“They are the Four Dogs of Temujin. They have foreheads of brass, their jaws are like scissors, their tongues like piercing awls, their heads are iron, their whipping tails swords . . . In the day of battle, they devour enemy flesh. Behold, they are now unleashed, and they slobber at the mouth with glee. These four dogs are Jebe, and Kublai, Jelme, and Subotai.” â The Secret History of the Mongols
Jebe, born Zurgudai (d. 1225), was one of Genghis Khan’s leading generals, who started his military career in his enemies’ ranks. During a battle in 1201, Zurgudai shot Genghis in the neck with an arrow. After winning the battle, a wounded Genghis asked his captives who had shot him. Zurgudai confessed, and Genghis, impressed by his honesty and courage, took him in his service and named him “Jebe”, meaning arrow – the name by which he is known to history.
Jebe quickly rose through the ranks, and within a few years had become one of Genghis’ most capable generals, entrusted with independent commands such as the assignment to defeat Kuchlug, one of Genghis’ last remaining Steppe enemies, and the subjugation of his Kara Khitai state. Jebe accomplished the mission in quick order, capping off the conquest by beheading Kuchlug. He then rejoined Genghis and took part in the conquest of the Khwarezmian Empire.
Once Khwarezm was subdued, Genghis gave Jebe and Subutai permission to lead a great cavalry raid westward through northern Persia, then up through the Caucasus, around the Caspian Sea, before turning east to return to Mongolia. Jebe’s masterpiece occurred during that raid, at the Battle of Kalka River in 1222, when he and Subutai conducted a feigned retreat before a numerically superior army of Kievan Rus and Cumans, luring them into following him for nine days, before turning on the pursuers and slaughtering them nearly to a man.
That raid set the stage for a Mongol return fifteen years later, this time in a full-force invasion that conquered Kievan Rus and overran Eastern Europe. Jebe, however, died in 1225, soon after his return from that raid, and did not live to harvest what he had planted or seen the fruits of his work.