Home Mongol History

More Genghis Khan / Mongol History Articles

Progress Of The Quarrel

The Monguls

The Death Of Vang Khan

Victorious Campaigns

The Story Of Hujaku

Conquests In China

Battles And Sieges

The First Battle

The Fall Of Bokhara

Dominions Of Genghis Khan

Death Of The Sultan

Temujin In Exile

The Death Of Yemuka

Vang Khan

The Sultan Mohammed


Rupture With Vang Khan

Yezonkai Khan

The War With The Sultan

Grand Celebrations

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.

Next: Adventures Of Prince Kushluk

Previous: Establishment Of The Empire

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 9821