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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Mongol Khans and the Romance of Alexander

The Romance of Alexander is an account of the adventures of Alexander the Great. It is attributed to Callisthenes, Alexander’s court historian. But the historical Callisthenes died in 327 BC, four years before Alexander, so he could not have written the chapters on the final four years of Alexander’s life. The book’s unnamed author is known as Pseudo-Callisthenes.

Though Genghis Khan and Alexander were separated by 1500 years, The Romance of Alexander was one of the first Western books to be translated into Mongolian. In the book’s Mongolian version, when Alexander reaches the peak of his career of conquests, he says: “I have become Great Khan. On this very earth there has not been born a Khan who has enjoyed life as I.” The Mongolian version of the book ends with these lines: “It is over, is ended, ended!” 

Genghis Khan’s biography, The Secret History, has a few references to Alexander. In one of the references in The Secret History, it is claimed that Alexander saw a unicorn in the area of Afghanistan. He died at an early age because of the curse of having killed the sacred unicorn. Marco Polo, who worked in the Chinese court of Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai Khan, has said in his account that Alexander’s horse Bucephalus bred with a unicorn to produce a new breed of horse with a mark on its forehead. 

Monge Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan who became the Great Khan in 1251, often looked at the Mongolian version of the Romance of Alexander for ideas for managing his Empire that was expanding in all directions at a great pace.

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