Khutulun Khan

princess of 10,000 horses, the pride and glory of the Mongol Horde.  Khans’ Mongol Empire – it was, for the time, as big a deal as deals got. At its height, it was the largest contiguous empire in human history, stretching from China to Europe and the Middle East. The whole thing was started by Genghis Khan (maybe you’ve heard of him), who unified a number of nomadic tribes under a single banner. While he did bring many advances to the regions he conquered (religious tolerance, increased trade, meritocracy — all good things), you probably know him more for his reputation for brutality. Certainly he was known for it back in the day, too.  

Khutulun was his great-great-granddaughter. 

1260, the year Khutulun was born, the Mongol Empire was starting to fray at the seams, and civil war was imminent. Basically, some of the Khans — Khutulun’s father Kaidu among them — favored the old ways of riding, shooting, and other trappings of the nomadic lifestyle, while Kublai Khan — Kaidu’s uncle — was more into politics, governing well, and other things that no doubt bored the average Mongol to tears. Eventually Kaidu and Kublai began outright warring against each other, in a conflict that would last thirty years. Throughout this, Kaidu relied on one person above all others when it came to military expertise, and, spoiler alert, it was not any of his 14 sons — it was Khutulun.

The Mongols of Kaidu Khan’s clan valued physical ability above all things. They bet on matches constantly, and if you won, people thought you were literally gifted by the gods. Now, these weren’t your modern day matches, separated out by things like weight class and gender — anyone could and did wrestle anyone else, and they’d keep going until one of them hit the floor. This was the environment in which Khutulun competed. Against men. Of all shapes and sizes.

She was undefeated.