December 15, 2023 | Sammy Tran

Ruthless Facts About Genghis Khan, The Father of The Mongol Empire

Facts about Genghis Khan can be difficult to verify. The man is seemingly as much a legend as he is a real historical figure. There are stories about him which are demonstrably false. There are also hundreds of true facts that almost nobody knows.

So to finally clear the air, we've put together a definitive guide to the life of Ghengis Khan, one of history's most successful conquerors---the man whose name alone still carries the weight of bloody conquest in many parts of Asia. So saddle up your horse, gather the Mongol horde, and ride into this list of verified facts about Genghis Khan.

1. He Had To Earn His Name

Around 1162, Genghis Khan was born with the first name Temujin; he had to earn the name Genghis Khan. "Khan" means ruler, and "Genghis" is based on the Mongol word "Tenggis," which means "ocean" or "wide-spreading." However, other historians suggest the name could come from "Jenggis" meaning "right, just, and true." Either way, pretty cool.

genghis khan

2. He Was Born In Blood

Legend has it that Genghis Khan was born with a blood clot clenched in his fist, foretelling his emergence as a great and powerful leader. Looks like he had blood on his hands from the very beginning.

Genghis KhanWilliam Cho, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

3. Mongol Culture Shaped Him

The Mongols developed on the Eurasian steppe, a mass of rolling plains, forests, mountains, and tundra with a climate of extremely variable weather. Due to the difficulties of living in this area, organized mobility became a crucial component of any society there, and a unique management of people became the distinctive style of a Eurasian empire. Along with ending people from on horseback, of course.

Mongol archersRashid al-Din, Wikimedia Commons

4. Becoming A Man Early

When Genghis Khan was just a child, his father Yesugei was poisoned by a rival tribe, the Tatars, when they sneakily offered him poisoned food. Genghis, who had been away, went back home to claim his position as chief of the tribe, but the tribe refused and abandoned Genghis' family instead.

Genghis Khan as a boy as depicted in the movieCTB Film Company, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)

5. The Decimation of Persia

Genghis Khan ended so many Persians (modern day Iranians), that the population of Persia didn't return to pre-Mongol numbers until the 1900s, nearly 700 years later.

Genghis Khan conquering the world.Michel SETBOUN, Getty Images

6. Born Under A Bad Star

The troubles still weren't over for the young Genghis. He also ended up being abducted by an enemy clan as a teenager, and had to make an escape to win his freedom and continue his rise to power.

History Of Genghis KhanInternet Archive Book Images, Wikimedia Commons

7. Tiny Armed Forces

By the age of three, Mongol children were taught to ride horses by their mothers. In order to prevent injury, the children would be tied to the horse at first, and within a couple of years, the child would begin training with a bow and arrow.

Genghis Khan as a boy as depicted in the movieCTB Film Company, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)

8. Now You See Me

No one knows what Genghis Khan looked like. The only images of the Khan started appearing after he passed, so it's unclear how accurate they are to his likeness. In fact, Genghis specifically forbid anyone to craft his likeness.

Genghis Khan, 14th century portraitUniversal History Archive, Getty Images

9. Was He Ginger?

Despite our cultural image of Genghis Khan as an Asian warlord, his appearance may have been truly unexpected. He is generally described as tall with a long flowing beard, but the Persian historian Rashid al-Din also claimed the Khan had red hair and green eyes. Al-Din never met Genghis in person, so we have to take it with a grain of salt, but these features weren't uncommon in the Mongol population at the time.

RUPERT GRINT as Ron WeasleyGinny Yaya, Flickr

10. Cry Me A River

It's said that Genghis Khan had those he trusted most divert a river over his final resting place, ensuring no one would disturb his eternal slumber. Now he sleeps with the fishes.

Onon RiverFan111, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

11. No Man's Land

Before Genghis Khan united Mongolia under a single banner, it was nothing more than warring, nomadic tribes. It took years of hard labor, but he finally did it and earned his "Khan" title. Then he turned his full attention to expanding the newly-minted empire.

