Whether Genghis (or Chinggis) Khan created the world’s largest ever empire because he was destined to do so by heaven, because he was a great leader with enormous ambition or because his people needed to leave their hereditary lands because of illness among their animals living there, he nevertheless did create that empire. His plan was simple: part one, conquer Mongolia; part two, conquer everyone else.
In 1204-5, Genghis was still busy with the first part of this plan. He had united the eastern tribes of what is now known as Mongolia but his path to future expansion in the west was blocked by the Naiman people and their tribal allies. Clearly, according to Genghis, they must be defeated and either eradicated or allowed to join his victorious hordes. This was achieved at the battle of Chakirmaut.
Genghis’ forces were fewer in number than those deployed by Tayang Khan, leader of the Naiman and his horses were weaker, having travelled long and hard. To try to disguise this, Genghis ordered many campfires built to suggest larger numbers were present and also to gain time for the horses to recover. Tayang Khan appears not to have been fooled – a man must have needed to have been fairly tough and astute to have become leader of Steppe nomads such as the Naiman – and planned to withdraw his forces across the Altai Mountains.
This would have further weakened Genghis’ forces, while the Naiman would have first choice of pasturage and seizing food and fodder. Alas for Tayang, his more reckless first son Guchulug prevailed in the war council with a view to a frontal assault on the Mongols.
When the Naiman emerged in battle array, Genghis moved rapidly to keep them pinned against the mountains to their rear. He himself led the vanguard, while his brothers commanded the main force and the reserve. As soon as possible, Genghis sought to take advantage of the superior mobility of his troops by encircling the enemy and forcing them closer together, from which situation archery was less effective than the caracole tactics of the Mongols.
The Naiman were forced backwards up to a mountain top, while several important allies recognised the way the wind was blowing and fled with their troops. Night fell to give the Naiman a last few hours of respite but, as the morning dawned, the Mongols closed in to seal victory. Tayang Khan was captured and so too was Guchulug, although he delayed the inevitable by a few days by erecting a fortified camp on the River Irtysh.
All of Mongolia now belonged to Genghis.