The legacy of Genghis Khan

History Revealed - - GENGHIS KHAN -

With John Man, au­thor of The Mon­gol Em­pire: Genghis Khan, His Heirs and the Found­ing of Mod­ern China (Corgi, 2015)

Q WHAT MADE GENGHIS KHAN A GREAT LEADER?

A He never stopped learn­ing and was end­lessly will­ing to adapt. He re­alised early on that the only way to pros­per was to strike al­liances with ri­val tribes. Then, when he be­came Genghis Khan, he came up with the idea of break­ing up tribes and dis­tribut­ing them into dif­fer­ent parts of the army. This was a bril­liant way of quelling in­ter-tribal feud­ing. And, of course, he pro­moted through merit, which meant that the great­est tal­ents got to the top.

Q IS GENGHIS KHAN THE GREAT­EST MIL­I­TARY COM­MAN­DER?

A He’s un­doubt­edly in the top three. You could make an ar­gu­ment for Alexan­der the Great ri­valling him. The same goes for Napoleon who, like Genghis Khan, was a ge­nius at mar­shalling both the mil­i­tary and civil side of his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Q HOW DID HE EN­SURE LOY­ALTY AMONG HIS FOL­LOW­ERS?

A Ev­ery­one loves a win­ner. The more he won, the more peo­ple ral­lied to his flag. And in a coun­try with­out money, many would have been at­tracted by the spoils of war. Genghis Khan was gen­er­ous to those who showed loy­alty – he was not the sort of leader to squir­rel his wealth away in the 13th-cen­tury equiv­a­lent of a Swiss bank ac­count!

Q HOW BLOOD­THIRSTY WAS GENGHIS KHAN?

A He was more blood­thirsty than his con­tem­po­raries, but that’s only be­cause he was more suc­cess­ful. I’d ar­gue that he showed great re­straint. He re­alised that to cre­ate an em­pire, he had to work with peo­ple af­ter­wards, and would only re­sort to killing if it served his pur­pose. That prob­a­bly ex­plains his use of the ‘ex­em­plary mas­sacre’. Sieges

are ex­tremely ex­pen­sive and re­quire a lot of man­power – the best way to avoid them was to ter­rify cities into sur­ren­der­ing in ad­vance.

Q IT IS SAID THAT ONE-IN-200 MEN TO­DAY CAN TRACE THEIR LIN­EAGE TO GENGHIS KHAN. HOW MANY WOMEN DID HE SLEEP WITH?

A He wasn’t no­tably li­cen­tious­ness. Cap­tured women were cur­rency to be given away or used as bar­gain­ing chips. There’s lit­tle doubt that Genghis Khan passed many cap­tured women around to his fol­low­ers.

Q WHAT WAS HIS GREAT­EST MIL­I­TARY VIC­TORY?

A The siege of Beijing. It was the first re­ally big one. Once he had cap­tured one ma­jor city, he ac­quired more man­power and siege weapons to use against oth­ers.

Q WHAT MO­TI­VATED GENGHIS KHAN?

A Ac­cord­ing to later Mon­go­lian sources, he was in­spired by the heav­ens to rule the Earth. I think that idea came from hind­sight, not the man him­self. I’d ar­gue that each con­quest in­spired the next, un­til the whole thing gath­ered an un­stop­pable mo­men­tum. Em­pires are never big enough or se­cure enough – if you’re the em­peror, you’ve al­ways got to keep go­ing.

Q HOW DID GENGHIS KHAN CHANGE THE WORLD?

A His great­est legacy was, for me, the vi­sion of world rule that grew up af­ter his death – put into prac­tice by his son Ögodei and grand­son Kublai Khan. That ul­ti­mately led to the uni­fi­ca­tion of China, and it’s re­mained uni­fied ever since. So it could be ar­gued that per­haps his long­est-last­ing achieve­ment is mod­ern-day China.

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