October 5, 2023

Genghis Khan (Part 2)


Genghis Khan Part 2

Scene 1: Opener: People flooding into the city. Rumors. Going into the Kwarizm city and saying that he is the punishment of God. You didn’t fight Genghis Khan, GK happened to you. He was a natural disaster. 

  • It was 1220, the year of the dragon, when Genghis Khan entered a city.
  • For his entire life, Genghis Khan spent his nights in a traditional Mongolian tent, a ger.
  • He was so disgusted by agricultural civilization that he always declined to even enter conquered cities.
  • But on this occasion, he wanted to make a point.
  • The city was called Bukara, and it was a part of the Khwarizm empire. 
  • Genghis Khan had sent a trade cavan to the Khwarizm, packed to the gills with gold, spices, silks, and more.
  • They had killed his merchants, and taken all the treasure for themselves.
  • But Genghis Khan was the most powerful man in the world. 
  • Surely he though, no one would be stupid enough to so brazenly defy him. This must be some sort of mistake.
  • So he subsequently sent a diplomatic envoy to assess the situation.
  • And these people had had the audacity to murder his diplomat and mutilate the diplomat’s companions.
  • The Kwarizm had felt themselves safe from Genghis Khan because they lived on the far side of an impassable obstacle: The Kyzyl Kum, the Red Desert.
  • Genghis Khan would be forced to march many thousands of miles around the desert through well traveled and well fortified trade routes.
  • Only he hadn’t.
  • Genghis Khan had appeared in Khwarizm territory like some sort of phantom. One minute he wasn’t there, and the next he was, surrounded by a massive army of not only Mongolian horse archers, but Chinese siege engineers.
  • Genghis Khan had been deliberate, almost leisurely, about attacking Bukhara. He first ambled about the surrounding territory, attacking smaller towns and villages in a predictable pattern.
  • Any skilled craftsmen who could help him in an upcoming siege would be conscripted into the army. Then some of the more robust peasants were taken as slaves. Then the town was put to the torch, sending the rest of the population fleeing toward the larger city of Bukhara.
  • The city, now bursting at the seems with peasants from the surrounding countryside, would run out of supplies much faster than anticipated.
  • And the refugees spread stories that horrified the city’s residents to despair.
  • With the city on the brink of hysteria, Genghis Khan offered them two options: “Surrender and receive lenient treatment, or fight and be utterly destroyed.”
  • Bukhara’s defenders thought that the local citizens would surely betray them and capitulate to the Mongols, so they decided to retreat from the city before it was too late.
  • Little did they know, it was already too late.
  • Genghis Khan had anticipated this development, and shortly after the city gates were shut behind them, Mongol warriors poured out from the sides of the roads and slaughtered the 20k warriors who had fled.
  • The citizens of Bukhara opened the gates to Genghis Khan, but the remaining soldiers, there were only 500 of them, occupied a fortified citadel in the heart of the city.
  • And so now Genghis Khan, for the first time in his life, was entering a city.
  • He was drawn to the mosque. At first he thought it must be a palace, since it was the most ornate and beautiful building in the city.
  • He was soon informed of his error, and went to visit it.
  • It was unlike anything he had ever seen before. But he was not awed. Rather, he thought it paled in comparison to his god, Tengri. How could a man-made building compete with the vastness, beauty, and power of the eternal blue sky?
  • Bhukara was the most prominent center of Islamic learning in central Asia. And Genghis Khan was intent on teaching its scholars a lesson.
  • First they were made to feed and care for his horses. And then he called them into the mosque and delivered a brief lecture.
  • They could debate theology and proclaim their own righteousness before God as much as they wanted, but the situation seemed clear to him.
  • You have committed great sins, he told them.
  • “If you had not committed such great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”
  • In the coming days, he turned his attention toward the citadel which was still holding out.
  • Genghis Khan turned the full weight of his empire on the fort. Slaves rushed forward to attack the citadel, their bodies helping to fill the moat and forming human bridges when they were inevitably killed.
  • Military engineers from across the empire dug under the walls to weaken them, and turned out a menagerie of siege engines to destroy and overcome them. Ladders, battering rams, catapults and trebuchets, launching stones, burning liquid, and exploding devices. They had giant crossbows, and wheeled portable towers with retractable ladders. They even had crude early forms of mortars and cannons.
  • For the few days that the citadel held out, its walls were a constant scene of fire and death.
  • As the Persian chronicler Juvaini put it, the defenders were soon “drowned in the sea of annihilation.”
  • Bukhara did not suffer as much as many other cities. Still, twenty thousand soldiers were dead, as well as a few thousand Mongol slaves who had been pressed into the attack. And the citizens were starting from zero after the Mongols had completely looted their every possession.
  • Genghis Khan soon left Bukhara behind with its still smoldering citadel.
  • He had captured many liked it, and before the end of his life, he would capture or destroy many more.
  • For the defenders of Bukhara, the punishment of God was indeed upon them. But for Genghis Khan, it was just another day.

