Portrait of Sorqoqtani by Rashid al-Din (14th century). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Katia Wright

Sorqoqtani (Sorkhoktani) Beki was the daughter of Jaqa Gambu, and a member of the Kereit royal family. After the fall of the Kereit Tribe by the hands of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, Sorqoqtani and her two sisters married into the Chinggisid family in 1204. Sorqoqtani married Tolui, Chinggis Khan’s third son and who was around the age of 9 at the time, as his senior wife, and her cousin, Dokuz, married Tolui as a junior wife.

Sorqoqtani, her sisters, and cousin were all part of a vital Kereit network, along with the few surviving princes who served in Chinggis Khan’s army, to support the remainder of their tribe within the grand khanate. Alongside maintaining this circle of influence for her people, she was recorded in the sources as a great mother of her four sons: Möngke, Ariq (Arik) Böke, Qubilai (Kublai), and Hülegü, and one unnamed daughter.

After Tolui’s death in 1233, Sorqoqtani was very active. First, she managed to diplomatically avoid a marriage by levirate to Ögedei, Tolui’s older brother – this was a common Mongolian custom, where a widow married a close male relative of her husband to ensure her protection and wealth remained in the family. By avoiding this marriage Sorqoqtani managed to maintain control of her finances and retain her diplomatic connections. In this she was incredibly successful: administering her own appanage, Sorqoqtani managed her property and people including agents of the empire, and her finances granted her the ability to achieve her political ends and donate to religious foundations later in her life.

In 1248, Güyük Khan, of the Ögedeyid house, died leaving the throne of the Grand Khan uncertain. Sorqoqtani acting with Batu, a senior member of the Jochid house, worked to place her eldest son on the throne. Across the span of three years, through careful diplomatic leverage on the part of both Sorqoqtani and Batu, Möngke was successfully crowned as Grand Khan in 1251.

By the time of Möngke’s success, Sorqoqtani was terminally ill. After seeing her family rise to imperial power, she died of a wasting sickness in 1252.

Suggested 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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