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Genghis Khan's Art of War

It is indisputable that the phrase, "Art of War" has been irrevocably linked to the universally lauded Chinese military general, Sun Tzu. But truly, the famed Genghis Khan of the Mongolian empire is equally deserving of this accolade.

Genghis Khan (born Temüjin, Chinggis Khaan or the Great Khan) was born into nobility in 1162, eventually expanding his status to become emperor of the Mongol Empire after successfully uniting the multitude of tribes in Northeast Asia. While it is easy to laud and applaud his brilliance as a military leader, the question of "How exactly did he do it?" is often overlooked. Today, we will explore the military philosophies and strategies of Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan's military revolved around 5 core elements. These five elements were:

  1. SPEED

Before delving any further into the strategies Genghis Khan employed, let us first review the philosophies he advocated within his military. (Well, you got to learn the reasoning behind his tactics in the first place right?) Perhaps, both his philosophies of iron discipline and ferocity is best embodied in this quote:

"The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters." - Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan's ironclad strictness with his military translated into military ruthlessness but he was always careful with how he treated his army as well. Another of his quotes reflect his softer side, and his apparent concern for his soldiers.

"My soldiers are as numerous as forests, and their women could form a large unit within the army. I want to feed them with juicy meat, let them live in beautiful yurts, and let them pasture their livestock on rich soil." - Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan treated his army well (albeit with iron discipline), and in return they excelled in battle for him, carrying out his tactics with great success (evident from his triumphant conquests). This is reflective of his "golden rule" of 'mutual loyalty'. Having identified his military philosophy, we move on to discuss the strategies of his army.


Genghis Khan's army was highly mobile, with each soldier requiring to care for 3 to 4 horses, enabling them to travel at high speeds for days. This ability allowed the Mongolian army to scout effectively, mapping out enemy territories and carrying out spy missions. This emphasis on mobility also translated into battle, whereby the cavalry wore lightweight armor and used bows to devastating effect in a variety of situations.


While a majority of the sites I visited for research tended to focus their tactics of feigned retreat and flanking, Genghis Khan's army actually utilized 16 different tactics under his command. A handful of these tactics include:

  1. Crow Soldiers and Scattered Stars Tactics (also known as Ocean Waves Tactics)
  2. The Cavalrymen Charge Tactics (also known as Chisel Attack Tactics)
  3. Archers’ Tactics
  4. Throw-Into-Disorder Tactics
  5. Wearing-Down Tactics
  6. Confusing and Intimidating
  7. Luring into Ambushes
  8. Arc Formation Tactics

*Click here for the full list and explanation of each tactic.

Psychological Warfare

"In the countries that have not yet been overrun by them, everyone spends the night afraid that they may appear there too." - Ibn Al-Athir (Arab Chronicler)

These quote perhaps sums up the extent of psychological impact the Mongol Army had on their terrified neighbors. The Mongolian army under Genghis Khan's rule was not large by any amount and was in fact outnumbered in a number of battles. In an effort to overcome this handicap, Genghis Khan instilled terror in his enemies through the brutal plundering of cities he conquered. It was through these multiple shows of mercilessness that his army was simply able to walk into self-surrendering cities.

The terrors of 13th century Mongol conquests.

Genghis Khan's legacy lives on today. Up till this day, he inspires love and hate, with one of the end of the spectrum naming an airport (Chinggis Khaan International Airport) after him, and the other bemoaning his butchering of millions, labeling him "Accursed of God". Regardless one which camp you belong to, one cannot help but acknowledge his prowess on the battlefield and his might as a military man.