Did Genghis Khan really kill 1,748,000 people in one hour?
Now that the Cold War is over, Genghis Khan's role as the father of Mongolia is once again being celebrated. Under Soviet rule, Mongols couldn't even utter Khan's name aloud. Now, however, the Mongolian people can visit the ruler's recently discovered tomb. So many related products have appeared in recent years that the Mongolian government is considering copyrighting "Genghis Khan" to protect the integrity of Khan's name.
This resurgence in popularity has also made some people reconsider Genghis Khan. Was he a bloodthirsty heathen, or a fair and just statesman? Although his reign left behind no tangible artifacts -- like architecture or art -- does Khan's role as champion of diplomacy, religious tolerance and equal rights for women serve as legacy enough? And what of the incredible bloody legends that surround Genghis Khan?
Perhaps no other historical figure has as much death directly attributed to him than Genghis Khan. A quick glance at the many lists of his supposed deeds yields a recurring and startling attribution: Genghis Khan is said to have once killed 1,748,000 people in a single hour.
While Khan inarguably killed his fair share of people, it's impossible that he -- or anyone else -- personally ever took as many lives in such a short time. For Khan to have killed that many people in an hour, he would have had to take 29,133 lives per minute.
It's clear this isn't possible, but what's the story behind this amazing, although untrue, legend? And why such an oddly specific number? Find out in the next section.
The 1,748,000 refers to the estimated population in April 1221 of a Persian city called Nishapur. This city, located in what is now Iran, was a bustling cultural center during Khan's time. And during his campaign to the West, following his successful subduing of China, Nishapur was one of the cities his troops sacked.
Genghis Khan (whose adopted name means "Universal Ruler" in Altaic, his native tongue) was something of a populist conqueror. He generally followed a self-imposed rule that those who surrendered to him were allowed to live. Common folk were often spared, while their rulers usually were put to death. The same fate met anyone else who dared resist.
In Nishapur, Khan's favorite son-in-law, Toquchar, was killed by an arrow shot by a Nishapuran. It's not entirely clear whether a revolt broke out after Khan's troops had already overtaken the city, or if the fateful event took place during an initial siege. Either way, this proved to be the death warrant for the inhabitants of the city.
Khan's daughter was heartbroken at the news of her husband's death, and requested that every last person in Nishapur be killed. Khan's troops, led by his youngest son, Tolui undertook the gruesome task. Women, children, infants, and even dogs and cats were all murdered. Worried that some of the inhabitants were wounded but still alive, Khan's daughter allegedly asked that each Nishapuran be beheaded, their skulls piled in pyramids. Ten days later, the pyramids were complete.
Exactly how many died at Nishapur during the siege is questionable, but it does appear that a great many people were killed and beheaded. There is no evidence that Genghis Khan was at the city when the massacre took place, however.
It's unclear why the legends say these events transpired in just one hour. And when the 1.75 million deaths became attributed directly to Khan is equally murky. Even more difficult to understand is how the idea made it on so many lists of amazing statistics. Regardless, a great many people died at the hands of Genghis Khan or his men. But in a strange, roundabout way, he put back more than he took. Thanks to his far-flung travels and his appetite for women, a 2003 study found that as many as 16 million people alive today -- or about 0.5 percent of the global population -- are descendants of Khan [source: Zerjal, et al.].
Genghis Khan Timeline - History
Ever since Genghis Khan ordered his generals to scout westwards in 1223, conflict with Europe was inevitable. Those raids in the early 1220s were short-lived, and Genghis soon turned his eye back to lands closer to home, but it paved the way for a later invasion. In 1235, Ögedei Khan, Genghis Khan's successor, ordered Batu Khan to conquer Russia. By 1241, they had done so the 6000 km between Mongolia and Eastern Europe were under Mongol control. It took just 6 years to capture more land than the Roman Empire did in centuries of sustained warfare. This campaign split into 5 armies in their way into Europe, only 2 of which were present at the Battle of Mohi.
A Mongol army is sighted outside Hungary's capital, Pest. They have travelled over 6000 km from their homeland and have already defeated numerous armies. They continue pillaging the surrounding area.
King Béla forbade his men from attacking the invading force, as the Hungarian army was still unprepared. Even so, Frederick, Duke of Austria, engaged a minor raiding party and won. This made Béla look like a coward because of his unwillingness to attack.
As the Hungarian army move in to engage, the Mongols retreat. The Europeans pursue their enemies for 7 days, enduring countless Mongol archer attacks. On the 10th April, the Hungarian force reaches the Sajó bridge. They set up camp around 7 miles south, erecting wagon defences to deter an attack.
Warned of a night attack by a runaway slave, a European force arrives at the bridge. They find the Mongol vanguard in the midst of crossing. Their crossbows prove very effective and many Mongols die. The victorious unit leave men to defend the bridge in case of another crossing.
The Mongols are forced to modify their plans. Sejban is sent north with a small force to cross another bridge and attack the bridge defenders from the rear. Likewise, Subutai travels south to create a temporary bridge and cross there. At the central bridge, the crossing is helped by the utilisation of stone throwers. With the arrival of Sejban and his troops, the bridge defenders are forced to retreat to their camp.
Out of the camp sallied an army to face the foreign threat. What came next was bloody, tough and hard-fought. With the Europeans outnumbering the invaders, it was very close. There were several times when the Mongol army was only saved by an opportune artillery barrage. In the end, it was Subutai, who had been delayed bridge-building, who was able to strike the enemy in the back and win the battle. However, enough made it back to the camp for Batu to still consider retreating.
Sustained bombardments from stone and gunpowder and the ineffectuality of their repeated attempts to sally forth meant that the Hungarian morale was exceedingly low. Stuck inside the camp and terrified of the onslaught of projectiles, many were trampled to death by their own comrades.
Finally, the broken soldiers decided to flee. They made a final push through a gap in the Mongol line. This was a calculated strategy men are more easily killed when running than when backed into a corner. King Béla was one of the very few who survived.
With the Hungarian army totally wiped out, there was nothing to stop the Mongol horde. They decimated Hungary and raided into neighbouring countries. Between 15-25% of the population was slain and almost all urban centres destroyed. In Europe, the news brought a wave of panic which gripped the continent for years to come.
3. There is no definitive record of what he looked like.
For such an influential figure, very little is known about Genghis Kahn’s personal life or even his physical appearance. No contemporary portraits or sculptures of him have survived, and what little information historians do have is often contradictory or unreliable. Most accounts describe him as tall and strong with a flowing mane of hair and a long, bushy beard. Perhaps the most surprising description comes courtesy of the 14th century Persian chronicler Rashid al-Din, who claimed Genghis had red hair and green eyes. Al-Din’s account is questionable—he never met the Khan in person𠅋ut these striking features were not unheard of among the ethnically diverse Mongols.
The Life and Conquests of Chinggis Khan
Chinggis Khan (originally named Temüjin) was born in the steppes region north of China sometime during the mid-12th century. During his childhood, his father, a tribal chieftain, was poisoned to death by his enemies, and thereafter Temüjin’s tribe abandoned him along with his mother and brothers. A lesser man and mother might have perished alone on the steppes, but the family survived by dint of his mother’s wisdom, an element of destiny or luck, and Temüjin’s own charisma, political acumen, and innate leadership qualities. Temüjin’s basic approach was to ally with the enemies of his tribal enemies, starting on a small scale at first and then allying in succession with larger tribes until, in 1206, he emerged as Chinggis Khan, the grand khan of all pastoral nomads north of China. After 1206 he began attacking and securing the submissions of surrounding sedentary civilizations, starting with the Tangut state of Xia in 1206 and then the Jurchen state of Jin in northern China in 1211. His armies then moved deep into Central Asia and by 1220 had destroyed and conquered the cities in Islamic Khwarezmia (modern Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan). After this he had Mongol lieutenants and their forces cross the Caucasus and into Russia on reconnaissance raids, where they killed six Russian princes. In 1227, now old and on his way back to Mongolia, he attacked and destroyed Xia and its royal family. He died later that year and was buried in a location that was deliberately and carefully kept secret and is still unknown today, despite fairly concerted efforts to locate it during the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Biran, Michal. Chinggis Khan. Oxford: Oneworld, 2007.
A brief and readable biography of the great khan for general readers interested primarily in Chinggis Khan’s importance in the Islamic world. Biran is a prominent and highly gifted polyglot who reads original historical documents in Chinese, Persian, and Russian. This is a brief but very solid work.
Dunnell, Ruth W. Chinggis Khan: World Conqueror. Boston: Longman, 2010.
Brief but serious and useful look at Chinggis Khan’s life and legacy by a noted Sinologist and Tangut specialist.
Fitzhugh, William W., Morris Rossabi, and William Honeychurch, eds. Genghis Khan and the Mongolian Empire. Washington, DC: Mongolian Preservation Foundation, 2009.
An edited volume of brief articles on many disparate subjects, many of them archaeological. Among the many topics covered are the search for Chinggis Khan’s tomb, his religion and genetic legacy, and the Mongol invasion of Japan. Its articles contain useful biographical information.
Martin, H. Desmond. The Rise of Chingis Khan and His Conquest of North China. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1950.
This distinguished study of Chinggis Khan draws the story of the Great Khan’s life from Chinese-language primary sources. There are separate chapters on Chinggis’s army his youth his attacks on western Xia and the Jurchen Jin his conquest of Manchuria Mukhali, his general and his legacy and greatness. This work is mainly a detailed account of the khan’s campaigns and conquests in northern China.
Ratchnevsky, Paul. Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy. Translated and edited by T. N. Haining. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991.
This is probably the granddaddy of all serious biographies of Chinggis Khan in English. Ratchnevsky uses primary sources in Chinese, Persian, and Russian and, of course, reads all of the relevant European languages.
Rogers, Leland Liu, trans. The Golden Summary of Činggis Qaγan. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2009.
A 17th-century literary biography, the Činggis Qaγan-u Altan Tobči is widely regarded among the Mongols as the second great work on Chinggis Khan, after The Secret History (indeed, it contains considerable overlap with that source). It contains a mythical genealogy of the ancestors of Chinggis Khan, a brief chronicle of Yuan history in China, and several patently fanciful passages.
Ssanang Ssetsen, Chungtaidschi. The Bejewelled Summary of the Origin of Khans: A History of the Eastern Mongols to 1662. Translated by John Krueger. Occasional Papers (Mongolia Society) 2. Bloomington, IN: Mongolia Society, 1967.
This 17th-century literary chronicle by Ssanang Ssetsen is a more mythical and fanciful history of Chinggis Khan than either The Secret History or the Altan Tobči. Several editions and translations of it exist, including a later one by Krueger with Igor de Rachewiltz.
