The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 6

Author: Henry H. Howorth  | Date: A.D. 1203

Founding of the Mongol Empire by Genghis Khan

A.D. 1203


The origin and early history of the Mongols are very obscure, but from Chinese annals we learn of the existence of the race, from the sixth to the ninth century, in regions around the north of the great desert of Gobi and Lake Baikal in Eastern Asia. The name Mongol is derived from the word mong, meaning "brave" or "bold." Chinese accounts show that it was given to the Mongol race long before the time of Genghis Khan. It is conjectured that the Mongols were at first one tribe of a great confederacy whose name was probably extended to the whole when the power of the imperial house which governed it gained the supremacy. The Mongol khans are traced up to the old royal race of the Turks, who from a very early period were masters of the Mongolian desert and its borderland. Here from time immemorial the Mongols had made their home, leading a miserable nomadic life in the midst of a wild and barren country, unrecognized by their neighbors, and their very name unknown centuries after their kinsmen, the Turks, had been exercising an all-powerful influence over the destinies of Western Asia."

But at the beginning of the thirteenth century arose among them a chief, Genghis Khan, the "very mighty ruler," whose prowess was destined to lead the Mongolian hordes to the conquest of a vast empire, extending over China and from India through Persia and into Russia.

Who and what this mighty ruler was, and by what achievements he advanced to lay the foundations of his empire, are told by Howorth, not only with an authoritative fidelity to history, but with a literary art that is no less faithful in its appreciation of oriental character and custom.

Among the men who have influenced the history of the world Genghis Khan holds a foremost place. Popularly he is mentioned with Attila and with Timur as one of the "scourges of God," one of those terrible conquerors whose march across the page of history is figured by the simile of a swarm of locusts, or a fire in a Canadian forest; but this is doing gross injustice to Genghis Khan. Not only was he a conqueror, a general whose consummate ability made him over-throw every barrier that must intervene between the chief of a small barbarous tribe of an obscure race and the throne of Asia, and this with a rapidity and uniform success that can only be compared to the triumphant march of Alexander, but he was far more than a conqueror. Alexander, Napoleon, and Timur were all more or less his equals in the art of war. But the colossal powers they created were merely hills of sand, that crumbled to pieces as soon as they were dead.

With Genghis Khan matters were very different: he organized the empire which he had conquered so that it long survived and greatly thrived after he was gone. In every detail of social and political economy he was a creator; his laws and his administrative rules are equally admirable and astounding to the student. Justice, tolerance, discipline—virtues that make up the modern ideal of a state—were taught and practised at his court. And when we remember that he was born and educated in the desert, and that he had neither the sages of Greece nor of Rome to instruct him, that unlike Charlemagne and Alfred he could not draw his lessons from a past whose evening glow was still visible in the horizon, we are tempted to treat as exaggerated the history of his times, and to be sceptical of so much political insight having been born of such unpromising materials.

It is not creditable to English literature that no satisfactory account of Genghis Khan exists in the language. Baron D’Ohsson in French, and Erdmann in German, have both written minute and detailed accounts of him, but none such exists in English, although the subject has an epic grandeur about it that might well tempt some well-grounded scholar to try his hand upon it.

Genghis Khan received the name of Temudjin. According to the vocabulary attached to the history of the Yuen dynasty, translated from the Chinese by Hyacinthe, temudjin means the best iron or steel. The name has been confounded with temurdji, which means a smith, in Turkish. This accounts for the tradition related by Pachymeres, Novairi, William of Ruysbrok, the Armenian Haiton, and others, that Genghis Khan was originally a smith.

The Chinese historians and Ssanang Setzen place his birth in 1162; Raschid and the Persians in 1155. The latter date is accommodated to the fact that they make him seventy-two years old at his death in 1227, but the historian of the Yuen dynasty, the Kangmu, and Ssanang Setzen are all agreed that he died at the age of sixty-six, and they are much more likely to be right. Mailla says he had a piece of clotted blood in his fist when born—no bad omen, if true, of his future career. According to De Guignes, Karachar Nevian was named his tutor.

Ssanang Setzen has a story that his father set out one day to find him a partner among the relatives of his wife, the Olchonods, and that on the way he was met by Dai Setzen, the chief of the Kunkurats, who thus addressed him: "Descendant of the Kiyots and of the race of the Bordshigs, whither hiest thou?"

