For two days the attackers battered away without major success, but then the nerve of the Turkish commander cracked. He led his 20,000 men out in a night sortie and almost got clean away, but they were detected and pursued to the banks of the Amu Darya, where they were massacred. At this the city surrendered, all but four hundred loyalists in the citadel. Genghis ordered the citizens to fill up the moat around the citadel, then brought up heavy catapults which breached the walls. Even so, the defenders managed to fight on for an amazing eleven days before they were finally taken and massacred.On and on it goes for 500 pages, a dismal 40-year chronicle of wars, sieges, massacres, executions, poisonings, slaughters, rapes, more massacres, more battles, more sieges, and more massacres. The numbers of killed are fantastic: 30 million dead during the Mongols' 25-year conquest of northern China, 7 million in Persia, 500,000 in Russia. The numbers are not reliable but they do represent serious attempts to come to grips with what the contemporary sources show us: death in battle, death by massacre, death by starvation and disease in besieged cities, death of refugees driven from their homes, death in floods caused by deliberately broken dykes, death by suicide and despair. All across Asia chroniclers report gigantic piles of skulls around empty, broken cities; battlefields covered with bones, where so much human fat soaked into the soil that it remained greasy for a generation; whole districts so devastated that they did not recover for centuries. Bukhara, the city whose fate is described above, is said not to have recovered its pre-Mongol population for 400 years. Nearby Samarkand, sacked twice, remained a shell of its former self until it was refounded by Tamerlane in the 1380s, 160 years later.
Genghis decided to make an example of Bukhara that would cause the rest of the shah's empire to tremble. [First, the Mongols identify the 280 richest men in the city and seize all their wealth.] Then an order went out that all people of all ranks had to leave the city in just the clothes they stood up in, with the exception of nublie women, who were then sacrificed to his licentious soldiery in an orgy of mass rape. Young males were corralled for use as human shields in the next battle or siege, while artisans and crafsmen of note were sent to Mongolia.
For 40 years, no one could stand against them.
And in the evolutionary sense, the Mongols were winners like few others. You have probably heard that a Y chromosome variant shared by 13 million men across Asia almost certainly comes from Genghis Khan's family, and if lesser Mongols did not do so well, they certainly did better than all the men they slaughtered.
It's a grim lesson in what life might be like, and why we need to constantly be working to keep it from becoming that way in our own time.
Frank McLynn, Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy. Da Capo Press, 2015.