1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Jenghiz Khan

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JENGHIZ KHAN (1162–1227), Mongol emperor, was born in a tent on the banks of the river Onon. His father Yesukai was absent at the time of his birth, in a campaign against a Tatar chieftain named Temuchin. The fortune of war favoured Yesukai, who having slain his enemy returned to his encampment in triumph. Here he was met by the news that his wife Yulun had given birth to a son. On examining the child he observed in its clenched fist a clot of coagulated blood like a red stone. In the eyes of the superstitious Mongol this circumstance referred to his victory over the Tatar chieftain, and he therefore named the infant Temuchin. The death of Yesukai, which placed Temuchin at the age of thirteen on the Mongol throne, was the signal also for the dispersal of several tribes whose allegiance the old chieftain had retained by his iron rule. When remonstrated with by Temuchin, the rebels replied: “The deepest wells are sometimes dry, and the hardest stone is sometimes broken; why should we cling to thee?” But Yulun was by no means willing to see her son’s power melt away; she led those retainers who remained faithful against the deserters, and succeeded in bringing back fully one half to their allegiance. With this doubtful material, Temuchin succeeded in holding his ground against the plots and open hostilities of the neighbouring tribes, more especially of the Naimans, Keraits and Merkits. With one or other of these he maintained an almost unceasing warfare until 1206, when he felt strong enough to proclaim himself the ruler of an empire. He therefore summoned the notables of his kingdom to an assembly on the banks of the Onon, and at their unanimous request adopted the name and title of Jenghiz Khan (Chinese, Chêng-sze, or “perfect warrior”). At this time there remained to him but one open enemy on the Mongolian steppes, Polo the Naiman khan. Against this chief he now led his troops, and in one battle so completely shattered his forces that Kushlek, the successor of Polo, who was left dead upon the field, fled with his ally Toto, the Merkit khan, to the river Irtysh.

Jenghiz Khan now meditated an invasion of the empire of the Kin Tatars, who had wrested northern China from the Sung dynasty. As a first step he invaded western Hia, and, having captured several strongholds, retired in the summer of 1208 to Lung-ting to escape the great heat of the plains. While there news reached him that Toto and Kushlek were preparing for war. In a pitched battle on the river Irtysh he overthrew them completely. Toto was amongst the slain, and Kushlek fled for refuge to the Khitan Tatars. Satisfied with his victory, Jenghiz again directed his forces against Hia. After having defeated the Kin army under the leadership of a son of the sovereign, he captured the Wu-liang-hai Pass in the Great Wall, and penetrated as far as Ning-sia Fu in Kansuh. With unceasing vigour he pushed on his troops, and even established his sway over the province of Liaotung. Several of the Kin commanders, seeing how persistently victory attended his banners, deserted to him, and garrisons surrendered at his bidding. Having thus secured a firm footing within the Great Wall, he despatched three armies in the autumn of 1213 to overrun the empire. The right wing, under his three sons, Juji, Jagatai and Ogotai, marched towards the south; the left wing, under his brothers Hochar, Kwang-tsin Noyen and Chow-tse-te-po-shi, advanced eastward towards the sea; while Jenghiz and his son Tulē with the centre directed their course in a south-easterly direction. Complete success attended all three expeditions. The right wing advanced as far as Honan, and after having captured upwards of twenty-eight cities rejoined headquarters by the great western road. Hochar made himself master of the country as far as Liao-si; and Jenghiz ceased his triumphal career only when he reached the cliffs of the Shantung promontory. But either because he was weary of the strife, or because it was necessary to revisit his Mongolian empire, he sent an envoy to the Kin emperor in the spring of the following year (1214), saying, “All your possessions in Shantung and the whole country north of the Yellow River are now mine with the solitary exception of Yenking (the modern Peking). By the decree of heaven you are now as weak as I am strong, but I am willing to retire from my conquests; as a condition of my doing so, however, it will be necessary that you distribute largess to my officers and men to appease their fierce hostility.” These terms of safety the Kin emperor eagerly accepted, and as a peace offering he presented Jenghiz with a daughter of the late emperor, another princess of the imperial house, 500 youths and maidens, and 3000 horses. No sooner, however, had Jenghiz passed beyond the Great Wall than the Kin emperor, fearing to remain any longer so near the Mongol frontier, moved his court to K’ai-fêng Fu in Honan. This transfer of capital appearing to Jenghiz to indicate a hostile attitude, he once more marched his troops into the doomed empire.

