When most people are asked to name the most brutal and murderous leaders in history, they will first mention the names of recent dictators like Hitler and Stalin. Going back further, many people will talk about the Norse raids, the British Empire, Attila the Hun, and so many of the most vicious Roman Emperors. However, going back before any of them came to power, Genghis Khan and the Mongols permanently reshaped an enormous portion of the world, and changed the culture and genetic makeup of the region forever. The khan was a master strategist and his brutal warriors left a path of destruction in their wake.
10. Genghis Khan Had Molten Silver Poured Into an Enemy Leaders’ Eyes and Ears
There are many stories about the legendary brutality of Genghis Khan and his murderous exploits. Most of them tell a similar story of the khan asking enemies to surrender, and then completely annihilating them and their families and friends if they refused. The khan was proud of his murderous rampages and felt that the terror they inspired should be helpful in causing more enemies to join his side without him losing any men. While these campaigns of terror were business as usual for the khan, many people didn’t realize that if you made him feel personally insulted, he could be even more brutal and punishing than you could imagine.
A large city led by a noble named Inalchuq was in the way of the khan’s conquest, and the khan was in a very, very incensed mood. Years before, he had sent a large caravan of 500 men in the hopes of creating more trade routes in the region. Inalchuq had had the entire caravan decimated and spurned the khan’s peace offering completely. So it was that the khan killed the entire civilian population, utterly wrecked all remnants of the city, and killed the hated leader by having molten silver poured into his eyes and ears. This is perhaps one of the oldest examples of someone being brutally punished for shooting the messenger — something the khan clearly would not tolerate.
9. The Mongols Could Not Shed Noble Blood, but the Alternatives Were More Brutal
The Mongols may have been known for killing scores of people without even trying and for their brilliant combat tactics, but they also had certain honor rules even in times of war and murder. One of these ancient rules was that they could not spill “noble” blood. They took this very seriously and if someone they had captured was of noble birth, they would not stab them, slash them, or kill them in any other normal wartime manner. However, this by no means meant that the noble was spared an awful and gruesome death. In fact, it would almost seem as if the Mongols followed the letter of the rule but were showing their open contempt for it by trying to creatively punish their enemies as much as possible.
If a noble was lucky, the Mongols who captured him would simply snap his neck — quick, clean, and simple. However, that was one of the rare methods. They also liked to suffocate nobles, which is much more painful and prolonged than a quick beheading. These may not seem that bad, but the most brutal was when they captured a large Russian force that had surrendered to them. Most of them were nobles so they could not execute them in the normal manner.
Instead, they confiscated their helpless enemies’ weapons, laid their captives under a wooden platform, and then stood on top of the platform and literally partied their enemies to death. We can’t even imagine how horrific such a death would be, but it certainly sounds like one of the most metal things ever.
8. Genghis Khan Killed his Half Brother as a Child Over a Hunting Dispute
When Genghis Khan was a child, his family was at odds with their clan and they were basically living on their own. His mother was taking care of four of her own children and two stepchildren — struggling just to make sure that everyone was fed. From a young age Genghis, known in his early days as Temujin, learned that he would have to fight and kill for what he needed to get by. While Genghis helped feed his family, he didn’t always agree with how food should be apportioned, and he especially found himself fighting with his half brother — a child near his own age.
One day the two of them had a serious argument over some food that young Genghis had caught, and he took the dispute to their mother. To the anger of young Genghis, his mother actually sided against him, and he left in a cold rage.
While his half brother was minding his own business with no idea what was coming, Genghis and his younger brother snuck up on their half brother and killed him with their bows. When their mother found out she was devastated and furious, but there were never any consequences for their actions. Genghis is said to have never had any remorse whatsoever for the murder. In his eyes, it was justified — it was also likely the first taste of what would become a habit that he simply couldn’t stop.
7. The Khan Left a Greater Death Toll in his Wake than Joseph Stalin
Genghis Khan is not always as remembered as many brutal historical figures. Many people forget that the great khan’s rampage left such a path of destruction that he irrevocably destroyed entire empires and enormous populations as a matter of habit.
