Documentary about the Secret History of the Mongols, a book said to have been written by Genghis Khan's adopted son which reveals a different man to the butcher of legend.
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The world's most famous warrior.
He rose from abject poverty to rule most of the known world.
It is claimed that one in every 200 men alive today is descended from him.
History records him as a brutal butcher.
But, for centuries, his true story lay buried, forgotten in Chinese archives.
Who was the real man behind the legend?
And how did he inspire his successors from beyond the grave
to conquer the largest land empire the world has ever seen?
Written nearly 800 years ago,
an extraordinary text reveals the Secret History Of Genghis Khan.
Europe, in the year 1241.
Although Genghis Khan had been dead for more than a decade, his legacy lived on.
Priests prophesied a coming apocalypse,
as Mongolian hordes approached the borders of the Holy Roman Empire.
The whole continent watched and waited in terror.
Drawing from the Book of Revelations,
they saw the invaders as the armies of Satan.
Their fears would soon be realised.
The Mongol army descended like a storm.
The knights of Europe faced warriors the likes of which they had never seen before.
Fearless in battle,
moving at lightning speed on highly-trained horses,
armed with bows able to penetrate the strongest armour,
Mongol warriors had yet to be defeated.
And they were now within striking distance of the very heart of Europe.
Genghis Khan was no longer alive.
But his legacy, passed on through the pages of the Secret History Of The Mongols,
was all too real.
14 years earlier, just after Genghis Khan's death,
the heads of the Mongol tribes gathered together.
They were preparing for the fulfilment
of Genghis's grand strategy, sketched out just before he died -
nothing less than the conquest of the entire world.
In the midst of this tribal gathering was the Khan's adopted son, known as Shigi the Blessed.
He was recording for the Secret History the events surrounding the great Khan's extraordinary life.
"In the Year of the Rat, they came all together,
"the nobles of the right wing, the princes of the left wing, and the leaders of the thousands."
But the Secret History Of The Mongols was not to be an ordinary history book.
The inspiration for future leaders, it was a blueprint for power.
We have to bear in mind always that the Secret History
is a history written in order to educate.
This is essentially a mirror for princes,
a manual of statecraft.
The original manuscript has never been found.
But over 500 years after it was written,
a Chinese copy came to light, hidden away in private archives.
It was not a straightforward history of the Mongol Empire.
It was far more personal than that.
Genghis's rise is the real subject of the Secret History.
How he puts this into effect in the actual creation of the empire
is of less interest.
This is not a military history at all.
Genghis Khan's story begins in the middle of the 12th century.
His father, a powerful Mongolian general,
returned to camp after a successful raid on a neighbouring tribe.
He was spurred on by good news.
His wife had given birth to a son.
"As he was born, he emerged clutching a blood clot
"the size of a knucklebone dice in his right hand.
"To this boy, they gave the name Temujin."
The shamans interpreted the blood clot as a sign from heaven,
a sign Temujin, the future Genghis Khan, would become a fierce warrior.
In the legend that grew up around Genghis in later centuries,
he was meant to be not the child of an ordinary person,
but the child of the sun himself.
So there's room for the belief
that his birth was supernatural and that heaven presided over his birth,
and that his destiny as a world conqueror was a heavenly, ordained destiny.
Temujin was born into a family of noble descent.
His father was a respected warrior who had increased his clan's wealth and land.
He brought up Temujin to ride and hunt from an early age -
skills essential for survival in the vastness of Central Asia.
As he grew, Temujin became friendly with a boy from a neighbouring clan called Jamuka.
Following Mongol tradition, as the two became closer, they swore vows to be friends for life.
Becoming sworn friends was, if you like, the glue, the political glue, of Mongol society.
In this very flexible society, loyalty was the key political virtue.
To break it was one of the most serious of crimes.
As the two boys exchanged arrows as a symbol of their promise,
they forged a bond that should have lasted forever.
