Genghis Khan never set out to create an empire more than 800 years ago, but the Mongolian warrior and his descendants would ultimately conquer a territory ranging from Korea to Turkey.
Such a feat took obvious military prowess, but were the great leader and his hordes on horseback simply brutal barbarians out for blood and power?
Or were they among the first globalists, bent on creating an interconnected world where goods and ideas could flow between east and west?
“Genghis Khan”, which opened Oct. 5 at Fernbank Museum of Natural History, challenges the misunderstood Mongolian’s reputation as a ruthless marauder, making the subtle argument that his empire ushered in a new peace that paved the way for a more civilized world.
“I hate to say something as silly as, ‘I think Genghis Khan was a little misunderstood,’ but I think he was a very complex individual and I think a lot of his lasting legacies have been overlooked really in favor of focusing more on body count and death and destruction,” said Bobbi Hohmann, the museum’s curator and director of special collections.
Contrary to other conquerors, Genghis Khan allowed religious freedom in the areas he ruled, a revolutionary notion in a world where ideology was usually the driving force behind conquest. Buddhist temples, Christian churches and Islamic mosques could all be found in Karakorum, the great headquarters of the empire formed by formerly nomadic tribesmen, Ms. Hohmann said.
But the largest land empire in history also spread more practical innovations, paper money, post offices and a messenger pass that was for the empire what a passport is in global travel today. He even helped popularize the use of pants.
“Genghis Khan didn’t invent pants. However, because the Mongol warriors wore pants and were basically taking over Asia and ultimately moved into Europe, these sorts of things ultimately spread,” Ms. Hohmann told Global Atlanta.
Comprised of more than 200 individual objects, including the preserved remains of a Mongolian woman and her coffin from the 13th century, the exhibit takes a panoramic view of the world in which Genghis Khan rose to power.
A cross-section of a full-size Mongolian ger, or yurt, shows how Temujin, the great khan’s given name, would’ve grown up on the steppes of Central Asia.
Swords and saddles show how Mongolians used cavalry to overcome armies that far outnumbered them, while life-size siege equipment including a trebuchet and three bow siege crossbow illustrate how new technologies helped them overtake walled cities.
It’s quite the change-up from “The Scoop on Poop”, Fernbank’s previous traveling exhibit, but Ms. Hohmann believes “Genghis Khan” fits with the the museum’s overall mission of educating Atlanta.
It also melds well with what Fernbank might be best known for: dinosaurs. Don Lessem, the creator of the Genghis Khan exhibit, was first introduced to Mongolia while digging for dinosaur fossils there.
Mr. Lessem, also known as “Dino Don”, contributed to the “Giants of the Mesozoic” the permanent exhibit Fernbank’s central hall that reenacts with full-size replica skeletons a battle between the largest dinosaurs ever discovered.
Visit www.fernbankmuseum.org for more information.