Academic ProgramsAnthropology DepartmentMacalester College

First Year Course on Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan)





















English form:

Older Brother, Younger brother/sibling, Sworn Brother

Mongolian forms:

Latin: aqa, de'ü, anda





Literary Analysis

In The Secret History of the Mongols the word brother is used in several important and general ways. Brother is used metaphorically in one way—sworn brothers, and related to this ‘sworn friend’—and literally in three ways: older brother, younger brother/sibling, and youngest brother, (or otchingin also known as ‘keeper of the hearth’). Brother is used almost always with a title or qualifier of sorts. Even when the author of The Secret History refers to multiple brothers they are almost always qualified as older or younger.

Cultural Significance

From the many textual references and explanations of brother, in The Secret History, it is apparent that the concept of brother-ness was very important to the values and culture of the Mongolians during the time of Chinggis Qahan. It is apparent that brother-ness is a serious, social, political, and practical, concept for the Mongolians of Chinggis Qahan’s time. Both the metaphorical and the literal use of brother are significant with respect to their cultural connotations. It becomes obvious through the related actions of Chinggis Qahan that he places less emphasis on lineage and family then the leaders that preceded him, and instead focused on the ability and loyalty of individuals in matters of leadership.

Historical Significance

It is the acquisition of power and strengthening of relationships that ultimately allowed Chinggis Khan to make the political moves necessary to create the Mongol Empire. It is after all the sworn brotherhood of To’oril Qan and Temüjin’s father that gives Temüjin the initial “boost” he needs to get started with the unification of the Mongol peoples, and eventually much of Asia. The issue of brotherhood, leadership qualifications, and familial hierarchy all eventually become important in determining the fate of the Mongol empire.

Ultimately it is the Mongolian family structure, and that specifically related to brother that Chinggis Qahan models his empire’s governing structure after. This is seen countless times through out The Secret History. A nation was a new thing to the Mongols and a national identity did not really exist. Consequently the national identity became that of the family structure, while at the same time it was used for a government structure.


Cultural Artifact

Below is a depiction of Chinggis Qahan (center) and his sons (to his left). This pictre is taken from Rashid Al Din's Text on the Mongols. There is very little artistic depiction of the concept of brother in art from the time period of the Mongol Empire. Chinggis Qahan's sons, Jochi and Ogodei, are shown in this picture.


Contact Me:


Macalester Home | Directory | Site Map | Search

Macalester College · 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105 · 651-696-6000