The Poor Man Who Almost Killed Genghis Khan With An Arrow To The Neck: He Became The Khan’s Best General

Reenactment of Mongol battle.
Reenactment of Mongol battle.

Genghis Khan was the ultimate conqueror. He founded and expanded one of the largest empires the world has ever seen.

He made this empire by fighting in a brutally efficient manner, giving hordes of troops the opportunity to fight and by promotion based on merit, not family ties.

Genghis Khan had no problems getting into the thick of the fighting, especially early on in his career. About five years before Genghis Khan became the sole ruler of the Mongols, when his name was still Temüjin, he fought the battle of the twelve sides.

This was one of many battles between the leaders striving to control the awesome power of the Mongol people.

The rough and barren homeland of Genghis Khan and Jebe made for tough warriors. Photo Source
The rough and barren homeland of Genghis Khan and Jebe made for tough warriors. Photo Source.

During the battle, a lowly soldier known as Zurgadai was caught in the thick of the fighting against the future Khan and his most elite troops. Zurgadai let loose an arrow that struck Genghis Khan right in the neck.

The wound was far from fatal, and the Khan continued to fight. There are no details of how bad the injury was, but an arrow to the neck is rarely a minor wound.

After the battle, which the Khan’s troops won, Zurgadai found himself among the captured soldiers. Genghis Khan addressed the captives wearing clothing which obscured his neck wound. He asked for the man who had wounded his horse’s neck to come forward.

He may have used the word “horse” to hide what could have been a more serious injury and to continue a show of strength. Or he may have said horse to prevent false confessions.

Bravely, Zurgadai stepped forward and confessed. He told the Khan that he had struck him in the neck, and said the Khan had every right to kill him on the spot. He added that if the Khan decided not to kill him, then Zurgadai would serve the Khan with the utmost loyalty.

A typical Mongol battle, bows were a key aspect of Mongol battle.
A typical Mongol battle, bows were an essential aspect of Mongol campaign.

Genghis Khan accepted Zurgadai’s offer to serve and promoted him to be one of his generals. He gave Zurgadai a new name, Jebe, meaning arrow or rust in Mongolian.

Genghis Khan became the powerful, sole ruler of the Mongols and Jebe was his most trusted general.

The Great Khan continued his conquest.

Jebe soon dispatched one of the Khan’s largest and closest rivals in western Mongolia and Northern China. His victories were so swift and complete that Jebe enjoyed tremendous fame for his successes.

Jebe heard a rumor that the Khan was suspicious Jebe might break away and rebel against him. Jebe immediately rode back to Genghis Khan and offered him 100 white horses as a sign of his loyalty.

The Great Khan never doubted Jebe again.

Jebe led an early campaign around the Caspian Sea, winning huge battles and clearing the way for the Mongols to invade the Kievan Rus.

He led successful campaigns against the Rus, and there are no recorded major battles that Jebe lost before he died which was probably sometime shortly after or possibly during this last great campaign.

Jebe’s life and career were owed to a largely merciless warlord, and he made Ghengis Khan’s act of mercy look like the smartest decision he ever made.

William Mclaughlin

William Mclaughlin is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE