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Monday, June 7, 2021

Genghis Khan: The Excellent, Noble King

The historiography of Genghis Khan in the West shows that he was viewed as an “excellent, noble king,” before the onset of the Age of Enlightenment (eighteenth century), when the Western historians started presenting him as a “brutal pagan.” The Mongols were not savages. They did not cause death and destruction purposelessly—they had a political plan to build a great empire. After the death of Genghis Khan, the Mongol Empire did become the largest contiguous empire in history. The Mongols usually killed the ruling classes in the places that they conquered in order to subdue the local population, but such a strategy was being used by all cultures in the Middle Ages. 

In his book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Prof. Jack Weatherford offers a different perspective on Genghis Khan. Weatherford argues that it is a mistake to see Genghis Khan as a savage and sadistic warlord who caused death and devastation wherever he went. He attributes several aspects of the Renaissance to Genghis Khan, such as the spread of paper, printing, the compass, gunpowder, paintings, and musical instruments such as the violin. He says that Genghis Khan was religiously tolerant and deeply interested in learning about the moral philosophy of other religions. He used to consult Buddhist monks, Christian missionaries (Nestorian and Catholics), Islamic preachers, and Taoist monks. In Mongol culture men and women had equal rights. There are several instances of women acquiring powerful positions in the Mongol political establishment. Weatherford suggests that the Mongol Empire was an important inspiration for the Age of Discovery in Europe. 

Here’s an excerpt from Weatherford’s book: “The Mongol army had accomplished in a mere two years what the European Crusaders from the West and the Seljuk Turks from the East had failed to do in two centuries of sustained effort. They had conquered the heart of the Arab world. No other non-Muslim troops would conquer Baghdad or Iraq again until the arrival of the American and British forces in 2003.”

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