Short History of the Post Office
Genghis Khan and the Mail
Genghis Khan relied heavily upon the messenger service he developed to govern his huge empire.
Genghis Khan (c.1162 – August 18, 1227)
The son of Yesugei Baghatur and Hoelun, Genghis was probably native to Delüün Boldog, Mongolia and given the name Temüjin. His father, a tribal leader of the important Kiyad tribe. Historical lore relates that at birth Temüjin clutched a blood clot in his hand, considered an omen of future greatness. When Temüjin was about 10 years old a rival Tatars tribe’s leader had his father poisoned. Temüjin attempted to claim the leadership position of the tribe, however they did not accept him and abandoned the family. Left to die, the family managed to survive the brutal environment of the Asian Steppe region. Their food consisted mainly of ox carcasses, wild fruit and small game Temüjin and his brothers managed to kill.
Temüjin and his brother Khasar killed their older stepbrother Begter after he began to make claims to the family’s leadership. This would have meant that he could claim Temüjin’s mother Hoelun as his wife. An angry Temüjin and Khasar murdered him. Sometime after this a tribe that had been his father’s ally kidnapped and enslaved him. With the help of two of his father’s loyal followers and a sympathetic guard, Temüjin escaped during the night.
Marriage and Rise to Power
Temüjin married a girl to which he had been previously betrothed, Borte. In addition to the men that had helped him escape, Temüjin was able to gather more of his father’s former allies and then joined Toghril, chief of the Kerait. Temüjin’s father had once helped the Kerait and thus gained their friendship. Temüjin proved to be a formidible leader and military strategist. His followers began a campaign of subjection over neighboring tribes, a task at which they had tremendous success.
The Great Khan
At this time the Central Asian plateau north of China consisted of dozens of tribes, including Naimans, Merkits, Tatars, Khamag Mongols, and Keraites. Temüjin and his allies subdued these tribes one by one in a series of brutal, bloody campaigns. At length at a conference of these tribes in 1206 AD on the shores of the Kerulen river the leaders of these tribes awarded Temüjin with the title Great Khan.
The Khan’s warriors were hardy men that could survive for days riding their tough horses with few provisions and rest. Each rider equipped themselves with up to 16 spare horses, which allowed them extreme mobility and the ability to move quickly over long distances. The Mongols utilized enemy tactics and technology, if it benefited them. Under the Khan’s leadership, this army expanded quickly, as conquered foes were frequently given the choice to either join the Khan or face total annihilation. The area governed by the Khan grew quickly as he attacked the Jin Emperor of China Emperor Xuanzong, eventually causing the fall of the empire by 1234. The conquest was completed by his sons, as Ghengis had died earlier. In addition to these conquests, Khan conquered the Khwarazmian Empire, Georgia, Crimea, Kievan Rus and Volga Bulgaria, adding each of these to his Mongol Empire that at his death in 1227 had become the largest contiguous empire on earth. The empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to Eastern Europe.
Khan developed his messenger service, called the Örtöö, sometime around 1200 AD. The word Örtöö translates as the term checkpoint, which was a relay station on the route. At some point the service became known as the Yam, which is a Tatar word for road, related in turn to the Mongolian name for road, which is Zam. The Örtöö consisted of a series of relay stations located from 20 to 40 miles apart. Each station was equipped with horses, food and shelter. A messenger would arrive at the station, hand his message to the next rider in line, then eat and rest. The system grew to include thousands of relay stations. There were 1400 just in China. The Örtöö at one time had 50,000 horses, 6,700 mules, 1,400 oxen, more than 200 dogs, and 1,150 sheep. The service also owned over 6,000 boats and 400 carts. The system provided a means for the Khan and his officials to send messages, mail and intelligence reports. The Khan allowed merchants to use the service free. Abuse of the privilege led the Khan eventually to charge a fee.
The messengers were trustworthy individuals whose duties to the service superseded everything else. The members of the service enjoyed special privileges and carried a tablet called a paiza that identified them as members of the service and designated their authority to obtain goods and services from the populace when they needed them. The service evolved into the largest and most efficient ever developed until modern times.