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Influencing the Mongol Empire: The political impact of the mothers of Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan

Written for an academic research paper

The Mongolian Empire was a nomadic empire that became the “largest contiguous land empire in history” stretching from Europe to Asia and at its height in the late 13th century, covered approximately 9.15 million square miles of land (Morgan 5). In 1206, all of the tribes and confederations of the Mongolian steppe came under the leadership of Temujin, or otherwise known as Genghis Khan, therefore marking the formal beginning of the Mongolian Empire (Morgan 49). By 1227, Genghis had managed to enlarge his empire to twice of the size of the ancient Romans, stretching from “the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea” before his untimely death in August of that same year (Ratchnevsky 142). But the Mongolian Empire did not cease to grow, astonish, and reign after the great Khan of Khans’ death as Genghis’ descendants would continue his legacy. Some of Genghis’ most notable successors that helped shaped the vision, strength, and size of one of the greatest empires history has ever recorded have been his many crowned male offsprings, such as Temujin’s sons and grandsons, most notably Kublai Khan (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 1). Moreover, as Genghis’ court was teeming from trusted male advisors, generals, to educated foreign ministers from Persians to the Chinese, there was no shortage of talent in Genghis’ court (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 2). Therefore although one charismatic leader can lead a revolution, it takes more than one to run a successful empire and many brilliant individuals have both helped conquer land as well as implement policies that will change both the social and political fabric of the Mongolian Empire. However, the trusted women in Genghis’ life, although understated to their male counterparts - cannot be overlooked, most notably Genghis’ mother. Consequently, in addition to holding significant political power and dominance in a time where men ruled most of the developed world, their contributions crucially shaped the very reality of the empire in itself. From the grand khatuns to the royal consorts of the great Khan’s family, these influential women not only served as some of Genghis’ most trusted advisors and confidantes but also greatly impacted the policies made both during his reign as well as those of his descendants’ (Broadbridge 2). One of Genghis’ most notable successors, his aforementioned grandson Kublai Khan of the Tolui line became the first Yuan dynasty emperor of China and is arguably one of the most transformative figures throughout all of history (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 62). However, like his grandfather, Kublai was also greatly aided by powerful queens during his lifetime, most prominently his mother, Sorghaghtani Beki. These women not only personally impacted the very men that Genghis and Kublai would grow to be, but their influence would transitively permeate the identity their empire would have as well.

