Sex and power. The reproductive instinct of conquerors

genghis khan

The French writer Alexadre Dumas Sr., who had traveled to Caucasus in the years of 1858 and 1859, was telling in his traveling diary that the best gift that the Georgian and Lezghian youth could give to their fiancées were the chopped hands of the individuals from the neighboring tribe. These hands, brought as trophies, were a sign of men’s competence and were being displayed to everybody’s views, being, for example, riveted on courtyards’ gates or on walls of houses [1]. This example shows the close connection between male aggressiveness, war and reproductive success.

In general, from evolutionary point of view, the tribes that had extremely fierce, brutal and, to some degree, psychopath warriors in their rows could obtain a physical and psychological advantage while fighting rival groups that were numerically equal; afterwards, by ensuring victory in native tribes’ fights, the aggressive individuals that survived gained rigorous honors, more women and higher chances of forwarding their genes throughout numerous descendants. Thus, the predisposition towards brutal aggressiveness has perpetuated and even today aggressive individuals – sociopaths, which become a serious social problem in the absence of war – are being born [Bailey, 1995, p. 542, apud Nell, 2006, p. 221]. In fact, the aggressive behavior is still very wide-spread, because the genes of aggressiveness have correlated with the reproductive success and have reached our times.

The anthropologists, by virtue of their intense contact with contemporary communities of hunter-gatherers, have identified a direct and strong correlation between aggressiveness, reproduction and genetic flourishing. Have become famous the observations of the American anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, who, in the 1960-1970 has studies the life of the South-American tribe Yanomami. The researcher has gathered clear evidence of the fact that the aggressiveness, which is specific for these indigenous people, is directly related to their reproductive strategy. The most aggressive men from within the tribe (named unokai), who had killed enemies from foreign tribes, had, on an average, 2.5 times more women and 3 times more children than men who didn’t kill anyone. Therefore, the men that were showing a higher degree of aggressiveness were gaining a privileged status, more women and had more descendants, distributing their genes in a higher number [Chagnon, 1992].

According to another anthropological study, which was focused on the Xavánte tribe from the Amazon riverfront, a quarter of all the tribe’s women belonged to the warrior leader. Accordingly, at least one fourth of all children inherit the genes of the most combative man, which, from an evolutionary perspective, contributes to the distribution of the warlike genes at the population level [Hünemeier et al., 2012].

Complementary, was found that, among members of an East African herding tribe, those who engaged in conflict — in the form of violent raids carried out on neighboring groups — had more wives, and thus more opportunities to increase their reproductive success through having more children. Individuals actively engaged in violent raids on neighboring tribes get more livestock, by plunder, which allows them to pretend to more wives and, accordingly, to have more children [Glowacki, Wrangham, 2014]. The relationship is simple: violence provides resources, resources provides social status and social status – access to more women.

If we make a brief historical excursion into another time and another continent, in Tsarist Russia, we’ll find that the high class representatives and landowners from different gubernias of stretched country, had the wont to take advantage of their power and subdue with force the wives and daughters of their less powerful neighbors. The sexual assault and rapes of the daughters of peasants serfs was widespread in those days. A memoralist of those times wrote that one of the Russian landlords behaved like a cock on its territory and all surrounding women of all ages were treated as if they were his hens. He could walk late at night on village, stopped in front of any house, knocking on the window and the most beautiful woman in the family had been forced to go out and serve him like sex slave.

Boundless power of landlords and servile condition of peasants made it possible to produce horrible perversions with wives and daughters of the latters: rapes, orgies, molestation of little girls. The serfs were completely powerless and any revolt had been suppressed violently, with corporal punishment and incarceration. The domination of landowners was aggressive and definitive. To have a “harem” of virgins, completed with daughters of serfs, was an common “attribute” of landowners in Russia of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Social status and money offers power, power offers control, land and access to women, many of whom become pregnant and bear children from despots rapists [2].

The relationship between aggressiveness, status and access to women is also appliable to modern occidental societies, especially to bands from very different countries. Inside the band, the most violent members have often also a higher status; it is also them who have the most numerous and the most sexual females. Social psychologists have determined that the motivation of having sexual access to women is one of the main motivations of youth’s adherence to criminal gangs [Palmer, Tilly, 1995, apud Liddle et al., 2012, p. 11].