Eerie silence.

Theme Song

Scene 2: 

  • Hello and welcome to How to Take Over the World. This is Ben Wilson. And welcome to part 2 on the life of Genghis Khan.

  • In terms of where we are in the story, the man known as Temujin has just united all of the Mongol tribes and taken on the name/title Genghis Khan.

  • I started out this episode with that first story actually to sort of warn against it. 

  • I like that phrase Genghis Khan used “I am the punishment of God.” And that is how he wanted to seem. He wasn’t an enemy, he was a natural disaster.

  • And he wanted to encourage that thinking because you can’t fight against a natural disaster. You can’t fight the punishment of god.

  • And I think there is this temptation to believe him, to believe that this was correct. I think some people see the Mongol horse archer as like a cheat code.

  • And you can see why. Their strategy was often to ride up, shoot at the enemy, and then retreat before the enemy could retaliate. And that does kind of seem like a cheat code. I can hit you, you can’t hit me.

  • But that ignores the fact that these nomad archers had been fighting against settled civilizations for centuries in Europe, the middle east, and Asia. And settled civilizations often won.

  • And there were actually numerous scenarios in which you would not want to have a steppe army of horse archers, for example what if you’re fighting in forestlands where cavalry can’t operate together? Or in very humin environments that tend to warp and ruin bows?

  • So what I’m getting at is, I think sometimes people actually diminish the brilliance of Genghis Khan’s leadership, because they think he had this cheat code.

  • And he didn’t have a cheat code. It only looked like he did because he was such a brilliant leader and strategist.

  • So today we’re going to look at some more of those strategies.

  • One other thing to announce before we get started. Next week I am going to be releasing an endnotes episode for this Genghis Khan series but it will only be available to paid subscribers.

  • That’s right, How to Take Over the World is launching a subscription. In the future, all of my endnotes episodes will be available to subscribers only, as well as some AMA episodes where you can ask me questions and some other occasional mini-episodes and bonus content.

  • There is so much value to be gleaned from the lives of these great leaders and so many people have been bugging me to go weekly with the podcast. Well alright, this is your way to get weekly content.

  • It’s going to cost $7 per month or $70 per year and this really helps me to be able to focus on this all time and turn down some other deals that split my attention a little bit. So if you are interested, check out next week’s episode and the link will be in the show notes.

  • By the way there is also a Caesar tier, it’s $3k a year and if you sign up for it you can choose a leader from history of your choosing and I will do a series on them.

  • Anyway, with all that said, let’s get into, here is part two on the life of Genghis Khan after this quick break.

Scene 3: Peace and prosperity. Rebellion of the shaman. Subjugation of the siberians. Submission of the Uyghurs. Defeat Naiman-Merkit alliance. 1209 invades the Xia and is only partially successful. Can’t do a siege.

