For 3 decades, Genghis Khan and his army were constantly at war and always on the move leaving millions of dead in their wake.
Among the conquering armies many accomplishments, two especially stick out.
The armies unparalleled ability to evolve and adapt, makes it one of the worlds most extraordinary learning organizations in human history. But how did they accomplish this? First off, Genghis was obsessed with acquiring new knowledge. After every battle, he sought out the engineers, scientists, and artisans in the conquered people and integrated them into his army.
When a new technology was used against the Mongols, those engineers learned how it was built so they could use it in the next battle. Equally important was the agility of Khan’s army. While his enemies lugged around heavy equipment in endless supply trains, Genghis would only bring his engineers, his horses, and his experience. When they would arrive in a new territory, his engineers would find the best local materials and construct their large scale weapons right there. This allowed them to adapt quickly and to the situation on the ground. It also allowed Genghis to move fluidly and rapidly and only stopping to build his arsenal when the time was exactly right. The effect was both extraordinary and terrifying.
Through constant learning and adaptation, Genghis changed the rules of war. He built the largest contiguous empire the world has ever known. He was responsible for the deaths of as many as 40 million people.
Of all the stories surrounding the “Great Khan’s” life, perhaps the most famous is how it ended. It’s really not known. The traditional narrative says he died in 1227 from injuries sustained in a fall from a horse, but other sources list everything from malaria to an arrow wound in the knee. One of the more questionable accounts even claims he was murdered while trying to force himself on a Chinese princess. Whoops!
A century later Genghis Khan’s mighty empire began to crumble. It still doesn’t take away from the fact that his reputation has made him one of history’s immortals. It’s a reputation even more enhanced by the mystery of his burial. It is said that every witness to his funeral cortege was executed to keep the sight of the tomb a secret. Even today, the burial location is still undiscovered. There is no grave, no tomb, nothing for the most successful military commander the world has ever known.
“Conquering the world on horseback is easy; it is dismounting and governing that is hard.”