Miniature of Börte by Baswan and Bhim of Gujarat (1596). Image Credit: Metropolitan Museum.

By Katia Wright

Börte, whose name translates to “blue-grey” or “celeste”, the daughter of Dai Sechen, leader of the Qonggirat tribe, was betrothed to Temüjin, the future Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, at the age of ten. Their marriage took place around five years later, in 1178, and through this Temüjin’s political career began – the union gave him public recognition from a respectable family and enabled him to build a close network of companions who supported his rise to power.

The marriage also enabled Temüjin to start a family, which was key in building and maintaining political alliances. This was threatened once, several years after their marriage, when Börte was captured by members of the Merkit tribe, who held a grudge against Yisügei, Temüjin’s father. During the kidnapping, Börte was forced to marry a Merkit man and fell pregnant. The chronicles do not agree in the telling of the kidnap and Börte’s eventual escape – with one claiming Temüjin carried out a daring rescue, and another stating that she was already pregnant and stayed with an ally of Temüjin, until her eventual return. Either way, Börte remained Temüjin’s senior wife, and her son, Jochi, was accepted as Temüjin’s own.

Jochi was one of nine children Börte bore Temüjin, and beyond her motherhood she was incredibly influential. As his senior wife, Börte managed his camp and his herds of animals, as well as her own. Any junior wives, concubines, servants, and members of the royal guard also fell under her management – this could total over a thousand people all under her control. Following Mongolian custom, she provided hospitality to her husband and his guests, and it was in her tent that important negotiations and alliances were forged. She provided sage advice that was respected by Temüjin, and her family were heavily active as his political and military supporters.

Börte died in 1230, having remained as Chinggis Khan’s senior wife for their entire marriage. They were often together, as shown by the dates of birth for their children, though when separated Börte managed parts of his territory as well. She has been described by Anne Broadbridge as one of the most influential women in his life, and this is clear throughout the stories that survive of her.

Recommended Reading

Anne F. Broadbridge, Women and the Making of the Mongol Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018)

Jack Weatherford, The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued his Empire (New York: Broadway Books, 2010). 

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