white gerfalcons


This is an expert from my post “THE MONGOLS AND THE RISE OF GENGHIS KHAN”.

Though Khabul’s grandson, Yesugei (Genghis Khan’s father), was not a khan he was still a well-respected and effective chief. Yesugei Baghatur (ba’atur, “hero, brave, valiant, knight, lord”) kidnapped a woman from the Merkits (Mongolian) named Hoelun, whom he would soon marry. His kidnapping of Hoelun led to a long standing feud between the two confederacies which would carry on to Yesugei’s and Hoelun’s son Temujin (Genghis Khan).

At the time of his birth he was born clutching in his right hand a clot of blood the size of a knucklebone. Because he was born when the Tatar Temüjin Üge had been brought captive, for this very reason they gave him the name Temüjin.” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

^ Mongol (2007). A young Temujin with his father Yesugei.

At the age of nine Temujin and his father journeyed to seek out the Olqunu’ut people, in hopes of finding Temujin a wife. On their way there they came across a relative (by marriage) named Dei Secen of the Onggirat tribe who told Yesugei: 

This son of yours is a boy who has fire in his eyes, who has light in his face”. “I had a dream last night, I did. A white gerfalcon clasping both sun and moon in its claws flew down to me and perched on my hand.” “Before, when I looked, I could only see the sun and the moon from afar; now this gerfalcon has brought them to me and has perched on my hand. He has alighted, all white. Just what sort of good thing does this showI had my dream, quda Yisügei, just as you were coming here bringing your son. I had a dream of good omen.” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

^ Mongol (2007). My snapshot, Temujin and Borte on both ends of the table.

After this Dei Secen introduced them to his ten year old daughter Borte who also had light in her face and fire in her eyes. Temujin was then given to Dei Secen as his son-in-law and Yesugei departed. While Yesugei traveled back he came across a group of Tatars (Turks) who were feasting, as he joined them Yesugei was unaware that they had poisoned his meal as revenge for a previous raid he had led against them. Temujin returned home to find that their own people had abandoned them. Too young to rule in his own right, Temujin and his family were left destitute and deserted by their own people.

^ Mongol (2007). Young Temujin.

Lady Hoelun (Temujin’s mother) struggled to keep her family fed and taken care of; foraging for bird cherries, crab apples, wild garlic, wild leek, lily bulbs, silverweed and great burnet roots. As they “grew up into fine men, truly valiant and bold. Saying to each other, ‘Let us feed our mother!’ They sat on the bank of Mother Onan (River), they prepared their hooks and fished mean and paltry fish; bending needle into hook, they fished for salmon and grayling. They made seines and dragnets, and caught fingerlings: then, with grateful heart, they fed their mother.” One of the earliest dark scenes of Temujin’s life occurred when Temujin killed his older brother Bekter who would steal hard earned food meant for the family.

Temujin would follow, like most Mongols, a life of constant strife. Throughout his life he was continually attacked, robbed, kidnapped, enslaved and forced to fight, hide or flee. Along the way he came across individuals that went out of their way to aid him, many of whom became close friends or anda (‘blood brothers’). One such individual was To’oril, a powerful Khan of the Kerayits (Mongols). Earlier Yesugei (Temujin’s father) helped To’oril fight the latter’s paternal uncle and reunite the Kerayit Mongols under To’oril’s banner. Since then the two swore to be brothers by oath (anda, ‘blood brother’) and in turn To’oril became like a father, mentor and patron to Temujin after his father’s death. “When he came to [To’oril]Qan, Temüjin said, ‘Since in earlier days you and my father declared yourselves sworn friends you are, indeed, like a father to me.” 

To’oril and Temujin loved each other like father and son, referring to each other as such and To’oril even contemplates naming Temujin as his heir. “As for myself, now I have grown old, and having grown old, when I shall ascend to the heights – I have grown ancient, and having grown ancient, when I shall ascend to the cliffs – who will govern all my people? My younger brothers lack force of character; there is only Senggüm, my one son, but it is as if he did not exist. If I make my son Temujin the elder brother of Senggüm, I shall have two sons and my mind will be at rest. (TSHotM, 164)”

They would latter declare themselves father and son, promising:

“‘When we attack the enemy hosts, We shall attack together as one; When we chase the cunning wild beasts, We shall also chase them together as one!’” – The Secret History of the Mongols, 164.

Out of jealousy for us two – should a snake with venomous teeth provoke discord between us, let us not succumb to his provocations. By talking only mouth to mouth we shall believe each other! Should a snake with venomous fangs spread slander about us, let us not accept his slander. By explaining only face to face we shall believe each other!” – The Secret History of the Mongols, 164.

