Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Forgotten Conqueror

In twenty-five years, the Mongol army subjugated more lands and people than the Romans conquered in four hundred years. Genghis Khan, together with his sons and grandsons, conquered the most densely populated civilizations of the thirteenth century. Whether measured by total number of people defeated, the sum of countries annexed, or by the total area occupied, Genghis Khan conquered more than twice as much as any other man in history. The hooves of the Mongol warriors' horses splashed in the waters of every river and lake from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. At its zenith, the empire covered between 11 and 12 million contiguous square miles, an area about the size of the African continent and considerably larger than North America, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean combined. It stretched from the snowy tundra of Siberia to the hot plains of India, from the rice paddies of Vietnam to the wheat fields of Hungary, from Korea to the Balkans. The majority of people today live in countries conquered by the Mongols; on the modern map Genghis Khan's conquests include 30 countries with well over 3 billion people. The most astonishing aspect of this achievement is that the entire Mongol tribe under him numbered around a million, smaller than the workforce of some modern corporations. From this million, he recruited his army, which was comprised of no more than one hundred thousand warriors - a group that could comfortably fit into the larger sports stadiums of the modern era.

In American terms, the accomplishment of Genghis Khan might be understood if the United States, instead of being created by a group of educated merchants or wealthy planters, had been founded by one of its illiterate slaves, who, by the sheer force of his personality, charisma and determination, liberated America from foreign rule, united the people, created an alphabet, wrote the Constitution, established universal religious freedom, invented a new system of warfare, marched an army from Canada to Brazil and opened roads of commerce in a free-trade zone that stretched across the continent. On every level and from any perspective, the scale and scope of Genghis Khan's accomplishments challenge the limits of imagination and tax the resources of scholarly explanation.

the above from
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
by Jack Weatherfoord
Three Rivers Press, © 2004 by Jack Weatherford
ISBN 0-609-80964-4

My comment: Why is it that we seem to know so little about the man who "smashed the feudal system of aristocratic privilege and birth" replacing it with a system based on individual merit and achievement? Believe it or not, and contrary to what you probably have heard, Genghis Khan believed in the rule of law and abolished torture. He refused to hold hostages and was the first to make it a policy to grant diplomatic immunity to ambassadors and envoys, even from those with whom he was at war. Did I forget to mention that he also invented the first international postal system? The census?

We know a lot more about men who accomplished far less, Alexander, whom we call the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon. Could the answer simply be Eurocentrism in the face of a world of history?

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