In recent days people have pointed out that Stalin was responsible for somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million deaths, which would make him more brutal than the Nazis. But he doesn’t even hold a candle to the brutality of the Mongols under the leadership of the khan. According to historical estimates, the khan was responsible for the deaths of roughly 40 million people, and he was glad to boast of these numbers whenever he got the chance. He likely felt that advertising his brutality was actually a good way to keep people afraid and more likely to submit.
However, despite being an incredibly brutal murderer, the khan was not entirely without mercy. He preferred to win without a blow simply by using his reputation, so he would always give his enemies a chance to join his empire first. In some cases he even sent multiple emissaries before he went on a rampage and massacred their civilians and everything that had ever been a part of their culture or existence. The directive from the khan was simple — join him or die. Many chose to defy this mandate from Genghis Khan, and he made them and their entire populations pay with their lives.
6. The Khan Turned a Dangerous Enemy Archer into a Useful Long-term Ally
Before long, the khan’s brutal multi-continent spanning rampage was becoming a thing of legend, and his reputation began to precede him wherever he went. In battle he was known for being an insanely fierce warrior and nigh untouchable in skill. There are many versions of the following legend, but they all are about an enemy archer named Jebe who caught the eye of Genghis Khan. The Mongols were fighting against an enemy clan when disaster nearly struck. An arrow struck the khan’s horse — putting him in a very dangerous position. However, the Mongols quickly turned the tide and sent the enemy clan running in fear for their lives — except for the archer who had nearly shot the khan himself.
He rode bravely and boldly into the camp, asking to address the khan himself. He admitted that he himself shot the khan’s horse and that he would accept his death for this deed if he wished — but if he were to spare him, he would serve him as a loyal warrior. Some versions of the story claim that the arrow actually hit and injured the khan himself, or at least struck his armor, and some even claim that the khan lied to protect his pride, and the archer was bold enough to correct him.
Whichever version of events is correct, it is known that the khan decided to spare the archer and kept him in his army as one of his top commanders from that day. While the khan may have been extremely brutal, and often merciless, he was smart enough not to turn down an amazing ally when he had one.
5. One of his Mongol Enemies was Known for Boiling Captured Generals Alive
While Genghis Khan was known for being many things, merciful was certainly not one of them. As we have mentioned, he was all too happy to brutally murder enemies and civilians who had peacefully surrendered. However, before Genghis Khan united the Mongols and began his true reign of conquest, he had rivals among the Mongols for leadership, and some of them were just as insane and barbaric as he was.
One of them was known as Jamukha, and once after achieving great victory it was said that he burned the enemy generals in seventy cauldrons. Some scholars are unsure whether that’s supposed to be an exact number, whether the cauldrons only held one person each, or whether it was simply meant to suggest “a lot.” Either way, the cruelty was so legendary that it supposedly caused some people to turn their support to Genghis despite his own brutality.
This could be because burning alive, while fitting within the rules of a way to kill “nobles,” is actually much more drawn out and horrific than Genghis’ usual punishments for nobles. The khan had enemies’ backs broken, there was the molten silver incident, and the mass trampling, but arguably all of these are less barbaric than boiling your enemy alive. It’s been described as being so horrific that many watching in Europe when it was first instituted as a punishment fainted in shock and had to be carried away. The screams were allegedly horrific and the sight of what it did to the human body was something that most people could not stand to watch.
4. Genghis Khan Humiliated and Enslaved People of Other Religions
Many people like to point out that Genghis Khan actively talked to and sought advice from holy men of all different religions, including Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism. Some people like to claim this as evidence of him being more of a humanitarian. However, in this case people are forgetting that the man was a brutal and merciless tyrant. While he may have been smart enough to learn about his enemies and all of their ways, he never showed any evidence in his life or rule of having the slightest bit of religious tolerance whatsoever. In fact, he had especial contempt for Jewish and Muslim people, who he openly referred to as slaves, and humiliated by not allowing them to follow their own customs.
