uel and barbaric of the peoples that have roamed this earth. My research paper is on the greatest of the Mongols, Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan was, even in the
lightest sense, a military genius.Genghis Khan almost conquered the world. He instilled in humankind a
fear that lasted for ages. But what drove him to do it? Was it by chance? This paper will explain how the
general’s childhood molded the man into the best war general of the known world.
The Mongols originally consisted of loosely organized nomadic tribes. (Nomadic refers to a tribe
whose members wander and travel around, never staying in one place very long). They were considered
barbarians, by European standards. They had no written language, and they were uneducated, except in
warfare. Their land was in the most sense barren, for it was the Gobi Desert.
In the Gobi, weather could change at a moments notice, from scorching heat to blustering cold.
To protect themselves from the unforgiving cold, the Mongols smeared themselves with oil and grease.
This offered sufficient protection, but they had to still worry about the wind, for the desert was barren, and
with no trees to divert the wind, the gusts were sometimes enough to make riding on horseback difficult.
Their culture was very unique. In the spring, meat, fur, and milk were abundant. In the winter,
however, it was not. The Mongols evidently did not care much for their children, for they
did not sacrifice their food for them. Whenever food was brought in during the winter, all of it was put in
the a pot and then the order of people got it. The order of people were – the able-bodied men taking the
first portions, the aged and the women received the pot next, and the children had to fight for the rest
(Lamb 23). When there was a shortage of cattle, the children didn’t survive so easily. Milk, one of their
chief sources of nutrition, existed only in the form of kumiss, milk put in leather satchels, fermented and
beaten. It was nourishment, and also intoxicating, especially to a kid of three or four years (Lamb 26).
Their fires were not fueled by wood, since trees were scarce in the desert. Instead, it was fueled by cattle
and horse dung, which had to make for a certainly unpleasant smell. When festivals came about, as they
rarely did, big piles of dung were lit and the same order of the eating applied to the fire, with the women
sometimes being able to sit!
on the left of the fire.
The children were not introduced to hardship; they were born into it. After they were weaned
from their mothers milk to mare’s milk, they were expected to manage almost entirely for themselves. The
children learned to live by themselves, in houses, called yurts and they learned to organize hunts, stalking
dogs and rats, beating them with crude, blunt clubs and arrows. They also learned to ride sheep by holding
on to the wool. The yurts were made of felt, animal skin shaved close, stretched over wooden sticks, with
an opening at the top to let out the smoke.
The felt was covered with white lime, and pictures were drawn onto it. This tent was serviceable,
for its dome shaped top allowed it to resist the high winds (Fox 29).
Endurance was life for the young Genghis Khan, called at birth Temujin, or “The Finest Steel”. It
was a name given to him by his father, the name of an enemy taken prisoner. Temujin’s father was the
Khan of the Yakka, or Great, Mongols. He had control of over 47,000 tents and his name was Yesukai
Temujin had numerous duties, just as did the other boys of the camp. They had to fish the streams
that the family passed on their trek. They looked after the family’s horses, learning out of necessity to stay
in the saddle for several days at a time, and to survive without food for three to four days. The boys
watched the skyline for raiders and spent many nights in the snow without a fire. When there was food
available, in the form of mutton or horse flesh, they ate and made up for lost time, eating incredible
amounts of food, in hopes of storing it away for the long haul.
As a child and later as an adult, Temujin must have been tall, with high-set shoulders, the kind that
you see in football players. He had a whitish tan about his skin, and when he greased his body it must have
made it look darker. His eyes were set against a sloping forehead, far apart from each other – green, with
black pupils. His hair was long and reddish-brown, falling to his back in braids. He was a quiet person,
speaking only when he meditated what he said.
It is told in a story that Yesukai and Temujin were passing by a strangers tent and a young girl
caught Temujin’s attention. She was only nine years old, yet still a beauty. Her name was Bourtai – a name
that traveled all the way back to her tribes ancestor, The Gray Eyed. The next day, a deal was made, and
Temujin was left to make the acquaintance of his future bride and father-in-law.
A few days later, a Mongol galloped up with word that Yesukai, Temujin’s father, had been
poisoned while presumably sleeping in the tent of some enemies, and was asking for Temujin. Even though
Temujin rode as fast as a horse could go, he found his father dead. Had Temujin accompanied Yesukai, he
might have been poisoned as well.
More than his father’s death had gone on in the clan. The clan elders had discussed the future, and
more than two-thirds had elected to abandon the chieftain standard and find other ways of protection. They
were fearful in leaving the protection of themselves and their family and herds to a young, inexperienced
boy. “The deep water is gone”, they told him, “The strong stone is broken. What have we to do with a
woman and her children?”
Temujin was now leader of the Yakka Mongols, but he had no more than the remnants of a clan
around him, and he had to face the fact that his fathers enemies could come back and seek their revenge on
The grazing land of the Mongols were very desirable, being
north of the encroaching sands of the Gobi, between the two
fertile valleys of the small rivers Kerulon and Onon. The hills were covered with birch and fir, and game
was plentiful,and water was abundant – due to the late melting of the snows – circumstances only too well
known to the clans that had formerly been under the dominion of the Mongol and were now preparing to
seize the possessions of the thirteen-year-old Temujin (Lamb 26).