Genghis Khan on a horse Sayf al-Vâhidî. Hérât., Wikimedia Commons

12. It Was Written

Genghis Khan adopted the Uyghur script as the official written language of Mongolia. He did the write thing.

Mongolian language and scriptArchives nationales, Wikimedia Commons

13. You Shall Not Pass

Ikh Khorig, or Great Taboo, is a 240 square kilometre piece of land in the Mongolian Khentii province that was declared holy by Genghis Khan. Only an elite tribe of warriors called the Darkhad and their families were allowed to enter, and anyone else caught doing so was put to rest. It's rumored that Genghis Khan was buried somewhere in Ikh Khorig. Who's up for a scavenger hunt?

Adult Genghis Khan as depicted in the movieCTB Film Company, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)

14. You've Got Mail

Genghis Khan created the first international postal service, allowing people to mail parcels and letters to friends and family in other countries without having to hire specialized couriers. The postal service was similar to the American Pony Express.

A Mongolian soldierSgt Ben Eberle, Wikimedia Commons

15. Live Your Truth

Genghis Khan was tolerant of individual beliefs, encouraging religious freedom amongst his subjects. It didn't matter who you believed in, because Genghis Khan believed in you.

Adult Genghis Khan as depicted in the movieCTB Film Company, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)

16. Financial Advisor To Genghis Khan

Yelu Chucai, one of Genghis Khan's most trusted advisors, suggested that the Khan tax people instead of just, you know, ending them. This became a cornerstone of Genghis' conquests. Terror and taxes indeed.

The statue of Yē​lǜ​ Chǔ​cáiRrmarcellus, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

17. Charity Case

Genghis Khan was a brutal warlord, but also a generous ruler. He was among the first global leaders to exempt the clergy and the poor from taxation.

Genghis Khan ascended the throneSayf al-Vâhidî, Wikimedia Commons

18. Warrior Culture

If you were born a Mongol, you were a part of the tribe in every facet of its society. This is evident in the fact that the Mongols did not have a word for soldier, as every member of their society was trained to be a part of their collective battle-machine, each of them learning to mobilize instantly.

Mongol soldiers in the movie on horsesCTB Film Company, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)

19. Show Me the Money

Genghis Khan's face appears on Mongolia's currency. Mongol, more like Mongoals!

Stack of Mongolian Tögrög banknotes.Gwengoat, Getty Images

20. The Children Of The Great Khan

Genghis Khan is the most successful biological father of all time, with nearly 16 million descendants.

Adult Genghis Khan as depicted in the movieCTB Film Company, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)

21. Foresight

Genghis Khan believed a man's legacy was measured in the children he left behind. That explains the why of the previous fact, but not the how. Who has that much time? Conquering must be easier than it sounds.

Abaqa On Horse, Arghun Standing, Ghazan As A ChildRachid al-Din, Wikimedia Commons

22. Father Figure

Nearly 8% of Asian men are descended from Genghis Khan. That's nearly 350 million men with one common ancestor.

Asian people G. Mützel, Wikimedia Commons

23. Influential in India

Shah Jahan, the Indian Shah responsible for building the Taj Mahal, was actually a descendant of Genghis Khan.

Taj Mahal in IndiaKristian Bertel, CC BY-SA 4.0 , Wikimedia Commons

24. Like Father…

Genghis Khan had four legitimate sons, all of whom heavily participated in the Mongol conquests. His third son Ogedei became the Khan when Genghis finally passed, and he continued his father's conquests of Asia and Europe. Don't you hate it when your parents force you into the family business?

 Great Khagan portraits Giorgiomonteforti, Wikimedia Commons

25. Marriage Proposals

Ghengis Khan would often marry his daughters off to local rulers, and then use these daughters to rule in his stead. You see, he would make his new son-in-law a army leader and send him off on a campaign, install the daughter into a position of power at the center of the nation, and then wait for the husband to meet his end in battle. It was a win/win for the Khan, who got new lands and new forces for his wars. For the late husband, well, not so much.

