From Temujin to Genghis Khan: Hard Life Leads to Path of Vengeance – Part I

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Genghis Khan

From Temujin to Genghis Khan: Hard Life Leads to Path of Vengeance – Part I

It is obvious that Genghis Khan needs no introduction. Most know who he was. However, it would be unfitting not to provide some details concerning his early life and rise to power.

According to the oldest surviving Mongolian literary work, the Secret History of the Mongols, Genghis Khan (or Temujin) was born in Del’iun-boldok on the Onon River. His father was Yesugei Baghatur and his mother was Hoelun. He was one of four children. The date of Temujin’s birth is disputed. Rashid al-Din, Persian historian and grand wazir (prime minister) of the Ilkhanate Mongols, cites 1155 as the year of Temujin’s birth. Much later, after the fall of the Yuan Dynasty established by Temujin’s grandson, Kublai Khan, Ming scholars (1368-1644), cite 1162 as the year of birth.  However, other evidence suggests the years 1165, 1167, and 1168 as the official year.

The Secret History states “At the moment he was born, he was born, holding in his right hand a clot of blood the size of a knuckle bone.” He was named Temujin after his father captured the “Tatar Temüjin-üge, they thought to name him Temüjin.” At age nine, Yesugei arranged for his son to be married to a girl from his wife’s tribe. After making the journey, Yesugei left Temujin with his future in-laws.

Illustration of Yesugei, Temujin’s father.

Illustration of Yesugei, Temujin’s father. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

As Temujin got to know his future extended family, Yesugei, on his way home, encountered some Tartars. Yesugei did not know the men, but they recognized him. After inviting him for some feasting and drinking, one of the Tartars gave him a drink spiked with slow-acting poison. Afterwards, Yesugei made his way home but died by the time he reached his family. When Temujin returned home to take the role of chieftain, the tribe refused, and abandoned his family to their own fate.

Drawing of a mobile Mongol soldier with bow and arrow wearing deel, traditional clothing.

Drawing of a mobile Mongol soldier with bow and arrow wearing deel, traditional clothing. (Public Domain)

After much hardship, tensions began to run high between Temujin and his older half-brothers, especially with Bekter.

One day, when the four [brothers], Temüjin, Qasar, Bekter, and Belgütei, were sitting alongside one another pulling in [their lines], they caught a bright fish. Bekter and Belgütei snatched the small fish away from Temüjin and Qasar. Temüjin and Qasar went to the yurt and said to their noble mother, ‘A bright minnow bit the hook and was snatched away from us by our two brothers Bekter and Belgütei.’

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