Due to the demands of living out in the harsh conditions of the steppe, Mongolian women often shared the responsibilities of hunting and herding with the men. They knew how to ride horses and shoot. With the men frequently absent to wage war, women began to wield more influence, with some notable women assuming control as rulers.
One such woman was Toregene Khatun. Khatun is a title meaning ‘queen’ or ‘empress’. Toregene was married to Genghis Khan’s third son Ogedei and served as regent after her husband’s death from 1241 until 1246, ruling over the largest empire in the world.
Toregene was a part of the Merkit clan, but when Genghis Khan conquered the Merkits, she was given to Ogedei as second wife. She gave birth to Ogedei’s oldest son and thus acquired a higher status than his first wife.
Ogedei was known to be a drunkard and it’s believed that Toregene began to exercise influence in his absence. The oldest recorded evidence of Toregene’s authority was an order to print Taoist texts which was issued in 1240 while Ogedei was still alive, which shows that she had already established herself within the Mongol court before his death.