There are many famous warriors that multitudes of history books have been written about, but Genghis Khan was a warrior unlike any other. Genghis Khan was born in the year 1158, and as he grew into adulthood, it became clear that his path would be one of greatness. When you read about the feats he accomplished, such as conquering vast swaths of what is now Europe and Asia in the name of the Mongol Empire, it is hard to imagine how he did it with the weaponry available in that era.
One of the reasons he was so successful was because of the rules that his warriors were expected to follow. Start scrolling to learn about the rules, and how modern they were for the time.
Conscription Of All Men
No military is complete without the bodies needed to fill all of the roles. To ensure that Genghis Khan always had a mighty army at his disposal, he instituted mandatory military service for all men aged 16 to 60.
That meant that he always had new men entering his army on an annual basis, and due to the population demographics at the time, roughly 1 out of every 7 citizens was in the military.
Equestrian Skills Were A Must
Mongolia today is known for its nomadic culture, which is also centered around horsemanship. This stems from the past, when equestrian skills were a must. All warriors in the army were trained riders, and knew how to fight from horseback.
This also meant that a large herd of horses traveled with every military group, as a fresh horse could be needed at any moment for a military venture. Each warrior was trained from a young age in how to care for and ride horses.
Archery Skills Were Prized
Just as horsemanship was important, so was archery. The art of being able to shoot a bow and arrow, and have the arrow find its mark in battle took some serious skill and a whole lot of training.
Due to this, children were taught how to shoot, and how to shoot from horseback as well. The best archers would compete in their villages, and would be selected for elite units within the military once they were old enough.
Always Obey The Rules
Genghis Khan’s government was one based on rules, and if one did not follow the rules, then punishments would be meted out. These punishments were not simple fines, like we have today, but were instead quite severe, and typical included corporal punishment and even death.
Thus, most Mongols obeyed the laws to avoid being punished, and that meant staying in the military for many years. One Italian Friar named Giovanni di Plano Carpini visited the Mongol Empire, and was astounded by how obedient the Mongols were.
The Art Of The Nerge
There was one specific hunting tactic that the Mongol military would use when it was time to hold a feast in their honor called the ‘Nerge.’ This tactic involved chasing down a group of animals, and circling around them until the animals were confined in a small space.
Once they were confined, a frenzy of hunting activity would occur, and all of the animals would be slaughtered for the feast. This hunting tactic was also used as a military maneuver.
Horse Blood As A Substitute For Water
Finding a clean water source while out on a military mission was difficult. Sometimes other armies would poison bodies of water, or the water would be too dirty to drink. If no clean water could be found, Mongols would simply drink a bit of their horse’s blood from a small wound in their neck.
Once they had drunk a bit of the blood, they would carefully stitch up the neck wound, as horses were prized possessions.
Surrender Or Be Crushed
If Genghis Khan decided to take a city or a town, he would. Some cities would try and hold out, but it would always end with Khan finding a way to get in.
There were a variety of different tactics used to conquer resistant cities, which involved using human shields, cutting off water sources, flooding cities, and in some instances, razing them to the ground. Each situation called for a different brutal war tactic.
No Images In Genghis Khan’s Honor
Most great leaders like to erect statues and have portraits painted of themselves, but Genghis Khan. In fact, he made a rule that no images of him could be made by artists wanting to depict him.
Nobody really knows what he looks like. Artists who have tried to capture his likeness have only been able to imagine what he may have looked like from some of the texts that described him.
Genghis Khan’s Final Resting Place
It seems like Genghis Khan really enjoyed keeping secrets, and one of his greatest ones was his final resting place. Instead of letting the world know where he was buried, he entrusted some of his men to bury him in a secret location.
Anyone who was in their path, was killed, and the location of his grave had a stampede of 1,000 horses go across it. To this day, his burial site has not been located by archeologists.
Heighten Existing Tensions In Enemies
A spy network was very important for intel gathering when it came to Genghis Khan’s military operations. His spies would determine what pre existing tensions there were in enemy factions and then report those to Khan.
Once these weaknesses were uncovered, they would be heightened, which in some cases, would lead to infighting before Khan even arrived with his armies ready to conquer. Infighting would make it easy for Khan to overwhelm their forces.
The Tactical Psyche Out
As a skilled military strategist, Genghis Khan knew how to play with his enemies, and make them feel a false sense of security. One of the ways he did this was through his tactical retreat strategy. In some instances, the first time he would attack, he would only use a small force that appeared weak, and then turn tail and retreat.
This made enemies think his forces were weak and could not take on theirs. In reality, Khan was just waiting for them to make a mistake and then attack full force.
Generals Had Some Autonomy
The military structure was quite unique, and common soldiers could rise through the ranks to become generals if they proved themselves on the battlefield.
Once a man had become a general, he became like a family member to Genghis Khan, and attained some autonomy in the decision making practices for the soldiers they were in charge of. This meant they could make their own tactical strategies and employ them when the time was right.
Improving Weapon Technology
One thing that the Mongol military was known for, was researching and adopting the technology of foreign lands that they had conquered.
Instead of relying on their own rudimentary weapons, the military would examine the weaponry of their newly conquered militaries, and adapt and improve the weapons they found. This meant that for the time, they always had the most advanced weapons available.
All Religions Welcome
Many empires at this time adhered to one religion, and one religion only. The Mongol Empire was different. As it expanded to more and more foreign lands with different belief systems, a policy was created in which all religions were tolerated and recognized.
