15 Facts About Genghis Khan & His Legacy

With a long and storied life, Genghis Khan attained the very heights of power, leaving an incredible legacy in his wake.

Apr 11, 2024By Greg Beyer, BA History & Linguistics, Journalism Diploma

genghis khan facts


Conquering vast swathes of territory with the might of his Mongol hordes, Genghis Khan was a terrifying and brutal figure. He was also one of the most influential human beings in history, leaving a legacy not only of carnage and destruction but of law, order, and empire-building that would echo through the centuries.


His actions irrevocably changed the course of human history and helped shape civilization as it is today.


Often misunderstood and glossed over as just another barbarian, here are 15 remarkable facts about Genghis Khan.


1. His Birth was Regarded as Divine

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Genghis Khan, via BBC


Given the name Temujin after one of the enemies his father had conquered, Genghis Khan, as he later became known, was born under auspicious circumstances. A clot of blood in his hand signaled that there was an important spiritual connection to him. He was also said to have been of divine origin, with his first ancestor being a gray wolf.

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2. He was to be Married at the Age of Nine

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Ankhnyam Ragchaa in Genghis Khan (2005), via IMDb


When Temujin was just eight years old, his father, Yesügei, arranged a marriage between his son and Börte, the daughter of a powerful chieftain. Through this marriage, Yesügei would gain a powerful ally, but before the marriage could happen, Temujin would have to spend a significant amount of time in his future father-in-law’s household as part of Börte’s dowry. After delivering Temujin to his new home, Yesügei began the journey back. He, however, would not live much longer.


3. His Father was Poisoned by a Rival Clan


Temujin’s father, Yesügei, was poisoned when Temujin was just nine years old. While traveling home from the household of Dei Sechen, Temujin’s future father-in-law, he met up with Tatar travelers on the way. Unbeknownst to him, they recognized him as an old enemy and slipped poison into his food. It was not a fast-acting poison, and Yesügei made it home, although his condition had significantly deteriorated. He died shortly thereafter.


4. He Lived in Poverty  

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Genghis Khan and his hordes lived in yurts, portable tents still used in Mongolia to this day, via BBC


With his father dead, many leaders and soldiers abandoned the clan, and Temujin spent a portion of his childhood in dire poverty. His family was reduced to a simple hunter-gatherer lifestyle just to survive. They foraged for food, collecting roots and nuts while also fishing and hunting small game.


5. Genghis Khan Murdered his Half-Brother


During the time when his family was suffering from dire hardship after being abandoned by the clan, life was difficult and frustrating. He had fights with his half-brother Behter over who was the rightful heir of Yesügei. Temujin was the son of Yesügei’s chief wife, but Behter was two years older. This meant that Behter could marry Temujin’s mother, Hoelun, and become Temujin’s stepfather. The situation came to a head one day while fighting over hunting spoils. Temujin and his younger brother, Qasar, ambushed and killed Behter.


6. He was Taken Prisoner by One of His Father’s Former Allies

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Horse and rider on the Mongolian Steppe, via Kate Molleson/The Guardian


It is claimed that Temujin was held captive on more than one occasion. On one of these occasions, he was taken prisoner by the Tayichiud clan, which had been allied with his father before his death. Temujin escaped his confines and hid near the Onon River and then in the tent of a man named Sorkan-Shira, who had seen him but had decided not to raise the alarm. Sorkan-Shira sheltered Temujin for three days before helping the young boy escape.


7. He Married Börte when he was 15


When Temujin was powerful enough and had accrued a retinue of allies and his own camp, he returned to Dei Sechen and requested to marry the women to whom he had been betrothed. Dei Sechen was delighted to see Temujin, who he feared had been lost or killed. Dei Sechen immediately agreed to the marriage with Börte, and Temujin gained a powerful ally who helped him build up a force powerful enough to start carving out an empire.


