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1: The Mongols' Self-Perception and The Secret History

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    In the early 1200s, a new power rose to the world stage. It began with one man, Temuǰin, a chieftain of one of the many tribes on the Mongol steppes. He brought together various tribal groups through a combination of conquest and marriage, thus earning him the title Činggis Qa’an, known more commonly in the West as Genghis Khan. At first the newly declared Khan kept his conquests to the steppe region (made up of modern Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and parts of China) and thus was not considered a concern until 1223, when the Mongols crushed the Cumans (a nomadic Turkish people) and their Kievan (a loose federation of East Slavic and Finno-Ugric people) allies in battle.

    This dramatic battle brought the Mongols to the notice of European, Mediterranean, and Asian rulers. Although Činggis Qa’an died in 1227, his son Ögödei continued the conquest. Led by Ögödei, the Mongols successfully fought off armies of Ukrainians, Poles, Hungarians, and others, culminating in Pope Gregory IX proclaiming a crusade against the Mongols in 1241.

    European views of the Mongols frequently shifted. When the Mongols first came onto the scene under the leadership of Činggis Qa’an, the narrative sometimes tended towards fear, dread, and an emphasis on the Mongol people as "other" - animalistic and violent. However, another view soon took the stage, an "enemy of my enemy is my friend." One thing the European kingdoms often feared more than each other was the rise of Islam throughout the Iberian peninsula, Sicily, the Middle East and parts of Africa. From the mid-twelfth century onwards, letters and accounts circulated, describing a great Christian ruler, Prester John (a legendary wealthy Christian king), who lived in the Far East and might provide an ally against Muslim rulers. During the campaign of the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221), the image of the legendary Prester John was soon fused with very real reports of the rise of the Mongol empire, leading Christians to hope for Mongol assistance against various Muslim powers.

    However, this belief was soon set aside as the Mongol Empire advanced. The Mongols had declared their intent to conquer the world and until 1241 they made good on that promise, driving out European armies and claiming great swathes of territory. Pleas for assistance from eastern European kings - most notably Bela IV of Hungary - went unanswered due to the ongoing conflicts between Pope Innocent IV and the German emperor Frederick II. By 1242 the Mongols had crossed into Austria and only a succession crisis among the descendants of Činggis Qa’an provided a slight reprieve for European leaders.

    In this period of reprieve there were attempts to make more diplomatic overtures between popes and the Mongols. Innocent IV sent out missionaries with letters that called on the Mongols to convert and adopt a non-aggression policy towards the Christian kingdoms, an invitation that was soundly refused. There were also attempts at communication between Mongol and European leaders, but these often (quite dramatically) fell through. It was not until the splintering of the Mongol Empire in the 1250s that Mongol rulers began to actively send letters to Popes and Christian Kings, promising conversion and aid. However, by this point many Christian rulers were wary and thus refused the offers. There were eventually more negotiations between Mongol rulers and Pope Gregory X, who was attempting to promote another crusade, however, both the Pope and crusade negotiations died in 1277.

    Further Resources:

    Marie Favreau, The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World (Boston, 2021).

    Jessalynn Bird, Edward Peters, and James M. Powell, Crusade and Christendom: Annotated Documents in Translation from Innocent III to the Fall of Acre, 1187-1291 (Philadelphia, 2013), 306-47.

    The Secret History of the Mongols

    The Secret History of the Mongols is a continuous narrative telling the story of the life and times of Činggis Qa’an (most commonly known in the West as Genghis Khan). It was written around the thirteenth century by Mongol writers, although the actual name of the writer (or writers) is unknown. It was presumably written or compiled within the court of the Great Qa'an himself. The work was subdivided into chapters and sections later on, but was originally written as a single tale. It is the only lengthy written narrative source we have today of how the Mongols viewed themselves and their empire. However, the textual source that we possess is not the original, of which no copies survive, but a later version, edited, revised, and added to by successive Qa'ans (often descendants of Činggis Qa’an) and their courts. Yet, even these later versions are telling as to how the Mongols viewed themselves, their culture and religion, and those outside their borders.

    Questions to Consider As You Read:

    According to the Secret History, what acts form alliances? What is required of both sides in an alliance? What acts break alliances?

    Why were raids such an important part of Mongol life?

    What appear to be the qualities required to be a true Mongol (consider a wide range of genders and ages)?

    What do the Mongols envisage doing to their enemies? How does one become an enemy of the Mongols?

    How do the Mongols assemble and organize their armies?

    How does one become a Qa'an (khan) and maintain one's power?

    What roles do women, children, and slaves play in early Mongol society?

    Excerpt From The Secret History of the Mongols

    This extract is reprinted from the open access edition of the The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century, translated by Igor de Rachewiltz, edited by John C. Street, University of Wisconsin―Madison (2015), Books and Monographs, Book 4,, pp. 32-49. Notes and introduction are by Marirose Osborne.

    104 Having thus spoken, Temüǰin,1 with Qasar and
    Belgütei, went to To’oril Ong Qan2 of the Kereyit3 [...]
    Temüǰin said to him, ‘The Three Merkit4 came, taking us
    by surprise; they seized my wife and carried her off. We
    have come now to ask you, O Qan my father,5 to rescue
    my wife and return her to me.’
    To these words To’oril Ong Qan replied, ‘Did I not
    speak with you last year? When you brought me the sable6
    coat, you said, “Since in my father’s time you two
    declared yourselves sworn friends, you are, indeed, like a
    father to me.” When you put the coat on me, there and
    then I said,
    “In return for the sable coat,
    I shall unite for you
    Your scattered people;
    In return for the black sable coat,
    I shall bring together for you
    Your divided people. Let
    The place of good faith be in the heart, just as
    That of the kidneys must be in the back!”
    Did I not say this? I shall now fulfill that promise and In return for the sable coat,
    Even to the complete destruction of the Merkit,
    I shall rescue for you your Lady Börte.
    In return for the black sable coat,
    We shall crush all the Merkit,
    We shall cause your wife Börte to return,
    Bringing her back to you!
    Send a message to younger brother J̌amuqa7 who must
    now be in the Qorqonaq Valley.8 I shall set forth from
    here with two units of ten thousand9 and form the right
    wing of the army. Younger brother J̌amuqa should set
    forth with two units of ten thousand to form the left wing.
    Let J̌amuqa decide on the time and place of our meeting!’
    105 When Temüǰin, Qasar and Belgütei came back from
    To’oril Qan’s camp and arrived at their tent, Temüǰin sent
    both Qasar and Belgütei to J̌amuqa saying, ‘Give my
    sworn friend J̌amuqa this message: “When the Three Merkit came,
    My bed was made empty.
    You and I,
    Are we not from one family?
    How shall we take our revenge?
    My breast is torn apart.
    You and I,
    Are we not of kindred blood?
    How shall we avenge this injury?”’
    He sent this message [...] He also told
    them to report to J̌amuqa the words spoken by To’oril
    Qan of the Kereyit: ‘Remembering the help and good
    things done to me in former days by his father Yisügei10
    Qan, I shall stand by Temuǰin. I shall set forth with two
    units of ten thousand and I shall form the right wing.
    Send a message to younger brother J̌amuqa that he should
    set forth with two units of ten thousand. As to the time
    and place of our meeting and joining forces, let younger
    brother J̌amuqa decide!’ After they had finished deliver-
    ing this message, J̌amuqa said, ‘To know that my sworn
    friend Temüǰin’s
    Bed has become empty,
    Brought pain to my heart.
    To know that his
    Breast was torn apart,
    Brought pain to my liver.
    Taking our revenge,
    Wiping out the Uduyit and U’as Merkit11,
    We shall rescue our Lady Börte!
    Taking our vengeance,
    Crushing all the Qa’at Merkit,
    We shall rescue your wife Börte,
    Causing her to return!
    That Toqto’a, who takes fright
    When one strikes the saddle-flaps, for
    He takes it for the sound of the drum,
    He must be in the Bu’ura Steppe.
    Dayir Usun, who on hearing
    The rattle of a loose quiver
    Deserts his own companions,
    He must now be at Talqun Aral,
    Between the Orqon and the Selengge.
    Qa’atai Darmala, who when the saltwort
    Is carried by the wind,
    Quickly flees into a dark forest,
    He must now be in the Qaraǰi Steppe.
    Now, by the shortest way
    We shall cross the river Kilqo –
    May the sedge be in good growth!
    We shall bind our rafts with it,
    We shall enter their land.
    Descending on the smoke-hole12
    Of that coward Toqto’a’s tent,
    Its proud frame we shall smite,
    So it collapses;
    We shall kill his wives13 and children
    To the last one.
    Of his door the sacred frame,
    We shall smite so it shatters;
    We shall utterly destroy his people
    Till nothing will be left.’
    106 Further, J̌amuqa said, ‘Speak to my sworn friend
    Temüǰin and elder brother To’oril Qan, and say to them
