Jebe (on the ground) alongside Genghis (on the horse)
One of Chinggis Khan’s most brilliant yet overlooked generals, Jebe first encountered Chinggis Khan on the battlefield during the wars of unification in Mongolia, when he was a warrior among the Tayichiut Mongols and thus an enemy. After Chinggis Khan defeated the Tayichiut in 1201 a few of them joined his forces.
In “The Battle of the Thirteen Sides” Genghis had to fight against the chief of the Tai’Chiyud tribe, which was under the control of Targhutal Kiriltugh. During the battle, one of the Tai’Chiyud horsemen shot and injured Genghis himself, where most sources claim that he was hit in the neck. After the battle was victoriously over, Genghis gathered the remaining men of the opposing tribe.
In an attempt to not show weakness, Genghis commanded the man who had shot his horse to confess. A young warrior stepped forward and confessed that it was him who shot the arrow that hit Genghis, not the horse. That warrior’s name was Zurgadai, and he also added that he did not fear death, and that his fate lied in the hands of Genghis. But should he receive mercy, then he would be the most loyal soldier to ever serve him.
Genghis valued the bravery and loyalty that the young man showed, and he also liked the answer. He pardoned the soldier, and gave him a new name under which he can serve… “Chepe” meaning “Arrow” in Mongolian. Chepe gradually turned into Jebe, and this new general gradually became one of best in the empire.
In 1206, when Chinggis Khan formally became the unquestioned master of Mongolia, Jebe was one of 88 commanders named as a mingan-u noyan. Throughout the wars in Mongolia he was also known as one of the dörben noqas or ‘four hounds’ of Chinggis Khan along with three other mingan-u noyad – Sübedei, Jelme, and Qubilai (not to be confused with Chinggis Khan’s grandson Qubilai Khan). The dörben noqas and their units constituted an elite brigade that served with distinction at Chakirmaut, where the opponents of Chinggis Khan’s mastery of Mongolia made their last stand.
The dörben noqas were particularly noted for their tenacious pursuit of fleeing opponents, which may be one reason why Jebe led so many pursuit missions. In 1209 he and Sübedei pursued the Naiman and Merkit who fled Mongolia to the Irtysh River, and then again to the Chu River. Jebe was also responsible for hunting down Güchülüg, a Naiman prince who became ruler of Kara-Khitai in modern Kazakhstan. From there, Güchülüg would have been a threat to Chinggis Khan’s nascent kingdom in Mongolia. But Jebe is perhaps best known for his part in the pursuit of Muhammad Khwarazmshah during the Khwarazmian War. Although Muhammad successfully yet narrowly eluded the two generals, he died alone from illness and exhaustion on an island in the Caspian Sea shortly afterwards. Although Jebe and Sübedei were often paired together on missions, it appears that Jebe was the senior commander of the two, probably due to his experience and innovative strategies.
Yet Jebe did more than hunt down enemy leaders. Against the Jin Empire, he served as commander of Chinggis Khan’s vanguard in 1211, capturing the strongly guarded Chabchiyal Pass through a perfectly executed feigned retreat. Jebe also became well known for his deep incursions into enemy territory, feigned retreats that were carried out over days, and of course for the tenacity that allowed him to cover several days’ travel in one. Jebe died in 1223 during the famous reconnaissance en force that he and Sübedei conducted following the death of Muhammad Khwarazmshah in 1220.