He proclaimed that the Mongolians had conquered them, but they refused to eat Mongolian food. To the khan, this was a complete affront to him — he had conquered them and allowed them to live within his kingdom, but they would only prepare food and eat it their way. He forbade them to eat any food that was not prepared by Mongolians, disallowing them from their customs. Muslims were not allowed to kill a sheep — and if they were caught they would be guilty of a serious crime. Jewish people were also forbidden from following their practice of circumcision.
As far as the khan was concerned, if you lived in his kingdom, you followed his rules. It was likely that his study of other religions was mostly about learning how to better rule his enemies, as he had no patience for coexisting with other religions’ quirks and differences.
3. He Had his Men Use Captured Enemies as Body Shields in Combat
In relatively recent history, Stalin used captured enemy soldiers, as well as his countries own convicted prisoners, as human shields in combat during World War II. While diabolical and evil, it was also an effective strategy for the ruthless tyrant. During a very expensive war, he was able to rid himself of prisoners of all kinds who would be expensive to hold, and use them instead as a way to win battles. While this may seem like one of the worst things done in history, it’s certainly not the first time people have used human shields in combat. Throughout history there have been many examples where prisoners or captured populations are forced to fight at the frontlines of wars. But before many of them had ever considered it, the khan had already used and perfected the strategy.
The khan was selective when it came to who he would use as human shields for combat. Sometimes he would execute enemy soldiers, who had surrendered expecting good treatment. And other times if they were truly skilled and had the right attitude, he might let them join his army. However, when he was in the mood he would have his men take large numbers of surrendered enemy soldiers and force them to fight at the front lines.
His men would goad the captured soldiers to fight as well as possible, and if they did not they were put to the sword. They could prolong their deaths only by fighting for the khan and his forces as well as they possibly could — and perhaps if they truly showed their worth, they could earn a rightful place in his forces.
2. While Massacring a City and its Population, he Declared Himself Sent by God to Punish Them
While on his brutal rampage through the Khwarezmia Empire, he came upon the city of Samarkand. He was in an angry mood and ready to pounce and destroy anyone who got in his way. He had just come from the city of Otrar, where he had killed Inalchuq with molten silver — in his rage he also declared to the inhabitants that he had been sent by God himself to punish them. He then absolutely annihilated all of the population and wiped the city off the face of the earth. When he came to Samarkand he met heavy resistance by well over 100,000 soldiers, but he eventually managed to wear them down by cutting off their water supply, bringing them down by slow attrition and eventually breaking into the city proper.
Some accounts claim that when Genghis Khan and his men razed the city, the soldiers found any pregnant women and stabbed and removed the fetuses they found within. This could possibly be hyperbole by the writers of the story, hoping perhaps to make the khan look evil — either to increase his reputation or to hurt it — but it would not be unsurprising if true considering the Mongols’ overall brutality. Some reports say nearly half a million people were either killed or forced to flee the city, and when the Mongol rampage was finished, not even ruins remained.
1. The Sacking of Urgench was Arguably the Most Brutal and Thorough Massacre in History
Urgench was the last stop on the great khan’s slaughter of the Khwarezmia Empire, and they put up an absolutely ferocious fight. Normally the khan could dominate his enemies in a short amount of time, but the battle dragged on for six months. Records say that even after they actually got inside the city, they were unable to begin looting and plundering as they normally did. The inside of the city was fortified and the enemy fought using guerilla warfare techniques from every house in the city. The Mongols quickly grew tired of this, and decided that they needed to take more drastic measures. They decided that if they couldn’t find all of the men who were hiding inside the city, they would just burn the entire city down.
Upon the city being turned into a burned hunk of its original glory, the surviving enemy soldiers still continued to defy the khan’s forces. They knew that ignominious death awaited them if they were captured by the Mongol forces, so they continued their defense to the death. The khan allegedly had a dam diverted to flood and destroy what was left, and decreed that any remaining civilian or soldier still alive was to be murdered, with no exceptions whatsoever.
While it’s unclear whether it’s hyperbole or not, some sources say that the final massacre amounted to over a million people. If this is true, it would be one of, if not the, most massive genocides in a short period in the history of mankind.