Dominions Of Genghis Khan


Karakorom.--Insignificance of cities and towns.--Account of

Karakorom.--The buildings.--The grand encampments.--Construction

of the tents.--Dwellings of the women.--Mountains and wild

beasts.--Hunting.--The danger of hunting in those days.--Modern

weapons.--Carabines.--Fulminating balls.--Devisme's establishment

in Paris.--Specimens.--Great danger.--Wild beasts more formidable

than men.-
Grand huntsman.--Timid animals.--Stratagems.--Mode of

taking deer.--Training of the horses.--Great desert.--Cold.--No

forests.--Pasturage.--Burning the grass on the plains.

After the ceremonies of the inauguration were concluded, Genghis Khan

returned, with the officers of his court and his immediate followers,

to Karakorom. This town, though nominally the capital of the empire,

was, after all, quite an insignificant place. Indeed, but little

importance was attached to any villages or towns in those days, and

there were very few fixed places of residence that were of any

considerable account. The reason is, that towns are the seats of

commerce and manufactures, and they derive their chief importance from

those pursuits; whereas the Monguls and Tartars led almost exclusively

a wandering and pastoral life, and all their ideas of wealth and

grandeur were associated with great flocks and herds of cattle, and

handsome tents, and long trains of wagons loaded with stores of

clothing, arms, and other movables, and vast encampments in the

neighborhood of rich and extended pasture-grounds. Those who lived

permanently in fixed houses they looked down upon as an inferior

class, confined to one spot by their poverty or their toil, while they

themselves could roam at liberty with their flocks and herds over the

plains, riding fleet horses or dromedaries, and encamping where they

pleased in the green valleys or on the banks of the meandering


Karakorom was accordingly by no means a great and splendid city. It

was surrounded by what was called a mud wall--that is, a wall made of

blocks of clay dried in the sun. The houses of the inhabitants were

mere hovels, and even the palace of the king, and all the other public

buildings, were of very frail construction; for all the architecture

of the Monguls in those days took its character from the tent, which

was the type and model, so to speak, of all other buildings.

The new emperor, however, did not spend a great deal of his time at

Karakorom. He was occupied for some years in making excursions at the

head of his troops to various parts of his dominions, for the purpose

of putting down insurrections, overawing discontented and

insubordinate khans, and settling disputes of various kinds arising

between the different hordes. In these expeditions he was accustomed

to move by easy marches across the plains at the head of his army,

and sometimes would establish himself in a sort of permanent camp,

where he would remain, perhaps, as in a fixed residence, for weeks or

months at a time.

Not only Genghis Khan himself, but many of the other great chieftains,

were accustomed to live in this manner, and one of their encampments,

if we could have seen it, would have been regarded by us as a great

curiosity. The ground was regularly laid out, like a town, into

quarters, squares, and streets, and the space which it covered was

sometimes so large as to extend nearly a mile in each direction. The

tent of the khan himself was in the centre. A space was reserved for

it there large enough not only for the grand tent itself, but also for

the rows of smaller tents near, for the wives and for other women

belonging to the khan's family, and also for the rows of carts or

wagons containing the stores of provisions, the supplies of clothing

and arms, and the other valuables which these wandering chieftains

always took with them in all their peregrinations.

The tent of the khan in summer was made of a sort of calico, and in

winter of felt, which was much warmer. It was raised very high, so as

to be seen above all the rest of the encampment, and it was painted

in gay colors, and adorned with other barbaric decorations.

The dwellings in which the women were lodged, which were around or

near the great tent, were sometimes tents, and sometimes little huts

made of wood. When they were of wood they were made very light, and

were constructed in such a manner that they could be taken to pieces

at the shortest notice, and packed on carts or wagons, in order to be

transported to the next place of encampment, whenever, for any reason,

it became necessary for their lord and master to remove his domicil to

a different ground.