While Jenghiz was thus adding city to city and province to province in China, Kushlek, the fugitive Naiman chief, was not idle. With characteristic treachery he requested permission from his host, the Khitan khan, to collect the fragments of his army which had been scattered by Jenghiz at the battle on the Irtysh, and thus having collected a considerable force he leagued himself with Mahommed, the shah of Khwārizm, against the confiding khan. After a short but decisive campaign the allies remained masters of the position, and the khan was compelled to abdicate the throne in favour of the late guest.

With the power and prestige thus acquired, Kushlek prepared once again to measure swords with the Mongol chief. On receiving the news of his hostile preparations, Jenghiz at once took the field, and in the first battle routed the Naiman troops and made Kushlek a prisoner. His ill-gotten kingdom became an apanage of the Mongol Empire. Jenghiz now held sway up to the Khwārizm frontier. Beyond this he had no immediate desire to go, and he therefore sent envoys to Mahommed, the shah, with presents, saying, “I send thee greeting; I know thy power and the vast extent of thine empire; I regard thee as my most cherished son. On my part thou must know that I have conquered China and all the Turkish nations north of it; thou knowest that my country is a magazine of warriors, a mine of silver, and that I have no need of other lands. I take it that we have an equal interest in encouraging trade between our subjects.” This peaceful message was well received by the shah, and in all probability the Mongol armies would never have appeared in Europe but for an unfortunate occurrence. Shortly after the despatch of this first mission Jenghiz sent a party of traders into Transoxiana who were seized and put to death as spies by Inaljuk, the governor of Otrar. As satisfaction for this outrage Jenghiz demanded the extradition of the offending governor. Far from yielding to this summons, however, Mahommed beheaded the chief of the Mongol envoys, and sent the others back without their beards. This insult made war inevitable, and in the spring of 1219 Jenghiz set out from Karakorum on a campaign which was destined to be as startling in its immediate results as its ulterior effects were far-reaching. The invading force was in the first instance divided into two armies: one commanded by Jenghiz’s second son Jagatai was directed to march against the Kankalis, the northern defenders of the Khwārizm empire; and the other, led by Juji, his eldest son, advanced by way of Sighnak against Jand (Jend). Against this latter force Mahommed led an army of 400,000 men, who were completely routed, leaving it is said 160,000 dead upon the field. With the remnant of his host Mahommed fled to Samarkand. Meanwhile Jagatai marched down upon the Syr Daria (Jaxartes) by the pass of Taras and invested Otrar, the offending city. After a siege of five months the citadel was taken by assault, and Inaljuk and his followers were put to the sword. The conquerors levelled the walls with the ground, after having given the city over to pillage. At the same time a third army besieged and took Khojent on the Jaxartes; and yet a fourth, led by Jenghiz and his youngest son Tulē, advanced in the direction of Bokhara. Tashkent and Nur surrendered on their approach, and after a short siege Bokhara fell into their hands. On entering the town Jenghiz ascended the steps of the principal mosque, and shouted to his followers, “The hay is cut; give your horses fodder.” No second invitation to plunder was needed; the city was sacked, and the inhabitants either escaped beyond the walls or were compelled to submit to infamies which were worse than death. As a final act of vengeance the town was fired, and before the last of the Mongols left the district, the great mosque and certain palaces were the only buildings left to mark the spot where the “centre of science” once stood. From the ruins of Bokhara Jenghiz advanced along the valley of the Sogd to Samarkand, which, weakened by treachery, surrendered to him, as did also Balkh. But in neither case did submission save either the inhabitants from slaughter or the city from pillage. Beyond this point Jenghiz went no farther westward, but sent Tulē, at the head of 70,000 men, to ravage Khorasan, and two flying columns under Chēpē and Sabutai Bahadar to pursue after Mahommed who had taken refuge in Nishapur. Defeated and almost alone, Mahommed fled before his pursuers to the village of Astara on the shore of the Caspian Sea, where he died of an attack of pleurisy, leaving his empire to his son Jelaleddīn (Jalāl ud-din). Meanwhile Tulē carried his arms into the fertile province of Khorasan, and after having captured Nessa by assault appeared before Merv. By an act of atrocious treachery the Mongols gained possession of the city, and, after their manner, sacked and burnt the town. From Merv Tulē marched upon Nishapur, where he met with a most determined resistance. For four days the garrison fought desperately on the walls and in the streets, but at length they were overpowered, and, with the exception of 400 artisans who were sent into Mongolia, every man, woman and child was slain. Herat escaped the fate which had overtaken Merv and Nishapur by opening its gates to the Mongols. At this point of his victorious career Tulē received an order to join Jenghiz before Talikhan in Badakshan, where that chieftain was preparing to renew his pursuit of Jelaleddīn, after a check he had sustained in an engagement fought before Ghazni. As soon as sufficient reinforcements arrived Jenghiz advanced against Jelaleddīn, who had taken up a position on the banks of the Indus. Here the Turks, though far outnumbered, defended their ground with undaunted courage, until, beaten at all points, they fled in confusion. Jelaleddīn, seeing that all was lost, mounted a fresh horse and jumped into the river, which flowed 20 ft. below. With admiring gaze Jenghiz watched the desperate venture of his enemy, and even saw without regret the dripping horseman mount the opposite bank. From the Indus Jenghiz sent in pursuit of Jelaleddīn, who fled to Delhi, but failing to capture the fugitive the Mongols returned to Ghazni after having ravaged the provinces of Lahore, Peshawar and Melikpur. At this moment news reached Jenghiz that the inhabitants of Herat had deposed the governor whom Tulē had appointed over the city, and had placed one of their own choice in his room. To punish this act of rebellion Jenghiz sent an army of 80,000 men against the offending city, which after a siege of six months was taken by assault. For a whole week the Mongols ceased not to kill, burn and destroy, and 1,600,000 persons are said to have been massacred within the walls. Having consummated this act of vengeance, Jenghiz returned to Mongolia by way of Balkh, Bokhara and Samarkand.

