Temüjin, Jamukha and the battle of Dalan Balzhut | The Mongol Empire: Part VIII

[By Chuck Almdale]

Genghis Khan’s best friend, Jamukha (L), with Toghrol Khan (R).
KoizumiBS on Wikipedia Commons

Jamukha and the battle of Dalan Balzhut

Feeling threatened by Temüjin’s rise and election in 1186 CE as Khan of the Kyat Mongols, Jamukha, Temüjin’s anda, began to see Temüjin as competitor for the role of organizer and ruler of the Mongolian plateau tribes. In 1187, the following year, Jamukha attacked Temüjin with an army of 30,000 troops. Descriptions of this battle are scanty.

Learning of the coming attack, Temüjin quickly gathered an equivalent force and the two armies met in the Battle of Dalan Balzhut. The armies showered each other with arrows, followed by brutal hand-to-hand combat. Jamukha won a terrific victory. Temüjin was disgraced, many of his men were killed, and the plateau people now believed Temüjin was finished. He fled into hiding for many years, and a great many of the plateau tribes people looked — whether they liked him or not — to Jamukha for leadership.

Many potential followers of Jamukha were horrified and repelled when he took seventy young male captives—all members of plateau Mongol tribes who were captured in the battle against Temüjin—and boiled them alive in cauldrons. This took inter-tribal cruelty and revenge to a new level. The people of the plateau were unsettled and unhappy—disappointed by Temüjin’s failure, and disgusted by Jamukha’s treatment of plateau warriors. The Jurchen leaders of the Jin dynasty decided it was an excellent time to refortify their Great Wall separating them from their troublesome and bloodthirsty nomadic neighbors.

After the Battle of Dalan Balzhut

It was anything but a direct line for Temüjin from “Khan of the Kyat Mongols,” ruler of a small portion of the people of the Mongolian Plateau, to “Genghis Khan,” ruler of a vast empire, with tens of millions of subjects. After his severe defeat by Jamukha’s forces at Dalan Balzhut in 1187, Temüjin and his family were again forced to flee into hiding. The timeline of events and the events themselves are very uncertain for about 10 years.

The greatness of his character depended not on how he made his victory but how he overcame his loss.

Genghis Khan: The World Conqueror, Sam Djang. Pg 301

During this period of relative seclusion, Temüjin’s second and third sons Chagatai [Tsagadai, Tsagaadai, Čaɣatay, Chaghatay-Xan, Chágětái, Çağatay, Joghatai] and Ögedei [Ogodei] were born. Temüjin slowly regained loyalists and friends, people who increasingly disliked Jamukha’s leadership, or who had always remained loyal members of the Kyat Mongol clan. He continued working on his yassa, the code of law he wrote down in his “Blue Book.” He attempted an alliance with the Mongol tribe of Jurkhins, but failed. The Merkid tribe attacked the Keraits (Toghrol Khan’s tribe) in revenge for the earlier attack by Toghrol, Temüjin and Jamukha. Temüjin and Toghrol then counter-attacked the Merkids in retribution and beat them badly.

The Tatars became next on the enemies list. Depending on source, somewhere between 1194 and 1197, the Jin [Chin, Great Jin, Kin, Jurchen, Jinn, Jurchen-Jin] living south and east of the Great Wall allied with Toghrol Khan and Temüjin. United, the three were a formidable force, and in the ensuing battle they destroyed half of the Tatar tribe. Toghrol Khan and Temüjin Khan combined their forces and engaged the Tatars from the front. At the right moment, the Jin warriors attacked from the rear and the Tatars were encircled and destroyed.

Layout of a 1908 Chinese edition of The Secret History of the Mongols. Mongolian text in Chinese transcription, with a glossary on the right of each row.

Some sources say the Jin were the instigators; the Tatars were vassals of the Jin who rebelled and took up raiding towns in the northwestern Jin territory. Others say that Toghrol Khan was the instigator because Toghrol’s grandfather Marcus Buyruk Khan was assassinated by the Tatar, and Toghrol and his mother had been enslaved by Tatars when he was thirteen. Then again Temüjin’s father Yesugei was assassinated by the Tatars with poison. So they all had their reasons, not to mention the eternal attractions of booty, concubines, livestock and slaves. The Mongolic tribe of Jurkhins were invited to join in on the planned slaughter, but they distrusted Temüjin’s tribe of Borjigin, and declined. After this successful battle, Toghrol received the title “Wang” (king) from the grateful Jin—a cost-free gift if ever there was one—and was known thereafter as Wang-Khan. Temüjin was officially recognized by the Jin dynasty as a lesser chieftain of the plateau, another gift that cost the thrifty Jin nothing at all.

Temüjin and Wang-Khan began to drift apart due to problems with battle alliances and subterfuge within Wang-Khan’s family, primarily from Toghrol’s son Senggum, who was jealous of the warm relationship between Toghrol and Temüjin. Influenced by the machinations of his son, Toghrol turned against Temüjin, joined with Jamukha and jointly they declared war against Temüjin. This time Temüjin soundly defeated their combined forces. For Toghrol’s tribe of Keraits, the defeat was a disaster, and Toghrol himself, now over seventy, died soon thereafter. Jamukha fled far to the west, to the territory of the Naimans within the Qara Khitai Empire, where he quickly rose in power. In 1201 a kurultai held by an alliance of tribes declared Jamukha as Gür Khan, “universal ruler”, a title used among the Qara Khitai.

