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Genghis Khan and the Modern World Thesis

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Updated: Jan 22nd, 2020


The purpose of this thesis will be to focus on Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world. Genghis Khan was the founder and ruler of the Mongol Empire in Mongolia. Genghis Khan came to power by uniting many of the nomadic tribes that were established in the Northeastern parts of Asia. Once he established the Mongol Empire he changed his name from Borjigin Temujin to Genghis Khan after which he began Mongol invasions that would result in the invasion of Eurasia.

Temujin or Genghis Khan was born in 1162 to his parents Yesukhei and Hoelun near Burkhan Khaldun Mountain that was situated near the Onon Kherlen Rivers. During his early years, central Asia was divided into several tribes which were the Merkits, Uyghurs, Tatatrs, Keraits, Mongols and the Naimans.

These tribes were hostile to each other as evidenced by the various tribal pillages that took place during that time. Genghis Khan rose to power by positioning himself as an ally to these tribes by becoming an important asset to his father’s brother known as Toghrul. Toghrul was the Khan of the Kerait tribe a position which was given to him by the Jin Empire in 1197.

The relationship between Genghis Khan and Toghrul was reinforced further when Genghis’ wife, Borte was captured by the Merkits. Toghrul helped Genghis to retrieve his wife by offering him 20,000 Kerait warriors. Genghis’ campaign was successful and he was able to recapture his wife as well as defeat the Merkits tribe.

Genghis Khan orchestrated many invasions and conquests in Mongolia and in the northeastern parts of Asia. The main opponents of the Mongol Empire were the Naiman tribe located in the western part of Mongolia, the Merkits who were found in the northern part of Mongolia, the Tanguts found in the south and the Jin, Tatars found in the eastern parts of Mongolia

Toghrul had a son Senggum who was jealous of Genghis Khan’s achievements and growing power in Mongolia. He attempted to kill Temujin by involving his father Toghrul on his intentions. Temujin learned of Senggum’s plans to kill him which gave him the advantage to defeat Senggum and Toghrul’s Kerait tribe. After the fall of the Kerait tribe, the Naiman tribe became the next threat to the Mongol Empire.

By the year 1206, Temujin had conquered and united the Merkit tribe, the Mongols, Keraits, Naimans and the Uyghurs. Temujin acquired his name during a Kurultai which was known as a council of Mongol chiefs. The council of chiefs inferred to him the name Genghis Khan after the unification of the various Mongol tribes.

Genghis Khan’s various military conquests include the conquering of the western Xia Dynasty in 1209, the Jin Dynasty in 1211, the Kara-Khitan Khanate Empire in 1218, the Khwarezmian Empire in 1220. Genghis’ religion was speculated by most historians to be Tengriism which was also referred to as Shamanism.

He consulted Buddhist monks and Christian missionaries during the course of his leadership. The religions practiced in most of the Mongol Empire were Buddhism, Christianity, Shamanists and Muslims. Because of the different cultures and tribes in the Empire, there was a large degree of religious tolerance within the empire.

Mongol traditions had held for a long time that religion was a personal concept that could not be interfered with by law. Towards the end of his life Genghis Khan tried to create a civil state that would be governed under the Yassa code. This state would ensure that there was legal equality for all its citizens including women, children and old people (Weatherford xviii).

Mongol Image

Genghis Khan like other notable conquerors in history was portrayed in both a negative and positive way. These portrayals depended on the different areas that were conquered by the Mongol Empire. According to Mongolian history, the negative portrayals came from the tribes that had experienced some form of cruelty, destruction or discrimination from the Mongol Empire’s army.

The many conquests and invasions that took place in some of these geographical locations were mostly characterized by the slaughter of innocent civilians. In his conquests of other rival tribes, Temujin promised his warriors and civilians in his empire that they would gain the spoils from the war.

He did this to maintain their loyalty and obedience to him. The tribes that were conquered by Temujin and his army were integrated into the Mongol Empire which showed that the leader was considerate and accommodative (Weatherford xvii).

The main governance codes that were used in the Mongol Empire were the Yassa code and the Uyghur script. Genghis Khan decreed the use of the Uyghur script as the official writing system for all Mongols, encouraging them to learn how to write. The Yassa code was used to ensure that the various tribes that fell under the Mongol Empire were represented in the legal, social and economic aspects of the Empire.

