The plan to build a city in the middle of nowhere was, of course, almost absurdly ambitious. Archaeologists have found the remains of large cottage industry workshops on the banks of the Orkhon River, all built by order of the ruling Khan. Agriculture and animal husbandry were also energetically pursued on the fertile pastures surrounding Karakorum. But these initiatives were far from enough to feed the city. The Mongolian ruling elite had to bring 500 ox carts filled with food from China every day in order to keep the project from rapidly turning into a fiasco.
Experts now agree that Ögödei was at least as important as his father. With his marauding campaigns of conquest, Gengis Khan had created the vast Mongolian Empire, which extended all the way to Europe, yet it was Ögödei who first succeeded in stabilizing this complex political entity by establishing a central administration. Hüttel says: "Without Ögödei, today's Mongolia would not exist."
His father may have risked his health by riding recklessly on his conquests, but Ögödei cultivated an entirely different vulnerability: He lived the high life and manically squandered his wealth. A few years before his death in 1241, the Mongolian ruler was bankrupt.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen