Monday, February 8, 2010

Great Chingis Khan

    Chingis was born 1165

    Clutching a clot of blood—omen of courage and victory, at least according to legend—a boy is born to a Mongol family living near the Onon River. He is named Temujin, which means “blacksmith.”

    Temujin’s father is murdered 1174

    Temujin’s father, a minor chieftain named Yisugei, once robbed a group of Tatars, members of a rival tribe. Neither forgiving nor forgetting this affront, the Tatars poison Yisugei years later.
    Temujin is nine when his father dies. Dejected, Yisugei’s followers defect to other chiefs—leaving Temujin and his family as outcasts. The widow and her children endure by fishing, foraging for berries and wild onions, and snaring rodents. 1174

    Temujin kills his half brother 1180

    Bekhter, an older half brother, torments Temujin and a younger brother by stealing the prize each time the younger boys fish or hunt. Enraged, Temujin and his brother stalk Bekhter and slay him with an arrow, the Mongol weapon of choice. Temujin’s own mother decries the killing,
    and court historians, years later, will delicately omit this chapter from biographies of Chingis Khan.

    Borte, Temujin’s wife, is kidnapped 1183

    When the Merkit, another tribe of the steppe, hear the news that Temujin has married, they see a long-awaited opportunity for revenge against his father, who stole a Merkit bride. Three hundred warriors swarm Temujin’s camp. He rides off over the daunting terrain, leaving his wife, Borte, and several other women. Borte is captured. Temujin and his allies gather several hundred soldiers and rescue her.

    Temujin emerges as local strongman 1200

    Temujin has become a “player” in the rough-and-tumble world of the steppe; indeed, the Mongols and several neighboring tribes have hailed him as their khan, or leader. His daring and charisma draw followers from throughout the region, and he masters rival tribe after rival tribe—and all but exterminates the Tatars, who killed his father. Shamans in Temujin’s camp spread the word of a heavenly mandate for his power. Temujin himself reportedly declares, “My strength was fortified by Heaven and Earth.”

    Temujin is enthroned as Chingis Khan 1206

    At a kuriltai (great assembly) Temujin is lauded as Chingis Khan, the “strong ruler” or perhaps the “oceanic ruler.” (Scholars wrangle over the exact translation.) At about the age of 40, Chingis is master of all the tribes in what is now Mongolia, an expanse about the size of Alaska. He sets to work fusing them into a single people—building an army, imposing uniform laws, establishing a written language.

    Chingis wages his first foreign campaign 1209

    For his initial foray beyond Mongolia, Chingis presses south some 600 miles (965 kilometers) into China. As he and his hardened troops cross the Gobi desert, they survive by drinking milk and blood from their horses. They attack Xi Xia, a kingdom of some five million subjects, and handily defeat its disorganized army. Xi Xia becomes a Mongol vassal.

    Chingis destroys Zhongdu (Beijing)

    Several years of sparring with the Jin dynasty in northern China yield an outright attack in 1214.Chingis surrounds their capital, Zhongdu (located where Beijing now stands) . The Jin emperor, Xuanzong, beseeches Genghis to withdraw, a plea sweetened with gold, silver, horses, slaves,and a princess (who became one of Genghis’s many wives). Chingis agrees, and the Mongols depart; the Jin court promptly flees southward to Kaifeng. The retreat enrages Chingis, who sees it as a ploy for regrouping before a counterattack. He storms back to Zhongdu in 1215, starving the city into submission and looting without pity.

    Insults draws Chingis westward 1218

    “I am master of the lands of the rising sun while you rule those of the setting sun. Let us conclude a firm treaty of friendship and peace.” With those words, perhaps embellished by zealous scribes, Chingis Khan seeks amity with Shah Muhammad of the Khwarizm Empire,an expanse to the south and east of the Caspian Sea. Powerful and arrogant, Muhammad keenly distrusts Chingis. He accepts the olive branch but later kills a Mongol envoy, sending the unfortunate man’s head back to Chingis. Seething, the Mongol leader roars at the heavens: “I was not the instigator of these tribulations. Grant me the strength to exact vengeance!”

    Chingis takes Samarkand and Bukhara 1220

    Slashing his way across Central Asia, Chingis crushes the great cities that gleamed in Shah Muhammad’s crown. Samarkand, Muhammad’s own capital, surrenders to the Mongols.
    So does Bukhara, a metropolis in what is now Uzbekistan. Chingis is unrepentant . “I am the punishment of God,” a Muslim historian later quoted him as saying, “If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.” A witness took a dimmer view: “They came, they sapped, they burnt, they slew, they plundered, and they departed.”

    Chingis searches for immortality 1222

    He can forge a nation, wage war against mighty foes, and crush whole cities beneath his leather boots. But even Chingis Khan is powerless to stem the decay of his own body. About 55 years old, he sends for Changchun, a Taoist sage believed to know the secret of long life. The old monk can only disappoint the eagerconqueror: “If neither heaven nor earth can achieve permanence, how much less can man do so?”

    Still, Chingis hails the sage as a holy man, and the two become friends and correspondents.

    Chingis wages his last campaign 1226

    The “oceanic ruler” leads his army south for the last time, to quash disobedience in the Chinese kingdom of Xi Xia. Unable to penetrate the walls of Ningxia, the capital, the Mongol soldiers divert water from a nearby canal to create a roaring flood that impels the city to surrender.Chingis, now on his deathbed, orders that Xi Xia be wiped from the face of the earth. Obedient,the Mongols level whole towns, killing or enslaving the inhabitants. To this day, the kingdom remains, as journalist Mike Edwards put it, “a historical blur.”

    Chingis Khan dies 1227

    Eternity claims Chingis Khan in August 1227. He has lived about 60 years The cause of death is a mystery, perhaps because of Chingis’s order to shroud his passing with secrecy. So seriously do the heirs take this command that they kill almost anyone who sees the funeral procession.
    The great conqueror’s grave is not marked—to discourage grave robbers—and no one has found it yet.

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