The Place of Our Last Dwelling Should Be Here
This article has a long pre-history. 31 years ago the author, a student of the humanities department of Novosibirsk State University, passed his first mid-sessionals. The idea to make acquaintance with written documents in which data of the Great Khan’s life and death could be found made him spend his winter holidays at the library. In spring of the same year, the article “Where is the grave of Chinggis Khan?” was published in Logos, a local faculty wall paper. For more than a week it attracted crowds of students. It was the first and the last “publication” of the article. In the following 16 years its versions sent to Mongolia and Japan, when opportunity offered, disappeared completely, and the one sent to Uralsky sledopyt [Ural Track-seeker] came back. Since then the author has not tried to publish the article, though tracked publications on the topic. And, according to the last ones, the mystery of Chinggis Khan’s burial has not yet been discovered…
According to The collection of Chronicles by the Medieval Arabic historian Rashid-ad-Din, Chinggis Khan died “on the fifteenth day of the middle autumn month of the Year of the Boar, correspon ding to the Ramadan month of the year 624 AH ” (1952, p. 233), i. e., on August 29, 1227, after 8 day’s illness at the age of 72. His death and burial are still wrapped in mystery, which has generated numerous legends about the last days of the Great Khan’s life and about how and where he was buried. Let us cite some of them told to the archaeologist V. E. Larichev by the American anthropologist O. Lattimore, an expert in the history and culture of Mongolian cattle-breeders (Larichev, 1968, p.128).
One legend goes that Chinggis Khan was buried sitting on a gold throne in a deep sepulcher set up in the open steppe, at the foot of a sacred Mongolian mountain. The grave was covered up, and its surface was thoroughly leve-led. After the burial, a herd of 20,000 horses was driven over the grave, which made it impossible to find any traces of the grave.
Before the burial, a young camel was slaughtered at this place in the presence of its mother. In a year, when the time came to commemorate the Great Khan, no one of those present at the burial could find the location of the grave. It was the female camel that found the grave — it went immediately to the place where its young had been killed and started to bellow.
After the funeral feast, the story with the female camel and the herd of horses repeated. And it went on this way until the Mongols had finally forgotten the burial place of the Great Khan.
According to another legend, Chinggis Khan’s grave is on the bottom of a river. The river was temporarily drawn aside to make the grave, and then it was returned to the former river-bed, hiding forever the rich grave under its waves.
According to the evidence left by the European travelers who visited Mongolia in the 13th century — Plano Carpini, Guillaume de Rubrouck and Marco Polo — the burial of noble Mongols was committed secretly and no marks of the grave’s location were made on the surface. Carpini wrote that to arrange a grave, “in the field, they take away grass with roots and make a big pit; from the side of this pit they make another pit under the ground [a kind of catacomb]…The dead, together with his belongings, is put into the pit which is made aside; the pit in front of the dead man’s pit is then dug up and grass [turf] is put over it to make it look as it was before…” (The Journey to the Eastern Countries…, 1957, pp. 32—33). The dead was buried together with his horses, tables with food and drinks and “much gold and silver”, which was why burial places, especially those of the khans, were guarded closely by special detachments of warders (Marco Polo’s Book, 1955, p. 88; The Journey to the Eastern Countries…, 1957, pp. 32, 102).
The place where Chinggis Khan and his descendants were buried was referred to as Alhai by Marco Polo. In his opinion, this was the mountain located to the north of the city Kharakhorum, the capital of the Mongol empire. He then explained that beyond Alhai were the Bargu steppes (Marco Polo’s Book, 1955, p. 88), which means that this place is situated in modern Transbaikal area.
Everybody’s looking for…
In the first half of the 19th century, the historian A. K. Ohsson wrote: “Mongolian princes of Chinggis Khan’s family told that the mountain on which this lord was buried was called Khan” and gave its coordinates: 49 ° 54 ' northern latitude and 9 ° 3 ' to the west of the Peking meridian (1937, volume1). These coordinates correspond to the location of Khentey-Khan, where the rivers Onon, Kerulen, Tuul-gol and others flow from.
In 1925 Academician V. Ya. Vladimirtsov saw in Urga (modern Ulan-Bator) a Mongolian map, on which the mountain with the promising name “The great land”, or “The great place”, was indicated to the east of Khentey. No local inhabitant had heard about the mountain with such a name; and “ancient geographical names of different kinds” known from the ancient chronicles were not preserved, except for the names of the big rivers Tuul-gol, Onon and Kerulen.
