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Who Was Genghis Khan?

L. S. Wynn
By L. S. Wynn
Updated May 23, 2024
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Genghis Khan was the first emperor of the Mongol Empire, an ancient world power that is widely believed to have been the largest and longest-lasting empire in history. In ancient dialects, the word “Genghis” meant something along the lines of “supreme leader,” and “Khan” was the honorary title given to monarchs and rulers. In combination, then, there is nothing tremendously unique about the name, but the man behind it has become a well-known figure in world history. Legend has it he gave himself the name after assuming power in the early 1200s; his birth name was Temujin. He is known primarily for his military prowess, and is credited with uniting many if not most of the tribes of what is today Mongolia into a coherent empire with uniform laws, rules, and politics. Some of this union came as a result of Khan’s leadership and influence, but much of it was also owing to his policies of brutality and forced submission. He is primarily remembered by historians as a man of both immense power and tremendous destruction. His legacy is arguably one of the anchors of the modern world, but it came at a price.

Mongolia in Context

The Mongol landscape was one of frequent wars and rival clans in the early 1200s when Khan came to power. The land was sparsely populated and there were many tribes competing for the same limited resources. In general the tribes people lacked any sort of formal educational structure, and the majority of their energy was spent on coordinating attacks and planning strategically for land-based warfare and defense. Though people often focus on the brutality of the Khan Empire, it’s important also to remember that the violence that regime introduced wasn’t really anything new. Khan’s efforts were more coordinated and on a larger scale, and in part this is what makes them remarkable; however they didn’t change the tone of the landscape as much as they heightened it.

Rise to Power

Most scholars don’t think Khan was born into royalty or any sort of hereditary leadership. His family was probably a member of one of the more powerful nomadic tribes, though, and he likely saw warfare from a very young age. He may have been trained as a warrior, and it’s usually agreed that one of his first battles was entered into as vengeance for the death of his father at the hands of the Tatars, one of the most powerful tribes of the time.

One of the first things he is thought to have done as a young warrior was to create a confederation or common allegiance between tribes to unify their force and ability to fight. By 1202, he had created an intimidating force and they attacked and conquered the Tatars to the east. His early success against is believed to have impressed the aging Mongol king, and the young Temujim was made heir to the throne.

According to ancient documents, he was coronated in 1206, and gave himself the name “Genghis Khan” or "emperor of all emperors." With this title he continued the process he had already begun, namely organizing warriors and consolidating Mongol tribes.

Role in Uniting Tribes and Introducing Uniform Laws

Khan grew his troops and worked to unite tribes from all across what is now Mongolia. By 1210 he overtook the Tangut kingdom, and fought against the Ruzhen in northeast China. His string of conquests was bolstered by his innovative military strategies. He conquered Transoxiana, Bukhara, Uzbekistan, and Samarkand. In later years he and his troops conquered Persia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.

In 1225, he returned as the ruler of vast swaths of land from the Caspian Sea all the way to Korea, a mass of land known as the Mongul Empire. This empire was significantly bigger than the country today known as Mongolia, though the modern nation is believed to be the origin and the birthplace of Genghis Khan. He had power over more of the world than any other conqueror at any time of history, and his empire surpassed even Rome’s. The tactics he employed are widely believed to have been quite brutal, and he used tremendous force against warriors and townspeople alike.

Other Cultural and Societal Contributions

Khan’s conquests did more than simply amass land. Most scholars think he did a great deal of work trying to unite the people who lived in all parts of his kingdom, and he was able to inspire many ideas of Mongol unity. He is credited for introducing record keeping and the rule of law into the agrarian society. Additionally he is believed to have established efficient trade routes and rewarded profitable business ventures, and he insisted upon a society that was tolerant of many different religious traditions and faith customs.


In 1227, another battle was raging between the Mongols and the Tangut, who lived in what is now central China. It is believed that during this battle, Khan fell off of his horse and died; he is estimated to have been about 65 years old. The huge Mongolian empire was then ruled by Genghis Kahn's sons and grandson: Ögedei and Kubilai Khan.

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Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By MichaelHorde — On Jan 05, 2013

Tatars knew and remembered that Genghis Khan was their ancestor and tribesman since ancient times. Besides, this is stated in many ancient sources. It it spoken of in the Tatar historical sources, and also in sources from other nations: Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Turkish and West European.

Only this theme about Genghis Khan and the truth about his origin, his native ethnos and his affairs was taboo, as in the official history of the Romanovs and during the Soviet-Bolshevik regime.

But now the historical truth has been revealed that the native ethnos of Chingiz-Khan was one of the medieval Turkic ethnoses - medieval Tatars - the ancestors of the modern Tatars and their fraternal Turkic peoples.

"Тhe Secret history of the Mongols" - known as the official history - was composed by Chinese historians in the second half of the 14th century. These Chinese historians were ideologists of those who fought then against the Tatars of the Horde in China, after anti-Tatar propaganda "about the war Tatars against the Chingiz-Khan" etc. was repeated by Persian Rashid ad-Din, who was an enemy of the Tatars of the Golden Horde. So these are only in these two sources and in the derivatives from them which report that "Tatars were the enemies of the Chingiz-Khan".

But, many other sources of those times said the "Tatars are a Turkic tribe, and their king is the Chingiz-Khan" (Arabic Ibn al-Asher, 1219); "in 1187 Tatars had elected a King for themselves, whose name was Genghis-Khan" (Marco Polo, 13-th century); "Tatar's Khan Temuchin declared himself as Emperor and Tatars named his "Genghis-Khan" (a lot of Chinese sources), etc. Such sources, I repeat, are numerous, but they are not very known to the general public at the present time.

