• That Was Genius Team

Episode 44 - A Triple Suplex in the Name of Love (Badass Women Week)

Updated: Apr 17

Sam's Episode Notes: Khutulun – Wrestler, kidnapper, and legend in East and West.

So today, I'm going to talk about a woman who was a literal rebellious princess – a champion wrestler, expert kidnapper, and loveable rogue who became a legend in the East and west. And all of this in the 13th Century.

Unsurprisingly, this isn't a princess from the west, though there were a few badasses among them for sure – today we're heading for Mongolia and the story of Khutulun, the woman who almost ruled Asia. And she would have gotten away with it if it weren't for some pesky men.

She was born in around 1260AD, the daughter of Kaidu, a mongol leader and cousin of Kublai Khan, which made her Ghengis Khan's Great Grand-daughter. Now whilst most of the Mongol lords by this point had contented themselves with living a lavish lifestyle in the lands they'd captured and abandoning their nomadic roots, Kaidu was an old fogey who thougth that living in tents and learning the old ways was preferrable to silk and palaces. Although obviously he still had lots of silk dressing gowns and palaces because... Why not? Either way, the fact that he still taught his family how to fight rather than become bureaucrats and balance books gave him significant clout in the fractured mongol empire – his kingdom stretched from Siberia to India. He was a fearsome warrior leader with a fearsome army of brutal, badass, old-school mongolian horsemen, and none more so than Khutulun.

From her earliest days, her Dad could tell she was no wallflower. She was a giant with superhuman strength, as well as being an incredible archer, magnificent horsewoman, and incredible wrester who made herself an absolute killing out of it thanks to a bet she'd made with her Dad.

When she came of age, Kaidu tried to have her married off because that's what daughters are for, historically. Essentially political currency. But she wasn't going to be palmed off on some dandy from Beijing, oh no. She wanted a husband who was her personal equal, as well as being politically convenient for the family. So she made a bet with her Dad: She would marry the first suitor who could beat her in a fight. OK, said her Dad. And now I've got a source to go from, Tom. Because she was so famous in Mongolia for her incredible strength that she became the writing subject of one Marco Polo. He calls her by her Latin name of Argialcucor or her Tartar name of Aigiarm. Either way, here's a quote. It's quite a long one, but hey ho:

She now caused it to be proclaimed in different parts of the world, that if any young man would come and try strength with her, and should over come her by force, she would accept him for her husband. This proclamation was no sooner made, than many came from all parts to try their fortune. The trial was made with great solemnity. The king took his place in the principal hall of the palace, with a large company of men and women; then came the king s daughter, in a dress of cendal (that's ceremonial silk), very richly adorned, into the middle of the hall; and next came the young man, also in a dress of cendal. The agreement was, that if the young man overcame her so as to throw her by force to the ground, he was to have her for wife; but if, on the contrary, he should be overcome by the king s daughter, he was to forfeit to her a hundred horses. In this manner the damsel gained more than ten thousand horses, for she could meet with no one able to conquer her, which was no wonder, for she was so well-made in all her limbs, and so tall and strongly built, that she might almost be taken for a giantess.

Bear in mind 10,000 might be hyperbolic, but it would rival the herd of any Mongol leader or emperor. In fact, it got so bad that her Dad would have to have a quiet word with her, desperately asking her to take it easy on some of the richer young men. Here's another quote:

At last, about the year 1280, there came the son of a rich king, who was very beautiful and

young; he was accompanied with a very fine retinue, and brought with him a thousand beautiful horses. Immediately on his arrival, he announced that he was come to try his strengh with the lady. King Kaidu received him very gladly, for he was very desirous to have this youth for his son-in-law, know ing him to be the son of the king of Pamar; on which account, Kaidu privately told his daughter that he wished her on this occasion to let herself be vanquished. But she said she would

not do so for anything in the world.

There's a bit more here and then Marco Polo goes on... All who were there, including the king and queen, wished heartily that the prince might be the victor, that he might be the husband of the princess. But, contrary to their hopes, after much pulling and tugging, the king s daughter gained the victory, and the young prince was thrown on the pavement of the palace, and lost his thousand horses.

Different versions of this story eventually made it to the west via Marco Polo and other historians and writers. In some versions, Khutulun was a riddler who, rather than wrestling potential husbands, would ask them three riddles, and execute them if they got them wrong. Riddles like: “When's my birthday”. “What did I just say” and “does this make me look fat”.

Depending on who you ask, she did eventually marry – various sources say it was either a friend of her Dads, or someone who tried to kill him, failed, and was taken prisoner. Typical rebellious daughter. Or maybe both, who knows, it was the Mongol Empire, not exactly the friendliest of places. Either way by the time she married, she'd gotten hold of enough horses to start a discount beef supplies company.

At this point despite her incredible beauty, being a long-limbed giant built like an Ox, her Dad decided she would be better off on the battlefield where she'd probably do more good than in the palace, where she'd broken the noses of every good looking posh kid within in a thousand miles. Besides, she had a knack for strategy and was one of his closest military advisers – much more so than any of his 14 sons.

And, it turns out, she was just as much of a danger to men with a horse and a bow as she was in dating. She was an excellent kidnapper, frequently riding headlong into an enemy army, literally lifting a nobleman off his horse, and carrying him back to her own side as a hostage – which she did on several occasions given that her Dad was constantly at war with his neighbours.