    on my behalf, “As for me,
    I have consecrated my standard14
    Which is visible from afar;
    I have beaten my bellowing drum
    Covered with the hide of a black bull;
    I have mounted my swift black horse;
    I have put on my armour
    And grasped my steel spear;
    I have placed on the bowstring my arrow with its
    Of wild peach bark.
    I am ready, let us start
    And give battle to the Qa’at Merkit!”
    Then say to them,
    “My long standard, visible from afar,
    I have consecrated;
    I have beaten my deep-sounding drum
    Covered with ox-hide;
    I have mounted my swift horse,
    The one with a black stripe along the back-
    I have put on my leather-strapped breastplate,
    And grasped my hilted sword;
    I have placed on the bowstring my nocked
    I am ready, let us fight to the death
    Against the Uduyit Merkit!”
    Then say to them, “After elder brother To’oril Qan
    has set out and, passing by my sworn friend Temüǰin on
    the southern side of Burqan Qaldun, comes jointly with
    him, we shall meet at Botoqan Bo’orǰi at the source of the
    Onan River.15 When I set out from here, upstream along
    the Onan River where my sworn friend’s people are [...]
    going up along the Onan River we shall join forces at the
    appointed meeting place in Botoqan Bo’orǰi.”’ And he
    sent them off with this message.
    107 Qasar and Belgütei came and reported these words of
    J̌amuqa to Temüǰin, who had them conveyed to To’oril
    Upon receiving J̌amuqa’s message, To’oril Qan took
    the field, two units of ten thousand altogether. When
    To’oril Qan set out, as he was approaching in the
    direction of the Bürgi Escarpment of the Kelüren on the
    southern side of Burqan Qaldun, Temüǰin, who was then
    [...] on To’oril’s path,
    made way for him and, moving upstream along the
    Tünggelik, set up camp on the Tana Stream on the
    southern side of Burqan Qaldun. Temüǰin then advanced
    from there with his troops. When To’oril Qan [...]
    and To’oril Qan’s younger brother
    J̌aqa Gambu with [...] two units of
    ten thousand in all – halted at Ayil Qaraqana on the
    Kimurqa Stream, Temüǰin joined them and set up camp there.
    108 Temüǰin, To’oril Qan and J̌aqa Gambu came together
    and started off from there. When they arrived at Botoqan
    Bo’orǰi at the source of the Onan River, J̌amuqa had
    already reached the meeting place three days before.
    J̌amuqa, seeing the troops of Temüǰin, To’oril and
    J̌aqa Gambu, took up position, ranging his two units
    of ten thousand troops in battle order. They – Temüǰin,
    To’oril Qan and J̌aqa Gambu – likewise ranged their
    troops in battle order. As soon as they came face to face
    and recognized each other, J̌amuqa said, ‘Did we not
    agree that we won’t be late
    At the appointed meeting,
    Even if there be a blizzard;
    At the gathering,
    Even if there be rain?
    Are we not Mongols, for whom a “yes” is the same as
    being bound by an oath?16 We did agree that
    We shall reject from our ranks
    Whoever is remiss in his “yes.”’
    To the words of J̌amuqa, To’oril Qan said, ‘As we are
    three days late at the meeting place, it is up to younger
    brother J̌amuqa to punish and lay blame!’ In this way
    they exchanged words of reproach about the meeting.
    109 Starting from Botoqan Bo’orǰin they arrived at the
    river Kilqo.17 They made rafts and crossed it. In the
    Bu’ura Steppe,
    Descending on the smoke-hole
    Of Toqto’a Beki’s tent,
    Of his tent the proud frame
    They did smite so it collapsed;
    They plundered his wives and children
    To the last one.
    Of his door the sacred frame
    They did smite so it shattered;
    They utterly plundered his people
    Till nothing more was left
    While Toqto’a Beki was asleep, some fishermen,
    sable catchers and wild animal hunters who happened to
    be by the river Kilqo, left it and, travelling all through the
    night, brought the news of the allies’ approach saying,
    ‘The enemies are coming, pushing forward at full speed.’
    When they received this news, Toqto’a and Dayir Usun of
    the U’as Merkit joined together, went downstream along
    the Selengge18 and entered the Barquǰin territory. Few in
    number and dispossessed of all but their bodies, they escaped by taking flight.
    110 At night the Merkit people fled in disarray down the
    Selengge River, but even in the night our troops19 were
    pressing hard after the hastily fleeing Merkit. As the
    pillaging and plundering went on, Temüǰin moved among
