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Börte Khatun
Detail of a Mughal miniature painting showing Börte.
Great Khatun of the Mongol Empire and Khamag Mongol
Khamag Mongol (now Khentii, Mongolia)
Died1230 (aged 68–69)
Mongol Empire (now Avarga, Mongolia)
SpouseGenghis Khan
Khochen Bekhi
Alakhai Bekhi
Posthumous name
Empress Guangxian Yisheng (光獻翼聖皇后)[1]
FatherDei Seichen

Börte (simply Borte, also Börte Üjin; Mongolian: ᠪᠥᠷᠲᠡ ᠦᠵᠢᠨ; Cyrillic: Бөртэ үжин; c. 1161–1230) was the first wife of Temüjin, who became Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire. Börte became the head of the first Court of Genghis Khan, and Grand Empress of his Empire. Little is known about the details of her early life, but she was betrothed to Genghis at a young age, married at seventeen, and then kidnapped by a rival tribe. Her husband's daring rescue of her may have been one of the key events that started him on his path to becoming a conqueror. She gave birth to four sons and five daughters, who, along with their own descendants, were the key bloodline that further expanded the Mongol Empire.

Borte and Hoelun, Genghis' mother, were some of the most influential and important people in the Khan's life.

Early life[edit]

Few historical facts are known about her early life, but Mongolians have many legends about her. What little is known is generally from The Secret History of the Mongols.

Börte was born around 1161 into the Olkhonud of Khongirad. This tribe was friendly to the Borjigin tribe, into which Temüjin was born. She was the daughter of Dei-Sechen and Chotan. She was described as having a "fair complexion" with "light in her face and fire in her eyes," meaning that she was intelligent. The girls that came from the Olkhonud tribe were known for being particularly beautiful.[2][3] The marriage was arranged by her father and Yesügei, Genghis' father, when she was 10 and he was 9 years old. Temüjin then stayed with her family until he was called back to help his mother and younger siblings, due to the poisoning of Yesügei by an enemy.[4]

In 1178, approximately 7 years later, Temüjin traveled downstream along the Kelüren River to find Börte. When Dei-Sechen saw that Temüjin had returned for Börte he was delighted and had the pair "united as man and wife".[3] With the permission of Dei-Sechen, he took Börte and her mother to live in his family's yurt, which was camped along the Senggür river. Börte's dowry was a fine black sable jacket.[5]

Abduction and rescue[edit]

Soon after she married Temüjin, the Three Merkits attacked the family camp at dawn. Temüjin, and his family and friends were able to escape on horses, but there was no horse left for Börte to escape on. She was taken captive by the Merkits and given to one of their warriors as a spoil of war (along with Sochigel and a maid).[6] The raid was in retaliation for the abduction of Hoelun, Temüjin's mother, by his father Yesügei many years earlier.[7] Temüjin was deeply distressed by the abduction of his wife and remarked that his bed "was made empty" and his breast was "torn apart".[3] He was determined to bring Börte back, and rescued her several months later with the aid of his allies Wang Khan and Jamukha. Some scholars describe this event as one of the key crossroads in Temüjin's life, which moved him along the path towards becoming a conqueror.[8][9]

"As the pillaging and plundering went on, Temüjin moved among the people that were hurriedly escaping, calling, 'Börte, Börte!' And so he came upon her, for Lady Börte was among those fleeing people. She heard the voice of Temüjin and, recognizing it, she got off the cart and came running towards him. Although it was still night, Lady Börte and Qo'aqčin both recognized Temüjin's reins and tether and grabbed them. It was moonlight; he looked at them, recognized Lady Börte, and they fell into each other's arms."[3] -The Secret History of the Mongols

Börte had been held captive for eight months, and she gave birth to Jochi after she was rescued, leaving doubt as to who the father of the child was, because her captor took her as a "wife", and therefore could have possibly impregnated her. However, Genghis let Jochi remain with his family and claimed him as his own son. He was supposed to be Genghis' successor but because of his doubt of being Jochi's real father, his brothers would not accept him as ruler and Genghis had to choose another son. Jochi then became leader of the Golden Horde.

