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Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan

The Mongolian emperor Genghis Khan’s (1167-1227) audacity and ingenuity fueled the vast expansion of the Mongol Empire during the 12th and 13th centu­ries, securing him a place of note in world history. His empire eventually extended over most of Asia, including portions of Russia.

Genghis Khan (born Temujin) remains among the most influential people of all time, having revo­lutionized the conduct of war and establishment of laws in addition to instilling fear and awe in those he led and those he encountered on the battlefield. As for military convention, Genghis Khan imple­mented tactics that helped the Mongol forces attain one of the largest empires in history. Dependent on well-trained cavalry, Genghis Khan’s forces used hit-and-run tactics to disrupt and slowly carve away at enemy forces, beginning with enemy com­manders. Genghis Khan’s strategies made it possi­ble to attack and disperse larger forces, reflecting the daring and brilliance of the Mongol leader so many came to fear. Arguably, it is these cunning tactics, along with his methodology of concealing his army’s size and whereabouts, that ultimately won Genghis Khan land and reputation.

Though Genghis Khan’s military tactics instilled fear in his enemies, it is his compilation of laws (Yassa) that reflects his understanding of people and adds considerable depth to his legacy. Genghis Khan incorporated longstanding tradi­tions and his own decrees to formulate one canon of laws. This combining of the traditional and the contemporary ensured legitimacy for the Yassa and, consequently, for Genghis Khan’s reign.

Chinggis, or Genghis, Khan is the title bestowed on Temujin on his attaining the Mongol throne. The year of Chinggis Khan’s birth and the exact location of his tomb remain unknown, though several dates and locations have been postulated. Further, a complete copy of Chinggis Khan’s Yassa has yet to be found, making it difficult to ascertain the extent of his transformation of tradi­tions to generate his laws. What is known is that he created one of the greatest empires in history, employing both harsh and ingenious methods to do so. Chinggis Khan’s death in 1227 is docu­mented as to the day and his final actions as ruler, yet even with documentation from a number of texts, questions remain.

Neil Patrick O’Donnell

See also Attila the Hun; Nevsky, Saint Alexander

Further Readings

Grousset, R. (1966). Conqueror of the world. New York: Orion Press.

May, T. (2007). Genghis Khan: Secrets of success. Military History, 24(5), 42-49.

Morgan, D. O. (1986). The great Yasa of Chingiz Khan and Mongol law in the Ilkhanate. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 49(1), 163-176.

Sinopoli, C. M. (1994). The archeology of empires. Annual Review of Anthropology, 23, 159-180.

Vernadsky, G. (1938, December). The scope and contents of Chingis Khan’s Yasa. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 3(3/4), 337-360.

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