The Genghis Khan Population: A Story of Y Chromosomes

Explore your genetic heritage and discover if you have any ancestral ties to the famous conqueror.

Genghis Khan is perhaps best known for founding the Mongol Empire: the largest empire in the history of the world to be built in a single lifetime. After uniting the tribes of Mongolia, Khan spearheaded a series of military campaigns that led to Mongol conquerment of large regions in China and Central Asia. Khan was a major powerhouse in military history, and continues to be martially studied and referred to today. However, he’s also recognized for the strength of his genes, and the fact that around 0.5 percent of today’s men seem to carry his Y chromosome today – 750 years after his death. 

20 facts you didn’t know about Genghis Khan

Before we get into the details of Genghis Khan DNA and how it created a significantly impactful Genghis Khan ancestry, let’s talk about the man himself: who exactly what Genghis Khan? You likely know him to be a successful warrior, but here are some additional facts about the supreme ruler you might not be privy to.

  1. His name wasn’t really Genghis. Born around 1162, Genghis Khan was originally christened “Temujin,” meaning “of iron” or “blacksmith.” He wasn’t bestowed with the name “Genghis Khan” until around 1206, when he was officially proclaimed to be the leader of the Mongols.
  2. The name “Genghis” likely comes from the Mongolian word “Jenggis.” This means “right, just, and true,” which would be fitting for the highly-moralistic ruler.
  3. Genghis Khan had a very difficult childhood. When Temujin was just nine years old, his father was poisoned. His own tribe shunned his mother, leaving her to raise their seven children by herself in squalor. Temujin had to hunt and forage for survival, and even lived as a slave for a while before escaping.
  4. At nine years old, he was originally arranged to live with his future wife before his father died. However, after his father was poisoned, Temujin was sent home, where he and his family were forced to undergo the above harsh conditions for years.
  5. Once he escaped slavery, Temujin gained the respect of his peers. At age 15, he was already making allies.
  6. He married his arranged wife at 16. Temujin was eventually able to reunite with his intended wife Börte after escaping, and he allied with her Mongol tribe while following the Mongol tradition of taking multiple other wives.
  7. Few people know what he looked like – other than the fact that he had red hair and green eyes. This seems rather unusual for someone of Mongolian descent, but the culture is widely known for being genetically diverse, and while there are no specific images to defer to for Genghis Khan’s looks, this much can be ascertained.
  8. He was responsible for the deaths of up to 40 million people. It’s impossible to figure out exactly how many people perished as a result of Mongolian conquests, but many historians have estimated the number to be around 40 million.
  9. Genghis Khan embraced diversity. Perhaps somewhat unusual for a powerful war leader, Genghis Khan was quite open-minded and accepting. He passed laws that allowed religious freedom for all, and granted tax exemptions for places of worship. He personally subscribed to shamanistic beliefs that honored the spirits of the sky, mountains, and wind, but was very tolerant of other beliefs.
  10. His empire expanded well beyond China. Throughout his military career, Khan and the Mongol Empire captured most of China, along with: Afghanistan, Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Korea, Pakistan, Turkey, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and parts of Russia.
  11. Genghis Khan was buried in an unmarked grave at an anonymous Mongolian location. To ensure his body’s location was concealed, Khan’s escort executed everyone in sight on his way there.
  12. Genghis Khan was a progressive ruler. He played a pivotal hand in modernizing Mongolian culture when he adopted the Uyghur script – a Turkic language that was transformative in translating religious texts – as the Mongol Empire writing system. He also created the Yassa code of law, which prioritized people over property and saw moralistic wrongdoing as deserving of merciless punishment.
  13. Genghis Khan heritage history was restricted during Communist Russia’s early 20th-century rule of Mongolia. While he’s largely seen as a war hero today, Mongolia was strongly influenced by Russia in the early 1900s, and reverement of Genghis Khan was strictly frowned upon. Mongolians weren’t allowed to study him, nor were they allowed to go on pilgrimages in his memory.
  14. Genghis Khan was a powerful public speaker and politician. He was known for his inspirational speeches, and deferred to the “kurultai” for his rule, where presence was seen as a vote. This meant that if no one showed up to his meetings, he didn’t have any authority.
  15. He was a strong believer of promoting people based on merit alone. While many war leaders get swept up in the politics of things and are often prone to corruption, Genghis Khan was staunch in his moralistic beliefs, and he made sure to promote his people based on merit – nothing more, nothing less.
  16. The Chinggis Khan trail in Khentii allows visitors to explore popular regions he may have frequented. This touristic journey includes the river where he was likely born, a sacred mountain he often prayed at, and other significant areas he spent a lot of time in throughout his life.
  17. Genghis Khan was responsible for one of the world’s first international postal systems. He formed the “Yam” – a medieval courier service that worked with a series of post houses and stations throughout the Mongol Empire. Riders were able to travel with news for up to 200 miles per day.
  18. It’s believed that Genghis Khan was killed by a Chinese princess. This controversial legend states that the woman castrated him with a hidden dagger – an act of revenge on behalf of her family – but it’s largely theoretical.
  19. Genghis Khan had 11 children. And those 11 children bring us to today: when it’s believed that 1 in 200 men carry Khan’s Y chromosome.
  20. He believed a man’s strength was mainly defined by the amount of children he left behind. This brings us to our next point.

Genghis Khan DNA: 750 years of Genghis Khan heritage

Now that you have a pretty extensive idea of who Genghis Khan was, let’s discuss that infamous Genghis Khan DNA, and how his genes seem to be present in so many people today. A late-1990s study was exploring the genetic history of various Asian populations when they came across a significant and unusual Y-chromosome mutation. This mutation occurred in about eight percent of males in 16 different populations that were being studied, which is pretty major for genetic mutations. And after exploring it a little deeper, researchers were able to determine that the mutation originated in someone who lived around 1,000 years ago. This is where the Genghis Khan heritage or Genghis Khan ancestry becomes quite likely, but still unproven. The mutation originator remains unknown, and there’s no way of discovering who it really was. However, those 16 populations were all located in countries that were part of the Mongol Empire: China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Iraq, and Iran. The largest number of men with the mutation lived in Mongolia, and a close second was a tribe in Pakistan that has a long history of being genetically connected to Genghis Khan. Based on all of these facts, researchers believe it’s fairly safe to assume that the mutation originator in question was the war hero himself. If that’s the case, Genghis Khan wouldn’t have been the first man in history to have the mutation, but he definitely was responsible for its wide spread. While he only had 11 children of his own, it’s believed he could have had more that just weren’t recorded in history, and his sons were also known to have large amounts of children (like, 40 or more).

Genghis Khan ancestry: What does it mean?

It’s unclear how many women might be descendants of Genghis Khan, since the study only looked into Y chromosomes, but it’s safe to say the war ruler seemed to leave behind a Genghis Khan heritage that was significant – and not going away any time soon. It would be interesting to learn more about the Genghis Khan ancestry, and what sort of impact Genghis Khan DNA has on a person. While we can assume that he was, in fact, the perpetrator behind the widespread genetic mutation, we don’t know exactly what sort of traits were passed on, or what might be more prevalent in the 1 in 200 men who share it.

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