Genghis Khan: Refugee to Empire Builder
In this session, you will hear a brief overview of the life of Genghis Khan (born Temüjin), and then have the chance to further investigate an area of his life. Genghis Khan founded and led the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous Empire in history (this means all the land of the Empire was connected along borders, unlike the British Empire of the 1920s).
About Genghis Khan
In around 1162, in the Onon River region of northern Mongolia, a son is born to Yesügei, chief of the Borjigin clan and his wife Ö’elun. He is named Temüjin and he supposedly began life clutching a blood clot in his right fist – this was interpreted as a sign that he was destined to rule the World. Note that, especially in the early period of his life, the dates of key events in Genghis Khan’s life are approximate.
The video below summarises the life of Genghis Khan, and the initial rise of the Mongolian Empire.
Having watched the video, choose one of the following aspects of Genghis Khan’s life to investigate in more detail:
- Early life: the steps leading from Temüjin’s birth to him becoming Genghis Khan
- The Structure of the Mongol Army and their Tactics
- The Campaigns of Genghis Khan
- The three Ls: Law, Literacy and Logistics
The interactive image below contains information about each aspect listed here: choose one, and learn more about your chosen aspect using the images, videos and information provided. The information on each aspect will include a historical source. A historical source (source) is something that informs us about history – it might be a book, journal entry, receipt, or object. Historians study sources, and use this to make conclusions about features of the past, such as how people lived, or how key decisions were made. It is important to note that sources are also a part of history – the person who wrote or created the source was influenced by their culture at the time. Therefore, the information that a particular source gives us can be open to interpretation.
Using the information provided, make notes on key information about your chosen aspect. You should use bullet points and pictures, to make brief notes that are meaningful to you. Remember to include comments on the source you have studied, and what conclusions you have drawn from it.
If you would prefer to view the information in text format, please click the button below for a PDF with all of the information and sources
The legacy of Genghis Khan
The building of the Mongolian Empire by Genghis Khan had a powerful impact, both on historical societies and modern society. Alike other conquerors, the way in which this impact is portrayed varies between accounts of those who supported him, and of those who were conquered by him. The Mongol army are estimated to have killed up to 11% of the World’s population during their conquering of hundreds of cities and villages. Due to the depopulation of their conquered lands, and allowing land which was being farmed to return to forests, it is also estimated that over 700 million tons of carbon were removed from the atmosphere during the expansion of the Mongolian Empire.
How is Genghis Khan regarded in Mongolia today? During the Communist period in Mongolia, any positive public statements about him were avoided. There were some attempts to commemorate his birthplace in 1962, but this received political condemnation from the Soviet Union. However, since the fall of Communism in 1991, the Great Khan has fully returned to his land and people.
He is featured in the world’s largest equestrian statue, has an airport named after him and his image appears on everything from banknotes to a hillside portrait. Genghis Khan is also celebrated in popular music, as shown in the videos below. Modern Mongolian people may refer to Genghis Khan as the “Father” or the Mongolian nation, and to themselves as “Genghis Khan’s children”. To an extent, this is true: it is estimated that up to 16 million people living in Central Asia today are his direct descendants.
The nature of history
History is the story of people at a particular time. Learning about past cultures and civilisations allows us to apply lessons that these people learnt to our current and future lives. The value of history, then, lies in our ability to record it, study it, and teach it to others. So far, you have learnt about an aspect of history, and studied in in details using the sources provided. Your next challenge is to teach this lesson to a family member or friend.
- Teach: based on the notes you have made, explain your chosen aspect about Genghis Khan to a family member or friend.
- Reflect: were your notes sufficient to help you explain, or did you need to check back for a lot of information?
- Update: update your notes to include any extra information you think would be useful to explain this topic to someone else.