Things You Didn't Know About Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan remains one of the most feared and respected conquerors of all time. His biography is shrouded in mystery and contradiction, but the facts about Genghis Khan are that he rose up from almost certain death on the Mongolian Steppe, united his people, and began a series of gruesome conquests that claimed millions of lives and changed the entire course of human destiny.

For a figure so polarizing (many see him as an engine of positive change, while others see him as a bloodthirsty monster), much of what we know about him is from outdated history books or Hollywood portrayals. The real Genghis (which wasn't actually his name) was a contradiction - a religious man who prized loyalty yet slaughtered millions, including his own family members. Many details are known about how his army operated, but almost nothing is known about his death or burial. And his brilliance is as underestimated as his lust for bloodshed is.

Here are all kinds of Genghis Khan trivia and other interesting things you probably didn't know about this emperor, mass murder, and changer of the world.

  • You're Probably Pronouncing His Name Wrong
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    You're Probably Pronouncing His Name Wrong

    While most Westerners pronounce "Genghis" with a hard "G," that's actually incorrect. In Mongolia, the "G" is soft.

    So if you want to be accurate, you should pronounce it "Chin-gis."

  • Genghis Wasn't His Birth Name

    The man who would unite the Mongol tribes was actually born "Temujin," meaning "of iron." His name was said to have come from a Tatar tribesman who had been captured and brought home by the boy's father.

    The name "Genghis Khan" wasn't bestowed on him until 1206, when he was 44 years old, as part of his coronation as the Khan of all Mongols.

  • Temujin Was Born Destined For Greatness

    Most of what we know about Temujin/Genghis comes from The Secret History of the Mongols, an anonymous record of the early days of the united khanate. According to that book, written for the Khan's successors, Temujin was born sometime in 1162. His father, Yesukai, was the chieftain of the Borjigin clan, the ruling class of the Mongol tribes.

    The boy came out clutching a blood clot - an omen that he was destined to be a great leader. Whether this is actually true is anyone's guess.

  • Temujin Had a Rough Childhood

    Despite being born destined to be a leader, The Secret History of the Mongols makes it clear that Temujin's early life was brutal. His father, Yesukai, was slain by Steppe rivals when he was only 9, and his own tribe expelled his family when Temujin tried to claim his rightful place as leader of their clan. This left his mother, Hoelun, to raise seven children alone on the Steppe.

    As an adolescent, it's likely Temujin took the life of his own half-brother in a dispute over food. A few years later, rival clans abducted him and his young wife, holding them as slaves until Temujin escaped.

  • He Married Young and His First Son May Not Have Been His

    Around the age of 16, Temujin took his first wife, Borte, in a marriage arranged by his father before his passing. Borte would become Temujin's principal wife, but by no means was she his only wife. Borte birthed a son named Jochi, but due to her kidnapping and the timeline of the birth (i.e., nine months after she was taken), the parentage of Jochi is cloudy.

    Jochi would grow to become a great military leader, but was excluded from Genghis's line of succession. The couple had three more sons, Chagatai, Ogedai, and Tolui.

  • Temujin/Genghis Had Many Other Wives And Children

    While Borte was Temujin's empress, he took a number of other wives.

    Many of these women were taken as war trophies, and it's not clear that all of these marriages were consensual. They bore him numerous children, including a number of daughters whose names weren't recorded. For historical purposes, only Borte and her four sons are truly significant.