Five facts about… Genghis Khan

The September 2015 issue of History Revealed explores the ruthless warrior and military genius that was Genghis Khan. Here, we bring you five facts about him...

Five facts about… Genghis Khan © Getty Images

During his reign, he created history’s largest contiguous empire – stretching nearly 12 million square miles from eastern China all the way to the modern-day Middle East – while leaving literal mountains of bones in his wake. He was responsible for the butchering of yet more people, even after his death – as revealed in our five facts about the monstrous Mongol…



Throughout his military campaigns, Genghis Khan’s armies killed an estimated 40 million people – about 11% of the population of the world at the time. There are accounts of him piling the dead into massive pyramids to honour his victories. A recent study discovered that his slaughtering removed 700 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere, as swathes of cultivated land were wiped out and trees grew in their place.



Before he was proclaimed ‘Genghis Khan’ – meaning ‘universal ruler’ – he was called Temujin. According to legend, Temujin showed a talent for killing at an early age. At 10, he shot his own half-brother with a bow and arrow during a squabble over food.



Genghis Khan had no qualm whatsoever of killing anyone in his way, but he would also offer his enemies positions in his army if he considered them brave or useful. During a skirmish with the Taijut tribe in the early 1200s, he nearly died when he was thrown from his horse, which had been shot. Once his army was victorious, he rounded up the prisoners and demanded to know who fired the arrow. A man stepped forward and confessed, but rather than punish him, Genghis Khan made him an officer. The man was later given the nickname ‘Jebe’, meaning ‘arrow’.



In contrast to the brutality and the numbers who died, the Mongol Empire encouraged religious tolerance, and Genghis Khan considered it of great importance to spread culture around his territories. He established an immense communication network – the ‘Yam’. Riders could travel great distances, sometimes up to 200 miles a day, thanks to the hundreds of post houses around all four corners of the empire. Horses could be replaced every few miles and riders could rest often, meaning messages travelled at an unprecedented pace.



When Genghis Khan died in 1227 – the causes of which are not known – he wished his burial place to be kept a secret as this was usual Mongol custom. Therefore, the soldiers of his funeral procession killed everyone they met on the road to conceal his final resting place. The location of his body is still a mystery.