WOMEN OF HISTORY | ALAQAI BEKI, PRINCESS WHO RUNS THE STATE (c. 1191 - ?) (Selenge Erdene Ochir)

Third daughter of Genghis Khan, Alaqai was raised by her mother, Borte, and Borte’s mother-in-law on the Mongolian steppes, and it was Borte who instilled into Alaqai a sense of duty to serve the nation. Before marrying into the Mongol Empire, Borte have been born to a tribe who trusted in the wisdom and diplomacy of their daughters, and not the force of their sons, to protect them. It can be hardly surprising that Borte raised her daughters to be rulers, and their father thought the same.

When the Onggud allied themselves to Genghis Khan, it was the sixteen year old Alaqai who was betrothed to one of their men in power to help cement the alliance and become the Mongol’s first ruler in a foreign land. Once there Alaqai dismissed his other wives but their children didn’t lose their status. (The Mongols saw no difference between legitimate and illegitimate children, all being equal in their eyes.) Genghis Khan gave his daughters an important message when they married: The nation was her first husband. Her second husband was her own reputation, and third came any actual man she married. In control of the Onggud lands, Alaqai was able to provide support and horses for her father’s armies when they crossed the Gobi desert.

A few years after she came to power, a rebel faction within the Onggud erupted and came against Alaqai, assassinating her husband and other Mongol sympathisers. Alaqai barely escaped with her life, and took her stepsons to go shelter with a nearby faction of her father’s army nearby. She returned with some of these soldiers to the city and quickly took out the rebels.

Genghis Khan’s strategy against rebelling nations was to kill every male taller than the wheel of a Mongol cart, but this time Alaqai stepped in and convinced her father to only kill those that had been directly involved in the attacks. Because of her actions, the Onggud became the only nation to ever rebel against the Khan and continue to exist. After this act of loyalty to the people under her control, the Onggud never rebelled again.

In time, Alaqai’s father came to rely on her wise rulership more and more and eventually she was in control of millions of people across Northern China, being given the title ‘Princess Who Runs the State’. Illiterate when she began her rulership, Alaqai educated herself, learning to read and write in more than one language so that she could properly oversee the administration of her kingdom, and promoting literacy within her lands. (It was said by visitors that she read daily for pleasure, with a special interest in texts about religion and medicine.)

For twenty years Alaqai ruled and remained loyal to her father and her nation, but having lost her only son in battle meant that her own dynasty could not continue. After death her name quickly faded.

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