Essay: Genghis Khan’s leadership - brutal maniac or powerful leader

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  • Subject area(s): History
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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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The question of Genghis Khan’s leadership has been highly debated for many years. Was he a brutal maniac or a powerful leader? Given his actions and evident savagery, many people are quick to jump and conclude that he was not a good leader however in my opinion, that is not the case. While Khan’s morals as a person can be extremely questionable, as a leader he was a political genius. Khan worked his way up from nothing to becoming the leader of the largest empire in history, which continued even after his death. He had the best interest of his people and their economy in mind, forcefully connecting the Silk Road to facilitate trade between the West, the Middle East and Asia. Khan also designed the Mongol Empire to discriminate not by religion or by gender. Under his leadership, he was able to unite a diverse group of warring tribes and transform then into a beating force.

To begin, during Medieval times, there were three main trade routes which connected cities in Europe, West and East Asia as well as China: the Northern route, Southern route and Southwestern route. These routes were collectively known as the “Silk Road”. This road however was not a peaceful one seeing how it connected several countries who were often at war. This took away from the potential the route had to flourish the economy and ultimately help all the countries financially. However, once it was conquered by the Mongol Empire, the route was connected and prosperous for the first and last time in it’s long history (1). This time was known as the Pax Mongolica. Khan established quick and safe lines of communication in order to control the already huge and continuously growing empire. He ordered the construction of multiple roadside inns, post-houses and bridges as well as the rebuilding of the cities he had destroyed in order to conquer this area. Mongolian authority accelerated caravan trade between China and several Mediterranean countries which highly benefited the “Golden Horde”, a political entity owned by Khan, which in turn bettered the economy of his empire and increased social conditions by providing more food, water, and riches to his people.(2) After the death of Khan in 1227 and the decline of the Mongol Empire, the Silk Road slowly started on it’s down hill path which eventually led to it seizing to exist. This proves that Khan’s tactics, while undeniable extreme, were highly beneficial to the economy of the Mongols.

Another factor of Khan’s ruling, which further proves his intentions as a leader is the fact that he chose not to discriminate against women and encouraged the acceptance of various religions. Khan passed laws declaring religious freedom as well as granted tax exemptions in places of worship (3). The Mongol empire consisted of a huge diversity of religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Tengriism. The allowance of numerous religions inspired new ways of thinking as well as new ways of warfare which helped Khan further establish his empire in ways nobody expected. Khan also believed and enforced women empowerment. Rather than the traditional way of thinking at the time, when women were deemed inferior to men and used solely for their sexuality, Khan believed that female sexual purity was a value to be defended at all costs (4). If women were ever captured and taken as wives by Mongol enemies, the men would return and recapture the women. They even went as far as to raise the women’s babies with the opposing warriors as their own, if that be the case. Khan also allowed women to have great power in the empire while the men were at war. He would marry off his daughters to the kings of allied countries and then send the kings off to war. The wife would rule while the king was at battle and would take over when the inevitable happened (5). This tactic was not only empowering to women, but also highly benefited the expansion of the empire because after the allied king would pass, Khan and his family would have complete control over the nation.

Thirdly, a topic that often arrises when discussing Genghis Khan is the question of how his army was so incredibly successful. His military force defeated greatly powerful empires such as Khwårezem and Jin state while they were immensely outnumbered. It is clear why people are curious as to how his empire attained the level of success at which they did. Khan treated his military troops with respect and gratitude. Khan is quoted by saying “My soldiers are as numerous as forests, and their women could form a large unit within the army. I want to feed them with juicy meat, let them live in beautiful yurts, and let them pasture their livestock on rich soil.”(6). He wanted his army to have no reasons not to be loyal to him (6). Khan valued the lives of each and every one of his troops. If a Mongol soldier was murdered because of the carelessness of a commander, sed commander would be severely punished (7). His military tactics were designed in order to optimize kills on the opposing side while attempting to minimize the amount of Mongolian soldiers killed or injured. A big tactic used by Mongol empire was Archery. This tactic allowed for the men to be relatively far from their opponents and more than often involved them riding horses, which not only gave them a distance advantage, it also gave them a speed and height advantage. Mongol men were generally trained from the moment they could walk, being immediately taught how to ride a horse. While most leaders trained their men as of twelve or thirteen years of age, Khan starting early allowed him to create a strong, intelligent and highly trained, unbeatable killing machine. By the time of his death, the Mongol military force was composed of approximately 129,000 men and this number did not fluctuate much because of the skillful and preserving way he designed his army.(8)

To conclude, although it was all the expense of neighbouring countries, the countries taken into the Mongolian empire truly thrived under the leadership of Genghis Khan. He respected, cared for, and treated his people in ways which many leaders did not. It is true that he used brutality, savagery as well as torturous methods of murder to help his empire flourish but ultimately, under his reign, the Mongol empire did exactly that: Flourished. After his decease, the downfall of the empire came faster than anticipated however he is still incredibly respected by his descendants for all the good he accomplished for them. And after all, a successful leader is truly portrayed through the success of his people.

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