5 Things You Didn't Know About Genghis Khan

On August 18, 1227, after years of conquering enemies, Genghis Khan died. Genghis Khan was the founder of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death.  Here are five things you didn't know about Genghis Khan…

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Genghis Khan Wasn’t His Name "Genghis Khan" is really a title and honorific meaning something akin to "supreme ruler." The man who would become the “Great Khan” of the Mongols was born along the banks of the Onon River sometime around 1162 and originally named Temujin, which was the name of an enemy slain by his father; the naming was meant to be a celebration of the victory. He didn’t get the name “Genghis Kahn” until 1206, when he was proclaimed leader of the Mongols. While “Khan” is a traditional title meaning “leader” or “ruler,” historians are still unsure of the origins of “Genghis.”

There is No Record Of What He Looked Like For such an influential figure, very little is known about Genghis Kahn’s personal life or even his physical appearance. No contemporary portraits or sculptures of him have survived, and what little information historians do have is often contradictory or unreliable. Most accounts describe him as tall and strong with a flowing mane of hair and a long, bushy beard. One chronicler described him as red-headed and with green eyes, which might sound strange but did occur among the Mongols.

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He Was Responsible For The Deaths of as Many as 40 Million People Because it was so long ago and accounts are spotty, it is unknown exactly how many died due to Khan’s conquests, but historians put the number at somewhere around 40 million.  Census records during the Middle Ages show that during the lifetime of the Khan, the population dropped by tens of millions. In addition, scholars estimate that he may have killed 75%  of modern-day Iran’s population during his war with the Khwarezmid Empire.  All told, the Mongols’ attacks may have reduced the entire world population by as much as 11 percent.

His Death Remains a Mystery Genghis Khan reportedly died from injuries after he fell from his horse in 1227 but other sources list everything from malaria to an arrow wound in the knee. His followers went to great pains to conceal where he was buried. According to legend, his funeral procession slaughtered everyone they came in contact with during their journey and then repeatedly rode horses over his grave to help conceal it.  It is believed by some scholars that the tomb is most likely on or around a Mongolian mountain called Burkhan Khaldun, but the site has yet to be located.

The Soviet Union Tried to Erase His Memory Genghis Khan is now seen as a national hero and founding father of Mongolia, but during the 20th century, it was illegal to even say his name. The Soviets went overboard to erase any memory of the Khan by removing anything about him in school textbooks and forbidding pilgrimages to Khentii, where he was born.