How Many Children Did Genghis Khan Really Have?

To the victor goes the spoils, as they say, and Genghis Khan was nothing if not victorious. On his bloody march across Asia, he claimed a lot of — well – spoils. The "Great Khan" and ruler of the medieval Mongolian Empire, lived from approximately 1162-1227. He was born in the war-ravaged region along the modern border of Siberia and Mongolia. Over the course of his violent life, he united several warring Mongol tribes into an organized army that conquered wide swathes of Asia. He accomplished this task where other Mongolian warlords had failed by claiming several different wives and concubines from the competing tribes and petty kingdoms in the region.

Genghis Khan came by this strategy honestly. His father actually kidnapped his mother from a warring tribe and sired Genghis to consolidate his own power in the region. Genghis, known early in his life as Temujin, took his father's game to the next level, claiming at least six Mongolian wives and over 500 concubines. Despite these prodigious numbers, evidence suggests that the Great Khan made time for all of them and that their unions were ... productive. So how many children sprang forth from this fecund general's loins?

Genghis Khan spread his seed

An historical genetics study concluded in 2003 showed that as many as 16 million living men were likely direct-line descendants of Genghis Khan. The researchers found to their ample surprise that about 1 in 200 males alive at the time of the study had genetic indicators on their Y-chromosomes suggesting they were all descended from a single male "super father" living approximately 1,000 years ago. In other words, Genghis may have been on horseback, but that dude got around. This result suggests that the Great Khan may have produced hundreds of sons by his concubines and younger wives that were never formally recognized and therefore went unrecorded by history. So how many biological sons did Khan have? Probably a ton, even though we can't exactly know.

But there's another answer to this question. According to Mongolian law at the time, rulers had to derive from a Golden Lineage. This means Genghis Khan likely only recognized his four sons by his first wife as actual sons. These four Mongolian heirs — Jochi, Chagatai, Ogedei and Tolu — inherited the Khan name, even if hundreds of others may have inherited the Khan DNA.