That’s not what I had assumed

Khan’s first powerful victories came from the reorganization of his military units, splitting his soldiers into groups of ten. This he stole from neighboring Turkic tribes, and unknowingly converted the Mongols to the decimal system. Soon enough, their expanding empire brought them into contact with another “technology” they’d never experienced before: walled cities. In the Tangut raids, Khan first learned the ins and outs of war against fortified cities and the strategies critical to laying siege, and quickly became an expert. Later, with help from Chinese engineers, he taught his soldiers how to build siege machines that could knock down city walls. In his campaigns against the Jurched, Khan learned the importance of winning hearts and minds. By working with the scholars and royal family of the lands he conquered, Khan was able to hold on to and manage these territories in ways that most empires could not. Afterward, in every country or city he held, Khan would call for the smartest astrologers, scribes, doctors, thinkers, and advisers—anyone who could aid his troops and their efforts. His troops traveled with interrogators and translators for precisely this purpose.

~ Shane Parrish from,

My understanding had been that Khan was a slew of things—vicious, ruthless, indefatigable, insatiable—which I’m certain I’d picked up through osmosis from countless small direct portrayals and indirect mentions I encountered randomly. I try not to rely on entertainment to be educating, but I hadn’t looked into this larger-than-life historical figure, and had wound up ill-informed.

This piece from Shane Parrish goes on to talk about humility. I don’t think anyone would have used that word to describe Khan. But it does make sense! What would someone who is humble do? (Click through. Click through!) They’d be continuously learning and always open to new ideas. They’d be searching for people who can teach them things. Sure, Khan went a step or three further to burn, pillage, etc. But he also did that continuous-improvement thing.