The Christian queen Sorghaghtani with her husband, Tolui. Rashid al-Din, early 14th century.
|Titles||Posthumous name: Empress Xianyi Zhuangsheng
|Father||Jakha Gambhu, brother of Wang Khan|
Sorghaghtani Beki or Bekhi (Bek(h)i is a title), also written Sorkaktani, Sorkhokhtani, Sorkhogtani, Siyurkuktiti; traditional Chinese: 唆魯禾帖尼; simplified Chinese: 唆鲁禾帖尼; pinyin: Suōlǔhétiění (Posthumous name: traditional Chinese: 顯懿庄聖皇后; simplified Chinese: 显懿庄圣皇后; pinyin: Xiǎnyì Zhuāngshèng Huánghòu) (d. 1252), a Kereyid princess of the Nestorian Christian faith and daughter-in-law of Temüjin (later known as Genghis Khan), was one of the most powerful and competent women in the Mongol Empire. Married to Tolui, Genghis' youngest son, she raised her sons to be leaders, and maneuvered the family politics so that all four of her sons, Möngke Khan, Hulagu Khan, Ariq Böke, and Kublai Khan, were to inherit the legacy of their grandfather. As a moving spirit behind the Mongol Empire, Sorghaghtani is responsible for much of the trade openings and intellectual exchange made possible by this, the largest contiguous empire in world history. As such, she may count among the most influential women in world history.
Sorghaghtani was the daughter of Jakha Gambhu, the younger brother of the powerful Kereyid leader Toghrul (a.k.a. Wang Khan). According to The Secret History of the Mongols, around 1203, when Toghrul was a more powerful leader than Temüjin, Temüjin proposed to Toghrul that Temujin's eldest son Jochi might marry Toghrul's daughter or granddaughter, thus binding the two groups. However, Toghrul refused this alliance, and later attempted to kill the increasingly powerful Temüjin through an invitation to discuss this proposal. However, Temüjin discovered this plan and they escaped at the last moment. Eventually, the Kereyids were routed in the ensuing war and Toghrul was killed, possibly by the Naimans. Unlike his brother, Jakha usually supported Temüjin and gave his two daughters to him and one more daughter to Genghis Khan's oldest son Jochi. Genghis married the elder of the daughters (later handed over to another general), and gave young Sorghaghtani, who was still a teenager, to his son Tolui.
Sorghaghtani's father Jakha was probably killed when the Kereyids revolted against Genghis Khan in 1204. Like most Mongol women of the time, Sorghaghtani wielded great authority at home. Women had far more rights in Mongolia than in China, Europe, or other cultures at the time, especially since the men were often away and they were the ones responsible for the home. Although she herself was illiterate, she recognized the value of literacy in running such a far-flung empire. Each of her sons learned a different language for different regions. Also, Sorghaghtani, though a Nestorian Christian, respected other religions. Her sons, like Genghis, were all very liberal minded in matters of religion, and the Mongol empire promulgated the notion of state above religion, while supporting all major religions of the time. She also financed the construction of a madrasa in Bukhara and gave alms to both Christians and Muslims.
Her husband Tolui, whose appanages included eastern Mongolia, parts of Iran and Northern China, died at the age of 40 in 1232, and Ögedei gave her enduring authority to handle with Tolui's estates. The Secret History suggests that Great Khan Ögedei may have consulted Sorghaghtani on various matters, and he always held her in high regard. Ogodei sought to link her realm to his and proposed marriage, which she declined; he then proposed that she marry his son Güyük (widows often married again within the family among Mongols), but she refused, claiming that her four sons needed her attention. This decision later turned out to be one of the most important ones in the formation of the Mongol Empire, as all four of Sorghatani's sons, grandsons of Genghis, became leaders in their own right. When Sorghaghtani asked for part of Hebei province as her appanage in 1236, Ögedei hesitated, but not for long, after the end of the Mongol–Jin War. She shunned him into compliance by pointing out that the place was hers by right anyway, because her husband had conquered it. However, Ögedei expanded his personal appanage, seizing some territories of Tolui and took most of soldiers of Sorghaghtani.
After Ögedei Khan's death in 1241, his wife Töregene Khatun ruled as regent until 1246, when she managed to get her son Güyük elected as the Great Khan at a large kurultai (Mongol congress). However, he immediately set out to undermine his mother's power, as well as that of Sorghaghtani, Alaqai Beki (the Ongut ruler and daughter of Genghis Khan) and Ebuskun (the wife of Chaghatai Khan, regent for the Central Asian Empire).
Meanwhile, ambitious Sorghaghtani had secretly teamed up with Güyük's cousin Batu Khan, the senior male in the Borjigin and ruler of the Golden Horde (north of Caspian Sea to Bulgaria). In 1248, when Güyük was setting out on a campaign to the Middle East (ostensibly for conquest, but possibly to defeat Batu Khan), he died under somewhat suspicious circumstances; some have speculated that Sorghaghtani may have taken "direct action against Güyük".
After Güyük's death, Sorghaghtani sent her eldest son Möngke to Batu Khan. Batu and Sorghaghtani championed the name of Möngke, who had fought along with Batu in the European campaign, as Khagan. Möngke was named Great Khan at a kurultai organized by Batu in Siberia some time before 1250, but this was contested as not being properly in Mongolia. However, the ancient Mongol homeland where Genghis was born was in her regency, so she organized a kurultai here which was attended by Batu's brother Berke. Möngke was formally named the Great Khan. The Ögedei and Güyük families attempted to overthrow him, but failed. Möngke arrested and drowned Güyük's widow Oghul Qaimish, and many other members of Ögedei's family.
Sorghaghtani bore Tolui at least four children. They included:
- Möngke Khan: Great Khan (1251–59) of the Mongol Empire.
- Kublai Khan: Great Khan (1260–94) of the Mongol Empire and the Yuan dynasty
- Hulagu Khan: khan (1256–64) of the Ilkhanate dynasty that ruled Persia, Turkey, Georgia and Armenia.
- Ariq Böke, her fourth son, was also declared Great Khan (rivalling Kublai) for a short period in 1260; he would eventually be captured by Kublai in 1264.
In 1310, she was regarded as "Empress" in a ceremony that included a Nestorian mass. Sorghaghtani was enshrined in a Christian church in Ganzhou in 1335, and sacrifices were ordered to be offered here. By 1480 a cult had been conducted for her memory at the ordo that was kept by the Chahar (Mongols). This ordo moved to Ordos (in modern Inner Mongolia) in the 17th century.
She is spoken of very highly both in the Secret History, as well as by Muslim, Chinese and Christian historians.
If I were to see among the race of women another woman like this, I should say that the race of women was far superior to that of men.
Among the Mongols this lady is the most renowned, with the exception of the emperor Güyük's mother Töregene.
Extremely intelligent and able.
Sorghaghtani was the niece of the powerful Kerait leader Wang Khan "Toghrul". To Europeans, Toghrul was one of the distant Eastern rulers who was sometimes associated with the legend of "Prester John". During Mongol-European diplomacy, the Mongols sometimes played upon this perception by the Europeans, describing Mongol princesses such as Sorghaghtani and Doquz Khatun as being "daughters of Prester John".
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