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A Timeline of World Empires
An Assyrian relief
620s BC The Assyrian Empire is split by civil war
612 BC A rebellion led by Babylon brings the Assyrian Empire to an end. The Babylonians then create their own empire.
559-529 BC Cyrus the Great founder of the Persian Empire reigns
546 BC Cyrus conquers Lydia in Asia Minor
539 BC Babylon is captured by the Persians
525 BC The Persians conquer Egypt
490 BC The Greeks defeat the Persians at the Battle of Marathon
480 BC The Greeks defeat another Persian invasion
C. 480 BC The Phoenicians found Carthage in Tunisia
391 BC The Romans defeat the Etruscans
322 BC In India the Mauryan Empire is founded
338 BC Philip of Macedon conquers Greece
334 BC Alexander the Great invades the Persian Empire
333 BC Alexander wins the Battle of Issus
332 BC Alexander conquers Egypt
330 BC Alexander controls all of the former Persian Empire
Alexander the Great
323 BC Alexander dies and his generals split his empire between them
247 BC The Parthian Empire is founded in Persia
273-236 BC The great Indian Emperor Asoka lives
264-241 BC The First Punic War is fought between Rome and Carthage (on the North African coast). Rome wins and gains Sicily.
The Second Punic War is fought. The great Carthaginian general Hannibal leads an expedition through Spain over the Alps against Rome but he fails to capture the city.
202 BC The Romans defeat the Carthaginians in at the battle of Zama in North Africa
185 BC The Mauryan Empire in India ends
149-146 BC The Third Punic War is fought between Rome and Carthage. Rome destroys Carthage.
58-51 BC Julius Caesar conquers Gaul (France)
30 BC Egypt becomes a province of the Roman Empire
98-117 AD Trajan is Emperor of Rome. The Roman Empire reaches its peak.
224 AD In Persia a member of the Sassanid family kills the last Parthian king and founds the Sassanid Empire
c 320 In India the Gupta Empire begins
395 The Roman Empire permanently splits into two parts, East and West
407 Germanic tribes overrun Gaul (France)
410 The Goths capture Rome
455 AD The Vandals capture Rome
476 AD The Western Roman Empire ends completely
527-565 Justinian rules the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire)
c 550 The Gupta Empire in India ends
642 The Arabs conquer Egypt. They begin the conquest of Persia.
651 The Sassanid Empire ends
698 The Arabs conquer Carthage in Tunisia
732 The Franks defeat the Moors at the Battle of Tours in France
800 Charlemagne is crowned Emperor. He rules a great empire including France, Germany and North Italy.
814 Charlemagne dies. After his death his empire splits up.
976 The Great Byzantine emperor Basil II rules. He strengthens the Byzantine Empire.
1055 The Seljuk Turks, a people from Central Asia take Baghdad
1071 The Seljuk Turks defeat the Byzantine Empire at the battle of Manzikert
1076 The Seljuk Turks take Damascus and Jerusalem
1099 The Crusaders capture Jerusalem
1187 Saladin captures Jerusalem
1206 Genghis Khan unites the Mongols and begins to build a huge empire
1211 The Mongols invade Northern China
1221The Mongols attack Delhi
1236 The Mongols invade Russia
1241 The Mongols invade Poland and Hungary but they retreat after the death of Ogedei, Genghis Khan’s son
1250 The Mamelukes take power in Egypt
1258 The Mongols capture Baghdad
1260 The Mamelukes of Egypt defeat the Mongols
1279 The Mongols capture Southern China
1281 A Mongol invasion of Japan fails
C. 1325 The Aztecs found their capital at Tenochtitlan
Tamerlane king of Samarkand builds up a great empire in Asia. He conquers Herat in 1381 and destroys Delhi in 1398. In 1401 he takes Baghdad and in 1402 he defeats the Ottoman empire in Turkey.