"I am seeking a bride for my son," was his reply. Dai Setzen then said that he recently had a dream, during which a white falcon had alighted on his hand. "This," he said, "Bordshig, was your token. From ancient days our daughters have been wedded to the Bordshigs, and 1 now have a daughter named Burte who is nine years old. I will give her to thy son."

"She is too young," he said; but Temudjin, who was present, urged that she would suit him by and by. The bargain was thereupon closed, and, having taken a draught of koumiss and presented his host with two horses, Yissugei returned home.

On his father’s death Temudjin was only thirteen years old, an age that seldom carries authority in the desert, where the chief is expected to command, and his mother acted as regent. This enabled several of the tribes which had submitted to the strong hand of Yissugei to reassert their independence. The Taidshuts, under their leaders Terkutai, named Kiriltuk, i.e., the Spiteful, the great-grandson of Hemukai, and his nephew Kurul Bahadur, were the first to break away, and they were soon after joined by one of Yissugei’s generals with a considerable following. To the reproaches of Temudjin the latter answered: "The deepest wells are sometimes dry, and the hardest stones sometimes split; why should I cling to thee?" Temudjin’s mother, we are told, mounted her horse, and taking the royal standard called Tuk (this was mounted with the tails of the yak or mountain cow, or, in default, with that of a horse; it is the tau or tu of the Chinese, used as the imperial standard, and conferred as a token of royalty upon their vassals, the Tartar princes) in her hand, she led her people in pursuit of the fugitives, and brought a good number of them back to their allegiance.

After the dispersion of the Jelairs, many of them became the slaves and herdsmen of the Mongol royal family. They were encamped near Sarikihar, the Saligol of Hyacinthe, in the district of Ulagai Bulak, which D’Ohsson identifies with the Ulengai, a tributary of the Ingoda, that rises in the watershed between that river and the Onon. One day Tagudshar, a relative of Chamuka, the chief of the Jadjerats, was hunting in this neighborhood, and tried to lift the cattle of a Jelair, named Jusi Termele, who thereupon shot him. This led to a long and bitter strife between Temudjin, who was the patron of the Jelairs, and Chamuka. He was of the same stock as Temudjin, and now joined the Taidshuts, with his tribe the Jadjerats. He also persuaded the Uduts and Nujakins, the Kurulas and Inkirasses, to join them.

Temudjin struggled in vain against this confederacy, and one day he was taken prisoner by the Taidshuts. Terkutai fastened on him a cangue—the instrument of torture used by the Chinese, consisting of two boards which are fastened to the shoulders, and when joined together round the neck form an effectual barrier to desertion. He one day found means to escape while the Taidshuts were busy feasting. He hid in a pond with his nostrils only out of water, but was detected by a pursuer named Surghan Shireh. He belonged to the Sulduz clan; had pity on him; took him to his house; hid him under some wool in a cart so that his pursuers failed to find him, and then sent him to his own people. This and other stories illustrate one phase of Mongol character. We seldom hear among them of those domestic murders so frequent in Turkish history; pretenders to the throne were reduced to servitude, and generally made to perform menial offices, but seldom murdered. They illustrate another fact: favors conferred in distress were seldom forgotten, and the chroniclers frequently explain the rise of some obscure individual by the recollection of a handsome thing done to the ruler in his unfortunate days.

Another phase of Mongol character, namely, the treachery and craft with which they attempt to overreach one another in war, may be illustrated by a short saga told by Ssanang Setzen, and probably relating to this period of Temudjin’s career. It is curious how circumstantial many of these traditions are. "At that time," he says, "Buke Chilger of the Taidshuts dug a pitfall in his tent and covered it with felts. He then, with his brothers, arranged a grand feast, to which Temudjin was invited with fulsome phrases. ’Formerly we knew not thine excellence,’ he said, ’and lived in strife with thee. We have now learnt that thou art not false, and that thou art a Bogda of the race of the gods. Our old hatred is stifled and dead; condescend to enter our small house.’

"Temudjin accepted the invitation, but before going he was warned by his mother: ’Rate not the crafty foe too lightly,’ she said. ’We do not dread a venomous viper the less because it is so small and weak. Be cautious!’

