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Study: Climate Change Aided Genghis Khan
March 16, 2014

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Genghis Khan benefited from climate change, according to a new study in a prestigious journal.

The Mongol ruler famed for his rapid rise to overwhelming power in the early 1200s benefited from a period of warmer, wetter weather that was ideal for growing grass to feed the horses that contributed so much to the success to the rapid succession of Mongol rule.

In the study, scientists examined tree rings from both living and dead varieties and found convincing evidence of a much warmer and much wetter period from 1211 to 1225, in stark contrast to an intense drought that, the evidence suggests, parched the Asian steppes from 1180 to 1190.

Genghis Khan consolidated his power in the latter years of the 12th Century and achieved absolute rule of the varied Mongol, Tatar, and other central Asian clans by 1206. Less than a decade later, the Mongols had defeated the powerful Chinese forces and taken what is now Beijing. The Mongols eventually ruled over a larger territory than any other civilization, including Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire.

The end-of-century drought would have weakened the hold of local rulers throughout central Asia, paving the way for a charismatic figure like Genghis Khan to promise the world and then deliver a series of military victories, providing opportunities for groups of people literally starving for new food and territory on which to grow it. The subsequent wetter weather would have aided the growth of the large Asian grasses that were so popular as food for the Mongol horses, part of their feared method of attack and conquest.

The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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