    the people that were hurriedly escaping, calling, ‘Börte,
    Börte!'20 And so he came upon her, for Lady Börte was
    among those fleeing people. She heard the voice of
    Temüǰin and, recognizing it, she got off the cart and came
    running towards him. Although it was still night, Lady
    Börte and Qo’aqčin both recognized Temüǰin’s reins and
    tether and grabbed them. It was moonlight; he looked at
    them, recognized Lady Börte, and they fell into each
    other’s arms. After this, that very night Temüǰin sent a
    message to To’oril Qan and to sworn friend J̌amuqa
    saying, ‘I have found what I was looking for. Let us not
    travel all night; let us camp here!’ He had this message
    delivered to them. As for the Merkit people who had
    been fleeing in disarray at night, while still scattering and
    on the run, they too stopped and spent the night right
    This is how Lady Börte was rescued from the Merkit
    tribe, and how she was reunited with Temüǰin.22
    111 At the very beginning, Toqto’a Beki of the Uduyit
    Merkit, Dayir Usun of the U’as Merkit and Qa’atai
    Darmala of the Qa’at Merkit [...],
    said, ‘In former days Mother Hö’elün
    was abducted by Yisügei Ba’atur from Yeke Čiledü,23 the
    younger brother of Toqto’a Beki’, and they set out to take
    revenge for that. It was at the time when Temüǰin circled
    Burqan Qaldun three times that they captured Lady
    Börte. They entrusted her to Čilger Bökö, the younger
    brother of Čiledü. As Čilger Bökö had been looking after
    her ever since, when he fled, deserting his own
    companions, he said,
    ‘To feed on scraps of skin
    Is the black crow’s lot – yet
    It was goose and crane
    It aspired to eat.
    I, brutal and base Čilger, who laid my hand
    On the noble lady,
    I have brought disaster
    On all the Merkit.
    Lowly, base Čilger,
    I have come to the point
    That I shall lose my black head.
    To save my one and only life,
    I wish to creep into dark gorges.
    Who will act as a shield for me?
    To feed on rats and mice
    Is the buzzard’s, that vile bird’s lot – yet
    It was swan and crane
    It aspired to eat.
    I, thieving and base Čilger, who took away
    The favoured and fortunate lady,
    I have brought disaster upon
    The whole of the Merkit.
    Boastful, base Čilger,
    I have come to the point
    That I shall lose my shrivelled head.
    To save my life, worth but a sheep’s dropping,
    I wish to creep into dreadful, dark gorges.
    Who will be a shelter for my life
    Which is worth but a sheep’s dropping?’
    Thus he spoke, and escaped, deserting his own com-
    112 They seized Qa’atai Darmala and brought him back,
    They forced him to wear a cangue25 made of a
    wooden board,
    They took him straight to Qaldun Burqan
    Someone informed them that Belgütei’s26 mother was
    ‘in that ayil over there.’ Belgütei went there to fetch his
    mother, but when he entered her tent by the right-hand
    door, his mother, in a ragged sheepskin coat, went out by
    the left-hand door. Outside she said to someone else, ‘I
    am told that my sons have become qans, but here I have
    been joined with a base man. How can I now look my
    sons in the face?’ So she spoke and ran off, slipping
    away into a dense wood. Belgütei Noyan immediately
    searched for her, but could not find her. He then shot
    knob-headed arrows at any man of Merkit stock, saying,
    ‘Bring me my mother!’ The three hundred Merkit who
    had once circled Mount Burqan
    Were exterminated, down to
    The offspring of their offspring:
    They were blown to the winds like hearth-ashes.
    Their remaining wives,
    Those suitable to be embraced,
    Were embraced;27
    Those suitable to be let into the tent
    Through the door and serve as slaves
    Were let in through the door.28
    113 Temüǰin, speaking gratefully to To’oril Qan and
    J̌amuqa, said ‘Being taken as a companion by my father
    the Qan and sworn friend J̌amuqa, and with my strength
    increased by Heaven and Earth,
    Called by Mighty Heaven,
    Carried through by Mother Earth,29
    We emptied the breasts of the Merkit people
    Who take their revenge as a man does,
    And we tore their livers to pieces.
    We emptied their beds
    And we exterminated their relatives;
    The women of theirs who remained
    We surely took captive!
    Thus we destroyed the Merkit people: let us now with-
    114 At the time when the Uduyit Merkit were fleeing in