A large portion of the country which was included within the limits of

Genghis Khan's dominions was fertile ground, which produced abundance

of grass for the pasturage of the flocks and herds, and many springs

and streams of water. There were, however, several districts of

mountainous country, which were the refuge of tigers, leopards,

wolves, and other ferocious beasts of prey. It was among these

mountains that the great hunting parties which Genghis Khan organized

from time to time went in search of their game. There was a great

officer of the kingdom, called the grand huntsman, who had the

superintendence and charge of every thing relating to hunting and to

game throughout the empire. The grand huntsman was an officer of the

very highest rank. He even took precedence of the first ministers of

state. Genghis Khan appointed his son Jughi, who has already been

mentioned in connection with the great council of war called by his

father, and with the battle which was subsequently fought, and in

which he gained great renown, to the office of grand huntsman, and, at

the same time, made two of the older and more experienced khans his

ministers of state.

The hunting of wild beasts as ferocious as those that infested the

mountains of Asia is a very dangerous amusement even at the present

day, notwithstanding the advantage which the huntsman derives from the

use of gunpowder, and rifled barrels, and fulminating bullets. But in

those days, when the huntsman had no better weapons than bows and

arrows, javelins, and spears, the undertaking was dangerous in the

extreme. An African lion of full size used to be considered as a match

for forty men in the days when only ordinary weapons were used

against him, and it was considered almost hopeless to attack him with

less than that number. And even with that number to waylay and assail

him he was not usually conquered until he had killed or disabled two

or three of his foes.

Now, however, with the terrible artillery invented in modern times, a

single man, if he has the requisite courage, coolness, and steadiness

of nerve, is a match for such a lion. The weapon used is a

double-barreled carabine, both barrels being rifled, that is,

provided with spiral grooves within, that operate to give the bullets

a rotary motion as they issue from the muzzle, by which they bore

their way through the air, as it were, to their destination, with a

surprising directness and precision. The bullets discharged by these

carabines are not balls, but cylinders, pointed with a cone at the

forward end. They are hollow, and are filled with a fulminating

composition which is capable of exploding with a force vastly greater

than that of gunpowder. The conical point at the end is made separate

from the body of the cylinder, and slides into it by a sort of shank,

which, when the bullet strikes the body of the lion or other wild

beast, acts like a sort of percussion cap to explode the fulminating

powder, and thus the instant that the missile enters the animal's body

it bursts with a terrible explosion, and scatters the iron fragments

of the cylinder among his vitals. Thus, while an ordinary musket ball

might lodge in his flesh, or even pass entirely through some parts of

his body, without producing any other effect than to arouse him to a

phrensy, and redouble the force with which he would spring upon his

foe, the bursting of one of these fulminating bullets almost any where

within his body brings him down in an instant, and leaves him writhing

and rolling upon the ground in the agonies of death.

On the Boulevard des Italiens, in Paris, is the manufactory of

Devisme, who makes these carabines for the lion-hunters of Algiers.

Promenaders, in passing by his windows, stop to look at specimens of

these bullets exhibited there. They are of various sizes, adapted to

barrels of different bores. Some are entire; others are rent and torn

in pieces, having been fired into a bank of earth, that they might

burst there as they would do in the body of a wild beast, and then be

recovered and preserved to show the effect of the explosion.

Even with such terrible weapons as these, it requires at the present

day great courage, great coolness, and very extraordinary steadiness

of nerve to face a lion or a tiger in his mountain fastness, with any

hope of coming off victorious in the contest. But the danger was, of

course, infinitely greater in the days of Genghis Khan, when pikes

and spears, and bows and arrows, were the only weapons with which the

body of huntsmen could arm themselves for the combat. Indeed, in those

days wild beasts were even in some respects more formidable enemies

than men. For men, however excited by angry passions, are, in some

degree, under the influence of fear. They will not rush headlong upon

absolute and certain destruction, but may be driven back by a mere

display of force, if it is obvious that it is a force which they are

wholly incapable of resisting. Thus a party of men, however desperate,

may be attacked without much danger to the assailants, provided that

the force which the assailants bring against them is overwhelming.

But it is not so with wild beasts. A lion, a tiger, or a panther, once

aroused, is wholly insensible to fear. He will rush headlong upon his

foes, however numerous they may be, and however formidably armed. He

makes his own destruction sure, it is true, but, at the same time, he

renders almost inevitable the destruction of some one or more of his

enemies, and, in going out to attack him, no one can be sure of not

becoming himself one of the victims of his fury.

Thus the hunting of wild beasts in the mountains was very dangerous

work, and it is not surprising that the office of grand huntsman was

one of great consideration and honor.

