Cover Illustration

Cover Illustration

Khatun (Mongolian: Хатан, Khatan, Persian: خاتون‎‎ – Khātūn, Urdu: خاتون‎ – Khatoon, Turkish: Hatun) is a female title of nobility and alternative to male “khan” prominently used in the First Turkic Empire and in the subsequent Mongol Empire.

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens - How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire By Jack Weatherford

Asian history is not something we cover in much depth here in the States. We do a cursory overview of the Silk Road and the spice trade as it pertains to western history. Maybe we cover Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan, but they're often portrayed as eastern threats to the glorious ideals of western Europe. This is the background from which I encountered this narrative. I didn't really know what to expect.

 Part 1 Illustration, Page xviii

Part 1 Illustration, Page xviii

What I discovered was a beautiful, tragic, and deeply human story about a man and his progeny. It covers the generations following Genghis Khan's empire building; particularly focused on the women in his life. Some stories of these women are typical to other historical texts: someone's wife/mother/sister does a selfless act that allows her husband/son/brother to succeed. However, there were also tales of outstanding women. They were unique; they were daring; they were ambitious. Above all else, they were Mongols.

I had two particular favorites from this history. Each woman was born well after the Great Khan died. They existed in a world that was not particularly welcoming to them and yet both of them saw great prestige and influence during their lives.

Aijaruc, also known as Khutulun, was the great-granddaughter of Ogodei, Genghis Khan's third son. She is best remembered in history for her wrestling prowess, having never been beaten by any man. Even in a culture that prided itself on the combat ability of its women, Aijaruc stood apart. She established herself as a respected and feared military leader. Persian and Arab accounts of her survive today, as well as Marco Polo's personal observations.

Another rad Khatun was Manduhai, often called Manduhai the Wise. She was related to Genghis Khan through Samur Gunj and was born in 1448. She is best remembered as the woman who reunited the Mongol empire. She was a warrior, a wife, a mother, and above all a leader. She sought to attain a sort of peace with China and valued a sustainable Mongol nation.

I was quite simply blown away by the ferocity of these Mongol ladies. But, be forewarned, there are as many (if not more) stories of violence against women in this book. The author does a good job of ensuring the reader gets a well-rounded understanding of the social and political status changes for women over time. 

This book is amazing. If you love badass ladies in history, you're gonna love it.

There is a khan’s daughter
Who steps on in a swinging manner
And has the marks of twenty tigers,
Who steps on in a graceful manner
And has the marks of thirty tigers,
Who steps on in an elegant manner
And has the marks of forty tigers,
Who steps on in a delicate manner
And has the marks of fifty tigers.
— Mongol Epic Poem, Page 1