11 Cultural Breakthroughs Genghis Khan Achieved During His Reign

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istock

Sure, he was a ruthless warlord who decimated armies and wiped out entire civilizations. But it turns out Genghis Khan (real name: Temujin) was anything but barbaric when it came to ruling. His cultural and political policies helped unify a previously disjointed collection of tribes and fiefdoms, creating a Mongol Empire that ruled a vast swath of Asia and Europe for more than a century. Here are a few of Genghis’s practices that were most definitely ahead of their time. 

1. HE ESTABLISHED FREEDOM OF RELIGION.

The great Khan, who was born a Tengrist, passed laws allowing subjects freedom of religion, and even gave tax exemptions to places of worship. This was a strategic move, since Genghis Khan knew subjects would be less likely to rebel. It was also practical, as the Mongol people observed so many different religions that unifying them under a single one would have been impossible. Tolerance aside, Genghis did establish one religious decree: That his was the word of God. 

2. HE BANNED TORTURE. 

In contrast to many civilized armies at the time, the Mongols did not maim or torture their prisoners. Instead, Genghis Khan believed the surest way to inspire terror was through speed and efficiency in battle. Many of the stories about building pyramids out of enemy skulls and boiling people alive, scholars believe, are fear-inspired myths. 

3. HE INCORPORATED ENEMIES INTO HIS ARMY. 

Rather than execute rival soldiers, Genghis Khan often absorbed them into his army. In 1201, when he was nearly killed in battle after his horse was shot out from under him, Genghis asked enemy prisoners who had fired the arrow. A man bravely stepped forward to take the blame, and said he would accept punishment of death or swear undying loyalty if spared. Genghis immediately made him an officer in his army. “Jebe,” or “arrow,” as Khan called him, would go on to become one of the great Mongol field commanders. 

4. HE LEFT CONQUERED CITIES ALONE. 

After capturing a city, Genghis Khan would leave behind a few officials to oversee municipal matters and essentially let people carry on with their lives (provided they were loyal to the Great Empire, of course). Most citizens knew better than to revolt against their minders, but a few did and ended up facing the wrath of the full army all over again. Nishapur, located in what’s today northeast Iran, tried its luck in 1221 and saw every last citizen killed.   

5. HE PROMOTED PEOPLE BASED ON INDIVIDUAL MERIT. 

The feudal system that existed throughout Asia before Genghis Khan’s time primarily rewarded aristocratic privilege and birth. Despite being the son of a chief, Genghis despised this system, and as he swept across the continent he implemented a new one that rewarded loyalty and individual achievement on the battlefield. 

6. HE OUTLAWED SLAVERY. 

Genghis Khan understood the bitterness and economic strain that slavery created. He’d also been a slave himself during his teenage years, when he and his wife Börte were captured by a rival clan. So when Genghis Khan began unifying the Mongol tribes, he outlawed the taking of Mongols as servants or slaves. 

7. HE ESTABLISHED UNIVERSAL LAW.

Adopted from Mongol common law, Genghis Khan’s system of law, known as the Yassa, prohibited theft, adultery, blood feuds, and bearing false witness. Some versions also incorporated the Mongol’s respect for the environment by outlawing bathing in rivers or streams and requiring soldiers to pick up anything that had been dropped on the ground. 

8. AND A UNIVERSAL WRITING SYSTEM. 

To enforce his law, Genghis ordered the creation of a writing system based on the Uyghur alphabet. It wasn’t the first writing system in Asia, but it was the first one to be widely adopted and taught to the people. 

9. HE ESTABLISHED FREE TRADE ALONG THE SILK ROAD. 

Genghis Khan believed in the unifying power of foreign trade as well as using it to gain valuable knowledge (many of his spies posed as merchants). As he swept across Asia, Genghis turned the towns and cities he conquered into waypoints for trade. In time, his conquests into Europe established key trade routes between East and West.    

10. HE CREATED ONE OF THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL POSTAL SYSTEMS. 

Knowledge was power in Genghis Khan’s empire, and that’s why one of his first orders as ruler was the creation of a Pony Express-like courier system known as the Yam. Riders carried messages across a network of huts, and could cover as much as 200 miles a day by constantly changing mounts. In addition to delivering messages, riders also acted as scouts who could monitor enemy forces and keep tabs on assimilated towns and cities. 

11. HE REDISTRIBUTED THE WEALTH HE GAINED. 

Genghis Khan is frequently listed as one of the richest people in history—but only in terms of the land he conquered. Rather than hoard the money and goods he gained through conquering, Genghis gave it to his soldiers and commanders (who were otherwise prohibited from looting without permission), injecting it back into the economy.

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75) 

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10) 

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- Fairywill Electric Toothbrush with Four Brush Heads; $19 (save $9)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

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- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games

Nintendo

- Legend of Zelda Link's Awakening for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

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- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Minecraft Dungeons Hero Edition for Nintendo Switch; $20 (save $10)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

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- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8 inches with 32 GB; $100 (save $50)

Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

- Apple iMac 27 inches with 256 GB; $1649 (save $150)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

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Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

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'Jingle Bells' Was Originally Written as a Thanksgiving Song

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash
Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

Thanksgiving has got nothing on Christmas when it comes to songs that are specific to the holiday. Beyond Adam Sandler’s “The Thanksgiving Song” and ... "The Thanksgiving Song" remix, there aren't a ton of songs you associate with Turkey Day. Unless you count "Jingle Bells."

Back in 1850 or 1851, James Lord Pierpont was perhaps enjoying a little holiday cheer at the Simpson Tavern in Medford, Massachusetts, when Medford’s famous sleigh races to neighboring Malden Square inspired him to write a tune. The story goes that Pierpont picked out the song on the piano belonging to the owner of the boarding house attached to the tavern because he wanted something to play for Thanksgiving at his Sunday school class in Boston. The resulting song wasn’t just a hit with the kids; adults loved it so much that the lyrics to “One Horse Open Sleigh” were altered slightly and used for Christmas. The song was published in 1857, when Pierpont was working at a Unitarian Church in Savannah, Georgia.

Another bit of trivia for you: Mr. Pierpont was the uncle of banker John Pierpont Morgan, better known as J.P. Morgan. Despite this, and despite the fact that his famous holiday composition should have made him a millionaire, Pierpont struggled to make ends meet. Even after his son renewed the copyright on "Jingle Bells" in 1880, 13 years before his father’s death, it was never enforced enough to produce any real income.

Though lyrics about turkey and the Pilgrims aren’t as abundant as tunes for certain other holidays, they’re out there. Here are a couple:

“Over the River and Through the Wood”

They might as well crown Medford, Massachusetts, the Thanksgiving Capital of the United States, because the song “Over the River and Through the Woods” was born there, too. Lydia Maria Child wrote the poem “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day” about a trip to her grandfather’s house, which, yes, really does sit near the Mystic River in Medford, Massachusetts. It’s still there today, owned by Tufts University and used as a home for Tufts dignitaries. The poem was later set to music and became the classic we know today.

"Alice’s Restaurant Massacre"

It doesn’t have much to do with Thanksgiving, except that the real-life events that inspired the song took place on Thanksgiving. After dumping some litter illegally on Turkey Day in 1967, Arlo Guthrie was arrested. When he later went to the induction center to find out about his draft status, Guthrie realized that he had been declared ineligible for the draft due to his lack of moral conduct. The song, which is 18+ minutes long, became a huge hit amongst war and draft protesters.

This story has been updated for 2020.