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Genghis Khan Expands his Empire

In 1218, Genghis Khan sent a trade mission to the Khwarezmian Empire that included the whole of what today is Iran to Kabul in Afghanistan and north to Kazakhstan. It's ruler, Muhammad II, of Turkic origin and a Sunni Muslim, had established himself in Samarkand, his capital, as recently as the year 1208.

A message Genghis Khan sent with his mission greeted the sultan as a neighbor and read something like:

I am master of the lands of the rising sun while you rule those of the setting sun. Let us conclude a firm treaty of friendship and peace.

A governor on the eastern edge of the Khwarezmian empire, at the town of Otrar along the Silk Road, suspected that the mission consisted of spies, and he had them executed. Genghis Khan sent three diplomats to Muhammad II demanding that the governor be punished. The sultan had the leader of the three (a Muslim) beheaded and the beards of the other two removed and sent away. All this was too much for Genghis Khan. He retaliated with a force of 200,000 that journeyed slowly across the desert at a pace of merchants, appearing as warriors when reaching the town of Otrar on the eastern edge of Khwarezmia. He besieged Otrar for five months, eventually breaching its walls. He had the governor executed. He demanded reparations from the sultan, which were not forthcoming, and he launched an invasion deeper into Khwarezmia.

A part of Genghis Khan's strategy was to frighten townspeople into surrendering without battle, benefiting his own troops. He told townspeople that they were not at fault, that high-ranking people among them had committed great sins that inspired God to send him and his army as punishment. Those who surrendered were spared violence. Those who resisted were slaughtered as an example for others. And those who fled the towns he was attacking would spread the word ahead of him.

Muhammad II's capital, Samarkand, surrendered, as did his army. The sultan fled and died weeks later on an island in the Caspian Sea — in 1220, two years after Genghis Khan had sent him his message of friendship. (The Khawarezmian empire would disappear. Muhammad's son declared himself king (shah), would flee and be killed by a Kurdish man in 1231.)

While Genghis Khan was consolidating his conquests in Khwarezmian Empire, a force of 40,000 Mongol horsemen pushed through Azerbaijan and Armenia. Without Genghis Khan they defeated Georgia's Christian crusaders, captured a Genoese trade-fortress in the Crimea and spent the winter along the coast of the Black Sea. In 1223, as they were headed back home, they met 80,000 warriors led by Prince Mstislav of Kiev. The Battle of Kalka River commenced. They faked a retreat and drew the prince's armored cavalry forward, taking advantage of the over-confidence of the mounted aristocrats. Staying out of range of the crude weapons of peasant infantry, the Mongols strung out and tired the pursuers and then attacked, killed and routed them.

By 1225, Genghis Khan was back in Mongolia. He now ruled everything between the Caspian Sea and Beijing. He looked forward to the Mongols benefitting from caravan trade and from tribute from places his Mongols conquered. He created an efficient pony express system. Wanting no divisions rising from religion, he declared freedom of religion throughout his empire. Favoring order and tax producing prosperity, he forbade abuse of people by troops and local officials.

He believed that the Tangut were not living up to their obligations to his empire, and in 1227 while he led an offensive against them — the story goes — he fell off his horse and died. Now the Mongols had the succession challenge that was common among ruling families, including China's royalty, before the age of democracies. Late in his life, Genghis Khan settled a family dispute by choosing his son Ogedei (Ögedei) as his heir, and in 1229 a great Mongol assembly confirmed the succession of Ogedei as the successor, as the Great Khan.

CONTINUE READING: From Ogedei to Mongke the Reformer

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Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.