A wild and fantastic history of the nomads of Mongolia, united by a single ruler who made his mark in countries around the world.

Words: Priya Narayan


Vast stretches of grassland interspersed with hills, plains with horses running wild, the arid soil of the Gobi desert and of course, Genghis Khan, are all characteristic of Mongolia. Mongol Empire was the biggest land empire in history extending from Yellow Sea in eastern Asia to the borders of eastern Europe. At various times it included China, Korea, Mongolia, Persia (now Iran), Turkestan, and Armenia. It also included parts of Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, and Russia. The history of this country is seeped in antiquity as much as it is rich and beautiful.

While most stories go back to the first settlers, Mongolian history dates back 65 million years. The first set of scientifically confirmed dinosaur eggs were found by archaeologists of the American Museum of National History in Mongolia in 1923. Some of these eggs and fossils are up for display at the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs even today.

Stone tools south of the Gobi desert suggest Homo erectus probably lived here 8,00,000 years ago. There are Paleolithic cave drawings in prominent prehistoric sites, Neolithic farming settlements and encampments of nomadic hunters and fishermen suggest a linear evolution of life in Mongolia.

7th and 8th century Deer Stones, ancient megaliths with carved symbols are found all over central and eastern Eurasia, specifically in Siberia and Mongolia.

Most deer stones stand behind ancient graves; it is believed that stones are the guardians of the dead. There are around 700 deer stones in Mongolia of a total 900 deer stones found in Central Asia and South Siberia.

While Mongols primarily lived as farmers, there were hunters too.

cart01Chinese described Mongols as ‘one who follow trails of their horses according to the growth of the grass and its withering.’ This suggests Mongols though practiced farming never settled around agricultural land or water bodies like people of most other civilizations did. This is perhaps of their nomadic culture. It was not until the 3rd century BCE that most of these nomadic tribes joined to form clans and forge alliances.


“There came into the world a blue-grey wolf whose destiny was Heaven’s will. His wife was a fallow deer. They travelled across the inland sea and when they were camped near the source of the Onon River in sight of Burkhan Khaldun, their first son was born, named Batachikan,” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

One of many important tales of the world, this was perhaps beginning of Mongolian history generations after Temujin was born who came to be known eventually as Genghis Khan, the ruler of the world’s largest empire that encompassed every country that extended in the vast stretch from Korea to Hungary. Known for his ruthlessness and his military strategies, which are still studied by armed forces around the world, Genghis Khan became the infamous conqueror in the history of Mongolia.

Considering the land that Genghis Khan ruled over and the diversity that came with each country in terms of language and religion, it is important to note that Genghis Khan was not only tolerant towards different beliefs in the societies he conquered, but also went a step further and invited leaders of Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism among other religions to sit in his court and exchange ideas with local shamans and healers.

Over the generations, the empire declined and by the 14th century the Manchu dynasty of Qing started ruling Mongolia. Two centuries later, we would see another descendent of Genghis Khan beginning his conquest in India, Akbar.

One of many important tales of the world, this was perhaps beginning of Mongolian history generations after Temujin was born who came to be known eventually as Genghis Khan, the ruler of the world’s largest empire that encompassed every country that extended in the vast stretch from Korea to Hungary.


1.Genghis Khan had a rough childhood. When he was only 9, the rival Tatars poisoned his father and his own tribe expelled his family, leaving his mother to raise him and his siblings. Each had to hunt for food and theories suggest that Genghis Khan might have killed his half-brother in a dispute over food.
2.Some of Genghis Khan’s most trusted generals were former enemies. In a battle with the Taijut tribe in 1201, Genghis Khan was nearly killed by an arrow. After the war, while addressing the soldiers of the defeated Taijut tribe, Genghis Khan asked which one of them had shot the arrow. One soldier stood up and confessed. Moved by his bravery, Genghis Khan made him an officer in his army. The soldier would eventually become one of the greatest field commanders of the Mongols.
3.While it is impossible to ascertain the figures, historians suggest that Genghis Khan killed as many as 40 million people during his rule. Chinese population dropped by tens of millions during Genghis Khan’s lifetime. Iran, too, lost almost three-fourths of its population. It is believed world population then dropped by 11 per cent during Genghis Khan’s rule.
4.The Mongols weren’t just known for their warfare and military strategies; they also put in place the first international postal systems which consisted of a number of post houses and way stations linked to each other across the empire. Riders often travelled up to 300 km a day to communicate information and transport goods.
5.Genghis Khan had the most mysterious death. While some narratives suggest he died in 1227 from injuries sustained when he fell from a horse, others state malaria as the cause of death. Some even suggest he was murdered while attempting to force himself on a Chinese princess. According to legend, Genghis Khan’s funeral procession slaughtered everyone that came in their way and rode their horses over his grave to conceal it, so secretive was his burial ground.

Priya is a writer and aspiring film maker. She has written for Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul – Teens Talk Relationship. She can be reached at