What Is the Legacy of Genghis Khan’s Promiscuity?

Ghengis Khan wasn’t just a successful empire builder. He was a prolific sex addict who left a genetic legacy accounting for a sizable portion of humanity today.

Mar 25, 2024By Greg Beyer, Assistant Editor; African History
genghis khan legacy promiscuity

 

The military conquests of Genghis Khan are well known. His Mongol cavalry swept across the open steppe taking vast swathes of territory. His armies plowed through China, conquering the central plains and Tibet. From humble beginnings in Mongolia, he created an empire that stretched from the Chinese coast in the east all the way to the Caspian Sea. Fifty years after his death, the Mongol Empire would reach its extent and is recognized today as the largest contiguous empire in history.

 

His conquests, however, were not confined to the battlefields watched over by the open sky. Those conquests are history. The Mongol empire is no more. It collapsed and disappeared many hundreds of years ago. His greatest conquests were, in fact, in the bedroom, so to speak.

 

With a huge harem of women, Genghis Khan left a genetic legacy that would outlive all of his military ambition. The result of his intimate relations is an even more staggering achievement than his hordes of soldiers could ever achieve.

 

Who Was Genghis Khan?

genghis khan baby
Illustration of a Mongolian father and son, via HistorySkills

 

Genghis Khan, originally named Temujin, was a Mongol warrior and conqueror who became the first khagan (great khan) of the Mongol Empire, which subsequently became the largest contiguous land empire in human history. By the time of Genghis’ death in 1227, his empire stretched from the Korean Peninsula all the way to the Caspian Sea. It covered large parts of Russia, China, the Middle East, and Central Asia, completely covering the Silk Road, which generated huge amounts of money.

 

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His tactics were brutal, and he committed a number of genocides, culminating in the death of around 40 million people, or 11% of the world’s population at the time. Despite the raping, pillaging, and destruction left in the wake of the Mongol hordes, Genghis was tolerant of all religions in his empire and welcomed all creeds and cultures that did not oppose his rule. Muslims, Buddhists, Tatars, Europeans, and people of Chinese descent were among many peoples found within his empire.

 

Genghis Khan’s Harem

genghis khan 1965
A scene from Genghis Khan (1965), via Welt

 

Officially, Genghis Khan had 44 wives and concubines, but unofficially, historians believe the total number of women in his harem numbered around 500, although it is very difficult to be sure. Most of these women were from populations of people captured during Genghis Khan’s lifetime of conquest. Some were even gifted to him as tribute.

 

His harem was so large, in fact, that it had to be split into four camps called ordos, each one being administered by one of his four principal wives: Börte, Khulan, Yesui, and Yesugen. Börte was recognized as the great empress and outranked the other three principal wives, who were titled empresses (khatun). Each of the concubines had their own yurt for their own household, and as in the military, they had their own ranks.

 

Protecting his harem was the Imperial Guard known as the Kheshig, whose duty also included keeping an eye on which tent their Khan was in, as he would visit various tents every night. Naturally, this resulted in Genghis Khan having an incredible number of children.

 

How Many Children Did Genghis Khan Actually Have?

genghis khan 1965 still
Film still from the movie Genghis Khan (1965), via IMDb

 

With a harem that numbered hundreds of women and with the Khan visiting several women every night, it is not a big leap of logic to assume that Genghis Khan had hundreds of children. In fact, it’s possible that he had well over a thousand. Records were not kept, so it’s impossible to discover the exact number. Despite the logic, tradition claims that he had 120 children in total, which is certainly less than what is probable, especially when one factors in the genetic evidence gained from testing the DNA of people living today in the areas that were covered by the great Khan’s empire.

 

What was recorded were the names of the children he had with his first wife, Börte. With her, Genghis fathered nine children – four sons and five daughters.

 

The Named Children

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Kublai Khan and his empress enthroned, via Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art, Washington DC

 

Jochi was his eldest son, although there was always doubt about his lineage. Shortly after the marriage between Börte and Temujin, Börte was abducted by members of the Mergid confederation, one of the tribal entities of the Mongols, and she ended up being gifted to a lord named Chilger Bökh as a spoil of war. Temujin recovered her a few months later, but as a result, it was questioned who Jochi’s birth father was. Nevertheless, upon the death of Genghis Khan, Jochi inherited one of the four principal divisions of the Mongol Empire. He ruled over the part of the empire that would be known as the Golden Horde by his son, Batu, and which covered much of Western Russia and Eastern Europe, extending from what is now Ukraine to Kazakhstan.