However, books have been published recently by an independent Tatar historian, Galy Yenikeyev, about the unwritten (hidden) real history of theTatar Nation. So, everything mentioned above, as well as much of the true history of the Tatars and other fraternal Turkic peoples, which was hidden from us, had been written, in detail and proved, in the book "Forgotten Heritage of Tatars" (by Galy Yenikeyev).

There are a lot of previously little-known historical facts, as well as 16 maps and illustrations in this book. It is available online.

On the cover of this book you can see the true appearance of Genghis Khan. It is his lifetime portrait, and the notes discuss its authenticity.

By tuvshin1102 — On Dec 16, 2012

Last few days I've read many posts that says Chingis Khaan is not Mongolian but Turkic. Those people think he was Turkic because his name is Turkic. And also regarding the fact the Western world knows Mongolians as Tatars, many people think he was a Tatar (which is considered to be Turkic descendent tribe). I have some explanations for this misconceptions.

Those who claim that Chingis khaan is Turkic not Mongolian, haven't even read SHM, the only history book about Chingis khaan and his ancestors written by Mongols. Because the only copy of this book (written in the Mongolian language) is found in China and is not available elsewhere in the world.

First of all, Tatars are not Chingis Khaan's native people. Actually, they were the biggest enemy of Chingis Khaan. Many historians believe the Tatar tribe was a somewhat Turkic tribe (even though there's no fact relating Turks and Tatars are found in SHM). Chingis Khaan is the son of Yesukhei baatar (baatar means hero in Mongolian) the leader of Khiad tribe. Just because his oldest son was born right after he killed the leader of Tatar tribe -- Temujin-Uge -- he named his oldest son Temujin.

That's why many people who haven't read this book argue that Chingis Khaan was turkic because his name is Turkic. In fact, his father gave him that name just because he killed a man who had a Turkic name.

The son of Temujin-uge later gave Yesukhei baatar a poisonous drink and killed him. From that moment, Tatars became the biggest enemies of Temujin. At that time, Temujin was a little child. The boy who killed Temujin's father was not even taller than a wheel on a cart. After he conquered the Tatars, he killed all men and women taller than the wheel on a cart.

In addition, Mongols are known as Tatars in the western world. That's the reason why many people around the world think Chingis is Tatar. Chingis khaan hated Tatars until the day he died and wanted every Tatar (who were kids shorter than the wheel on a cart at the time Chingis conquered their tribe) to be in the front line of all the fights. The front line of the war was the most dangerous place for soldiers at that time and many of them never came back.

Some part of Great Mongolian empire was Turkic, as many people assume, but neither Chingis Khaan nor his Khiad tribe people were.

By anon288311 — On Aug 29, 2012

Firstly you should know the truth about the meaning of the names "Mongol" and "Tatar" in the medieval Eurasia:

the name "Mongol" until the 17th-18th centuries meant belonging to a political community, and was not the ethnic name. While “the name "Tatars" was “the name of the native nation of Chingiz-Khan…”, “… Genghis Khan and his people did not speak the language, which we now call the "Mongolian…" (Russian academic-orientalist V.P.Vasiliev, 19th century).

Also it must be said: now very few people know that Genghis Khan is a Turk. Tatars of Chingiz-Khan - medieval Tatars - were one of the Turkic nations, whose descendants now live in many of the fraternal Turkic peoples of Eurasia - among the Kazakhs, Bashkirs, Tatars, Uighurs, and many others.

And few people know, that the ethnos of medieval Tatars, which stopped the expansion of the Persians and the Chinese to the West of the World in Medieval centuries, is still alive. Despite the politicians of the tsars Romanovs and Bolsheviks had divided and scattered this ethnos to different nations...

Everything above mentioned is written, in detail and proved, in the book "Forgotten Heritage of Tatars" (by Galy Yenikeyev). This E-book you can easily find in the Interet, on Smashwords company website.

By SilentBlue — On Jan 18, 2011

It is interesting to note how the Tatars migrated from east of the Mongols all the way to western Russia, where many of them live today. They drove many other tribes toward the Slavic region of original Russia with them, becoming a ruling class in Russia before the advent of the Tsars.

By Qohe1et — On Jan 16, 2011


The Hazara tribe of central Afghanistan claims to be descended from Genghis Khan, and many of them bear the common central Asian surname "Khan," which means king, and may indicate a descent from him. Today, the Hazara speak a Persian language, but their features and cultural traditions are very Mongolian.

By FitzMaurice — On Jan 16, 2011

Temujin reigned in a diverse and ancient melting pot of central asia. To this day, the tribes of central asia are a mixture of Mongolians, Turks, other nomadic Altaic tribes, Indo-Europeans such as the Persians, Chinese, Arabs, and many more. The stans are still a hotbed of regional contention much as they have always been, and there is considerable racism, regardless of how mixed everyone is. Tribal and cultural differences are used as an excuse for violence.

By hangugeo112 — On Jan 13, 2011

Genghis Khan was an efficient conqueror, but like many nomadic conquering tribes such as the Turks and Mongols, his empire came to be dominated by many inefficient tyrants. What he accomplished with ferocity, his successors and vassals failed to accomplish with consistency, and his empire was eventually split up piecemeal, much like the tale of Alexander the Great.

By anon134166 — On Dec 13, 2010

This helped me on a project! Thanks!

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