Genghis Khan, although the product of an illiterate and barbarian people plagued by internal wars, transformed the Mongol warriors into a brilliant military machine that frequently defeated the civilizations of China, Islam and Eastern Europe. Legend claims that Genghis Khan was born with a blood clot in his hand, an omen of greatness. Regardless of the omens, Genghis Khan’s cruel, creative, and cunning mind was clearly responsible for his truly legendary success.

For example, in 1207, when his Mongol army had been blockaded by the fortified city of Volohai, he proposed to the city leaders that he would end their siege if they paid him a strange tribute of 1,000 cats and 10,000 swallows. The strange demand was met by the city and then Genghis Khan told his Mongols to tie tufts of wool to the tails of the animals and set them on fire. Terrified by the burning pieces of wool, the cats and swallows were released. They fled back to their lairs and nests within the city and spread fire on the walls. Then the Mongols successfully stormed the walls of Volohai while its defenders were busy with the numerous fires. Another tactic employed by the Mongols during one of their many campaigns against the Chinese was to round up women, children, and old people from the countryside and bring them before their army as a human shield so that the defenders of the walls would not fire.

Despite his cunning, Genghis Khan realized that he could not depend on deception forever. He needed to address the weaknesses within the Mongol army. Siege equipment and techniques were to be added to the swift and bloodthirsty Mongol hordes.

Genghis Khan was always willing to learn from the civilizations he conquered, including the arts of war. He ordered each tribe below him to assemble siege equipment and learn how to use and transport it. In addition to these technical advances, he formed an elite corps of professional commanders who would dedicate themselves to training for war. This innovation in their command structure surpassed the long tradition of Mongol warriors who, despite their vicious skills, were amateurs. They would follow orders whenever victory came, but they fretted at setbacks or failures. Wanting only easy looting, the traditional Mongolian warrior had not applied much to long-term strategies. The new command corps would provide the structure and discipline necessary to transform Mongol warriors into an adaptive, multi-skilled force.

Genghis Khan also understood that an army is supported by his society, and allowed Mongolian civil society to advance with the help of codified laws that he ordered his adviser and scribe Tatatungo to write. The newly drafted Mongolian code required all men to work and be always ready for battle, declared that even a leader was bound by the law, insisted that all religions should be tolerated and even respected, and that the rights and responsibilities of women on the management of family assets should be expanded considerably. This inclusion of women in the leadership of society in opposition to total oppression allowed Mongolian society to function while men were at war. Genghis Khan was not one to allow strict patriarchy to weaken his army. His codification and application of written laws also promoted discussion and judgment within Mongolian society to resolve disputes rather than the little wars that had been permanently raging for countless generations. With Mongol society now enjoying a higher level of peace, it could better maintain the engines of conquest.

With the natural talents of Mongol warriors now enhanced by strategic thinking, professional leadership, and siege technology, the many kingdoms of Asia would soon collapse under the helmets of the nomadic masses turned conquerors. Even with such power at his disposal, Genghis Khan did not strike mindlessly. He is well known for his cunning use of terror. He cultivated such a hideous reputation that cities and kingdoms would surrender to him instead of being assaulted by his bloodthirsty hordes. Genghis Khan required immediate and total submission in order to bestow his mercy. Any resistance invited brutal horrors. Although the slaughter and looting of his armies cannot be tolerated, his conscious use of terror was a well-thought-out practice that often brought him efficient victory without having to waste the lives of his soldiers and waste resources and time.

The Mongols under Genghis Khan were such a colossal force that resistance was almost always futile. The fierce and highly skilled Mongol warriors seemed almost unrivaled on the open battlefield. Mongolian warriors were excellent horsemen and could shoot arrows while mounted. The speed and precision of this highly mobile force could surpass and surpass almost anyone who encountered it. The Turks expected their great city on the Silk Road, Samarkand, to hold out against the Mongols for at least a year, but even with 100,000 Turkish fighters to defend it, the Mongols were able to put the great city to the sword in just three days. A ruthless carnage descended on Samarkand for having the audacity to resist Genghis Khan, but he showed mercy to those within the city who sided with him and, thoughtful as ever, saved from death the artisans and workers who were useful to the Mongols.

Even with such glorious successes to his name, Genghis Khan experienced the inevitable pressure to provide his people with new success, and for the Mongols this meant new victories and spoils. Historian Peter Brent, author of “Genghis Khan: The Rise, Authority, and Decline of Mongol Power” described this ongoing war-hungry cycle as the “debauchery of conquest.”

The empire created by Genghis Khan and maintained by some generations of his heirs was truly epic in scale. He imposed the will of a nomadic people on the glorious towers of civilization, and millions of people, from Chinese kings to Russian peasants and Persian merchants, lived in fear of Mongol invasions throughout the 12th and 13th centuries. Genghis Khan lived between 1167 and 1227, and is truly one of the most impressive figures in history. Genghis Khan, intelligent and cruel, but a thoughtful administrator who directed his society on many levels, was always a larger than life figure, even to his contemporaries. Taller than most men and famous for his handsome beard, he received countless tributes and literally plundered the world’s riches. It is unknown if any of his wealth was taken to the grave. The location of his grave is unknown. Rest somewhere in the cold Mongolian hills.

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