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Chinggis Khan, Mongolian Leader, Died Today in 1227

August 18, 2009

Chinggis Khan died this day in history, in the year 1227.   The cause of his death remains a mystery, with some claiming he succumbed to injuries sustained after falling from his horse due to fatigue and injury from battle, while others claim he was killed in battle by the Tanguts and still others say he was killed by a Tangut princess taken during a battle.  Chinggis’ place of burial remains a mystery as it is said anybody who crossed the path of the burial procession was killed.  It is alleged to be near his birthplace in Khentii Aimag, in the east of Mongolia.  His successor to lead the Mongolian empire was Ugudei.

The Early Life of Temujin

Chinggis Khan (or Genghis as he if often known in the West) was born Temujin in 1162 near the Onon River in Khentii Aimag.  According to the Secret History of the Mongols he was born with a blood clot grasped in his fist, a sign that he was destined to become a great leader.  Temujin’s early life was difficult due, in part, to the fact that his father was poisoned by the Tatars.  Temujin then tried to claim the title of khan of his father’s tribe, but refusing to grant the title to one so young they abandoned Temjin and his mother and siblings.  He was reportedly captured by Bjartskular tribe but was able to escape by hiding in a river crevice.

At the age of 16 he married Burte, a marriage that was arranged by Temujin’s father before his death.  Burte had four sons, Jochi, Chagatai, Ugudei, and Tolui.  Because of Burte’s capture by the Merkits Jochi’s true father was brought into question, causing him to be removed from the line of Chinggis’s succession.

The Great Khan Makes His Empire

In the early 1200s he began his rise to power by allying with a friend of his father’s, Toghrul.  The two would later become enemies after Toghrul’s son became jealous of Temujin’s growing power.  By 1206, a date which is commonly seen as the start of the Mongol Empire (its 800th anniversary was celebrated here in 2006, with Chinggis Khan being declared “Man of the Millennium” by The Washington Post in 1989 and The Times Magazine in 1995) he was able to unite the tribes of Mongolia, making a unified Mongol Empire.

During the remainder of his life Chinggis continued his military campaigns westward, eventually amassing an empire that would stretch from the East coast of China, across Russia and to the Aral Sea, between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, an empire that would only continue to grow under his successors.

Chinggis gradually began growing his empire by defeating the Jin Dynasty, taking its capital of Yanjing (Beijing) in 1215.  He then set his sights on the Kara-Khitan Khanate, located in what is presently Western China and Kazakhstan.  Taking a different course of action due to his army being so battle-weary, the Mongols fomented internal dissent in the Kkhanate, and was able to count this land as belonging to the Mongol Empire by 1218, again extending the empire further westward.  By 1220 the Mongols had defeated the Khwarezmian Empire and expanded the empire from southern Kazakhstan to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.

The Mongolian army then split into two forces, one heading north into Russia and then back down deep into Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia while Chinggis lead troops through Persia and northern India on his way back towards Mongolia.  In a final push before his death Chinggis and his army was able to defeat the Western Xia Dynasty and the remnants of the Jin Dynasty of northern China by the year of his death.

Chinggis’ Legacy

While still viewed negatively in Iran and Iraq, where is seen as a brutal warlord, in many parts of the world, and especially in Mongolia, he is viewed as a progressive leader.  During his reign as Chinggis Khan, a title he was granted in 1206, the empire was governed by a civil and military code Chinggis himself devised.  Apart from Chinggis and his family, the administration of the empire was based more on merit than race or ethnicity.  The empire was ethnically and culturally diverse, freedom of religion was allowed, as well as the ability of women to air their views publicly, and Chinggis helped establish the first written Mongolian language.

In Mongolia his face adorns everything from mountainsides to money to vodka bottles, a place that seems incongruous for a figure Mongols consider to be the father of their country.  The southern side of the Government House is now home to a Lincolnesque statue of Chinggis while an hour of UB a new 40 meter statue of Chinggis on horseback opened less than a year ago.  While the place of his burial remains a mystery, Chinggis Khan continues to live on in the hearts and minds of the Mongols.

Sources:  Embassy of Mongolia, Washington, DC, The Writer’s Almanac, and Wikipedia.

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