Genghis Khan: Masculine Role Model
Some men lead lives so amazing they seem more like fictional characters than historical figures. In western societies we often think of Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, or Emperor Constantine as such figures. But there are many non-western figures that fit the bill as well; Attila the Hun, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, or King Jayavarman VII. The greatest of them, western or non-western, is by far Genghis Khan.
It is widely known that Genghis Khan conquered and ruled the largest continuous land empire in history. What is not widely known are some of the events that lead up to it.
Genghis Khan Demonstrates the Power of Heritage
Before he was a ruler he was called Temujin. His father, Yesugai was the Khan (leader) of the Borjigin clan. When Temujin was nine years old Yesugai took Temujin to live in the household of his future wife to serve her father. On Yesugai’s return journey he ran in to a group of Tatars, the rivals of the Borjigin. The Tatars offered Yesugai food, which was customary, but they poisoned it. When Yesugai got home he died.
Temujin returned to his people to claim his place as Khan but the people weren’t having it. Rivals within the group kicked Yesugai’s family out to live on their own, a harsh life for a nomadic people.
Temujin had an older half brother from a different mother. By rights Temujin was the khan. But if his older half-brother, Begter, reached manhood he would take Temujin’s mother as his own bride and be the rightful khan.
First Begter started acting like head of the family, which was insufferable. Then he took a bird and a fish that Temujin had caught for himself. When Temujin told his mother about it she sided with Begter, showing that she accepted her fate as Begter’s wife.
Temujin wouldn’t stand for it though.
He and his younger brother ambushed Begter soon after the bird & fish incident, killing him with arrows and leaving his body to rot above ground.
What’s the lesson? Temujin knew what his heritage was. He knew his father was a khan and that he should succeed his father. He felt the deep burning pride of heritage burn in his soul and wouldn’t accept any fate less than that which was his by right. That’s the power of heritage in action.
Genghis Khan’s Early Life Was Really Hard
Word got out that Temujin killed his half-brother. People surmised that he intended to take his rightful place as khan one day. His father’s rivals the Tayichi’ud kidnapped Temujin. With the help of a guard Temujin escaped. He hid in a river for a while before eventually finding his way home.
These events were captured masterfully in the film Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan.
It can’t be stressed enough that he did all this as a boy. After escaping he returned to his family to resume his place as head of household.
What’s the lesson here? Strength in mind, body, and spirit comes from living and overcoming a hard life. When those hardships are conquered during childhood the stage is set for ultimate greatness in adulthood. No legend leads an easy life and comes out on top by his sheer power of will. A man’s will needs to be tested and proved. Genghis Khan could test his will to be the emperor of a continent because he had already demonstrated his will to his men and himself before he even attained manhood.
Genghis Khan’s Loyalty and Generosity
Temujin returned to his betrothed to marry her despite being away for so long. He tried to give her a good life but she was stolen by the Merkit clan. Years earlier Temujin’s father had taken a bride from the Merkits. The theft of Temujin’s bride was revenge for that.
But Temujin didn’t give up on his wife. He made some important alliances and went to war with the Merkits. Of course, he won and recovered his wife. By then word of his reputation had spread and he brought some men to the battle. He was generous with his men, more so than his allies were with their men. Temujin gained a reputation for his generosity as a khan and that attracted more men to him.
This too is portrayed beautifully in the film above.
What’s the lesson here? That material possessions really aren’t that important. Like money, they come and go. Loyal followers do not. Temujin demonstrated his loyalty to his wife by rescuing her and to his people through his generosity. They returned that loyalty. He couldn’t be the most successful warlord in history without loyal, capable men.
What’s Really Important?
The history of Genhis Khan is too fascinating and rich to discuss all at once. Other scholars have detailed his life better than I ever could. But one more of his accomplishments must be discussed. His reproductive success.
Not only is Genghis Khan the most successful warlord in history, who united the Mongol tribes, and conquered nearly a whole continent destroying every enemy that opposed him; Genghis Khan is also the most successful man in biology. Approximately 1% of the entire world’s population have genetic markers that come from Genghis Khan and his immediate male kin.
When Genghis Khan took a city, land, or people he took fertile women for himself and for his kin. Naturally they bore him and his kin many children. So many that his legend isn’t just in history books, it’s in the blood of tens of millions of people alive today.
Though he took many wives he had only one empress, his first wife, Borte. She gave him three or four sons (the parentage of one son is disputed because she gave birth some months after being abducted by the Merkits). All those other kids were just to show his dominance as a man. His sons with the empress were his real pride.
What’s the lesson here? For better or worse, women are the prize. Genghis took many women to bare his many children. Many probably didn’t want to lay with him, as the Mongols had just destroyed their cities and massacred their people, but what choices did they have? Of course they chose to accept their fate, as it was a hard life for widows for most of history.
And of course, the prosperity of one’s own people is a far better motivation than material goods. Money will come and go, but your heritage will not. That has to be preserved and glorified through constant effort.
Genghis Khan shows us the sad truth that women were prizes, the spoils of war. But his incredible story also demonstrates the power of heritage, pride, a hard life, and delusional confidence.
More than anything Genghis Khan shows us what is best in life.