When Temujin gave To’oril Qan a precious sable coat To’oril promised Temujin that (like Yesugei had done previously): “In return for the sable coat, I shall unite for you, your scattered people. Just as the place of the kidneys must be in the back, that of good faith must be in the breast!” (TSHotM). To’oril Khan would become like a father to Temujin and both swore many times over to that affect.

^ Mongol (2007). My snapshot, Temujin and Borte.

Temujin’s wife Borte was kidnapped by the Merkits (Mongolian) seeking to avenge the kidnapping of Hoelun by Temujin’s father in the distant past. 

^ Mongol (2007). Temujin and Borte.

Temujin sought the aid of To’oril Qan; “We have come now to ask you, O Qan my father, to rescue my wife and return her to me”. To’oril Qan and his younger brothers rallied a large force of warriors to defeat the Merkits and Temujin’s wife, they succeeded in both. When Temujin became Genghis Khan, he made it illegal to kidnap women, partially because of this incident but also because this would end one of the reasons for conflict between the steppe nomads.

The reason why they declared themselves father and son was because in early days Ong Qan had declared himself a sworn friend of Chinggis Qa’an’s father Yisügei Qan, and by virtue of this fact Chinggis Qa’an said that Ong Qan was like a father to him. Such was the reason why they declared themselves father and son. They made the following promises to each other: ‘When we attack the enemy hosts, we shall attack together as one; when we chase the cunning wild beasts, we shall also chase them together as one!’ 

So they declared. Chinggis Qa’an and Ong Qan also promised each other, saying, ‘Out of jealousy for us two – should a snake with venomous teeth provoke discord between us, Let us not succumb to his provocations. By talking only mouth to mouth we shall believe each other! Should a snake with venomous fangs spread slander about us, let us not accept his slander. By explaining only face to face we shall believe each other!’” – The Secret History of the Mongols, 164.

Another person that Temujin became close to was To’oril’s younger brother Jamuqa. When Temujin was eleven, Jamuqa the two of them vowed twice to be sworn friends (anda, ‘blood brothers’), “Sworn friends – the two of them share but a single life; they do not abandon one another: they are each a life’s safeguard for the other. (TSHotM, 117)”. 

^ Mongol (2007). My snapshot, Jamuqa and Temujin.

After To’oril and Jamuqa had helped Temujin save his wife, Jamuqa and he decided to renew that pledge they had made so long ago. The first time (when Temujin was eleven) they swore to become anda (oath brothers) they exchanged knucklebones, the second time (the following spring) it was arrows and this last time they exchanged a golden belt and a horse respectively.

^ Mongol (2007). My snapshot of Jamuqa and Temujin laughing. 

For the next year and a half Temujin and Jamuqa remained close friends but in time ‘Sworn friend Jamuqa, so they say, grows easily tired of his friends. (TSHotM, 118)” After discovering that Jamuqa was planning on ambushing him, Temujin and his camp departed under the cover of night. Subsequently many Mongolian clans and tribes rallied to Temujin side, including some who were formerly allied with Jamuqa.

^ Mongol (2007). Jamuqa.

We would not have parted from him (Jamuqa), but a heavenly sign appeared before my very eyes, revealing the future to me (Qorchi). There came a fallow cow. She circled Jamuqa and struck his tent-cart with her horns; then she butted him too, breaking one of her two horns. Being thus left with uneven horns, “Bring me my horn!” she kept saying, bellowing repeatedly at Jamuqa as she stood there, hoofing up the ground and raising more and more dust. Then a hornless and fallow ox lifted up the great shaft under the tent, harnessed it on to himself and pulled it after him. As he proceeded following Temüjin on the wide road, he kept bellowing, “Together Heaven and Earth have agreed: Temüjin shall be lord of the people!” and “I am drawing near carrying the people and bringing it to him.” These heavenly signs appeared before my eyes; they revealed the future to me.” – Qorchi of the Ba’arin tribe was sent a heavenly sign. The Secret History of the Mongols.

Now having a tribe which extended beyond just his blood relatives, Temujin called for a kuriltai (assembly) where those who attended also voted in favor of assigning Temujin the title of Chinggis Qa’an. Chinggis Qa’an then sent envoys to his oath father To’oril (who was happy to hear the news) and his oath brother Jamuqa (who was angered that his own men had sided with Temujin Khan). Jamuqa’s younger brother was then killed by one of Temujin Khan’s tribesmen after robbing their herd of horses from them. This was enough for Jamuqa to assemble his thirteen camps of thirty thousand against Chinggis Qa’an. After repelling Chinggis Qa’an at the Battle of Dalan Balzhut, Jamuqa had some of those that had deserted him to join Chinggis Qa’an tortured and killed.