Instead, Temujin would learn a harsh lesson about betrayal.
When Temujin was just eight years old, his father took him to find a bride.
As was Mongol tradition, his marriage would cement an alliance with a neighbouring tribe.
In a world of inter-tribal feuding, there was security in numbers.
On arrival at their camp, Temujin's eyes were drawn to a graceful girl named Borte.
This would turn out to be much more than just a typical Mongolian arranged marriage.
It would become a bond of love.
In a rare romantic moment, the Secret History lapses into poetry to describe the betrothal.
"She had light in her eyes, she had fire in her eyes.
"He was pleased with her."
Genghis could be seen as a bit of a romantic.
He absolutely adored Borte.
They were said to have been united in the light of the moon.
Contrary to his reputation as a womaniser,
the Secret History reveals that she would be his one great love.
The Secret History portrays Genghis in a much fuller sense than we're used to in the West.
He was a very soft man
who cared for and looked after his mother and his wife and his children,
and was incredibly loyal to those alliances that he built up.
Later, as Khan, Genghis would take more wives, as tradition demanded.
But it would be Borte's children who would rule the empire after his death.
Shortly after his betrothal to Borte, a messenger brought news
that would, for a time, tear the two children apart.
In an act of revenge, Temujin's father had been poisoned
by the tribe he had been raiding at the time of his birth.
The boy had to return to his people.
And to an uncertain fate.
In a defining moment in the future Khan's life, he, his mother and seven siblings,
were abandoned by their own tribe,
left to fend for themselves.
"All the people had gone away, leaving only the mother and her sons.
"She was borne of great courage.
"With a stick in her hand, she fed them by digging up roots."
This was a woman who needed quite exceptional strength of character
to save herself and her five boys.
So I think her role in his upbringing was absolutely crucial.
We have to bear in mind just what sort of environment Mongolia might have been.
This is one of the coldest places in the world,
with temperatures in winter that go down to 80 below zero.
If you don't have an alpha male looking after you, you've had it.
Without the guidance of a father, and with supplies scarce,
Temujin began to fall out with his half-brother, Begter.
As they jockeyed for food and power, the conflict turned to violence.
The future Khan had yet to learn the importance of family ties.
"Begter sat in the clearing, watching the family's horses grazing.
"Temujin and his other brother crept up from behind, drawing their arrows to shoot.
"Begter said, "How can you treat me like some dirt in your eye,
"like something that's keeping the food from your mouth?
"How can you do this when there's no-one to fight but our own shadows?"
Temujin doesn't declare that he's just killed his brother Begter, but his mother can see it.
She says she can see it from his face as he enters through the doorway.
And then she starts violently berating her son.
The Secret History describes his mother's reaction in graphic detail.
She compares him to a ravening dog.
She tells him that he's like a panther, a lion, a jackal, a monster, a pike.
Temujin was not proud of what he had done,
but he had learnt a harsh lesson, one that he was keen to pass on.
Temujin at the time was 13, and was in no position, really, to judge himself. But later he was.
And that was why he regarded it as so important
that the rest of his tribe should know that this had been a great crime.
But as a springboard for power, strong family ties were not enough.
The Secret History said the future Khan's path to leadership was preordained.
To make the point, it tells of several narrow escapes
where ordinary men would not have survived.
It describes how, as a boy, Temujin and his family were constantly hunted by his father's old enemies.
One day, unable to escape his pursuers,
Temujin was captured, bound and brought to the camp of an enemy clan.
He faced living the rest of his life as a slave.
Humiliated and ridiculed, he was forced to serve his tormenters.
But one of his captors, Sorkhan Shira, sensed in the young man
a potential future leader, even as the others continued in their efforts to break his will.
THEY LAUGH MOCKINGLY
But with heaven on his side, all was not as hopeless as it seemed,
for Temujin was already showing that he was an astute judge of character.
