The Khan (1152/1167 - 1227 AD) who founded the world's largest empire was given the name Temujin at birth. At his death, Temujin's empire encompassed over 13.8 million square miles and 100 million people, about half of the world's entire population.
Temujin was born into a family of the minor Mongol nobility. His father was murdered when he was nine, leaving his mother to teach Temujin how to ride a horse, shoot a bow, and tend the animals. She also taught her son that allies were crucial to one's survival, and Temujin took this lesson to heart. As he grew into manhood Temujin also grew in power and prominence, and he was eventually accepted as leader of all of the Mongols. He reorganized the military, promoting men of competence rather than men of good breeding. After defeating his last internal foe, Temujin was named "Genghis Kahn," meaning "Oceanic Ruler" (or possibly "Fierce Ruler"). After fully securing his position at home, Kahn began his extraordinary series of conquests across Asia and Europe.
Genghis Khan was far more interested in victory than he was in glory in battle. Before attacking a city or country, Genghis Khan sent the local rulers "orders of submission," in which he demanded immediate surrender. If the rulers did so, they were allowed to continue governing as long as they provided him tribute in money and labor. If the rulers did not surrender, they could expect little mercy once defeated.
As a political leader, Genghis Kahn adopted a policy of religious tolerance, which eased tensions with the local priests. He recruited foreigners to serve as officers in his army and in his government, allowing them to rise to prominence according to their abilities, thus giving the ablest men reason to support him rather than to plot against him.
As a military leader, Genghis Khan was exceptional. He maintained tight discipline among his troops, punishing them severely for infractions. He developed a sophisticated intelligence network across Asia, and he used the intelligence to craft clever military campaigns that fully exploited his enemy's weaknesses. Genghis Khan's troops were extraordinary, as well. The Mongols were superb light cavalrymen, and their ability to shoot arrows from the saddle was unbelievable.
Genghis Khan's first campaigns were against the Tanguts, who controlled the lucrative trade routes between the East and West. After subduing them, he conquered other foes in Central Asia and Northern China. No one could stand against him. During his last and most extraordinary campaign, he set out with 200,000 warriors and captured Bukhara, Samarkand, Balkh, Nishapur and Herat in succession. After remaining in Central Asia for four years, Genghis Khan headed back home, only to die en route.
Something more than a barbarian and something less than an enlightened ruler, Genghis Khan remains one of the most extraordinary warrior-kings of all time.