Qara Khitai Empire, Naiman tribal area circled.
Source: Wikipedia – Qara Khitai

The Qara Khitai, also known as the Western Liao, was a sinicized (adoption of Chinese culture by a non-Chinese society) dynastic empire in Central Asia ruled by the Khitan Yelü clan, and a successor state to the Liao dynasty.  The dynasty was founded by Yelü Dashi (Emperor Dezong of Liao), who in 1130 CE led the remnants of the Liao dynasty from Manchuria to Central Asia after fleeing from the Jin dynasty conquest of their homeland in northern China. The Qara Khitai Emperor was usurped in 1211 by Kuchlug, who had fled his Naiman tribal homeland a few years earlier, following a disastrous battle against Temüjin Khan. Traditional Chinese, Persian, and Arab sources consider this usurpation to be the end of the Western Liao dynasty, even though the empire did not completely fall until the Mongol conquest in 1218. The Qara Khitai (or Western Liao) is considered by Chinese historians to be a legitimate dynasty of China, as is the case for the preceding Liao dynasty.

The book, in English.

After a series of wars between Temüjin and Jamukha, the latter was betrayed by disenchanted followers and handed over to Temüjin. Despite all the battles between the two, Temüjin still wished to forgive him and call him friend. Because he valued loyalty so highly, Temüjin immediately killed the followers who had betrayed and brought Jamukha to him, despite the service this rendered to Temüjin. According to The Secret History of the Mongols, Temüjin then said to Jamukha:

Let us be companions. Now, we are joined together once again, we should remind each other of things we have forgotten. Wake each other from our sleep. Even when you went away and were apart from me, you were still my lucky, blessed sworn brother. Surely, in the days of killing and being killed, the pit of your stomach and your heart pained for me. Surely, in the days of saying and being slain, your breast and your heart pained for me.

As always, The Secret History of the Mongols depicts Temüjin as having quite a way with words. Jamukha, however, knew this would never work out. He replied:

Now, when the world is ready for you, what use is there in my becoming a companion to you? On the contrary, sworn brother, in the black night I would haunt your dreams, in the bright day I would trouble your heart. I would be the louse in your collar, I would become the splinter in your door-panel.

Kill me and lay down my dead bones in the high ground. Then eternally and forever, I will protect the seed of your seed, and become a blessing for them.

Peak of Khan Tengri at sunset.
Source: Wikipedia – Tengrism

According to their Tengrism beliefs, when a noble person dies a bloody death they will not live in the afterlife, and killing someone with royal heritage by spilling their blood was a very bad omen. As Jamukha was of royal lineage, he claimed the right to be bloodlessly executed. Temüjin accommodated this last wish of his boyhood anda, and ordered one of his massive wrestling champions to execute Jamukha by lifting him up and breaking his back.

As for the others among the defeated, Temüjin Khan ordered the use of the Mongolian method of “measuring against the linchpin” to determine who would be beheaded. All male captives were forced to walk beside a wagon wheel. Those whose head was higher than the linchpin (a pin inserted at the end of the axle) were immediately executed. These were large wagons with large wheels used to transport gers, equipment and food. As we have seen, Mongolian tribes fought frequently, defeats were not forgotten, and those losing a battle took revenge whenever they could. Executing adult men in this manner forestalled such revenge attacks, giving the winning tribe a few months, years or decades of relative peace.

The linchpin. Source: Kainexus

Temüjin Khan’s defeat of Jamukha and the Naimans left him the most powerful leader remaining on the Mongolian plateau. Over the next few years he conquered, exterminated or allied with all the other clans and tribes of the plateau, including the Merkid, Naiman, Tartar, Taichut, Kerait, Uyghur, Oirat, and other smaller tribes. Previous Khans had attempted this, including several of Temüjin’s own ancestors; none had succeeded. The tribes of the plateau were now a single political and military force, which became collectively known as the Mongols. For many centuries the tribes had fought among themselves, and it often seemed that raiding and warfare was the primary occupation of the men of the plateau, a cultural situation described by later historians as “an army in search of a nation.” For the next few years, unification and reorganization was Temüjin Khan’s main activity.


First Installment: Why didn’t the Mongols Conquer Europe in the 13th Century?
Previous Installment: Why did Temüjin want to create an empire? & Temüjin’s Family Tree

Next Installment: The war against the Western Xia & The Great Kurultai

Main Sources
Genghis Khan: The World Conqueror. Djang, Sam; New Horizon Books, 2011.

Jamukha and the battle of Dalan Balzhut
Realm of History – Genghis Khan facts
Wikipedia – Genghis Khan rift with Jamukha and defeat
Wikipedia – Qara Khitai
Wikipedia – Timeline of the Mongol Empire

After the Battle of Dalan Balzhut
Executed Today – Jamukha-Genghis Khan
Medium – How Genghis Khan & Jamukha
Military History – Jamukha
Realm of History – Genghis Khan facts
Wikipedia – Genghis Khan rift with Jamukha and defeat
Wikipedia – Jamukha
Wikipedia – Mongol conquest of the Qara Khitai
Wikipedia – Qara Khitai
Wikipedia – Tengrism