    haste, our soldiers found a little boy of five with fire in his
    eyes who had been left behind in the camp and whose
    name was Küčü. He had a sable cap, boots made from
    the skin of a doe’s forelegs, and a dress of otter skins
    cleared of hair and sewn together. They took him and
    brought him to Mother Hö’elün, and gave him to her as a
    115 When Temüǰin, To’oril Qan and J̌amuqa, after joining
    their forces
    Had smashed the lock-carts,
    Had captured the splendid women
    of the Merkit, they withdrew from Talqun Aral, between
    the Orqan and Selengge rivers. Temüǰin with J̌amuqa,
    withdrawing jointly, went in the direction of the Qorqo-
    naq Valley [...]
    116 Temüǰin and J̌amuqa got together and set up camp in
    the Qorqonaq Valley. Remembering how earlier on they
    became sworn friends, they said, ‘Let us renew our
    mutual pledge of friendship, let us now love each other again!’
    Earlier, when they had first become sworn friends,
    Temüǰin was eleven years old. J̌amuqa had given
    Temüǰin a roebuck knucklebone, Temüǰin in return had
    given him a copper knucklebone, and so they had become
    sworn friends.31 Having declared themselves sworn
    friends, they had played knucklebones32 together on the ice
    of the Onan River. There they had declared each other
    friends by oath for the first time.
    After that, in the spring, as they practised shooting
    with their firwood bows, J̌amuqa split and stuck together
    the two horns of a two-year-old calf, bored holes in them,
    and gave this whistling arrowhead33 of his to Temüǰin. In
    exchange Temüǰin gave him a knob-headed arrow with a
    tip of juniper wood, and they became sworn friends once
    This is how they declared themselves friends by oath
    for the second time.
    117 They said to each other, ‘Listening to the pronounce-
    ment of the old men of former ages which says:
    “Sworn friends – the two of them
    Share but a single life;
    They do not abandon one another:
    They are each a life’s safeguard for the other.”
    We learn that such is the rule by which sworn friends love
    each other. Now, renewing once more our oath of friend-
    ship, we shall love each other.’
    Temüǰin girdled his sworn friend J̌amuqa with the
    golden belt taken as loot from Toqto’a of the Merkit. He
    also gave sworn friend J̌amuqa for a mount Toqto’a’s
    yellowish white mare with a black tail and mane, a mare
    that had not foaled for several years.34 J̌amuqa girdled his
    sworn friend Temüǰin with the golden belt taken as loot
    from Dayir Usun of the U’as Merkit, and he gave
    Temüǰin for a mount the kid-white horse with a horn,
    also of Dayir Usun. At the Leafy Tree on the southern
    side of the Quldaqar Cliff in the Qorqonaq Valley they
    declared themselves sworn friends and loved each other;
    they enjoyed themselves revelling and feasting, and at
    night they slept together, the two of them alone under their
    118 Temüǰin and J̌amuqa loved each other one year and
    half of the second year. Then one day they decided to
    move on from their present encampment. They broke
    camp and set out on the sixteenth of the first month of
    summer, the day of the Red Circle.
    Temüǰin and J̌amuqa went together in front of the
    carts, and as they proceeded J̌amuqa said, ‘Sworn friend,
    sworn friend Temüǰin,
    Let us camp near the mountain:
    There will be enough shelter
    For our horse-herders!
    Let us camp near the river:
    There will be enough food
    For our shepherds and lamb-herds!’
    Temüǰin could not understand these words of J̌amuqa36
    and remained silent. Falling behind, he waited for the
    carts in the middle of the moving camp – for it was a
    moving camp – then Temüǰin said to Mother Hö’elün,37
    ‘Sworn friend J̌amuqa said,
    “Let us camp near the mountain:
    There will be enough shelter
    For our horse-herders!
    Let us camp near the river:
    There will be enough food
    For our shepherds and lamb-herds!”
    I couldn’t understand these words of his, so I did not give
    him any answer and decided to come and ask you,
    Before Mother Hö’elün could utter a sound, Lady
    Börte said, ‘Sworn friend J̌amuqa, so they say, grows
    easily tired of his friends. Now the time has come when
    he has grown tired of us. The words which sworn friend
    J̌amuqa has spoken just now are, therefore, words
    alluding to us. Let us not pitch camp, but while we are
    on the move, let us separate completely from him and
