Academic ProgramsAnthropology DepartmentMacalester College

First Year Course on Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan)





















English form:


Cyrillic Form:


Mongolian classical script:
Literary Analysis

In the ancient Mongolian document, The Secret History of the Mongols, the word water has three different textual uses. Water is used as a geographical marker, a metaphor for a powerful force and loyalty, and it is importance to the lives of the nomadic Mongolians is revealed.

In the text the word water appears most frequently in the form of a body of water. The body of water by which an event in the text occurs is always mentioned. The landscape of Mongolia does not have many varying features so the rivers and lakes are used to document where the events of Genghis Khan's life occurred.

Water is a metaphor for a powerful force and as a metaphor for loyalty. Mongolians in the text use water in their speech to show that they have accomplished a great feat. Water is also used in the context of telling someone they exceeded expectations. People compare their loyalty to Genghis Kahn with water to show they have a deep commitment to him.

The Mongolians in the text always traveled by water. They traveled by a water in order to sustain themselves and their large herds. Traveling by water was essential to their survival because freshwater is not abundant in Mongolia. The constant mention of the rivers and lakes by which Genghis Kahn and his people traveled, shows how important water was to the mongolian nomadic way of life.

Cultural Significance

Water has a cultural significance to the Mongolians because of the religion of Shamanism. Shamanism believes in water spirits called Lus spirits. Lus spirits become angry and inflict harm on individuals who pollute their water (polluting the water includes bathing in it). Because of the belief in Lus spirits, Mongolians in the text, The Secret History of the Mongols, did not pollute water.

Historical Significance

Water has historical importance in the warfare techniques and laws of Genghis Kahn. When attacking cities the Mongolians would divert the flow of rivers, to wipe out the cities and the apposing army. The Mongolian army would also destroy the city's irrigation system to ruin the agricultural fields. Destroying the irrigation system forced the farmers and peasants to move and this ensured that the city would not regain its power. Genghis Kahn made it illegal to pollute water and his son Ogodei Qahan later on commissioned the building of wells in areas where water was scarce. Both of these laws show how accessible water is important for the Mongolian nomadic life style.



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