1453 The Ottoman Turks capture Constantinople and bring the Byzantine Empire to an end
1517 The Ottoman Turks conquer Egypt
1521 Cortes conquers the Aztecs in Mexico
1522 The Ottoman Turks capture Belgrade
1526 In India Babur founds the Mughal Empire
1530 The Portuguese settle in Brazil
1533 Pizarro conquers the Incas
1556-1605 In India Akbar the Great rules over the Mogul Empire
1565 The Turks fail to capture Malta
1568 The Dutch rebel against Spanish rule
1571 The Turkish fleet is badly defeated by Spanish and Venetian ships
1587 The Mogul Emperor Akbar takes Kashmir
1592 In India Akbar the Great conquers Sind
1607 The English found Jamestown, Virginia the first permanent English colony in North America
1626 The Dutch found New Amsterdam, which later becomes New York
1627-1658 Shah Jahan, Mughal Emperor expands his empire
1648 Spain recognizes Dutch independence
1652 The Dutch found a colony in South Africa
1655 England takes Jamaica from Spain
1664 The English capture New Amsterdam, which is renamed New York
1683 The Ottoman Turks besiege Vienna but fail to capture the city
1687 The Austrians defeat the Turks at the Battle of Mohacs. The Turkish Ottoman Empire begins a long, slow decline.
C 1690 In India the Mogul Empire is at its height
1707 The Mogul Empire in India begins to break down
1733 Georgia, the last of the original 13 North American colonies is founded
1757 The British defeat the French at Plassey in India ensuring that India will become a British colony
1759 The British defeat the French at Quebec ensuring Canada becomes British
1775-1783 The American War of Independence is fought
1788 The first settlers arrive in Australia from Britain
1799 Napoleon Bonaparte seizes power in France
1806 The British take over the Dutch colony of South Africa
1813 Napoleon is defeated at Leipzig
1815 Napoleon escapes from exile and becomes emperor of France again but he is defeated at Waterloo
1816 Argentina becomes independent
1818 Chile becomes independent
1818 Shaka founds the Zulu Empire in southern Africa
1821 Mexico, Peru and Guatemala become independent
1825 Bolivia becomes independent
1828 In Africa Shaka, the Zulu emperor is murdered
1829 Following 7 years of fighting Greece becomes independent of Turkey
1830 The French invade Algeria. Over the following years, the French build up an empire in North Africa
1881 Tunisia becomes a French protectorate
1882 The British army occupies Egypt and Sudan
1884 The Germans take Namibia, Tanzania, Togo and Cameroon
1885 Italy takes Eritrea, Belgium takes The Republic of Congo and Britain takes Botswana
1886 Kenya becomes a British colony
1888-89 The British take control of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)
1894 The British take Uganda
1898 War between the USA and Spain takes place. The USA takes the Philippines.
1901 The Australian colonies are united to form the Commonwealth of Australia
Unification of the Mongols
In 1190, Jamuka raided Temujin's camp, cruelly horse-dragging and even boiling alive his captives, which turned many of his followers against him. The united Mongols soon defeated the neighboring Tatars and Jurchens, and Temujin Khan assimilated their people rather than follow the steppe custom of looting them and leaving.
Jamuka attacked Ong Khan and Temujin in 1201. Despite suffering an arrow shot to the neck, Temujin defeated and assimilated Jamuka's remaining warriors. Ong Khan then treacherously tried to ambush Temujin at a wedding ceremony for Ong's daughter and Jochi, but the Mongols escaped and returned to conquer the Kereyids.
5 He Exterminated 1.7 Million People To Avenge One Person
The marriages might have been strategic alliances, but that didn&rsquot mean there wasn&rsquot any love involved. One of Genghis Khan&rsquos daughters loved her husband, a man name Toquchar. Genghis Khan loved him, too, as his favorite son-in-law.
When Toquchar was killed by an archer from Nishapur, his wife demanded vengeance. Genghis Khan&rsquos troops attacked Nishapur and slaughtered every person there. By some estimates, 1,748,000 people were killed. Other historians dispute that number, but there&rsquos no doubt that his armies killed everyone they found.
Women, children, babies, and even dogs and cats were tracked down and murdered. Then they were beheaded, and their skulls were piled into pyramids&mdasha request by Genghis Khan&rsquos daughter to ensure that no one got away with a simple wounding.
Genghis Kahn Installs a Postal System within the Mongol Empire and China
About 1200 the Genghis Khan, Great Khan (emperor) of the Mongol Empire, installed an empire-wide messenger and postal station system named Örtöö within the Mongol Empire. During the Yuan Dynasty under Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, this system also covered the territory of China. Postal stations were used not only for the transmission and delivery of official mail, but were also available for traveling officials, military men, and foreign dignitaries. These stations aided and facilitated the transport of foreign and domestic tribute, and trade in general.
By the end of Kublai Khan's rule there were more than 1,400 postal stations in China alone, which in turn had at their disposal about 50,000 horses, 1,400 oxen, 6,700 mules, 400 carts, 6,000 boats, over 200 dogs and 1,150 sheep. The postal stations were 15 to 40 miles apart, and had reliable attendants. Couriers reaching postal stations would be provided food, shelter and spare horses. It was estimated that couriers could travel 20-30 miles per day. Foreign observers, such as Marco Polo attested to the efficiency of this early postal system.
Genghis Khan Timeline - History
In 2004, a groundbreaking scientific study claimed that the infamous emperor Genghis Khan was the direct ancestor of one in 200 men in the world. Further, the study said, a simple DNA test could prove whether you (or your males relatives) were one of the his descendants. This discovery brought about a surge in interest in ancestral DNA testing, which continues even today. So how did it all get started?
Who was Genghis Khan?
Genghis Khan, born in 1162, established and led the legendary Mongol empire. He died in 1227 at the age of 65 during a battle with the Chinese kingdom Xi Xia. His empire was led by his direct descendants for hundreds of years more, though it gradually broke off into smaller entities over time.
Genghis Khan grew up in an area dominated by constantly warring clans on the border of modern-day Siberia and Mongolia. “Temujin,” as he was named at birth, was born to a mother who had been kidnapped and forced into marriage by his father, a practice in which Genghis Khan himself would later engage. Genghis had six siblings, all of whom grew up around instability and violence over land and livestock, the essentials for survival. After their father was killed by poisoning by an opposing clan, Genghis Khan got his first taste for blood when he killed his older half-brother to become the dominant male of the family.
As he got older, Genghis Khan develop a unique strategy for acquiring power. Instead of appointing family or clan members to powerful positions, which was the typical political strategy, he chose allies from other clans to assist him in his conquests. He and his men would kill the heads of other clans then force the survivors to join their united “super-clan.” In this way, Genghis Khan united the previously warring communities.
Genghis Khan was able to repeat this strategy until he had conquered half the known world and ruled over 1 million people. He ruled the areas of modern-day China, Iran, Pakistan, Korea and South Russia. At the height of his conquest, he controlled a land area the size of the continent of Africa.
