This is the next in a series of posts examining the “Great Captains” of military history. Unusual for Deadliest Blogger, this will be primarily in video format; posting compelling biographical material.
No empire in world history spanned more territory than that of the Mongols, founded by one of history’s greatest generals: Chinggis Khan!
Born Temüjin son of Yesugai, chief of one of the many Mongol clans he adopted the throne-name “Chinggis/Genghis Khan” (Universal Ruler) in 1206; after uniting the Mongols and the neighboring nomadic tribes into one military nation. All adopted the name “Mongol” and agreed to live under the rule of Chinggis and his descendants. Chinggis Khan reorganized the Mongol people for war, creating a nation-in-arms and the most professional army of the Middle Ages. With this instrument he and his generals (the most notable of which was Subatai, a very great general in his own right) left a legacy of success second to none. His sons and successors continued to expand his empire after his death, creating in the process the largest land empire the world has ever known.
The Mongol Empire created by Chinggis Khan was the largest land empire in history.
Chinggis Khan was one of the greatest generals and conquerors to ever live. As an organizer he was brilliant and ahead of his time. He created an army that combined all the virtues of traditional nomadic steppe armies: hardiness, relentlessness, ferocity and mobility. This with that of the more civilized armies of China and the West: discipline, organization, a technologically advanced artillery and siege component, and even an engineer and medical corps. Mongol armies were able to travel further and faster than any army before or since, completing feats even modern armies are incapable of. The panzer divisions of the Third Reich had nothing to teach the Mongols in the arts of mobile warfare.
The appearance and equipment of a Mongol warrior of Chinggis Khan.
As a strategist Chinggis Khan has few peers. His campaigns were always preceded by careful reconnaissance and preparation of the target areas by spies and agents. Once launched his columns moved rapidly and with purpose; separated but coordinating operations over great distance. His invasion of Khwarezmia, executed by four widely separated but converging columns has never been surpassed as an example of strategic/operational coordination. Tactically his army was a combined-arms force of light and heavy cavalry. They never faced an enemy they couldn’t defeat with either superior mobility or firepower. When faced by a stubborn or too strong foe the Mongols were masters of the tactical feigned withdrawal; or, on a strategic level, retreating out of the theater of operations, lulling the foe into relaxing their guard before suddenly reappearing in force.
Mongol horde on the move. Mongolian reenactors today.
His legacy is not only military: one in 200 men today are descended from this most prolific of conquerors!
An excellent BBC look at the Secret History of Chinggis Khan. Filmed in Mongolia with real Mongol extras, it appears very accurate. Note the size of the Mongol ponies; and the size of their composite bows.
Some of the artwork in this article has been reproduced with the permission of Osprey Publishing, and is © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.