Genghis Khan - Jacob Abbott

Grand Celebrations

When Genghis Khan found that his conquests in Western Asia were in some good degree established and confirmed, he illustrated his victory and the consequent extension of his empire by two very imposing celebrations. The first was a grand hunt. The second was a solemn convocation of all the estates of his immense realm in a sort of diet or deliberative assembly.

The accounts given by the historians of both these celebrations are doubtless greatly exaggerated. Their description of the hunt is as follows:

It was after the close of the campaign in 1221 that it took place, while the army were in winter quarters. The object of the hunt was to keep the soldiers occupied, so as to avoid the relaxation of discipline, and the vices and disorder which generally creep into a camp where there are no active occupations to engage the minds of the men. The hunt took place in a vast region of uninhabited country, which was infested with wild beasts of every kind. The soldiers were marched out on this expedition in order of war, as if it were a country occupied by armed men that they were going to attack. The different detachments were conducted to the different points in the outskirts of the country, from which they severally extended themselves to the right and left, so as completely to inclose the ground. And the space was so large, it is said, which was thus inclosed, that it took them several weeks to march in to the centre.

It is true that in such a case the men would advance very slowly, perhaps only a few miles each day, in order that they might examine the ground thoroughly, and leave no ravine, or thicket, or other lurking-place, where beasts might conceal themselves, unexplored. Still, the circle was doubtless immensely large.

When the appointed morning at length arrived, the men at the several stations were arrayed, and they commenced their advance toward the centre, moving to the sound of trumpets, drums, timbrels, and other such instruments of martial music as were in use in those days.

The men were strictly fortidden to kill any animal. They were only to start them out from their lurking-places and lairs, and drive them in toward the centre of the field.

Great numbers of the men were provided with picks, spades, and other similar tools, with which they were to dig out the burrows and holes of such animals as should seek refuge under ground.

They went on in this way for some weeks. The animals ran before them, thinking, when they were disturbed by the men, that it was only a momentary danger, which they could easily escape from, as usual, by running forward into the next thicket; but soon the advancing line of the soldiers reached them there, and drove them out again, and if they attempted to turn to the right or the left they soon found themselves intercepted. Thus, as the circle grew narrower, and the space inclosed diminished, the animals began to find themselves mixing with one another in great numbers, and being now irritated and angry, they attacked one another in many instances, the strong falling upon and killing the weak. Thus a great many were killed, though not by the hands of the soldiers.

At last the numbers became so great, and the excitement and terror of the animals so intense, that the soldiers had great difficulty in driving them forward. The poor beasts ran this way and that, half distracted, while the soldiers pressed steadily on behind them, and cut them off from every chance of escape by raising terrific shouts and outcries, and by brandishing weapons before them wherever they attempted to turn.

At length the animals were all driven in to the inner circle, a comparatively small space, which had been previously marked out. Around this space double and triple lines of troops were drawn up, armed with pikes and spears, which they pointed in toward the centre, thus forming a sort of wall by which the beasts were closely shut in. The plan was now for the officers and khans, and all the great personages of the court and the army, to go into the circle, and show their courage and their prowess by attacking the beasts and slaying them.

But the courage required for such an exploit was not so great as it might seem, for it was always found on these occasions that the beasts, though they had been very wild and ferocious when first aroused from their lairs, and had appeared excessively irritated when they found the circle beginning to narrow around them, ended at last in losing all their spirit, and in becoming discouraged, dejected, and tame. This was owing partly, perhaps, to their having become, in some degree, familiar with the sight of men, but more probably to the exhaustion produced by long-continued fatigue and excitement, and to their having been for so many days deprived in a great degree of their accustomed food and rest.

Thus in this, as in a great many other similar instances, the poor soldiers and common people incurred the danger and the toil, and then the great men came in at the end to reap the glory.

Genghis Khan himself was the first to enter the circle for the purpose of attacking the beasts. He was followed by the princes of his family, and by other great chieftains and khans. As they went in, the whole army surrounded the inclosure, and completely filled the air with the sound of drums, timbrels, trumpets, and other such instruments, and with the noise of the most terrific shouts and outcries which they could make, in order to terrify and overawe the beasts as much as possible, and to destroy in them all thought and hope of resistance.

And, indeed, so much effect was produced by these means of intimidation, that the beasts, it is said, became completely stupefied. "They were so affrighted that they lost all their fierceness. The lions and tigers became as tame as lambs, and the bears and wild boars, like the most timorous creatures, became dejected and amazed."

Still, the going in of Genghis Khan and the princes to attack them was not wholly without danger; for, of course, it was a point of honor with them to select the most ferocious and fierce of the animals, and some of these, when they found themselves actually assailed, were aroused again, and, recovering in some degree their native ferocity, seemed impelled to make a last desperate effort to defend themselves. After killing a few of the lions, tigers, and bears, Genghis Khan and his immediate suite retired to a place at one side of the inclosure, where a throne had been set up for the emperor on an eminence which afforded a good view of the field. Here Genghis Khan took his seat in order to enjoy the spectacle of the slaughter, and then an immense number of men were allowed to go in and amuse themselves with killing and destroying the poor beasts till they were perfectly satiated with the sight of blood and of suffering.

