Kublai Khan was the fifth Khagan (Great Khan) of the Mongol Empire, reigning from 1260 to 1294. He was the grandson of Genghis Khan. If one counts the Mongol Empire at that time as a whole, Kublai’s realm reached from the Pacific Ocean to the Black Sea, from Siberia to modern-day Afghanistan – one-fifth of the world’s inhabited land area. However, Kublai’s real power was limited to China and Mongolia. In 1271, he founded the Yuan Dynasty, which ruled over present-day Mongolia, China and Korea, and assumed the role of Emperor of China. Kublai was born on this day in 1215.
Note: Due to incredibly unlucky timing, Kublai failed to gain power over Japan, despite two Mongol invasion attempts. In 1268, Kublai demanded tribute from Japan, but Kyoto refused. The Mongols invaded Japan in 1274 with 700-800 ships, but a typhoon destroyed their armada. An even larger invasion was attempted in 1281, with a fleet of more than 4,000 ships and 140,000 troops. Stunningly, they met the same disastrous fate, losing up to 75% of their troops and supplies both times. The failed invasions marked the first use of the Japanese word kamikaze (“divine wind”). The massive typhoons also helped perpetuate the Japanese belief that they could not be defeated, which persisted until the end of World War II.