Genghis Khan

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    "I am the punishment of God... If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you."


    Want to know why you never fight a land war in Asia? Genghis Khan is why ("Chingis" is probably a closer pronunciation of his name, but generations of Western cultures have pronounced it "Genghis", so "toe-may-tow/toe-mah-tow").

    Undoubtedly the greatest conqueror who ever lived, this guy did the impossible: he united the Mongols. And, after accomplishing that, took the rest of Asia and made it look easy. China? Conquered. Korea? Conquered (somewhat[1]). Afghanistan? Conquered. Japan? Would've happened if not for two freak typhoons[2]. Russia? Conquered. Iran... it was more wiped out than conquered. Choresm? Oh, you never heard of that empire? Exactly.

    The list goes on and on. Taking over much of China and most of Central Asia in his own lifetime, the military strategy and laws he laid down allowed the next generation to expand the empire until it ruled over 22% of the world's land, from Kiev to Fusan.

    Mentioned more in Asian stories and culture than in the West, he is either shown as a tolerant and just ruler who helped bring order in a chaotic period, or as a ruthless barbarian who slaughtered people for its own gain. The truth is a mixture of the two. He was a revolutionary conqueror in Asia for the time in that he allowed almost total freedom of religion, did not impose on the cultures of the defeated, and established a vast and effective trade and postal network that hugely benefited the Asian nations. On the other hand, he was absolutely ruthless to anyone who dared to resist his Mongol hordes. He was not above biological warfare or using living prisoners as human shields. Plus, they would often massacre people who resisted. The Iranian plateau lost three-quarters of its population and didn't recover until the mid-20th century. Entire cities were leveled to the ground as examples; to this day, some areas in Central Asia are disproportionately populated compared to their surroundings thanks to these 13th century tactics. To put this in scale, after his death, his grandson led The Horde into Baghdad. At the time, Baghdad was a jewel of world civilization since it was the center of commerce and learning for centuries (for example: Take the Library of Congress, cross it with every prestigious school in the world, steal every major artwork and architectural achievement ever constructed by mankind and dump in in one spot, then fill it with the population and commercial power of New York City, and then you're getting somewhere). To get a sense of the destruction wrought, read that description again and then think of Baghdad and the surrounding region of today...Yeah, they're still recovering from a siege that occurred the better part of a millennium ago thanks to Genghis' supreme military.

    Speaking of disproportionate population, in 2003 it was discovered that a y-chromosomal lineage found in about 8% of the population of Asia (.5% of the entire world) probably came from him. His descendants - Genghisids - made up a large part of the aristocracy of the various Imperial regions and vassals, and its successor states across Asia for centuries afterwards. Many leaders more dubiously claimed the "Golden Lineage" as a source of legitimacy, and the latest aspiring Khan in spirit was a mystically-minded Baltic German Tsarist, Baron Ungern-Sternberg.