The code also had provisions for Mongol citizens who would be exempt from paying any taxes to the Empire. The Yassa code also ensured that there was religious tolerance in the Mongol Empire. Genghis Khan achieved religious freedom and tolerance by unifying all Mongols from the nomadic tribes that resided in northeastern parts of Asia.

The general image the westernized world had of the Mongols and the Empire was that they were terrible savages who destroyed everything that had been developed by civilization. During battles and wars, the Mongol armies eliminated the opposing hereditary aristocracies that existed in the Mongolia during that time.

Their elimination of these aristocratic societies was seen to be negative as these groups were the only members of the Mongol society that could read and write. Despite these negative views of the Mongol Empire by the aristocratic society, the general Mongol rule was less burdensome on the Mongolian masses that consisted of poor peasants, merchants and tradesmen (Weatherford xvii).

The Yassa code ensured that there were lighter taxes imposed on the Mongol civilians as well as ensures that there was a tolerance of religious customs and beliefs. These benefits were however only accorded to the tribes that surrendered to Genghis Khan’s armies.

The tribes that resisted his conquests were massacred brutally by the Mongol Empire’s army to serve as a warning to other tribes or regions that tried to resist Genghis Khan’s Empire. The massacres were viewed to be psychological warfare on the regions that had not been conquered in Mongolia which created a resulting terror that helped shape the historical portrayal of the Mongols (Weatherford ix).

Legacy and Benefits of the Mongol Empire

Genghis Khan’s legacy was characterized by the introduction of the compass, paper, gun powder and printing techniques. This legacy was attributed to the Renaissance that took place in Europe that saw the creation of new technology such as printing machinery and technological knowledge that would be used to create firearms, paper and the compass.

The Mongols contributed indirectly to the Renaissance in Europe as well as in transforming the image of the Mongols from being agents of innovation to agents of destruction in the European Renaissance (Weatherford 237).

Apart from the technological innovations, the Mongol Empire’s legacy was characterized by an increase in the use of Astrology where new knowledge was derived from travel writings that would be used in designing maps for travel. The legacy also saw the introduction of paper money which was mostly introduced after the conquering of the Kara-Khitan Khanate Empire.

The Mongol Empire also introduced art and artistic works which were mostly featured by the Franciscans who had wide contacts with the Empire. The art work mostly comprised of Persian and Mongol creations that later on influenced the works of Giotti di Bondone. The Mongol legacy also saw the formation of democratic governments during that time and also in the modern world.

This was mostly because Mongol leaders were selected by the council of elders otherwise known as the Khuriltai in a process that was similar to the election process. The Mongol government was free and fair to its citizens regardless of their tribe and social standing and the leaders (Khans) based their governance on the will of the people (Weatherford 238).

The benefits of the Mongol Empire to the modern world included the religious tolerance of the different tribes that fell under the Empire, the lack of discrimination towards other tribes, the lack of legal interference in the various religious, customs and beliefs that were practiced by the Mongol civilians, the emergence of meritocracy, and the emergence of a culture that obeyed and believed in the rule of law.

Other benefits included the strong support that the Empire provided to Eurasian trade which saw the construction of roads such as the Silk Road that would be used for trade and postal services. The Empire was the first notable governance that promoted the universal literacy of its civilians by initiating reading and writing programs.

It also reduced the use of torture in its penal system as well as providing diplomatic immunity for international ambassadors or envoys that were visiting the Empire. The paper and printing innovations saw the Empire introduce the use of paper money as a means of exchange for goods (Weatherford 239).

Historiography: Adulation, Denigration and Re-Evaluation

Adulation refers to excessive forms of praise which includes flattery, fawning, worship, blandishment, servile flattery or ingratiating praise. In terms of adulation, the European’s portrayed Genghis Khan and his Empire in a positive image way due to the various trade relations they had with the Mongol Empire. The Europeans received Mongol envoys with warmth and a positive attitude which can mostly be attributed to the indirect influence the Empire had on the European Renaissance.

The Mongol Empire received a lot of adulation as a result of the various technological innovations it had introduced during the 12th and early 13th century. It also received adulation for its democratic system of governance (Weatherford 218).

With respect to denigration, the view of the Mongolian Empire as well as of Genghis Khan changed in the 18th century as a result of Europe’s enlightment. This enlightenment saw most Europeans viewing Mongols and other Asian tribes as being the source of everything that was evil in the world. Montesquieu who was a French philosopher saw Asians as contemptuous and detestable.