"He replied: ’You are right, mother, therefore do you, Khassar, have the bow ready: Belgutei, you also be on your guard: you, Chadshikin, see to the horse; and you, Utsuken, remain by my side. My nine Orloks, you go in with me; and you, my three hundred and nine bodyguards, surround the yurt.’

"When he arrived he would have sat down in the middle of the treacherous carpet, but Utsuken pulled him aside and seated him on the edge of the felt. Meanwhile a woman was meddling with the horse and cut off its left stirrup. Belgutei, who noticed it, drove her out, and struck her on the leg with his hand, upon which one Buri Buke struck Belgutei’s horse with his sword. The nine Orloks now came round, helped their master to mount the white mare of Toktanga Taishi of the Kortshins; a fight began, which ended in the defeat and submission of the enemy."

Once more free, Temudjin, who was now seventeen years old, married Burte Judjin. He was not long in collecting a number of his men together, and soon managed to increase their number to thirteen thousand. These he divided into thirteen battalions of one thousand men each, styled gurans, each guran under the command of a gurkhan. The gurkhans were chosen from his immediate relatives and dependents. The forces of the Taidshuts numbered thirty thousand. With this much more powerful army Temudjin risked an encounter on the banks of the Baldjuna, a tributary of the Ingoda, and gained a complete victory. Abulghazi says the Taidshuts lost from five thousand to six thousand men. The battlefield was close to a wood, and we are told that Temudjin, after his victory, piled fagots together and boiled many of his prisoners in seventy caldrons—a very problematical story.

Among his neighbors were the Jadjerats, or Juriats, the subjects of Chamuka, who, according to De Guignes, fled after the battle with the Taidshuts.

One day a body of the Jadjerats, who were hunting, encountered some of Temudjin’s followers, and they agreed to hunt together. The former ran short of provisions, and he generously surrendered to them a large part of the game his people had captured. This was favorably compared by them with the harsh behavior of their suzerains, the Taidshut princes, and two of their chiefs, named Ulugh Bahadur and Thugai Talu, with many of the tribe went to join Temudjin. They were shortly after attacked and dispersed by the Taidshuts. This alarmed or disgusted several of the latter’s allies, who went over to the party of Temudjin. Among these were Chamuka, who contrived for a while to hide his rancor; and the chiefs of the Suldus and Basiuts. Their example was soon followed by the defection of the Barins and the Telenkuts, a branch of the Jelairs.

Temudjin’s repute was now considerable, and De Mailla tells us that wishing to secure the friendship of Podu, chief of the Kieliei, or Ykiliesse (i.e., the Kurulats), who lived on the river Ergone (i.e., the Argun), and who was renowned for his skill in archery, he offered him his sister Termulun in marriage. This was gladly accepted, and the two became fast friends. As a sign of his goodwill, Podu wished to present Temudjin with fifteen horses out of thirty which he possessed, but the latter replied: "To speak of giving and taking is to do as merchants and traffickers, and not allies. Our elders tell us it is difficult to have one heart and one soul in two bodies. It is this difficult thing I wish to compass; 1 mean to extend my power over my neighbors here; I only ask that the people of Kieliei shall aid me."

Temudjin now gave a grand feast on the banks of the Onon, and distributed decorations among his brothers. To this were invited Sidsheh Bigi, chief of the Burgins or Barins, his own mother, and two of his stepmothers. A skin of koumiss, or fermented milk, was sent to each of the latter, but with this distinction: in the case of the eldest, called Kakurshin Khatun, it was for herself and her family; in that of the younger, for herself alone. This aroused the envy of the former, who gave Sichir, the master of ceremonies, a considerable blow. The undignified disturbance was winked at by Temudjin, but the quarrel was soon after enlarged. One of Kakurshin’s dependents had the temerity to strike Belgutei, the half-brother of Temudjin, and wounded him severely in the shoulder, but Belgutei pleaded for him. "The wound has caused me no tears. It is not seemly that my quarrels should inconvenience you," he said. Upon this Temudjin sent and counselled them to live at peace with one another, but Sidsheh Bigi soon after abandoned him with his Barins. He was apparently a son of Kakurshin Khatun, and therefore a step-brother of Temudjin.

