Hoelun at a Glance
Who was Hoelun, and what was her role in Genghis Khan’s life?
Hoelun was the mother of Genghis Khan, and she played an instrumental role in his life. After her husband’s death, she raised Genghis Khan and his siblings by herself. When Genghis Khan became the leader of the Mongols, Hoelun became one of his most trusted advisors and was appointed as head of the Mongol household.
How did Hoelun end up becoming a queen mother and advisor to Genghis Khan?
Hoelun became a queen mother and advisor to Genghis Khan after he founded the Great Mongolian State in 1206. Because of her position as queen mother, she was responsible for caring for children who were orphaned in battle. Genghis Khan appointed her as head of the Mongol household.
What was the significance of Hoelun’s kidnapping by Yesugei?
Hoelun was abducted by Yesugei and his siblings from the Merkit clan in 1159. As a result of this event, animosity grew between the Borjigin and Merkit clans, and the Merkits ultimately kidnapped Börte, Genghis Khan’s first bride, years later. However, this event also led to the birth of Temüjin, who would later become Genghis Khan.
What was Hoelun’s religion, and what was her family’s role in the Mongol army?
Hoelun practiced Tengrism, one of the oldest monotheistic religions of the Turks and Mongols. Her siblings Butu, Olar-gurgen, and Kingiyadai-noyon served as “thousandaires” (commanders) in the Mongol army under Genghis Khan, according to the Compendium of Chronicles written by Rashid al-Din Hamadani.
Hoelun (1140–1221) was the mother of Temüjin, better known as Genghis Khan. She belonged to the Khongirad clan. Yesugei married Hoelun after he abducted her on her way to see her relatives in the Merkit clan. Their marriage resulted in the birth of Temüjin. The boy turned into a great emperor who built a great empire that occupied almost the entire known world. From Yesugei, Hoelun bore a total of four sons named Hoelun Jochi Qasar, Hachiun, Temüge Otchigin, and Temüjin, and a daughter named Temülin who was the youngest sibling.
Overview of Hoelun
Hoelun was abducted by Yesugei and his siblings from the Merkit clan in 1159. During that time, she had been engaged to or married one of their members, Yeke Chiledu. He was the brother of Merkit chieftain Toghta Beki.
As a result of this event, animosity grew between the Borjigin and Merkit clans, and the Merkits ultimately kidnapped Börte, Genghis Khan‘s first bride, years later.
After Yesugei’s death at the hands of the Tartars in 1171, Hoelun and her sons, among them the future Genghis Khan, were cast out of the Borjigin clan. Hoelun cared for Genghis Khan along with her three other sons and a daughter. Hoelun also helped raise two stepsons named Belgutei and Behter with their mother Sochigel.
During this cast-out and while living near the forest with their mother, Temüjin and his sibling Qasar, both 14 at the time, had their spoils stolen by their elder half-brother Behter. Temüjin and Qasar followed and murdered Behter when he returned from a hunt. Their mother Hoelun reprimanded them.
Sochigel, Behter’s mother, and Belgutei, his only remaining sibling, remained to live with Hoelun and her boys despite the murder of Behter.
In October 1266, Kublai Khan built a tomb for his great-grandmother Hoelun. She was given the title of Empress Dowager. She practiced Tengrism, one of the oldest monotheistic religions of the Turks and Mongols.
There is little to no mention of her family in historical documents, though she does belong to the Olkhonud clan of the Khongirad (a.k.a. Onggirat) people. According to the Compendium of Chronicles written by Rashid al-Din Hamadani (1247–1318) her siblings Butu, Olar-gurgen, and Kingiyadai-noyon served as “thousandaires” (commanders) in the Mongol army under Genghis Khan.
Queen Mother of the State
When her oldest son Temujin united the Mongols and was given the title of Genghis Khan, Hoelun became one of Genghis Khan’s most trusted advisors. Because of her position as queen mother (Khatun Ana), she was charged with caring for children who were orphaned in battle. In 1206, when Genghis Khan founded the Great Mongolian State, he also appointed his mother as head of the Mongol household.
In addition to her five biological children, Hoelun also had several adopted children. Three of them—Kuchu, Kokochu, and Borohul—became thousandaires, while the fourth, Shigi-Hutuhu of the Tatar tribe, went on to become the chief justice. Hoelun’s possible adopted daughter, Altani, is known for saving Genghis Khan’s youngest son Tolui from being killed by a fleeing Tatar after his tribe was defeated.
Genghis Khan later married Hoelun to Munlik-echige of the Honhotan tribe. The Great Khan allocated to his mother three thousand warriors from the tribes of Kuralas and Olkhonut.
Hoelun’s Kidnapping by Yesugei
While falconeering near the Onon River, Yesugei met Yeke Chiledu, a man of the fierce enemy Merkit who had just gotten married to an Olkhonud woman. The couple was on their way to see their relatives in the clan. Yesugei deemed her to be exceptionally beautiful and asked both his older and younger brothers, Negün Taishi and Daridai Otchigin, to come see her. At the time, it was relatively common for the two rival tribes to kidnap each other’s women.
Yeke Chiledu ran away out of fear, but his three brothers followed. Three brothers were attempting to assassinate Yeke Chiledu, and the girl Hoelun advised Yeke Chiledu to leave her and flee: “Those three are trying to kill you, and as long as you are alive, you can meet another woman. Don’t lay down your life, leave me behind. Even if her name is different, you can still call her Hoelun. Try to save your life. Smell my scent and go!” and she took off his shirt.
