Many famous figures in history went to great lengths to ensure that they would be remembered. Many would design their own tombs or mausoleums. Others wrote their own requiem masses. Not so Genghis Khan. For, despite being the greatest warlord of his era, and ruling over huge swathes of the earth, he himself insisted that he be buried in an unmarked grave. Frustratingly for historians, his followers accepted his wishes, leaving nary a clue behind as to his final resting place.
At the peak of his powers, Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire stretched across almost all of Central Asia and China. He united with tribes that he could work with and mercilessly killed those who opposed his expansion. But he wasn’t just a warlord. He was a skilled diplomat too, setting up extensive trade links and promoting a system of meritocracy under him to keep ambitious officers satisfied.
There are a number of stories relating to Genghis Khan’s death. Some say he fell from his horse and succumbed to his injuries. Other accounts have it that a Western Xis princess assassinated him after earning his trust. Other still say he died as he lived, in battle. Either way, he died in August of 1227, just outside of the city of Yinchaun, in modern-day China. Moreover, he practiced religious tolerance and was a cultural innovator in many ways, not least through his adoption and promotion of a single writing system across all the lands he ruled over.
Years before his eventual death, Genghis gave senior members of his army an order: when he died, he was to be buried in an unmarked grave. This was in full keeping with the customs of his tribe. So, when he did indeed die, his people followed his wishes. It’s highly likely that, again as per tradition, he was laid to rest close to his birthplace. This means his body was taken back close to the town of Khentii Aimag, and most probably put into the ground close to the Burkhan Khaldun mountain and the Onon River.
Legend has it that the men accompanying his body killed anyone they came across on their journey so that they wouldn’t see where the great man was buried. There are even some accounts suggesting that hundreds of horses were used to trample the ground of the burial place – with the animals and their riders then slain – or even a river diverted to disguise the location. Whether any of this it true is open to debate. But what cannot be denied is that nobody will probably ever know where Genghis Khan lies – just as he would have liked it.