“Just as God gave different fingers to the hand so has He given different ways to men.”
– Genghis Khan –
After studying the life of Genghis Khan for years I became perplexed trying to figure out a way to incorporate his lifestyle and ideals into our modern times without going on a murderous rampage across the continents. It’s true that Genghis used violence to advance his place in society and bring his nation to the forefront of the ancient world, but he was much more than just a barbaric emperor. There was a method to his ways and a reason that he was able to conquer/unite so many from such different cultural and religious backgrounds.
The Mongols were a tribal nation that rose up from the wilds of northern Asia, they first mastered the skill of herding animals then they applied the same skill to herding people, eventually dominating most of Eurasia after decades of continuous battle. They possessed advanced techniques in siege warfare and horsemanship, outsmarting their enemies on an international scale.
They had a humble beginning along the Mongolian steppe. A land far away and secluded from the great civilizations of their time. This seclusion allowed them to develop their skills as hunters and herders throughout the centuries. Their lives revolved around war and rivalry between each other. An existence of constant struggle for territory and power.
Genghis Khan’s beginnings couldn’t have been more challenging. His father was poisoned and killed by a rival tribe when he was only a boy. His mother raised him and his other siblings alone in the harsh, rugged steppe. What did she feed them? Dogs, rats, small birds, anything she could find.
Genghis was later captured as a boy during a tribal raid and forced into slavery, where he passed the early years of his life. Through courage and cunning, he managed to escape his captors, after years of mistreatment and abuse.
These brutal conditions shaped him to be the man that he eventually became; a born leader, a conqueror of nations, a genius of warfare.
After years of study and meditation, I finally realize how we can apply the Mongols diverse skills to our modern lives:
The Silk Road
The Silk Road was the premier trade route of the ancient world. It connected the Far East to the Middle East and Europe. Spices and luxurious goods of all cost and variety were transported on the road, along with ideas and the exchange of information.
Wherever the Mongols went they always looked for opportunities to advance their nation and economy. They were not skilled traders or craftsmen, but their people became insatiable consumers of goods after Khan’s first successful invasion of China. This forced the leaders to develop a safe and reliable trade route. They invited merchants from afar to visit Mongolia and sell their wares. They also knew that Chinese products would have a need in Europe and European and Middle Eastern products would be easy to sell in the Orient. They acted as well-organized guardians of this vast network and also created the world’s first mailing service. Sort of like an early version of Amazon.com.
As we travel we should look for opportunities wherever we go. If we are not salesman then we can learn new techniques and abilities from the new cultures we become a part of. We can learn cooking techniques, unusual recipes, languages, yoga, exercises, any number of things. Traveling is like going to a gigantic international university. Every new place we visit will reveal a new lesson. We can import specialized knowledge from one country and use it in another. There are economic, educational, and social benefits to be gained wherever we go.
For those who do like to work in sales and marketing, think about starting an import/export business. You can sell jewels, coffee, chocolate, clothes, offer a service that’s not locally available, etc.
The Mongol army was able to move on land by horse, camel, or animal-drawn carts. They traveled vast distances crossing deserts, frozen-over rivers, Siberia, China, Persia, India, they even made it into Western Europe and the Mediterranean.
They attacked Japan and Indonesia by ship, but their sea warfare proved less effective than on land. Though they lost these battles at sea they later became proficient in transporting large quantities of goods and people by ship to various destinations of their empire. Using the currents and wind to travel, instead of using the sweat and brute force of their animals, proved to be much more efficient.
When on land they traveled light, only taking what was necessary for each campaign. Their homes were wooden gers (yurts), which were easily erected, broken down and packed for transport. They ate dried meats and cheese products which kept for long periods of time, allowing them to eat while on the move without having to light a fire. They hunted when necessary, and ate their own animals meat, blood, and milk. The five sacred animals that accompanied their campaigns were the cow, the yak (which was of the same family as the cow), sheep, goats, camels and the most sacred and important animal of the Mongol world was the horse, which enabled them to travel and conduct battle. The animals fed on a steady supply of grass that grew throughout the ancient plains.
