Genghis Khan: A Little PR Problem? (Part IV)
By Dr. Rizwana Rahim
Chicago, IL

We know when Genghis Khan died but the accounts vary on how exactly. One account says: In 1226, he was on his way to attack the Hsi Hsia kingdom, and his horse, surprised by a wild boar, panicked and threw the ‘universal ruler’ on the ground. He never recovered from the injuries. On his deathbed, ‘The Secret History’ mentions, he called all his sons for a family conference to name his successor. The brothers argued, and one of them (‘Chaghtai’, a predecessor of Moghul empire) refused to have his oldest brother (Juchi) succeeding his father, and even called Juchi a “bastard,” pointing to his questionable paternity. Genghis was hurt; their mother Borte was not present. Chaghtai then suggested Ogodei (the 3rd son) as a compromise. Genghis agreed, but in the course of the discussion he offered some fatherly advice, such as: “Without the vision of a goal, a man cannot manage his own life, much less the lives of others.” “The old tunic (or ‘deel’) fits better and is always more comfortable …while the new or untried ‘deel’ is quickly torn.” “It will be easy to forget your vision and purpose once you have fine clothes, fast horses and beautiful women … [if you do that] you will be no better than a slave and you will surely lose everything.”
Genghis, 60-65 then, died in August, 1227, somewhere south of Yinchuan. His body was taken to Mongolia. Those who happened to see the procession were killed. At his funeral, 40 “moonlike” virgins and 40 horses were also sacrificed. Then, those who attended the funeral (2,000 people) were massacred by 800 soldiers, who in turn were killed. All this barbarism to preserve the secret of his tomb’s locale !
The only personal with comparable cruelty (or worse) was Timur (1369-1405). He may even have out-Genghis Genghis: killed between 15-20 million, according to several sources including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, etc. Not a direct descendant of Genghis, he was a son-in-law in the Genghis Khan family. Among Timur’s descendents was Babur (of Moghul Empire) who was 13th generation of Genghis’ second son, Chaghtai.
Apart from the land conquered, Genghis Khan had a huge genetic imprint on the succeeding generations beyond his empire, even today. In humans and other mammals, Y-chromosome is present only in the males (XY) -- the females have (XX) -- which is why most of Y chromosome goes from father to son, almost unchanged, generation after generation. This is also the reason why Y-chromosome studies have been so very useful in genealogical studies, specifically on the patrilineal side. It is the smallest chromosome, with about 75 genes.
A recent genetics study by an Oxford University research team identifies a Y-chromosome lineage that seems to have originated in Mongolia between 800 to 1,200 years (average ~1,000 years) ago. They examined Y-chromosomes of 2,123 men from across Asia, from the Pacific to the Caspian Sea. Several Y-chromosomal features were found in 16 populations throughout this vast area. One Y-chromosomal-associated imprint was identical in about 8% of the men, or about 0.5% of the world’s total population (an estimated 16 million people, or 1 out of 200 living males). Chris Tyler-Smith, the leader of the study, proposes that this “has spread by a novel form of social selection resulting from their behavior.”
At least 25% of the men in the Hazaras, a group of Mongolian-looking people now living in Pakistan and Afghanistan, carry at least one genetic imprints of Genghis’ Y-chromosome. Today’s Hazaras, as I mentioned above, are the descendants of about 1,000 men of Genghis’ army that settled in the Bamiyan valley in 1220s. Many men of this group can recite their genealogies going back about 34 generations to Genghis Khan.
One thing Genghis and his descendents did routinely was to rape and enslave women from the lands they conquered. Each had his large harem, re-populated periodically. Genghis is reported to have had 500 wives. Genghis had said: “The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters.” These factors did fit into the pattern researchers were looking for: A vast area where harems were common within a polygamous society!
If Genghis’ bones were ever found, DNA can be extracted for comparisons; this will confirm this conclusion. But the major problem is that Genghis’ burial place is still a secret (though the area has been narrowed down), and even if his tomb is located, the Mongols are most unlikely to allow disturbing the remains: it’s sacrilegious in their religion. This paternal ancestor was a Mongol, but not necessarily Genghis, who died in 1227. The timeframe given 800-1200 (average ~1,000) years would point to a couple of generations before him, perhaps his patrilineal grandfather or someone older, as the most recent ‘common ancestor’.

1. J. Weatherford. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Rown Publishers, NY. 2004
2. Zerjal, T. et. al. The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols. Am. J. Hum. Genet., 72:717-721, 2003)



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.