    Genghis Khan provides examples of the following tropes:
    • Alternate Character Interpretation: As with all historical leaders, he was either evil or good depending on what side you were on, or what side your ancestors were.
      • Let's put it this way, the only peoples who like GK are the ones he didn't invade.
    • Asskicking Equals Authority: This poor boy struggling to keep himself and his family alive in the middle of the Asian steppe went on to become the worlds greatest conqueror through sheer badassery.
    • Badass Beard: He's often depicted with these, the film Mongol for instance.
    • Badass Family: His grandson Batu was almost as tough as he was; to put it bluntly, Batu Khan was one of the few generals who did get involved in a land war with Russia and actually win.
    • Badass Grandpa/Cool Old Guy: he was still commanding armies at the age of 72. Especially impressive, when you consider the average lifespan of the time.
    • Badass Mustache: Often depicted with one.
    • Barbarian Hero: For a given value of hero.
    • Beam Me Up, Scotty: He is often quoted saying: "The greatest joy for a man is to defeat his enemies, to drive them before him, to take from them all they possess, to see those they love in tears, to ride their horses, and to hold their wives and daughters in his arms." Most historians consider it unlikely that he actually said this.
    • Berserk Button:
    • Big Badass Wolf: Some translate "Chingis" to "Wolf".
    • Braids of Barbarism: He has these sometimes, too.
    • Cain and Abel: He killed his half-brother Begter.
    • The Chosen One: He viewed himself as this.
    • Determinator: Well, he certainly couldn't have accomplished all of this without being persistent, could he?
    • Disproportionate Retribution: He was big on this. One story tells how he killed a man for saying that his daughter looked like a frog ( This was a common slur at the time in reference to Mongol's wide mouths).
    • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: He loved his mother Hoelun very much. He sent children orphaned in his raids on to her to raise, and she served as his advisor on some occasions.
    • Fiery Redhead
    • Folk Hero: To Mongols and Turks.
    • Genghis Gambit: The Trope Namer.
      • How do you keep together a group of nomadic, badass warrior tribes who had been in a state of near constant warfare with each other over a blighted cold desert hellscape for the past few centuries? Take over Asia. His terrifying reputation also sought to discourage this being used against him, as you would be given leniency for surrendering.
    • Grim Up North: Well, to China the Mongolians were certainly this.
    • Happily Married: To Borte.
    • Historical Villain Upgrade:
      • Most western people think of him as a barely sentient barbarian warlord, leading his horde on an orgy of Rape, Pillage and Burn. In reality, he outlawed the kidnapping and selling of women, opposed slavery and torture, lowered taxes, usually made a point of sparing women and children in his raids, and introduced total religious freedom (Virtually unheard of at the time).
      • It's worth noting, though, that he perpetrated the scary rumours about himself and his hordes to enhance reputation as Memetic Badass, so he's as much to blame for this trope as anyone else.
    • The Horde / Hordes From the East: Trope Codifier. Contrary to popular belief, it was actually a very organized army, similar to the earlier Roman army. And even more ironically, from the geographic viewpoint of a lot (though not all) of the people he was conquering, Genghis was coming from the north.
    • Human Shield: Used during the conquest of Choresm (For those who don't know: One of the most spectacular Roaring Rampages of Revenge in history.
    • Meaningful Name: Temujin means "Iron Man".
      • An alternate translation renders it as "Iron Worker" — that is, The Blacksmith. Well, he hammered an army and an empire into shape.
    • The Messiah: How modern Mongols view him. Some even go so far as to believe in a second coming!
    • Misaimed Fandom: Some Neo-Nazis use him as an example of white supremacy. Because a Green Eyed Red Head had to be Aryan, right? Wrong.
    • Noble Savage: Most charitable depictions.
    • Papa Wolf: Very protective of his daughters.
    • Pragmatic Villainy: One story says he was going to rape and pillage china, until one of his advisors pointed out that they will get more over time by taxing the Chinese people rather than sacking them. It is known that he made his appearance as a ruthless barbarian just so the enemy was more likely to surrender before even a single battle had been fought. He generally did offer a chance to surrender before hand.
    • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Modern depictions tend to show him as one of these. That's not to say he wasn't big on battle.
    • Rape, Pillage and Burn: Downplayed and Exploited. Officially, he outlawed the kidnapping of women, and looting was done in an orderly fashion. However, he tolerated it all to some degree, and while he certainly could and did control and regulate it more than most, a lot of the control he exerted was so that he could *weaponize* it against those that would try to resist.
      • The burning part was played straight, as evidenced by the aftermath of the conquest of Baghdad.
    • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: He was big on this, too.
    • Rated "M" for Manly
    • The Scourge of God: To his enemies. In contrast, the people of Kasgar (Muslims who he had liberated and given religious freedom) proclaimed him "to be one of the mercies of the Lord and one of the bounties of divine grace."
    • Shoot the Messenger: Genghis Khan actually erased several nations that did this to his emissaries. His extreme retributions might have been what created diplomatic immunity to this day.
    • Shrouded in Myth: Used to his advantage to make his enemies fear him.
    • Siege Engines: What really set him apart from other nomadic tribal warlords of the era. He learned quickly from the first Chinese nation he conquered how to build siege weapons. Before, when those raiders came, you could just hang out in your city. Against Genghis Khan, doing that just makes a nice target for those catapulted diseased cows to land on.
    • Why Did It Have to Be Dogs?: He was afraid of dogs. Understandable, as Mongol dogs aren't very nice.
    • You Killed My Father: To the Tartars.
    Genghis Khan is featured in or referenced by the following works:


    • The Conqueror, an unfortunate 1956 movie where the part of Genghis Khan is played by John Wayne.


    • A trilogy of novels in the Forgotten Realms setting revolve around Yamun Khahan, a clear stand-in for Genghis Khan.
    • The Conqueror trilogy (Wolf of the Plains, Lords of the Bow and Bones of the Hills) by British author Conn Iggulden follows the story of Genghis Khan from birth to death.

    Tabletop Games

    Video Games

    • The usual leader of Mongolia in Civilization, and while aggressive, not as warlike as the Aztecs or the Zulus.
    • He has a campaign in Age of Empires II'.

    Web Original

    1. In Korea it is taught that after many consistent invasions and after fighting back and surviving their attacks, the Koreans grew tired of them, giving some of their land to them and then forming an "alliance". Though partially debatable, it's true that the Koreans survived their attack five times and after the sixth they were "allies" with them.
    2. The bulk of the army that attacked Japan consisted of Koreans under a Mongolian flag (who says being allies doesn't have its benefits?). However, that could also mean that the Mongolians didn't fail in their invasion of Japan, but Korea did. It all depends on which historical text you're reading.