Ogotai Khan

Ogotai Khan was the third son of Genghis Khan and spent most of his early life campaigning. Realizing the implacable enmity between his first and second sons, Juji and Chagatai Khan, Genghis decided in 1219 to bypass both for supreme leadership of the Mongols after his own death in favor of Ogotai.

He reconfirmed this decision before his death in 1227. Ogotai was confirmed as the Mongols’ second khaghan (grand khan) by the khuriltai of Mongol leaders in 1229 and established Karakorum on the upper reaches of the Orkhon River as his capital, surrounding it with a defensive wall.

True to his martial heritage Ogotai began his reign with massive campaigns to expand the Mongol empire, amassing four armies. One marched westward to conquer the steppelands of central Eurasia and the Russian principalities, across the Ural Mountains, and the Volga River.

Led by the old warrior Subotai and Batu (Juji’s son), its goal was to secure and enlarge the inheritance of the sons of Juji (who had predeceased Genghis Khan).

A second army’s goal was to complete the conquest of Khwarazm, which includes modern Iran, then onto the Middle East and Asia Minor. A third army took on Korea, which had been conquered earlier but had revolted against the unbearable conditions of Mongol rule.

Finally Ogotai and his younger brother Tului Khan led a force to finish the conquest of the Jin (Chin) dynasty in northern China. They took the Jin capital Kaifeng (K’ai-feng) in 1233; the last Jin emperor committed suicide in 1234 and all northern China came under Mongol rule.

Coronation of Ogotai Khan
Coronation of Ogotai Khan

Subotai’s army had the most spectacular success, conquering the Turkish tribes of the Russian steppes, all the Russian principalities except Novgorod, the Ukraine, Poland, Moravia, and Hungary. They were at the gates of Vienna before withdrawing in 1241 on the news of Ogotai’s death. The army sent to conquer the Middle East added western Persia and the Caucasus to Mongol control.

Korea submitted in 1259. Ogotai also made administrative reforms to centralize the administration to ensure his control over the Mongol lords and the efficient gathering of taxes and tribute from his sedentary subjects.

Thanks to a remarkable non-Mongol adviser Yelu Chucai (Yeh-lu Ch’u-ts’ai) reforms were begun in northern China that ended the brutal looting and massacre of the population on the premise that working people paid more taxes than expeditions could gather.

After the campaign against Jin, Ogotai returned to Karakorum and abandoned himself to a life of pleasure, hunting and drinking so heavily that an official was appointed to count the amount of wine he drank daily.

His second wife, Toregene, moved quickly to consolidate her authority even before he died while on a hunting trip; he was buried in Jungaria in his personal appanage (fief).

According to Mongol custom his widow, Toregene, became regent until the khuriltai elected a new ruler. Her goal was to ensure the election of her son Guyug as the next khaghan, despite much opposition by other branches of the Mongol royal house. After four and half years she succeeded.

Ogotai Statue