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Mongol Empire c.1207
|Historical era||Medieval Ages|
|Today part of|| Mongolia
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|History of Mongolia|
The Merkits lived in the basins of the Selenge River and lower Orkhon River (Southern Buryatia and Mongolian Selenge Province). After a struggle that took over two decades, they were defeated in 1200 and incorporated into the Mongol Empire formed by Genghis Khan.
The word Merged (мэргэд) is a plural form derived from the Mongolian word mergen (мэргэн), the latter of which means both "wise" as in smart and "skillful marksperson" as in adept in the use of bow and arrow. The word is also used in many phrases in which it connotes magic, oracles, divination, augury, or religious power. Note that the Mongolian language does not make a clear morphological or grammatical distinction between nouns and adjectives, so mergen may mean "a sage, a wise one" just as much as "wise" or "skillful, adept" just as much as "a master, a skillful marksperson." Merged becomes people as in "wise ones" or "skillful markspeople." But in the general sense, mergen usually denotes someone who is skillful and wise in their affairs.
- The Uduyid Merkits lived in Buur-kheer, near the lower Orkhon River;
- The Uvas Merkits lived in Tar, between the Orkhon and Selenge Rivers;
- The Khaad Merkits (khaan: king; Kings Merkits) lived in Kharaji-kheer, on the Selenge River.
The ethnicity of the Merkits is somewhat obscure; it is likely that they were Turkic or Mongolic (related to Mongols, Naimans, Khereids, and Khitan), but it has also been postulated that they are more closely related to Paleosiberian, such as the Chukchi, or to Tungusic peoples, such as the Manchu and the Evenks.
Conflict with Genghis Khan
Temüjin's mother Hoelun, originally from the Olkhunut tribe, had been engaged to the Merkit chief Yehe Chiledu by 1153. She was abducted by Temüjin's father Yesugei, while being escorted home by Yehe Chiledu.
In turn, Temüjin's new wife Börte was kidnapped by Merkit raiders from their campsite by the Onon river around 1181 and given to one of their warriors. Temüjin, supported by his blood brother Jamukha and his foster-father Toghril, the Khan of the Khereit, attacked the Merkit and rescued Börte within the year. The Merkits were dispersed after this attack. Shortly thereafter she gave birth to a son named Jochi. Temüjin accepted paternity but the question kept lingering throughout Jochi's life. Those incidents resulted in a strong animosity between Temüjin and his family and the Merkits. Over the following two decades, he attacked them several times.
By the time he had united the other Mongol tribes and was given the title "Chinggis Khan" in 1206, the Merkits seem to have disappeared as a separate ethnic group. Those who survived were most likely absorbed by other Mongol tribes (Oirats, Buryats, Khalkha) and others who fled to Kypchaks mixed with them. In 1215-1218, Jochi and Subotai crushed the remnants of them under their former leader Toghta Beki's family. The Mongols clashed with the Kankalis or the Kypchaks because they gave shelter to them. Genghis Khan had a Merkit khatun named Khulan. Khulgen died while Mongol forces laid siege to a Russian settlement in Ryazan in 1236. During the Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria, a body of the Merkit was found in the Bulgar-Kypchak dominated areas in 1236.
Few Mergids achieved prominent position among the Mongols. But they were classified as Mongols in Mongolian society. Great Khan Guyuk's beloved khatun Oghul Qaimish, who was a regent from 1248-1251, was a Mergid woman. The traditionalist Bayan and his cousin Toghta served as Grand councilors of the Yuan Dynasty in China and Mongolia. After the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, they were a clan of a banner in Northern Yuan.
- History of Mongolia, Volume II, 2003