He saw Mongols as the most singular people on earth because of the level of conquests they had made in the Asian continent. Montesquieu described the Mongols as cruel masters and blamed them for all the destruction that had taken place in Asia. Other writers related the Mongoloid race to that of the orangutan which was an Asian ape. This relationship was established because of their facial composition as well as their postures (Weatherford 254).

The image that the westernized world had of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire was later re-evaluated by Jawaharlal Nehru, an Indian statesman. He wrote countless of letters from prison describing Genghis Khan as the greatest military strategist and leader in the Asian continent. Another re-evaluation of Genghis Khan and his Empire was due to the use of Mongol models by the Russian and German armies in World War II.

The military tacticians used the models in developing calvary strategies that would be used to manage their mobile artillery units. The model developed by the German army known as the blitzkrieg was modeled on the mobile tactics of the Mongol army that were used in invading the northeastern territories of Asia. The Russian models of combat in the War were modeled on one of Genghis’ generals, Subutai’, who developed tactics that would be used in the Battle of the Kalka River (Weatherford 263).

Major Errors

One major error in Weatherford’s work was that Genghis Khan was the originator of the international postal service. This was an error because all Genghis did was to introduce the postal system in the Mongol Empire only. Another error was that the Mongols promoted trade and the free movement of goods by acting as the silent partners in trade agreements and negotiations.

Economic historians who studied the trade activities of China however saw the Mongols as greedy and their demands for trade cuts were very high. The Mongols also discriminated against the Chinese tradesmen because they had resisted Genghis Khan’s invasion. These high prices and the open discrimination eventually damaged the Chinese economy considerably.

Other major errors were that the Mongol Empire was the first to use paper money in the whole world during the 12th and 13th century. This was a misconception because the Chinese had used paper money for a long time. Genghis Khan only incorporated paper use in his Empire by initiating the production of many paper bills.

Another error is that the Mongols were credited with improving the lives of Chinese peasants which is viewed to be false as many Chinese historians state that there was widespread exploitation of Chinese peasants by land owners who were supported by the Mongol Empire. Another error was that Genghis Khan introduced population census in the Empire which was a falsehood as the Chinese had conducted population census over the centuries.


One of the misrepresentations was that women who were captured by the Mongol soldiers were referred to a sex slaves while the men were known as servants. This was a misrepresentation of the Mongol Empire that treated its captured civilians in a just and fair way. Another misrepresentation was that of the silver tree that was captured by the Mongols in Karakorum.

This was deemed to be a misrepresentation of the Mongol Empire because silver trees were mostly designed by European artists and were only found in European courts. Another misrepresentation was that Rabban Bar Sawma was sent to the European courts to form an alliance with the Europeans which was a misrepresentation as he was sent by the head of the monks to form an alliance with the European Christian monarchs against the Egyptian Sultans.

Possible Errors

The possible errors that have been identified in Weatherford’s writings include the Battle of Kalka River where Weatherford wrongly describes the types of weapons used by the Mongol Empire’s army. He described the Mongol arrows as weapons that could not be used on any of the bows made by the Mongol other tribes. This was false because there was no historic evidence of this information. Another possible error is when Weatherford claims that Baghdad was invaded by troops in 1258 and in 2003 by the American army.

He fails to note that Baghdad was also invaded by the British in 1917. Other possible errors include the capture of the sultan of Seljuk in modern Turkey by Timurlane who actually captured the Sultan Bayazid, and the attempt to link Akbar’s open religious practices to those of Mongol’s practices of religious freedom. Weatherford also makes an error when he claims the word hazar to mean ten thousand instead of one thousand which is the correct terminology.


Genghis Khan and his Mongol Empire helped shape the democratic system of the modern world despite the various misrepresentations and errors that have emerged in Weatherford’s work. Genghis Khan was a revolutionary leader who made his own destiny instead of waiting for fate to hand it over to him.

Despite growing up in an environment of tribal violence and enslavement, Genghis Khan established his Empire to be that of tribal tolerance and religious freedom that later came to set the basis for most of the democratic governments around the world today.

Works Cited

Weatherford, Jack. Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world. New York: Crown Publishers, 2004. Print.

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