Sorghaghtani Beki "the mother of great khans "

Sorghaghtani Beki or Sorkhokhtani (died 1252), a Kereyid princess and daughter-in-law of Genghis Khan, was one of the most powerful and competent women in the Mongol Empire. Married to Tolui,
Genghis' youngest son, she raised her sons to be leaders, and
maneuvered the family politics so that all four of her sons were to
become Great Khans, founding several dynasties:

  • Möngke Khan: 1251-1259
  • Kublai Khan: 1259-1294, Eastern Mongol Empire, Yuan dynasty
  • Hulagu Khan: 1262-1265, Ilkhanate dynasty, (Central Asia)
  • Ariq Boke,
    her fourth son, was also declared Great Khan (rivalling Kublai) for a
    short period in 1260; he would eventually be captured by Kublai in 1264.

She is spoken of very highly both in the Secret History, as well as by Muslim, Chinese and Christian historians.

“If I were to see among the race of women another woman like this,
I should say that the race of women was far superior to that of men”
(Syriac scholar Bar Hebraeus)[1][2]

As a moving spirit behind the Mongol Empire,
she is responsible for much of the trade openings and intellectual
exchange made possible by this, the largest contiguous empire in world
history. As such, she may count among the most influential women in
world history[1].



Sorkhokhtani was the niece of Kereyid leader the Ong Khan Toghrul. His brother Jakha Gambu was a warlord with the Tangut but joined forces with Genghis at some point in the late 1190s.

According to the Secret History of the Mongols, around 1203,
when Ong Khan was a more powerful leader than Temujin (name at birth of
Genghis), Temujin proposed to Toghrul that his eldest son Jochi
might marry Toghrul's dauthter, thus binding the two groups. However,
Toghrul refused this alliance, and later attempted to kill the
increasingly powerful Temujin through an invitation to discuss this
proposal. However, Temujin discovered this plan and they escaped at the
last moment. Eventually, the Kereyids were routed in the ensuing war
and Ong Khan was possibly killed by the Naimans.

After the Kereyid defeat, Jakha Gambu however, remained loyal to
Genghis. At some point thereafter, Genghis himself married one of his
daughters (later handed over to another general), and gave his younger
daughter Sorkhokhtani to his teenage son Tolui[3], with whom she eventually had five children, four sons and a daughter.

Like most Mongol women of the time, Sorkhokhtani wielded great
authority at home. Women had far more rights in Mongolia than in China,
Europe, or other cultures at the time, especially since the men were
often away and they were the ones responsible for the home[2].

After Ogedei Khan
became the Khan, the Secret History suggests that he may have consulted
Sorkhokhtani on various matters, and he always held her in high regard[4].

Tolui, whose kingdom included eastern Mongolia and Northern China, died after a drinking binge at the age of 40[1], and Sorkhokhtani became the regent. Ogodei sought to link her realm to his and proposed that she marry his son Güyük
(widows often married again within the family among Mongols), but she
refused, claiming that her four sons needed her attention, but possibly
because she wished to retain the kingdom for her sons.

At this time, she probably had about 13,000 soldiers under her command.


Although she herself was illiterate, she recognized the value of
literacy in running such a far-flung empire. Each of her sons learned a
different language for different regions.

Nominally a Nestorian Christian, like other Mongols, she respected
other religions. and did not view religion as her primary identity. Her
sons, like Genthis, were all very liberal minded in matters of
religion, and the Mongol empire promulgated the notion of state above
religion, while supporting all major religions of the time[1].

After Ogedei Khan's death in 1241, his wife Töregene Khatun ruled as regent until 1246, when she managed to get her son Güyük elected as the Great Khan at a small Khuriltai
(Mongol congress). However, he immediately set out to undermine his
mother's power, as well as that of Sorokhkhani and Ebuskun (the wife of
Chaghatai Khan, regent for the Central Asian Empire).

Meanwhile, these machinations had alienated the rest of the family and Sorokhkhani had secretly teamed up with Guyuk's cousin Batu Khan, the senior male in the family and ruler of the Golden Horde (north of Caspian Sea to Kiev). In 1248, when Güyük
was setting out on a campaign to Europe (ostensibly for conquest, but
possibly to defeat Batu Khan), he died under somewhat suspicious
circumstances; some have speculated that Sorokhkhani may have taken
"direct action against Guyuk"[1].

After Güyük's death, Batu and Sorkhokhtani championed the name of
Möngke, who had fought along with Batu in the European campaign,
Sorkhokhtani's eldest son, as Great Khan. Mongke was named Great Khan at a khuriltai
organized by Batu in Siberia in 1250, but this was protested as not
being in Mongolia proper. However, the ancient Mongol homeland of where
Genghis had been born was in her regency, so she organized a khuriltai
here which was attended by Batu's brother Berke, where Mongke was
formally named the Great Khan. The Ogedei and Guyuk families attempted
to assassinate him, but failed, and Mongke arrested and drowned Guyuk's
widow Oghul Ghaimish, and many other members of Ogedei's family.

Sorkhokhtani died in February 1252 around the Mongol New Year
festival, a few months after Mongke's accession ceremony. She was given
the title of “empress” in 1310 in a ceremony that included a Nestorian


  1. ^ a b c d e Jack Weatherford (2004). Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-609-61062-6 (0-609-61062-7). 
  2. ^ a b Morris Rossabi. Women of the Mongol Court.These
    edited notes were taken from a lecture by Morris Rossabi, presented as
    part of the lecture series in conjunction with Mongolia: The Legacy of
    Chinggis Khan, an exhibition at the Denver Art Museum.
  3. ^ John Man (2006). Kublai Khan. Bantam Press. 
  4. ^ Per Inge Oestmoen (January 2001). Women in Mongol society: The characteristics and roles of females among the Mongols.

Other References

  • Davis-Kimball, Jeannine.(2002) Warrior Women, An Archealogist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines. Warner Books, Inc. Page 223-226. ISBN 0-446-52546-4

This page was last modified 11:13, 18 June 2007.All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. (See Copyrights for details.) Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Taken from:

Your rating: None Average: 3 (2 votes)
Archived Comments