Meanwhile Chēpē and Sabutai marched through Azerbeijan, and in the spring of 1222 advanced into Georgia. Here they defeated a combined force of Lesghians, Circassians and Kipchaks, and after taking Astrakhan followed the retreating Kipchaks to the Don. The news of the approach of the mysterious enemy of whose name even they were ignorant was received by the Russian princes at Kiev with dismay. At the instigation, however, of Mitislaf, prince of Galicia, they assembled an opposing force on the Dnieper. Here they received envoys from the Mongol camp, whom they barbarously put to death. “You have killed our envoys,” was the answer made by the Mongols; “well, as you wish for war you shall have it. We have done you no harm. God is impartial; He will decide our quarrel.” In the first battle, on the river Kaleza, the Russians were utterly routed, and fled before the invaders, who, after ravaging Great Bulgaria retired, gorged with booty, through the country of Saksin, along the river Aktuba, on their way to Mongolia.

In China the same success had attended the Mongol arms as in western Asia. The whole of the country north of the Yellow river, with the exception of one or two cities, was added to the Mongol rule, and, on the death of the Kin emperor Süan Tsung in 1223, the Kin empire virtually ceased to be, and Jenghiz’s frontiers thus became conterminous with those of the Sung emperors who held sway over the whole of central and southern China. After his return from Central Asia, Jenghiz once more took the field in western China. While on this campaign the five planets appeared in a certain conjunction, which to the superstitiously minded Mongol chief foretold that evil was awaiting him. With this presentiment strongly impressed upon him he turned his face homewards, and had advanced no farther than the Si-Kiang river in Kansuh when he was seized with an illness of which he died a short time afterwards (1227) at his travelling palace at Ha-lao-tu, on the banks of the river Sale in Mongolia. By the terms of his will Ogotai was appointed his successor, but so essential was it considered to be that his death should remain a secret until Ogotai was proclaimed that, as the funeral procession moved northwards to the great ordu on the banks of the Kerulen, the escort killed every one they met. The body of Jenghiz was then carried successively to the ordus of his several wives, and was finally laid to rest in the valley of Kilien.

Thus ended the career of one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen. Born and nurtured as the chief of a petty Mongolian tribe, he lived to see his armies victorious from the China Sea to the banks of the Dnieper; and, though the empire which he created ultimately dwindled away under the hands of his degenerate descendants, leaving not a wrack behind, we have in the presence of the Turks in Europe a consequence of his rule, since it was the advance of his armies which drove their Osmanli ancestors from their original home in northern Asia, and thus led to their invasion of Bithynia under Othman, and finally their advance into Europe under Amurath I.

See Sir H. H. Howorth, The History of the Mongols; Sir Robert K. Douglas, The Life of Jenghiz Khan.  (R. K. D.)