    move further on, travelling at night!’ This, then, is what
    she said.
    119 They all approved of the words of Lady Börte and
    without pitching camp they set off, travelling at night.38 As
    they proceeded, they passed the Tayiči’ut’s39 encampment
    along the way. The Tayiči’ut, for their part, became
    frightened and that same night in great confusion actually
    moved to J̌amuqa’s side. In the camp of the Besüt in the
    midst of the Tayiči’ut, our people took a little boy by
    name of Kököčü who had been left behind in the camp.
    When they came back they gave him to Mother Hö’elün.
    Mother Hö’elün took him under her care.40
    120 They travelled all that night. At daybreak they saw
    [...] the three Toqura’un brothers of the J̌alayir
    tribe, drawing near to join them after having travelled
    throughout the night together. Then Qada’an Daldurqan
    of the Tarqut and his brothers [...] also
    drew near. Then the son of Mönggetü Kiyan, Önggür and
    the others, with their Čangši’ut and Baya’ut followers
    drew near too. From the Barulas came the brothers Qubi-
    lai and Qudus. From the Mangqut came the two brothers
    J̌etei and Doqolqu Čerbi. [...]
    Ögölen Čerbi, left the Arulat and also came to
    join his elder brother Bo’orču. The younger brothers of
    J̌elme, Ča’urqan and Sübe’etei Ba’atur, left the Uriangqan
    and came to join J̌elme. From the Besüt also came the
    two brothers Degei and Küčügür. From the Suldus also
    came the brothers Čilgütei, Taki and Tayiči’udai. Seče
    Domoq of the J̌alayir also came with his two sons [...]
    From the Qongqotan also came Söyiketü
    Čerbi. Sükegei J̌e’ün, the son of J̌egei Qongdaqor of the
    Sükeken, also came. Čaqa’an U’a of the Ne’üs came too.
    There also came Kinggiyadai of the Olqunu’ut, Seči’ür
    from the Qorolas, and Moči Bedü’ün from the Dörben.
    Since Butu of the Ikires had made his way here as son-in-
    law, he also came. From the Noyakin came also J̌ungso,
    and from the Oronar also came J̌irqo’an. From the
    Barulas came also Suqu Sečen with his son Qaračar.
    Then Qorči, Old Üsün and Kökö Čos of the Ba’arin
    together with their Menen Ba’arin followers also came as
    one camp41.
    121 When Qorči came he said, ‘As we were born from the
    same woman captured and taken as wife by the august
    We are from the same womb,
    We are from the one womb water
    as J̌amuqa. We would not have parted from him, but a
    heavenly sign appeared before my very eyes, revealing the
    future to me. There came a fallow42 cow. She circled
    J̌amuqa and struck his tent-cart with her horns; then she
    butted him too, breaking one of her two horns. Being
    thus left with uneven horns, “Bring me my horn!” she
    kept saying, bellowing repeatedly at J̌amuqa as she stood there,
    hoofing up the ground and raising more and more
    dust. Then a hornless and fallow ox lifted up the great
    shaft under the tent, harnessed it on to himself and pulled
    it after him. As he proceeded following Temüǰin on the
    wide road, he kept bellowing, “Together Heaven and
    Earth have agreed: Temüǰin shall be lord of the people!”
    and “I am drawing near carrying the people and bringing
    it to him.” These heavenly signs appeared before my
    eyes; they revealed the future to me. Temüǰin, if you
    become lord of the people, how will you please me for
    this augury?'43
    Temüǰin said, ‘If it is indeed given to me to rule over
    the people as you say, I will make you a leader of ten
    Qorči said, ‘What kind of happiness is it for me, the
    man who foretold so many great affairs, merely to
    become the leader of ten thousand? Make me a leader of
    ten thousand, but in addition allow me to take freely
    beautiful and fine girls from among the people, and let me
    have thirty as wives.44 And again, whatever I say, heed me
    122 The Geniges, with Qunan at their head, also came as
    one camp. Then came Dàritai Otčigin – also one camp.
    From the J̌adaran came also Mulqalqu. And the Ünǰin
    and the Saqayit came – also one camp. When Temüǰin
    had parted company in this way from J̌amuqa and had
    moved further on, setting up camp at Ayil Qaraqana by
    the Kimurqa Stream, there came, also separating from
    J̌amuqa, the sons of Sorqatu J̌ürki of the J̌ürkin, Sača Beki
    and Taiču – one camp; then the son of Nekün Taiši,
    Qučar Beki – one camp; and the son of Qutula Qan, Altan
    Otčigin – one camp. These, then, left J̌amuqa and moved
    on, and when Temüǰin set up camp at Ayil Qaraqana by
