Genghis Khan was the founder and brutal ruler of the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous empire in history. This empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to Ukraine and allowed the Silk Road to flourish. Khan also helped to establish reliable postal service, paper money, religious freedom, and diplomatic immunity. He died in 1227 CE and his successors went on to conquer even more land.
For such an enormous figure, you would think there would be monuments and fantastic tombs to celebrate his life. Similar to the ancient Egyptian pharaoh’s pyramids or the Taj Mahal, perhaps? You would be wrong, as there is little actually known about his death, and there is little known about the location of his tomb.
There are many stories surrounding his death. Some say that during a battle with Chinese forces, he was injured when he fell from his horse. Others suggest he died by a Western Xia princess who inserted a device in her vagina, and when Khan slept with her, he was castrated and died from horrific blood loss – although this theory is thought to be from the enemies that wanted to vilify Khan.
It is thought that most of these rumors were conjured up after his death, and family and followers were instructed to keep the truth a secret. This secrecy was mainly due to death occurring at the worst possible time – a vital stage of the Western Xia conquest which was 20 years in the making.
From an historical-medical perspective, his death may have been more of a mundane disease, as it was reported that he felt unwell between August 18 and August 25 1227 CE and then he was dead 8 days afterward.
It is believed that he asked to be buried in secret, and when the army carried his body home, anyone met on the route was killed. If the burial practices of Xiongnu Kings were to be followed, he would have been buried in an unmarked grave around 20 meters (65.6 feet) deep in a log chamber.
It has then been suggested that the army rode 1,000 horses over the grave to destroy any traces. This secretive location would have made physical investigations or grave-robbing impossible.
However, there are some people from Mongolia that would prefer to keep the location a secret, as some people regard Khan with religious reverence, and others feel that it should be respected that he wanted his burial site to be kept a secret.
One theory and folklore are that the tomb could be in the mountains of Khentii, on a peak called Burkhan Khaldun. It is thought that Khan once hid from enemies on that mountain, and pledged to return in death. However, this does remain controversial, and there is evidence that suggests that there were five more mountains that were historically called Burkhan Khaldun.
Recently, scientists have tried to use more modern technologies to find the locations. One paper published in PLOS ONE tried to use crowdsourcing (over 10,000 online volunteers that contributed 30,000 hours) to locate Genghis Khan through a satellite search. They examined 6,000 kilometers2 (2,316.6 miles2) and found many archaeological remains but not the tomb itself.
Overall, we may never find the tomb, and maybe it should be kept that way with respect to his final wishes.