Khutulun: The Wrestler Princess
A woman who won 10,000 horses defeating 10,000 men
Brief History: Born c. 1260; died c. 1306; daughter to Kaidu, cousin of Kublia Khan, and great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan. She had 14 brothers.
Wrestler, Warrior: Not Your Average “Daddy’s Girl”
Khutulun was a Mongolian princess born to the most powerful ruler in Central Asia at the time, Kaidu. She had fourteen brothers, yet she stood out among all her male siblings, and would rise to become one of the most influential women of her day. Kaidu recognized something very special in his daughter at an early age and encouraged her interest in politics and the military throughout her lifetime until his passing.
Khutulin may be lesser known than her famous cousin Kublai Khan, but like her relative, this remarkable young woman was also a mighty warrior and was an integral part of many brutal attacks lodged against the Yuan Dynasty (which was established by cousin Kublai Khan.) For more than thirty years the two cousins remained in bitter conflict over politics and domain, and family ties.
As her father forged ahead in battles, Khutulun remained by his side, offering him advice and political support. The prominent place in her father’s life and in military campaigns was not a result of nepotism; she earned her place in history. Her skills as a warrior were widely talked about, which only elevated her father’s respect among his own supporters. Her rise to fame also further fueled hatred among their enemies and would eventually lead to the circumstances surrounding the story Khutulun is most widely known for today — as an undefeated wrestler who preferred winning horses than hearts.
Khutulun’s enviable talents as a warrior were so well known that they were written about by Marco Polo and other respected historians whose accounts of her imposing abilities documented how she used those skills to avoid marrying and to eventually come to own more than 10,000 horses.
Kaidu had high hopes that his warrior daughter would find a husband worthy of her, but Khutulun seemed bent on being somewhat of a career woman and showed little interest in settling down. To appease her father, and, perhaps to have some fun, the warrior princess confidently devised a clever plan — a contest: any man who wished to marry her could only win her hand by first defeating her in a wrestling match. If the suitor lost, he would forfeit his horse to her.
Khutulun gained 10,000 horses defeating prospective suitors before selecting a man on her own (whom she did not wrestle and married for political reasons) to discredit rumors about the nature of her relationship with her father.
Khutulun grew up with fourteen brothers and seemingly learned from an early age how to confront and beat them. As she grew older, she joined the public competitions and acquired great fame as the wrestler whom no man could throw. She became ever richer by winning horses from defeated opponents, and eventually her herd of ten thousand rivaled the herds of the emperor.(1)
While intersex wresting may sound odd in modern times, writer Jason Porath over at Rejected Princesses puts it nicely into perspective for the time period:
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.(2)
Despite having earned the right to serve and having good reason to be warring alongside her father given their odds with Kublai Khan, their combined enemies began spreading rumors that the formidable father-daughter duo were incestuously involved. Speculations flew, purporting that the suitor wrestling contest was only created to lend appearances Khutulun searching for a husband without any intention of finding one. Given her seemingly divine ability to best any man of any age and size, it’s easy to see how that rumor was so easily sold.
However, there is nothing significant in written history to support that the contest was created as a coverup for insidious hidden family secrets and it really should be seen for what it simply was: an ingenious way to avoid having to marry.
Regardless of whether or not Khutulun’s reluctance to wed had anything at all to do with men, or that she just liked being single, one thing was clear: She whooped a lot of male egos, and, she loved taking horses from men.