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Genghis Khan, the Great Conqueror
2006-02-27 17:20:23

An "official" portrait of Cengis Khan, the king of kings.

Genghis Khan
established the Mongol nation, conquered most of the known world, and rightfully earned the reputation as one of the great military leaders of all time. Although often called "barbarian," with a "horde" for an army, Khan achieved his victories through brilliant organization and tactics rather than barbaric behavior.

Born into an influential family in central Mongolia along the Onon River in 1167, or as early as 1155, depending on the account, Genghis Khan received the name Temujin in honor of a Tartar enemy his father admired. Then Temujin was nine, rival tribal members killed his father, forcing the family into exile. They barely survived the harsh winter, and their situation became even more tenuous when another tribe raided their camp and took Temujin prisoner, placing a heavy wooden collar around his neck to prevent escape.

The security measures did not prove sufficient. Temujin managed to free himself, return to his tribe, and by his early teens, gain the reputation as a furious warrior. Before he was twenty, Temujin had begun to forge cooperation among the many clans and tribes through diplomacy and marriage to the daughter of a powerful neighbor. While the number of the young leader's alliances were still small, a rival tribe, the Merkits, raided Temujin's camp and kidnapped his wife. Temujin increased his efforts to unite neighboring families and within a year defeated the Merkits and rescued his spouse.

A portrait of Cengris Khan in relievo on an ancient silver coin.

Temujin's success against the Merkits drew other tribes to his side. He attacked and defeated those who opposed him. He then allowed survivors to choose between joining his forces or being put to the sword. By the age of twenty-five, Temujin had systematically united all of the Mongol tribes into a single federation and assumed the title Genghis Khan - variously defined as "universal lord," "rightful lord," or "precious lord."

Khan required each of his federation's subtribes to maintain a standing force prepared to defend their territory or to assume the offensive. He organized his military on a system of ten - ten men to a squad, ten quads to a company, ten companies to a regiment, and so on, up to "Tumens" of ten thousand men. Khan's sons and other trusted family and clan members assumed the senior leadership positions and enforced rigid training and discipline. These practices and organization are similar to that of Attila the Hun, of more than seven hundred years earlier. History does not reveal whether Genghis copied any of his predecessor's ideas or if they were his own innovations. Regardless of their origin, he wisely organized his army to achieve maximum results.

Heavy cavalry warriors, armed with lance and sword and protected by leather helmets and breastplates, made up almost half of Khan's army. Light cavalry archers, armed with bows and arrows and protected by little more than leather helmets, filled the remaining ranks. All members of the Mongol army were mounted, and the cavalrymen led spare horses that carried sufficient supplies and equipment needed for protracted campaigns. These innovations and adaptations produced an extremely mobile army far superior to any other of its time.

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