In the swirling, blood-soaked melee of a 13th-century battle against the Mongol Empire, it wasn’t all that weird to gaze into the ranks of the most overpoweringly-dominant land army ever fielded in human history and notice that, hey, check it out, a couple of the warriors currently massacring all my friends actually happen to be women. At a time when most of the world’s female population would have just been happy to have the legal right to tell their husbands to stop hitting them, Mongol women were some of the most socially, politically, and militarily badass chicks anywhere on Earth. They ran cities while the men fought on campaigns, built public works, helped manage the largest land empire of all time, had seats in the Kurulurai (basically Mongol Congress), and even occasionally fought in battle, a detail that was particularly scandalous and unacceptable to writers from Europe, the Middle East, China, and basically any other country that got the fucking piss stomped out of them by the Mongol Horde.
But while it wasn’t particularly bizarre to notice that one or two of the enemy archers may have had a pair of boobs, it was significantly more unsettling to encounter the warrior princess Khutulun on the field of combat. Because while most warrior women of the Mongol Empire may have been expert snipers, firing their composite bows with deadly precision while riding a horse at a full gallop, Khutulun preferred a significantly more direct approach: She would charge out at the head of her warriors, ride straight up to the biggest enemy officer she could find, grab that asshole off his horse with a one-armed choke slam, slap him in a fucking half nelson, and drag him back to the Khan while he screamed and pleaded for his men to save him. Once that fucker was ripped from the battlefield and firmly in the Khan’s custody, Khutulun would go back to her primary combat duty – commanding a regiment of Mongol heavy cavalry.
This is the tale of Genghis Khan’s great-great-granddaughter.
Khutulun never met Genghis, and by the time she was born most of the great Mongol Conquests had already stomped nuts all the way from Beijing to Baghdad, cleaving a bloody smear across the map that ended up becoming the largest contiguous land empire in the history of humanity. Her father was a Khan named Khaidu, and he ruled a fief of land near the Tian Shan Mountains, which is in the realm of present-day Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan (or however the hell you spell that), and northern China. Khaidu was from the line of Great Khan Ogodei, who was Genghis’ third son, and Khaidu was basically the last of the old-school badass, “let’s ride our horses over this guy’s ballsack in front of his entire family and then throw all of his compost garbage into a recycling bin” Mongol barbarian motherfuckers who shanked faces first and didn’t want to be asked questions by anyone besides a fast food cashier or his favorite bartender. As a good Mongol Prince, he constantly asked himself one of the most important questions any man can ever ask himself: What Would Genghis Do?
The #WWGD lifestyle netted Khaidu tons of land, plunder, death, destruction and mayhem, and it also led to him having fucking 15 children – all of them boys, except for his youngest. He named his lone daughter Khutulun, meaning either “Bright Moon” or “All White” depending on how you want to translate it, and then proceeded to give her the exact same badass Mongol warrior training he gave to her fourteen older brothers – how to ride a horse, shoot a bow, kill someone with a sword, wrestle, punch, tie knots, milk a yak, build fires, drink blood, sleep in a yurt, and mean-mug motherfuckers who are stupid enough to step to you.
The Princess of the Bright Moon was pretty over-the-top badass at everything she attempted, but out of all the bone-crushing military pursuits she excelled at, she was the most successful when it came to straight-up wrestling. Having fourteen older brothers is probably a gigantic pain in the genitals, and you can be damn sure that Khutulun learned how to fight pretty early on, but this woman was so hardcore that no man or woman on earth could beat her in a straight up bare-knuckled throwdown. It didn’t matter how tough you thought you were – this princess was going to hip-toss your dumb ass through a plate glass window onto a campfire and then everyone was going to laugh at you for getting your balls kicked off by a girl.
Now, I should mention that wrestling is the national sport of Mongolia – they fucking love that shit there. Of the Olympic medals won by Mongolia, over half of them are won in wrestling events. These are big, tough people who love to fight, and and Mongolian wrestling is intense:
This is literally just two grown men kicking the crap out of each other. There are no rules in Mongolian wrestling – anything goes. Bare knuckles, little padding, and there are no weight classes or any of that lame handicapping bullshit. It’s just two big angry motherfuckers wailing on each other until someone falls down. Once a guy hits the ground, he’s out. Thing Greco-Roman wrestling meets Rocky IV.
From a very early age, Khutulun made a name for herself as being completely unbeatable at an ultra-violent sport that involves white-knuckle fucking hand-to-hand combat with a big angry man twice your size. She was basically Ronda Rousey meets Ann “The Wall” Veal, and every man who stepped into the ring with her found himself getting flipped for real and eating a face-full of dirt. Mongols loved placing bets on these fights, and the Princess was making a killing by powerbombing fools who underestimated her badass cred.
Once Khutulun reached a certain age, it became time for her to get married off to a nice boy with a killer smile, tons of cash, and an excellent track record of slaughtering the Khan’s enemies on the battlefield. Khutulun’s dad and mom were pretty desperate for her to get married, because marriage in the middle ages was a good way to link your family in to another powerful family, but Khutulun was a warrior and would only stand to be with a man who was worthy of her badassitude. In a very Atalanta conversation, she told her folks, “Ok, sure, I’ll get married, but only to a man who can beat me in a wrestling match”.