Each time he conquered a new clan or people, Genghis Khan would force marriage upon the women, either to himself or to his head chiefs. This is how he acquired enough wives to father the number of sons necessary to provide the DNA lineage which we know today.
Why do we care about Genghis Khan’s DNA?
In 2003, an evolutionary geneticist named Chris Tyler-Smith discovered that 8 percent of men across 16 different ethnic populations in Asia shared a common Y-chromosome pattern. This pattern was eventually traced back to a common origin who must have existed about 1,000 years ago. However, to create so many descendants, this common origin would have had to have an abnormally large number of sons. (He may also have had many daughters, of course, but they would not carry the Y-chromosome necessary to indicate they were directly linked to the paternal origin. Women have two X-chromosomes while men have an X and a Y).
Since Genghis Khan was known in contemporary writings for fathering hundreds of children in this area of Asia, historians and geneticists together presumed this common origin was most likely the first Mongolian emperor himself.
Together with a genetics research team, Tyler-Smith was able to further show that 1 in 200 men in the world are direct descendants of Genghis Khan. In modern-day Mongolia alone, as many 35% of men shared the “Khan” Y-chromosome pattern. The team’s study was published in 2003 under the title “The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols” in the journal European Journal of Human Genetics.
To put these figures another way, Tyler-Smith’s findings mean that up to 0.5% of the world’s population (or around 17 million people), primarily located in Asia, can trace their lineage to Genghis Khan directly along their paternal bloodlines. The data also indicates that 8% of men who live in the area of the “former Mongol empire” carry nearly identical Y-chromosomes. According to Tyler-Smith and other experts, this is statistically improbable to occur in any way except from one common paternal origin.
To further prove Tyler-Smith’s theory, historians have pointed to the attested lineage of Genghis Khan’s sons. In documents from the time period, one of Khan’s sons was written to have had 40 sons who would have carried on that unique Y-chromosome pattern. Similarly, one of Genghis Khan’s grandsons was said to have had 22 acknowledged sons however, he likely had many more “illegitimate” sons because he added 30 women to his personal harem each year.
A follow-up study from a team of Russian scientists analyzed further ethnic groups including Kurds, Persians, Russians and other central Asian ethnic groups. They were surprised to find that despite Genghis Khan’s empire controlling eastern Russia for two and a half centuries, they were unable to find any evidence of his direct descendants being present in modern-day Russia. As they put it, “…[M]en from the Genghis Khan clan left no genetic trace in Russia.”
The fascination with claiming Genghis Khan ancestry is not new
Since this study came out in 2003, there has been a rush for ancestry DNA test kits. People around the world, particularly those with known roots in Asia, wanted to know if they, too, were descendants of the infamous Mongolian emperor. Although DNA is now able to prove it more definitively, humans have boasted of this lineage for centuries.
In fact, even in early Islamic societies where the most respected lineage was directly through the prophet Mohammad, men still found prestige in Genghis Khan lineage. The Muslim founder of the Timurid Empire, who lived from 1370 to 1405, claimed he was directly descended from Genghis Khan. He even used this pedigree to support his political goals of “restoring” the Mongol empire. To this day, many of the Timurid people (now found in modern-day India) have pride in their heritage from one of the greatest emperors known to man.
Similarly, the Tartars of Russia and the Uzbeks of central Asia, both Muslim populations, revered men who claimed they were the blood of Genghis Khan. These men were often promoted as effective military men and rulers just like their ancestor.
Is there a DNA test I can take to see if I’m a descendant of Genghis Khan?
The answer is yes and no. The science behind this particular lineage DNA is still heavily debated.
If you’re a man, you can submit your DNA sample to a lab for analysis of your paternal haplotypes and haplogroup. The patterns the Tyler-Smith researchers have linked with Genghis Khan are only located on the Y chromosome, which women do not carry. A woman who is interested in learning whether she is a descendant of Genghis Khan can use a male relative’s DNA, including a father, uncle, grandfather, brother or nephew.
Most companies will not explicitly tell you which famous (or infamous) historical figures you are related to. However, they will tell you your Y-DNA STR marker, which you can then compare to the results from the Tyler-Smith study.
The test you will want to have performed is an analysis of your Y-DNA STR marker, i.e., a “paternal ancestry test.” Once you know this marker, you can compare it to many historical figures whose ancestral DNA is well-documented, including Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon Bonaparte, Jesse James, Luke the Evangelist and other well-known figures.
The following table from Family Tree DNA lists the 25 Y-DNA STR markers associated with the C3c-M48 haplogroup which the Tyler-Smith researchers have linked with Genghis Khan.
However, the science behind these tests cannot say with 100% certainty that you are a descendant of Genghis Khan.
“It is almost impossible to say for definite that you are a descendant of Genghis Khan as we are talking about very, very ancient paternal ancestry and a time frame of at least seven centuries,” said David Ashworth, chief executive of Oxford Ancestors in an interview with BBC. “But there is scientific evidence that if you do have this Y-chromosome then there is a very strong probability that you are descended from Genghis Khan.”
The main reason for this uncertainty is that the DNA of Genghis Khan is unknown. His body and the bodies of his closest relatives have never been located for DNA testing. The researchers are still assuming that the common DNA origin of this Y-chromosome pattern is Genghis Khan based on historical evidence and convenient timeline alignment.
