(personal name, Temujin). Born circa 1155, in the district of Deliun-Boldok, on the Onon River; died Aug. 25, 1227. Military leader and founder of the unified Mongol empire.
Genghis Khan was the son of Yesugei, a member of the royal Borjigin clan. By 1204 he had eliminated his principal rivals and, having seized vast territories, became the de facto ruler of the many clan-tribal alliances in the subjugated regions. In 1206, at a khurultai (assembly) of the steppe aristocracy, he was proclaimed the great khan of all the tribes and was given the title Genghis, from the Turkic tengis (ocean, sea).
In domestic policy, Genghis Khan concentrated on uniting the Mongol tribes and centralizing the government of the newly created state in the interests of the feudalized clan-tribal aristocracy. In 1206 he promulgated decrees that constituted a codification of customary law (yasa). He divided the Mongol tribes into military-administrative units called thousands: at the command of the khan each unit had to produce 1,000 mounted soldiers. The thousands, along with pasturelands, were granted as fiefs (khubi) to his relatives and to the noions —members of a new class of feudal lords made up of his trusted lieutenants. Genghis Khan created a personal guard (keshig) of 10,000 men that served as the principal force in the suppression of any stirrings of discontent in the empire.
In foreign policy, Genghis Khan sought to extend the territory under his control as far as possible. His strategy and tactics were based on thorough reconnaissance and sudden attack; his troops tried to divide the enemy forces and set up ambushes using special detachments to lure the enemy. He also made use of large groups of cavalry that could maneuver quickly.
Genghis Khan subdued the peoples of Siberia and eastern Turkestan between 1207 and 1211 and attacked the Jurchen kingdom of Chin in 1211 (see MONGOL CONQUESTS OF THE 13TH CENTURY). These wars, waged in the interests of the noion class, wreaked havoc on the peoples of the subjugated countries, most of which had achieved a higher level of economic and cultural development than the Mongol tribes, and hampered the development of the Mongol empire itself and the broad masses of its people—the simple arats (herdsmen bound to the land). The wars exhausted the empire and led to its political, economic, and cultural decline by the end of the 13th century. Genghis Khan died in the Tangut state of Hsi Hsia during a campaign undertaken in 1226.
Tataro-mongoly v Azii i Evrope: Sb. st. Moscow, 1970.
Kychanov, E. I. Zhizn’ Temuchzhina, dumavshevo pokorit’ mir. Moscow, 1973.
N. TS. MUNKUEV
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.