The Yasa of Genghis Khan: Background information when reading Genghis: Lords of the Bow

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Genghis: Lords of the Bow

by Conn Iggulden

Genghis: Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden X
Genghis: Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2008, 400 pages

    Feb 2009, 528 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

The Yasa of Genghis Khan

This article relates to Genghis: Lords of the Bow

Print Review

As Genghis Khan consolidated the nomadic tribes of the Asian steppe, he realized that a consistent rule of law was necessary to maintain order. He accomplished this by creating his "Yasa" (or "Yassa"), a comprehensive set of rules governing nearly all aspects of Mongolian life and culture. The original Yasa ("decree" or "order") is thought to have been written on scrolls bound into volumes, and kept in a secret archive to which only the khan and his advisers had access, but the rules were widely known and observed, and in many cases were adopted by rival cultures. They codified religious tolerance and social equality, which helped promote peace between the diverse peoples who made up the Mongol Empire*.

Some examples:

  • An adulterer is to be put to death without any regard as to whether he is married or not.
  • Whoever takes goods (on credit) and becomes bankrupt, then again takes goods and again becomes bankrupt, then takes goods again and yet again becomes bankrupt is to be put to death after the third time.
  • Whoever gives food or clothing to a captive without the permission of his captor is to be put to death.
  • All religions are to be respected and no preference shown to any of them.
  • It is forbidden to show preference for any sect, to pronounce words with emphasis, to use honorary titles; when speaking to the Khan or anyone else simply his name is to be used.
  • Women accompanying the troops must do the work and perform the duties of the men while the latter are absent fighting.
  • Children born of a concubine are to be considered as legitimate, and receive their share of the heritage according to the disposition of it made by the father.

*At the risk of pointing out the obvious, it had been common practice for rulers to lay down written laws for millennia before Ghenghis Khan. For example, the Babylonian Code of Hummurabi, the earliest extant set of laws, dates back almost 3000 years before Genghis. What is notable about Genghis's laws is the emphasis on religious tolerance and social equality.

Interesting Links:

  • A video clip in which Conn Iggulden discusses Genghis Khan.
  • Conn Iggulden's Official Web Site
  • A map of Asia & Europe c1200, just before the expansion of the Mongol Empire
  • A map showing the expansion, and fragmentation, of the empire from 1206-1294
  • Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong: A novel set in 1970s inner Mongolia which, among much else, extrapolates on the role of the wolf in honing the survival and warring skills of the Mongol people - a point not lost on Conn Iggulden who gave the first in this series the title Genghis: Wolf of the Plains (prosaically retitled for the USA market: Genghis: Birth of an Empire)

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to Genghis: Lords of the Bow. It originally ran in April 2008 and has been updated for the February 2009 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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