One night, whilst lashed to a yoke, he overcame his guard.
Realising that he had no chance of escaping on foot, he headed for the river.
"If I run for the woods, they will spot me," he thought to himself.
"So he went to the river, using his yoke as a float."
He should have been quickly recaptured,
but, in the Secret History, nothing happens by chance.
It was Sorkhan Shira, the captor who had seen in him a future leader, who found him.
"As Sorkhan Shira passed by the river, he saw Temujin lying there and spoke to him quietly.
"It's because you're a clever young man that they are afraid of you.
"Just stay where you are.
"I won't tell them I've seen you."
Temujin shows himself to be a remarkable judge of character.
He sees instantly the sort of person who is going to help him.
He is able to choose the character, to choose his allies, and to then build on this,
and it's going to be the basis for his political career.
The Secret History has many gaps, lost years in the life of the young Genghis Khan.
It is years later before Shigi takes up the story again.
His youth behind him, Temujin emerged as an imposing man,
a man now in command of a small army of Mongol warriors.
Having been reunited with his childhood love, Borte, now his wife,
Temujin became ever more ambitious.
But the Secret History tells us that there was more to his path to power than simple brute force.
Instead, Temujin set about recruiting allies.
He set his sights on the most powerful warlord in all Mongolia,
Toghril Khan, leader of the Kereits.
He would give him his most precious possession.
"In the old days, you and my father were blood brothers.
"You were like my father.
"I've just married a woman, and I've brought the wedding gift to you."
He had a knack for getting people on board.
He simply gives him the most valuable object he has.
And, without asking for a favour in return,
he throws it entirely before this ruler whom he wants to impress.
And his bread comes back to him on the waters.
A year later, Toghril comes to him and says, "I have not forgotten that coat, that sable coat you gave me.
"And I inscribed my promise to help you under my own heart.
"And now I will help you."
As his influence continued to grow, eager and enterprising young men
were soon drawn to Temujin's side, where they were trained as warriors.
As an incentive for loyalty,
he promised them raids and rich rewards.
His riders were trained in a very special skill -
to fire their arrows at their enemies while riding away at full gallop.
It was a manoeuvre that would help make them the greatest army on earth.
The archer gallops towards the enemy lines.
At the last moment, pivots, swings round in the saddle,
and looses, in quick succession, up to six arrows.
And the damage that this does has to be seen to be believed.
It is a fearsome bow.
I think we would need to forget the idea of a bow altogether and think of a rifle
if we wanted to get some idea of the toll that these bowmen took.
But before Temujin and his men faced the armies of the West,
they would be forced to contend with enemies closer to home.
The Mongols were surrounded by other powerful tribes who were a constant threat.
Through the Secret History, Temujin's successors learnt that, away from battle,
heaven's chosen leader should always put his own safety first.
The point was made as his family made camp during a hunting expedition.
"The camp was at the Kerulen river's source,
"when one morning, just before dawn, his mother's servant woke the camp with a startling cry.
"Mother, mother, get up, the ground is shaking.
"I hear it rumble."
An enemy tribe had spotted them.
With his warriors too far away to help, Temujin and his family were forced to flee for their lives.
But there were not enough horses for everyone.
In what looked like a selfish act, Temujin took a horse for himself.
Then ordered his mother to take the only remaining one, abandoning his wife to certain capture.
But there was method to his madness.
Temujin might have been seen as a coward here, just leaving his wife behind,
but he knew that she would be strong enough to be able to cope with this, and that she would be able to gather
crucial information about the inner workings of the Merkit for him when he went to retrieve her later on.
With his wife now acting as his spy, to assure his own safety, Temujin fled into the hills.
"Yet again," Shigi wrote, "the heavens had spared him from death."
The future Khan started to believe that his destiny was ordained.
He escaped once again from his pursuers and began to realise, saw for the first time,
that perhaps he was being saved for a particular purpose.
It was, if you like, a revelation of divine backing.
