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Kheshig (Khishig, Keshik, Keshichan) (Mongolian for favored or blessed) were the imperial guard for Mongol royalty in the Mongol Empire, particularly for rulers like Genghis Khan and his wife Börte. Their primary purpose was to act as bodyguards for the emperors and other important nobles. They were divided into two groups: the day guard (Torguud) and the night guard (Khevtuul). They were distinct from the regular army and would not go to battle with them, instead staying back on guard duty. Their supreme commander was called the Cherbi.
Because the Mongol Empire spanned most of Eurasia, its impacts on Mongol controlled-areas led to the creation of imperial guards like the Keshik. Khishig was the term used for the palace guards of the Great Mogul Emperors in India, and also for the matchlocks and sabres, which were changed weekly from Akbar the Great's armoury for the royal use. The royal guards in Persia who watched the King's person at night were also called Keshikchi.
The assassination of the leaders of rival Mongol tribes was a common occurrence thanks to the ever-shifting loyalties and conflicting interests at play within Mongol tribal politics. The father of Genghis Khan, Yesugei, for example, was unwittingly poisoned by one of his enemies. The risk was especially high at night since the ger that Mongol nomads traditionally sleep in lacked a solid wall, and so a sword or spear could easily penetrate the walls and kill the subject inside. As a result, the Mongol monarch in Mongolia typically had personal guards. The Kerait khan Toghoril (Wang Khan) had an imperial guard, Torguud. According to an oral tradition, their descendants could be Torghut people. After the defeat of Wang Khan in 1203, Genghis established the kheshig. The kheshig consisted mainly of sworn personal followers.
At first, this consisted of 70 day guards (Torguud or tunghaut) and 80 night guards (khevtuul). During the reign of Genghis, it seems to have been divided into four groups, commanded by the four generals Mukhulai, Chormaqan, Bo'orchu and Borokhula. Members of the kheshig outranked almost any other military officers in the Mongol Empire. As it was extremely well paid, the vocation was a popular one, and the numbers of Kheshig grew rapidly, to the extent that they were only normally on duty for three days in succession. In light of this, the word kheshig refers favor or blessing in the Mongolian language. Membership in the kheshig was regarded as a supreme honor and was an alternative to the necessity of hostage taking for noblemen. In the early days the guard was composed of 1,000 men. By the middle of Genghis Khan's reign, they had expanded to a tumen (10,000 men) commanded by Nayagha, an uncle of Bayan of the Baarin.
The Kheshig was originally consisted Mongolian, Manchurian, Han and Kazakh. As the Empire expanded rapidly, Genghis Khan's successors recruited Persian, Georgian, Armenian, Alan, Korean, Italian and Russian units.[dubious ]Since the kheshig was personal appanage of a monarch, his successors did not inherit them. Instead, the kheshigs of deceased Emperors took care of their lords' families and assisted households. But Güyük Khan took most of his father Ögedei's old kheshig.
Kublai Khan (r.1260-1294) restricted the functions of kheshig, and created a new imperial bodyguard. However, his kheshig were still ruled by descendants of Genghis Khan's four assistants. He had a body guard of 12,000 kheshigs.