There is no overstating the importance of Chinggis Khan – ruler of all who live in felt tents – to the Mongolian people. Revered in film and in statues such as this 40 meter (131 feet) tall monument , the founder of the Mongolian Empire is evoked in everything from currency to Ulaanbaatar’s international airport to vodka labels.
Sitting at an altitude of 4,429 feet above sea level, just over one million people live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city. Another 1.7 million Mongolians live in the countryside, either in smaller communities or as nomadic herders on the highland steppe or vegetated regions of the desert. In former times, these grasslands and the nomadic herding culture that accompanied them stretched through Kazakhstan as far west as Hungary, so when Chinggis Kahn proclaimed himself ruler of all who live in the circular, felt-covered tents called gers that were the homes of these nomadic people, he was laying claim to the largest contiguous land mass ever to fall under one empire.
Looking east toward the place of his birth, Chinggis still dominates the rugged Mongolian steppe. Two hundred-fifty tons of stainless steel went into this statue which is situated at the location where a young Temüjin (Chinggis’s boyhood name) found a golden whip and took it mean that he was destined to become a great leader.
At his birth in 1162(?), the land of Tumüjin’s childhood was occupied by numerous, often warring nomadic tribes. Part of Chinggis’s legacy includes uniting these tribes under one rule and in the process creating a national identity for the Mongolian people.
The nomadic culture has died out or essentially been extirpated elsewhere such as in Kazakstan and Hungary. Under Stalin, the Soviets waged an unrelenting campaign to wipe out or drive out nomadic herdsmen, in many locales turning former grazing lands into collective farms and bringing about mass starvation in the process.
The name Chinggis Khan means “leader of all who live in felt tents.”
But in Mongolia, a land sufficiently insulated and independent enough from both the Russians and the Chinese, hundreds of thousands of Mongolians still live much as they did in the 13th century when Chinggis rose to power. As such, they are the last truly nomadic people in the world.
Millennia of equestrian know-how passed down generation to generation is still showcased in annual tournaments where horse-mounted riders traveling at full gallop demonstrate an ability to pierce man-sized targets with arrows shot from simple bows. It is easy to imagine the terror such skilled, mounted warriors would have invoked in territories where horsemanship was all but unknown. In addition to enemy soldiers felled in battle, under the various Khans, Mongolian armies slaughtered tens of millions of civilians in locales where people had refused invitations to surrender.
At its zenith, the Mongolian Empire stretched from eastern Europe through much of China and Southeast Asia all the way to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Present day Mongolia lies within the bean-shaped boundary partially covered by the map key.
The positive aspects of Chinggis’s legacy include bringing political stability to the Silk Road and thus to regional commerce, establishing religious tolerance, fostering intellectual growth and greater communication throughout the empire, and quelling the region’s history of tribal and clan warfare by introducing meritocracy to government.
This leather boot, located in the museum below the statue, is the same size as the stainless steel boots on Chinggis’s feet. The statue was completed in 2008 and is currently the largest equestrian statue in the world.
Reminiscent of the soldiers who rode with Chinggis, these vigilant horsemen face the rising January sun. The museum is a collection of period weaponry, jewelry, serving ware and other artifacts, as well as portraits of the 36 Khans who succeeded Chinggis and were appointed as heads of various regions of the empire. Chinggis Khan died in August, 1227. He was about 65 years old. Various accounts have him succumbing to an infected battle wound, a hunting accident, a fall from a horse and the dagger of a woman his army captured. Probably as protection from desecration by rivals, the whereabouts of his burial site remain shrouded in mystery as well…
From the end of the 17th century until 1911, Mongolia was under the control of China. Soon after that, they fell under Russian hegemony and in 1924 were declared a satellite state of the Soviet Empire. It wasn’t until 1989 that Russia withdrew it’s troops from Mongolia. In 1992, Mongolia created a new constitution and a multi-party democracy. Mongolia is thus at once a very young country, and a very old one.
A Lincolnesque statue of Chinggis Khan overlooks Ulaanbaatar’s central square from the steps of the Government Building.
Change is happening quickly in this young democracy; just recently the capital city’s central square, Sükhbaatar Square, was officially renamed Chinggis Khan Square. With an abundance of valuable natural resources (gold, copper, uranium and molybdenum among them) and a resilient, well-educated, optimistic populace, Mongolia’s future looks bright.
Very, very interesting , Thank you so much !
We appreciate the comment, Bill. Thanks for reading!
Great photos. Very informative and well-written too.
Thanks for the kind words, John. And thanks for reading!