Discussing the legends according to which Chinggis Khan’s grave was situated in Transbaikal area, Professor M. I. Rizhsky came to the conclusion that “though the place of his burial is not known for certain, there is no doubt that it should be somewhere near the sources of the rivers Onon and Kerulen, that is to say, on the Mongolian territory, but neither in the Chita oblast nor in Buryatia” (M. I. Rizhsky, 1965, p. 155) The hypothesis that Chinggis Khan’s grave should be looked for in the Khentey mountains was also proposed by the historian E. I. Kychanov (1973, p. 131). However, the search for Chinggis Khan’s grave undertaken in Mongolia in the early 1960s by the composite expedition of German archeologists headed by Shubert did not produce any results (Larichev, 1968, pp. 127—128).
In 2000 it became known that Chinese archaeologists had found Chinggis Khan’s grave in the north of Xinjiang-Uigur autonomous region, near Čingil city (Lenta.ru).
In the following year, the Mongol-American archaeological expedition named “Chinggis Khan”, headed by Professor D. Woods, found in Khentey aimak, not far from the Russian-Mongolian border (338 km north-east of Ulan Bator), a burial ground of forty graves surrounded by a high wall. This place was known among local inhabitants as “Chinggis’s castle”. Fifty kilometers from it another grave was found, in which about a hundred soldiers were buried.
Woods expressed the view that these were the soldiers killed, according to the legend, so that they did not reveal the secret of Chinggis Khan’s burial place (NEWSru.com; Утро.ru). This search for Chinggis Khan’s grave has been the most fruitful, though the question is still open: further archaeological excavations need to be agreed with the Mongolian government.
Finally, in 2004 members of the joint Japanese-Mongolian expedition excavating the ancient mausoleum in the Avragi area, declared that they would soon find the legendary grave. The archaeologists found the basis of a building and altars on which horses had been burnt. The large scale of the sacrifices suggested that the mausoleum was -dedicated to a noble person. Some Chinese censers with dragons’ images were also found there. The Persian chronicles mentioned that not far from Chinggis Khan’s grave the censers of this very form were constantly burning. Members of the expedition thought that they would find the grave if they dug up around the mausoleum in a radius of 12 km, which would take about three years (Сentrasia.ru).
And a forest grew over the Great Khan’s grave…
Data on Chinggis Khan’s death can be found in the medieval Altan depter (The Golden Book) and Yuan Chao Bi Shi (The Secret History of Mongols), which S. A. Kozin translated as “The Inmost Tale. Chronicles of the Year 1240”. Though the Mongolian text of the official Altan depter did not survive, it served as the basis of the above-mentioned The Collection of Chronicles by Rashid ad-Din (Gumilev, 1977, p. 485). Only the latter document gives us data of Chinggis Khan’s burial (Rashid ad-Din, 1952, pp. 158—159; 233—235).
According to Rashid ad-Din, the Great Khan died during the siege of the Tangut capital Zhong Xing (located on the territory of modern China) by the Mongolian troops.
Chinggis Khan was seriously ill and considered his decease inevitable. He told his favorites not to spread the word about his death, but to do away with the tsar and inhabitants of Tangut when they left the city at the appointed time. The day before Chinggis Khan’s death, the population of Tangut’s capital, exhausted by the long siege, had agreed to surrender to the tender mercies of the winner. The commanders fulfilled Chinggis Khan’s order: being dead, he thus gained his next — and last — victory!
After that, his body was placed on a chariot and sent secretly to Mongolia, followed by a large escort. Many legends, songs and stories were composed about this last way of the Great Khan. The memory remains that guards killed everyone they met on their way in order not to spread the news of the Mongols ruler’s decease before the time was due. And only in three months, when long burial ceremonies were completed, Chinggis Khan was buried together with “forty most beautiful girls” (Kychanov, 1973) in the bordjigins’ ancestral lands, at the bottom of the big mountain Burhan-Khaldun, in the place he had chosen himself some time ago.
This happened when the Great Khan stopped to rest under a big single tree growing in the steppe (considering that the grave was at the foot of the mountain, Rashid ad-Din probably implied its flat slopes). Addressing to his confidents, he said: “The location of our last dwelling should be here!” It is not certain that these were the words actually uttered. The document says clearly that this wish was not fixed anywhere, but fulfilled from the words of those “who heard it”. Besides, Rashid ad-Din left another note about the “sacred place”: “This location is appropriate for my burial. Let them mark it!”
