The importance of Genghis Khan

Jack Weatherford, known for the book "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World", highlights what makes the 13th Century Mongol conqueror the most important man in history.

January 16, 2014 03:22 pm | Updated May 13, 2016 09:51 am IST

Is it his passion that compels you to listen to his talk or is it his complete disagreement with popularly perceived history, one does not know. If he is to be believed, history is written by the elite and if you want to be remembered well, favour them.

Jack Weatherford talks of Genghis Khan, the 13th Century Mongol conqueror, who is known for his rampaging brute force and unquenchable thirst for plunder as, “…I would say that apart from religious leaders, Genghis Khan is the most important person in world history and that is a sweeping statement…but when you look at the facts and how much he accomplished, you certainly think it is true.”

Weatherford’s book, “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World”, published in 2004, draws from a Mongol document titled, “The Secret History” and other sources. Weatherford describes Genghis Khan’s empire as one that imposed no creed on its subjects and let all religions thrive, an empire that fostered free trade, an empire that was incomparably vast.

“No one has ever created anything like that at all. It was about 11or 12 million square miles…it stretched from Asia all the way across the Mediterranean. It included all the great civilizations of the past, China, Russia, Mesopotamia, Persia and even India…so the majority of the people alive today live in a country once conquered by the Mongols,” declares Weatherford.

Weatherford tells us what made Genghis Khan’s army devastatingly successful, “Genghis Khan had an army of approximately 100,000 people and they were organised in units of ten. A squad of ten organised into a company of hundred which would in turn be organised into a battalion of one thousand and into an army of ten thousand. So he had nine armies of ten thousand plus his own bodyguards of ten thousand. This very small but tightly organised army was able to conquer huge empires. Mongols were hundred per cent cavalry and there was a unification of cavalries and bowmen.”

Continues Weatherford, “Genghis Khan came from the lowest rung of the lowest tribe and he realised that the aristocrats were treacherous…they would betray him whereas the common people would be loyal to him. One of the reasons why I think he became noted as a barbarian and a hugely cruel person is that when he conquered cities, he killed the rich right away…they had no function; they usually could not read or write, they had no medical skills, they could not teach, they were not religious people, they could not weave or make pottery and so in the mind of Genghis Khan they were worthless and dangerous and so killed them off in every city he conquered.”

“The Secret History” was written by Genghis Khan’s relative and so, as one wonders how authentic and reliable the document is, Weatherford says it not only matches other accounts but also has information that is insulting to the memory of Genghis Khan (and that is not found elsewhere) and so it could not have been written just to promote Genghis Khan. “For example, it says when he did not know what to do, he cried. He was scared of dogs. The worst thing of all is that he killed his half-brother. These are things no family wants to let out…”

Weatherford says, “Genghis Khan was not a totalitarian in any sense. He was taking tributes from the people, but he was also giving back. He had no personal wealth and lived a simple life. He became obsessed with the idea of commerce as a way of connecting the people together and keeping them loyal in one system. He wanted to create a single law under which all people of the world would live… a just law…he created a law which many nations today would say is ideal but was far from it in his times. He lived at a time when there was torture and great torment of people….he was a revolutionary, one of the greatest men of history who still have an influence on the world.”

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