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Khutulun, the 13th century Mongol princess was an extraordinary warrior who couldn’t be defeated by anyone, and deserves a rightful place in history.
History has been unkind to women, for it has been amnesic in their remembrance.
The generous act of acknowledging women’s contribution to History separately from the mainstream celebration of historical figures is the testimony to the forfeiture of their individual legacies.
The great struggle of tracing the lives and the status of the spectacular Mongol queens, who literally revived the glory of Genghis Khan’s empire is, unfortunately, one of them.
However, even among the standards of all those powerful Mongol women, Khutulun writes a distinct place for herself.
Born about 1260, Khutulun, was the great-great granddaughter of Genghis Khan and a legend in her own right.
Unlike her cousin, the emperor Kublai Khan, who relished the comfort and luxuries of the Chinese court, Khutulun chose the rough, nomadic lifestyle – the traditional Mongol way of life.
Benevolently imaged as beautiful, and much sought after by men, Khutulun was a woman of extraordinary strength.
She mastered the Mongol arts of horse-riding, archery, and wrestling where she eventually became the champion wrestler whom no man could defeat.
She also transcended at the cardinal Mongol vocation of warfare. However, it is important to note that it was not unusual for Mongolians to see women on horses or dealing with bows and arrows, but what made Khutulun an anomaly was her excellence, the refinement of her skills among many of her likes.
Her father, Qaidu Khan, awarded her a gergee ( a medal of office that stated the power of the holder) as an acknowledgement of her power and independence. She is the only woman recorded to have received that, as it was an authority usually reserved for men.
Khutulun outperformed all her fourteen brothers since a very early age. She was her father’s favorite child, so much that he even wanted her to be named as the next Khan.
It was Khutulun who chose to be the military commander instead, perhaps to avoid her brothers enmity. Qaidu Khan not only trusted Khutulun on the battlefield, but he also relied on her for advice and support regarding the administration of the government and the Kingdom.
Rashid al-Din, a Persian chronicler wrote that she “often went on military campaigns, where she performed valiant deeds.”
As for her military prowess, Marco Polo said that she would “make a dash at the host of the enemy, and seize some man thereout, as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird, and carry him to her father; and this she did many a time.”
Although her bravery was not substantial enough to impact the war on the whole, but it accentuated Khutulun’s position as divinely blessed, and rightly so, considering that athletic artistry held a sense of sacredness for the Mongols.
Having been largely victorious on the battlefield and in sports, Khutulun refused to marry until a potential suitor defeated her in wrestling.
To compete against her, the opponents had to wager ten horses. If they won, they could marry Khutulun, and if they lost, they had to give away the horses.
Many men came forward, but none of them could succeed, and in a follow up, Khutulun kept increasing the size of her herd.
According to Marco Polo, a particularly handsome and wealthy prince presented himself for the contest. The anonymous bachelor wagered a thousand horses.
Anxious for her marriage, her parents insisted Khutulun to let the prince win. For the love of her parents Khutulun agreed, however, in the rush of competitive excitement she forgot her promise and walked from the match, a thousand horses richer.
In the face of humiliation, the handsome prince disappeared, leaving behind the additional thousand horses for her herd.
Owing to her unusual way of life, gossips and rumors circled Khutulun – not only from the political and military enemies who could not defeat her, but also the historians and messengers of her time.
They alleged that she maintained an incestuous relationship with her father, and therefore would take no man as her husband. As she realized the propaganda against her father’s kingdom, she decided to marry.
To this day, it is unclear and highly debatable as to whom she married, but one thing that remains constant was that she remained undefeated as a wrestler.
The life of one of history’s greatest female athlete should be remembered and revered as a mark of celebrating women’s space regardless of the time and age.
Image source: a still from the Netflix series Marco Polo
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