It seems that he wished his followers to believe that he had always had divine backing,
and that what was happening was a mere working out of the divine will.
With his wife rescued, it was now that Genghis first emerged as the brutal mass murderer of history.
Still barely 20 years old, he was gaining the reputation the shamans had forecast at his birth.
As news of his successes spread, more and more men joined him.
He was now strong enough to take on the Tatars, a blood feud that spanned the generations.
"Now is the time of our revenge.
"We will kill every Tatar man taller than the lynchpin on the wheel of a cart.
"We will kill them until they're destroyed as a tribe."
On his way to power, he trod on corpses. There's no question.
"Return what people give to you," he said.
He paid back the Tatars by measuring every one of their people
against the axle of a dog cart.
Anyone taller than the axle was exterminated.
Generations of inter-tribal anger were unleashed.
Here, the Secret History offers a terrible lesson.
The battle was more than a skirmish to avenge a death, steal a bride or loot.
This was to be the complete destruction of an entire tribe.
All surviving Tatar men were beheaded.
Only children and potential concubines were spared, taken as slaves.
But Temujin's successes began to cause tensions, even amongst his own allies.
The most powerful, Jamuka, his sworn friend from childhood,
was now also a successful general in his own right.
But there could not be two leaders.
The ambitious Jamuka was about to change from friend to foe.
The Secret History records a powerful message on the dangers of betrayal.
Jamuka called upon his tribes to desert Temujin and ride with him instead.
Their childhood vow of lifelong friendship turned into bitter hatred and jealousy.
This is betrayal at a very high level.
And we're supposed to believe from the Secret History that this was done easily by Jamuka.
The Secret History is trying to set up Jamuka as the anti-hero to Genghis.
Genghis remains true, he remains loyal to his oath.
Jamuka betrays him, and this is a very important theme now,
from now on in the Secret History.
Jamuka's betrayal did not end there.
In a conference between the three supposed allies,
he sought to turn Temujin's sworn friend Toghril against him as well.
The Secret History tells us that, although Genghis relied on the notion of sworn brotherhood,
he was a little bit naive about these alliances, and it often took the insights of his mother or his wife
to point out that these were very fragile alliances
that could be betrayed.
Jamuka whispered to Toghril that Temujin was seeking new alliances behind his back.
"Temujin is sending messages back and forth to the Naiman.
"While his mouth is saying words like "father" and "son," his actions speak otherwise.
"How can you trust such a man?
"If you don't stop him now, who will save you?
"If you attack Temujin now, I'll pledge to attack him from the rear."
Jamuka and Toghril combined forces and attacked Temujin together.
It was a bitter battle,
for all knew the winner would be the most powerful force on the Mongolian steppe.
After a lengthy and close-run campaign, a year later, the fighting finally came to an end.
Despite the odds, and having stared defeat in the face, Temujin emerged victorious.
His former lord, Toghril, was now dead, and Jamuka, his arch rival, was on the run.
Having once commanded tens of thousands of warriors,
Jamuka now had to hide in the mountains with only a handful of followers.
But Jamuka was not Temujin.
He was incapable of inspiring the loyalty the future Khan had.
Jamuka's men had learnt to their cost that he was not to be trusted.
He had proved himself a traitor.
Disillusioned, his followers hatched a desperate plan, a plan they believed would save their own lives.
Bound, Jamuka was delivered to Temujin by his former comrades in arms.
The men expected gratitude from Temujin for delivering his enemy.
But in a powerful lesson in loyalty and allegiance,
the Secret History makes it clear that they were gravely mistaken.
Temujin turned on them in disgust.
"How can we allow men who lay hands on their own lord to live?
"Who should trust people like this?
"Such people should be killed, along with their descendants."
Although Jamuka had betrayed him,
Temujin still believed in the strength of the sworn childhood bond.
He proposed to Jamuka that they bury their rivalries and join forces once again.