About 1194 Temudjin heard that one of the Taidshut chiefs, called Mutchin Sultu, had revolted against Madagu, the Kin Emperor, of China, who had sent his chinsang ("prime minister"), Wan-jan-siang, with an army against him. He eagerly volunteered his services against the old enemies of his people, and was successful. He killed the chief and captured much booty; inter alia was a silver cradle with a covering of golden tissue, such as the Mongols had never before seen. As a reward for his services he received from the Chinese officer the title of jaut-ikuri—written "Tcha-u-tu-lu" in Hyacinthe, who says it means "commander against the rebels." According to Raschid, on the same occasion Tului, the chief of the Keraits, was invested with the title of wang ("king"). On his return from this expedition, desiring to renew his intercourse with the Barins, he sent them a portion of the Tartar booty. The bearers of this present were maltreated. Mailla, who describes the event somewhat differently, says that ten of the messengers were killed by Sidsheh Bigi to revenge the indignities that had been put on his family. Temudjin now marched against the Barins, and defeated them at Thulan Buldak. Their two chiefs escaped. According to Mailla they were put to death.

In 1196 Temudjin received a visit from Wang Khan, the Kerait chief, who was then in distress. His brother Ilkah Sengun, better known as Jagampu Keraiti, had driven him from the throne. He first sought assistance from the chief of Kara Khitai, and, when that failed him, turned to Temudjin, the son of his old friend. Wang Khan was a chief of great consequence, and this appeal must have been flattering to him. He levied a contribution of cattle from his subjects to feast him with, and promised him the devotion of a son in consideration of his ancient friendship with Yissugei.

Temudjin was now, says Mailla, one of the most powerful princes of these parts, and he determined to subjugate the Kieliei, the inhabitants of the Argun, but he was defeated. During the action, having been hit by twelve arrows, he fell from his horse unconscious, when Bogordshi and Burgul, at some risk, took him out of the struggle. While the former melted the snow with some hot stones and bathed him with it, so as to free his throat from the blood, the latter, during the long winter night, covered him with his own cloak from the falling snow. He would, nevertheless, have fared badly if his mother had not collected a band of his father’s troops and come to his assistance together with Tului, the Kerait chief, who remembered the favors he had received from Temudjin’s father. Mailla says that returning home with a few followers, he was attacked by a band of robbers. He was accompanied by a famous cross-bowman, named Soo, to whom he had given the name of Merghen. While the robbers were within earshot, Merghen shouted: "There are two wild ducks, a male and a female; which shall I bring down?"

"The male," said Temudjin.

He had scarcely said so when down it came. This was too much for the robbers, who dared not measure themselves against such marksmanship.

The Merkits had recently made a raid upon his territory, and carried off his favorite wife, Burte Judjin. It was after her return from her captivity that she gave birth to her elder son, Juji, about whose legitimacy there seems to have been some doubt in his father’s mind. It was to revenge this that he now (1197) marched against them, and defeated them near the river Mundsheh (a river "Mandzin" is still to be found in the canton Karas Muren). He abandoned all the booty to Wang Khan. The latter, through the influence of Temudjin, once more regained his throne, and the following year (1198) he headed an expedition on his own account against the Merkits, and beat them at a place named Buker Gehesh, but he did not reciprocate the generosity of his ally.

In 1199 the two friends made a joint expedition against the Naimans. This tribe was now divided between two brothers who had quarrelled about their father’s concubine. One of them, named Buyuruk, had retired with a body of the people to the Kiziltash mountains. The other, called Baibuka—but generally referred to by his Chinese title of Taiwang, or Tayang—remained in his own proper country. It was the latter who was now attacked by the two allies, and forced to escape to the country of Kem Kemdjut—i.e., toward the sources of the Yenissei. Chamuka, the chief of the Jadjerats, well named Satchan, or " the Crafty," still retained his hatred for Temudjin. He now whispered in the ear of Wang Khan that his ally was only a fair-weather friend. Like the wild goose, he flew away in winter, while he himself, like the snowbird, was constant under all circumstances. These and other suggestions aroused the jealousy of Wang Khan, who suddenly withdrew his forces, and left Temudjin in the enemy’s country. The latter was thereupon forced to retire also. He went to the river Sali or Sari. Gugsu Seirak, the Naiman general, went in pursuit, defeated Wang Khan in his own territory, and captured much booty. Wang Khan was hard pressed, and was perhaps only saved by the timely succor sent by Temudjin, which drove away the Naimans. Once more did the latter abandon the captured booty to his treacherous ally. After the victory, he held a Kuriltai, on the plains of Sari or Sali, to which Wang Khan was invited, and at which it was resolved to renew the war against the Taidshuts in the following year. The latter were in alliance with the Merkits, whose chief, Tukta, had sent a contingent, commanded by his brothers, to their help. The two friends attacked them on the banks of the river Onon. Raschid says in the country of Onon, i.e., the great desert of Mongolia. The confederates were beaten. Terkutai Kiriltuk and Kuduhar, the two leaders of the Taidshuts, were pursued and overtaken at Lengut Nuramen, where they were both killed. Another of their leaders, with the two chiefs of the Merkits, fled to Burghudshin, i.e., Burgusin on Lake Baikal, while the fourth found refuge with the Naimans.