As Chiledu reached over his horse and took the shirt, the other three men turned from the edge of the mountain and began to approach. Meanwhile, Chiledu whipped his fast horse by the flanks and galloped away at full speed up the Onan River. Later, the brothers abducted Hoelun and married their brother Yesügei. She was either 16 or 19 at the time.
According to The Secret History of the Mongols, Yesüdei made Hoelun his primary wife as a sign of great respect. Thus, only Hoelun could bear a child to the clan chieftain.
Hoelun Losing His Husband Yesugei
When their first son Temüjin was nine years old, Yesugei took him to Hoelun’s clan the Olkhonud to look for a bride. When Temüjin was engaged with Börte the next morning, Yesugei departed for home alone. On the way back, Yesugei ran into some Tatar tribespeople who were feasting. Eight years ago, Yesugei took a Tatar slave named Temüjin-Uge as retaliation but also named his first son after him.
Seeking vengeance for an earlier defeat and also the murder of their family member Temüjin-Uge, the Tatars poisoned Yesugei’s water or food. Yesugei escaped the camp but died three days after arriving home. After Yesugei’s death, Hoelun began ruling the household. Hoelun overcame enormous difficulties to help her kids get off the ground.
However, Hoelun and Kiyat clans were banished by Targutai Kuriltuk of the Taichwood clan after the passing of her husband, Yesugei. Despite Hoelun’s pleas, some of the Kiyat clan’s members joined the Taichwood clan and abandoned the deceased chief’s family to their fate. Hoelun had to take her family out into the untamed and live a greatly impoverished life for years. Yesugei’s junior wife Sochigel also helped Hoelun raise the children.
To start feeding her family, she foraged for roots, berries, and millet in the area around the Onon River basin. Growing up in the Khentii Mountains of northern Mongolia, at some point the brothers learned to provide for their family through hunting and fishing.
There is an account in Rashid ud Din’s history that claims Targutai was antagonistic to Yesugei when he was alive. The reason, however, was not noted. The Secret History of the Mongols claims that Hoelun had faith in her husband’s authority because he frequently disregarded Ambaghai Kaan while he was alive. Hoelun was also mistreated by Ambaghai Khan’s two wives even after she lost her husband:
The ladies of Ambaghai, Orbai, and Sohatai proceeded to the graveyard on a special spring day to make offerings for the elders. Hoelun went there as well, but because she was late, she right away received a public rebuke from the two ladies: “She came late.”
Hoelun’s Role in Börte’s Return
When roughly 300 Merkits attacked Temüjin’s camp in an act of vengeance for Hoelun’s kidnapping by Yesügei, Börte and Sochigel were kidnapped. Temüjin and his siblings were able to conceal themselves in Burkhan Khaldun during the attack.
Börte was bequeathed to Chilger, Yeke Chiledu’s junior sibling. Toghrul and Temüjin’s anda (blood brother) Jamukha, now head of the Jadaran clan, offered his help. 20,000 fighters under Jamukha’s leadership brought a swift victory. Temüjin found out that Börte had become pregnant during her kidnapping. However, after Hoelun’s confrontation and encouragement, Temüjin accepted her baby like his own son and gave him the name Jochi, “guest.”
Hoelun, then 66 years old, was growing elderly and his health was deteriorating by the time Temujin murdered Jamuka in 1206 and established the Mongol Empire. And at 77 by the year 1217, she was very frail. She intervened at this time to prevent Genghis Khan from murdering his full brother Qasar by the shaman Kokochu (Teb Tengri).
The shaman had been provoking Genghis Khan against his relatives for a long time in an effort to weaken his empire. In response to his treason, Genghis Khan sanctioned a wrestling match in which Qasar and Temüge murdered the shaman.
Shortly after this event, Hoelun passed away from illness in 1221 at the age of 81, which was unusually old for the time. Genghis Khan’s enemies, seeking to take control of the empire, positioned him against his brothers, particularly Qasar, which led to a bitter conflict and strained ties within the Khan family. This further worsened Hoelun’s health.
She was later revered as the Empress Dowager during the Mongol rule in China (the Yuan dynasty) by her great-grandson Kublai Khan (1215–1294) in 1266.
The “Mother Hoelun” monument compound is located in Tsonjin Boldog, just 1,640 feet (500 meters) from the Genghis Khan gigantic horse monument, which is 130 feet (40 meters) high. The statue of Mother Houlen appears next to that of Genghis Khan as if she were greeting her returning son from battle.
Hoelun in Popular Culture
- “Cruel Age” (Жестокий век) by Isaak Kalashnikov (1978).
- “By the Will of Chingis Khan” (По велению Чингисхана) a novel by Nikolay Luginov.
- Trilogy “Invasion of the Mongols” (Трилогия Чингисхан) by Vasily Grigorievich Yan (1875–1954). The three novels are: “Genghis Khan”, “Batu”, and “To the “Last Sea” (К последнему морю).
- “The Conqueror” (United States; 1956)
- “Genghis Khan” (TV mini-series, Hong Kong; 1987)
- “Chingiz Khan” (China; 2004)
- “Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan” (Russia, Germany, Kazakhstan; 2007)
- “Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea” (Japan, Mongolia; 2007)
- “By the Will of Chingis Khan” (Russia, Mongolia, USA; 2009)
- Secrets of antiquity. Barbarians. Part 2. Mongols (United States; 2003)
- Genghis Khan (UK; 2005)