Recently, an opposing theory has challenged everything we believed for the past decade. In September 2016, a new study entitled “Molecular Genealogy of a Mongol Queen’s Family and Her Possible Kinship with Genghis Khan” was published in the academic journal PloS ONE. This scientific study suggests that the previous Tyler-Smith conclusions had Genghis Khan pegged as the incorrect haplogroup. Instead of being one of the 25 Y-DNA STR markers listed above, this new team of researchers believe he is of the R1b-M343 haplogroup, which is prevalent in western Eurasia.
The researchers used DNA evidence from a burial ground discovered in 2004. The five bodies were found in Mongolia and estimated to have lived around 1130 to 1250 A.D. They are believed to be related to the “Golden Family” of Genghis Khan, yet they carry a completely different haplogroup from the one suggested in the 2004 study.
So it is clear that there is still much we do not know definitively about the DNA evidence linking present-day men to Genghis Khan. Still, many people are interested in learning about their heritage using DNA labs like 23andme.com, Ancestry.com and Family Tree DNA, among others.
How accurate are Genghis Khan ancestry DNA tests?
Remember that your heritage DNA results are just for fun. Sometimes the results are given to you with only a 50% confidence rating, which means they can often be wrong.
This happened in a notable way to a University of Miami professor named Thomas R. Robinson. He had submitted a DNA sample in 2003 to determine his English heritage. Several years later, the DNA testing company, Oxford Ancestors, notified him that a recent scan of its database had shown he was a direct descendant of Genghis Khan.
The news was picked up by the New York Times for its unusual nature. Experts were astounded that this man of British heritage was also related to Genghis Khan, and soon a movie company was asking Thomas to come film his story in Mongolia. But Robinson was skeptical of his results and submitted a second sample to a different DNA testing facility, Family Tree DNA, which proved he was not related to Genghis Khan.
Chris Tyler-Smith, the man behind the original 2004 study that brought the Genghis Khan Y-DNA to fame, confirmed the results of the second test, saying it “conclusively rules out a link to the Genghis Khan haplotype.”
In a similar story, a March 2017 report by Inside Edition proved the inaccuracy of some ancestry DNA tests by carrying out a simple experiment. They found three sets of identical triplets and a set of identical quadruplets and encouraged them to submit their DNA to various testing companies. Most of the sibling groups had varying results when they should have been identical, suggesting the accuracy is still not 100%.
This video shows the surprising results. One set of triplets had a range from 59% to 70% British Isle origin. In that same sibling group, one triplet showed 6% Scandinavian ancestry while her identical sisters showed 0%.
Clearly, the science of ancestral DNA testing is not exact…yet. We are learning more and correcting our past findings every day. Yet when it comes to the DNA of Genghis Khan and his descendants, we are fascinated at the possibilities and still seek the “bragging rights” of being a part of his incredible family legacy. This says a lot about the kind of impact the first Emperor of Mongolia had on the world not just 800 years ago but straight through to the modern day.
The brutal brilliance of Genghis Khan
Yes, he was a ruthless killer, but the Mongol leader was also one of the most gifted military innovators of any age.
This competition is now closed
Published: February 22, 2019 at 3:55 pm
Genghis Khan was the greatest conqueror the world has ever known. He is a legendary figure, perhaps second in fame only to Jesus Christ, and in popular imagery is the very avatar of savagery and barbarism. And what could be more damning for the modern reactionary politician than to be accused of being to the ‘right of Genghis Khan’?
The real Genghis, however, was a genuine phenomenon. He and his sons vanquished peoples from the Adriatic to the Pacific, reaching modern Austria, Finland, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Vietnam, Burma, Japan and Indonesia. The Mongol empire covered 12 million contiguous square miles – an area as large as Africa. In contrast, the Roman empire was about half the size of the continental USA. By 1240, Mongol conquests covered most of the known world – since the Americas and Australasia were unknown to the ‘world island’ of Europe, Asia and Africa. Modern countries that formed part of the Mongol empire at its greatest extent contain 3 billion of the world’s 7 billion population.
Genghis (1162–1227) and his sons waged major wars on two fronts simultaneously and conquered Russia in winter – both feats that eluded Napoleon and Hitler. How was this possible for a land of 2 million illiterate nomads? The answer was a quantum leap in military technology, which brought mounted archery to its acme. The speed and mobility of Mongol archers, the accuracy of their long-range shooting, their uncanny horsemanship – all allied to Genghis’s ruthless ‘surrender or die’ policy and his brilliant perception that this gave him the possibility of living off tribute from the rest of the world – combined to make the Mongols unbeatable. As the military historian Basil Liddell Hart pointed out, Genghis was a military innovator in two important respects: he realised that cavalry did not need to have infantry backup, and he grasped the importance of massed artillery barrages.
Most historians claim that this astonishing achievement was the result of massacre and bloodshed not seen again until the 20th century. It is the task of the honest historian to attempt a balanced, judicious estimate of this conventional appraisal, all the more so since modern revisionism has seen something of an ‘overswing’ of the critical pendulum. One school of thought would make the Mongols culpable for every military atrocity that has ever occurred the opposing one would make them harbingers of world peace and security, beset by a few regrettable excesses.
Military historian Sir John Keegan made Genghis responsible for the savagery of the Spanish Reconquista against the Moors in the late 15th century and their massacre of the Aztecs and Incas. The Mongols are supposed to have imported ruthless ferocity to Islam, which in turn transmitted it to the crusaders, thence back to Spain and, after Columbus’s voyages of discovery, the New World: “The awful fate of the Incas and Aztecs… ultimately washed back to Genghis Khan himself.” The Harvard historian Donald Ostrowski replied, correctly, that “ruthless ferocity” was actually introduced to Islam by the crusaders.
