Before Rivigo, Genghis Khan did it!

Fatigue and travel go together. Hence, imagine the plight of weary travelers on horse or foot on mud and slush or non-macadamized thoroughfare. The Mongol Emperor was mindful of his army because the success of campaigns to annex the world west of his seat of power depended greatly on the movement of troops and royal messengers.

First things, first. Genghis Khan is no Moslem, but a Mongol. A follower of Tengrism, not Islam. A Mongol monarch whose suzerainty spread across Asia and beyond. Until today, none matched his caliber in capturing vast contiguous landmass and brought almost the entire living population under his rule (1162–1227 AD). Half a century later, Marco Polo would travel to the Mongol Empire when Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai Khan was on the throne and spent close to two decades in his kingdom.

Daniel Ackerman, on March 4, 2012, through an op-ed piece in The New York Times, wrote:

“An international team of geneticists conducting a 10-year study of men living in what once was the Mongolian empire has discovered that a surprisingly large number share the identical Y chromosome, which is passed down only from father to son. One individual’s Y chromosome can be found in 16 million men in Asia, from Manchuria, near the Sea of Japan, to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan in Central Asia.

The likeliest candidate is Genghis Khan, a warlord who raped and pillaged one town after another, killing all the men and impregnating the women, sowing his seed from China to eastern Europe. Though legend credits Genghis Khan with many wives and offspring, he didn’t need to do all the begetting himself to ensure that his genes would flourish. His sons inherited the identical Y chromosome from him, as did their sons and their sons’ sons down a long, winding Silk Road of legitimate and illegitimate progeny.”

Well, that riveting piece rushed me to order Amazon to deliver John Man’s, Genghis Khan.

Eight years later (2020), a friend advised me to buy Kindle when I discussed the storage challenge of physical books. He went ahead, bought one on my behalf, loaded almost 50 odd books, and SpeedPost-ed. Believe it or not, the maiden book I accessed on my Kindle was Harold Lamb’s Genghis Khan, The Emperor of All Men. One step led to another. Although the entire book was unputdownable given the rise of this nomad on the Mongolian landscape, his logistics or movement of troops — both footsoldiers and cavalry — interested me the most.

Especially Chapter 24, titled “The Road Makers,” kept me hooked. I must have read this ten pager multiple times. Reason: The wayside amenities he has established for his troop movement and booty collected after conquering kingdoms far and wide. The chapter title is a bit misleading. There were no roads per se since the world knew very little about the east, notwithstanding the valiant efforts of the proponents of Christianity and Islam braving the unpredictable weather and terrain exploring and succeeding partially in discovering the new world.

Fatigue and travel go together. Travel-related tiredness, even in the comfiest mode, is inevitable by air, road, or sea. Hence, imagine the plight of weary travelers on horse or foot on mud and slush or non-macadamized thoroughfare. The Mongol Emperor was mindful of his army because the success of campaigns to annex the world west of his seat of power in the far east depended greatly on the movement of troops and royal messengers. He was equally mindful of merchants from the west — Venice, Genoa, Constantinople (Istanbul), Mosul, Rome — who carried merchandise besides trying to proselytize the Mongols and others in the far east. They, too, traveled on foot mostly. Remember Rabbi Benjamin, Marco Polo, Prester John?

Lamb’s “The Road Makers” thus drew my interest. Lamb describes the wayside amenities built linking the Mongol empire with the rest of the world more than the construction of roads. “Permanent camps or yams** were made at intervals along the line of march and a string of horses left at each with youths to tend them and a few warriors to keep off thieves. Where the horde had once passed, no stronger guard was necessary,” writes the author in the first edition published in 1928. As he extended his conquest, these camps consisted of a few yurts* erected 100 miles apart on the caravan routes. Besides the army, others who utilized these wayside amenities include “the treasure bearers, carrying back to Karakorum the jewels, the gold ornaments, the best of the jade and enamelware and the great rubies of Badakshan.” Yams were part of the written regulation found in Yassa.@

What else? Yams at every 100 miles (160 km approx). Messages have to go up and down by road carried by royal messengers because the invention of telegraphy by Samuel Morse has to wait till the 1830s-40s — 700 years after the birth of Temujin, the original name of Genghis Khan, in 1162 near Lake Baikal, Mongolia. Yams, in a nutshell, was the telegraph, railroad, and parcel post all rolled into one. So who were the beneficiaries of these yams? “…newcomers from unknown regions to seek the Mongols in the Gobi (desert). Thin-faced Jews led along the post rode their laden donkeys and carts; sallow, square-chinned Armenians rode by with a curious glance at the silent Mongol soldiers sitting on their blankets by the fire or sleeping under an opened tent flap.” Just not horses but camels too.