^ Mongol (2007). My snapshot, Jamuqa.

Jamuqa had the princes of the Chinòs boiled alive in seventy cauldrons. Having cut off the head of Chaqa’an U’a of the Ne’üs, he dragged it away bound to the tail of his horse.” – The Secret History of the Mongols, 129.

Now in 1201 CE Mongolian and Tatar (Turkish) tribes assembled and chose Jamuqa to lead them as their Gur-Khan (universal chief of khans, used mostly by the Turco-Mongol empire of Kara Khitai):”‘Let us raise Jamuqa the Jajirat as qan’, they jointly hacked the backs of a stallion and a mare and together swore an oath of friendship.” Some of the tribes he now ruled were ones that had wronged Chinggis Qa’an (Temujin) and his ancestors, most importantly the Turkish Tatars and the Mongolian Naimans. By taking the title Gur-Khan, Jamuqa was effectively challenging and undermining his older brother To’oril Ong Qan who was the regional overlord. Jamuqa would continue warring with his older brother (To’oril Ong Qan) and his oath brother (Chinggis Qa’an).

^ Mongol (2007). My snapshot, Jamuqa. 

Temujin Khan wanted to strengthen the alliance between himself and his oath father To’oril Ong Qan by arranging marriages between their children but To’oril’s son (Nilqa Senggüm) refused to do so, pressuring To’oril into unintentionally disrespecting and placing himself above Temujin Khan by refusing, a rift grew between the two. To’oril’s brother (Jamuqa) and son (Senggüm) were able to trick and convince To’oril into joining them against Temujin Khan. While they wished to handle the issue of Temujin Khan violently, To’oril Ong Qan tried to convince them to instead rob Chinggis Qa’an (Temujin) of his people and in turn strip him of power. “The best plan is to go ahead and capture Temujin’s people. If his people are taken away from him and he is left without them, what can he do (TSHotM, 166)?” The ‘Secret History of the Mongols’ goes to great lengths to describe the pain, anguish and torment To’oril and Chinggis Qa’an went through when pitted into this impossible position.

Khan, my father, why turn against me? Don’t you recall how we swore allegiance?  Were we not like oxen pulling together, or like the wheels on a two-wheeled cart? Did not Yesugei, my father, come to your help? Were you two not sworn brothers? Did you not say ‘I will repay your favor to your children’s children’? When you were cast out, surviving with five goats, drinking the blood of your camels, did I not restore you? When you were plundered by the Naimans, did I not send my four greatest men, my four ‘war horses’, to help you, and save your son? So why, khan my father, do you turn against me?” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

To’oril Ong Qan: “How can I separate from my child, my son (Chinggis Qa’an)? Because until now he has been our support, is it right to harbor evil intentions against him? We shall not be loved by Heaven (Tengri)” (TSHotM, 167). In the end To’oril’s fear of losing his son Senggüm to this dispute pressured him into siding against Chinggis (Temujin). After losing a great clash Jamuqa Gur-Khan and To’oril Ong Qan fled, the latter was mistakenly killed by a Naiman bodyguard. To compensate for this, the Naiman queen asked that To’oril’s head should be brought to her so she could atone for this mistake. She placed To’oril’s head on a sacred white felt cloth at the back of her ger (yurt, tent), a place of great honor. 

^ Mongol (2007). My snapshot, Jamuqa before Temujin. 

A ceremony then commenced in which the queen prayed and offered wine to the head as if he was still alive since the head of a person was seen as the seat of their soul. All the while her daughters-in-law danced and sang while musicians played their morin huur (horsehead fiddles). When the Naiman Khan supposedly saw the head of To’oril Ong Qan smile or laugh at him he fell into a panic in which he kicked the head off of the sacred white felt cloth and stomped it to a pulp. After Jamuqa’s final defeat, he fled and was later turned over to Chinggis Qa’an (Temujin) by his own people, who were executed for their betrayal. Chinggis still saw Jamuqa as his sworn blood brother so he tried to convince Jamuqa into joining him: 

Now the two of us are united. Let us be companions! If we become each of us like one of the two shafts of a cart, would you think of separating yourself from me and being on your own? Now that we are together once more, let us each remind the other of what he has forgotten, let us each wake up the other who has fallen asleep. Although you separated from me and went a different way, you remain my lucky, blessed sworn friend. On the day one kills and is killed, surely your heart was aching for me. Although you separated from me and went a different way, on the day one fights one another, your lungs and heart were aching for me.” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

^ Mongol (2007). “I’ll always be a rock in your boot”.