Today we can learn to travel light and be mobile, by land, sea or air. We can pack nutritious foods and use whatever we find to our advantage. Our minds and resources are our only limitations. The Mongols harnessed the power of their animals and the people they conquered. We can harness the power of our own intelligence, our bodies, our personal contacts, technology, the internet, and if we are inclined to sail we can harness the power of the wind just like the Mongols.
The Mongols were tolerant of their subjects culture and religious beliefs. They did not impose their culture or language on anyone, in fact, they forbade non-Mongols to learn their language. They allowed everyone to practice whichever religion they preferred and allowed those that surrendered peacefully to continue their beliefs and traditions, unlike other powerful conquerors that have literally wiped out entire civilizations off the map of history. In this way, the Mongols peacefully coexisted with the peoples they conquered and even practiced the same religions and traditions.
As we travel there’s no reason to force or encourage others to share our same belief system. It’s better to enter a new country and learn from the locals, if we like their ways we can take whats good and useful and apply it to our own lives.
For example, I love how Budishim teaches mindfulness, Christianity teaches forgiveness and self-sacrifice, and Islam teaches unity and brotherhood. All cultures and religions teach important lessons and have qualities worth emulating.
Share the Booty
One of the defining characteristics of Genghis Khan that separated him from many leaders of the past was his ability to share. After winning a battle and collecting the booty (not to be confused with the slang term for a woman’s butt), Khan fairly distributed the goods amongst his band of warriors. He didn’t hoard everything for himself and his family, in this way he quickly gained popularity among the tribes of the steppe. He adopted the children of his fallen enemies, and warriors from defeated nations willingly joined his ranks because they knew there were economic benefits to be gained.
He didn’t care where his soldiers came from, his army was the most multi-cultural of the ancient world, he grew powerful and made strong alliances. His warriors were known for their loyalty, because their salaries were based on each individual’s talent, effort, and achievement on the field.
In the same way, we can share our wealth and knowledge, without discrimination to our friends, employees, and whoever we may come in contact with. This system is especially beneficial for business owners who want to see more productivity from their employees. Forrest Mars, a prolific American businessman, paid his employees according to their performance in the workforce. His company, Mars Chocolate is the biggest distributor of candy products in the world today.
The words death and defeat were not to be spoken in the Mongol world, it was against the law to mention such things. They would rather lose an entire battle than die. Preserving Mongol life was of utmost importance during their international campaigns. In this way, they survived brutal wars and were able to defeat armies much larger than themselves.
Wars were not just fought by brute strength and force, but by any means possible including constructing scandals, political deception, and the employment of a complex collection of weapons that were amassed from their fallen enemies. Weapons were used to attack and shield the Mongols during battle, without having to engage in close quarter combat.
We can similarly remain positive and stay as far away from death as possible. As we travel we will encounter many dangers. We must be aware and always seek the safer route. This way we can travel further and experience more things in life. Living on the edge is fun and exciting, but as a wise man once said: “A violent man will suffer a violent death.” The more you expose yourself to dangers the risk you have of suffering injury and/or death will multiply.
The Mongol Legacy
These are only a few of the progressive Mongol characteristics that we can use to improve our place in society.
The Mongols were not afraid to change the world they lived in and mold it as they desired. They respected different cultures and benefited from every nation they encountered, constantly evolving and adapting to every new situation and challenge.
They harnassed the force of their animals to conquer nations. They then conquered the seas and sailed their goods making profits wherever and however they could.
Today, we shouldn’t go around starting epic battles with our neighbors, but learn the Art of Adaptation and use whatever life throws at us to our advantage just as the Mongols would have done.
This article was largely inspired by the phenomenal book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford. He describes the rise of Genghis Khan, from his humble beginnings to his extraordinary accomplishments. I recommend everyone to read this book, it will change your entire perspective on world history and explain how a tribal nation of herders contributed to innumerable aspects of modern society.
Link to see on Amazon!