This victory aroused the jealousy of certain tribes which were as yet independent of Temudjin, namely, the Kunkurats, Durbans, Jelairs, Katakins, Saldjuts, and Taidshuts, and they formed a confederacy to put him down. We are told that their chiefs met at a place called Aru Bulak, and sacrificed a horse, a bull, a ram, a dog, and a stag, and striking with their swords, swore thus: "Heaven and earth, hear our oaths, we swear by the blood of these animals, which are the chiefs of their kind, that we wish to die like them if we break our promises."

The plot was disclosed to Temudjin by his father-in-law, Dai Setzen, a chief of the Kunkurats. He repaired to his ally, Wang Khan, and the two marched against the confederates, and defeated them near the Lake Buyur. He afterward attacked some confederate Taidshuts and Merkits on the plain of Timurkin, i.e., of the river Timur or Temir, and defeated them. Meanwhile the Kunkurats, afraid of resisting any longer, marched to submit to him. His brother, Juji Kassar, not knowing their errand, unfortunately attacked them, upon which they turned aside and joined Chamuka.

That inveterate enemy of Temudjin had at an assembly of the tribes, Inkirasses, Kurulasses, Taidshuts, Katakins, and Saldjuts, held in 1201, been elected gurkhan. They met near a river, called Kieiho by Mailla; Kian, by Hyacinthe; and Kem, by Raschid, and then adjourned to the Tula, where they made a solemn pact praying that "whichever of them was unfaithful to the rest might be like the banks of that river which the water ate away, and like the trees of a forest when they are cut into fagots." This pact was disclosed to Temudjin by one of his friends who was present, named Kuridai. He marched against them, and defeated them at a place north of the Selinga, called Ede Kiurghan, i.e., site of the grave mounds. Chamuka fled, and the Kunkurats submitted.

In the spring of 1202, Temudjin set out to attack the tribes Antshi and Tshagan. These were doubtless the subjects of Wangtshuk and Tsaghan, mentioned by Ssanang Setzen. They were probably Tungusian tribes. The western writers tell us that Temudjin gave orders to his soldiers to follow up the beaten enemy, without caring about the booty, which should be fairly divided among them. His relatives, Kudsher, Daritai, and Altun, having disobeyed, were deprived of their share, and became, in consequence, his secret enemies. Ssanang Setzen has much more detail, and his narrative is interesting because, as Schmidt suggests, it apparently contains the only account extant of the conquest of the tribes of Manchuria. He says that while Temudjin was hawking between the river Olcho and the Ula, Wangtshuk Khakan, of the Dschurtschid (Niutchi Tartars of Manchuria), had retired from there. Temudjin was angry, and went to assemble his army to attack the enemy’s capital. But as a passage was forbidden him across the river Ula, and the road was blockaded, the son of Toktanga Baghatur Taidshi, named Andun Ching Taidshi, coupled ten thousand horses together by their bridles, and pressed into the river, forced a passage, and the army then began to besiege the town.

Temudjin sent word to Wangtshuk, and said, "If you will send me ten thousand swallows and one thousand cats then I will cease attacking the town"; upon which the required number was procured. Temudjin fastened some lighted wool to the tail of each and let them go; then the swallows flew to their nests in the houses, and the cats climbed and jumped on the roofs; the city was fired, by which means Temudjin conquered Wangtshuk Khakan, and took his daughter Salichai for his wife. He then marched farther eastward to the river Unegen, but he found it had overflowed its banks, whereupon he did not cross it, but sent envoys to Tsaghan Khakan of the Solongos, i.e., of the Solons. "Bring me tribute, or we must fight," he said; upon which Tsaghan Khakan was frightened, sent him a daughter of Dair Ussun, named Kulan Goa, with a tent decorated with panther skins, and gave him the tribes of Solongos and Bughas as a dowry, upon which he assisted Tsaghan Khakan, so that he brought three provinces of the Solongos under his authority.