Jamuqa Gur-Khan replies to Chinggis Qa’an (Temujin), his oath brother:

In early days when we were small, in the Qorqonaq Valley I agreed with my sworn friend the Qan to become sworn friends: together we ate food that is not to be digested, to each other we spoke words that are not to be forgotten, together we were under our blanket sharing it between us (a common non-sexual custom still done today), but stirred up by someone coming between us, pricked by someone standing at the side, we parted for good. Saying to myself that we had exchanged weighty words, the skin of my black face peeled off in shame; and so I have been living unable to come near you, unable to see the friendly face of my sworn friend the Qan. Saying to myself that we had exchanged unforgettable words, the skin of my red face came off in shame; and so I have been living unable to see the true face of my sworn friend with a long memory.

Now my sworn friend the Qan shows favour to me and says, “Let us be companions!” But when it was the time for being companions, I was not one. Now, sworn friend, You have pacified all our people, You have unified all other peoples, and the Qan’s throne has been assigned to you. Now that the world is at your disposal, of what use would I be as a companion to you? On the contrary, O my sworn friend, I would intrude into your dreams in the dark night, I would trouble your heart in the bright day, I would be a louse in your collar, I would be a thorn in the inner lapel of your coat. ‘I had many paternal grandmothers. When I became disloyal to my sworn friend I made a mistake. Now, in this life – that of the sworn friend and me – my fame has indeed passed from sunrise to sunset.” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

If you want to show favour to me, let me die swiftly and your heart will be at rest. And if you condescend to have me put to death, let them kill me without shedding blood. When I lie dead, my bones buried in a high place, for ever and ever I shall protect you and be a blessing to the offspring of your offspring.” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

Despite their tumultuous relationship, Chinggis (Temujin) honored him by giving him an honorable death without bloodshed and burying him in a high place per their custom. It is believed that Chinggis buried his sworn blood brother Jamuqa with a golden belt Chinggis gave him when they renewed their oath of brotherhood. 

He ordered that Jamuqa be put to death without his blood being shed and that his body should not be abandoned in the open, but be given a fitting burial. He had Jamuqa executed there and then, and had his body buried as arranged.” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

^ Mongol (2007). My snapshot, Temujin.

With the deaths of Jamuqa and To’oril, Chinggis Qa’an (Temujin) effectively became the de facto overlord of the Mongolian Steppe. In 1206 CE the majority of their neighboring Mongolian and Turkish tribes gathered at a kuriltai (assembly) to accepted the forty-four years old Chinggis as their Qan (Khan).

And so, when the people of the felt-walled tents had been brought to allegiance, in the Year of the Tiger (1206 CE) they all gathered at the source of the Onan River. They hoisted the white standard with nine tails (yak) and there they gave Chinggis Qa’an the title of qan (Khan).” – The Secret History of the Mongols.

As far as the eye can see, gers spread out for miles in every direction. The event was celebrated with feasts, music and sports. The eriin gurvan naadam (“three manly games”) were wrestling, archery and horse racing. Music filled the air from day till nightfall; chanting, drums were pounded on, morin huur (horse-head fiddle) were played and the Mongols vocalized their tradition Mongolian throat-singing.

  • Head over to my post, “GENGHIS KHAN, THE STALLION WHO MOUNTS THE WORLD”, to read more about how Genghis Khan was pressured into campaigning out of China toward Central Asia (Kara Khitai Khanate), to Greater Iran (Khwarezmian Empire), to the frontier of Eastern Europe (Medieval Russia and Ukraine) and back to China. I also cover Mongol shamanism and their tolerance of foreign religions, the famed ‘Yam’ pony express, their tactical use of captives and their massive deportation policy.
  • To read up on the early history of the Mongols, check out my post ‘THE MONGOLS AND THE RISE OF GENGHIS KHAN’. In this post I speak about the Mongolian transition from seemingly insignificant tribal confederacies into an empire that was four times the size of Alexander’s and twice the size of the Roman’s. I cover their military tactics, some of their battle formations, armaments, their rapid adaptation of foreign technologies, and their secretive order of bodyguards known as the Keshik. During Genghis Khan’s early reign the Mongols warred against themselves and their fellow steppe neighbors as well as Northern China’s Western Xia dynasty (Tanguts: Tibeto-Burmese) and eastern Jinn dynasty (Tungusic Jurchens who were Sinicized).