In 2014, a study conducted by a group of Swedish researchers, who investigated if there is a correlation between the aggressive/criminal behavior and the reproductive success, was published. The results confirmed the hypothesis. Convicted criminals had much more children than the persons who weren’t convicted for any delinquency. The convicts also had much more sexual partners; not many of them had been married, but if some of them had been, then the rate of the divorces was also high. They are also known for having a higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases. The Swedish researchers have reached the conclusion that, despite the appearances, the antisocial and criminal behavior can be adaptive in the contemporary industrialized countries [Yao et al., 2014]. Practically, the strategy “love and leave” gives a couple of obvious reproductive advantages in case of men who have an offensive behavior. Their parental investments are minimal but instead, the rate of their prolificacy is high; they manage to disseminate their genes.

We could find numerous “Don Juans” even among contemporary politicians, who, thanks to their status and their resources, had access to a huge number of women. Today, the political status is an equivalent to the status of the chief and of the warrior of the past times and is held in the same favors. Sex and power is an actual phenomenon. Nigel Cawthorne, the author of the book “Sex Lives of the US Presidents”, has stated that those with the ambition of gaining high political offices have the tendency of being a crowd [of individuals] who is very passionate about sex [Cawthorne, 2004]. The orgies didn’t miss from many biographies of the state chiefs of highly developed countries. All the more, in dictatorial states, the “supplying” of the leaders with virgins was organized on systemic principles.

In Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, schools, universities and local spaces had been transformed into places for girls’ hunt, which were being selected with great care and transmitted, with or without their will, into the Great Mentor’s harem. People say that Gaddafi was obsessed by taking sexual advantage of his political opponents’ wives and daughters, which he got hold of by means of abduction or usage of money. By possessing his opponents’ women, Gaddafi performed a sadistic act of their humiliation [3]. Nobody really knows how many illegitimate children Gaddafi has, but, theoretically, their number could be impressive.

I shall mention, in the context, that according to Guinness Book, the man that has had the most children in the human history was a certain king of Morocco, who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries, named Moulay Ismail Ibn Sharif, with a sufficiently bloody character as to be called “The Bloody One” and “The Warrior King”. The legend says that Moulay, everytime he got onto a horse, he used to chop the head of the slave that was holding the bridle. It is being said that, altogether, he had killed ten thousand people with his own hand. He remained known for his warrior-like violence during the conflicts with the Ottoman Turks, Spain and England, conflicts he fought while defending the Morocco’s independence. Well, the official reports say that Moulay had 888 (!) children, and some European diplomats raise the number to 1.171 children, who came from the sultan’s 4 wives and 500 concubines. Theoretically, Moulay had to make love at least once a day, for a period of 32 years, in order to establish such a prolificacy record [4], [5].

Even in our times we find, not so significant, but suggestive examples of prolific warrior men. Osama bin Laden, considered the number one world terrorist at the beginning of XXI century, was the 17th of 52 children of his father, billionaire; and Osama himself was married about six times and had between 20 and 26 children [6].

But it seems that most impressive sexual conquests of all times had the great Mongolian leader Genghis Khan, whose direct descendants have reached, nowadays, the number of 16 million men; all these men are carriers of the Y chromosome, the chromosome which keeps the genetic specificities of the Genghis Khan’s dynasty. In statistical terms, this means that 0.5% from all the men on Earth, or one of the two hundred, have genes that belong to the Mongolian emperor. The bioarheological calculations, based on the analysis on the tissues that contain DNA, carried by an international team of researchers have shown that in the vast zones of Central Asia, approximately 8% of men have the famous Mongolian leader as their ancestor. More than that, a whole nation, the Hazaras, who live in regions of Pakistan, claims its ancestry from Genghis Khan himself, which is reflected in its traditions and legends, being also confirmed by genetic genealogy studies [7] [Zerjal et al., 2003].

These spectacular demographic results were due to ways in which Genghis Khan used to wage wars: through the extermination of the male population from within the conquered territories and passing a huge number of women through his bedroom. His sons and grandsons have undertook the same practices later on. For exemple, Ghenghis’ grandson, Kublai Khan, married four main empresses, but, besides these, he has many concubines provided for his use.