Born Temujin around 1162, Genghis Khan was the eldest child born to Chief Yesugei from the Kiyad tribe of the Khamad Mongol Confederation, and Lady Hoelun from the Olkhunut tribe (Broadbridge 48 and Morgan 58). Genghis’ father Yesugei captured Temujin Üge, Qori Buqa, and among many other Tatars, the same time Lady Hoelun was pregnant at “Deli’ün Boldaq1 by the Onan” - correspondingly, Temujin got his namesake from his father’s captive (Rachewiltz 12). It was stated, “that at the time of his birth [Genghis] was born clutching in his right hand a clot of blood the size of a knucklebone” which according to Mongolian folklore is stipulated as a possible divine sign of great power (Rachewiltz 12). However, Genghis was born during a politically tumultuous time on the Mongolian steppes that was ravaged by both non-ending civil warfare as well as internal tribal conflict (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 99). Therefore although he was born into a minor noble family from Yesugei’s heritage, and the eldest son of the chief’s senior wife, Genghis’ father was unfortunately murdered when Temujin was around nine years old by the Tatar people (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 100). Consequently, Yesugei’s poisoning would plunder the future khan’s childhood into a tale of hardship and starvation as Temujin’s family would also be subsequently abandoned by their tribe (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 100). An act that would force the young family to squander a living from “often gathering nuts and roots and hunting marmots [in order] to sustain themselves” (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 100). The loss of a father, tribe, and community could not be understated for its effect on Temujin’s life, who at a time, despite growing up to be the first Khan of the Mongolian Empire was still merely a young boy. Yet, although it is difficult to quantify the psychological effect of a loss of such magnitude, however, a notable direct effect of Yesugei’s death is its contribution to Hoelun’s elevated familial role. In other words, this great tragedy would force Temujin’s mother, Hoelun to be the dominant and main parental figure, advisor as well as the breadwinner in Temujin’s life - a role that would heavily impact his later career as the main political figure in the country. Hoelun was merely twenty-five years old when as a widow, she had to “ manage the affairs of five children (the youngest still an infant), another woman with two more children, a few servants and retainers, and a scattering of stock, without the protection or food and goods that a man was expected to supply” (Broadbridge 52). The loss of a leading male figure in her children’s lives, as well as the absence of a communal brethren of uncles, cousins, and brothers, would thereafter empower Hoelun to take both a leading male and female role in her children’s upbringing upon her husband’s death. From teaching her sons “basic military skills required in the demanding environment of Mongolia” to ensuring that they understood “the need for close bonds with others for survival and strength”, Hoelun was firm that her sons be educated in both theory and practice of surviving the harsh Mongol landscape (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 100). In other words, Hoelun did not only make sure that her children survived in her care but that they would also be equipped with all of the necessary information and skills to survive on their own as well. She did not just feed her sons but taught them how to feed themselves, and as a future Khan, it is crucial to note that Genghis developed from a young age, leadership training from his mother. However, what was women’s role in Mongolian society - and how are mothers, such as Hoelun, instrumental to the foundation of their communities?

Surviving the Mongolian steppes is not for the fainthearted, located “1580 meters above sea level”, the landlocked Asian country is filled with climate extremities (Fitzhugh et al. 43). Moreover, plagued by the especially nefarious tsagaan zuds or ‘white famine’ - a condition where disastrous amounts of snow would prevent herded animals in reaching the grass as well as khara zuds or ‘black famine’ that fill the ground with “equally impenetrable” ice crusts, zuds greatly escalate the difficulty of living in Northern Mongolia (Fitzhugh et al. 44). In regards to specifically the steppe grasslands, from its “snow-covered winter[s] to “temperate with frequent thunderstorms in summer”, the geography was naturally unfit for farming and hence, instead supported the raising and growing of livestock of “sheep, goats, camels, cattle and horses” for its nomadic inhabitants (Fitzhugh et al. 55). Appropriately so, it was these very natural conditions that forced the Mongolian people to survive as a nomadic society in comparison to agrarian societies that thrived with fair weather and arable lands fit for farming. In other words, the harsh conditions fostered a more egalitarian society as life would be equally difficult for both genders. As every working person in society had to contribute to the household in this “demanding and fragile pastoral economy”, non-agrarian societies such as the Mongols that encompassed the women to have “dual full time occupations” - and not merely limited to domestic housework, ripened a foundation for more gender equality through the functional roles that women took on (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 99). This social structure is drastically different when compared to other settled, agriculturally-based societies at the time, such as the Mongol’s Chinese neighbors to the south (Rossabi, History of China 4). For the Mongols, young girls, unlike the Chinese, were also not “hobbled by bound feet”, and like their male counterparts, were also taught how to ride horses from as soon as they were old enough to “sit upon a horse” (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 110-12). Therefore, both genders are equally equipped with the same knowledge needed to survive - and thrive in the Mongolian steppes. By tradition, young children are taught from an early age to ride a horse, as well as learn to shoot from the bow and arrow (Fitzhugh et al. 112-13). It is important to note that in the same manner Hoelun taught Genghis, most of these basic, yet crucial skills are taught to children by their mothers - who were also “essential to the question of succession and inheritance, [as] a woman’s own status” and not only that of her children’s father also “shaped the options open to her children” (Broadbridge 10). Mongol women were also one of the very few in their era that were allowed to own personal property (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 110). Therefore, women were raised that their sources of power did not only come from their male relatives but that they had claims in their own right with both literal and figurative mobility. Furthermore, the dominating roles they took on in their children’s lives and development did not only cement their position within their own families but within their communities as well.

