Last Reviewed and Updated on June 12, 2022
Genghis Khan is considered one of the most influential leaders in world history, despite being less known in the Western hemisphere. Explore a few facts about Genghis Khan, a man who united Mongolia, albeit not in the nicest way, and created one of the largest united empires ever to exist on Earth.
1. His birth given name was Temujin and not Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan was born as Temujin. The name Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khan) is an honorary title that he was given later in life that translates to something along the line of “universal ruler/emperor”.
2. He was the founder and emperor of the Mongol Empire
Genghis Khan was the founder as well as the first ruler (great khan) of the Mongol empire.
3. After his death, Mongol Empire became the largest contiguous empire in history
To date, only the British empire was larger than the Mongol empire, however, the British empire was spread on many continents, with differently sized colonies.
The Mongolian empire is the largest contiguous empire in history, one enormous chunk of territory spanning across a huge portion of Eurasia. At its peak, it was supposed to be covering about 9.3 million square miles (24 million square kilometers) of territory.
4. He united many of the nomadic tribes of the Mongol steppe
Before Genghis Khan, the Central Asian plateau was divided into several tribe confederations, and they were often on hostile terms.
It wasn’t an easy and quick process to unite the tribes, but over time he managed to rose to power and grew his empire adding tribe after tribe, most of the time through conquering.
5. He is considered one of the greatest conquerors of all time
There aren’t many other historical figures that would even come close. Genghis Khan conquered three times more territory than Alexander the Great did.
6. His conquests led to drastic population declines in some areas
Not the most popular of facts about Genghis Khan, but his conquests were pretty bloody. The estimates of people killed during his conquests are in tens of millions and some even speculate that up to 11% of the entire world’s population at that time was killed at the time of Mongol invasions.
It wasn’t just the killing, although he had no objections to erasing cities that opposed him, the famine and disease resulting from the invasions took a huge toll on human lives.
7. Genghis Khan established Mongol law
It wasn’t all blood and carnage, Genghis Khan declared the oral law code, known as Yassa. The laws weren’t exactly written down and some were even kept secret.
It is presumed the basis for the law was from wartime decrees, which were also expanded to include lifestyle and cultural conventions.
There are no scrolls found to date with these laws, they are however mentioned in chronicles such as by Makrizi and Vartan.
8. He adapted Uyghur script as a writing system in his territories
Education was important too. Genghis Khan knew that conquering territory by itself isn’t enough, once conquered the territories needed good administration. The more territory he had under his control, the more this was of importance.
He was appointing capable people to positions of administration, people who were literate and knew the territories conquered. As the empire grew, tribes and countries with different languages and writings were added so transmitting degrees to their subject was becoming, well a hassle.
Khan solved this by adopting the Uyghur script, a script that was to represent the spoken Mongolian language, and the script was to be used throughout the Mongolian Empire.
7. He practiced religious tolerance in his territories
Under the Mongolian empire, most religions were tolerated and could be freely practiced.
8. His exact date of birth is unknown
It is most commonly believed he was born circa 1162. However, the exact date and year are unknown and speculations range from the year 1155 to 1182.
Birth location is also unknown and there is a variety of possible locations.
9. His childhood was far from pleasant
From his father, the tribal leader, being poisoned, to Temujin and then being abandoned by his tribe when he wanted to claim his place as tribal leader following his father’s death.
After he was abandoned his family lived in poverty, on their own, fending for themselves.
The unpleasantness didn’t end here, he was later captured by former allies of his father and enslaved. He managed to escape and from then on his fate took a different turn.
10. He had many wives and concubines
It was common for Mongol men of power to have many wives and concubines and Genghis Khan was no different.
Many of his wives were either captive from the war (queens and princesses) or were gifted to him by his allies.
11. He asked to be buried without markings
It is unknown where he was buried. According to the customs of his tribe, before death, he asked to be buried in an unmarked grave.
12. He never allowed his image to be portrayed during his life
This is one of the more interesting facts about Genghis Khan. While many emperors liked their portraits being made and had statues of themselves raised, Khan didn’t allow anyone to paint his portrait or make a sculpture during his lifetime. No one knows for sure what he looked like and any images of him we see today were made after his death.