  • After uniting the Mongol tribes, the first thing he does is establish the great law.
  • It was a single legal code to govern the affairs of the entire empire. It established religious tolerance, anyone could worship however they saw fit, it established what was essentially a giant lost and found system for lost livestock, it encouraged learning and technological development by exempting doctors, lawyers, teachers, scholars, and religious leaders from taxation.
  • He orders the adoption of a writing system. He establishes a vast hostage system where his bodyguard is made up of the best and brightest of the nobility from his empire. And he doesn’t use so much the threat of execution as the promise of promotion if your family is loyal and you perform capably.
  • He implements a vast postal service, reminiscent of the pony express.
  • But most importantly, it was focused around ending violence in the empire.
  • Violence was disruptive, so he outlawed raiding and cattle rustling and many of the things that created intertribal conflict that led to raiding. Things like adultery and rape, anything that could start a war.
  • And he succeeds. This legal reform is wildly successful. He creates more peace than the steppe had ever known.
  • But Genghis Khan was a victim of his own success. They say that war is hell. Well for Genghis Khan, peace was hell.
  • For Mongol warriors, raiding was fun, and it was also a way to climb the ranks and improve your station in life. In the chaos of these raids and couterraids, capable warriors and leaders could vastly improve their reputation and standard of living.
  • And by eliminating all of this violence, he’s essentially freezing the social order in place.
  • Predictably, this upsets a lot of people, and so the six years of peace after Temujin becomes Genghis Khan are not peaceful for him personally.
  • The largest threat comes from a shaman. Actually the most famous shaman in the Mongol world. He was called Kokochu or Teb Tengri.
  • And Teb Tengri had been very helpful in Genghis Khan’s rise. He had always prophesied that god favored Genghis Khan and would make him ruler of the entire world.
  • And in return, GK makes him wealthy and powerful.
  • But as Teb Tengri gets more powerful, he becomes jealous of GK’s family, and begins to start conflicts with them.
  • And initially, GK sides with Teb Tengri. 
  • He even has his own brother, Khasar, tied up and imprisoned because he clashes with Teb Tengri.
  • But his mother Holun talks some sense into him. The Secret History of the Mongols tells us that she comes in, unties Khasar, and then takes off her shirt and says “Have you seen these? These are the breasts that you sucked.” And then she lectures him on the need to stay united with his brothers.
  • Genghis Khan relents a little, he frees Khasar, but he goes back on it, and actually supports Teb Tengri in a land dispute with another one of his brothers. it is actually his wife Borte who finally turns him against Teb Tengri.
  • She says essentially if this guy can do this to your brothers while you are living, what do you think he will do to your sons when you are dead?
  • So he has Teb Tengri killed and replaces him with a more pliable and less ambitious shaman.
  • Now during this period of peace the empire is still growing. He goes to siberia and is basically able to blackmail the reindeer herders there to join his empire. 
  • He goes to the Uyghurs who are closer to China and forms an alliance there as well.
  • But despite these additions, the men are just pained by their inability to come up in the world through martial prowess. Genghis Khan realizes that plots and insurrections are going to accompany him as long as he keeps the empire at peace. And so in 1209 he takes his first steps toward firing his war machine back up.
  • It starts with an invasion of the western Xia, a kingdom on the edge of the Chinese world. Certainly more chinese and less steppe-y than the Uyghurs or Mongols, but not quite as settled or Chinese as some other kingdoms.
  • Genghis Khan personally leads the invasion, which is at first successful.
  • They then suffer a defeat.
  • This creates a stalemate, and the thing that breaks the stalemate, is one of the most famous Mongol strategies.
  • And that is the false retreat.
  • The Mongols struggled against a well defended opponent. They preferred not to fight up close, so if you could just hunker down and put your shield up, they were going to have trouble getting to you.
  • Well, the Mongols had a perfect strategy to remedy this.
  • They would come charging up, fire some arrows until you got irritated and counterattacked, and then as soon as you did, they would run away in full terror like they were in a route. Like they were fleeing for their lives.
  • They even recruited men who were particularly good actors to serve in key positions so that they would really sell that they were defeated and afraid.
  • And the enemies always took the bait.
  • So they would go chasing after the retreating Mongols, and then as soon as they were spread out and disorganized and on flat ground that was favorable to the Mongol horse archers, they would turn around and attack.
  • And this tactic was devastating.
  • This is one of the first times it is used by Genghis Khan and he routes the Xia army.
  • He then besieges their capital, and at this point, they don’t have siege engineers, they don’t really know how to do this.
  • So at first the siege isn’t going anywhere, they try to divert the Yellow River to flood the Xia capital, and at first this appears to be going well, but then the dam used to divert the river breaks, and the river floods the Mongol encampment instead. With the Xia army destroyed but the Mongols also in a precarious situation, a deal is reached.
  • The Xia will provide tribute to the Mongols and submit to them, Genghis Khan takes a Xia princess as a wife, and the Mongols agree to remove their forces from the area.
  • For GK, It was his first modest steps into the invasion of the civilized world.
  • It provided opportunities for distinction for his men, it provided a massive influx of wealth into his empire, and it showed both that he could have success in such an invasion, but also that he needed to improve his ability to conduct sieges if he were to be successful in the future.