As a result of being raised under this aforementioned social structure, the nomadic society of the Mongolian steppes helped cultivate Hoelun into taking upon herself multiple occupations within her household. As “women were numerous in Temü- jin’s life, [two] towered above the others in their contributions to his success”, with the foremost being his mother, Hoelun (Broadbridge 43). In regards to Hoelun, her role in Temujin's upbringing was elevated by her husband’s tragedy as she became her children’s sole parent as well as most influential role model through her “responsibility as senior widow to keep the family together and alive” (Broadbridge 53). Therefore, although historians disagree as to the exact extent in which Hoelun was abandoned since it is possible that “the Secret History ’s claim [is] an exaggeration” as some scholars argue that Yesugei’s younger brother Daritai and nephew Quchar may have supported the family - it is important to note that even so, “neither man was present all the time” (Broadbridge 53-4). Accordingly so, as Hoelun worked endlessly to make ends meet “with little stock and few men to go hunting” , her stamina and perseverance instilled the importance of hard work and merit into her sons’ everyday philosophy (Broadbridge 53-4). By managing to raise almost all of her children until adulthood, including the sickly Temülün, she taught by example, how to lead in times of crisis and by successfully ensuring “the survival of Temüjin’s brothers”, her role as a mother also literally supplied future generals as well as the greatest comrades for Genghis’ later battles (Broadbridge 53-4). Hoelun was also steady in her position of authority, and did not easily surrender her status in the face of powerful men, respectively, in the case of when she held “a celebratory feast with [Jürkin] relatives” in the aftermath of Dalan Balzhut, Hoelun sat in Yesugei’s seat instead of with the other women (Broadbridge 65). Moreover, as aforementioned, Hoelun also taught her sons that success and survival could not be met with brute force alone, and close bonds illustrated through the forms of alliance and partnerships were also crucial to life in the steppes (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 100). Therefore this lesson would impact Temujin’s life through the formation of “key relationships, including one with an important sworn companion, [Jamukha], a leader of the Jadirat people” (Broadbridge 55). This partnership would be crucial to Genghis’ political rise as Jamukha would be an important ally of Temujin’s for many of his battles, including when Jamukha and Temujin joined forces against the Merkit tribe in order to return Genghis’ abducted senior wife, Borte (Rachewiltz 33-7). Influenced by his mother’s philosophy in the necessity of alliance, and with Jamukha as his “sworn [friend] for nearly two years”, the partnerships and followers gained after the Merkit campaign would largely contribute to Temujin’s political journey in uniting the Mongolian steppes (Broadbridge 64).