In contrast to the ‘Genghis as monster’ take on events, the anthropologist Jack Weatherford, in his 2004 hagiography of Genghis, soft-pedalled the casualties caused by the Mongols and stressed instead their enlightened attitude to women, their avoidance (mostly) of torture, their transmission of culture and the arts, and even their (alleged) role as fount and origin of the Renaissance.
These divergent modern views are a projection across the centuries of diametrically opposed views of the Mongols entertained in the 13th century. For the English chronicler Matthew Paris, the Mongols were Gog and Magog aroused from their slumber they were the demons of Tartarus, the myrmidons of Satan himself. For the great Franciscan thinker Roger Bacon, the Mongols represented the triumph of science and philosophy over ignorance.
Since one version of Genghis Khan is that of a cruel despot who raised mountains of human skulls, we should first ask: how many died as a result of his wars and conquests? The answer can only be guesswork, however sophisticated, for three main reasons. Ancient and medieval chroniclers routinely multiplied numbers, sometimes 10‑fold, so we have to discount their figures. Estimates of fatalities can be made only when we have accurate population statistics, but medieval census figures are unreliable. And the assessment of war casualties is a notorious minefield, even in the modern age (scholars cannot agree on the figures for deaths in the Second World War).
There were three great Mongol campaigns between 1206 (when the local warlord Temujin was acclaimed as Genghis Khan, emperor of Mongolia) and 1242 when the Mongols withdrew from Europe following the death of Ogodei, Genghis’s son and successor as Great Khan. The European conquest of 1237–42 probably accounted for a million deaths while the subjugation of modern Iran and Afghanistan from 1219–22 cost 2.5 million lives.
The real problem of historical interpretation comes in the great campaign to conquer the Jin regime of northern China, which lasted from 1211–34. We can have only the haziest idea of the population of northern China at the time, but it was probably somewhere in the 60–90 million mark. Medieval and early modern demography of China is an inexact science, to put it mildly. A distinguished Sinologist has concluded that, depending on which model you use, the population of China in 1600 could have been 66 million, 150 million or 230 million. What is clear is that sustained warfare in China always generates massive casualties.
Two obvious analogies for Genghis’s 23-year war against the Jin are the An-Lushan revolt against the Tang dynasty in 755–63 and the great Taiping rebellion of 1850–64. The An-Lushan convulsion caused 26 million deaths and the Taiping 30 million. We should also note that 27 million were killed in the Sino-Japanese conflict of 1937–45. Using these statistics as a lodestone, scholars argue that the likely fatalities from 1211–34 were 30 million. If we then include casualties in the ‘little wars’ Genghis and his sons waged against people like the Tanguts, the Bulgars, the Armenians and the Georgians, we arrive at a total of some 35–37 million deaths attributable to the Mongols.
Why was the death toll so high, and why were the Mongols so ferocious? Different reasons have been adduced: the Mongols spread terror and cruelty because they had a small-scale steppe mentality transposed onto a global stage because, in terms of the Mongols’ divine mission to conquer the world for their supreme god Tengeri, resistance was blasphemy because they feared and hated walled cities and expended their fury on them once taken because it was the most efficient way to warn already conquered peoples not to attempt ‘stab in the back’ revolts as the Mongols pressed ever forwards.
The simplest explanation for the chilling policy of ‘surrender or die’ was that the Mongols, as a far from numerous people totalling at most 2 million souls, were obsessed with casualties. For them, the best-case scenario was a walkover surrender in which none of their troops died. This explains why nearly all the cities that surrendered without even token resistance received relatively good treatment.
There are no signs in Genghis of a mindless or psychopathic cruelty everything was done for a purpose. It is important not to judge him by 21st-century standards but to see him in the context of general behaviour in the 13th century. He exceeded in degree but not in kind the other killers of the age. One could give any number of other instances: from the slaughter of the southern Chinese (Song) by the Jin in Tsao-Chia in 1128, through the massacre of the Albigensians by fellow Christians at Béziers and Carcassonne in 1209, to the killing of 30,000 Hindus at Chitor in 1303 by the troops of Ala-ad-din Khilji.
It is wisest to accept the judgment of a notable historian of medieval Russia, Charles J Halperin: “(Genghis) was no more cruel, and no less, than empire builders before and since. Moral judgments are of little help in understanding his importance.” Moreover, it is only fair to point out that great wartime leaders, whether Lincoln during the American Civil War or Churchill and Roosevelt in the Second World War, sent hundreds of thousands to their death for causes that a Martian observer might not necessarily see as noble. Julius Caesar is supposed to have caused a million deaths during his 10-year conquest of Gaul, but the Caesar that predominates in the public consciousness is the statesman, military genius and superb writer of prose, not the butcher. In the 21st century we may take a dim view of Genghis’s projects and ambitions but we should remember, as Plato pointed out long ago in the Protagoras, that even the Hitlers, Stalins and Maos do not consider themselves evil, but rather driven by some quasi-divine mission (the Reich, the classless society, the New Man).
The pro-Genghis camp asserts that it was as a result of his activities that China was brought into contact with the Islamic world and thus with the west, since the west had already made its presence felt in the Muslim world during the crusades. Trade, the Mongol courier or ‘pony express’ system, and Genghis’s law code, the yasa, were the main pillars of the Mongol peace (Pax Mongolica), a period sparked by the stabilising effects of the Mongol empire.
