Episode 25: The Mongols
Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)
Dr Kenneth Harl
This lecture concerns the background and history of Genghis Khan, the powerful Mongol conqueror. According to Harl, The Secret History of the Mongols, written in 1227, is currently one of the most reliable historical sources.
Prior to the birth of Genghis Khan’s in 1162, the steppes tribes were constantly at war. The Mongols derived from the Tatar* tribes, considered the most powerful on the steppes. With 70,000 warriors, they engaged in silk trade with both the Song and Jin Empires.
Harl is an open admirer of Temujin (who later became Genghis Khan), who he regards as a military genius with “remarkable sons and brilliant grandsons.” Temujin’s generosity, daring and bravery (even when wounded) inspired fierce loyalty among his warriors. Although he lived a simple life (in a tent), he retained huge harems of conquered brides.
Regarded as a favorite of Tengri (the Mongol’s universal sky god), Temufin’s basic strategy was to terrorize his rivals into submission by committing mass atrocities – often killing every living being in the cities he conquered.
After clan leaders poisoned his father, Temujin and his mother and brothers were forced starving into into the forest by his father’s Tatar enemies. The ruler of the Keraites Federation (a minor Turkic steppes tribe), took Temujin in and became his mentor. In the 1190s, Temujin assembled his first army to attack neighboring Tatar tribes who had kidnapped his wife.
His major massacre of his Tatar enemies in 1206 would cement his control of the steppes, eventually leading to unification of all the steppes tribes. An assembly of all steppes nomad princes met that year and proclaimed him Genghis Khan (“universal ruler”).
*The term Tatars refers to a diverse Turkic ethnic groups involved in the Tatar Confederation, one of the five major 12th century confederations on the Mongolian plateau.
Film can be viewed free with library card on Kanopy.