    the Kimurqa Stream, they joined camp with him. From
    there they went on, and camped at Kökö Na’ur of Mount
    Qara J̌irügen by the Senggür Stream in the Gürelgü
    123 Altan, Qučar and Sača Beki, all of them having
    agreed among themselves, said to Temüǰin, ‘We shall
    make you qan. When you, Temüǰin, become qan, we
    As vanguard45 shall speed
    After many foes: for you
    Fine-looking maidens and ladies of rank,
    Palatial tents, and from foreign people
    Ladies and maidens with beautiful cheeks,
    And geldings with fine croups46
    At the trot we shall bring.
    When in a battle we hunt the cunning
    Wild beasts, for you
    We shall go ahead and round them up.
    For you we shall drive the beasts of the steppe
    Until their bellies press together;
    For you we shall drive the beasts of the steep banks
    Until their thighs press together.
    In the days of war,
    If we disobey your commands,
    Deprive us of all our goods and belongings, and
    Our noble wives, and cast
    Our black heads on the ground!
    In the days of peace,
    If we violate your counsel,
    Cut us off from our retainers and possessions, and
    Our wives, and cast us
    Out into the wilderness47!’
    Thus they pledged their word and in
    This way they swore the oath of loyalty,
    and made Temüǰin qan, naming him Činggis Qa’an48.
    124 [...] Önggür, Söyiketü Čerbi and Qada’an Daldurqan then spoke, saying,
    ‘We shall not let you go without
    Your morning drinks;
    We shall not neglect your drinks
    In the evening!’
    And so they became stewards. Then Degei spoke:
    ‘In making broth
    Of a two-year-old wether,
    I shall not fail in the morning,
    I shall not be remiss at night.
    I shall tend pied sheep,
    And shall fill the bottom of the cart with them.
    I shall tend brown sheep,
    And shall fill the sheep-fold with them.
    I was a base and greedy man: now
    I shall tend sheep,
    And tripe shall I eat!’
    So Degei tended the sheep. His younger brother, Güčü-
    gür spoke:
    ‘I shall not let the linchpin slip
    Off a lock-cart;
    I shall not let an axle-cart collapse
    On the road.
    I shall manage the tent-carts!’, he said. And Dödei Čerbi
    said, ‘I shall be in charge of the domestics and servants in
    the tent!’
    Qubilai, Čilgütei and Qarqai Toqura’un together with
    Qasar were ordered to carry swords. To them Činggis
    Qa’an said,
    ‘Cut the neck of the braggart,
    Cleave the breast of the arrogant!’
    And he said, ‘Let Belgütei and Qaraldai Toqura’un
    Be in charge of the geldings,
    Be my equerries!’
    And he said, ‘Tayiči’udai, Qutu Moriči and Mulqalqu
    shall tend the herds of horses!’
    And he said, ‘Let Arqai Qasar, Taqai, Sükegei and
    Be my far-flying shafts,
    Be my near-flying arrows!’
    Sübe’etei Ba’adur spoke:
    ‘I shall be a rat,
    And with the others
    I shall hoard up goods for you;
    I shall be a black crow,
    And with the others
    I shall gather for you
    All that is found outside;
    I shall be a felt covering,
    And with the others
    I shall try to make a cover for you;
    I shall be a felt windbreak,
    And with the others
    I shall try to shelter you
    From the wind on your tent!'
    125 Thereupon, when Činggis Qa’an became qan, he said
    to Bo’orču and J̌elme, ‘You two,
    When I had no friend but my shadow,
    Became my shadows; and truly
    Brought peace to my mind.
    In my mind you shall dwell!’
    And he said,
    ‘When I had no whip
    But my horse’s tail, you
    Became my horse’s tail; and truly
    Brought peace to my heart.
    In my breast you shall dwell!’
    So he spoke, saying to them, ‘You two, who stood by me
    from the beginning, will you not be at the head of all
    these here?'49
    Further, Činggis Qa’an said, ‘When Heaven and Earth
    increased my strength and took me into their protection,
    you, the senior ones, who for my sake came over from
    sworn friend J̌amuqa50 wishing to become companions, will
    you not be my lucky companions? I have appointed each
    of you to your respective office.’
    126 He sent Daqai and Sügegei as envoys to To’oril Qan
    of the Kereyit with the message that they had made
    Činggis Qa’an their qan. To’oril Qan sent them back
    with the following message: ‘To make my son Temüǰin qan is
    indeed right. How can the Mongols be without a qan? In future
    Do not break this, your agreement,
    Do not dissolve your bond,
    Do not tear off your collar!’