Historians have commonly noted that in “pre-imperial Mongolia - that is, before the coronation of Temujin as Chinggis Khan in 2016” - Genghis’ mother Hoelun along with Temujin’s senior wife Borte were “crucial in securing Temujin’s political supremacy in the steppes in the late twelfth century” (Nicola 42). Genghis Khan would also shape his empire based on merit, and highly prized loyalty as a main characteristic among his soldiers and constituents (Rachewiltz 47). Therefore, as Genghis’ mother upheld her family with strict family standards through these same values, Hoelun’s ideals would politically impact Genghis to hold his empire to that of the same standard. Moreover, Hoelun’s insurance of Temülün’s survival from infancy as well as her later hand in likely arranging Temülün’s marriage, would both prove to be politically crucial to the growing empire (Broadbridge 53-54). Specifically, Temülün would eventually “wed one of her brother’s [earlier] followers, Butu of the Ikires, and [therefore] form the first link in a network of strategic political marriages that radiated outward from Temüjin himself” (Broadbridge 53-54). In this case, it is integral to note that Hoelun did not only indirectly impact Temujin’s political and military policies through imprinting her codes of conduct but also directly through key strategy as well. In addition, and crucially so, Hoelun also never stopped being one of Genghis’ greatest advisors throughout her lifetime. After the inevitable falling out of Jamukha and Temujin’s partnership, catalyzed by a conversation “one afternoon [when] Jamuqa [had] said something cryptic during a routine interaction”, Hoelun strategically planned with her son Temujin in the aftermath of the battle of Dalan Balzhut (Broadbridge 64). Here, it is important to note that when “Mönglik of the Qonqotan, who had abandoned [Hoeulun]’s family so many years earlier”, reappeared after Dalan Balzhut, scholars reasoned that “Temüjin and Hö’elün [must have] needed him badly enough to overlook his earlier abandonment” (Broadbridge 65). Mönglik’s return to Temujin’s tribe was arguably a smart alliance for Genghis’ expansion and Hoelun further marrying Mönglik to “seal the reunion” could be even considered as an ingenious move in securing permanent allies (Broadbridge 65). But the most crucial point in this statement is that scholars noted both Temujin and Hoelun needed this alliance, rather than Temujin needing this alliance for his own gain. Therefore, it is possible that aside from being a greatly trusted advisor in Temujin’s career, Hoelun was also a crucial partner and ally - if not the most integral.

After the death of Genghis’ immediate successors, Genghis’ grandson Kublai Khan would eventually come into power at “the height of [the] Mongol [empire]” (Rossabi, Kublai Khan 1). Born in 1215, Kublai was raised at a time as Mongol armies were expanding all across Eurasia from “far to the north and west” by his grandfather, father, and many uncles (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 1). Therefore unlike Genghis Khan whose childhood was plagued with difficulty as the son of a murdered chief on the Mongolian steppes, Kublai was born into one of the most powerful families in the world, as the second son of Tolui Khan and his chief wife Sorghaghtani Beki (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 11). During Kublai’s lifetime, the Mongol empire far exceeded Genghis’ vision, and through building upon the empire their grandfather began - Genghis’ descendants, including Kublai, stretched the Mongols dominance from “Korea to Western Russia in the north and from Burma to Iraq in the south, [as well as] armies [that had] reached all the way to Poland and Hungary [in the west]” (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 1). Respectively, it is important to note that because of the Mongol’s dominance over “much of Eurasia [while terrorizing] the rest”, the timing of Kublai’s birth and reign, coinciding at the height of Mongol influence would magnify his power, control and impact at a much larger range then if he was born in a different time period within the empire (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 1). Transitively so, because of this magnified influence, procured and strengthened by the incredulously powerful and global Mongolian force, the contributions of the women in Kublai’s life would also be amplified as decisions made within the royal, and more importantly, central Khan of Khan’s family would trickle down to the entire empire. Apart from being a Mongolian Khan, Kublai Khan would also establish the aforementioned Yuan Dynasty in China by 1260, and rule as its first emperor with him claiming universal rule through both his Chinese identity as well as his status as the ruler of all Mongolian controlled domains (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 115). Reigning over China, one of the most advanced societies at the time as a foreign ruler will prove to be both a daunting as well as sophisticated task for the Mongolians (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 116). Securing his hold over both his empire, and central capital would lead Kublai to tackle several social and economic reforms throughout his reign, such as remodeling the education system in lands (such as China) far different then his native Mongolia (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 116). Therefore these challenges will force Kublai to develop both new domestic policies in regions he reigned over as well as international policies through trade, commerce and colonial dominance (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 116). However, none of this would be possible without highlighting the incredulously influential contributions of Kublai’s khatuns, most notably his mother, Sorghaghtani Beki.