In fact, he was so trusting of her skill that he actually tried to make her his heir before he died in 1301, above all 14 of his sons. Which you can imagine went down a treat. Eventually they conspired against her and one of the brothers, Duwa, got the throne instead, leaving Khutulun guarding the tomb of her much loved and slightly long-suffering Dad.

And that's more or less her story, she died a few years later in 1306 under slightly suspicious circumstances and was forgotten until her story was reborn in 1710 thanks to a Frenchman called Francois Petis de La Croix, who unearthed her story whilst writing about Ghengis Khan. He called her Turandot or Turkish Daughter, and changed some of the facts around to match the tastes of Western Europe at the time, beginning the legend of the riddles rather than the wrestling.

In fact, in the 1920s Turandot was further bastardised when it was turned into an Opera by Puccini, finished posthumously, in which Khutulun was a grumpy, stuck up woman who eventually gave in to love – which couldn't be further from the original already probably exaggerated story of the champion wrestler who just wanted a man who could keep up with her, looking for love through the medium of a triple suplex and a heavyweight belt. Which I think is a wrestling character that really needs to be bought in.


Tom's notes:


Plutarch’s Mulierum Virtutes (Moo-lee-erum Ver-toot-tays) (Virtues of Women)

· Part of Plutarch’s Moralia; a mixed and varied collection of works attributed to Plutarch

· Plutarch’s also well known for his work Parallel Lives which I have referenced in older episodes

· Plutarch, just quickly, Ancient Greek writer born midway through the first Century AD. Spent a lot of time in Rome and became a Roman citizen.

In his work Mulerium Virtutes, Plutarch refers to many examples of virtuous women; kick ass women if you will. Let’s talk about a few examples:

Cloelia

· Cloelia was a hostage given by the Romans to the Etruscans in 508BC as part of the end of a war between the two powerful nations on the Italian Peninsula

o A revolution in Rome had overthrown the last King of Rome and created the now famous Roman Republic. However, the Roman nobility, of Etruscan descent, wanted to regain the control of Rome. Eventually the Roman Republic prevailed.

o This period in Roman history is semi mythological due to the Sack of Rome in 390BC at the hands of Gauls. Lots of documents were burned and lost forever during this event.

· Whilst being held as hostage, she led the 9 other female hostages down to the river Tiber to bathe. When they got to the river, they jumped in and swam, with much difficult, to the other side and returned to Rome.

· The Romans admired the bravery of the girls but insisted that they be returned to Porsena, the Etruscan leader.

· When they were returned to Porsena, he dealth with them generously because he so admired their cunning and bravery; “Porsena admiring the undauntedness and confidence of the maid, as being beyond what is commonly in a woman, bestowed a present on her becoming a man champion”

Polycrita

· Polycrita was a lady from Naxos (Ancient Greek city). Naxos was captured by armies from Miletus (also Ancient Greece) and Erithyrea (North East Africa). The Erithyrean general who captured the city of Naxos took a fancy to Polycrita. She was forced to marry him but during a festival soon after, she came up with a cunning plan!

o She asked her new husband if she could send some of the festival cake to her brothers in the besieged city. Permission was given but inside the slices of cake was a message to attack the occupying army that night because they’d be drunk, stuffed with cake and lying on their sides farting merrily without a concern in the world.

o This took place and the Naxians won an important victory. Polycrita died with happiness as the city was retaken

Camma

· Galatian princess (Galatia was an Ancient state in modern day Turkey)

· Her husband was killed by a chap called Sinorix who liked the look of Camma

o Sinorix set his eyes on Camma who slowly warmed, apparently, to Sinorix.

o She invited him to the temple of Artemis to make their marriage in front of the goddess

o She handed him some mead filled with poison and the two of them drank

o “As she saw him drink it all up, she lifted up a shrill loud voice, and fell down and worshipped her Goddess, saying: I call thee to witness, O most reverend Divinity! that for this very day's work's sake I have over-lived the murder of… And for thee, the lewdest person among men, let thy relations prepare a sepulchre, instead of a bride-chamber and nuptials. When the Galatian heard these things, and perceived the poison to wamble up and down and indispose his body, he ascended his chariot, hoping to be relieved by the jogging and shaking. But he presently alighted, and put himself into a litter, and died that evening. Camma continued all that night, and being told that he had ended his life, she comfortably and cheerfully expired.”

Stratonica

· Another Galatian princess whose husband wanted a male heir, but she was ‘barren’.

· So, she told him to shag another lady and she would bring up the children as her own.

· The ladies name was Electra

Chiomara

· She is raped by a Roman Centurion. The Roman centurion agrees to return her to her family for a ransom. As the exchange is taking place, she nods at one of her kinsman, and he chops of his head!

· She takes his head to her husband and throws it on the floor “O wife! thy fidelity is noble”

· She basically then cracks the witticism there is only one man alive who has slept with me.

Timoclea

· When Alexander the Great took Thebes (Ancient Greece again) one of his generals set up in the house of Timoclea.

· Whilst under the influence of alcohol, this general raped Timoclea and then asked her where she kept all of her money.

· She claimed that her maid hid it all in the well. She took him to the well and when he peered into the depths of the well, she gave him a kick up the arse and he fell into the well. She then threw stones at him until he died rather unpleasantly.

· She was brought before Alexander “he admired her fortitude and eloquence, which had taken strong hold on him, and charged his officers to have a special care and look to the guards, lest any such abuse be offered again to any renowned family; and dismissed Timoclea, charging them to have a special regard to her and all that should be found to be of her family.”

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