Genghis Khan


Genghis Khan founded and ruled over the Mongolian Empire, the largest contiguous land empire in the history of the world. Often misunderstood, Genghis Khan was far more than the world's greatest conqueror. Time magazine and the Washington Post named him "the most important person of the last millennium." Join Active Minds as we explore how this illiterate warrior-nomad came to have such a lasting and profound impact on world politics and modern society.

Key Lecture Points

  • Genghis Khan (1162-1227) is a major figure in human history. Born in present day Mongolia and given the name Temujin, he rose from difficult circumstances to unite the disparate and fractious Mongol tribes under his singular and innovative leadership. In 1209, the tribes named him Gehngis Khan, meaning Fierce Ruler.
  • After consolidating his power, Ghengis Khan embarked upon a series of military campaigns thus establishing what would become history’s largest empire. By the time of his death in 1227, the Mongols ruled over land from the Pacific Ocean to the east coast of the Caspian Sea.
  • Unlike many other empires, the Mongol Empire continued and expanded after Genghis Khan’s death. Divided into 4 separate Khanates for the offspring of his 1st wife Borte, the Mongol Empire would expand to include Persia and Mesopotamia, most of present day Turkey and its Mediterranean Sea coast, Ukraine and Russia, as well as large tracts of land in central and east Asia.
  • Genghis Khan is often remembered for the iron-fistedness of his rule over his Empire. Indeed, the bloody treatment he visited upon those who resisted his rule in places like Bukhara and Chung-tu are testimony to Genghis Khan’s well earned reputation as a merciless enemy.
  • That said, Genghis Khan also left a legacy of global cultural and artistic development. By establishing a unified rule over the Silk Road, he fostered (and benefited from) an interchange of knowledge between the East and West along the trade routes, thus impacting the history of Europe and the New World.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the legacies of Genghis Khan that still impact our world today?
  • Why do you think Genghis Khan is considered one of the greatest leaders of all history?
  • What characteristics of a nomadic society helped Genghis Khan build a great empire?

Reflective Questions

  • Who do you think has a bigger impact on history—heroes or villains? Do you consider Genghis Khan a hero or a villain?
  • What other famous historical figures does Genghis Khan remind you of?

More to Explore

  • Library of Congress Biography Click here
  • BBC Overview of Modern Mongolia Click here
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art online exhibit of Genghis Khan Click here

Books For Further Reading

  • Weatherford, Jack. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Three Rivers Press, 2005. 312 pages. Tells the story of Genghis Khan and his lasting legacy on our world.
    Click here to order
  • Ratchnevsky, Paul. Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy. Blackwell, 2000. 313 pages. Biography of Genghis Khan translated from the original German.
    Click here to order