By John McDevitt

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A new exhibit opening this weekend at the Franklin Institute tells the story of Genghis Khan.

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But this show paints the Mongolian conqueror not as a ruthless barbarian but as a great civilizer of humankind.


(Photo by John McDevitt)

(Photo by John McDevitt)


Through artifacts, sets, videos, and documents, the exhibit presents Mongolia as it really is, and Genghis Khan as he really was, according to Don Lessem, creator of the “Genghis Khan: Bring the Legend to Life” exhibit.

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“Well, he killed a few million people, give or take,” Lessem acknowledges, “but the fact is, we were the barbarians.  And Genghis Khan created the most peaceful empire ever, four times as big as Alexander the Great’s.”

And Lessem notes a long string of social and civil norms that he says started with Genghis.

“He had freedom of religion for people, he allowed them to have trial by jury, he gave them a written language, he is the reason we wear pants and play violins and have paper money and passports and diplomatic immunity,” Lessem points out.

Some of the objects on display starting this Saturday at the Franklin Institute date back to the 13th century and include saddles and armor used by Mongolian soldiers, an imperial passport, and a sword believed to belong to a guardsman of Marco Polo.


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