The Mongolian empire is remembered for their barbaric conquests and the power of their great leaders that managed to spread the empire across several continents. But one of the most fascinating people who has been forgotten from the empire is the warrior princess Khutulun.
Khutulun Khan is a great great granddaughter of Genghiz Khan and she truly inherited his strength. She was a Mongol noblewoman and wrestler, the most famous daughter of Kaidu, a cousin of Kublai Khan. Her father was "Most pleased by her abilities", and she accompanied him on military campaigns. Both Marco Polo and Rashid al-Din Hamadani wrote accounts of their encounters with her.
Khutulun was born about 1260. By 1280, her father Kaidu became the most powerful ruler of Central Asia, reigning in the realms from western Mongolia to Oxus, and from the Central Siberian Plateau to India.
Marco Polo described Khutulun as a superb warrior, one who could ride into enemy ranks and snatch a captive as easily as a hawk snatches a chicken. She assisted her father in many battles, particularly against the Yuan Dynasty of her cousin the Great Khan – Kublai (r. 1260–1294).
Traditionally among the Mongols, women managed the affairs at home, while men went off to herd, hunt or fight. Khutulun insisted that any man who wished to marry her must defeat her in wrestling. Winning horses from competitions and the wagers of would-be suitors, it is said that she gathered a herd numbering ten thousand.
Some chronicles say her husband was a handsome man who failed to assassinate her father and was taken prisoner, others refer to him as Kaidu's companion from the Choros clan. Rashid al-Din wrote that Khutulun fell in love with Ghazan, Mongol ruler in Persia.
Of all Kaidu's children, Khutulun was the favorite, and the one from whom he most sought advice and political support.
However, his choice was declined due to her male relatives. When Kaidu died, Khutulun guarded his tomb with the assistance of her brother Orus. She was challenged by her other brothers including Chapar and relative Duwa because she resisted their succession. She died in 1306. Khutulun could be considered one of the last great nomadic warrior princesses.
After her death, Her comeback to historical prominence starting in 1710 when a Frenchman named Francois Petis de La Croix, while putting together his biography of Genghis Khan, wrote a story based on Khutulun. This story was called Turandot (“Turkish Daughter”), but it was greatly changed from the facts of her life. In it, Turandot challenged her suitors with riddles instead of wrestling matches, and if they failed her challenge, they were killed.
Centuries later, in the early 1900s, the story of Turandot was turned into an Italian opera. But while the West may have totally rewritten history with its recasting of Khutulun into Turandot, Mongolia continues to honor Khutulun’s actual story to this day. The traditional outfit worn by Mongolian wrestlers is conspicuously open-chest — the reason being to show that the wrestler is not a woman, in deference to the undefeated Khutulun.