Genghis Khan (1162-1227), the Mongol leader, rose from humble origins to create the biggest land empire in history. After bringing together the nomadic tribes who lived in the Mongolian plateau, he conquered massive chunks of China and Central Asia.
His descendants extended the empire, even more, advancing to such far-off regions as Vietnam, Poland, Korea and Syria. At their maximum, the Mongols were in controlled of about 11 to 12 million contiguous square miles -more than any person in history- a region almost the size of Africa between 1206 and 1227 when he died.
Several people were killed in the course of the Genghis Khan’s assaults, but he also developed the first international postal system, helped to open contact between West and East to boost trade, modernized Mongolian culture, abolished torture and embraced religious freedom. Genghis Khan passed away in 1227 during the military campaign against the Xi Xia’s Chinese kingdom. His final resting place is still unknown.
Let’s now explore some interesting facts about Genghis Khan, the Mongol leader, who was equal parts political statesman, military genius and the bloodthirsty terror.
1. There’s no accurate record of Genghis Khan’s physical appearance. For such an influential figure, historians know very little about the personal life of Genghis Khan or even how he looked like. No existing sculptures or portraits of this great ruler have survived, and the limited information gathered by historians is usually unreliable or contradictory.
Several accounts portray him as a tall and well-built man with a long, bushy beard and a flowing mane of hair. Perhaps the most surprising and interesting description available today courtesy of the 14th-century Persian chronicler Rashid al-Din, who claimed Khan had green eyes and red hair.
The account of Al-Din’s is highly questionable—he never met the Genghis in person—but these outstanding features weren’t unknown among the ethnically-diverse Mongols.
2. He was tolerant of various religions. Unlike most empire builders, Khan adopted the diversity of his newly captured territories. He approved a number of laws granting religious freedom for everyone and even declared tax exclusions to worship places.
Actually, this tolerance had a political side—the Genghis understood that contented subjects were likely to cooperate—but the Mongols also had an extraordinarily liberal attitude towards religion.
Although Khan and several others supported to a shamanistic belief system which revered the spirits of the mountains, winds, and sky, the Steppe individuals were a diverse majority that included Muslims, Buddhists, Nestorian Christians, and other animistic traditions.
Also, the Great Khan was personally interested in spirituality. He used to pray in his tent for many days before significant campaigns, and he usually met with leaders of various religious to deliberate on the details of their beliefs. In his old age, Khan even did summon Qiu Chuji, the Taoist leader to his camp, and the two allegedly had wide-ranging conversations on philosophy and immortality.
3. Nobody knows how Khan died or where he’s buried. Of all the mysteries surrounding the life of Khan, perhaps the most famous pertains how it ended. The traditional account claims that he died in 1227 from the injuries sustained when he fell from his horse, but other accounts list everything from an arrow wound in the knee to malaria.
One of the most questionable sources even claims Khan was killed while attempting to win a Chinese princess forceful. But he died, the Khan took enormous pains to keep his final resting place a huge secret.
According to the legend, his funeral procession killed everyone they met during their journey and then frequently rode horses over his grave to assist in hiding it. The tomb is very likely on or around the Mongolian mountain known as Burkhan Khaldun. But to this day, no one knows the exact location.