Scene 4: 1211 Invasion of the Jin. Initially unsuccessful again. But then he starts to recruit Jin engineers. Starting with 500 of them. Gets kind of lucky to take Zhongdu as his army is suffering from famine and plague. Secures treaty, then they move capital, so he turns around and wipes them out.

The Point: Never lose money. Don’t rush to a decisive engagement when time is on your side.

  • Genghis Khan was then looking for new territory to invade when he received a gift from heaven.
  • In 1210, he received a delegation from the Jin dynasty.
  • If the Xia were semi-Chinese, the Jin definitely had a Chinese kingdom. They themselves were not Chinese, at least not originally, their origins were as steppe invaders, but the territory they had conquered was solidly in China. It included Manchuria and much of what is now northern and western China.
  • And this delegation proclaimed to Genghis Khan that there was a new Golden Khan. A new leader of the Jin.
  • And this diplomat asks him, Genghis Khan, to bow down and submit to this new emperor and provide tribute. Oops.
  • Instead, Genghis Khan turns to the south, toward the Jin territory, spits, and then storms off.
  • This is a declaration of war. And the Jin think he is crazy. Yes, he’s the king of the steppe, but as far as they’re concerned, he’s still just a steppe barbarian. They are true Chinese monarchs with a vast kingdom.
  • After hearing of this response, they have no idea that they are overmatched. In fact, they think the situation is exactly the opposite of what it is. They say to him “Our empire is like the sea, yours is but a handful of sand. How can we fear you?”
  • Well, they would soon find out.
  • Technically speaking, you can see why the golden khan felt so confident. They had under their control more than 600,000 soldiers, an army eight times larger than that of Genghis Khan.
  • Well Genghis Khan first plays upon existing divisions and recruits some of the troops who had an ax to grind with their Jin overlords over to his side.
  • Then he splits his army and quickly marches through Jin territory, taking vital mountain passes and destroying Jin croplands.
  • They defeat the Jin in a series of small battles. The Jin are much more numerous, but the Mongols are so much faster and more mobile that they can concentrate their forces and outnumber the Jin at any given point.
  • The Jin were a fairly typical army of the time, which meant they had lots of infantry, lots of men who had to march. And they had long supply chains that would bring them food and other supplies.
  • The Mongols on the other hand, were a very different army. Not only was it made of exclusively cavalry, but each man had three horses with him so that if one horse was tiring he could mount the next one and keep going. 
  • And each man was almost unbelievably self sufficient. He had warm clothes, a knife and hatchet for cutting, a lasso, a sewing kit for mending hs clothes, strips of dried meat, 10 pounds of dried milk paste, some additional dried curd. And every horse that they rode was a mare, so the horses could also provide milk.
  • When really starved for food, Mongol warriors would even cut their horses and drink a little bit of blood.
  • Now let’s say all of this food runs out, let’s say it is more than a month with no new supplies. Well then Mongol warriors, with their protein rich diets, could still go for a couple days without eating and be in fighting condition.
  • The Jin infantry on the other hand, ate almost exclusively rice, and if they weren’t fed for a day or two, quickly became hungry, weak, and sick.
