A day in the life of a Mongolian queen by Anne F. Broadbridge (TED ed). As dawn breaks over a moveable city of ten thousand yurts, Queen Boraqchin is in for a rude awakening.
A rogue sheep has slipped past her servants and guards and bolted into her yurt, where he springs into bed and bleats in her ear. Although she’s the formidable khatun of the Golden Horde, a huge kingdom in the Mongolian Empire, Boraqchin has a hands-on approach to ruling.
She’s been married to Batu Khan, the fearsome grandson of Genghis Khan himself, since she was fifteen – and while her husband is out on his raids, she juggles the duties of flocks, family and empire at home. This makes her the manager – and the mover – of a city of thousands.
Twice a year, Boraqchin moves the city between two seasonal camping grounds. This ensures constant water and lush grass in summer, and protection from harsh winds in winter. The whole operation requires weeks of strict planning, liaising with the other camps in her domain, strategic delegation – and the patience to move at the speed of dawdling animals.
Today is moving day, and she’ll have to direct throngs of her ladies, commanders, slaves and animals up the river Volga for the summer. As Boraqchin steps outside, she’s greeted by a commotion – her unwanted visitor is now running circles around her stewards.
They’re attempting to stow her possessions securely into wagons. Boraqchin orders them to get it under control – but she’s the only one quick enough to catch the stray. She next supervises her ladies who are unpinning her yurt and lifting it onto its custom wagon.
It requires a team of twenty oxen to pull, and Boraqchin wouldn’t trust anyone to steer it but herself. Next, Boraqchin and her woolly companion meet with the guards. She orders them to keep close watch on her husband’s special reception yurt and port-able throne during the journey.
They’ll also act as outriders, and she tells them how to secure the route, surround her for safety – and keep the animals in check. But when the sheep finally breaks free and makes for the fields, the guards can barely keep up as it scampers through crowds packing up their yurts.
Exasperated, Boraqchin rides down to the pastures herself. When she gets there, she catches sight of the troublesome sheep wriggling into the middle of a flock. When she follows him in, he’s nestled next to a ewe, his mother. She’s pregnant, and seems to be in pain.
With a start, Boraqchin realizes that this ewe’s impending delivery has been forgotten in the flurry of moving day. There’s no time to find a shepherd – instead, Boraqchin rolls up her sleeves, greases her arm and helps the ewe give birth to two new additions to the empire.
Leaving the lambs and their mother, Boraqchin dashes back to the camp. Here the final touches have been put to packing, and vehicles are starting to line up. This vast procession starts with the queen and two hundred wagons filled with her treasures.
Next up are the junior wives and crew, then the concubines – and this is only Boraqchin’s camp. After this comes the second imperial camp led by another senior wife, then two more camps, also led by wives. Boraqchin has been checking in with them for weeks to ensure a smooth departure and orderly queue.
But they only make up the royal portion of the line – behind them winds the entire civilian city, which includes holy men with portable chapels and mosques, families, tradesmen, and shepherds.
Finally, Boraqchin settles into her wagon. It’ll take weeks to reach their destination – but over the course of the journey, she’ll keep everyone expertly in check – from her proud children and attentive subjects, to the most meandering sheep at the back of line.
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Credit: Anne F. Broadbridge