How Genghis Khan Worked

Genghis Khan's Legacy
Genghis Kahn never allowed an artist to paint or sculpt his likeness, and unlike many other rulers, didn't have his likeness emblazoned upon coins. This statue is an artist's conception of how he may have looked.
Chicago Tribune/Getty Images

Genghis Khan's descendants continued to extend Mongolia's power, and eventually conquered the entirety of China and most of Russia as well [source: Bawden]. The Mongols established their own dynasty in China, the Yuan, whose most famous member, Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan, became famous as the result of being visited by a Venetian trader named Marco Polo, who wrote a book about him that was widely read in Europe [source: Bawden].

But the Mongols' dominance of the world was short-lived. They were fearsome conquerors, but once in power, the Khans relied upon their subjects and foreigners to actually run their empire. Over time, the bureaucracy that developed became unwieldy, and rivalries among Mongol leaders weakened their unity. By 1368, they had lost hold of China, and by 1380, they'd been defeated by indigenous foes in Russia and the Balkans as well [source: Bawden].

The Mongol empire didn't last very long, but its influence was profound. While the Mongols weren't particularly inventive, they conquered a lot of peoples who were, and the conquerors spread that knowledge and know-how throughout their realm. They also used their might to open up the world to orderly commerce. It was because of them that playing cards, noodles and tea made their way from China to Europe. Their influence changed everything from the fabrics that Europeans wore to the musical instruments that they played, and eventually helped to make possible the European Renaissance [source: Weatherford].

Author's Note: How Genghis Khan Worked

I didn't know much about Genghis Khan before I started researching this article, so it was fascinating — and disturbing — to learn about his youth in Mongolia. I have to wonder whether his infamous cruelty was at least in part the result of the childhood traumas he experienced.

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