Field exhibit reveals many sides of Genghis Khan
His warriors catapulted diseased animals over the ramparts of walled cities. He would pile up heads as a warning to besieged citizens. He ordered the slaying of his religious adviser fearing a grab for power.
And yet, Genghis Khan fostered literacy, advocated religious tolerance and possessed bureaucratic multitasking skills modern-day leaders might envy.
If you go
Where: The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lakeshore Drive, Chicago, (312) 922-9410, fieldmuseum.org
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Sept. 3
Admission: $22-$29 for adults; $18-$24 for seniors and students; $15-$20 for children ages 4 to 11. Tickets are included in both Discovery and All-Access passes.
"He's an enigmatic figure because he has these dual personalities," said Tom Skwerski, the Field Museum's project manager for exhibitions.
"Most of us know him as this warlord ... this conqueror. He was ruthless and decimated entire populations. Yet he was able to administer an empire the size of Africa."
Leave the winter doldrums behind and immerse yourself in the adventure, drama and power of Genghis Khan's 13th-century empire at the Field Museum's latest exhibition. The show, which opened Friday, runs through Sept. 3.
Kids and kids at heart will get a kick out of the ancient bows and arrows, swords, armor and newly discovered skeletal remains of a Mongolian noble woman on display.
There's also a full-scale replica of a catapult, known as a trebuchet, that should evoke memories of the battle for Helms Deep among "Lord of the Rings" fans.
But like Khan, the exhibit is multifaceted. Exhibits also focus on Mongol society featuring a replica of a Ger, or Mongolian nomad dwelling, jewelry and clothing. It ends with a section on Khan's grandson, Kublai Khan, with a representation of his summer retreat, Xanadu.
"It's not just looking at small objects in cases," Field's Director of Exhibitions Jaap Hoogstraten said. "There's murals, videos, maps. It's immersive."
At its height, Khan's empire spanned 11 million square miles, stretching from China to Turkey and Russia to Pakistan.
In modern psychological jargon, you could say GK had issues.
He was born in 1162 into a time of chaos and deadly feuding among clans living in the Mongolian steppes. Khan's father, a tribal leader, was murdered when Genghis was 9, and his clan abandoned him and his mother. He killed his half-brother for stealing food. His young fiancee was kidnapped.
He channeled these events into a charismatic and brutal leadership style, uniting the Mongol tribes into a cohesive "modern" army, historians explained.
"He created a meritocracy, it wasn't based on family linages, it was based on loyalty," said Skwerski of Arlington Heights.
"If you were good to him, he was good to you."
And, as a way of reducing religious discord, Khan encouraged "people to worship any way they wanted."
As his military marched across Asia, Khan used psychological warfare as well as brutal onslaughts.
"He had propaganda campaigns, terrorist campaigns," Skwerski said. "He'd stack heads in a pyramid outside the city wall. He was able to conquer walled cities where his army was outnumbered 100 to one."
Yet, Khan established a code of laws, forbidding practices such as stealing livestock or women. He gave tax breaks to scholars and doctors, established a passport system, a pony express and a written language.
"He developed the foundations of bureaucracy to govern such a large land," Hoogstraten said. "He wasn't just evil."
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