  • Each Jin warrior is essentially a cog in a machine. And as long as that machine is working well, they’re formidable.
  • But each Mongol warrior is essentially an attack helicopter. A world unto itself. Capable of independently moving, feeding himself, making decisions, taking prisoners.
  • And so these attack helicopters get loose behind the great wall, in Jin territory, and they can start messing with the Jin military machine.
  • That is how they defeat the Jin and that is how they would defeat basically all of their opponents who came from more settled civilizations.
  • After these victories, there are more defections from the Jin forces.
  • And so Genghis Khan decides, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Let’s strike at the Jin capital of Zhongdu, modern day Beijing.
  • Well it turns out they had overreached. Whenever the Mongols went down into settled civilization, they ended up getting ravaged by disease.
  • And also, the further they got away from rolling grasslands, the more difficult it was for them to keep their army supplied for long sieges.
  • But luckily, the Jin have even more internal dissension and the golden khan is killed and replaced.
  • He makes a deal with the new khan, that he will provide tribute to the Mongols and submit to them and they will leave. And they do.
  • But subsequently the new khan decides to move the capital further south away from the Mongols, more than 300 miles to the south. And that’s obviously a move to create a buffer and protect themselves from further Mongol invasions.
  • Well Genghis Khan is mad about this, like wait, I thought you had submitted, why are you preparing to fight me again?
  • So he and the Mongols return and this time they completely wipe out Zhongdu.
  • Jin forces would fight on for years but northern China was now largely conquered.
  • And importantly, Genghis Khan was learning. He used this conquest to vastly beef up his engineering corps for future sieges.
  • He had been lucky in his siege of Zhongdu that there were internal divisions that led to the golden khan’s death. He wouldn’t have to rely on such luck again.
  • While departing from Zhongdu, he has his men destroy the agricultural villages, and trample and churn up the farmland so that it will turn back into grasslands that his horses can feed on if they have to return.
  • That is an essential feature of Genghis Khan’s conquests, is a disdain for agricultural life. Mongol language made linguistic distinctions between people and animals. And they always used grammar and words associated with animals to talk about the peasants.
  • Genghis Khan never spent a night in a building. He slept in a tent every day of his life.
  • And that is how you have to understand a lot of his massacres. He saw it as the culling of cattle in order to make room for real life, pastoral life, a life actually worth living.
  • The other hallmark of Mongol invasions that you see from this one is the exploitation of internal divisions.
  • This would actually place a large role in their next invasion.
  • They invade a western Khitai kingdom, often called the Qara Khitai, and they are able to do so because the rulers are Budhist and had been suppressing the local Muslim population.
  • The buddhist rulers had forbidden their Muslim subjects from religious study, public worship, or even sounding the call to prayer.
  • So the Mongols are able to exploit these divisions, attract many Muslim warriors and officials to their side, and easily defeat the Qara Khitai.

