His name is synonymous with brutality and ruthlessness. He was responsible for more deaths than Stalin and Hitler combined. His military campaigns sometimes involved eliminating an entire civilian population. 40 million people died because of him. Over two decades, that's one person killed every twenty seconds. He hardly had time for lunch.
His empire was twice the size of Rome’s and included large parts of modern day China, Mongolia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Moldova, South Korea, North Korea and Kuwait. All the Stans and then some.
His real name was Temujin; Genghis Khan is an honorific meaning ‘Universal Ruler’, and he took that on when he united the fractious Mongolian tribes at his coronation in 1206. Other titles included Lord of the Four Colors and Five Tongues, Lord of Life, and Emperor of all Men. He was also known as Mighty Manslayer and Scourge of God. And that was on a good day.
One of his most famous campaigns came in 1219, after the Shah of the Khwarezmid Empire of Persia broke a treaty with him. Genghis responded by unleashing the full force of his Mongol horde on the Shah. The subsequent war left three quarters of the Persian population dead and the Shah’s empire in utter ruin. Some historians estimate Genghis massacred so many Persians that Iran's population did not reach its pre-Mongol levels again until the mid-20th century.
Genghis already had form. For twenty years he led his armies on a whirlwind of rape and slaughter, unmatched before or since. Censuses from the Middle Ages show that the population of China plummeted by tens of millions during his lifetime. He may have reduced the entire world population of his day by ten percent.
He once even diverted a river to erase a rival emperor’s birthplace from the map. No act of spite or sadism was too much trouble.
“The greatest pleasure in life is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters."
To his credit, Genghis attempted to be a self-sustaining mass murderer. He had thousands of women in his harem and fathered so many children it is estimated that half of one per cent of the world’s population has his DNA. For every two people he killed, he created one.
In 2007 researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences analyzed tissue samples from those areas approximating Genghis’ ancient empire. They found an identical Y-chromosomal lineage was present in about 8% of the men. Apparently this spread is inconsistent with the theory of genetic drift, and the most likely scenario is that all these people are male line descendants of the Manslayer.
But he wasn’t all bad. Unusually for his day – for any day – he promoted religious tolerance and studied Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity. He instituted a system of meritocracy in his government at a time when the West was still largely feudal. He also supported ethnic diversity.
In bringing much of central Asia under his direct control, he allowed trade and exploration along the Silk Road to flourish. Which was why, in 1260, the Pope was able to send an emissary to China to try to broker a peace deal with him.
But that’s another story: SILK ROAD A historical adventure thriller of Ancient China.