Grand Celebrations


The great hunting party.--Object of the hunt.--The general plan.--The

time arrives.--Orders.--Progress of the operations.--Terror of the

animals.--The inner circle.--Condition of the beasts.--The princes

enter the ring.--Intimidation of the wild beasts.--They recover their

ferocity when attacked.--The slaughter.--Petition of the young

men.--End of the hunt.--The assembly at Toukat.--Return of Ge

Khan's sons.--Present of horses.--The khans arrive.--Grand

entertainment.--Drinks.--Great extent of the encampment.--Laying

out the encampment.--The state tent.--The throne.--Business

transacted.--Leave-taking.--The assembly is dismissed.

When Genghis Khan found that his conquests in Western Asia were in

some good degree established and confirmed, he illustrated his victory

and the consequent extension of his empire by two very imposing

celebrations. The first was a grand hunt. The second was a solemn

convocation of all the estates of his immense realm in a sort of diet

or deliberative assembly.

The accounts given by the historians of both these celebrations are

doubtless greatly exaggerated. Their description of the hunt is as


It was after the close of the campaign in 1221 that it took place,

while the army were in winter quarters. The object of the hunt was to

keep the soldiers occupied, so as to avoid the relaxation of

discipline, and the vices and disorder which generally creep into a

camp where there are no active occupations to engage the minds of the

men. The hunt took place in a vast region of uninhabited country,

which was infested with wild beasts of every kind. The soldiers were

marched out on this expedition in order of war, as if it were a

country occupied by armed men that they were going to attack. The

different detachments were conducted to the different points in the

outskirts of the country, from which they severally extended

themselves to the right and left, so as completely to inclose the

ground. And the space was so large, it is said, which was thus

inclosed, that it took them several weeks to march in to the centre.

It is true that in such a case the men would advance very slowly,

perhaps only a few miles each day, in order that they might examine

the ground thoroughly, and leave no ravine, or thicket, or other

lurking-place, where beasts might conceal themselves, unexplored.

Still, the circle was doubtless immensely large.

When the appointed morning at length arrived, the men at the several

stations were arrayed, and they commenced their advance toward the

centre, moving to the sound of trumpets, drums, timbrels, and other

such instruments of martial music as were in use in those days.

The men were strictly forbidden to kill any animal. They were only to

start them out from their lurking-places and lairs, and drive them in

toward the centre of the field.

Great numbers of the men were provided with picks, spades, and other

similar tools, with which they were to dig out the burrows and holes

of such animals as should seek refuge under ground.

They went on in this way for some weeks. The animals ran before them,

thinking, when they were disturbed by the men, that it was only a

momentary danger, which they could easily escape from, as usual, by

running forward into the next thicket; but soon the advancing line of

the soldiers reached them there, and drove them out again, and if they

attempted to turn to the right or the left they soon found themselves

intercepted. Thus, as the circle grew narrower, and the space inclosed

diminished, the animals began to find themselves mixing with one

another in great numbers, and being now irritated and angry, they

attacked one another in many instances, the strong falling upon and

killing the weak. Thus a great many were killed, though not by the

hands of the soldiers.

At last the numbers became so great, and the excitement and terror of

the animals so intense, that the soldiers had great difficulty in

driving them forward. The poor beasts ran this way and that, half

distracted, while the soldiers pressed steadily on behind them, and

cut them off from every chance of escape by raising terrific shouts

and outcries, and by brandishing weapons before them wherever they

attempted to turn.

At length the animals were all driven in to the inner circle, a

comparatively small space, which had been previously marked out.

Around this space double and triple lines of troops were drawn up,

armed with pikes and spears, which they pointed in toward the centre,

thus forming a sort of wall by which the beasts were closely shut in.

The plan was now for the officers and khans, and all the great

personages of the court and the army, to go into the circle, and show

their courage and their prowess by attacking the beasts and slaying


But the courage required for such an exploit was not so great as it

might seem, for it was always found on these occasions that the

beasts, though they had been very wild and ferocious when first

aroused from their lairs, and had appeared excessively irritated when

they found the circle beginning to narrow around them, ended at last

in losing all their spirit, and in becoming discouraged, dejected,

and tame. This was owing partly, perhaps, to their having become, in

some degree, familiar with the sight of men, but more probably to the

exhaustion produced by long-continued fatigue and excitement, and to

their having been for so many days deprived in a great degree of their

accustomed food and rest.

Thus in this, as in a great many other similar instances, the poor

soldiers and common people incurred the danger and the toil, and then

the great men came in at the end to reap the glory.

Genghis Khan himself was the first to enter the circle for the purpose

of attacking the beasts. He was followed by the princes of his family,

and by other great chieftains and khans. As they went in, the whole

army surrounded the inclosure, and completely filled the air with the

sound of drums, timbrels, trumpets, and other such instruments, and

with the noise of the most terrific shouts and outcries which they

could make, in order to terrify and overawe the beasts as much as

possible, and to destroy in them all thought and hope of resistance.

And, indeed, so much effect was produced by these means of

intimidation, that the beasts, it is said, became completely

stupefied. "They were so affrighted that they lost all their

fierceness. The lions and tigers became as tame as lambs, and the

bears and wild boars, like the most timorous creatures, became

dejected and amazed."

Still, the going in of Genghis Khan and the princes to attack them was

not wholly without danger; for, of course, it was a point of honor

with them to select the most ferocious and fierce of the animals, and

some of these, when they found themselves actually assailed, were

aroused again, and, recovering in some degree their native ferocity,

seemed impelled to make a last desperate effort to defend themselves.

