It is often quoted that Genghis Khan said:

The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters.

Where does this quote come from? What did he mean when saying it? Do we actually have confirmation that he even did say this?

I've looked around and haven't found much. It's not in the Secret History of the Mongols. I've found a blog saying that it's quoted in Ibn Battuta's travelogues (writing over a hundred years after Genghis' death), possibly as a way to denigrate the Mongols:


But I don't have access to Battuta's original text.

Did Battuta get it from any earlier source? Is the quote actually consistent with Mongols' self-portrayal, or is it just a volley in the propaganda wars between the Mongols and their enemies?

  • Fun fact of the day: Conan the Barbarian says something very similar to this when he is asked "What is best in life?" He responds: "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women". – Wad Cheber Aug 15 '15 at 4:12
  • Yes, this was why I started looking into it. I assume that was a direct reference to this quote. (Not the other way round!) – Fhnuzoag Aug 15 '15 at 12:17
  • Here is the clip on Youtube. Note that the movie even references the WRONG! answer of the other general. – Stephan Kolassa Sep 14 '15 at 12:42

I found a similar quote in Rashid-ad-din, (=Rashid al Din (1247-1318) in Wikipedia), Collection of chronicles, vol. 1, book 2 (Russian edition, 1952). The chapter is called Tales on Genghiz Khan, on his laudable features, qualities of his soul, etc. [very long title].

I translate the relevant place (from the Russian): Once Genghiz Khan asked Boorchi-noyon who was the chief of the emirs, what is the greatest joy and pleasure for a man. Boorchi said: "That a man takes a falcon.... etc. [about hunting]

Then Genghis Khan said to Boragul: "You say too!" And Boragul said....[also something about hunting].

Then Cenghiz Khan asked the sons of Khublai. [they also replied something about hunting]

Then Genghiz Khan was willing to say: "You did not answer well! The greatest pleasure and joy for a man is to suppress a rebel and to defeat an enemy, uproot him and take everything he possesses, force his married women cry with tears, and to sit on his good and nice horses, and to make his beautiful wives.... [I cannot translate into English in a public site, what he proposes to do to those beautiful wives].

The whole chapter in Rashid is about 10 pages of such stories and quotations of Genghiz Khan.

  • I believe this is the same work as the History of the World the other answerer mentioned. This neatly answers both my questions, then. As someone working for the Mongols, Rashid would have access to that sort of internal accounts of Genghis' personality, and his work was approved by the Mongol rulers. Ibn Battuta, traveling around the Ilkhanate, would have had access to this work. I suppose the only loose end is to verify that the quote isn't in Tarikh-i Jahangushay-i Juvaini, which Rashid apparently used as a source. – Fhnuzoag Aug 15 '15 at 12:31
  • 1
    Yes, it seems to be the same source. Rashid was born 20 years after Genghiz death. So he could even speak to people who knew Genghiz personally. – Alex Aug 15 '15 at 13:21
  • However, the Secret History of the Mongols, which seems to be the authentic Mongolian account of Genghis Khan does not mention this episode. – Alex Apr 10 at 4:29

The quote comes from the Jami' al-tawarikh (the Ilkhanate's "History of the World"). The quote as given by d'Ohsson, translated from the French:

This conqueror once asked to noyan Bourgoudji, one of his first generals, what was, in his opinion, the delight of man. "It is, he said, to go to the hunt, a spring day, mounted on a beautiful horse, holding his fist on a hawk or a falcon, and see it cut down its prey." The prince made the same question to General Bourgoul, and then to other officers, who all answered as Bourgoudji. "No," said Chingiz Khan, "the greatest enjoyment of a man is to overcome his enemies, drive them before him, snatch what they have, to see the people to whom they are dear with their faces bathed in tears, to ride their horses, to squeeze in his arms their daughters and women."

As far as I know, there is no English translation of the Jami' al-tawarikh, but there is a French translation to which I do not have access.

The context is that in the essay (the book is a series of hundreds of essays) the author gives several anecdotes concerning Genghis Khan and this is one of them.

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