Later, the younger son of Chinggis Khan Tolui Khan and his sons (including Khubilai Khan in 1294, i. e., at the end of 13th century!) and other descendants were buried there. By this time, however, the look of the “sacred place” changed beyond recognition: it became a thick forest instead of “the steppe” with a single tree. And this happened in “the same year” when Chinggis Khan was buried. Probably, Rashid ad-Din cited in his book just another legend, though it is quite possible that the forest was planted to conceal Chinggis Khan’s burial place from enemies and robbers. Mongols knew how to transplant trees, as we can judge from the evidence left by Plano Carpini and Rubrouck (The Journey to the Eastern Countries…, 1957, p. 32).
Taking into account the fact that Chinggis Khan was buried about the end of November 1227, the probability of the “forest” appearing in the same year is rather high. The forest in the “sacred place” provided an additional protection to the “calmness” of the buried Great Khan: Mongols had the cult of both separate trees and groves of trees, where it was even prohibited to enter (The Journey to the Eastern Countries…, p. 201). For the same purpose, the forest uraynhaty — “a thousand of Emir Udachi’s left wing” and his descendants — were charged with guarding this place.
In the early 14th century the “sacred place” was still protected, which allowed Rashid ad-Din to note that “Nowadays the forest is so thick that it is impossible to make one’s way through it, and this first tree and the burial place cannot be identified. Even the old forest guards protecting this place cannot find the way to it.” (Rashid ad-Din, 1952, page 234).
Where is Burhan-Khaldun?
Rashid ad-Din was thus the only person to point to Chinggis Khan’s burial place — Burhan-Khaldun — in the chronicles he created between 1300 and 1310/11.
Which region of Mongolia was known under this name at the beginning of the 14th century? Describing this mountain, Rashid ad-Din gave a detailed list of the rivers which sprang from it: the Kerulen from the southern side, the Onon from the east, the right tributaries of the Selenga from the north and north-east, and the Tuul-gol and Orhon’s right tributaries from the south-west. “Along these rivers lots of forests grow, where the tribes of taiyčiuts [the bordjigins’ family, from which Chinggis Khan originated, belonged to this tribe] live. Chinggis Khan’s summer and winter camps were within the same boundaries.” (Rashid ad-Din, 1952, p. 233). Rubrouck wrote that the land where Chinggis Khan’s court was located was called Onankerule, which means that is was situated in the vicinity of the rivers Onon and Kerulen (The Journey to the Eastern Countries, 1957, pp. 116, 229). Two years before Chinggis Khan’s death, his headquarters were located in the same area, at the source of the Tuul-gol river (Kychanov, 1973, pp. 124-125).
Modern comments to the The Collection of Chronicles by Rashid ad-Din note that, judging from the geographical position given by the author, Burhan-Khaldun must be the modern mountain ridge Hentey (Rashid ad-Din, 1952, p. 234).
Hentey is a large mountainous land. Nevertheless, by mentioning that the tribes of taiyčiuts were close to Chinggis Khan’s camps Rashid ad-Din pointed indirectly to the precise location of Burhan-Khaldun — at the source of the Onon and Kerulen.
Besides, he said that the area of Delun-Boldok (Bulun-buldak) in the lower reaches of the river Onon, where -Сhinggis Khan was born [accidentally or not, the place of Temüjin’s birth has preserved its name till now], was six days’ travel from his burial place (Rashid ad-Din, 1952, p. 234). Rubrouck wrote that Kharakhorum, the capital of the Mongol empire, was ten days’ travel from the ancestral area of Onankerule (The Journey to the Eastern Countries, 1957, p. 154). Knowing the distance which can be cove¬red during one day’s journey and the general direction of movement (from the Onon to the south-west, and from Kharakhorum first to the north along the Orkhon and then to the north-east along the Tuul-gol), we can pin-point the location of Burhan-Khaldun mountain — it should be at the intersection of the routes named above, within the borders of the former Chinggis Khan family’s camps.
In order to localize Burhan-Khaldun mountain within the Hentey area, let us turn to the Mongol Inmost Tale. Valuable information about Burhan-Khaldun can be taken from the description of the historical period of the end of the 12th century, when the unification of Mongols was taking place, and Chinggis Khan was called TemÜjin from bordjigins’ family.
