The Fate of Medical Knowledge and the Neurosciences

Sam Safavi-Abbasi, MD, PhD; Leonardo B. C. Brasiliense, MD; Ryan K. Workman, BS; Melanie C. Talley, PhD; Iman Feiz-Erfan, MD; Nicholas Theodore, MD; Robert F. Spetzler, MD; Mark C. Preul, MD


Neurosurg Focus. 2007;23(1):E13 

In This Article

Historical Background

Genghis Khan (Fig. 1) was born "TemFCjin Borjigin" in the mountainous area of Burkhan Khaldun in Mongolia's Khentii Province near the Onon and the Kherlen rivers around AD1162 to his mother, Hoelun, and his father, Yes ukhei, a minor tribal leader. According to legend, Temüjin, the future Genghis Khan, was born with a blood clot in his fist, indicating that he was destined to become a conquering leader. While he was still very young, his father was poisoned, giving him the claim to the clan's leadership. The clan refused to be ruled by a boy, and Temüjin and his family were abandoned. During his childhood he learned valuable lessons about survival in the Asian steppes and the need for alliances, preparing him to be come the Great Khan.[8,23]

Figure 1.

Eventually, Genghis Khan controlled the largest contiguous empire in the history of the world.[8,23] In 25 years, Genghis Khan's army conquered more of the world than the Roman Empire had done in 400 years of conquest. Genghis, his sons, and his grandsons subjugated the most densely populated civilizations of the time. Ultimately, Genghis Khan conquered, occupied, and controlled more than twice the amount of land and twice the population than any other person in human history.[23] Using both persuasion and brutal force, the Mongolian leader united diverse tribes and cultures. His empire eventually encompassed all or part of modern China, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, Korea, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Moldova, Kuwait, Poland, and Hungary.[8,23]

Genghis Khan's success is partially due to his transformation of warfare as the world then knew it. The Mongolian army learned from each battle and adapted newly acquired technology in their campaigns. During the conquest of Persia and Europe, for example, the engineering knowledge gained from sieges of Beijing and other Chinese cities gave the Mongols superior siege technology and expertise.[8] Europe was confined to an immobile force of heavily armored knights and fortified cities and castles. According to traditional thinking, a fortified castle protected by a few good knights could outlast any army, withstand any attack, and thus repel any invasion. Genghis Khan had his own theory of effective warfare: swift and decisive attack with a disciplined cavalry was his preferred method. His brilliant use of knowledge and technologies adopted from conquered cultures, especially methods of siege warfare, made the impenetrable fortress and its associated entourage of knights and warriors obsolete.[23]

Genghis Khan actively defined new boundaries of the conquered lands. He may have decimated armies, but not the citizens. He created a system that unified enclaves of conquered people into distinct nations, all of which be came part of the greater Mongolian Empire. As part of the Mongolian Empire, the nations were obliged to pay taxes and duties to the Khan. However they also enjoyed some autonomy. In fact, the borders of these unified nations, including those of China, India, Russia, and Korea, remain much the same today as they did when established by their Mongolian conquerers.

Weatherford and others[23] have argued that Genghis Khan created a "new world order" in which cultural isolation became archaic. Before the Khan, Europeans and Chinese were unaware of each other's existence. After the Khan, cultural interaction and economic exchange between the two were not only possible but encouraged. One of Genghis Khan's unique advances was to encourage the diversity of his empire. Mongolians could legally be come followers of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, or any other religion they desired, as long as their practice did not interfere with the Khan's political ambitions. The sharing of knowledge, information, and cultural identity was encouraged. By securing trade routes and establishing medical exchange programs, the Mongols made culture and information more portable. The pax Mongolica made it possible for travelers and traders to cross back and forth within Eurasia. The best known of the West to East explorers is Marco Polo (1254–1324), who started his eastward trek in 1271 with his father (Nicolo Polo) and his uncle (Matteo Polo), and finally met Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan (Fig. 2) in 1275.[8] Later, Marco Polo would build a strong relationship with Kublai Khan and serve in high-level Mongolian government positions.

Figure 2.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: