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genghis khan

Khan You Live Like a Mongol?

Khan You Live Like a Mongol?

The early Mongols did not understand the culture and lifestyle of settled living. Their nomadic lifestyle meant that land could not be owned, much like air, or the ocean. Viewed by settled societies as barbarians, the Mongols were first united and conquered by Temüjin in 1206, where he eventually went on to form the largest neighbouring empire in history known as the Mongol empire.


Having watched John Green’s crash course world history videos for the upcoming lessons, I’m sure all of us are pretty familiar with the Mongols by now. Before we move on to our topic proper, let us introduce and briefly share the history of the Mongols with you!

Often portrayed as being backward and barbaric by many, and the Mongols numerous successful conquests have often been depicted as savage assaults. However, is that true? The man behind the vast and powerful Mongol Empire is none other than the famous, Genghis Khan. But, who is he exactly?


Born under the name of Temüjin, Genghis Khan (c.1167-1227) was the founder and ruler of the Mongolian Empire. However, it was only after he proved supreme through his formidable military and conquest tactics, that he was bestowed the title of Genghis Khan in 1206. His new title carries the meaning of "Universal Monarch." Known as a ruthless warlord, Genghis Khan was responsible for the deaths of as many as 40 million people. This probably explained why upon the arrival of Genghis Khan, many neighbouring territories would rather surrender out of fear, than go through fierce battles and struggles.

Despite all those singular stories of him only being a fierce warrior and merciless conqueror, Genghis Khan was also a skillful ruler and administrator, creating the largest empire in history by ruling Eurasia from China to the Middle East and Russia. His many achievements during his rule were well received, and he was bequeathed a glorious description by the Chinese 一代天骄 yí dài tiān jiāo — a great son whom the sky is proud of”.

Now that we have introduced Genghis Khan, we must not forget his people too, and they are the Mongols. 

The Mongols were well known for their impressive bow and arrow skills as well as horse-riding skills.  

As the Mongolians lived a wandering life, it was often difficult for them to communicate efficiently with their leaders. So what did they do? Let us introduce you to….


Not this yam of course..

But the Yam system.

Mongal Empire

Mongolian Empire

As mentioned earlier, Genghis Khan had accomplished many achievements during his rule. Of them, one of the most influential was the Yam system. Under his reign, the Mongols developed a postal system called Yam (or Örtöö, meaning “checkpoint”), which allowed them to boost communication effectiveness among various parts of the Mongolian Empire.

So how did it work? The Yam was a series of stations that were placed about 24-64 kilometres from each other, and messengers would travel from one station to another to deliver mail, pass intelligence reports and vital news.


With 50,000 fresh horses at their disposal and dedicated riders, this pony express-like system of weigh stations relays information swiftly.

What was the main function of the Yam?

You may think that the Yam was for merchants to sell their goods and engage in trade. However, the main function of the Yam was actually to allow Genghis Khan to deploy merchants, ambassadors, representatives, etc to the rival lands to extract information.


The Yam system expedited the transfer of intelligence communiqués, improved the Mongol’s intelligence gathering capabilities, and created a security system. For the convoys to clear security, and be handed incoming goods, they had to possess the appropriate paiza (tablet of authority). The paiza was an inscribed metal plaque, which not only functioned as a passport, but was also a symbol of Mongol authority. Each paiza varied in its composition materials and illustrations, according to the rank of the person.

Working Title/Artist: Mongol passport Department: Asian Art Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 13th century photography by mma, Digital File DT7051.tif retouched by film and media (jnc) 7_14_10

The paiza illustrated here is a passport, made of iron with inlay of thick silver bands forming characters in the Phagspa script

Both messengers and station operators enjoyed extended privileges. This vast communication network allowed goods and information to be transmitted swiftly and efficiently, and was essential in allowing Genghis Khan to “maintain contact with his extensive network of spies and scouts”, as well as receiving intelligence of the “military and political developments” of his neighbouring enemies.


Even Marco Polo, an early Venetian explorer, witnessed and confirmed the efficiency of this early yet greatly intelligent invention of the Yam postal system. Thanks to the ease of communication and movement, Genghis Khan and his successors were therefore able to govern their vast empire more effectively, giving rise to economic and political stability.

The Yam system built by the Mongols is astounding as it challenges our impression of the Mongols as simply being uncivilised barbarians. The construction of the Yam system demonstrates to us that Genghis Khan possessed great foresight. Knowing that he needed to acquire intelligence of other kingdoms for the planning of attacks and conquests, Genghis Khan came up with elaborate strategies, and schemes. Such vision and planning allowed the Mongolians to conquer vast territories, and construct a powerful empire, creating one of the largest empires in the whole of human history.


Just an interesting nugget.

You can read about Genghis Khan's contributions to the climate here!

The Mongols are complex, and they have no singular, defining story. We hope that our blog post is able to shed some light, and hopefully, challenge your initial perceptions of the Mongols (:

Genghis Khan, The Military Genius


Figure 1: Genghis Khan


Genghis Khan was born as Temujin in 1162 in Mongolia and died in 1227. He was responsible for uniting the nomadic tribes of the Mongolian plateau, and later expanded his territory by conquering huge chunks of China (consisting of three separate states Xi Xia, Jin and Sung), Khwarizm (include parts of modern day Iran, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) and Russia. His descendants expanded the empire even further by venturing into Poland, Vietnam, Syria and Korea. In just 25 years, Genghis Khan and his army had conquered more land and people than the Romans did in their 400 years of ruling. How did Genghis Khan achieve such a great feat?


Figure 2: Mongol Empire's Territory before 1259 CE


Genghis Khan had a strategical and developed system of warfare, relying heavily on soldiers, skilled horsemen, battle tactics and weapons.


Recruitment and Training of Soldiers

War was a full-time job and people were either a soldier or somehow supported a soldier. Potential army recruits trained from young to ride, be rough, be mobile and be accustomed to killing. Leaders and ranks in army were selected through merit not by blood relation: due to his disobedience by ransacking villages, Toguchar (Genghis Khan’s son-in-law), was demoted to a normal soldier from a general position until his death.


In addition, Genghis khan also recruited male nomads into the army from cities that he conquered, provided that they had surrendered earlier on. These nomads were particularly from Turks, Armenians, Georgians and others. Hence as the army attack further to more cities, their army expanded in numbers.1


Figure3:The Mongol Army as depicted in a 2007 movie, Mongols: The Rise of Genghis Khan


Discipline in army was enforced through merciless means: any man who abandoned the battlefield would be killed. The soldiers were vigorously trained and in order to sharpen fighting skills, gorugen, an annual great hunt was held. Thousands of horsemen would gather in a large area and closed in. Each man was allotted only one arrow; failure to kill an animal was met with ridicule.


Though ruthless, Genghis Khan treasured his soldiers dearly and was careful not to drive them to their limits of their endurance, as the human population was small. If a Mongol soldier was killed due to carelessness, his commander would be punished; if a wounded Mongol soldier was left on the battlefield, his troop leader would be executed on the spot. This concept of mutual loyalty allowed him to maintain constant number of troops under him.


Horses and Adaptation to Conquests Living

Mongol army were highly dependent on horses. They offered a fast mode of transportation, and provided a source of food as well. Due to great need for mobility, Mongolian soldiers would rest on the horses during travel and wars. Horses had incredible stamina, hence Mongols could spend days on a horseback while going as far as 145 km daily if need be. In addition, horses’ milk was made into fermented drinks, yoghurt, and cheese. Soldiers could also feed on their blood or meat when food supplies were short during travel.


Battle Tactics

Genghis adopted psychological warfare tactics towards his enemies. His objective was to instill fear in his enemies and offer an opportunity for them to surrender and pay tributes to the Mongols. This tactic was so famous that Historian Morris Rossabi said, "There's no question that there was a great deal of destruction. Not all the cities were butchered, but some became examples to sow terror in others. It was psychological warfare. Cities that offered resistance were often spared, escaping violence by offering tributes and letting Mongol soldiers loot unimpeded." When the Mongols captured Baghdad, the last caliph (a religious leader) and his sons were trampled to death.2 This is used as a tactic to demoralise enemies.


Unique withdrawal tactic (mangudai) was also deployed, whereby the army will retreat and then surprise their opponent by engaging a swift and full combat with usually greater number of soldiers on conquests. After this tactic became widespread among their opponents, the Mongols retreated longer. On the Battle of Kalka River, Mongol army retreated for 9 days before re-attacking the spread army of the Russians and killing many of them.


Figure 4: Mongol Soldiers battling on his horse while attacking with the infamous short bow



The Mongols were equipped with various weapons that caused nightmare to their enemies: flaming arrows, gunpowder projectiles, bronze cannons and short bows. Mongol army especially depressed the enemies by firing short bows with great accuracy from their moving horse and hitting an object 366 meters away. When attacking walled cities like Beijing and Aleppo, trebuchet, a type of siege machine, was used to hurl missiles over the walls. These granted the Mongolian army to be named as War Machine.


Genghis Khan’s descendants continued expanding the Mongol Empire until the Great Khanate fell into the hands of Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. Our world today is greatly influenced by the Mongol Empire, as they improved the world trade and exchange of ideas during their golden era. It is of no qualms that Genghis Khan have contributed to the great achievements of the Mongols, even though his methods may be harsh and cruel!



1Lane, G. (2006). Propaganda. In Daily Life in the Mongol Empire. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.

2Fernandez-Armesto, F. (2010). The World: A History Volume 1.

Genghis Khan's Art of War

It is indisputable that the phrase, "Art of War" has been irrevocably linked to the universally lauded Chinese military general, Sun Tzu. But truly, the famed Genghis Khan of the Mongolian empire is equally deserving of this accolade.

Genghis Khan (born Temüjin, Chinggis Khaan or the Great Khan) was born into nobility in 1162, eventually expanding his status to become emperor of the Mongol Empire after successfully uniting the multitude of tribes in Northeast Asia. While it is easy to laud and applaud his brilliance as a military leader, the question of "How exactly did he do it?" is often overlooked. Today, we will explore the military philosophies and strategies of Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan's military revolved around 5 core elements. These five elements were:

  1. SPEED

Before delving any further into the strategies Genghis Khan employed, let us first review the philosophies he advocated within his military. (Well, you got to learn the reasoning behind his tactics in the first place right?) Perhaps, both his philosophies of iron discipline and ferocity is best embodied in this quote:

"The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters." - Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan's ironclad strictness with his military translated into military ruthlessness but he was always careful with how he treated his army as well. Another of his quotes reflect his softer side, and his apparent concern for his soldiers.

"My soldiers are as numerous as forests, and their women could form a large unit within the army. I want to feed them with juicy meat, let them live in beautiful yurts, and let them pasture their livestock on rich soil." - Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan treated his army well (albeit with iron discipline), and in return they excelled in battle for him, carrying out his tactics with great success (evident from his triumphant conquests). This is reflective of his "golden rule" of 'mutual loyalty'. Having identified his military philosophy, we move on to discuss the strategies of his army.


Genghis Khan's army was highly mobile, with each soldier requiring to care for 3 to 4 horses, enabling them to travel at high speeds for days. This ability allowed the Mongolian army to scout effectively, mapping out enemy territories and carrying out spy missions. This emphasis on mobility also translated into battle, whereby the cavalry wore lightweight armor and used bows to devastating effect in a variety of situations.


While a majority of the sites I visited for research tended to focus their tactics of feigned retreat and flanking, Genghis Khan's army actually utilized 16 different tactics under his command. A handful of these tactics include:

  1. Crow Soldiers and Scattered Stars Tactics (also known as Ocean Waves Tactics)
  2. The Cavalrymen Charge Tactics (also known as Chisel Attack Tactics)
  3. Archers’ Tactics
  4. Throw-Into-Disorder Tactics
  5. Wearing-Down Tactics
  6. Confusing and Intimidating
  7. Luring into Ambushes
  8. Arc Formation Tactics

*Click here for the full list and explanation of each tactic.

Psychological Warfare

"In the countries that have not yet been overrun by them, everyone spends the night afraid that they may appear there too." - Ibn Al-Athir (Arab Chronicler)

These quote perhaps sums up the extent of psychological impact the Mongol Army had on their terrified neighbors. The Mongolian army under Genghis Khan's rule was not large by any amount and was in fact outnumbered in a number of battles. In an effort to overcome this handicap, Genghis Khan instilled terror in his enemies through the brutal plundering of cities he conquered. It was through these multiple shows of mercilessness that his army was simply able to walk into self-surrendering cities.

The terrors of 13th century Mongol conquests.

Genghis Khan's legacy lives on today. Up till this day, he inspires love and hate, with one of the end of the spectrum naming an airport (Chinggis Khaan International Airport) after him, and the other bemoaning his butchering of millions, labeling him "Accursed of God". Regardless one which camp you belong to, one cannot help but acknowledge his prowess on the battlefield and his might as a military man.