Genghis Khan was the archetype of Abel, the character in the fable of the first two sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel. Abel was the herder, the nomad, the rustic free spirit of the steppes. Cain was the farmer, the city builder, the urbanite. There could be no compromise between the two brothers. Their differences were irreconcilable. In the fable, Cain kills Abel—which implies a victory of the man of civilization over the nomadic herder.
What if Abel had killed Cain? There are instances in history where the men who are the archetype of Abel have prevailed. The thirteenth century rampage of Genghis Khan across Europe and Asia is one such instance.
The world might know Genghis Khan as a brutal warlord, but he was first and foremost the political and philosophical leader of the nomadic herders (people like Abel), He believed that the nomadic life of the herder is the best way of life for man. He was an implacable foe of the farmers, the industrialists, the city builders, and the city dwellers. He destroyed walled cities, because he believed that these cities were built on land stolen from the pasture grounds of the nomadic herders. He destroyed farmers and their farmland, because he wanted to reclaim the land for pastures on which the herders would graze their cattle and ride their horses. He destroyed the dykes which diverted water for irrigation, because he wanted the rivers to flow freely.
Genghis Khan began his ascent to power towards the end of the twelfth century, and he quickly became the brutal avenger of the Abels’ of the world. The civilized Cains’ had usurped the pasture land belonging to the Abels’—they had built walls and farmlands which obstructed the movement of horses and cattle belonging to the herders. Genghis Khan dedicated his life to slaughtering the Cains’ and destroying their property. With his Mongol army of nomadic herders, he raided and conquered much of Eastern Europe (as far as Poland), and large parts of the Levant, Western China, Georgia, Bulgaria, and several cities in what is modern Russia.
Wherever Genghis Khan’s Mongol army went, their clarion call was “tear down the walls,” and destroy the urban and farming centers. In China, Genghis Khan personally supervised the reclamation of farmland for pastures, and the destruction of the irrigation systems. He showed no mercy to the aristocratic classes. He never kidnapped the aristocrats for ransom as other conquerors of his time did—he had them slaughtered. He saw the aristocrats as the mortal foe of the herders, since the aristocrats represented the acme of urbanization and civilization.
But the Abel that Genghis Khan epitomized was betrayed by his descendants who developed a taste for luxurious living. Instead of moving nomadically from one battlefield to another, they wanted to settle down in grand places built in walled imperial cities. They wanted to wear gold and diamond jewelry and silk garments. They would not dare to build imperial cities and grand palaces in Mongolia because in this country the herder spirit of Genghis Khan reigned supreme. They created their imperial cities, farming and trading empires, and grand palaces outside Mongolia, in other parts of the world.
Within two decades of Genghis Khan’s death, the Mongol Empire ceased to be an empire of the nomadic herders—it became a technocratic, bureaucratic, and sophisticated imperial civilization whose economy was based not on looting from the Cains’ of the world (as was the case in the time of Genghis Khan) but on manufacturing, farming, and trade. Kublai Khan and Hulagu Khan, two of the most illustrious descendants of Genghis Khan, were incapable of living as nomads. They lived in their luxurious and well-protected grand palaces built in imperial cities.
History is full of conflicts between the Cain and Abel archetypes: the Romans versus the Huns, the Sassanid Shahs versus the Hephthalites, Britain and France versus the Vikings, Germany and the Byzantine states of South Italy versus the Norman raiders, the Byzantines versus the Avars and Bulguars, the Byzantines versus the Seljuk Turks, the Abbasids versus the Turks, the Aztecs versus the Conquistadors, the Caliphate versus the Turks, the European settlers versus the Native Indians. In some contests, the Able archetype has prevailed and in some the Cain archetype.
The clash between the nomadic herders and urbanized settlers that transpired in North America between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries is an interesting history by itself. Led by leaders like Crazy Horse, Wild Cat (Coacoochee), Little Turtle, Blue Jacket, Red Eagle, Sitting Bull, Tecumseh, and several others, the native Indians fought valiantly. But none of the native Indian leaders was a philosopher, politician, and military commander of the calibre of Genghis Khan. They did not have the charisma to unite the tribes of North America into a savage army like Genghis Khan had united the tribes of Mongolia in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
The Europeans were farmers, settlers, and industrialists—they were politicians, educationists, lawyers, managers, and bureaucrats. They wanted to build cities where they would lead an urbanized life. They could easily conquer the disunited tribes of North America. Their victory over the native nomadic tribes created space for the rise of the modern USA which is the civilization of the Cain archetype. But the contest between Cain and Abel is not over. A large number of people, even in the advanced countries, are of the nomadic mindset. When the USA declines, the army of nomads will find the space to arise, and they will try to conquer civilization.