Everything Pop Culture Taught You About Genghis Khan Is Wrong
Even if you’re a poor deprived soul who never saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, you probably hear Genghis Khan and see a barbarian warmonger at the head of a slavering horde, closer to Khal Drogo than Julius Caesar or Napoleon. But the kindest thing you can say for this popular image is that it’s incomplete.
Here are some things you should know about Temujin, the man who was Genghis Khan.
Temujin was a son of a minor Mongolian chief. His father was poisoned, and their tribe abandoned Temujin’s mother and her children. The family fled north, and lived “like wolves” in the Siberian wilderness; Temujin was ultimately captured as a slave, broke free, formed an alliance with a Christian relative, married, was betrayed, hounded his betrayers to the ends of the steppe, and by the age of fifty or so became the first ruler of the territory we now know as Mongolia.
For most nation-builders, that would be enough. Before the time of his death, though, Temujin’s empire stretched from the Pacific to the Mediterranean:
Mongol Empire map
CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons
He was, to steal from that old Gladiator trailer, the prince who became a refugee who became a slave who became a war leader who became a king who became an emperor.