How Genghis Khan Worked

Genghis Khan's Early Life

genghis kahn genghis kahn
13th century portrait depicting Genghis Khan around 1220 (painting on Chinese silk).
ullstein bild Dtl./Getty Images

Genghis Khan, whose birth name was Temüjin — was born on the grassy plains of Mongolia near the banks of the Onon River, about 200 miles (322 kilometers) northeast of modern-day Ulaabaatar [sources: Edwards, Field Museum ]. The exact date and year of his birth isn't known, though 1162 is one popular guess [source: Bawden].

Temüjin's father was a Mongol chief named Yesügei, who had kidnapped his mother, Höelün, from another tribe. His parentage ended up making Temüjin's childhood quite difficult. When Temüjin was 9, Yesügei was poisoned by the Tatars, another group of nomads, who had an old grudge because he had once robbed them. Once Yesügei was gone, another family in his clan decided to seize power, and they cast out his widow and her children, including Temüjin, leaving them to fend for themselves. Instead of dining on mutton and horse's milk like the rest of the clan, they had to scrounge for roots and catch fish from the river to keep from starving [sources: Bawden, Edwards ].

It's hard to imagine that anyone who knew the young Temüjin suspected that he would become a future conqueror of a vast realm. He never got any formal education, and he was a fearful child who cried easily. He had a younger brother who was stronger than he was, and a better archer and wrestler, and his older brother bullied him [source: Weatherford]. For a time, he even was held captive and enslaved by the rival family that had taken over his clan [source: Bawden].

But inside him, the future Genghis Khan had an indomitable will and a cunning mind that enabled him to triumph over adversity. When he was a captive and forced to wear a wooden collar, he endured the torment patiently, waiting for the moment when his guard was distracted. He then used the wooden collar to knock down the guard, and fled [source: Bawden].