After killing a few of the lions, tigers, and bears, Genghis Khan and

his immediate suite retired to a place at one side of the inclosure,

where a throne had been set up for the emperor on an eminence which

afforded a good view of the field. Here Genghis Khan took his seat in

order to enjoy the spectacle of the slaughter, and then an immense

number of men were allowed to go in and amuse themselves with killing

and destroying the poor beasts till they were perfectly satiated with

the sight of blood and of suffering.

At last some of the khan's grandsons, attended by several other young

princes, approached the throne where the emperor was seated, and

petitioned him to order the carnage to cease, and to allow the rest of

the animals to go free. This petition the emperor granted. The lines

were broken up, the animals that had escaped being massacred made

their way back into the wilds again, and the hunt was over.

The several detachments of the army then set out on their march back

to the camp again. But so great was the scale on which this grand

hunting expedition was conducted, that four months elapsed between the

time of their setting out upon it till the time of their return.

* * * * *

The grand diet or general assembly of the states of Genghis Khan's

empire took place two or three years later, when the conquest of

Western Asia was complete, and the sons of the emperor and all the

great generals could be called together at the emperor's head-quarters

without much danger. The place chosen for this assembly was a vast

plain in the vicinity of the city of Toukat, which has already been

mentioned as one of the great cities conquered by Genghis Khan. Toukat

lay in a central and convenient position for the purpose of this

assembly. It was, moreover, a rich and beautiful city, and could

furnish all that would be necessary for the wants of the assembly.

The meeting, however, was not to be held in the city itself, but upon

a great plain in the environs of it, where there was space for all the

khans, with their numerous retinues, to pitch their tents.

When the khans and chieftains began to assemble, there came first the

sons of the king, returning from the various expeditions on which

their father had sent them, and bringing with them magnificent

presents. These presents, of course, consisted of the treasures and

other valuables which they had taken in plunder from the various

cities which had fallen into their hands. The presents which Jughi

brought exceeded in value those of all the others. Among the rest,

there was a herd of horses one hundred thousand in number. These

horses had, of course, been seized in the pastures of the conquered

countries, and were now brought to the emperor to be used by him in

mounting his troops. They were arrayed in bands according to the

color, white, dappled gray, bay, black, and spotted, of each kind an

equal number.

The emperor received and welcomed his sons with great joy, and readily

accepted their presents. In return, he made presents to them from his

own treasuries.

After this, as other princes and khans came in, and encamped with

their troops and followers on the plain, the emperor entertained them

all with a series of grand banquets and public diversions of all

sorts. Among other things a grand hunting party was organized,

somewhat similar in the general plan to the one already described,

only on a much smaller scale, of course, in respect to the number of

persons engaged and the time occupied, while yet it greatly surpassed

that one in magnificence and splendor. Several thousand beasts were

slain, it is said, and a great number and variety of birds, which were

taken by the falcons.

At the end of the hunt a great banquet was given, which surpassed all

the other feasts in munificence. They had on the tables of this

banquet a great variety of drinks--not only rich wines from the

southern countries, but beer, and metheglin, and also sherbet, which

the army had learned to make in Persia.

In the mean time, the great space on the plain, which had been set

apart for the encampment, had been gradually becoming filled up by the

arrival of the khans, until at length, in every direction, as far as

the eye could reach, the whole plain was covered with groups of tents

and long lines of movable houses, brought on wheels. The ground which

the encampment covered was said by the historians to have been seven

leagues in extent. If the space occupied was any thing at all

approaching this magnitude, it could only be that the outer portions

of it were occupied by the herdsmen and other servants of the khans,

who had to take care of the cattle and horses of the troops, and to

provide them with suitable pasture. Indeed, the great number of

animals which these wandering tribes always took with them on their

journeys rendered it necessary to appropriate a much larger space to

their encampments than would have been otherwise required.

It is surprising to us, who are accustomed to look upon living in

tents as so exclusively an irregular and temporary expedient, to learn

how completely this mode of life was reduced to a system in those

days, and how perfect and complete all the arrangements relating to it

were made. In this case, in the centre of the encampment, a space of

two leagues in length was regularly laid out in streets, squares, and

market-places, like a town. Here were the emperor's quarters, with

magnificent tents for himself and his immediate household, and

multitudes of others of a plainer character for his servants and

retainers. The tents of the other grand khans were near. They were

made of rich materials, and ornamented in a sumptuous manner, and

silken streamers of various colors floated in the wind from the

summits of them.

Besides these there was an immense tent, built for the assembly itself

to hold its sessions in. This tent was so large, it is said, that it

would contain two thousand persons. It was covered with white, which

made it very conspicuous. There were two entrance-gates leading to the

interior. One of them was called the imperial gate, and was for the

use of Genghis Khan alone. The other was the public gate, and was used

in general for the members of the assembly and for spectators.

Within the tent was erected a magnificent throne, intended for the use

of the emperor during the sessions of the assembly.

A great amount of important business was transacted by the assembly

while it continued in session, and many important edicts were made by

the emperor. The constitution and laws of the empire were promulgated

anew, and all necessary arrangements made for the government of the

various provinces both near and remote.

At length, when these various objects had been accomplished, and the

business was concluded, the emperor gave audience individually to all

the princes, khans, generals, governors of provinces, and other grand

dignitaries who were present on the occasion, in order that they might

take their leave preparatory to returning to their several countries.

When this ceremony was concluded the encampment was broken up, and the

various khans set off, each at the head of his own caravan, on the

road leading to his own home.