Ssanang Setzen at this point introduces one of those quaint sagas, which, however mythical in themselves, are true enough to the peculiar mode of thought of the Mongols to make them very instructive. The saga runs thus:

"During a three years’ absence of her husband, Brute Judjin sent Arghassun Churtshi, i.e., Arghassun the lute-player, to him. When the latter was introduced, he spoke thus: ’Thy wife, Burte Judjin Khatun, thy princely children, the elders and princes of thy kingdom, all are well. The eagle builds his nest in a high tree; at times he grows careless in the fancied security of his high-perched home; then even a small bird will sometimes come and plunder it and eat the eggs and young brood: so it is with the swan whose nest is in the sedges on the lake. It, too, trusts too confidently in the dark thickets of reeds, yet prowling water falcons will sometimes come and rob it of eggs and young. This might happen to my revered lord himself!’

"These words aroused Temudjin from his confident air. ’Thou hast spoken truly,’ he said, and hied him on his way homeward. But when some distance still from home he began to grow timid. ’Spouse of my young days, chosen for me by my noble father, how dare I face thee, home-tarrying Burte Judjin, after living with Chulan, whom I came across in my journey? It would be shameful to seem unfriendly in the assembly of the people. One of you nine Orloks hie you to Burte Judjin and speak for me.’

"Mukuli, of the Jelair tribe, volunteered, and when he came to her, delivered this message: ’Besides protecting my own lands I have looked around also elsewhere. I have not followed the counsel of the greater and lesser lords. On the contrary, I have amused myself with the variegated colors of a tent hung with panther skins. Distant people to rule over, I have taken Chulan to be my wife: the Khan has sent me to tell you this."’ His wife seems to have understood the enigmatical phrases, for Setzen says: "The sensible (!) Burte Judjin thus replied: ’The wish of Burte Judjin and of the whole people is that the might of our sovereign may be increased. It rests with him whom he shall befriend or bind himself to. In the reedy lakes there are many swans and geese. If it be his wish to shoot arrows at them until his finger be weary, who shall complain? So also there are many girls and women among our people. It is for him to say who the choicest and luckiest are. I hope he will take to himself both a new wife and a new house. That he will saddle the untractable horse. Health and prosperity are not wearisome, nor are disease and pain desirable, says the proverb. May the golden girth of his house be immortal."’1

When he arrived at home he discovered that Arghassun had appropriated his golden lute; upon which he ordered Boghordshi and Mukuli to kill him. They seized him, gave him two skins full of strong drink, and then went to the Khan, who had not yet risen. Boghordshi spake outside the tent: "The light already shines in your Ordu. We await your commands; that is, if your effulgent presence, having cheerfully awoke, has risen from its couch! The daylight already shines. Condescend to open the door to hear and to judge the repentant culprit, and to exercise your favor and clemency." The Khan now arose and permitted Arghassun to enter, but he did not speak to him. Boghordshi and Mukuli gave him a signal with their lips. The culprit then began: "while the seventy-tuned Tsaktsaghai unconcernedly sings ’tang, tang,’ the hawk hovers over and pounces suddenly upon him and strangles him before he can bring out his last note, ’jang.’ So did my lord’s wrath fall on me and has unnerved me. For twenty years have I been in your household, but have not yet been guilty of dishonest trickery. It is true I love smoked drink, but dishonesty I have not in my thought. For twenty years have I been In your household, but I have not practised knavery. I love strong drink, but am no trickster." Upon which Temudjin ejaculated, "My loquacious Arghassun, my chattering Churtchi!" and pardoned him.

