Genghis Khan

The name echoes through the history of Europe and Asia with a drumbeat of horse-hooves, accompanied by the screams of doomed townspeople. Incredibly, in a span of just 25 years, Genghis Khan's horsemen conquered a larger area and greater population than the Romans did in four centuries. To the millions of people his hordes conquered, Genghis Khan was evil incarnate. In Mongolia and across Central Asia today, though, the Great Khan's name is revered. Some Central Asians still name their sons "Chinguz," in hopes that these namesakes will grow up to conquer the world, as their thirteenth century hero did.

Genghis Khan's Early Life:
Records of the Great Khan's early life are sparse and contradictory. He was likely born in 1162, though some sources give it as 1155 or 1165. We know that the boy was given the name Temujin. His father Yesukhei was the chief of the minor Borijin clan of nomadic Mongols, who lived by hunting rather than herding. Yesukhei had kidnapped Temujin's young mother, Hoelun, as she and her first husband rode home from their wedding. She became Yesukhei's second wife; Temujin was his second son by just a few months. Mongol legend says that the baby was born with a blood-clot in his fist, a sign that he would be a great warrior.

Hardship and Captivity:
When Temujin was nine, his father took him to a neighboring tribe to work for several years and earn a bride. His intended was a slightly older girl named Borje. On the way home, Yesukhei was poisoned by rivals, and died. Temujin returned to his mother, but the clan expelled Yesukhei's two widows and seven children, leaving them to die. The family scraped a living by eating roots, rodents, and fish. Young Temujin and his full brother Khasar grew to resent their eldest half-brother, Begter. They killed him; as punishment for the crime, Temujin was seized as a slave. His captivity may have lasted more than five years.

Temujin as a Young Man:

Free at sixteen, Temujin went to find Borje again. She was still waiting, and they soon married. The couple used her dowry, a fine sable-fur coat, to make an alliance with Ong Khan of the powerful Kereyid clan. Ong Khan accepted Temujin as a foster-son. This alliance proved key, as Hoelun's Merkid clan decided to avenge her long-ago kidnapping by stealing Borje. With the Kereyid army, Temujin raided the Merkids, looting their camp and reclaiming Borje. Temujin also had help in the raid from his childhood blood-brother ("anda"), Jamuka, who would later become a rival. Borje's first son, Jochi, was born nine months later.
Consolidation of Power:
After rescuing Borje, Temujin's small band stayed with Jamuka's group for several years. Jamuka soon asserted his authority, rather than treating Temujin as an anda, and a two-decade-long feud developed between the nineteen-year-olds. Temujin then left the camp, along with many of Jamuka's followers and livestock. At the age of 27, Temujin held a kuriltai among the Mongols, who elected him khan. The Mongols were only a Kereyid sub-clan, however, and Ong Khan played Jamuka and Temujin off one another. As khan, Temujin awarded high office not just to his relatives, but to those followers who were most loyal to him.
Uniting the Mongols
In 1190, Jamuka raided Temujin's camp, cruelly horse-dragging and even boiling alive his captives, which turned many of his followers against him. The united Mongols soon defeated the neighboring Tatars and Jurkins, and Temujin Khan assimilated their people rather than following steppe custom of looting them and leaving. Jamuka attacked Ong Khan and Temujin in 1201. Despite an arrow to the neck, Temujin defeated and assimilated Jamuka's remaining warriors. Ong Khan then treacherously tried to ambush Temujin at a wedding ceremony for Ong's daughter and Jochi, but the Mongols escaped and returned to conquer the Kereyids.
Genghis Khan's Early Conquests
Unification of Mongolia ended in 1204, when Temujin defeated the powerful Naiman clan. Two years later, another kuriltai confirmed him as Chingis Khan ("Genghis Khan"), or Oceanic Leader of all Mongolia. Within five years, the Mongols had annexed much of Siberia and modern Chinese Xinjiang. The Jurched Dynasty, ruling northern China from Zhongdu (Beijing), noticed the upstart Mongol khan and demanded that he kowtow to their Golden Khan. In reply, Genghis Khan spat on the ground. He then defeated their tributaries, the Tangut, and in 1214 conquered the Jurcheds and their 50 million citizens. The Mongol army numbered just 100,000.

Conquest of Central Asia, the Middle East and the Caucasus
Tribes as far away as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan heard about the Great Khan, and overthrew their Buddhist rulers in order to join his growing empire. By 1219, Genghis Khan ruled from northern China to the Afghan border, and Siberia to the border of Tibet. He sought a trade alliance with the powerful Khwarizm Empire, which controlled Central Asia from Afghanistan to the Black Sea. Sultan Muhammad II agreed, but then murdered the first Mongol trade convoy of 450 merchants, stealing their goods. Before the end of that year, the wrathful Khan had captured every Khwarizm city, adding lands from Turkey to Russia to his realm.