Jamuka refused, seeking only an honourable death.
"My blood brother, if you want to favour me,
"then simply see that my life is ended without shedding my blood."
His wish was granted.
But the Secret History would exonerate Genghis from blame.
The story of Jamuka's death is a story with a moral.
For Genghis himself
to wield the knife is a desecration of blood brotherhood.
How do we get round this?
We get round it, I think, in a Stalinist way,
with a show trial and a grovelling confession by the villain,
in which he begs for a merciful death.
Jamuka asks for his own death in order to exonerate Genghis himself.
In 1206, Temujin received the greatest honour ever given to a Mongol warrior.
At the age of 44, he was proclaimed Supreme Commander,
the Khan of all Mongols, by a grand assembly of tribes.
He determined to apply all the lessons he had learned throughout his life.
The importance of loyalty, allegiance, and total control, backed up by brutality.
Most of all, a real sense of divine mission and assured success.
But this was not to be the summit of his career, merely the beginning.
"Temujin, if you'll be our Khan, we'll search through the spoils
"for the beautiful women and virgins.
"If we disobey your command during battle, take away our possessions,
"our children and wives. Leave us behind in the dust,
"cutting off our heads where we stand, and letting them fall to the ground."
Temujin took a title nobody had ever been awarded before - Genghis Khan.
The title Genghis was utterly unique to him,
and nobody knows why it was chosen, and nobody's quite sure what it means.
The current thinking is that it's "fierce,"
so that he comes over as the "Fierce Khan," the Fierce King.
He set about putting into practice the lessons he had learnt
during his rise to power.
The Secret History recorded each innovation in meticulous detail.
"Genghis Khan set the lives of all Mongolian peoples in order
"and made this decree.
"To reward those who fought with me to establish the nation,
"I will make them leaders of a thousand."
He began by radically restructuring the army.
Disregarding tribal affiliations, he rewarded his most loyal followers
with power over a thousand men each.
Without regard to rank or status, he promoted according to ability alone.
It's one thing to talk about a meritocracy,
it's quite another to operate it. And here it was operated.
Shepherds were indeed given generalships
and leaders of vassal tribes were also given generalships, as well as Mongols.
So this was the reward of loyalty.
This is a new style of ordering large bodies of men.
If a commander left a wounded Mongol on the battlefield,
he would be executed. So "the buck stops here,"
is what a Mongol commander might have had on his desk.
And he paid for dereliction of duty with his own life.
Genghis Khan now felt powerful enough to explore beyond the vastness of the steppe.
He sent scouts in all directions.
Not just to find realms worthy of plunder,
but whole nations to conquer on the far side of the great deserts.
Neither the Gobi nor the Taklamakan
could stop Genghis Khan's faithful warriors.
With astonishing endurance,
they rode on through both freezing cold and burning heat.
The scouts returned with good news.
There was little obstacle to invasion.
But the Secret History once again reveals
that, contrary to Western legend,
Genghis Khan knew that there was more to achieving his ambitions than mere brute force.
Genghis Khan the warrior proved to be a wise statesman as well.
From defeated administrators, he would take lessons in ruling a realm.
Just as his military tactics are endlessly inventive,
endlessly flexible and receptive to new ideas,
so too when he saw what other people had to offer,
he simply paid them and they did the job.
So what the Mongols couldn't do themselves, they found someone else to do for them.
Although illiterate himself, the Khan was quick to grasp the importance of the written word.
The Secret History tells us how he overcame his own illiteracy.
He told Shigi to adopt writing from one of his new vassal tribes, the Uyghurs,
and that was the script that was taken on and taught to the princes, even while Genghis was still alive.
"Let no man violate his word.
"Strike fear in the hearts of thieves. Bring remorse to the tongues of liars.
"Execute those whom custom has condemned to death.
"Write everything in a blue book.
