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The Women Who Ran Genghis Khan’s Empire

In Atlas Obscura’s Q&A series She Was There, we talk to female scholars who are writing long-forgotten women back into history.

In 1178, a 17-year-old Mongol woman married a man she hardly knew. And while her husband traveled and fought and conquered, she ruled those who remained in Mongolia, managing every aspect of daily life in a massive nomadic camp. Commanders and shepherds alike reported to her, and she coordinated complex seasonal migrations of thousands of people and their livestock. At 28, she became the Grand Empress of the Mongol Empire; her name was Börte.

Börte’s husband, Chinggis Khan (also known, based on the Arabic transliteration, as Genghis Khan), receives all the glory for founding the largest contiguous land empire the world has ever known, but Börte and her immense contributions have been largely forgotten. While their husbands fought in distant, years-long military campaigns, Börte and other Mongol women kept…

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