Mongol’s Secret Story

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Mongols’ Secret Story derives from an anonymous poem dating back to 1240, that is some years after Gengis Khan’s death and it represents the most ancient literary work written in the Mongolian language that arrived to us. It has been called “secret” not because of a content full of scandals and misteries, but because it had been conceived only for Mongolians, so for inside readers and not to make it public to foreigners. The reason of such a discretion is due to the fact that the story of Gengis Khan’s Mongolian empire did not  have a noble and elegant tradition as that of other contemporary empires and civilizations such as Persian and Chinese ones, that could already boast an ancient and developed history of civilization and culture.
The original Mongolian work has been lost as time went by; what we have is a Chinese translation and a copy of the Mongolian text written in Chinese ideograms, both dating back more or less to 1370.
From a literary point of view, the Secret Story consists of a prose work with many passages made up of rhythmical epic cantos. These passages are probably the most ancient core, since they derive from oral tradition and, almost surely, they were used as songs during nomads’ celebrations and meetings. We can assume that the author knew these songs by heart and that he got them by his people’s bard singers. The situation and the characters that the literary work narrates are almost of the author’s days while the metrical scheme, the terms and the style belong to a more ancient tradition.
In Central Asia everything could happen: the huge territory was as big as a big choppy sea and its cultural horizon was very extended and diversified. We must remember that that zone was crossed by the Silk Route (or by many Silk Routes) and by many other commercial ones. Buddhism spread from India to China and Japan and, in that same direction, carrying behind Graeco-Roman art (the art from Ghandara). Manichaeism that had been banished from Western countries, spread on the same routes; in fact, in 763 the Uiguri’s monarch (aTurkish Muslim ethnic group who lived in the North-West of China) converted to that religion and made it the State religion. Also Nestorian Christianity had many followers; its dioceses spread all over Central Asia up to China; Islam set up in Asia starting from the 8th century at  the expense of early shamanic religions.
The country that we call Mongolia took this name only from the 11th century A.D. Before, it could only be called Turkestan, a Turkish land, since one of the great ethnic and language groups coming from Asia was composed by Huns, Turks, Mongols, Uiguri, Kirghisi etc. Mongols arrived in that area coming from the North-East. Their origin was a group who had settled at the boundary of Manchuria and Siberia. These people were warriors and they took advantage of a power vacuum to impose themselves. Most probably their migration would have overlapped any other population that, as time went by, was migrating into the endless Asian plain if, inside its group, were not born one of the most famous and most powerful leader in history: Temujin, better known as Gengis Khan.
The Secret Story is, first of all, a biography of Temujin and it represents the epic of the Mongolian national hero. It is also an essential source for the historical and anthropological reconstruction of the Mongolian civilization, starting from the most ancient ages up to Gengis Khan’s kingdom and that of his third son Ogodei who also became a leader and Great Khan of the Mongolian empire.
Gengis Khan, or Cinngis Qayan or Cingis Qan, thanks to his tactical abilities and to the military Engineers Corps succeded in unifying the different Mongolian tribes of that period and conquered Central Asia, China, Russia and part of Western Europe,  therefore creating a short term but very wide empire. He reorganized politics and the Estate administration of which Marco Polo left us a very detailed description in his “Milione”, but when he died, the Empire was devided into four parts and left to his sons.
As the Secret Story narrates, the first years of Temujin’s life were very hard; he was left an orphan during his childhood, he was turned out from his tribe and grew up among family blood feuds and all kinds of brutalities. When he was twenty, he started carrying off military victories against his enemies and, from that moment on, he succeeded in consolidating his own prestige and hurling himself at conquest campaigns far from Mongolia.
His contemporaries must have considered him as a terrible calamity. The method used by Mongols to conquer lands was very cruel: cities were set on fire, inhabitants were slaughtered, harvests were destroyed. Maybe this was partially due to their instinctive cruelty and to the hard life that they were used to lead or to a very simple “political vision” that pushed them to try to extend the steppe everywhere, being this the best environment (habitat) for their survival.
However, Gengis Khan made sure of having the conquest followed by a period of pacification and reorganization. In the extended lands that he had conquered, he did his best to create a state where, for more than one hundred years, nomads, farmers and people coming from the cities lived together in peace, in a medley of races among which Mongols, Chinese, Persians, Russians and of religions: Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and shamans coming from the steppes.
Up to the middle of XIVth century there was a sort of transnational unity that connected Europe to Central Asia, Persia and Siberia and, as a consequence, a profitable and flourishing exchange of goods, of ideas, arts and religions.
Eastern and Western Countries have never been so close, well connected and safe for travelers, also thanks to very well organized post houses; most probably, it’s for this reason that, at that time, Marco Polo crossed the continent many times. One of Mongols’ pride was that “a traveling virgin could cross Khan’s dominions without being in danger.”
When the Mongolian empire declined, minor nations invaded again and they shattered into pieces Asia and the States; religion became an obstacle and, nowadays, it is more difficult to travel on the ancient Silk Route than it was at that time.

Translation by Paola Roveda (edited by Sara Di Girolamo)