8. He Built a Huge Empire

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Conquests of Genghis Khan and his heirs, via Encyclopaedia Britannica


By the time of his death in 1227, Genghis Khan’s empire covered roughly 4,600,000 square miles (12,000,000 square kilometers). Less than a century later, the size of the Mongol Empire was doubled, making it the largest contiguous empire and the second-biggest empire in history (the British Empire was bigger).


His empire covered parts of what are now China, Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and a large portion of Russia.


9. He Committed Multiple Genocides

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A Mongol warrior, via William Cho / Business Insider


With brutal tactics that involved slaughtering entire cities if they did not surrender, Genghis Khan is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 40 million people. These genocides occurred mainly in China and northern Iran, but the scope of his killing was far and wide. Forty million people represented around 11% of the world population in the 13th century.


“The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters.”
Genghis Khan


10. He Was Tolerant of Other Religions


At a time when religious intolerance was rife in Europe and the Crusades were underway in the Holy Land, Genghis Khan was practicing the exact opposite. He showed a keen interest in other religions and studied Islam, Christianity, Taoism, and Buddhism. Throughout his empire, he passed a law declaring religious freedom. Places of worship were even exempt from paying taxes.


11. He Promoted Ethnic Diversity in his Empire

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Statue of Genghis Khan by Zoljargal Nyambuu, via Smithsonian Magazine


The Mongols, being a nomadic people, were often ill-equipped to deal with the bureaucracy and other challenges that came with ruling a huge empire. The people he conquered often had skills that the Mongols lacked. Thus, Genghis Khan made a point of promoting ethnic diversity to make use of the skills that certain cultures possessed.


12. His Harem was Massive


Although only 44 wives and concubines are documented, it is estimated that Genghis Khan had over 400 women in total in his harem. Managing such a large harem was difficult. It was divided into four sub-harems called “ordos,” and each wife or concubine had their own rank. Each ordo was ruled over by one of Genghis Khan’s four principal wives, who had the rank of khatun (great empress). The wives and concubines were housed in yurts, and Genghis Khan would visit several of them every night. As a result, he had an extraordinary number of children.


13. How He Died is Subject to Debate

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Painting of Genghis Khan, via the British Museum


There are many theories as to how Genghis Khan died, and nobody knows for sure how it happened. One theory is that he was thrown from his horse and died from his injuries. Another theory is that he died from pneumonia or malaria.


Others argue that he died in combat during his final battle with the Chinese. A popular theory, at least from the perspective of telling a great story, is that he was murdered by a Chinese princess as an act of revenge for him having killed her family and to stop him from raping her. She snuck into his tent at night and castrated him with a concealed dagger, and he died from his injuries.


14. His Descendants are His Biggest Legacy


Naturally, having such a big harem meant that Genghis Khan also had many children. He had 13 official children: eight boys and five girls. This, of course, does not represent the total number of children he fathered. Despite his large harem, tradition claims that he had a total of 120 children. This seems a conservative amount when one considers the genetic legacy of Genghis Khan, as proven by DNA testing today.


By examining genes in the Y-chromosome, it has been shown that 8% of men in the region of the former Mongolian Empire are direct descendants of Genghis Khan. This represents about 1 in 200 men worldwide.


15. Nobody Knows Where He’s Buried

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Mongolian people, via Smithsonian Institution Global


Upon his death, Genghis Khan was buried in an unmarked grave by his most trusted followers. To keep this location a secret, they murdered everyone in the path of the funeral procession. It is speculated that his burial place is on the Onon River near his birthplace in Mongolia.


Genghis Khan is a controversial figure. In Mongolia he is understandably revered as an iconic hero of the nation. There are many statues of him, and he appears on the banknotes of the Mongolian currency. He brought law, order, and civilization to his empire, but along with these came brutal genocides and misery for countless millions.


What cannot be argued is that, for good or ill, he was an important figure who changed the course of human history.

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By Greg BeyerBA History & Linguistics, Journalism DiplomaGreg specializes in African History. He holds a BA in History & Linguistics and a Journalism Diploma from the University of Cape Town. A former English teacher, he now excels in academic writing and pursues his passion for art through drawing and painting in his free time.