Take the Khitai by allying with the Muslim natives against their Buddhist overlords.

Scene 5: Invasion of Kwarazmian empire. 

The Point: Speed. Self-sufficiency. Simplicity in home life often leads to extremes and creativity in your professional life.

  • By now there was a truly massive influx of wealth into the Mongolian empire. There are stories that so much valuable Chinese silk floods the Mongolian market that they are using it as rope and wrapping paper.
  • But you know how human nature is. That doesn’t satisfy the Mongols, it creates even more demand for MORE wealth.
  • So Genghis Khan, who at this point controls basically the entire eastern half of the silk road, turns his eye toward the western half.
  • And he’s now 60 years old. He’s still got fire in the blood, but at this point in his life, if he can avoid a fight, he rather would. So he decides to start trading with the major central asian player that is between him and the middle east, and that is the Khwarezmid empire. And Khwarizm went from modern Afghanistan all the way to the black sea.
  • These are the guys from the opening story, so I’ll just briefly go over it again.
  • He sends a trade delegation, they kill them and take all the goods.
  • There is a good quote from the Persian chronicler Juvaini who writes “The governor's attack not only wiped out a caravan, it laid waste a whole world.”
  • He sends a diplomatic delegation and they attack them as well.
  • So Genghis Khan takes this personally and attacks with multiple armies.
  • He himself leads an army through the desert in order to attack them from behind.
  • This is such a master stroke that the Kwarezmid empire completely collapses in less than a year.
  • And by the way, there is this good quote, when Genghis Khan writes to the people he says “Commanders elders and commonality know that God has given me the Empire of the earth from the east to the west Whoever submits shall be spared, but those who resist, they shall be destroyed, with their wives, children, and dependents.”
  • So from that first sentence, we can now see that Genghis Khan believed in a divine destiny to rule the entire world.
  • You can see this in the nature of the letters he writes to new foes. Instead of talking as one ruler to another, he takes a condescending tone. Something along the lines of “Hey, I see you haven’t submitted yet. Let’s correct that little oversight.”
  • The destruction of the Khwarizm is the most complete of any of his conquests. I mean complete and total annihilation. And there are some who argue that it basically sent the region into a talespin from which it has never recovered.
  • Basically they argue that the reason Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and those countries are still poor is because Genghis Khan laid waste to them so completely.
  • And I don’t believe that, they still would have suffered greatly when the silk road was replaced by sea routes in the 1400s. But it tells you something about the level of destruction that this is still considered a valid hypothesis.
  • I should also point out, that everyone had an incentive to lie. The Mongols shamelessly exaggerated their atrocities and the number of people they killed in order to terrorize others into surrendering.
  • And people like the Khwarizm often inflated the death toll and destruction in order to ask for help from their Muslim brothers in the Middle East. They’re trying to drive home what a grave threat this man is.
  • They write things like “This is the greatest catastrophe and the most dire calamity which befell all men generally and Muslims in particular since God Almighty created Adam until now.”
  • Now obviously, they are trying to play up the threat for dramatic effect.
  • But at the same time, the things that are happening are real.
  • In the city of Nishapur, an arrow kills Genghis Khan’s son in law. So he asks his daughter who is now a widow, what punishment she would like for the city that killed her husband.
  • And she decrees death for all.
  • Ao the Mongols take the city and kill everyone. They stack the heads of the men women and children in three separate piles. They even go through the city killing dogs and cats so that no living creature will survive.
  • One plausible death toll puts the total number of people killed in central Asia from the Mongol invasion at 15M. That’s probably high, but whichever way you slice it, Genghis Khan’s military operation there was both impressive and terrifying and once again greatly enhanced the wealth of the Mongol Empire.

Scene 6: Succession struggles. It is actually better to have a strong leader than a weak one.

  • With the empire at an all-time pinnacle in terms of power prestige and wealth, Genghis Khan then turned toward the question of succession.
  • He called a meeting of his sons to determine who would inherit the throne.
  • The idea was to split up the kingdom and give them each a part, but to still have one son function as the Great Khan, the ruler of the entire realm.
  • HIs oldest two sons were at each other’s throats over the succession question.
  • Jochi was the oldest and a very capable commander and leader, but as you might remember, his parentage was very questionable. He probably was actually not Genghis Khan’s son.
  • His next oldest son was Chagati and he was also a very capable person.
  • But the problem was that Joche and Chagatai were in such an intense conflict, that whichever one is made khan is immediately going to go to war with the other.
  • At this meeting to determine the succession they have a physical fist fight so that tells you how intense the rivalry was.
  • So GEnghis Khan makes a pretty smart decision, I think.
  • First of all he gets mad at everyone who questions Joche’s parentage. He says you’re basically calling his mother a whore, and thereby calling your own mother a whore. “You all sprang from a single hot womb. If you insult the mother who gave you your life from her heart, if you cause her love for you to freeze up, even if you apologize to her later, the damage is done.”
  • I actually think that’s a touching bit of sentimentality from Genghis Khan and shows how much he loved his wife.
  • But so he says “I accept Joche as my son, unquestionably. Buuuut I also kind of get it, so let’s compromise.”
  • And so Chagatai and Joche are given territories that don’t border one another, and the third brother, Ogedai, is given the succession as great Khan.
  • Ogedai was less ambitious, friendly, and a drunkard. And so he seemed like a pretty good choice. Everyone liked him and no one felt threatened by him.
  • He also starts giving out his last pieces of advice. He’s old but still in good health but for a warrior now in his late 60s, he knows he won’t live forever.
  • “Without the vision of a goal, a man cannot manage his own life, much less the lives of others.
  • It will be easy to forget your vision and purpose once you have fine clothes, fast horses, and beautiful women. In that case, you will be no better than a slave, and you will surely lose everything.”

Scene 7: Return to China and death. Subdies Xia and moves on to face the Jin.