"Let no-one change anything Shigi Khutukhu - after taking counsel with me -
"has written on the white paper of his blue book."
With reform of his troops and administration under way,
Genghis Khan set his sights on his greatest neighbour, China.
The traditional source of Mongol loot,
it was a goal that would have universal support from his people.
His army would do more than loot and run.
This time, they would stay.
It was an expedition fraught with risk.
Genghis Khan consulted the oracle.
The outcome would be determined by how the bones split.
The charred bones split lengthwise.
The omens were good.
The greatest army Mongolia had ever seen was assembled.
They would march south into the richest region in Asia,
over 100,000 strong.
As victory followed victory, the soldiers were accompanied by women, children and servants,
well over 100,000 horses and vast herds of goats and sheep brought along for food.
At the command of Genghis Khan, his entire palace yurt was placed on a platform on wheels,
drawn by more than 20 oxen.
They approached northern China not simply as invaders,
but for the first time in Mongol history, with the intention of long-term occupation.
I think Genghis was driven by his character.
What he was doing, in psychological terms,
was to create himself a security network that could never, ever be threatened.
You create new frontiers, which then have to be defended,
which then have to be extended, which create new frontiers, etc.
It's a never-ending process.
In 1211, the Mongol army first reached the walls of Beijing.
As wave after wave of Mongols attacked the city,
Genghis Khan continued his march northwards, leaving his generals to finish the job.
Victory would take four more years.
Yet this astonishing military campaign barely rates a mention in the Secret History.
Designed to reveal Genghis's character,
details of his military campaigns were simply not important.
His great conquests are by the by.
Sure, he happened to capture Beijing. Sure, he happened to conquer Russia.
Sure, he happened to conquer Iran, Iraq, on and on.
But that is of no interest to the author of the Secret History.
That is strictly a sideshow.
Although Genghis Khan was now at the height of his power,
the Secret History chooses to draw to a close, not on his military conquests,
but on a final act of revenge against a former ally who had betrayed him.
"The Tanghut people made a promise they didn't keep.
"Genghis Khan has gone to war with the Tanghut a second time and has destroyed them.
"Now this writing is finished,
"in the seventh moon of the Year of Rat."
To the very end, it is the lessons Genghis wished to pass on
which are the real message of the Secret History.
The importance of total control, gained through loyalty, allegiances, fairness and trust.
The power of brutality to strike terror into the hearts of enemies.
And the self-assurance that flows from a sense of divine support.
The Secret History would teach these lessons, even if it meant exposing the Khan's own failings.
I think that Genghis, in a way,
allows himself to be almost like the guide throughout these teachings. So we see where he makes mistakes
or where he succeeds, and future generations can see
that this was actually a real person who had to confront real issues.
For himself, Genghis Khan never claimed divinity.
But after his death, the writer of the Secret History
wanted his successors to believe that from the moment of the Khan's birth,
they were destined to rule the world.
Already it was becoming believed that Genghis himself and the whole empire was divinely ordained.
So, for 150 years, his personality absolutely imbued the empire.
I think this makes it something quite unique in history.
Yet the manner of his death was only too human.
In 1227, legend says that the founder of a nation of riders
fell off his horse and died of his wounds.
Shigi does not reveal where he was buried.
It is said that a thousand horses were driven over his grave,
until every last trace of Genghis Khan had vanished.
But through the Secret History,
he was able to pass on the lessons he had learned,
on his way from illiterate nomad to one of the most powerful leaders the world has ever seen.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Documentary looking at the Secret History of the Mongols, said to have been written by Genghis Khan's adopted son, which reveals a very different man to the brutal butcher of Western legend. Not just a womaniser, but a devoted husband. Not just a warrior, but a politician. Not just a conqueror, but a legislator. A man who wanted the lessons he had learnt - good and bad - to be passed onto his successors. Within its pages lies the inside story of how an illiterate nomad inspired his successors to conquer the largest land empire the world has ever seen.