When people think about Christianity, and how it has risen to be the most powerful religion on Earth, they don’t tend to include Genghis Khan in their reasoning. I mean, why would they? He was obviously not a Christian. He didn’t play any role in the bible, or deal with any saints, or play into any part of European Christianity. So why, then, should every Christian thank him for the dominant role their religion plays in the world today?
Let’s start with a little history on the great Genghis Khan. Born around 1162, he started his life with the name Temujin. Legends say that he was born into the world with a blood clot grasped firmly in his hand, a sign that he would one day become a great leader amongst his people. Considering the fact that he is one of the most famous individuals of all time, it’s fair to say he more than lived up to that prophecy.
After the death of Tamujin’s father (and then murdering his own brother), the young man became the chief of his tribe and quickly began making a name for himself. With an already powerful army behind him, he began exacting harsh revenge on his enemies, while consolidating power with other Mongolian tribes. He destroyed the Tatar army that had killed his father, going so far as to kill every male member of the tribe who was not tall enough to walk beneath the axle pin of a wagon wheel. This act was just a glimpse of the brutality that this army, behind their brilliant general, would be capable of.
But it wasn’t just their harsh treatment of their beaten foes that instilled such fear into the hearts of nations all around them. The armies of the Steppe had long been feared for their military skills. They almost entirely fought from horseback using bows with devastating efficiency. Armies on foot simply had no chance to close the distance and engage the Mongol army in a classic battle. Instead, the Mongols would race around them, using a complicated system of smoke, torches, and drums to coordinate their attacks. Once the opposing army broke, the horse archers could very easily ride the terrified men down and kill them at their leisure.
After successfully combining all the tribes of Mongolia, Temujin gained the name Genghis Khan, which means “universal ruler.” He then used the strength of his army, his superior tactics, and his extensive spy network, to begin conquering neighboring nations. The kingdom of Xi Xia and China in the East were some of his first victims. He then headed west and began to terrorize the Muslim world. The Khwarizm Dynasty, in 1219, was the first nation to feel the wrath of the Khans, but was certainly not the last. The mighty Mongolian army spent the next eight years essentially fighting on two fronts, with the concept of mercy being an utterly alien idea to them.
By the time of Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, his armies had murdered around 40 million people. That’s almost 10% of the entire world’s population of the time. His armies murdered so many people that it actually had an effect on the earth’s atmosphere. There’s no possible way to overstate the horror of that number, and it’s beyond the grasp of the modern mind as to what that level of destruction looks like.
Even after that level of death, however, the Mongol Empire continued for a time, maintaining its violent and deadly ways, yet never reaching the same level of power they’d had under Genghis’ rule. Infighting and tribal politics led to them fighting each other more than outsiders, and the steppe army’s reach never made it past the gates of Vienna, Austria.
One thing that you’ll notice is that, for the most part, Western Europe was never conquered. Other than a couple battles, Europeans never had any contact with one of the largest empires the world had ever known. Their armies were not wiped out by the horse archers. Their women and children were not murdered or taken as slaves.
Many of the great Muslim empires of the time, however, were either destroyed or severely weakened, and China would be unable to recover for centuries. This left a power gap, and it was one that Europe was quick to jump into.
The Crusades by this time were at their end, and a new understanding of the world was spreading throughout Europe. Predominately Christian nations of Europe were able to grow in ways that most Islamic, Buddhist, and Taoist nations could not. While the nations that had been ravaged by the Mongols were trying to rebuild themselves, European nations were advancing. It was those nations that still had the manpower, technology, and money that were able to begin exploring the world and spreading their beliefs unchallenged.
What the Mongols did, the devastation and death they unleashed upon the world, is a tragedy that has no equal. Genghis Khan, while one of the most brilliant strategists in all of history, was also a killer with no equal. If he had not set the worlds of Asia and the Middle East back hundreds of years, there’s no telling what the world would be like today.
This is just a small glimpse into a really big idea. If you want to know more about this, or more about the Mongols in general, I highly recommend you check out Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. It’s an absolutely amazing podcast, and he has a series devoted to the Mongols called “The Wrath of the Khans”. It is absolutely worth the money and Dan Carlin is an incredible storyteller. Do yourself a favor and go get it today!