The Princess was rich, powerful, cool as hell, and apparently very beautiful, and it didn’t take Dad too long to find a bunch of guys willing to throw down for love. One by one, they found themselves hurtling through the air as she snapped bones and swept legs and basically demolished any wimp idiot who thought he was man enough for her. After all the good suitors were done, Khutulun issued a general challenge – she’d accept a challenge from any man, but if you lost you had to give her ten horses (a couple conflicting sources say the entry fee was a hundred horses, but think about how many damn horses that is!). Everyone from foreign Princes to local blacksmiths saw an opportunity to marry into the family of Genghis Fuckin’ Khan, and they came from all around to face her.
When Marco Polo met Khutulun in 1280, she claimed to have a pasture with ten thousand horses. She was still single.
Pioneering travel book writers Rashid al-Dun, Ibn Bhattuta, and Marco Polo all met Khutulun, and when Marco Polo was there he talks about one foreign prince who arrived at the court of Khan Khaidu looking for the hand of the princess. This guy was tall, handsome, and successful, and he bet the insane sum of one thousand horses on the match. Khutulun accepted. That night, the Prince found the Princess alone, and pleaded with her to throw the fight – please, let me win this one, and I will be so good to you forever.
She looked at him and, according to Polo, said she “would never let herself be vanquished if she could help it,” but that “if, indeed, he could get the better of her then she would gladly be his wife.” Then she walked away.
They had the match the next day in the Grand Hall of the Khan’s palace. People from throughout the city and the surrounding villages came to watch.
“The damsel threw him right valiantly on the palace pavement. And when he found himself thus thrown, and her standing over him, great indeed was his shame and discomfiture.”
Around this time, a Mongol Civil War broke out between Khan Khaidu and his cousin Kublai Khan, who was the ruler of Yuan Dynasty China. Despite being massively outnumbered and outgunned, Khaidu resented his cousin for going soft, giving up the old Mongol traditions like arm-cleaving and head-popping so that he could become some Buddhist hippie that was into lame things like sleeping on gold-embroidered silks surrounded by sexy naked ladies while consuming delicious food and expensive wine. The two argued, bickered, then went to war, and Khutulun was brought along to help command the Mongol Heavy Cavalry on the battlefield. Again, according to Marco Polo, “Not a knight in all his train played such feats of arms as she did. Sometimes she would quit her father’s side and make a dash at the army of the enemy, and seize some man thereout, as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird, and carry him to her father.”
Makes sense to me. If she could hip-check a guy to the turf on level ground, imagine what she could do if she got the drop of you in a live-fire combat situation.
Despite torching some border towns, defeating main line Chinese infantry in battle, and face-shanking Mongol warriors on the field of war, the fighting between the cousins proved indecisive, and really the only thing that came out of it was that the Mongol Empire started to shatter into smaller kingdoms that didn’t wield nearly the same power as Genghis once had.
Khutulun did eventually get married, although not to a guy that beat her in battle. Instead, she chose her husband – a “lively, tall, good-looking man” named Abtakul who was from a few towns over. Abtakul was an elite soldier who had been hired by Kublai Khan to kill Khutulun’s dad, but the Khan’s guards caught this guy, threw him in jail, and sentenced him to death by beheading. Well Abtakul’s mom was so upset her son was going to die that she threw herself at the Khan’s feet and begged that she be killed in her son’s place. The Khan said “Ok, fine, whatever, as long as someone is decapitated that’s fine with me”, but then Abtakul stepped forward and said “fuck that, no way am I letting my mom die on my behalf. I will face this like a man”. The Khan was so impressed with this family that he immediately released Abtakul from jail and hired him to be an officer in the Khan’s army. Abtakul fought in the war, was wounded in combat, and while he was recuperating in the hospital he met the Princess, who fell in love with him immediately or some shit. Anyway, that’s the story, and it’s a big deal because medieval women typically weren’t lucky enough to choose who they got to marry.
Khutulun’s father died in 1301, and right before he died he appointed Khutulun to succeed him as the new Khan (technically the female version of a khan is called a Katun). She declined, because she had fourteen older brothers who were all pretty fucking upset that they’d been passed over for the chiefdom, and instead she made a deal with one of her brothers – I’ll back you in your claim to be Khan, if you’ll let me command your army on the battlefield.
Much like her dad, she didn’t have time for palace life – she wanted combat, like a true badass.
Khutulun did end up taking over as General once her brother became Khan, but she wasn’t commander for very long. After just five years as the Clan’s military commander, she died, passing away violently at the age of 45. The sources are unclear whether she fell in battle or was assassinated, but I’d argue both methods are equally badass.
Khutulun and the V-Neck Shirt
Badass Ladies of Chinese History
Mayor, Adrienne. The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women. Princeton Univ. Press, 2014.
McRobbie, Linda Rodriguez. Princesses Behaving Badly. Quirk, 2013.
Rossabi, Morris. Khublai Khan: His Life and Times. Univ. of California Press, 1988.
Weatherford, Jack. The Secret History of the Mongol Queens. Crown, 2010.