These wayside yams were not built but left unattended. Lamb calls the Mongol as “Masters of Roads,” not for nothing. They paid full attention to maintaining these facilities. “In the large towns, there would be a Daroga, or road governor, with absolute authority in his district. With him would be one clerk to write down the personages who called at the station and the merchandise that went by.”

These yams were well attended and well provisioned. Royal messengers received the best care in the world. Hearken: “A Mongol had only to show himself on his long-haired pony with the slender lance slung over his shoulder and his lacquered armor peering from under his sable or deerskin coat for the bystanders to hasten to him submissively. The usual petty thieves of Asia did not put in an appearance. (Highway looters existed from time immemorial!) .” Lamb goes on to wonder with raised eyebrows stating that none dare to plunder even a horse rope from a Mongol guard post” even if the guard at the camp was “sleepy and indifferent!”

Look at who halted at these yams? Bands of Mohammedan craftsmen, carpenters, musicians, brick makers, smiths, sword welders or rug weavers — captives Karakorum-bound, shivering and stumbling as they crossed the wastelands of the inland seas; yellow hat Lamas, swinging their prayer wheels, their eyes fixed on remote snow summits black hats, from the barren slopes of Tibet — the smiling, slant-eyed Buddhist pilgrims …, long-haired fakirs indifferent to the world about them, and grey-garbed Nestorian priests”.

While these band of assorted travelers canters along, priests and mandarins scattered when a royal messenger riding a powerful, swear-streaked horse appears on the horizon. Since the royal messenger covers 150 miles a day with no rest, he needs the best horse of the station to proceed further swiftly. Initially, traveling merchants received these facilities free of cost. Later, the system of charging a fee for merchants began when it was misused.

Lamb quotes Marco Polo, who would capture his impressions of this road management system that he had witnessed during the reign of Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan under whom the Venetian merchant-turned-chronicled spent 15–20 years: “Now you know that the messengers of the Emperor traveling from Kambalu, the city of the Khans, find at every twenty-five miles of the journey a station which they call the horse post house. And at each of these stations, there is a large and handsome building for them to put up. All the rooms are furnished with good beds and rich silks. Thus, if even a king were to arrive at one of these houses, he would find himself well lodged.” Such horse post houses kept approximately 300,000 horses, and buildings numbered more than 10,000.

The system was so good that ten days’ regular journey is covered in a single day and night non-stop. Or, Lamb says, “Many a time, workers shall gather fruit at Kambalu one morning, and in the evening of the next day it shall reach the Grand Khan” Express service! Rather super-express. In rare instances, horse riders cover 200–250 miles over a day and night. To distinguish them from the rest of the messengers, they wear a wide belt with bells. On reaching the first horse post house, alerted by the jingling bells, the clerk keeps another best horse and rider ready to move forward. Rest and relay system was very much in practice even then. Rivigo did not invent them!

Daytime travel is comparatively easy vis-à-vis at night. Naturally, the horse slows down due to darkness all around. Still, the journey continues with footmen with torches leading the horse at night. These couriers were highly prized. These super-fit express messengers carry a Gerfalcon tablet, enabling them to dismount any other horse rider on the road and take his horse. No questions asked and no complaints entertained.



A traditional yurt (from the Turkic languages) or ger (Mongolian) is a portable, round tent covered with skins or felt and used as a dwelling by several distinct nomadic groups in the steppes of Central Asia.

Yam (Mongolian: Өртөө, Örtöö, checkpoint) was a supply point route messenger system extensively used and expanded by Genghis Khan and also used by subsequent Great Khans and Khans.[1] Relay stations provided food, shelter, and spare horses for Mongol army messengers. Genghis Khan gave special attention to Yam because Mongol armies traveled fast, so their messengers had to be even quicker, covering 200–300 kilometers (120–190 mi) per day.[1] The system was used to speed up the process of information and intelligence. The system was preserved in Tsarist Russia after the disintegration of the Golden Horde

Yassa (alternatively: Yasa, Yasaq, Jazag, Zasag, Mongolian: Их засаг, Ikh Zasag) is/was the forty millenary oral law code of the Mongols declared in public in Bokhara by Genghis Khan[1] de facto law of the Mongol Empire even though the “law” was kept secret and never made public. The Yassa seems to have its origin as decrees issued in war times. Later, these decrees were codified and expanded to include cultural and lifestyle conventions. By keeping the Yassa secret, the decrees could be modified and used selectively. It is believed that the Yassa was supervised by Genghis Khan himself and his stepbrother Shihihutag who was then high judge (in Mongolian: улсын их заргач) of the Mongol Empire.[2] Genghis Khan appointed his second son Chagatai (later Chagatai Khan) to oversee the execution of the laws.

Also, see regarding Yassa.

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