However, what do you know about the women behind these men?
Women in the ancient Mongolian society
Mongolian women are generally in charge of household chores since the men are all out for battles most of the time. Polygamy is being practiced in Mongolia, where it is common for men to take more than one wife. In fact, the number of wives a man have is directly proportional to how affluent and powerful he is as wives are usually bought over. Among all the wives that a Mongolia man has taken, there will be a chief wife. She will have the greatest power in the family (after her husband) as her sons would be the one to take over their father's power and inherit a greater portion of his inheritance as compared to children of other wives. However, as much as Mongolian men are glorified for their achievements from war victories, Mongolian women are less known for their contributions towards the society, in which some are rather untypical.
Being pastoral nomads, Mongolia women were expected to be the ones pitching their tents (or gers as the Mongols call it) once they have settled down into their new camp site. This was pretty surprising to us as it is unusual for ancient women to be the one in charge of building homes as they are often made out to be weak. Well, clearly not so for Mongolian women #girlpower. The gers will be pitched such that there will be "a space of one stone's throw” between them so that every wife of the Mongolian men will have their own homes pitched.
Mongolian women were also known to take on the role of moving their house around. They were tasked to load up their dismantled gers and all of their furnitures onto their horse/camel wagons. After each wife is done loading up their stuffs, the wagons would then be connected to each other and each wife would sit on their wagon before everyone travels together as a group.
Fun Fact: According to "William of Ruburch, the cleric who traveled among the Mongols between 1253 and 1255, claimed that one woman would drive as many as 30 connected wagons."
Lastly, Mongolian women were actually capable of influencing men back then! One example is Sorghaghtani Beki.
Sorghaghtani was originally from the Kereit tribe before marrying Genghis Khan’s youngest son, Tolui. In her lifetime, she bore Tolui four sons who would later inherit the legacy left by their grandfather, Genghis Khan. Her second son in particular, Khublai Khan ended up becoming the first emperor of the Yuan dynasty in 1271 CE.
She is considered to be one of the most remarkable women from the Mongol Empire not just because of her status as Genghis Khan’s daughter-in-law, but also due to her influence on her 4 sons.
While she was a Christian herself, she chose to keep herself open to other religions and even contributed significantly in the form of monetary and tangible support to Buddhism, Taoism and Islam practitioners on her land. This was because she believed that the patronage of different religions would help to facilitate the governance of people living in the Mongol Empire. As a result, she made sure that this belief was instilled into her sons while she raised them up.
Sorghaghtani also saw literacy as a crucial skill that would aid her sons in administering rule over the Mongol Empire. Hence, she employed teachers to teach them how to read and write, and exposed them to the languages of the territories under the Mongol Empire. Moreover, she sought the help of Chinese advisers to educate her sons regarding Chinese culture, so that they could relate to the Chinese people and gain their support.
To her, it was vital that her children (and also the rest of the community such as the wives and leftover troops) understood the importance of good manners and avoidance of conflict. As a result, this became a quality the community practised and they all developed great respect towards Sorghaghtani and pledged loyalty towards her.
In conclusion, we think that without the influence of Sorghaghtani on her sons, they would not all become khans eventually. Being religious tolerant is especially essential as commoners can easily use this as a reason to defy their rulers and cause internal conflicts to occur. By providing her sons with education and good manners, Sorghaghtani was able to lay the foundations that are essential for her sons to become rulers of the Mongol Empire left behind by their grandfather, Genghis Khan.