It was believed that if a system of tolerance was in place, that new lands would be more open to submitting to the Mongol Empire and being a part of it.
Loot Was Everything
Present day military members are given a salary, but under the Mongol Empire a different system was used. When a military campaign was complete, and the cities and towns had been looted, that loot would be divided amongst the soldiers by a special military body called a “jarqu.”
The jarqu would determine who got what and how much. This could be quite lucrative for those who conquered rich cities, and would be better than a salary.
Engineers’ Role In Battle
Every able bodied man of conscription age had a job to play, and that included engineers from conquered lands in Chinese and Muslim areas. These engineers had a very good knowledge of building war machines like catapults, bridges, and other siege weapons which came in handy during long military campaigns.
Each military arm had a few of these on hand for important wartime events. This skillset became increasingly important when gunpowder started being used.
A Torture Free Zone
There are a variety of military tactics that are used to obtain information, one is simple spying and buying information from the right people. Another, is employing torture in the hopes of getting the information needed.
While many armies, and even certain ones today employed this tactic, Genghis Khan did not. His military campaigns themselves were brutal, but this was not one of the ways he actively obtained information on his enemies.
The Composition Of A Squad
The composition of the Mongol military was very regimented. Genghis Khan and his team of generals developed a specific model that each squad followed. The composition of a squad used the decimal system. For example, each squad contained a few specific numbers of men.
They were known as arbans, zuuns, mingghans, and tumens. These names correspond to numbers, with arban meaning ten, zuun meaning a hundred, mingghan meaning a thousand, and tumen meaning ten thousand.
Always Go For The Leader
One mistake that many military leaders have made throughout history, is leaving the leader of the opposition army alive. Genghis Khan learned early on that it was always better to eliminate the opposing army’s leader as soon as possible.
For one, it created chaos for the army to lose their leader if no clear succession plan was in place, and secondly, if the leader escaped they could potentially form a new military and keep the campaign going which should be avoided at all costs.
Only Fight Winnable Battles
Not all battles can be won, and for the Mongol military, they had no interest in losing. Thus, if a battle seemed like it would result in a loss, they would avoid fighting until they knew that they could win.
A pincer-like move would be used as a strategy here, as itt allowed small squads to attack from two sides, and in some cases box in the opposing military. Most battles were winnable for the Mongols who had numbers and weaponry on their side.
In order to be in the right place at the right time, the Mongol military would move swiftly over vast distances with their herds of horses. Historical records have pointed to the fact that the military was able to ride 75 miles in a day, when the need arose.
This is why horsemanship was so important, because it is hard to spend that much time in the saddle if you are not accustomed to it.
Know Your Enemies
Genghis Khan was not an impulsive man. He would weigh all of his military options, and if there were any unknown variables, then he would gather intelligence.
His spies would be sent into the military camps and cities of his opposition in the guise of clerics and merchants looking to trade. As soon as he had the information he needed, he would attack.
Skills Were The Most Important
Unlike militaries where officers and knights obtained their roles based on whether or not they were noble born, Genghis Khan believed that everyone was equal.
As there was mandatory military service, a man could prove himself through his military might, and obtain the highest rank no matter where he came from. Class did not matter in the Mongol Empire.
Women’s Role In Mongol Society
While women were not subject to mandatory military service, they did have distinct roles within Mongol society. They were caregivers if they had families but they could also be involved in politics and strategy to a certain extent.
Like the soldiers, if they were able to prove their political acumen, then they could be involved with Genghis Khan’s councils of advisors.
Many military tactics were used in the heat of battle, but one that Genghis Khan avoided was driving his military straight into the middle of an opposing army. This approach meant that his men were taught a flanking technique.
This involved a thin stream of men skirting around the entire opposing force, until it was enclosed. Then, they would attack in full force.
Catapults And Arrows
Catapults and arrows were the bread and butter of many of the military campaigns. The beauty of both of these is that they can be used from afar. This would protect the Mongol military for longer, and destroy large sections of cities and their armies.
Many substances could be flung from catapults like giant rocks and flamining pots of tar and other things.
Some leaders would shy away from trying out new tactics, but not Genghis Khan. As soon as he saw a new tactic employed by his enemies, such as how to properly put a city under siege, he would use the tactic right back at them.
This sometimes led to prolonged battles, but with supply chains stretching all over Asia, the Mongol military could withstand it.
The Introduction Of The Metal Stirrup
Innovations weren’t just for weaponry. In the past, leather stirrups were used by soldiers, but the invention of a metal stirrup quickly became a game changer.
These stirrups allowed riders to balance more easily from their steeds, and fire off arrows in rapid succession. Eventually, metal stirrups were attached to all saddles for the military men.
No matter the time of year, the Mongol military was ready to fight. That meant dealing with all sorts of bad conditions, like frozen bodies of water, and flooded rivers.
If there was no bridge in place, the cavalry would wade through the water, which most other militaries would avoid. This no nonsense approach and battle hardened warriors made them formidable opponents.
Naval Campaigns Were Unsuccessful
Upon Genghis Khan’s death, his military decided to embark on a series of naval campaigns against Japan and the Eastern Mediterranean states.
These were largely unsuccessful as the Mongols were not well-versed in naval warfare, only land warfare. This brought them up against the Crusaders, which were a real force to be reckoned with. Not all battles can be won.