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Genghis Khan's Code of Laws

from Genghis Khan – Emperor of All Men, by Harold Lamb
International Collections Library, Garden City, New York, 1927

With the selection of Genghis Khan as master of the Turko-Mongol people, these people were united for the first time in centuries. They were enthusiastic, believing that Genghis Khan was sent from the gods and endowed with the power of Heaven. They had long been governed only by tribal custom, and, to hold them in check, Genghis Khan drew from his Mongol military organization and also created a code of laws, the Yassa, which was a combination of his will and tribal customs.

The Yassa aimed at three things: obedience to Genghis Khan, a binding together of the nomad clans, and the merciless punishment of wrong-doing. It concerned itself with people, not property. Unless a man actually confessed, he was not judged guilty unless he was caught in the act of crime. Among the Mongols – who did not read – a man's spoken word was a solemn matter.

The Laws of Genghis Khan*

1. It is ordered to believe that there is only one God, creator of heaven and earth, who alone gives life and death, riches and poverty as pleases Him – and who has over everything an absolute power.

2. Leaders of a religion, preachers, monks, persons who are dedicated to religious practice, the criers of mosques, physicians and those who bathe the bodies of the dead are to be freed from public charges.

3. It is forbidden under penalty of death that any one, whoever he may be, shall be proclaimed emperor unless he has been elected previously by the princes, khans, officers and other Mongol nobles in a general council.

4. It is forbidden chieftains of nations and clans subject to the Mongols to hold honorary titles.

5. Forbidden to ever make peace with a monarch, a prince or a people who have not submitted.

6. The ruling that divides men of the army into tens, hundreds, thousands, and ten thousands is to be maintained. This arrangement serves to raise an army in a short time, and to form raw units of commands.

7. The moment a campaign begins, each soldier must receive his arms from the hand of the officer who has them in charge. The soldier must keep them in good order, and have them inspected by his officer before a battle.

8. Forbidden, under the death penalty, to pillage the enemy before the general commanding gives permission; but after this permission is given the soldier must have the same opportunity as the officer, and must be allowed to keep what he has carried off, provided he has paid his share to the receiver for the emperor.

9. To keep the men of the army exercised, a great hunt shall be held every winter. On this account, it is forbidden any man of the empire to kill from the month of March to October, deer, bucks, roe-bucks, hares, wild ass and some birds.

10. Forbidden, to cut the throats of animals slain for food; they must be bound, the chest opened and the heart pulled out by the hand of the hunter.

11. It is permitted to eat the blood and entrails of animals – though this was forbidden before now.

12. (A list of privileges and immunities assured to the chieftains and officers of the new empire.)

13. Every man who does not go to war must work for the empire, without reward, for a certain time.

14. Men guilty of the theft of a horse or steer or a thing of equal value will be punished by death and their bodies cut into two parts. For lesser thefts the punishment shall be, according to the value of the thing stolen, a number of blows of a staff – seven, seventeen, twenty-seven, up to seven hundred. But this bodily punishment may be avoided by paying nine tines the worth if the thing stolen.

15. No subject of the empire may take a Mongol for servant or slave. Every man, except in rare cases, must join the army.

16. To prevent the flight of alien slaves, it is forbidden to give them asylum, food or clothing, under pain of death. Any man who meets an escaped slave and does not bring him back to his master will be punished in the same manner.

17. The law of marriage orders that every man shall purchase his wife, and that marriage between the first and second degrees of kinship is forbidden. A man may marry two sisters, or have several concubines. The women should attend to the care of property, buying and selling at their pleasure. Men should occupy themselves only with hunting and war. Children born of slaves are legitimate as the children of wives. The offspring of the first woman shall be honored above other children and shall inherit everything.

18. Adultery is to be punished by death, and those guilty of it may be slain out of hand.

19. If two families wish to be united by marriage and have only young children, the marriage of these children is allowed, if one be a boy and the other a girl. If the children are dead, the marriage contract may still be drawn up.

20. It is forbidden to bathe or wash garments in running water during thunder.

21. Spies, false witnesses, all men given to infamous vices, and sorcerers are condemned to death.

22. Officers and chieftains who fail in their duty, or do not come at the summons of the Khan are to be slain, especially in remote districts. If their offense be less grave, they must come in person before the Khan.

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*The above examples of the laws of Genghis Khan have been translated from Petis de la Croix. He was unable to get a complete list of the laws – a "Yassa Gengizcani." These 22 rulings have been taken from various sources, the Persian chroniclers, and Fras Rubruquis and Carpini. The list is incomplete and has come down to us from alien sources.