The Mongol Princess, Khutulun, Literally Wrestled Her Way To Victory

The Mongol Princess, Khutulun, Literally Wrestled Her Way To Victory

Shannon Quinn - October 24, 2018

Genghis Khan is remembered as being one of the fiercest military leaders who ever lived. In his lifetime, he conquered all of the Mongolian tribes and ruled them under one nation, and began to take over territory in both Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. While most people remember the great Khan, very few people know about his great-granddaughter Khutulun. She was considered to be one of the greatest warriors in the Mongol army, and she remained an undefeated wrestling champion going up against all male opponents. She declared that she would never get married, unless a man could defeat her in wrestling, and thus began a long line of suitors willing to take on the warrior princess.

The Mongol Princess, Khutulun, Literally Wrestled Her Way To Victory
Painting of Kublai Khan on a hunting trip. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Becoming a Warrior Princess

The Mongolians took their fighting to the next level. They were trained to be stronger than any other army in the world, because it was the Khan’s goal to take over the entire world. Their society began training their young boys on horseback riding and archery at just 2 years old. After a couple generations, the Mongols were unstoppable war machines.

In the year 1260, Kublai Khan became the new ruler of the Mongolian Empire. However, his brother and cousins would be jealous of his rule, and challenge his right to call himself the Khan. His cousin was a man named Kaidu, who was in charge of a territory called The House of Ögedei. Kaidu got married, and his wives gave birth to a few sons, but his favorite child by far was his fierce little daughter, Khutulun.

As a young girl, Khutulun would play with her brothers, and she did not want to wear dresses or do girly things. She wanted to get in there with the boys. Their father, Kaidu, treated Khutulun as an equal to her brothers, and encouraged her to embrace her tomboy nature.

The Mongol Princess, Khutulun, Literally Wrestled Her Way To Victory
Mongolian warriors (left) taking down a Japanese soldier (right) Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When she grew up, Khutulun was an even better fighter than her brothers. As a woman, she would have weighed less than a man, so her horse could gallop at faster speeds than anyone else on the battlefield. She was an ace archer, and she was as strong as a male bodybuilder. Her signature move was to gallop across the battlefield on horseback, pick up an enemy soldier with just one arm, and carry him back to her dad. This terrified the enemy, and it helped them win more than one battle over the years.

The Mongol Princess, Khutulun, Literally Wrestled Her Way To Victory
This picture from the 1500’s shows a Mongolian wrestling match being watched by the Khan and his Queen. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Wrestling Championships

Years before women’s wrestling was even a thing, Khutulun was dressing in the traditional male wrestling outfits and challenging men to fights. In Mongolian wrestling, two opponents grab onto one another’s arms, and they have to use their body strength to knock the other one over. She was apparently very tall, and she trained her muscles to be strong enough to go face-to-face with these men, even though the Mongol warriors are supposed to be some of the strongest in the world.

When she reached her late teenage years, her father began to talk about setting her up with a future husband. Khutulun hated this idea. At the time, women never got a choice in who they married, especially if they were a princess. Marriages were seen as diplomatic arrangements, and husbands were chosen by their fathers. Men, on the other hand, were allowed to have as many wives as they wanted, and they always had a say in the matter. They were also allowed to have a harem of concubines. There was very little room for love or respect.

Khutulun was strong and outspoken, saying that she would not allow her father to dictate who to marry. Her brothers got to choose who they should marry, after all, and she was stronger than most men. She declared that she had proven that she was worthy to choose her own husband. Surprisingly, Kaidu agreed with his daughter.

The Mongol Princess, Khutulun, Literally Wrestled Her Way To Victory
Horses were very important to Mongolian culture, and all warriors rode on horseback. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Khutulun suggested that if there was any man in the world who could defeat her in a wrestling match, she would marry them. Kaidu decided to turn this into a competition. He wrote a royal decree that any man in the kingdom who wished to marry his daughter needed to bring 100 horses as their ticket to entry. If they lost, they got to keep the horses. If he won, they could marry Khutulun.

Fight after fight, Khutulun kept winning. Wealthy men were traveling from all over the empire to challenge her, and lost their fleets of 100 horses. Khutulun won over 10,000 beautiful steeds, and Kaidu was extremely proud that his daughter was able to bring their family so much wealth, status, and respect. He often said that he believed Khutulun deserved to become the next Khan more than any man in Mongolia.

In his book about the Mongolian empire, the famous Italian traveler and historian Marco Polo wrote about one of Khutulun’s biggest wrestling matches. A wealthy prince from a neighboring kingdom showed up with a huge caravan of servants, as well as some of the healthiest and beautiful horses they had ever seen. The prince was also in his early 20’s, and very good-looking, to boot. Jaws dropped as he rode through The House of Ögedei. Everyone was convinced that this would be the future husband of Khutulun, and when the fight was scheduled, word spread quickly that this may be “the one”.

On the day of the fight with the handsome prince, a massive crowd had gathered to watch, including Marco Polo and members of Kublai Khan’s royal court. Khutulun and the prince locked arms, and they struggled in the ring for much longer than any other man had ever lasted before. The crowd was screaming and cheering. But suddenly, Khutulun got the upper hand, and slammed the prince to the floor. The cheering stopped, and it was clear that everyone was disappointed. At that moment, everyone was convinced that Khutulun must want to be alone forever.

The Mongol Princess, Khutulun, Literally Wrestled Her Way To Victory
The Italian opera Turandot is based on Khutulun. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Legacy of Khutulun

There is no written record of Khutulun ever getting married. Rumors were flying about the reasons why she remained single, just like they would with modern-day celebrities. Some people thought she was having an incestuious relationship with her father. (eew). But it’s far more likely that she was either a lesbian, or she knew that if she got married, she would have to give up her life as a warrior princess. After all, a heavily pregnant woman can’t exactly jump into battle at a moment’s notice. And how could she find time to raise small children if she was busy protecting her father’s kingdom?

Other rumors say that she was in love with one of her first cousins, and she could not marry him. They say that she simply had a broken heart, and decided that if she could not marry her cousin, she wouldn’t marry anyone at all. Over the years, Khutulun kept herself busy by riding by her father’s side and winning several battles. They even attempted to overthrow Kublai Khan together.

When Khutulun was in her early 40’s, her father was on his deathbed. Kaidu was surrounded by all of his children and wives. As he was dying, he said that he regretted never appointing Khutulun as the future leader before that day. He said that she was the strongest, and therefore the most worthy of having the leadership position. Not only that, but the soldiers genuinely respected her.

The Mongol Princess, Khutulun, Literally Wrestled Her Way To Victory
Khutulun is a character in the Netflix original series called Marco Polo. Credit: Netflix

When he died, they didn’t know how to handle the situation. Unlike European cultures, the heir to a father’s throne was not given to the oldest son. It was given to the strongest. Since Khutulun was stronger than her brothers, it obviously made them jealous that they lose their inheritance to a girl. Her own brothers planned a plot to assassinate her, and she was killed before she had a chance to become the leader of the Mongols.

As the years went on, the story of Khutulun was told again and again all over Mongolia and China. The most popular story about her was the wrestling challenges in order to find a husband. Over hundreds of years, the story transformed into a modern-day opera called Turandot in the 1800’s. This was about a Chinese princess who refused to marry any many unless he could solve three complicated riddles. The true story of Khutulun is actually far more interesting, and her memory deserves to live on.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

The Travels of Marco Polo. Marco Polo. J.M. Dent & Sons. 1926.