Mongol womanCTB Film Company, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)

26. Empressive

Though Genghis Khan took many wives throughout his life, his only Empress was his first wife Borte. Genghis had actually been betrothed to Borte since the tender age of nine. Now that's loyalty.

Genghis Khan seated on his throne.DEA / M. SEEMULLER, Getty Images

27. The Original Mr. Worldwide

Genghis Khan's Empire spanned many modern countries, and even continents. From Eastern Asia into Eastern Europe, Genghis Khan amassed one of the largest empires history has ever seen. His tinder profile would have read "Loves To Travel/Conquer."

Adult Genghis Khan as depicted in the movieCTB Film Company, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)

28. Game Plan

Genghis Khan was a master tactician, often employing clever tricks to defeat his enemy. Some examples include false retreats to bait enemies into ambushes, and tying sticks to horses' tails to kick up dust storms equal to those kicked up by large armies. They would also tie dummies atop horses to make it look like a solider was riding into battle.

Resurrecting Genghis Khan.Barry Lewis, Getty Images

29. Happy Perishing Day

We still don't know how Genghis Khan lost his life. We do know it was in August 1227, but the rest remains a mystery. Theories range from an illness,  a fall from his horse, or a gruesome battle wound. He was about 65 years old.

Gengis Khan on his deathbedDEA PICTURE LIBRARY, Getty Images

30. Thinkful Khan

You know those douchey 90s thumb rings? Well, you might have the Mongols to blame for that one. They would generally pull bow strings back with their thumbs, and so created the rings to protect their digits. Thanks a lot, Genghis.

thumb ringva_va_val, CC BY-SA 2.5 , Wikimedia Commons

31. Asian Sensation

Genghis Khan invaded China with 90,000 army and defeated an army of 1 million plus people. He ended nearly 500,000 people while a great many more, including generals and high ranking officers, defected to the Mongols. It's not about the size of your army, but how you use it.

Genghis Khan ExhibitBill Taroli, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

32. Demise Everywhere

WW2 was the deadliest conflict in the history of the mankind. However, the Mongol invasions proved almost as deadly, even though the world population was just one fifth of what it was during the WW2.

 Resurrecting Genghis Khan.

33. Nopetism

Genghis Khan believed in being rewarded for hard work, and operated on a meritocracy over a nepotistic system. Many of his highest ranking officers and generals had earned their way to those positions, instead of simply being born to a particular family.

Mongolia - Resurrecting Genghis Khan.Barry Lewis, Getty Images

34. Reading Is for Nerds

The conquests and destruction of the Mongol Empire didn't end with the great Genghis Khan's passing in 1227, however. Decades later, in 1258, the Mongols were still at it in grand style. In fact, they pretty much ended the Islamic Golden Age when they destroyed Baghdad that year. Survivors of the sacking (there weren't many) reported that, “the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river and red from the blood of the scientists and philosophers gone.”  Throwing books in the river? Ending scientists and philosophers? Not cool, Mongols. But very on-brand.

Al Salam PalaceSean A. Foley, Wikimedia Commons

35. Frenemies

Most of Genghis Khan's most trusted generals were his enemies at one point or another.

Mongolia - Resurrecting Genghis KhanBarry Lewis ,GettyImages

36. Squeaky Clean

The Mongols didn't like to spill noble, highborn blood on the ground, but they also really liked taking lives. To get around this, they came up with some gruesome loopholes: they loved to bend backs until they snapped, and frequently poured molten silver into the orifices of their victim, Game of Thrones style. Another favorite? Roll the victim up in a rug and trample him with a horse. No mess to clean up!

Adult Genghis Khan as depicted in the movieCTB Film Company, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)

37. Cold-Hearted

Genghis Khan's armies demised an estimated 40 million people. In fact, his armies ended so many people that he cooled the planet and reduced the carbon footprint of human beings. While effective, this is definitely not the solution to climate change.

 Resurrecting Genghis Khan.

38. Revolutionary

Khan often used spies to incite civil wars and revolutions within opposing empires to weaken them for his invasions.

