan, and in the spring of 1222 advanced into Georgia. Here they defeated a combined force of Lesghs, Circassians, and Kipchaks, and after taking Astrakhan followed the retreating Kipchaks to the Don. The news of the approach of the mysterious enemy of whose name even they were ignorant was received by the Russian princes at Kief with dismay. At the instigation, however, of Mitislaf, prince of Galicia, they assembled an opposing force on the Dnieper.

Here they received envoys from the Mongol camp, whom they barbarously put to death. "You have killed our envoys," was the answer made by the Mongols; "well, as you wish for war you shall have it. We have done you no harm. God is impartial; He will decide our quarrel." If the arbitrament was to be thus decided, the Russians must have been grievously in the wrong. In the first battle, on the river Kaleza, they were utterly routed, and fled before the invaders, who after ravaging Great Bulgaria retired gorged with booty, through the country of Saksin, along the river Aktuba, on their way to Mongolia.

In China the same success had attended the Mongol arms as in western Asia. The whole of the country north of the Yellow river, with the exception of one or two cities, was added to the Mongol rule, and, on the death of the Kin emperor Seuen Tsung in 1223, the Kin empire virtually ceased to be, and Jenghiz’s frontiers thus became conterminous with those of the Sung emperors who held sway over the whole of central and southern China.

After his return from central Asia, Jenghiz once more took the field in western China. While on this campaign the five planets appeared in a certain conjunction which to the superstitiously minded Mongol chief foretold the evil was awaiting him. With this presentiments strongly impressed upon him he turned his face homewards, and had advanced no farther than the Se-Keang river in Kansuh when he was seized with all illness of which he died a short time afterwards (1227) at his traveling palace at Ha-laou-tu, on the banks of the river Sale in Mongolia.

By the terms on his will Oghotai was appointed his successor, but so essential was it considered to be that his death should remain a secret until Oghobati was proclaimed that, as the funeral procession moved northwards to the great ordu on the banks of the Kerulon, the escort killed every one they met. The body was then carried successively to the ordus of his several wives, and was finally laid to rest in the valley of Keleen.

Thus ended the career of one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen. Born and nurtured as the chief of a petty Mongolian tribe, he lived to see his armies victorious from the China Sea to the banks of the Dnieper; and, though the empire which he created ultimately dwindled away under the hands of his degenerate descendants leaving not a wrack behind, we have in the presence of the a Turks in Europe a consequence of his rule, since it was the advance of his armies which drove their Osmanli ancestors from their original home in northern Asia, and thus led to their invasion of Bithynia Othman, and finally their advance into Europe under Amurath I.

See H.H. Howorth, The History of the Mongols; Robert K. Douglas, The Life of Jenghiz Khan. ( R. K. D.)



The above article was written by Robert Kennaway Douglas, Keeper of Oriental Printed Books and MSS. at the British Museum; Professor of Chinese, King's College, London; China Consular Service, 1858; Assistant in charge of Chinese Library, British Museum, 1865; author of The Language and Literature of China; Confucianism and Taoism; China; A Chinese Manual; and The Life of Li Hung-Chang.



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