Feb. 29, 1996
Vol. 15, No. 12

current issue
archive / search

    Following footsteps of Genghis Khan

    This summer, a University-led team plans to follow the steps of Genghis Khan as it surveys sites associated with the Mongol leader, creator of the largest empire the world has ever known.

    John Woods, Professor in History and an expert on Islamic civilization, has been named project director of the expedition. The effort is expected to expand the understanding of the important role the Mongols played in an empire that stretched from China to eastern Europe.

    The Mongolian Academy of Sciences has joined the University in the project. Damba Bazargur, a historical geographer and head of the academy's Center of Nomadic Pastoralism Studies, is co-leader of the expedition.

    "We hope to learn more about the rise of this great civilization and also about the culture of the largely pastoral people who currently live in Mongolia," Woods said. "Further work in the field will be based upon what we discover in our survey mission."

    The survey team will follow the path of Genghis Khan from his birthplace to battle sites and other locations associated with his reign.

    A film about the journey is being planned by Bill Kurtis, who has produced a series of documentaries for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, cable television's Arts & Entertainment Network and other broadcasting outlets.

    The University survey project carries on work begun by Chicago businessman Maury Kravitz. Kravitz has long been interested in Genghis Khan and will be a consultant on the project and an expedition co-leader.

    Genghis Khan, whose original name was Temuejin, was born in 1162, the son of Yesuegei, a Mongol chief and ruler of a large region between the Amur River and the Great Wall of China. At the age of 13, Temuejin succeeded his father as tribal chief. His early reign was marked by an intense struggle to retain his leadership in the face of successive revolts on the part of his subject tribes, but the Mongol ruler soon demonstrated his military genius, conquering not only his intractable subjects but his hostile neighbors as well. He depended initially on the ability of his cavalry, riding on grass-fed ponies that needed no fodder, to defeat his enemies. Eventually he learned to use other methods of war, such as catapults and burning oil, to capture cities.

    By 1206, Temuejin was master of almost all of Mongolia. In that year, a convocation of the subjugated tribes proclaimed him Genghis Khan ("Oceanic Lord"), leader of the united Mongol and Tatar tribes.

    Genghis Khan was particularly interested in conquering China and completed a successful campaign in 1215 with the capture of Beijing. At the time of his death in 1227, his armies controlled a land mass reaching from Beijing to the Caspian Sea. His generals raided Persia and Russia, and his successors continued the push by extending their power over China, Iran, Turkey and most of Russia to create the greatest continental empire ever achieved.

    -- William Harms