Mongolia. Genghis Khan's CampaignHeritage Images , Getty Images

39. Hard Feelings for Genghis Khan

The Khan never let a slight go unpunished. The Khwarezmid Empire ended his messengers when he offered to open up trade routes. As a result, he decided to decimate the budding Persian empire, ending nearly 90% of the civilian Persian population at the time. You could say Iran was caught between Iraq and a hard place.

Close-up of the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue.Wolfgang Kaehler, Getty Images

40. Mothers Before Brothers

Life in Mongolia when Genghis was young was not a piece of cake, to say the least. After his father's passing, Genghis' family lived in poverty, and Genghis' half-brother Begter was beginning to eye up Genghis' mother Hoelun as a potential wife. Basically, Begter was looking for ways to flex his power as the oldest boy in the family. This didn't sit well with Genghis, and when he was 10 he ended up murdering Begter on a hunting excursion with the help of another brother.

 Resurrecting Genghis Khan.

41. A Feast for Crows

A legend says that once, when the Mongol horde defeated the Russian forces, they celebrated their victory in gruesome style.  They took all the survivors of the battle, laid them on the ground, and put a wooden slab on top of them. The Mongols then proceeded to eat a victory feast over their enemies, watching as the last of the survivors were slowly crushed to the end beneath them.

Receiving The Surrender Of The YiliJean Damascene, Wikimedia Commons

42. Weapon of Mass Destruction

This next one happened long after Genghis' passing, but it still says a lot about his legacy. Around 1346, just before the plague arrived in Europe, Mongol hordes were struck by the Black Plague as they laid siege to the town of Kaffa. As their numbers quickly diminished, the Mongols began to hurl the bodies of those who had perished from the plague into the walled city in an attempt to turn the bodies into plague-carrying agents of mass destruction. I like to think Genghis was smiling down from heaven—but it gets even more gruesome.

Many scholars believe that this was how the Black Plague first came to Europe, as the people brought the disease with them when they fled Kaffa and headed west for havens such as Sicily. This means that the Mongols, between the Black Plague and their regular conquering, have maybe the highest demise count of any civilization in world history.

Painting of Mongols besieging a city14th century Persian painter, Wikimedia Commons

43. Mommy Issues

Toregene Khatun was one of Genghis Khan's daughters-in-law, and she had almost as brilliant and brutal a reputation as Genghis. She ruled as Great Khatun and regent of the Mongol Empire for five years, and helped her son Guyuk become Khan in 1246. Guyuk, however, did not repay back his mother in kind.

When he became Khan, Guyuk's brother Koden accused one of Toregene's closest advisors, Fatima, of using witchcraft on him. Koden then promptly passed. Grieving his brother and pretty convinced Fatima was definitely a witch, Guyuk demanded that dear old mom deliver Fatima to face execution for her deeds. Toregene, not happy about the situation, claimed she would commit self-immolation rather than hand over her beloved advisor.

So what was Guyuk Khan to do? Well, he seized Fatima anyway, ending her by sewing up her mouth and other orifices and then dumping her into water. He then proceeded to strip the household of his mother's supporters. Toregene passed a few months later under mysterious, and obviously very suspicious, circumstances. It's hard out there for a Mongol.

TöregeneHainan Province Film and Television, The Legend of Kublai Khan (2013)

44. Destroy It

Genghis Khan ended more people than Josef Stalin and Adolph H. combined. And remember, he also did all this things when the Earth's human population was much lower than it was when Stalin and Adolf H. were in power.

Adult Genghis Khan as depicted in the movieCTB Film Company, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan  (2007)

45. Horsin' Around

Genghis Khan was once shot in the neck during a battle. When the enemy army was defeated, he asked which of the enemy army man had shot "his horse." The archer responsible stepped forward, and even corrected the Khan by saying, excuse me, he shot him in the neck. The man did not beg for mercy, and acknowledged that it was the Khan's choice to end him. But he also swore that if the Khan spared his life, he would become his loyal soldier. Valuing the archer's courage and skill, Genghis recruited him, and the man went on to be a great general under Khan.

Adult Genghis Khan as depicted in the movieCTB Film Company, Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4


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