There’s no easy way to tell you this; if you’re a man, there is a one in two hundred chance you are related to Genghis Khan, one of the greatest mass murderers in history.
It’s probably best you heard it first here than on an episode of ‘Who do you think you are?’
It doesn’t matter that your surname is not Khan. The odds are 200-1 you have his DNA.
I certainly didn’t, until I started researching Silk Road.
It’s one of the fascinating things about writing or reading fiction that involves exotic locations – those unexpected little snippets you just don’t expect to stumble on.
I couldn’t use it in the novel, of course. Genghis doesn’t feature in the story, which is about an embassy the Pope sent to Genghis’ grandson, Khubilai in 1260 and the extraordinary story that evolved from it.
Khubilai inherited from his grandfather an empire twice the size of Rome’s and included large parts of modern day China, Mongolia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Moldova, South Korea, North Korea and Kuwait. In fact, Genghis made Alexander the Great look like an underachiever.
Genghis’ real name was Temujin; Genghis Khan is an honorific meaning ‘Universal Ruler’ and he took that on when he united the fractious Mongolian tribes at his coronation in 1206.
Other titles included ‘Lord of the Four Colors and Five Tongues, Lord of Life and Emperor of all Men’.
He was also known as ‘Mighty Manslayer’ and ‘Scourge of God’.
And that was on a good day.
“The greatest pleasure in life 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.”
For twenty years he led his pony-mounted armies on a whirlwind of rape and slaughter unmatched before or since.
By some estimates he killed 35 million people. Over two decades, that’s one person killed every twenty seconds. He hardly had time for lunch.
Northern China is thought to have lost about three-quarters of its population. Some historians estimate he massacred so many Persians that Iran’s population did not reach its pre-Mongol levels again until the mid-20th century.
His army was the most efficient war machine ever assembled at that time, a juggernaut that swept all before it. Genghis was a master innovator; the Tatars were not just bad tempered bikers on ponies.
They had four-wheeled mobile shields and bomb hurlers and Genghis himself was utterly ruthless. Another of his innovations was to use captured soldiers as slave-labor or cannon fodder. He would push local prisoners ahead of his army, knowing that their friends on the other side would be hesitant to murder their own.
He once even diverted a river to erase a rival emperor’s birthplace from the map. No act of spite or sadism was too much trouble.
But Genghis wasn’t all bad; he is also credited with bringing the Silk Road under one political administration which allowed trade as well as cultural exchange between the East and West. He was tolerant of all religions. He instituted a system of meritocracy in his government at a time when the West was still largely feudal.
He was also lover as much as he was a fighter. And this is where we get to your DNA.
In 2007 researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences analyzed tissue samples from those areas approximating Genghis’ ancient empire. They found an identical Y-chromosomal lineage is present in about 8% of the men.
Apparently this spread is inconsistent with the theory of genetic drift, and the most likely scenario is that all these people are male line descendants of the Manslayer. In Mongolia alone as many as 200,000 of the country’s 2 million people could be mini-Manslayers.
It is calculated that Genghis Khan now has around 16 million male descendants across Asia and the Middle East. In fact it could be argued that he almost made genocide a sustainable industry. For every two people he killed, he created one.
His seduction technique was, however, suspect. At the victory feasts he and his commanders would sit in their tent and tear at lumps of raw and bloody horse meat with their teeth while captive beauties were paraded in front of them. Genghis chose the most beautiful for himself and gifted the rest of his officers.
This resulted in a personal harem of two to three thousand women – plus girlfriends – and his sons had comparably sized harems; so 16 million descendants is entirely within the range of possibility. Though with the pressure of having to kill someone every twenty seconds as well, his time management skills must have been excellent.
Genghis died in 1227, while campaigning in north-western China. It is reported that he fell from his horse, exhausted.
However, another legend persists that he was actually killed by a captured Chinese princess, who castrated him with a concealed knife before running off into the dark, never to be seen again.
The anecdote has never been proven. But if I was writing the story… well, that would definitely be the way I’d end it.
But Genghis’ 16 million descendants lived on.
I wrote about one of those descendants, his grandson, Khubilai, in my novel Silk Road. He built the fabled city of Xanadu as his capital. His brief dominion over almost all of Asia allowed Josseran Sarrazini and a Dominican friar, William, to travel along the Silk Road at the Pope’s request, to meet him. Their orders: to try to form an alliance against the Muslims in the Holy Land. There’s a free excerpt here.