Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199)

One of the most influential shoguns in Japanese history. At a time when the power of the imperial court was declining in the face of continual usurpation by local military lords, he brought order out of the near chaos and gave the country a new form of government which for a century and a half provided a high degree of public order and a considerable degree of humane justice. Yoritomo was himself a member of the imperial class whose depredations were depriving the imperial government of power. he succeeded in building a large armed following in eastern Japan, and in the late 12th century fought a series of bloody wars with the Taira family, then the dominant militayr faction in the country. The heroic and gory events of these wars are recounted in Japanese history and legend.

    Yoritomo was less a field general than a brilliant planner and co-ordinator; his younger brother and a cousin led his troops in the field most of the time. Upon their complete victory over the Taira in 1185, Yoritomo's forces were the only power in the country capable of bringing peace and orderly government. Instead of making himself emperor, however, Yoritomo was content to rule as shogun, or the highest military commander of the imperial court.

    At Kamakura in eastern Japan he established a headquarters for his armed vassals, who were distributed throughout the country to keep order, collect taxes and administer justice.

    He died in 1199 as a result of a fall from a horse.


Taken from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1969 edition.)