At last some of the khan's grandsons, attended by several other young princes, approached the throne where the emperor was seated, and petitioned him to order the carnage to cease, and to allow the rest of the animals to go free. This petition the emperor granted. The lines were broken up, the animals that had escaped being massacred made their way back into the wilds again, and the hunt was over.

The several detachments of the army then set out on their march back to the camp again. But so great was the scale on which this grand hunting expedition was conducted, that four months elapsed between the time of their setting out upon it till the time of their return.

The grand diet or general assembly of the states of Genghis Khan's empire took place two or three years later, when the conquest of Western Asia was complete, and the sons of the emperor and all the great generals could be called together at the emperor's head-quarters without much danger. The place chosen for this assembly was a vast plain in the vicinity of the city of Toukat, which has already been mentioned as one of the great cities conquered by Genghis Khan. Toukat lay in a central and convenient position for the purpose of this assembly. It was, moreover, a rich and beautiful city, and could furnish all that would be necessary for the wants of the assembly. The meeting, however, was not to be held in the city itself, but upon a great plain in the environs of it, where there was space for all the khans, with their numerous retinues, to pitch their tents.

When the khans and chieftains began to assemble, there came first the sons of the king, returning from the various expeditions on which their father had sent them, and bringing with them magnificent presents. These presents, of course, consisted of the treasures and other valuables which they had taken in plunder from the various cities which had fallen into their hands. The presents which Jughi brought exceeded in value those of all the others. Among the rest, there was a herd of horses one hundred thousand in number. These horses had, of course, been seized in the pastures of the conquered countries, and were now brought to the emperor to be used by him in mounting his troops. They were arrayed in bands according to the color, white, dappled gray, bay, black, and spotted, of each kind an equal number.

The emperor received and welcomed his sons with great joy, and readily accepted their presents. In return, he made presents to them from his own treasuries.

After this, as other princes and khans came in, and encamped with their troops and followers on the plain, the emperor entertained them all with a series of grand banquets and public diversions of all sorts. Among other things a grand hunting party was organized, somewhat similar in the general plan to the one already described, only on a much smaller scale, of course, in respect to the number of persons engaged and the time occupied, while yet it greatly surpassed that one in magnificence and splendor. Several thousand beasts were slain, it is said, and a great number and variety of birds, which were taken by the falcons.

At the end of the hunt a great banquet was given, which surpassed all the other feasts in munificence. They had on the tables of this banquet a great variety of drinks—not only rich wines from the southern countries, but beer, and metheglin, and also sherbet, which the army had learned to make in Persia.

In the mean time, the great space on the plain, which had been set apart for the encampment, had been gradually becoming filled up by the arrival of the khans, until at length, in every direction, as far as the eye could reach, the whole plain was covered with groups of tents and long lines of movable houses, brought on wheels. The ground which the encampment covered was said by the historians to have been seven leagues in extent. If the space occupied was any thing at all approaching this magnitude, it could only be that the outer portions of it were occupied by the herdsmen and other servants of the khans, who had to take care of the cattle and horses of the troops, and to provide them with suitable pasture. Indeed, the great number of animals which these wandering tribes always took with them on their journeys rendered it necessary to appropriate a much larger space to their encampments than would have been otherwise required.

It is surprising to us, who are accustomed to look upon living in tents as so exclusively an irregular and temporary expedient, to learn how completely this mode of life was reduced to a system in those days, and how perfect and complete all the arrangements relating to it were made. In this case, in the centre of the encampment, a space of two leagues in length was regularly laid out in streets, squares, and market-places, like a town. Here were the emperor's quarters, with magnificent tents for himself and his immediate household, and multitudes of others of a plainer character for his servants and retainers. The tents of the other grand khans were near. They were made of rich materials, and ornamented in a sumptuous manner, and silken streamers of various colors floated in the wind from the summits of them.

Besides these there was an immense tent, built for the assembly itself to hold its sessions in. This tent was so large, it is said, that it would contain two thousand persons. It was covered with white, which made it very conspicuous. There were two entrance-gates leading to the interior. One of them was called the imperial gate, and was for the use of Genghis Khan alone. The other was the public gate, and was used in general for the members of the assembly and for spectators.

Within the tent was erected a magnificent throne, intended for the use of the emperor during the sessions of the assembly.

A great amount of important business was transacted by the assembly while it continued in session, and many important edicts were made by the emperor. The constitution and laws of the empire were promulgated anew, and all necessary arrangements made for the government of the various provinces both near and remote.

At length, when these various objects had been accomplished, and the business was concluded, the emperor gave audience individually to all the princes, khans, generals, governors of provinces, and other grand dignitaries who were present on the occasion, in order that they might take their leave preparatory to returning to their several countries. When this ceremony was concluded the encampment was broken up, and the various khans set off, each at the head of his own caravan, on the road leading to his own home.