 

Chagatai was the second eldest son. He inherited the Chagatai Khanate upon his father’s death. It composed parts of Kazakhstan and much of central Asia. At its heart was the capital of Samarkand, a central and powerful fortress city at the heart of the Silk Road.

 

Ögedei Khan expanded his father’s empire greatly but was overlooked in comparison to his father because of his alcoholism. Nevertheless, he was good-natured. He founded the Mongol capital of Karakorum and was remembered as being intelligent and charismatic.

 

Genghis’ fourth son, Tolui, inherited the Mongol homeland and was the father of Kublai Khan, who founded the Yuan Dynasty in China (and met Marco Polo), and Möngke Khan, who ruled over the Ilkhanate which covered much of the Middle East.

 

mongol empire map
The four Khanates at the greatest extent of the Mongol Empire, via Arienne King / World History Encyclopedia

 

Genghis’ daughters also held lofty positions of power. Alakhai Bekhi ruled over the mighty Ongud tribe and was instrumental in organizing her father’s empire behind the scenes.

 

Checheikhen ruled over the Oirats, the westernmost tribe of Mongols living in the Altai region. After her death in 1337, Ögedei Khan seized these lands, and in the process, 4000 Oirat girls were raped.

 

Alaltun was another of Genghis’ daughters of whom her name is known. She was the daughter of one of Genghis’ concubines of low status. Nevertheless, she ruled over a significant Uyghur kingdom.

 

Tümelün was another of Genghis Khan’s daughters by Börte, but little is known of her. Not much is known of Genghis’ eldest daughter, either. Qochin Beki was gifted as a bride to the Ikires people, where she married Butu Küregen, Genghis’ brother-in-law. The name Tulgha is also known. She was the daughter of Qulan Khatun and became a wife of a man from the Qarluq tribe.

 

Genghis also had four other sons who rose to prominence in the histories of the Mongol people. Wuluchi, Chawuer, and Shuerche are also known, with another, Kölgen, who became a powerful general.

 

Like their father, Genghis’ sons would go on to have large harems and, subsequently, large families of their own, furthering the massive genetic legacy of the Great Khan.

 

Under the guidance and leadership of Genghis Khan’s children, the Mongol Empire grew to its greatest extent, far in excess of any empire that had ever come before.

 

Genetics and Doing the Math

eleanor scriven shutterstock mongolian children
Mongolian children, from Eleanor Scriven/Shutterstock, via UNESCO

 

Just as the history books and historical evidence paint a glorious picture of the life of Genghis Khan and his military and intimate conquests, science has given us an even greater image with statistical data that reveals the massive size of this picture.

 

In 2003, a study was conducted in which the Y-chromosome of Asian populations was examined. The study showed that 8% of all the men living today in the areas previously under the control of Genghis Khan carry a Y-chromosome that marks them as direct descendants of a patrilineal ancestor who lived 1,000 years ago in Mongolia. This figure is almost certainly Genghis Khan.

 

This 8% represents about 0.5% of the world’s total men, which is roughly 20 million. If this is doubled to also represent the female descendants of Ghengis Khan, then 40 million people today are direct descendants of Genghis Khan (out of a world population of 8 billion). That’s 1 in every 200 people on the planet!

 

john wayne as genghis
John Wayne as Genghis Khan and Susan Hayward as Bortai in The Conqueror (1956), via TCM

 

There are, however, other “super-Y” lineages as the result of other powerful men, likely with extensive harems and/or a very active sex life. Of note is the Manchu Lineage, which can be traced back to northeastern China, and the Uí Néill Lineage, which can be traced back to Ireland.

 

In Central and Eastern Asia, being able to trace one’s lineage back to Genghis Khan is a particular mark of prestige, although, for genetic purposes, it means very little. It is of social importance rather than of biological importance. Having a copy of Genghis Khan’s Y-chromosome does not grant any special powers. Only bragging rights!

 

genghis khan statue
Statue of Genghis Khan, via CNN

 

Throughout Asia, the descendants of Genghis Khan are found far and wide, and with the advent of the modern age with all its immigration and emigration, there is no part of human civilization that remains out of reach of the Great Khan’s children.

 

In Mongolia, Genghis Khan is considered a father to the nation, but he was a literal father more than could ever have been expected. He is an ancestor to so many Mongolians that his characterization as a father is certainly well-deserved.

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By Greg BeyerAssistant Editor; African HistoryGreg is an editor specializing in African History and prolific author of over 100 articles, with 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.