Grand Empress[edit]

Börte was the senior and first wife of Temüjin. She was revered by the Mongols after he became Genghis Khan, and she was crowned the Grand Empress. Börte on several occasions heavily influenced her husband's decisions. One such occasion was when Otčigin came into Genghis Khan's tent while he was still in bed with Börte, and asked for help against the Qongqotan tribe. Before Genghis Khan could say anything, Börte "sat up in bed, covering her breasts with the edge of the blanket" and described the cruelty of the Qongqotan. After listening to his wife speak, Genghis Khan decided to help Otčigin.[3]

As Genghis Khan continued to expand his influence and empire, Börte remained behind and assisted Genghis' brother Temüge in ruling the Mongol homeland. Other wives accompanied Genghis Khan on his campaigns, while she ruled her own territory and managed her own court.[10] Most of the Kherlen River was assigned to her, land that had before belonged to the Tatars.[11] Only her sons were considered to be candidates to succeed Temüjin as Khans.

Börte is often portrayed as "a beautiful woman dressed in a white silken gown, with gold coins in her hair, holding a white lamb, and riding a white steed".[12]


Börte's sons:


  • Kua Ujin Bekhi, the eldest, was betrothed to Tusakha, son of Senggum, and grandson of Wang Khan, ruler of the Keraite tribe; she eventually married Botu, of the Ikires tribe, and widower of her paternal aunt Temulun.
  • Alakhai Bekhi, married first to Alaqush Digit Quri, chieftain of the Ongüt tribe; then to his nephew and heir Jingue; and finally to her stepson Boyaohe
  • Tümelün, married to Chigu, son of Alchi , son of Dei Seichen, Börte's father
  • Alaltun married Chaur Setsen, son of Taiju Kurgen of the Olkanut tribe.[13] She is often confused with Il-Alti, a daughter by a concubine, who was given to the Uyghur chieftain Idi Qut.[13]
  • Checheikhen, married to Törölchi, son of Quduka beki, of the Oirat tribe.

Modern representations[edit]

Given her significant role in Genghis Khan's life, Börte has appeared as a prominent character in the many films and television series based on her husband's life and conquests. The actresses who have portrayed her include Susan Hayward in The Conqueror, Françoise Dorléac in Genghis Khan and Chuluuny Khulan in the 2007 Oscar nominated Russian film Mongol.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lee, Lily Xiao Hong; Wiles, Sue (2014). Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Tang Through Ming, 618-1644. p. 12. ISBN 9780765643162.
  2. ^ Onon 2005, sections 65–66.
  3. ^ a b c d e Rachewiltz, Igor de (December 2015). "The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century". Western Washington University.
  4. ^ Onon 2005, sections 61, 66, 68.
  5. ^ Onon 2005, sections 94–96.
  6. ^ "ДОКУМЕНТЫ->МОНГОЛИЯ->СОКРОВЕННОЕ СКАЗАНИЕ МОНГОЛОВ->ПУБЛИКАЦИЯ С. А. КОЗИНА 1941 Г.->ГЛАВЫ I-III". www.vostlit.info. Retrieved 2020-12-05.
  7. ^ Onon 2005, sections 98–102.
  8. ^ "Historic Kidnapping Cases That Will Make You Want to Hold Your Loved Ones Closer". HistoryCollection.co. 2018-10-03. Retrieved 2019-07-28.
  9. ^ "Genghis Khan". HISTORY. Retrieved 2019-07-28.
  10. ^ Ratchnevsky 1991, pp. 164–165.
  11. ^ Weatherford 2010, p. 28.
  12. ^ Stone, Zofia. Genghis Khan: A Biography. Alpha Editions, 2017.
  13. ^ a b Ad-din, Rashid. Jami Al Tawarikh (Compendium of Chronicles).
  14. ^ Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan, 20 September 2007, retrieved 2019-07-26