According to The Inmost Tale, one of TemÜjin’s camps of that time was Burgi-ergi on the southern slope of Burhan-Khaldun, at the source of the Kerulen river. It was there that the episode casting light on the size of Burhan-Khaldun — its height and area — happened. One day, as Temüjin was camping near Burgi-ergi, at the time of the day when “the air was just getting yellow” [that is, at dusk], he was attacked by taiyčiuts. Warned in time, Temüjin and his brothers broke camp and managed to climb Burhan before the dawn: that is to say, in a very short time. The pursuers “went around Burhan-Khaldun three times following Temüjin’s traces, but couldn’t catch him. They rushed about here and there, following his traces through the marshes and through the thickness…” (Kozin, 1941, pp. 96, 97). Besides, they had to ford the rivers Tungelik, Tana and Sangur flowing down the southern slopes of Burhan-Khaldun and to force their way through the Tuul Black pine forest on the northern slope. The river Sangur was known to belong to Temüjin’s camping area (“Temüjin arrived home to the river Sangur in three days and three nights”) (Kozin, 1941, p. 95).
Analyzing the text of The Inmost Tale, we can notice that Burhan-Khaldun is always mentioned together with the origin of the river Kerulen. At the same time, the Tuul-gol probably flew not far from Burhan-Khaldun’s northern side, which gave name to the pine forest on its slope. This geographical evidence suggests that Burhan-Khaldun mountain was situated between the upper reaches of the rivers Kerulen in the south and Tuul-gol in the north.
As for the location of the Onon’s source, which also made part of Chinggis Khan’s camping area (Onankerule), The Inmost Tale connects it with the area Botogan-Boorji, which allows us to suppose that the latter is the name of a mountainous region. The Onon, Kerulen and Tuul-gol are all known to rise in Hentey, not far from one another. Consequently, Burkhan-Khaldun and Botogan-Boorji are ancient names of separate regions of the Hentey mountains that have not survived till our time, but were used in late 12th—13th centuries.
The pursuers-taiyčiuts, who managed to go round Burhan-Khaldun in such a short time during the episode described above, give us indirect evidence of its size. As early as at the time of Rashid ad-Din, however, the name of Burhan-Khaldun stopped to designate the definite area of the mountainous region where the origins of the Kerulen and Tuul-gol were and began to refer to the whole mountainous area of Hentey.
As in the 13th century northern slopes of Burhan-Khaldun were covered with a forest (the Tuul black pine forest), southern slopes should have had some forest-steppe with marshes and gallery woods, as it follows from Rashid ad-Din’s writings. This is why it is the southern slope of Burhan-Khaldun which matches the description of the “sacred place” best.
Thus, “the last dwelling” of Chinggis Khan is probably in the upper reaches of the Kerulen, at its right bank, on the southern slope of the mountain called in the 12th—13th century Burhan-Khaldun. This is a small, not very high and easily accessible part of the Hentey mountains, with clear-cut boundaries. It is hard to say whether the legendary -forest that grew in such a short time remained on its southern slopes. And future researchers should remember “the sacred site” is a family cemetery, and the Great Khan’s grave is by no means the only one.
Gumilev, L. N.,”Secret” and “Evident” History of the Mongols of the 12th—13th centuries. Tatar-Mongols in Asia and Europe. Moscow, Nauka, 1977, pp. 484—502.
Ohsson, A. K., The History of Mongols: from Chinggis Khan to Tamerlan. Irkutsk, 1937, volume 1.
Kirillov, I. I., Rizhsky, M. I., Essays about the Ancient History of Transbaikal Area. Chita, 1973.
Marco Polo’s Book. Moscow, 1955.
Kozin, S. A., The Inmost Tale. Chronicles of the Year 1240. Yuan chao bi shi. Moscow, Leningrad, 1941.
Kychanov, E. I., The Life of Temüjin, who Wanted to Conquer the World. Moscow, 1973.
Larichev, V. E., Asia, Far and Mysterious (Travel Essays. In Search for Antiquities through Mongolia). Novosibirsk, Nauka, 1968.
The Journey to the Eastern Countries of Plano Carpini and Rubrouck. Moscow, 1957. Rashid ad-Din, The Collection of Chronicles. Moscow, ¬Leningrad, 1952. Volume 1, books 1, 2.
Rizhsky, M. I., From the Remote Past. Irkutsk, 1965.