As every historical fiction author will tell you, you only get to use about 10% of your research and another fifty per cent of that disappears in the second draft. You just hate to see some of it go, but go it must.

Like the research I found on Genghis Khan when I was researching Silk Road.

Here was the man who made Alexander the Great look like Alexander the Underachiever. His empire was twice the size of Rome’s and included large parts of modern day China, Mongolia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Moldova, South Korea, North Korea and Kuwait. All the Stans and then some.

His real name was Temujin; Genghis Khan is an honorific meaning ‘Universal Ruler’ and he took that on when he united the fractious Mongolian tribes at his coronation in 1206. Other titles included Lord of the Four Colors and Five Tongues, Lord of Life and Emperor of all Men.

He was also known as Mighty Manslayer and Scourge of God. And that was on a good day.

And I quote: “The greatest pleasure in life is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters.’

A sensitive new age guy, then.

photograph: Chineeb

For twenty years he led his pony-mounted armies on a whirlwind of rape and slaughter unmatched before or since. By some estimates he killed 35 million people. Over two decades, that’s one person every twenty seconds. He hardly had time for lunch.

Northern China is thought to have lost about three- quarters of its population. Some historians estimate he massacred so many Persians that Iran’s population did not reach its pre-Mongol levels again until the mid-20th century.

His army was the most efficient war machine ever assembled at that time, a juggernaut that swept all before it. Genghis was a master innovator; the Tatars were not just bad tempered bikies on ponies. They had four-wheeled mobile shields and bomb hurlers and Genghis himself was utterly ruthless. Another of his innovations was to use captured soldiers as slave-labor or cannon fodder. He would push local prisoners ahead of his army, knowing that their friends on the other side would be hesitant to murder their own.

After his Golden Horde sacked Beijing in 1214, a foreign ambassador reported that the bones of the dead were piled so high that they were the size of mountains; the soil, he said, was greasy with human fat.

Genghis Khan’s empire at the time of his death. Lots of land and no chance of overcrowding.

Merv in Persia was regarded as the greatest seat of learning in all Asia. Genghis razed it to the ground, overseeing one of the greatest genocides in history. He spared just 400 artisans, who he sent back to his capital to work on Qaraqorum, his capital. Everyone else was killed. It took the survivors two weeks just to count the bodies.

In Russia he conquered an army four times the size of his own. Their leader, Prince Romanovitch of Kiev, along with his generals, were tied up and laid flat; he then built a wooden platform on top of them for himself and his officers to sit on while they divided the spoils. The Prince and his officers were crushed to death or suffocated underneath them.

He once even diverted a river to erase a rival emperor’s birthplace from the map. No act of spite or sadism was too much trouble.

But Genghis wasn’t all bad; he was just drawn that way. He is also credited with bringing the Silk Road under one political administration which allowed trade as well as cultural exchange between the East and West. He was tolerant of all religions. He instituted a system of meritocracy in his government at a time when the West was still largely feudal.

He was also lover as much as he was a fighter.

In 2007 researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences analyzed tissue samples from those areas approximating Genghis’ ancient empire. They found an identical Y-chromosomal lineage is present in about 8% of the men. (That’s half of one per cent of the world’s population!)

Apparently this spread is inconsistent with the theory of genetic drift, and the most likely scenario is that all these people are male line descendants of the Manslayer. In Mongolia alone as many as 200,000 of the country’s 2 million people could be mini Manslayers. (Better start checking your family tree right now. Perhaps you could claim back a part of China.)

It is calculated that Genghis Khan now has around 16 million male descendants across Asia and the Middle East. In fact it could be argued that he almost made genocide a self sustainable industry. For every two people he killed, he created one.

His seduction technique was, however, suspect. At the victory feasts he and his commanders would sit in their tent and tear at lumps of raw and bloody horsemeat with their teeth while captive beauties were paraded in front of them. Genghis had a rating system: he kept the nines and tens and anything with a lower rating went to his officers.

‘ Oh God sergeant – not raping detail again!’

He had a personal harem of two to three thousand women – plus girlfriends I suppose – and his sons had comparably sized harems, so 16 million descendants is entirely within the range of possibility. Though with the pressure of having to kill someone every twenty seconds as well, his time management skills must have been excellent.

Genghis died in 1227, while campaigning in northwestern China. It is reported that he fell from his horse, exhausted. However a folk tale persists that he was actually killed by a captured Chinese princess, a perfect ten, who herself rated Genghis a perfect 0 and castrated him with a concealed knife before running off into the dark.

No disrespect; but you’d like to think so.

Interesting footnote: There was a German pop group called Genghis Khan. They were like the Village People, but not quite as macho. The sort of people that would have lasted twenty seconds with their namesake. They even sang a song about him at the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest. He must have been turning in his unmarked grave. Here it is:



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Silk Road, Colin Falconer

See SILK ROAD on AMAZON: ‘This epic adventure story is full of daring, suspense, adventure and failure. Falconer gives us an intimate view of the way Tatars, Muslims and Crusaders lived. It is living history at its best, ficitonalized yet immensely believable’ – Alan Gold, Good Reading.

About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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  1. livrancourt says:

    I would follow your blog even without the lure of a free novel, simply because you posted the FUNNIEST video of all time.

  2. Colin, you’ve surpassed even yourself here. This is a prize-winner…and the video is just icing on the rice cake.

  3. violafury says:

    I know this is a bit, er, late, but I just found this post and loved it. Alexander, the Underachiever to say the least! I wasn’t aware of all of the things Genghis Khan did, but the Mongolians certainly did make an impression and in fact if, I am not mistaken, their blood is seen in the Finnish, who also emigrated to the tin mines of the upper peninsula of Michigan. Blonde hair, blue eyes, slanted cheekbones and odd last names. Loved the video, a sort of weird, Christmas, Taras Bulba thing, eh?

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