If the great, the military leaders and the leaders of the many descendants of the ruler who will be born in the future, should not adhere strictly to the Yasa, then the power of the state will be shattered and come to an end, no matter how they then seek Chingis Khan, they shall not find him.
– Chingis Khan
“Mongol law evolved from the basic needs of nomadic hunters and herdsmen who had little cultural inheritance. Rooted in the clan structure and borrowing much from clan customs and traditions, Genghis Khan’s Great Yasa slowly evolved over the years and was nearly complete by the time he was annointed Emperor of the Mongol Empire in 1206. It was the best known, the oldest, and the most important code of Mongol laws. Throughout his lifetime, the Great Yasa served as the glue that held together the numerous tribes that made up the Mongol nation.
“The Great Yasa was written in a series of “Blue Books” read by only a few select men close to Genghis Khan and enforced by his son, Jagatai. Sadly, there are no known surviving copies. Historians have carefully examined the many fragments handed down from ancient writers to reaveal the patterns of philosophy, ethics and behavior imbued in the Mongols by Genghis Khan’s all-encompassing code.
“There were many maxims and orders set forth by Genghis Khan and they have been translated by a variety of historians. Here, in no particular order, are a selected number of his directives, presented so you may come to understand something of the general nature of the Great Yasa.
On religious beliefs “Genghis Khan belonged to no organized religion and followed no creed. He held to a philosophy that combined his own collectivist ideology with such ancient Asian beliefs as animism, shamanism, and pantheism. He avoided fanaticism and showed no preference to one faith over another or put any one faith above the others. Instead, he saw that all philosophies seemed to have grasped part of the truth. He beleived the way to please God was to respect the beloved and respected sages and hermits of every tribe as an aspect of the Great All. Born to a live in a harsh environment, he clearly understood that people had to learn to avoid the pursuit of selfish goals and help each other.
One must magnify and pay honor to the pure, and the innocent, and the righteous, and to the learned, to whatsoever people they may belong; and condemn the wicked and the men of iniquity.
The first is this: That ye love another; second, do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not betray anyone. Respect the aged and poor.
On food and eating “Genghis Khan forbade the Mongols to eat anything in the presence of another without inviting him to also partake in the food; he forbade any man to eat more than his comrades.
He forbade his people to eat food offered by another until the one offering the food tasted of it himself, even though one be a prince and the other a captive.
He forbade any man to eat more than his comrades, and to step over a fire on which food was being cooked or a dish from which people were eating.
When a wayfarer passes by people eating, he must alight and eat with them without asking for permission, and they must not forbid him this.
A man who chokes on food must be driven out of the camp and immediately killed.
Hunters who let an animal escape during a community hunt he ordered to be beaten with sticks and in some cases to be put to death.
When an animal is to be eaten, its feet must be tied, its belly ripped open and its heart squeezed in the hand until the animal dies; then its meat may be eaten; but if anyone slaughter an animal after the Mohammedan fashion, he is to be himself slaughtered.
He forbade them to dip their hands into water and ordered them to use some vessel for the drawing of water.
On personal behavior “Genghis Khan laid down some of his most restrictive orders in an effort to control the behavior of his subjects. Violation of these orders would cost a Mongol his life. The punishment may seem extreme by contemporary standards, but to Genghis Khan they were necessary to ensure long term survival for his people and peace in his realm.
Death to an adulterer without any regard as to whether he is married or not.
Death to anyone found guilty of sodomy.
Death to anyone who intentionally lies, or practices sorcery, or spies upon the behavior of others, or intervenes between the two parties in a quarrel to help the one against the other.
Death to anyone who urinates into water or ashes.
Whoever takes goods on credit and becomes bankrupt, then again takes goods and again becomes bankrupt, then takes goods again and yet again becomes bankrupt is to be put to death after the third time.
Death to anyone who gives food or clothing to a captive without the permission of his captor.
Death to anyone who finds a runaway slave or captive and does not return him to the person to whom he belongs.
