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10.08.2022 | יג אב התשפב

Genghis Khan

On August 18, 1227, Genghis Khan, one of the most influential people in human history, died

צ'ינגיס חאן

Dr. Gideon Elazar, of the East Asian study track in Bar-Ilan University’s Multidisciplinary Humanities Program, talks about the man whose mark is still visible from east to west.

Genghis Khan was born c. 1162 as Temujin, the orphaned son of the leader of a marginal tribe in a remote corner of the Mongolian steppe. According to the book "The Secret History of the Mongols" written after his death, the circumstances of Temujin's birth heralded his great achievements: he emerged from his mother's womb with a blood clot in his clenched fist, a sign of his future as a great leader. Indeed, after his early years were spent in constant struggles against various tribes, in exile and imprisonment, at the age of 40, Temujin succeeded in uniting the Mongolian tribes and being elected to the position of “Genghis Khan” - the universal ruler. His success was not due to his military talents alone. Genghis understood something of the secret of the success of the rich agricultural kingdoms that stretched south of the steppe. He established a set of laws, built a unified and efficient army, and imported a writing system from the Uyghurs – the Mongolian script that exists to this day.

Khan began the conquest of the vast expanses of Eurasia almost by chance. In the tradition of the steppe tribes, what interested him most was the trade with the countries that stretched along the Silk Road and especially with China. A conflict with the ruler of Khwarazmia in Central Asia following an attempt to prevent the Mongols from conducting free trade led to an unprecedented campaign of conquests with an intelligent combination of high mobility and terror. Genghis tended to spare those who submitted to him but acted very cruelly against those who stood in his way. Until his death he managed to take control of Central Asia and Northern China. His descendants brought the Mongol army from the Pacific Ocean to the Middle East and Eastern Europe, destroyed the Islamic Caliphate, conquered all of China and left pyramids of skulls from Kiev to Baghdad.

Genghis's influence extended far beyond his lifetime. The "Genghis principle", according to which the right to rule belongs only to his descendants, was a central part of the political culture of the Turko-Persian Muslim world, even after the Mongol Empire ceased to exist. Genghis also had an impact in the genetic field: according to research from recent years, about 17 million people around the world are his direct descendants.

Despite his violence, the image of Genghis Khan is complex. His legitimacy as a cultural leader, ruler and object of worship characterizes Mongolia, China and parts of Central Asia to this day. On the other hand, in the Muslim world and in the West, Genghis Khan is often seen as a cruel conqueror and as the embodiment of nomadic "barbarism" that threatens the very existence of human civilization.