What, in all this world, could bring the greatest happiness?

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Just as John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian was popularizing this bit of wisdom, Jerry Pournelle included it in his preface to There Will Be War:

There was once recorded a remarkable conversation between Genghis Khan and one of his soldiers. The Kha Khan asked a guard officer what, in all this world, could bring the greatest happiness. “The open steppe, a clear day, and a swift horse,” said the officer. “And a falcon at your wrist to start up the hares.” “Not so,” replied the Khan. “To crush your enemy, to possess his wife as he watches, to see enemies fall at your feet. To take their horses and goods and hear the lamentations of their women. That is best.”


  1. Bert says:

    As I recall it, when Conan spoke the famous words in the movie, it was as a response to his slave master, obviously an answer he had been taught by his owner. Conan’s own people weren’t depicted as marauding barbarians but rather as peaceful travellers, albeit with a fondness for steel swords.

  2. Lu An Li says:

    Genghis was pretty good at all of that. Hear the lamentation of his women as you take them to your bosum is how I recall it goes. Meaning rape. Genghis has 16 million living descendants. The most successful many in history with regard to that alone.

  3. CVLR says:

    It’s a great life, if you can lead it.

  4. Roy in Nipomo says:

    “What is it that a man may call the greatest things in life?”

    “Hot water, good dentishtry and shoft lavatory paper.”

    — Cohen the Barbarian in conversation with Discworld nomads (Terry Pratchett, The Light Fantastic)

  5. Kirk says:

    I’ve never really taken this supposed quote by Ghengis Khan seriously, TBH.

    There’s the image-Ghengis of popular imagination, the bogey-man of the Chinese and Muslim. Then, there’s the actual historical Ghengis, who united the Mongols, and who was more interested in trade than anything else. After he finished with his long-term enemies in China, there’s some question to what might have happened, had the asshole governor of the Khwarazim city his envoys happened to visit first not behaved as an utterly depraved jackass.

    See, Ghengis can be read as having been more interested in ending the exploitation of the Mongol people at the hands of the Chinese, more than anything else. After he settled their hash, he was all for peaceful trade (granted, this is something we only have the Mongol histories to make out his intent from…), but when the first big trade expedition and diplomatic mission got robbed and abused by the Muslims at Khwarazim, that put the whole thing onto a different footing.

    It’s an interesting might-have-been: What would the Mongols have done, were they to have met with success in their attempts at opening up trade with the Muslim world of Central Asia? Would the conquests have happened? Would all those lives have been taken? Would Baghdad have been sacked, and the libraries destroyed?

    The governor at that first city in Khwarazim did far more damage to the world than he realized. Or, maybe he was just in the way of an unstoppable Mongol avalanche…

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