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Little is known about the origin of the Mongolic-speaking tribes.They descended from the Hsien-pi, one of the many northern tribal confederations that the 5th century Chinese (History of the Later Han Dynasty) called the Tung-hu or Eastern Barbarians.Following the death of the father, his estate passed to the youngest son of the most senior wife.Temujin, who would later be renamed Chinggis Khan, was born into the Kiyat lineage of the Borjigin clan.The only sedentary state with any power in the region was the Chin or Jin (meaning gold) dynasty, founded by the Jürchids, one of the Tungusic tribes that had taken control of Manchuria from the Kitan in the early 12th century.The south-east of China, including the whole Yangtze basin, was then ruled by the Sung dynasty.

During the first half of the 12th century, under the reign of Qabul Khan, the Mongols of the Three Rivers expanded to become a strong and united tribal confederation.

This left the Mongols free to attack their other main enemy, the Tatars.

"The Secret History" records that the Mongols fought 13 unsuccessful battles against the Tatars, which led to internal Mongol divisions and finally a civil war.

To the immediate south of the steppe lay the state of Xi-Xia, founded by the Tibetan Tanguts, important traders who controlled the important Kansu oases along the eastern arm of the Silk Route and did not generally interfere in steppe politics.

The two traditional enemies of the Mongols in the early 12th century were the Tatars and the Merkits, who frequently formed alliances against them.

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