This day marked the death of the Mongol-Chinese ruler Kublai Khan, one of the most powerful people in the history of mankind.
The Europeans know the mighty Kublai Khan mostly from the descriptions made by Marco Polo, and these stories have to a large extent colored popular European views on empires in the Far East. For example, in Orson Welles’s movie Citizen Kane, the media magnate Charles Foster Kane is compared precisely to Kublai Khan, even more so because Kane’s huge Florida residence was called Xanadu, after Kublai Khan’s summer palace in China.
Kublai Khan was the grandson of the famous Genghis Khan. It is especially interesting that his mother was a Christian. Namely, she was a princess from a Mongol tribe that had accepted the so-called Nestorianism (a type of eastern Christianity).
Kublai Khan’s power was primarily concentrated on the area of modern China and Mongolia. However, he was also the so-called Great Khan or Khagan (Khan of Khans), which means he held nominal power over all Mongol lands from Europe to Asia.
Kublai Khan was the first Mongol ruler to reign over almost the whole of China, managing to defeat the Song dynasty, which had previously managed to hold out against the Mongols in southern China.
The extent of his military conquests is surprisingly great even for today’s concepts of military mobility. Namely, his troops invaded Vietnam, Burma, and even what is now Indonesia (the island of Java).
Kublai Khan twice tried to conquer Japan, but both times the invasion failed. Indeed, it is from here that the Japanese word “kamikaze” is derived – it refers to the “divine wind” that destroyed the Mongol ships.
It is interesting that Kublai Khan maintained diplomatic relations with Christian rulers in Europe, including the pope in Rome, and also with the Muslims. He died aged 78 in his capital at Khanbaliq, on the area of what is now Beijing.