The Point: The fragility of life.

  • In 1226, Genghis Khan returned to China to mop of some of his conquests there.
  • He was an old man now, but he still liked being close to the action.
  • The campaign was proceeding, but slowly, and he thought his presence and veteran leadership could help to speed things up.
  • Well in the winter of 1226, he fell from his horse, injuring himself badly.
  • He grew sick, and failed to improve.
  • Finally in August of 1227, he died.
  • For centuries, rumors have swirled about what actually killed him.
  • Some said he was shot by an arrow during a siege, while others attested that he contracted malaria.
  • However he died, he was quickly transported back to Mongolia where he was buried by his beloved Burkhan Kladun, the sacred mountain where he was born and to which he prayed and owed so much good fortune in his life.
  • He had personally chosen his burial site previously.
  • Rumors swirled about the fantastic fortunes that went to the grave with him.
  • There were also fantastical rumors about a burial guard of 500 people who were killed by guards because they knew his burial site, and then those guards were killed because they knew where the burial guards had come from.
  • Whatever the truth, his burial site is known to be somewhere around Burkhan Kaldun but was a secret and the exact location has eluded adventurers and researchers over the centuries.
  • In part because the Mongolians themselves continue to revere the sanctity of the site and do everything they can to protect the site and stop others from finding it.

Scene 8: Burial.
The Point: What does your life mean?

  • So let’s talk about the life and legacy of Genghis Khan.
  • He was an incredibly destructive leader, but also a creative one.
  • He opened up trade routes, established freedom of religion and worship over a large swathe of eurasia, swept aside exorbitant taxes that slowed trade, increased communication and helped spread technology.
  • This is actually the time when gunpowder and other crucial technologies made their way from China into Europe and kicked off a mini renaissance. That renaissance was put on hold when the black death struck, but it kicked off again almost immediately thereafter in the 1400s.
  • So the conquests of Genghis Khan had quite big knock-on effects.
  • And then of course the question of the show: What can we learn from Genghis Khan?
  • The first thing I want to point out is that he was quite religious, quite devout.
  • Hollywood trend of always showing people in the past as cynical, whether game of thrones or Vikings or whatever.
  • But these people were genuinely religious. Caesar was a chief priest of Rome before embarking on his political career, Alexander was scrupulous in his observations of sacrifices and prayers, I would actually say that Steve Jobs represented peak boomer spirituality, he wasn’t a religious guy in an organized sense but he actually did a lot to popularize this sort of techno Zen Buddhism that is honestly kind of the default. It didn’t used to be normal for people to meditate and do yoga.
  • Anyway I think part of the reason for this is because they believe in something bigger than themselves, they can believe in a sense of destiny.
  • And Genghis Khan really emphasized that. One of the last things he said to his sons was “Without the vision of a goal, a man cannot manage his own life, much less the lives of others.”
  • He believed that the all powerful god, Tengri, the vast blue sky, willed him to conquer the whole world and that the sacred mountain Burkhan Kaldun, empowered him to do so. And who am I to disagree?
  • There is such power in having an ambitious vision.
  • Okay there is actually so much more to talk about, this is going to be a pretty beefy endnotes episode. I’ll talk about a few things like If Genghis Khan was a Mongol, why did he have red hair? What happened to his empire after his death? What have modern genetics taught us about Genghis Khan? We’re going to talk about the Mongol invasion of Europe, which I believe someone needs to make a horror movie about. I have to talk about my favorite incident which is when the Mongols make Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims face off in a competition to determine which religion is correct. So if you want to learn all of that and more, the 10-minute preview will be in your feed next week and you can just go to a link in the show notes to subscribe and get the full end notes episode.
  • So until next time, thank you for listening to How to Take Over the World.

Scene 8: Legacy. Poland and Vienna. India. The way that Rome represents pan-European greatness, so Genghish Khan and the Mongol empire represents Asian greatness. Led to a nascent renaissance in Europe. Might have happened earlier if not for the black death.

About Episode

Part 2 covers the creation Genghis Khan's empire. It dives deeper into how he led, the strategies he used to win his battles, how he consolidated his empire, and what motivated him.

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