Don’t Kill the Messenger — Especially if He Comes from Genghis Khan

131-ft high statue of Genghis Khan in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
131-ft high statue of Genghis Khan in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Haven’t heard of the Khwarezmian Empire? You can thank the unbelievably bad decisions of its leader, Shad Ala Ad-Din Muhammad II (1169-1220).

The Khwarezmian Empire stretched from the Sea of Oman to the Oxus River and encompassed what sociologists refer to as “Greater Iran,” incorporating parts of modern-day China, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Genghis Khan came across Muhammad II’s territory and sent a delegation of Mongol and Muslim merchants to explore diplomatic and commercial possibilities. Muhammad, nervous over the real military skill of the Mongols and the exaggerated accounts of their brutality, arrested the merchants and seized their goods.

Khan, who was way more diplomatic than people generally gave him credit for, sent three envoys to Muhammad to offer him an easy out: blame the arrest of the merchants on a local governor, chop off his head, and move forward to establish diplomatic and commercial relations.

The paranoid Khwarezmian ruler decided, instead, to humiliate the delegation by shaving their heads and beheading their interpreter.

With this decision, Muhammad earned the enmity Genghis Khan, who rarely did anything half-way. He sent 200,000 elite Mongol troops to Khwarezmia, led by Genghis’ three greatest generals, with orders to kill everything, even pets. They captured Governor Inalchuq and executed him by pouring molten silver into his eyes and mouth.

Muhammad II ran from hiding place to hiding place before finally dying of pleurisy on a remote island of the Caspian Sea, leaving what was once a kingdom of 4 million subjects reduced to a heap of corpses and bones.


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