In the early 13th century, Genghis Khan and his armies spread all throughout Asia and Europe to create the largest contiguous empire in history. He died in 1227, but where is he buried?
While many believe that Genghis Khan is buried near where he was born in Khentii Aimag in Mongolia, nobody knows for sure. His tomb’s location was kept secret, with close to 3,000 people who knew the location of his tomb allegedly being killed after the funeral.
To find out more about the mystery surrounding Genghis Khan’s tomb, read on.
Genghis Khan’s Death
As the Tibeto-Burmese Western Xia and its capital Yinchuan (in the modern-day Ningxia Yue Autonomous Region in China) fell to the Mongols in August 1227, Genghis Khan died. The cause of his death is not known for sure, with speculation ranging from an illness to being killed in battle against the Western Xia, falling off his horse, or succumbing to disease.
In the Mongol tradition of The Secret History of the Mongols, however, he is said to have fallen from his horse while hunting at the age of 72. According to Marco Polo, the Venetian explorer who visited the court of Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan, in 1275, he was killed after an arrow wound became infected, while another tale is that he was stabbed by a Western Xia princess after taking her as a war trophy.
Genghis Khan’s Tomb
In the same way that his death has caused much debate and is surrounded by legend, the final resting place of Genghis Khan has also generated a great deal of speculation.
Before his death, Genghis Khan had expressed that he wanted to be buried without anything to indicate where his tomb was. Despite dying in Yinchuan, his body is thought to have been brought back for burial in Mongolia.
Beyond this, his burial is surrounded by a great deal of mythology, making it difficult to conclude what is fact and what is fiction. According to the tale, 2,000 people attended his funeral in a mysterious location, with all of these then being killed by 800 soldiers to make sure they could not tell people where he was buried.
To then make sure that the soldiers did not tell anyone themselves, these soldiers were killed by Genghis Khan’s personal escort before finally, as the legend goes, killing themselves.
The legend, as told by Marco Polo, also states that all the slaves who built the tomb were killed, leaving no survivors who could reveal the location. Other legends tell of how the location was trampled by horses to hide the grave, while a river was diverted to run over the tomb and forever hide it from the world, with a similar story being told about Gilgamesh.
However, a lot of these stories are themes common in mythology, with such stories also being told about the likes of Alaric the Goth. It is, therefore, difficult to say where Genghis Khan was buried and if any stories are actually true.
Another Mongol story tells of how an empty coffin was buried while his real tomb was kept secret.
The Search for the Tomb
Considering the speculation and mystery surrounding Genghis Khan and his tomb, it is unsurprising that researchers ever since his death have wanted to find out where his tomb is located. Legends continued well into the 20th century, with the Soviet Union also repressing Buddhism and reverence of Genghis Khan in Mongolia in the 1930s, adding to the mystery for many.
One possible contender for Genghis Khan’s tomb is the mountain of Burkhan Khaldun, which has religious significance for the Mongolians going beyond Genghis Khan, although many believe it is his birthplace and resting place.
This area has only been open to Western archaeologists since the start of the 21st century, with drone footage revealing that there may be a tumulus in this area indicating a tomb. However, the holiness of the mountain makes it impossible to conduct research in this area in the Khentii mountains.
Despite the mystery surrounding his tomb’s location, Genghis Khan is honored by many Mongols, with one of the key locations of this worship being the Genghis Khan Mausoleum in Inner Mongolia. However, despite the name, Genghis Khan is not buried here.
Research into the tomb’s location is an ongoing source of interest, with archaeologists around the world conducting research. This has yielded some progress as in 2004, the foundations of the palace of Genghis Khan were discovered, a place hypothesized to be close to his tomb.