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Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
The fascinating story behind the Mongol Empire
- Read in 13 minutes
- Audio & text available
- Contains 8 key ideas
These blinks will make you re-examine what you thought you knew about the Mongols of the twelfth century. They’ll show you why it’s unfair to imagine them as uncivilized barbarians. Indeed, the Mongol army under Genghis Khan and his descendants brought trade, civilization and order – the Mongol Empire contributed to the making of the modern world.
Key idea 1 of 8
Genghis Khan’s larger-than-life reputation began with humble origins in difficult terrain.
You might’ve thought the future empire-builder Genghis Khan led a privileged life from childhood. That he came from a powerful and wealthy family and remained powerful and wealthy.
Genghis Khan faced many hardships as a child. Born in the Eurasian Steppe between modern-day Mongolia and Siberia, he was given the name Temujin and grew up in a nomadic culture. The nomadic peoples of the area coalesced into tribes and clans based on kinship ties. The head of each clan was known as a khan or chief.
But it was a dangerous world. The law of the land was violence. Murder, kidnapping and enslavement between clans were commonplace.
Temujin knew this well. His father, Yesugei, had kidnapped Temujin’s mother, Hoelun, soon after she had married Chiledu, a young warrior from another tribe.
Normally, men sent gifts to the parents of a putative bride before they could marry, often for several years. Genghis Khan’s father was too poor to afford such luxuries, so he simply carried off Hoelun for himself.
Hoelun gave birth to Temujin in 1162, far from her family and home. Soon after, Yesugei was killed, and the tribe cast the boy, his mother and his siblings out to die on the steppes. It was only through sheer determination that they managed to survive.
Temujin was never formally educated. He made his own way in a tough environment – and it was brutal.
For instance, when still a child, he killed his older half-brother to secure control of their family. Temujin was also later captured and enslaved by a rival tribe, the Tayichiud. Fortunately, he managed to escape by sequestering a horse and riding home.