Temudjin now seems to have been master of the country generally known as Eastern Dauria, watered by the Onon, the Ingoda, the Argun; and also of the tribes of the Tungusic race that lived on the Nonni and the Upper Amur. The various victims of his prowess began to gather together for another effort. Among these were Tukta, the chief of the Merkits, with the Naiman leader, Buyuruk Khan, the tribes Durban, Katagun, Saldjut, and Uirat, the last of whom were clients of the Naimans. Wang Khan was then in alliance with him. At the approach of the enemy they retired into the mountains Caraun Chidun, in the Khinggan chain, on the frontiers of China, where they were pursued. The pursuers were terribly harassed by the ice and snow, which Mailla said was produced by one of their own shamans, or necromancers, and which proved more hurtful to them than to the Mongols. Many of them perished, and when they issued from the defiles they were too weak to attack the two allies. The latter spent the winter at Altchia Kungur. Here their two families were united by mutual betrothals; as these, however, broke down, ill-feeling was aroused between them, and Chamuka had an opportunity of renewing his intrigues. He suggested that Temudjin had secret communications with the Naimans, and was not long in arousing the jealousy of Wang Khan and his son Sengun. They attempted to assassinate him, but he was warned in time.

He now collected an army and marched against the Keraits. His army was very inferior in numbers, but attacked the enemy with ardor. Wang Khan’s bravest tribe, the Jirkirs, turned their backs, while the Tunegkaits were defeated, but numbers nevertheless prevailed, and Temudjin was forced to fly. This battle, which is renowned in Mongol history, was fought at a place called Kalanchin Alt. Raschid says this place is near the country of the Niuchis, not far from the river Olkui. Some of the Chinese authorities call it Khalagun ola and Hala chon, and D’Ohsson surmises that it is that part of the Khinggan chain from which flow the southern affluents of the Kalka, one of which is called Halgon in D’Anville’s map. Mailla, however, distinctly places it between the Tula and the Onon, which is probably right. Abandoned by most of his troops, he fled to the desert Baldjuna, where he was reduced to great straits. Here are still found many grave mounds, and the Buriats relate that this retired place, protected on the north by woods and mountains, was formerly an asylum. A few firm friends accompanied him. They were afterward known as Baldjunas, a name compared by Von Hammer with that of Mohadshirs, borne by the companions of Mahomet’s early misfortunes. Two shepherds, named Kishlik and Badai, who had informed him of Wang Khan’s march, were created Terkhans.

Having been a fugitive for some time, Temudjin at length moved to the southeast, to the borders of Lake Kara, into which flows the river Uldra; there he was joined by some Kunkurats, and he once more moved on to the sacred Mongol lake, the Dalai Nur. Thence he indited the following pathetic letter to Wang Khan:

"1. O Khan, my father, when your uncle, the Gur Khan, drove you for having usurped the throne of Buyuruk, and for having killed your brothers Tatimur Taidshi and Buka Timur, to take refuge at Keraun Kiptchak, where you were beleaguered, did not my father come to your rescue, drive out, and force the Gur Khan to take refuge in Ho Si (the country west of the Hwang-ho), whence he returned not? Did you not then become Anda (i.e., sworn friend) with my father, and was not this the reason I styled you ’father’?

"2. When you were driven away by the Naimans, and your brother, Ilkah Sengun, had retired to the far east, did I not send for him back again; and when he was attacked by the Merkits, did I not attack and defeat them? Here is a second reason for your gratitude.

"3. When in your distress you came to me with your body peering through your tatters, like the sun through the clouds, and worn out with hunger, you moved languidly like an expiring flame, did I not attack the tribes who molested you; present you with abundance of sheep and horses? You came to me haggard. In a fortnight you were stout and well-favored again. Here is a third service we have done you.

"4. When you defeated the Merkits so severely at Buker Gehreh, you gave me none of the booty; yet shortly after, when you were hard pressed by the Naimans, I sent four of my best generals to your assistance, who restored you the plunder that had been taken from you. Here is the fourth good office.

"5. I pounced like a jerfalcon onto the mountain Jurkumen, and thence over the lake Buyur, and I captured for you the cranes with blue claws and gray plumage, that is to say, the Durbans and Taidshuts. Then I passed the lake Keule. There I took the cranes with blue feet; that is, the Katakins, Saldjuts, and Kunkurats. This is the fifth service I have done you.

"6. Do you not remember, O Khan, my father, how on the river Kara, near the mount Jurkan, we swore that if a snake glided between us, and envenomed our words, we would not listen to it until we had received some explanation? yet you suddenly left me without asking me to explain.

"7. O Khan, my father, why suspect me of ambition? I have not said, ’My part is too small, I want a greater;’ or ’It is a bad one, I want a better.’ When one wheel of a cart breaks, and the ox tries to drag it, it only hurts its neck. If we then detach the ox, and leave the vehicle, the thieves come and take the load. If we do not unyoke it, the ox will die of hunger. Am I not one wheel of thy chariot?"

