On the steppes of Genghis Khan – Mongolia’s nomads

The special exhibition at Moesgaard Museum from Fall 2018 to Spring 2019 told the fascinating story of Genghis Khan and the nomads of the Mongolian steppes.

For more than a millennium, Mongolian nomads made their mark on contacts between East and West, through belligerent expansion and by controlling trade routes across steppe and desert.

The story of Genghis Khan and his ravaging horsemen, who, by brilliant military strategies, created the foundations for the greatest empire the world has ever seen, is well known. Through his enormous conquests in the early 13th century, this commander from the Mongolian steppes forged an empire that stretched from China in the east, westward to what is now Eastern Europe.

The special exhibition On the steppes of Genghis Khan – Mongolia’s nomads took visitors on a journey in the company of Mongolian nomads and their animal herds. It presented a life on the move, where Genghis Khan is ever-present, both as a historical hero and as the personification of the dream of a united people. In this arid belt of steppe, desert and mountain, Mongolian nomads have found a way to survive, binding the world together across vast landscapes with few roads, exposed to burning sun or intense cold.

The exhibition included fantastic exhibits of international loans, some of them actually from the time of Genghis Khan, as well as many wonderful artefacts brought back by Danish expeditions over the years, especially those led by Henning Haslund-Christensen in the 1930s. Danish nomad research represents a major initiative in international anthropology, and the many expeditions have resulted in rich collections being amassed at both Moesgaard Museum and the National Museum of Denmark.

The nomadic way of life has survived in Mongolia to the present day, with a third of the population still living as nomads on the steppes with their sheep, goats, horses, camels and cattle. Mongolian nomads have a common awareness of their history, and they cultivate the rich culture that revolves around being on the move with large herds of livestock, connections and contacts, trade across enormous distances and the shaman’s spiritual journeys between worlds and times. A way of life that has also brought great material wealth, as can be seen in their ornaments, costumes, tents, furniture, household items, tools, weapons and equipment – all of the finest craftsmanship. The exhibition at Moesgaard Museum showed visitors how the nomadic way of life, right up to the present day, constitutes an intriguing alternative to our own settled and sedentary existence, characterised by a completely different view of the world.

The exhibition On the steppes of Genghis Khan – Mongolia’s nomads was developed by Moesgaard Museum in collaboration with the National Museum of Denmark.

The exhibition was supported by Augustinus Fonden, Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond and Spar Nord Fonden.