When Temujin went to retrieve his bride after seven years of absence, his political career among the Mongols began. Borte carried with her a wedding gift — a sable coat — for Temujin’s family, but he devised a better use for it. He presented it to Torghil, later called the Ong Khan, of the powerful Kereyid tribal confederacy. Torghil had been Yesugei’s blood brother, or
anda, and by accepting the coat agreed to treat Temujin as his son and protect him (Weatherford 27-28).
This alliance proved key when Borte was kidnapped by the Merkid tribe not long after. Temujin resolved to steal his wife back, and the Ong Khan offered him the help of a man named Jamuka.
Jamuka happened to be the man with whom Temujin had twice sworn blood brothership in his younger years of exile in the north. To become blood brothers, they likely each swallowed a small amount of the other’s blood. Jamuka was the only
anda Temujin ever took.
Together they organized an army and rescued Borte. As the Merkid fled, Temujin spoke words that would have been appropriate after many of his future raids, in which he sometimes destroyed entire cities and wiped out whole populations: “We have made their breasts to become empty. … And we have made their beds to become empty. … And we have made an end of the men and their descendants” (Weatherford 36).
Jamuka and Temujin swore their blood brothership a third time, but Temujin quickly became impatient with his status as a second-rate member of Jamuka’s tribe, just as he had become impatient with his brother Begter. When Jamuka slighted him one day, Temujin and his family left the tribe, taking many loyal members with them, and beginning a rivalry that would eventually decide the leader of the steppe tribes (Weatherford 38-39).
Over the next decade Temujin established a tribe of his own, but, in recalling the lessons of his youth, he defied tradition by selecting his most able and loyal followers for the highest ranking positions in the tribe, rather than choosing family members by default (Weatherford 40). Meanwhile, Jamuka was amassing a tribe of his own.
Temujin made another departure from tradition when he defeated the Jurkin, a tribe which had slighted him, and instead of looting and taking prisoners, chose to put their leaders on trial. The leaders were found guilty of breaking a promise to him and were executed. Temujin was setting an example, breaking “the cycle of attack and counterattack” that had characterized steppe warfare for decades (Weatherford 44). His ambitions were becoming clearer.
Also in breaking with tradition, Temujin occupied Jurkin lands and divided the tribe to live among the different households of his clan. Breaking down tribal loyalties was the key to redirecting all loyalty toward him, a tactic that would be applied across the whole of the Mongol nation when it was formed under his rule in 1206.
He also adopted a Jurkin child, a strategy he would use later in life when he married women from the cities and nations he conquered as a method of accepting a new people into his empire. The strategies that made him a world conqueror were tested and perfected on the Mongol steppe first.
Temujin’s break with tradition made a strong impression.
“The messages were clear to all their related clans on the steppe,” Weatherford writes. “To those who followed Temujin faithfully, there would be rewards and good treatment. To those who chose to attack him, he would show no mercy” (45).
Meanwhile, over the course of several battles and raids, Temujin further developed his skills as a leader of warriors. He established a rule requiring that raiders under his command could not loot enemy
gers, or tents, until the battle was completely won, and also chose to distribute loot evenly, including to the families of men who had died in the raid. Weatherford postulates Temujin may have instituted this rule to prevent a repeat of his own family’s abandonment after the death of his father, Yesugei.
“This policy not only ensured him of the support of the poorest people in the tribe, but it also inspired loyalty among his soldiers,” writes Weatherford (50). Indeed, Temujin seemed to have an uncanny ability to inspire faithfulness in his followers: “Though the steppe tribes of his time changed sides at the least provocation and soldiers might desert their leaders, none of Temujin’s generals deserted him throughout his six decades as a warrior” (49).
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