He forbade them to wash their clothes until they were completely worn out.
He forbade them to say of anything that it was unclean, and insisted that all things were clean and made no distinction between the clean and unclean.
He ordered men not to hurt each other and to forget offences completely.
In cases of murder (punishment for murder) one could ransom himself by paying fines which were: for a Mohammedan – 40 golden coins; for a Chinese – one donkey.
The man in whose possession a stolen horse is found must return it to its owner and add nine horses of the same kind: if he is unable to pay this fine, his children must be taken instead of the horses, and if he have no children, he himself shall be slaughtered like a sheep.
He forbade them to pronounce words with emphasis, to use honorary titles; when speaking to the Khan or anyone else simply his name was to be used.
On military affairs “He ordered his successors to personally examine the troops and their armament before going to battle, to supply the troops with everything they needed for the campaign and to survey everything even to needle and thread, and if any of the soldiers lacked a necessary thing that soldier was to be punished.
He ordered men to spare countries and cities which submit voluntarily.
He ordered that soldiers be punished for negligence.
If in battle, during an attack or a retreat, anyone drops his pack, or bow, or any luggage, the man behind him must alight and return the thing fallen to its owner; if he does not so alight and return the thing fallen, he is to be put to death.
He put leaders, (princes and generals) at the head of the troops and appointed commanders of thousands, hundreds, and tens.
He ordered that the oldest of the leaders, if he had committed some offence, was to give himself up to the messenger sent by the sovereign to punish him, even if he was the lowest of his servants; and prostrate himself before him until he had carried out the punishment prescribed by the sovereign, even if it be to put him to death.
He forbade military leaders to address themselves to anyone except the sovereign. Whoever addressed himself to anyone but the sovereign was to be put to death, and anyone changing his post without permission was also to be put to death.
Death to anyone who puts his foot on the threshold of the tent of the commander of an army.
On family matters “A wife’s seniority was determined chiefly by the date of her marriage, not her age. The seniority of children depended on the rank of their mother. The children of concubines were considered as legitimate heirs, entitled to their share of the inheritance according the wishes of their father. In matters of inheritance, the senior son received more than the junior and the younger son inherited the father’s household.”
He ordered women accompanying the troops to do the work and perform the duties of the men while the latter were absent fighting.
He ordered them to present all their daughters to the Khan at the beginning of each year that he might choose some of them for himself and his children.
If unable to abstain from drinking, a man may get drunk three times a month; if he does it more than three times he is culpable; if he gets drunk twice a month it is better; if once a month, this is still more laudable; and if one does not drink at all what can be better? But where can I find such a man? If such a man were found he would be worthy of the highest esteem.
After the death of his father, a son may dispose of his father’s wives, all except his mother; he may marry any or all of them or give them in marriage to others.
All except the legal heirs are strictly forbidden to make use of any of the property of the deceased.
“Make no mistake, Genghis Khan was no ignorant barbarian, but an inspired ruler of boundless wisdom who loved his people. Before his time, inter-tribal feuds were a dominant chracteristic of life in Central Asia. According to Mongolian accounts, many of these feuds were based on pure hatred. Under the leadership of Genghis Khan, the internal fighting came to a halt. Although the Great Yasa was severe in its demands and its enforcement at times draconian, Genghis Khan won people’s hearts and minds primarily by virtue of his honesty and selfless devotion to his subjects.
“Genghis Khan was always regarded by his own people as a statesman-philosopher of profound wisdom more than a warrior. Under his rule, the Mongols developed a deeply experienced collective consciousness and feeling of solidarity and unity. The ideal of each man being responsibile for assisting and being helpful towards his fellow man became a social contract that benefited everyone, for it gave the Mongols opportunities for growth and development they had never known before. His vision and ability to attract followers and to motivate them made it possible for him to create, together with his small nation of less than two million people, the greatest land empire on Earth. The very name “Mongol” became a unifying bond, a driving force that carried them in a torrent across Asia.”