In the West, Genghis Khan and the Mongol tribe are often presented as brutal savages who wiped out entire cultures, destroyed cities and killed many people. While these accounts are true, there was certainly more to the Mongol empire than sheer brutality. Many of the practices that Genghis Khan put into place were responsible for the successes of the Mongol Nation. With an ability to adapt and innovate, Genghis Khan became known as the world’s greatest conqueror and is still revered in many countries today.
Temujin, who later took the name Genghis Khan, came from humble beginnings which helped to form the foundations of the type of leader he became later in life. After his warlord father was killed by a rival tribe, Temujin and his family were exiled to the steppes and into poverty. Temujin’s “personal magnetism and courage and his inclination to rely on trusted friends rather than kinship allowed him to build up a small following and to ally with a more powerful tribal leader” (Strayer, 2009). From an early age, his charismatic form of leadership brought many warriors into his fold, including warriors from defeated enemies, where they were rewarded for their skill and loyalty as opposed to their bloodlines. The warriors were all accountable to one another “by the provision that should one or two members of a unit desert in battle, all were subject to the death penalty” (Strayer, 2009). This system of punishment and rewards helped hold the Empire armies together and contributed to its success.
In 1206, Temujin became known as Genghis Khan, which means “oceanic ruler”, and the Mongol tribes became unified as the Great Mongol Nation. Because the spoils of conquest were used to reward and pay the soldiers, Genghis Khan and his army had to expand their territory to gain new wealth. One of Genghis Khan’s greatest tactics in these campaigns was the use of fear and psychological warfare. Entire populations were slaughtered during these battles, except those who were allowed to escape who became “harbingers of doom, spreading terror with their stories of the Khan’s wrath” (Lessem, 2009). With stories of their brutality circulating throughout the continent, the Mongol reputation that preceded them contributed to the surrender of other populations who wished to avoid complete annihilation.
As the Mongols encountered enemies and cities protected behind fortified walls, it was necessary for Genghis Khan’s armies to change their tactics. The Mongols were skilled horsemen, but that was only beneficial for fighting enemies in the open. To adapt to this new type of battle, the Mongols “quickly acquired Chinese techniques and technology of siege warfare” (Strayer, 2009). Genghis Khan and his armies were fast learners and incorporated the use of the trebuchet to launch fire bombs as well as “diseased-ridden marmots into fortified cities to spread the plague” (Lessem, 2009). The Mongols also used captives as human shields, cut...