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Kheshig (Khishig, Keshig, Keshichan) (Mongolian for favored or blessed) were the imperial guard for Mongol royalty in the Mongol Empire, particularly for the rulers like the Genghis Khan and his wife Börte. Their primary purpose was as a bodyguard for the emperors and rulers and to protect them during the day and night. They were divided into 2 areas, the day guard and the night guard, Khevtuul. They were distinct from the regular army and would not go to battle with them, instead staying back on guard duty. Their supreme commander was called Cherbi.
Because the Mongol Empire spanned most of Eurasia, its impacts on Mongol controlled-areas led to the creation of imperial guards like the Keshik. Khishig was the term used for the palace guards of the Great Mogul Emperors in India, and also for the matchlocks and sabres, which were changed weekly from Akbar the Great's armoury for the royal use. The royal guards in Persia who watched the King's person at night were also called Keshikchi.1
The assassination of the leaders of rival Mongol tribes was a common occurrence thanks to the ever-shifting loyalties and conflicting interests at play within Mongol tribal politics. The father of Genghis Khan Yesugei, for example, was unwittingly poisoned by one of his enemies. The risk was especially high at night since the yurt that Mongol nomads traditionally sleep in lacked a solid wall, and so a sword or spear could easily penetrate the walls and kill the subject inside. As a result, the Mongol and Turkic monarchs in Mongolia typically had personal guards. The Kerait khan Toghoril (Wang Khan) had an imperial guard, Torguud. According to an oral tradition, their descendants could be Torghut people. After the defeat of Wang Khan in 1203, Genghis established the kheshig. The kheshig consisted mainly of sworn personal followers.2
At first, this consisted of 70 day guards (Torguud or tunghaut) and 80 night guards (khevtuul).3 During the reign of Genghis, it seems to have been divided into four groups, commanded by the four generals Mukhulai, Chormaqan, Bogorchu and Borokhula. Members of the kheshig outranked almost any other military officers in the Mongol Empire. As it was extremely well paid, the vocation was a popular one, and the numbers of Kheshig grew rapidly, to the extent that they were only normally on duty for three days in succession. In light of this, the word kheshig refers favor or blessing in the Mongolian language. Membership in the kheshig was regarded as a supreme honor and was an alternative to the necessity of hostage taking for noblemen.4 In the early days the guard was composed of 1,000 men. By the middle of Genghis Khan's reign, they had expanded to a tumen (10,000 men) commanded by Nayagha, an uncle of Bayan of the Baarin.5
The Khesig was originally consisted of only Mongolians and Turks. As the Empire expanded rapidly, Genghis Khan's successors recruited Chinese, Kipchak, Georgian, Armenian, Alan, Korean, Italian and Russian units.678 Since the kheshig was personal appanage of a monarch, his successors did not inherit them. Instead, the kheshigs of deceased Emperors took care of their lords' families and assisted households. But Güyük Khan took most of his father Ögedei's old kheshig.
Kublai Khan (r.1260-1294) restricted the functions of kheshig, and created a new imperial bodyguard. However, his kheshig were still ruled by descendants of Genghis Khan's four assistants. He had a body guard of 12,000 kheshigs.9
- Torguud (Tunghaut) are the day guard of the Mongol khans. They were always close to their rulers during their conquests or daily-life. Famous Subutai was in the kheshig in his early years.
- Khevtuul are the night guard of the Kheshig, and were tasked with protecting the emperors and rulers while they slept in their yurt. The name "khevtuul", literally means "ones that are lying" on something like a bed or floor in the Mongolian language, implying that they have something to do with night time.
- Khorchin were a battle guard of the Khagans. The word Khorchin refers to quiver bearers.10 Scholars believe that the Mongolian clan Khorchin is related to them.
- Asud guard. They consisted fully of Alans from northern Caucasus. At first, they served the Mongol monarchs as auxiliaries in battle after the Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria in 1236. The Great Khan Kublai organized them into the imperial guard. Their descendants formed the modern Mongolian tribe, Asud.
- Ever-faithful Russian life-guard. One of Kublai's successors, Tugh Temür formed a unit of Russians near Dadu in 1330.11
- Kipchak and Qanqli guards. Sometime after 1216 Kipchak and Qanqli prisoners served the Mongols in North China as warriors and kharchins (clarified fermented mare's milk makers). Under Kublai Khan, the Kipchaks formed special guards corps, and the Qanqli guard was formed in 1308.
- Mongol Empire
- Mongol military tactics and organization
- Society of the Mongol Empire
- Organization of state under Genghis Khan
- Henry Hoyle Howorth History of the Mongols: From the 9th to the 19th Century, p.399
- David Christian A history of Russia, Central Asia, and Mongolia, p.396
- Stephen G. Haw Marco Polo's China, p.166
- George Lane Daily life in the Mongol empire, p.97
- Richard A. Gabriel The great armies of antiquity, p.337
- The New Encyclopædia Britannica, p.111
- David M. Farquhar The Government of China Under Mongolian Rule: A Reference Guide p.272
- Otto Harrassowitz Archivum Eurasiae medii aeivi [i.e. aevi]., p.36
- Henry Hoyle Howorth History of the Mongols: From the 9th to the 19th Century, p.398
- Richard A. Gabriel Genghis Khan's greatest general Subutai the valiant, p.37
- Vincent Chen Sino-Russian relations in the seventeenth century, p.34