According to Marco Polo’s ”Travels”, the grand khan sends his officers every second year, or oftener, as it may happen to be his pleasure, who collect for him, to the number of four or five hundreds or more, of the handsomest of the young women. They were divided into parties of five, one of which parties attends during three days and three nights, in his majesty’s interior apartment. When this term is completed, they were relieved by another party, and in this manner successively, until the whole number have taken their turn; when the first five recommence their attendance [8]. In such a manner, leaving behind a huge number of male descendants, the genes of khans spreading in the form of a hand fan as the centuries passed by.

Also, in Asia, there are other impressive lineages that originate in ancient and medieval dynasties.
Autocratic and strong hierarchical systems have allowed the concentration of many women in harems of dominant leaders and warriors [9] [Balaresque et al., 2015].

One such lineage was spread by Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) nobility, who were a privileged elite sharing patrilineal descent from Giocangga (from 16th century), the grandfather of Manchu leader Nurhaci, and whose documented members formed ∼0.4% of the minority population by the end of the dynasty. There are today more than 1.5 million men of Giocangga’s genetic lineage, who populate contemporary North China [Xue et al., 2005].

In Europe there are also notorious examples. In Ireland, was noticeable Uí Neill dynasty; today, one in five males sampled in northwestern Ireland is likely a patrilineal descendent of this medieval ancestor. It is a solid illustration of the potential link between prolificacy and power [Moore et al., 2006].

These examples plainly illustrate and reconfirms some undertones specific for warlike conquests and ethno-racial confrontations. The confrontation is not only about the eradication of the enemy and the takeover of his territory, but there is also an interest, not always a conscious one, an instinctual one, an interest for the perpetuation of one’s own genes through the women that belong to the conquered tribes or nations. It is an expression of the reproductive instinct.

When authoritarian regimes and empires were formed, around eight to nine thousand years ago, reproductive instinct achieved unprecedented opportunities for fulfillment. Most despots – pharaohs, emperors, kings – had access to a virtually unlimited number of women and distributing massive genes and creating dynasties.

American anthropologist Laura Betzig was among the first researchers who have examined the relationship between power and sex, from an evolutionary perspective; in 1986, she published the book ”Despotism and Differential Reproduction: A Darwinian View of History”. Betzig noted, based on her studies, that despotic leaders, who had obtained power through violence, had the advantage of possessing more concubines and wives than any of their peers [Betzig, 1986].

In evolutionary terms this period of human existence created an enormous selective pressure, with the guys at the top who had the least desirable traits passing on their genes to huge numbers of offspring. No wonder there’s so much violence in the world! Hundreds of millions of people are related to despots [10].

Therefore, we get to convince ourselves once more that one of the main male inclinations is that of expanding. No matter which one: territorial, genetic, financial or sexual. They want to reproduce, whatever the price would be. They want to expand. They want to fill the space with themselves.


© Dorian Furtuna, ethologist


Photo: The Statue of Genghis Khan; /

1. Символы доблести на Кавказе в XIX веке // Толкователь. 28.08.2011 /
2. «Многие помещики наши весьма изрядные развратники…» // Источник: Отрывки из книги Б.Ю. Тарасова «Россия крепостная. История народного рабства». Womenation. 06.11.2014 /
3. Gaddafi vs Chaos. On War and Peace // by Laura Betzig. Psychology Today. July 26, 2014 /
4. Ismail Ibn Sharif //
5. Legendary Moroccan ruler could have fathered 1,100 children – but he must have had sex every day for 32 YEARS // by Sarah Griffiths. Daily Mail. 26 February 2014 /
6. Osama bin Laden //
7. We owe it all to superstud Genghis // by McKie R. The Observer, Sunday, 2 March, 2003. /
8. Marco Polo’s Travels //
9. Genghis Khan’s genetic legacy has competition. The Mongolian leader left a strong footprint in the Y chromosomes of modern descendants — but he was not the only one // by Ewen Callaway. Nature. 30 January 2015 /
10. No wonder there’s so much violence in the world! Hundreds of millions of people are related to despots, claims study // by Ted Thornhill. Daily Mail. 26 February 2012 /

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