The Secret History of the Mongols

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Layout of a 1908 Chinese edition of The Secret History of the Mongols. Mongolian text in Chinese transcription, with a glossary on the right of each row

The Secret History of the Mongols (Traditional Mongolian: Monggol-un Nigucha Tobchiyian.png Mongγol-un niγuca tobčiyan, Khalkha Mongolian: Монголын нууц товчоо, Mongolyn nuuts tovchoo[1]) is the oldest surviving Mongolian-language literary work. It was written for the Mongol royal family some time after Genghis Khan's death in AD 1227, by an anonymous author and probably originally in the Uyghur script, though the surviving texts all derive from transcriptions or translations into Chinese characters dating from the end of the 14th century, compiled by the Ming dynasty under the name The Secret History of the Yuan Dynasty (Chinese: 元朝秘史; pinyin: Yuáncháo mìshǐ).

The Secret History is regarded as the single most significant native Mongolian account of Genghis Khan. Linguistically, it provides the richest source of pre-classical Mongolian and Middle Mongolian.[2] The Secret History is regarded as a piece of classic literature in both Mongolia and the rest of the world.


The work begins with a semi-mythical genealogy of Temüjin's family. The description of Temüjin's life begins with the kidnapping of his mother, Hoelun, by his father Yesügei. It then covers Temüjin's early life; the difficult times after the murder of his father; and the many conflicts against him, wars, and plots before he gains the title of Genghis Khan (Universal Ruler) in 1206. The latter parts of the work deal with the campaigns of conquest of Genghis and his third son Ögedei throughout Eurasia; the text ends with Ögedei's reflections on what he did well and what he did wrong. It relates how the Mongol Empire was created.

It contains 12 chapters:

  1. Temüjin's origin and childhood.
  2. Temüjin's teenage years.
  3. Temujin destroys the Merkit and takes the title Genghis Khan.
  4. Genghis Khan struggles against Jamukha and Tayichiud.
  5. Genghis Khan destroys the Tatars and tangles with Ong Khan
  6. Destruction of the Khereid
  7. The fate of Ong Khan
  8. Escape of Kuchlug and defeat of Jamukha.
  9. Establishment of the empire and imperial guard.
  10. Conquest of the Uyghur and forest peoples.
  11. Conquest of China, the Tanghut, the Sartuul, Baghdad and Russia
  12. Temüjin's death and Ögedei's reign.

Several passages of the Secret History appear in slightly different versions in the 17th century Mongolian chronicle Altan Tobchi ("The Golden Summary of the Principles of Statecraft as established by the Ancient Khans").

Rediscovery and translations[edit]

Modern Buryat-Mongolian edition

The only surviving copies of the work are transcriptions of the original Mongolian text with Chinese characters, accompanied by a (somewhat shorter) in-line glossary and a translation of each section into Chinese. In China, the work had been well known as a text for teaching Chinese to read and write Mongolian during the Ming dynasty and the Chinese translation was used in several historical works, but by the 1800s, copies had become very rare.

Baavuday Tsend Gun (1875-1932) was the first Mongolian scholar to transcribe The Secret History of the Mongols into modern Mongolian, in 1915–17. The first to discover the Secret History for the west and offer a translation from the Chinese glossary was the Russian sinologist Palladiy Kafarov. The first translations from the reconstructed Mongolian text were done by the German sinologist Erich Haenisch (edition of the reconstructed original text: 1937; of the translation: 1941, second edition 1948) and Paul Pelliot (ed. 1949). B. I. Pankratov published a translation into Russian in 1962.[3] Later, Tsendiin Damdinsüren transcribed the chronicle into Khalkha Mongolian in 1970.

Arthur Waley published a partial translation of the Secret History, but the first full translation into English was by Francis Woodman Cleaves, The Secret History of the Mongols: For the First Time Done into English out of the Original Tongue and Provided with an Exegetical Commentary.[4] The archaic language adopted by Cleaves was not satisfying to all and, between 1972 and 1985, Igor de Rachewiltz published a fresh translation in eleven volumes of the series Papers on Far Eastern History accompanied by extensive footnotes commenting not only on the translation but also various aspects of Mongolian culture. (Brill Publishers released de Rachewiltz' edition as a two-volume set in 2003.)

The Secret History of the Mongols has been published in translation in over 30 languages by researchers.[citation needed]

In 2004 the Government of Mongolia decreed that the copy of The Secret History of the Mongols covered with golden plates was to be located to the rear part of the Government building.[5]

See also[edit]




  1. ^ re-transcribed from Chinese: 忙豁侖紐察 脫[卜]察安; pinyin: mánghuōlúnniǔchá tuō[bo]chá'ān. The 卜 is not included in the Chinese-transcribed titles of the copies known today, but this may be the result of a corruption. William Hung, 'The Transmission of the Book Known as "The Secret History of the Mongols"', Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3/4 (Dec 1951), p.440
  2. ^ Igor de Rachewiltz, The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century (Brill: Leiden, The Netherlands) at xxvi.
  3. ^ "IOM RAS: Sinologica - Sinology at the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences". 2009-03-17. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  4. ^ Harvard-Yenching Institute, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.
  5. ^ ""Монголын нууц товчоо"-г мөнхөд эрхэмлэн дээдлэх тухай | Монгол Улсын Ерөнхийлөгч Цахиагийн Элбэгдорж". 2004-02-18. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 

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