Born in 1190, a Keraite princess and future daughter-in-law of Genghis Khan, wife of Tolui Khan, and mother of Mongke Khan, Kublai Khan, Hulagu Khan, and Ariq Boke, Sorghaghtani Beki is one of the most influential khatuns in Mongolian history (Broadbridge 83 and Rossabi, Genghis Khan 203). Hailing from the Keraite royal family, Sorghaghtani’s sisters were also married to influential men of the Khan family from Genghis himself, to Jochi, which will help cement a deep sisterly relation between the branches of Genghis’ family (Broadbridge 83). Deeply noted by both her contemporaries as well as historians to be both “remarkably competent and intelligent”, Sorghaghtani Beki was said to have both “lofty ambitions for her four sons” as well as to have “profoundly influenced Kublai” (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 12 and Genghis Khan 203). For example, “although she herself was illiterate, she recruited a tutor to teach Kublai and his brothers [on] how to read and write Mongolian“, which shows by utilizing her resources, she wanted the best education for her sons as she personally prepared them to become future leaders, and khans (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 204). Moreover, as Sorghaghtani Beki was not born into the royal family of Khans herself, “her position in the family structure of the Mongols was established by her marriage to [Tolui]”, but even after Tolui’s death in 1233, Sorghaghtani still “received his dependent territories (ulus) and ordo, which represented people and territories in Mongolia and Northern China” (Nicola 73). This grant of land and resources demonstrates that although she was grafted into the royal family from her husband’s side through marriage, Sorghaghtani became - and was allowed to be - powerful in her own right, even after her husband’s death. Moreover, it is crucial to note that she would leverage these as well as all resources wisely in her political career. As “the revenues and support inherited from her husband allowed her to oppose Ogedei” for an arranged marriage between Sorghaghtani and Guyuk Khan - by utilizing her political and financial capital, Sorghaghtani politically maneuvered both her own position and status, but as well as that of her family (Nicola 73). Therefore, since Sorghaghtani “preferred to remain unmarried”, and consequently, rejected the khan’s offer of an arranged marriage, not only was “Sorghaghtani [strong] enough to oppose the wishes of the Great Khan” but this refusal also demonstrates a direct utilization of the brethren capital she had from her “marriage connections to the khan’s immediate family” (Nicola 73). Thereby signifying that Sorghaghtani would again, strategically utilize every situation, and not just resources to her advantage. However, it should also be noted that Sorghaghtani’s “political genius is perhaps best demonstrated by her religious toleration” (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 13). As the Mongol Empire was a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities, and religions, Sorghaghtani’s tolerance policy is an intelligent maneuvering of gaining support across her nation - for example, despite being a Christian, she would patronize “Buddhism and Taoism [in order] to win favor with her Chinese subjects” (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 13). Furthermore, aside from China, Sorghaghtani also “achieved exceptionally high status across the empire” (Nicola 73). From sources written by both Christians and Muslims alike, historians all “agree on the amount of power and influence she [weld]”, for example, “a western source written by an Eastern European cleric” stated that Sorghaghtani Beki was “next in precedence among the Tartars to the emperor’s mother [Toregene]” (Nicola 73). From these statements, it can be gathered that the mutual agreement between parties of different religious affiliations must signify that Sorghaghtani was widely respected across multiple cultures, a possible direct effect of her religious toleration. Unfortunately, Sorghaghtani Beki did “not acquire the same recognition of empress as Toregene Khatun”, the empress of Ogedei Khan - crowned son of Genghis, but she nonetheless played “a fundamental role in the development of the empire as a whole” (Nicola 20).