The hunting was, however, not all of the dangerous character above

described. Some animals are timid and inoffensive by nature, and

attempt to save themselves only by flight. Such animals as these were

to be pursued and overtaken by the superior speed of horses and dogs,

or to be circumvented by stratagem. There was a species of deer, in

certain parts of the Mongul country, that the huntsmen were accustomed

to take in this way, namely:

The huntsmen, when they began to draw near to a place where a herd of

deer were feeding, would divide themselves into two parties. One party

would provide themselves with the antlers of stags, which they

arranged in such a manner that they could hold them up over their

heads in the thickets, as if real stags were there. The others, armed

with bows and arrows, javelins, spears, and other such weapons, would

place themselves in ambush near by. Those who had the antlers would

then make a sort of cry, imitating that uttered by the hinds. The

stags of the herd, hearing the cry, would immediately come toward the

spot. The men in the thicket then would raise the antlers and move

them about, so as to deceive the stags, and excite their feelings of

rivalry and ire, while those who were appointed to that office

continued to counterfeit the cry of the hind. The stags immediately

would begin to paw the ground and to prepare for a conflict, and then,

while their attention was thus wholly taken up by the tossing of the

false antlers in the thicket, the men in ambush would creep up as near

as they could, take good aim, and shoot their poor deluded victims

through the heart.

Of course, it required a great deal of practice and much skill to

perform successfully such feats as these; and there were many other

branches of the huntsman's art, as practiced in those days, which

could only be acquired by a systematic and special course of training.

One of the most difficult things was to train the horses so that they

would advance to meet tigers and other wild beasts without fear.

Horses have naturally a strong and instinctive terror for such beasts,

and this terror it was very difficult to overcome. The Mongul

huntsmen, however, contrived means to inspire the horses with so much

courage in this respect that they would advance to the encounter of

these terrible foes with as much ardor as a trained charger shows in

advancing to meet other horses and horsemen on the field of battle.

Besides the mountainous regions above described, there were several

deserts in the country of the Monguls. The greatest of these deserts

extends through the very heart of Asia, and is one of the most

extensive districts of barren land in the world. Unlike most other

great deserts, however, the land is very elevated, and it is to this

elevation that its barrenness is, in a great measure, due. A large

part of this desert consists of rocks and barren sands, and, in the

time of which we are writing, was totally uninhabitable. It was so

cold, too, on account of the great elevation of the land, that it was

almost impossible to traverse it except in the warmest season of the


Other parts of this district, which were not so elevated, and where

the land was not quite so barren, produced grass and herbage on which

the flocks and herds could feed, and thus, in certain seasons of the

year, people resorted to them for pasturage.

Throughout the whole country there were no extensive forests. There

were a few tangled thickets among the mountains, where the wild beasts

concealed themselves and made their lairs, but this was all. One

reason why forests did not spring up was, as is supposed, the custom

of the people to burn over the plains every spring, as the Indians

were accustomed to do on the American prairies. In the spring the dead

grass of the preceding year lay dry and withered, and sometimes

closely matted together, on the ground, thus hindering, as the people

thought, the fresh grass from growing up. So the people were

accustomed, on some spring morning when there was a good breeze

blowing, to set it on fire. The fire would run rapidly over the

plains, burning up every thing in its way that was above the ground.

But the roots of the grass, being below, were safe from it. Very soon

afterward the new grass would spring up with great luxuriance. The

people thought that the rich verdure which the new grass displayed,

and its subsequent rapid growth, were owing simply to the fact that

the old dead grass was out of the way. It is now known, however, that

the burning of the old grass leaves an ash upon the ground which acts

powerfully as a fertilizer, and that the richness of the fresh

vegetation is due, in a great measure, to this cause.

Such was the country which was inhabited by the wandering pastoral

tribes that were now under the sway of Genghis Khan. His dominion had

no settled boundaries, for it was a dominion over certain tribes

rather than over a certain district of country. Nearly all the tribes

composing both the Mongul and the Tartar nations had now submitted to

him, though he still had some small wars to wage from time to time

with some of the more distant tribes before his authority was fully

and finally acknowledged. The history of some of these conflicts will

be narrated in the next chapter.