    [1] Known in the West by his later title, Genghis Khan.

    [2] A title denoting the leader of the tribe.

    [3] One of five dominant Mongol Tribes in the twelfth century.

    [4] Another of the five dominant tribes. In the previous chapter, three Merkit men abducted Temüǰin's wife, Börte in retaliation for the capture of Temüǰin's own mother by his father.

    [5] Not actually Temüǰin's father; "father" was a title denoting respect from a younger man to an older man.

    [6] A small marten native to Japan and Siberia, highly valued for its fur.

    [7] Both Temüǰin and J̌amuqa swore fealty to To'oril Ong Qan, thus making them brothers under him.

    [8] More on the specific geography and places present in The Secret History can be found here.

    [9] It is unlikely there was an actual count of how many were present. In ancient documents numbers such as 10,000 often indicated large overwhelming forces.

    [10] The name of Temüǰin's birth father.

    [11] The Uduyit, U'as, and Qa'at were all various Merkit factions/sub-tribes.

    [12] Mongol tents were constructed with a hole at the top, designed to vent out smoke. These can still be seen today in Mongolia.

    [13] Mongol leaders often had many wives and concubines, however Mongol women still exercised a very high level of influence, especially in the case of mothers and their sons - see later in the excerpt.

    [14] Made holy the flag or banner.

    [15] Also known as the Onon River, it runs through modern-day Russia and Mongolia.

    [16] The Secret History is an outlier in its existence. The various tribes of the Mongol steppes often made their formal agreements orally or through gift-giving, not via written contract.

    [17] Generally thought to be the Kalchik River in modern-day Ukraine.

    [18] Known today as the Selenga or Selenge River in Mongolia and Russia.

    [19] Refers specifically to the army of Temuǰin as this was written for and edited by his descendants.

    [20] The name of Temuǰin's wife, a woman honored and revered in her own right.

    [21] Raids such as the one described above were actually quite common in early Mongol societies. They were done in retaliation for a slight or damage and women and children were often taken - as wives or to be raised by their abductors.

    [22] An interesting fact that The Secret History does not mention is that Börte was actually pregnant at this time. She gave birth to a son eight months after her abduction - a fact that raised doubts about the boy's parentage at the time. Although Temuǰin (by then declared Qan) publicly claimed the child as his own, it still raised issues with the succession later on.

    [23] The father of Temuǰin and his original clan.

    [24] In a society with a firm tribal structure and honor-code, deserting one's friends for individual desires or purposes was considered the ultimate dishonorable act.

    [25] A portable form of pillory, designed to confine the head and hands as punishment.

    [26] The half-brother and general to Temuǰin.

    [27] Suitable to be embraced means young enough to still have children.

    [28] Slavery among the Mongol peoples was not the same as we see it today. Slaves were valued for their skills and expected to produce goods, raise children, or serve the family.

    [29] Although Činggis Qa’an was actually very tolerant of other religions during his time ruling the Mongol Empire, one of the main ways he presented himself in order to become leader was as facilitating the spiritual union between the Blue Sky and the Earth - the two most important elements in Mongol Shamanism.

    [30] This was also common practice in Mongolian warfare. The boy would be raised as one of Hö’elün's sons, in the way Temüǰin, her blood son, himself was raised.

    [31] One of the closest relationships it was possible to have - formed by the practice of gift-exchange and sworn alliance.

    [32] An ancient game, similar to jacks.

    [33] Used for hunting, the whistle would make a noise to startle the animal and the arrow to take it down - a video reference can be found here.

    [34] Horses were incredibly important to and valued by the Mongols. They provided transportation, milk, and a way to conduct raids on other tribes.

    [35] Although the two of them were alone together, they were still surrounded by their respective peoples.

    [36] J̌amuqa is suggesting they camp in two very different places at once, hence the confusion.

    [37] The carts with the older women and children would travel in the middle of the group as this position was the best defended one.

    [38] Women, especially those such as Lady Börte were highly valued for their input and decision-making prowess.

    [39] One of the three core tribes of the Khamag Mongol confederation, a Mongolian tribal federation of the twelfth century.

    [40] Another example of the common practice of taking and raising other tribe's children as seen earlier in the excerpt (see footnote 30).

    [41] This is the gathering of representatives across many tribes to elect a new Qan - similar to the way in which The Iliad includes descriptions of many ships and the people who rowed them to appeal to the specific city-state's audience, The Secret History includes each tribe and its representatives.

    [42] A light yellowish-brown color.

    [43] An omen, prophecy, sign of what will happen in the future.

    [44] More wives meant more power as it showed a man's ability to provide for many wives and their children.

    [45] The foremost part of an advancing army.

    [46] Male horses with strong legs and hips.

    [47] The worst punishment that one could inflict upon an individual in this tribal and communal culture.

    [48] This title was transliterated in the West as Genghis Khan.

    [49] This division of chores and duties was a way of bringing the various tribes and societies together and helping them to rely on one another.

    [50] Although not described in this excerpt, J̌amuqa did not let this go sitting down; he too began to gather his own coalition to go to war with the newly titled Činggis Qa’an.

    1: The Mongols' Self-Perception and The Secret History is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.