With this letter Temudjin sent a request that the black gelding of Mukuli Bahadur, with its embroidered and plated saddle and bridle, which had been lost on the day of their struggle, might be restored to him; he also asked that messengers might be sent to treat for a peace between them. Another letter was sent to his uncle Kudshir, and to his cousin Altun.

This letter is interesting, because it perhaps preserves for us some details of what took place at the accession of Genghis. It is well known that the Mongol Khan affected a coy resistance when asked to become chief. The letter runs thus: "You conspired to kill me, yet from the beginning did I tell the sons of Bartam Bahadur (i.e., his grandfather), as well as Satcha (his cousin), and Taidju (his uncle). Why does our territory on the Onon remain without a master? I tried to persuade you to rule over our tribes. You refused. I was troubled. I said to you, ’Kudshir, son of Tekun Taishi, be our khan.’ You did not listen to me; and to you, Altun, I said, ’You are the son of Kutluk Khan, who was our ruler. You be our khan.’ You also refused, and when you pressed it on me, saying, ’Be you our chief,’ 1 submitted to your request, and promised to preserve the heritage and customs of our fathers. Did I intrigue for power? I was elected unanimously to prevent the country, ruled over by our fathers near the three rivers, passing to strangers. As chief of a numerous people, I thought it proper to make presents to those attached to me. I captured many herds, yurts, women, and children, which I gave you. I enclosed for you the game of the steppe, and drove toward you the mountain game. You now serve Wang Khan, but you ought to know that he is fickle. You see how he has treated me. He will treat you even worse."

Wang Khan was disposed to treat, but his son Sengun said matters had gone too far, and they must fight it out. We now find Wang Khan quarrelling with several of his dependents, whom he accused of conspiring against him. Temudjin’s intrigues were probably at the bottom of the matter. The result was that Dariti Utshegin, with a tribe of Mongols, and the Sakiat tribe of the Keraits, went over to Temudjin, while Altun and Kudshir, the latter’s relations, who had deserted him, took refuge with the Naimans.

Among the companions of his recent distress, a constant one was his brother Juji Kassar, who had also suffered severely, and had had his camp pillaged by the Keraits. Temudjin had recourse to a ruse. He sent two servants who feigned to have come from Juji, and who offered his submission on condition that his wife and children were returned to him. Wang Khan readily assented, and to prove his sincerity sent back to Juji Kassar some of his blood in a horn, which was to be mixed with koumiss, and drunk when the oath of friendship was sworn. Wang Khan was completely put off his guard, and Temudjin was thus able to surprise him. His forces numbered about four thousand six hundred, and he seems to have advanced along the banks of the Kerulon, toward the heights of Jedshir, between the Tula and the Kerulon, and therefore toward the modern Urga, where Wang Khan was posted. In the battle which followed, and which was fought in the spring of 1203, the latter was defeated; he fled to the Naimans, and was there murdered. Temudjin was sincerely affected by the death of the old man.

The Naiman chief, Tayang, had his skull encased in silver and bejewelled, and afterward used it as a ceremonial cup; a custom very frequent in Mongolia. Such cups have been lately met with in Europe, one of which was exhibited at the great exhibition of 1851, where it was shown as the skull of Confucius. Another, or perhaps the same, which was encased in marvellous jeweller’s work, has been lately destroyed; the gold having been barbarously melted by the Jews. By the death of Wang Khan, Temudjin became the master of the Kerait nation, and thus both branches of the Mongol race were united under one head.

He now held a kuriltai, where he was proclaimed khan. There is some confusion about the period when he adopted the title of Genghis, but the probability is that he did so three years later. The earlier date (1203) is the one, however, from which his reign is often reckoned to have commenced.

1I.e., "May the band that binds the felts and spars of the yurt never decay"; in other words, may he ever be prosperous—a favorite Mongol wish.


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Chicago: Henry H. Howorth, "Founding of the Mongol Empire by Genghis Khan," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 6 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed July 23, 2024,

MLA: Howorth, Henry H. "Founding of the Mongol Empire by Genghis Khan." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 6, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 23 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Howorth, HH, 'Founding of the Mongol Empire by Genghis Khan' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 6. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 23 July 2024, from