Disaster was almost inevitable, because Temujin was being hunted by the Targoutai,
chieftain of the Taidjuts, arch enemies of the Mongols. The attack was launched without warning.
Targoutai himself made for the tent where Temujin in all likelihood as hiding. Temujin and his brothers
fled, before the onset of the warriors, all the brothers were safe, except for Temujin, as he began his flight
alone. The hunt began, with the hunters taking their time, for they were experienced nomads, and they
were capable of tracking a horse for days when starving.
Temujin managed to keep away from the pursuers for days, until he could finally take hunger no
more. In looking for food he was caught and brought to Targoutai. Targoutai ordered for a kang to be
placed on his shoulders. A kang is a wooden yoke that rest on the shoulders, holding the prisoners wrists at
both ends, chafing him and not allowing him to lie flat, forcing on him the weakness of sleep (Brent 11).
His chance for escape came when in the darkness of the tent,
he struck the guard over the head, knocking him out and escaping. He ran through the woods to a nearby
river and, hearing his pursuers behind him, sunk down so that only his head was above water. In his spot,
he watched the riders search for him. One warrior spotted him, hesitated, and went on without betraying
In the kang Temujin was helpless. He did something then that took intuition. He left his safe
spot, followed the trail of the returning searchers, and slowly made his way to the yurt of the man who had
chosen not to compromise his life. The man was, by luck, a stranger, stopping for the night with this
The stranger agreed to help him escape, hiding him in the loose wool in his cart. It was very hot in
the wool, certainly not pleasant, especially when the people came to search the tent. They stuck swords in
the wool, injuring Temujin’s leg.
“The smoke of my house would have vanished, and my fire would’ve gone out forever had they
found thee,” the stranger quietly remarked, giving Temujin food, milk and a bow with two arrows. “Go
now to thy brothers and mother” (Lamb 29).
And so Temujin was off, on a borrowed horse, and soon found his home in little better shape than
was imagined by the stranger – the site of the camp filled with ashes of fires, his herds vanished, and his
mother and brothers nowhere to be found. He soon tracked them down, and found them, tired and hungry,
They lived well after a while, traveling at night to the camp of the well-wisher, with no more than
eight horses in their string, living off of small game and surviving on fish instead of mutton.
He could’ve left even then, but the energetic youth had no intentions of leaving his ancestral land
to his enemies. He
traveled to all of the remaining settlements to demand for his mother, the khan’s tithe of the four beasts-a
camel, ox, horse, and sheep, to provide for her.
He did not go to Toghrul, the “Provider” chieftain of the Karat Turks, who had drunk an oath with
Yesukai, Temujin’s father, to be the title of foster father, should anything happen to the maternal father.
Temujin replied to this with “To go as a beggar with empty hands, is to arouse scorn, not
fellowship.”Temujin stuck to this determination, which was not a matter of false pride, but of a Yakka
Mongol’s downright way of thinking (Lamb 30). Temujin’s desire to stand on his own two feet and not
look for help from his elders shows his inner strength.
However, one of the strongest influences in Temujin’s life was most likely his mother. She was
continuously reminding him of his late father’s greatness, of the need to avenge himself of the Taijiut chiefs
who had taken away his men. She encouraged him to win followers for himself like a true prince (Fox 66).
Temujin learned many things, such as how to keep out of an ambush, and to break through the
lines of men that were looking for him to kill. As he was hunted, his cunning grew with the years (Lamb
As was the custom of Mongols, Temujin returned to the tent of Dai-noyon, the wise, and the maiden
Bourtai, to be married. In the early days of his marriage, Temujin spent time in the tents of his wife’s
people. He watched very carefully the workings of the village and the lives of the people. Much of which
was not as hard a struggle and bare existence as his had so far been (Fox 68).
There are stories of Temujin’s raiding the camps of his enemies always seeking revenge when he felt
wronged. In time, Temujin knew personally all the clan feuds and the personalities of the different leaders.
It was clear in his mind who was the best ally, who was the most dangerous foe (Fox 67).
As the warriors continued to return home to see what had happened to their homeland, many
stayed and Temujin’s clan became bigger. They were welcomed back to a new ruler, Temujin.
By the time he was named Genghis Khan, Temujin was already a great Khan, having more power
than his father, who had never attained the title. Temujin had a much greater following than his father, who
had great chieftains obey him, such as Targotai. Genghis Khan’s power might never have come to be had it
not been for his childhood. If his father wouldn’t have died, would he (Genghis) have had to go through as
many hardships? If not, he
probably wouldn’t have become as great of a man that he was. So, in conclusion, the childhood of Genghis
Khan had a direct link to the molding of his character into the great war general that he was.
Brent, Peter. Genghis Khan. Great Britain, George
Weidenfield and Nicolson, Ltd. 1976.
Fox, Ralph. Genghis Khan. New York,
Harcourt, Brace and Co. Inc. 1936
Lamb, Harold. Genghis Khan: The Emperor of All Men. New York,
Garden City Publishing Co. 1927
Lister, R.P. The Secret History of Genghis Khan. Great Britain,
Peter Davies, London 1969
The World Book Encyclopedia. G- Vol. 8. New York
World Book, Inc. 1987