After 1220 the Mongol propensity for trade rather than war gradually increased, particularly when Genghis himself was won over to the idea that agriculture generated more wealth than nomadism. It was said that you could travel from Palestine to Mongolia with a gold plate on your head and not be molested, but the journey was still an arduous one because of primitive transport. Even in the halcyon days of the Pax Mongolica, it took a traveller 295 days to get from Turkey to Beijing. Yet the Mongols undoubtedly opened up the world.
Until 1250 there was in the west a narrow European viewpoint that saw the world virtually end at Jerusalem. The journeys of the Franciscans Carpini and Rubruck, and the more famous one of Marco Polo (and that of the Chinese traveller Rabban Bar Sauma in the opposite direction), cleared the way for new vistas. Learned people finally got a sense of the size of the world and its population. The globe shrank as Venetian traders appeared in Beijing, Mongolian envoys in Bordeaux and Northampton, and Genoese consuls in Tabriz. There were Arab tax officials in China, Mongolian lawyers in Egypt, French craftsmen in the Mongol capital of Karakorum. The art of Iran was influenced by Uighur and Chinese motifs.
From China to the Islamic world and Europe came the knowledge of firearms, silk cultivation, ceramics and woodblock printing. The Mongol empire served as a transmission belt for technology, science and culture – particularly, but not solely, between China and Iran. In short, the Mongol conquests were a rivet that held the ‘world system’ together. The southern route of the Silk Road, which had fallen into disuse in favour of the northern and middle routes, was revived and linked the Aral and Caspian Seas with Byzantium. Some writers even trace a causal line from the Pax Mongolica to the discovery of the New World by Columbus, the age of European exploration and expansion and the Renaissance itself.
There is a good deal of truth in all of this, but anti-Mongolists have made some forceful rebuttals. Some historians claim that the alleged era of peace and tranquillity ushered in by the Pax Mongolica has been overdone, that pro-Mongolists have concentrated on the untypical 20-year period from 1242 when the great peace was a reality, and have ignored its collapse when Genghis’s empire shivered into four fragments. Others claim that the ‘world system’ view is overstated, since the intercourse between east and west was largely one-way traffic, with no real Chinese equivalents of Rubruck, Carpini or Marco Polo. They also contend that the importance of journeys across Asia from the west has been exaggerated, and that they cannot be compared with the achievements of the Age of Discovery.
A refinement of this view is that a true ‘world system’ is possible only if maritime trade is brought into the picture, but the Mongols feared the sea (rightly, as it turned out, from their later abortive invasion of Japan) and preferred a gruelling journey overland of possibly 18 months to the terrors of the ocean, with the Indian Ocean being the main obstacle.
Finally, there are those who say that, even if we concede the reality of a ‘world system’, its unintended consequences were largely baneful, since the Mongol empire served as a vector for devastating disease. Rinderpest or steppe murrain, a disease in ungulate animals similar to measles in humans, devastated cattle herds in Eurasia from the 1240s on, spread by the Mongols’ conquests in Russia and eastern Europe from 1236–42. Even worse, the Mongols may have been responsible for the spread of the Black Death. Although there are many conflicting views on the origin of this pandemic, it seems clear that central Asia was a major vector of the disease, in particular the new avenues of the Silk Route opened up by the Mongols, which had their terminus at the Crimea.
There are two final counts in the anti-Mongol indictment. One is that, although the Mongols were phenomenal warriors and outstanding conquerors, their system was always inherently unstable, since they neither traded nor produced, lived by extracting a surplus from the conquered and so depended entirely on the toil of the vanquished. And since more and more Mongol princelings arose with ‘entitlement’ to privilege, this meant a never-ending cycle of conquest, subjugation and exploitation. Like the shark or Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, the Mongols could not stand still and had to move constantly forward. Even if they had reached the Atlantic – and but for the death of Great Khan Ogodei (Genghis’s son) in 1241, they almost certainly would have done – sooner or later the bubble would have burst, and the subsequent contraction would have been exponential.
More seriously perhaps, the Mongols were a culturally unbalanced people. They had achieved a quantum leap in military technology, putting them far ahead of western Europe, but the Europeans were meanwhile producing Robert Bacon, Anthony of Padua, Thomas Aquinas and St Louis. Although the Europeans could match the Mongols in slaughterous behaviour (especially the atrocities visited on the Albigensians), they were at least producing the Divine Comedy, the Carmina Burana, the Roman de la Rose and the amazing series of cathedrals, either completed or begun in the 13th century, at Chartres, Amiens, Reims, Beauvais, Toledo, Burgos, Cologne, York and Lichfield.
Genghis Khan, an illiterate nomad, was a genius at many levels, not least in that his achievements, as it were, came from nowhere. All other great conquerors were literate and had a huge background of tradition and knowledge to draw on – Alexander the Great from Aristotle, Julius Caesar from the whole canon of ancient Greece, Napoleon from the Enlightenment and the Romantic movement. Yet when Genghis is weighed in the balance against his contemporary Francis of Assisi, he is bound to seem a moral pygmy. Interestingly, it was Francis’s followers who first made contact with the Mongols and brought back an amazing story that will endure as long as mankind itself: the career of Genghis Khan.
Frank McLynn is a historian and author whose books include critically acclaimed biographies of Napoleon and Richard the Lionheart.