Therefore how does Sorghaghtani Beki personally impact the political climate of her time? Beginning with her own familial relations, the Keraite sisters “brought with them dowries of their own retainers, servants, and flocks” upon their marriages and resultantly, had the foundational resources from their own birthright to support their stance “within the Chinggisid family” (Broadbridge 80). Specifically so, by maintaining a personal wealth apart from their husbands, this economic mobility must have given the royal Keraite sisters the ability to “form a [Keraite] network, complete with subordinates and dependents” (Broadbridge 80). Correspondingly, through this network, it “is likely that [the sisters] exchanged [both] news and information with one another and with their father that furthered their single and common interests, and, in difficult times [their survival]” (Broadbridge 80). This network is a direct example of Sorghaghtani utilizing a personal resource, and politically on a larger scale - it would grow to impact the descendants of the Jochi and Tolui lines via the close relations formed between the two families (Broadbridge 80). Appropriately so, although the alliance cannot be entirely contributed to this one sisterly bond, however, it does demonstrate that by leveraging a familial connection between her and her sister Begtütmish, Sorghaghtani directly impacted both families’ political and military standpoint from the very beginning of her entry into the Khanate via a strategic alliance.

Beginning in the 1230s, Sorghaghtani Beki governed the aforementioned “North China domains that the Great Khan Ogodei gave to her” after Tolui’s death (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 204). In this role, she made several key political contributions to Mongol rule - especially regarding her recognition of “the need to govern [versus] merely [plundering] the regions they had subjugated” (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 204). Sorghaghtani Beki “believed in fostering the native, mostly agricultural economies” that the Mongols conquered “instead of forcing peasants to convert the land to pasturage” (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 204). In other words, Sorghaghtani’s reasoning behind this belief was that the land would be less beneficial (both fiscally and literally) to the Mongols if it was only reaped through plunder, and thereby deduced policies that would increase “the income for the Mongol rulers” if conquered territory remained as agrarian farmlands (Rossabi, Genghis Khan 204). To conquer, and more importantly, to plunder is an essential characteristic of Mongol warfare, as in The Secret History of the Mongols, tribal warfare was described as “ they plundered his wives and children to the last one….they utterly plundered his people till nothing more was left” (Rachewiltz 37). Through her policymaking, Sorghaghtani Beki not only changed the tradition within Mongol customs, but both improved laws in a manner that would be beneficial to her own people, as well as editing them to fit contemporary needs that would create and stabilize peace in conquered regions. This is a prime example of her shrewd intelligence and personal input by first, taking into account of the viable resources to be gained, before wisely handling said resources through clever political maneuvering. It is important to note that these gains do not only signify successful procurements for Sorghaghtani Beki, but as she represents the royal family, and the royal family represents the Mongolian Empire, her actions translates into valuable decision making and policy creation for the Mongol Empire as a governing entity.

Sorghaghtani Beki was greatly influential in the making of all four of her crowned sons’ eventual ascension into khans. From eldest to youngest, Mongke Khan became the “Khagan in 1251 until his death in 1259; [Kublai] succeeded his older brother and ruled from 1260 to 1294; Hulegu destroyed the Abbasid dynasty...and established his own dynasty in Persia; and Arigh Boke, as the youngest son, would rule the Mongol homeland” (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 11). As the senior wife of Tolui, a direct heir of Genghis, Sorghaghtani Beki “dedicated herself to [her son’s political] careers”, making sure that her positions within court would also simultaneously elevate the standings of those of her sons as well (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 11). For example, her aforementioned rejection of Ogedei’s marriage arrangement “could [also] be interpreted as an intelligent long-term political strategy” in order to assert the Tolui line into the main line of succession as “remaining single left her free to develop a diplomatic network which in the end promoted her son Mongke to the khanate” (Nicola 73). By leveraging her own political standing as a Mongol ruler of Northern China, financial capital in land and stocks from her late husband’s conquests, and familial capital in both blood relations through her sisters throughout the Chinggisid line as well as via legitimate claims of Khanate heritage through her sons’ direct relations to Genghis - Sorghaghtani Beki utilized her own resources as well as levied those of her sons’ into the most powerful position in the empire. With Mongke Khan as Great Khan, the Tolui line officially took control of the Mongolian throne, and as Kublai eventually succeeded Mongke, his own policies would greatly mirror his mother’s - such as “fostering the native agrarian economy” in his taxation policies (Rossabi, Khubilai Khan 13). Kublai’s policies would politically affect the economical and sociological spheres of the millions under his reign, and as his mother was a great influencer in both his policies and demeanor, Sorghaghtani Beki’s impact can be directly witnessed in Kublai’s own policy making. As “khan of khans, [Kublai] naturally had a responsibility to promote the cultural expressions of diverse lands and ethnic groups [within his empire]”, and similar to how his mother openly supported differing religious sects, Kublai also opened his kingdom to foreign travelers (such as Marco Polo) and religious leaders alike in both domestic and international policies that practiced tolerance and an openness to different ideas (Rossabi Khubilai Khan 14 and 153). In other words, as Sorghaghtani’s lifelong work resulted in her children becoming khans, the actions and decisions Kublai made as khan (for example) can all be viewed as direct results of his mother’s dedication to impacting the Mongolian Empire both directly through her own policies and negotiations, but also indirectly through her sons’ legacy.

Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan are two world-renowned figures throughout all of history. Their contribution to the Mongol Empire changed the course of human history. To this day, the impact of an empire from centuries ago can still be felt, and witnessed in modern society on a global scale. From architectural marks found in modern-day Beijing, or Kublai’s former capital of Khanbaliq, to the genetic legacy of Genghis Khan where approximately sixteen million people are likely to be his direct modern descendants; the cultural, biological, and socio-economical footprint of the Mongolian Empire cannot be understated (Fitzhugh et al. 275). However, the Mongol Empire was not composed of one single man, it instead was a physical entity of the contributions of many. And in this case, some of the underappreciated heroes of Genghis’ and Kublai’s reign were the women behind the throne. From Lady Hoelun’s devoting tenacity in raising her children as a widow, to the incomparable success of Sorghaghtani Beki’s rule, including the securement of all four of her sons into reputable khanates. These royal mothers undoubtedly influenced the lives of their children, but their political impact cannot be comparably measured to that of other royal consorts and queens of their contemporary time. Hoelun and Sorghaghtani Beki were not merely Queen Mothers in history’s background, instead, they were capable, powerful rulers in their own right. From instilling values that would build a future empire to developing innovative policies from taxation to religious tolerance, the impacts of these regal khatuns cannot be ignored. Furthermore, as kin to the most powerful men in the world of their time, their roles in their households would transitively become colossal factors in shaping the political identity of one of history’s greatest imperial powers - the Mongols.


I want to thank Professor Morris Rossabi for encouraging me to pursue this topic of research. As a student who had never taken formal training in Mongolian history prior to this class at Columbia, this project greatly exposed me to a new-found interest. These women’s stories were incredibly empowering and transitively, gave me hope regarding our future, by looking, ironically, at the past.

Works Cited

Birge, Bettine. "“How the Mongols Mattered: A Perspective from Law”". How Mongolia Matters: War, Law, and Society. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017. Web.

Broadbridge, Anne F. Women and the Making of the Mongol Empire. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Fitzhugh, William W., et al. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution in Collaboration with Odyssey Books & Maps, 2013.

Morgan, David. "Iran’s Mongol Experience". How Mongolia Matters: War, Law, and Society. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017. Web.

Morgan, David (2007). The Mongols (2nd ed.). Malden, MA; Oxford, UK; Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4051-3539-9.

Morgan, D. O. The Mongols (2nd edition). Blackwell Publishing., 2007.

Nicola, Bruno De. Women in Mongol Iran. The Khatuns, 1206-1335. Edinburgh University Press, 2017.

Rachewiltz, Igor de. The Secret History of the Mongols: a Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century. Brill, 2013.

Ratchnevsky, Paul, and Thomas Nivison. Haining. Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy. Blackwell Publishing, 2006.

Rossabi, Morris. A History of China. John Wiley and Sons, 2014.

Rossabi, Morris. How Mongolia Matters: War, Law, and Society. Brill, 2017.

Rossabi, Morris. Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times. University of California Press, 1988.

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