Genghis Khan is known for killing lots of people as he ran about conquering things. This is a bit unfair. Plenty of people were killing each other in those days. Genghis was just better at it.
Genghis was born Temujin, which means “blacksmith” in 1160s Mongolian. He later changed it to Genghis Khan, which means “true emperor,” just on a whim. His father, Yesukhei, was a minor tribal chief and vassal who barely killed anybody. Genghis knew he could improve on that.
Yesukhei ended his career by being poisoned by Tartars. Genghis’ family was forced to survive on marmots, but Genghis never gave up his dream of uniting the Mongolian tribes. He achieved this through a complex strategy of alliance-building and murdering anyone who wouldn’t build an alliance with him.
Genghis Khan’s armies were distinguished by their discipline. This came from a desire not to be killed by Genghis Khan. Genghis would personally lead armies of up to 200 000 Mongols to kill anyone who looked at him funny, as well as their families, neighbours, countrymen, and surrounding flora and fauna. He would occasionally try to lighten things up by pouring molten silver into the orifices of various heads of state. Sometimes the old jokes are the best ones.
It was in this way that the Mongols slaughtered their way into the largest empire achieved by man. (The British claim to have slaughtered themselves into a bigger one. I’ve yet to see the proof.) Genghis’ empire stretched across central Asia from China to Georgia. Europeans weren’t big on central Asia at the time. They didn’t know about Genghis until he left a horde of Mongols smiling at them from across the Black Sea.
Reports the cause of Genghis Khan’s death in 1227 vary from falling off a horse, to pneumonia, to a booby-trapped princess. It’s possible he was just all killed out. I like to think he died happy.
I’m afraid later Khans didn’t measure up to Genghis’ standards. Ogedei Khan tried to eliminate the population of Europe but failed due to his death. Guyuk Khan drank and had fun and got no killing done whatsoever. He had no work ethic. Toregene spent most of her time being a woman.
The only other Khan of any note was Kublai. Kublai Khan tried to conquer Japan and Vietnam but didn’t. He finally realized he didn’t fit the job requirements of a Mongolian Khan and became a Chinese emperor instead. Kublai Khan is probably only remembered because of a Coleridge poem that wasn’t really about him, and which got his name wrong besides.
Genghis is proof that to be a memorable Khan you have to love a job that largely involves killing untold numbers of human beings. You are just wasting your time otherwise.