How do we discover our purpose in life? And what happens when our destiny is not what others hope or expect from us? Do we hide our gifts or stand proud? This is the story of a princess who could’ve been like others before and after her but chose to stay true to herself. This is the story of Khutulun of Mongolia, great-great granddaughter of Genghis Khan and a legend in her own right.
Born sometime near 1260 AD, she could have enjoyed the privileges and luxuries of royalty in the Chinese court next to her uncle Kublai Khan. Instead, she remained with her father Kaidu and her 14 brothers, keeping to the nomadic way of life that was essential to the Khan Empire. From a young age she proved her skills at wrestling when she would beat her brothers. This eventually resulted in her riding by her father’s side during battle.
But before we talk more about Khutulun, it’s worth noting that she was not alone in her feats. Given the nature of Steppe society, Mongolian women would ride horses alongside men, as well as know their way around a bow and arrow. From a young age they would learn how to protect themselves and their cattle. The princess was not the only woman to wrestle, but what set her apart was how good she was.
Since honor and athletic skills were revered by the Mongolian people, the fact that Khutulun was never defeated caused a problem, because there were no eligible husbands for her. In an effort to find herself a man worthy of her, she set a rule: if he could beat her at wrestling, then she’d agree to marry him; if he lost he’d owe her a hundred horses. The princess ended up with 10,000 horses.
It’s said that in 1280 a prince came calling, sure that he’d be able to beat her in the arena and win her heart in the process. He even bet a thousand horses that he’d do it. Her parents begged her to throw the match. We don’t know if she agreed to do that or not. What ended up happening was that when the fight ended she did not just win, but she flat out humiliated him in the public’s eyes.
As the Yuan Dynasty, led by Kublai Khan, continued to wreak havoc among nomadic territories, Khutulun was at her father and brothers’ side protecting their particular way of life. But this came at a price. People began to gossip, claiming that the reason why the princess did not have a suitor was because she had an incestuous relationship with her dad.
She eventually did choose a husband but did not wrestle him. This is still pretty amazing, since it wasn’t like women were allowed to have any decision on their husbands for a long time, much less in the thirteenth century. Despite her father wanting her to be his heir and ruler of the people, Khutulun agreed to be her brother Orus’s advisor and supporter after Kaidu’s death. It all seemed like the princess was bound to become the leader of the Mongolian army. However, in 1306 at the age of 45 she died of mysterious causes.
Aside from the aforementioned facts, there’s not much information about Khutulun. Historians believe that this could be due to the fact that the reign of Kublai Khan eventually took over and her feats became propaganda for the Mongolian people. It would not be until years later through Marco Polo’s accounts and those of certain historians who wrote about Genghis Khan that Khutulun's story would be remembered.
Khutulun’s story might not have ended like a fairytale. However, her defiance to be who she was despite what other people thought or believed makes her the hero I wished my younger self had had. It's important to not let these stories fall into obscurity, but continue to be told. The greatest adventure is finding and fulfilling your purpose against all odds. And this princess’s story teaches us exactly that.
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If you want to know more about amazing women, check out the 10 women who ruled the world in ancient times. Have you heard about the Egyptian pharaoh that was forgotten by history for being a woman?