Episodi

  • For the final episode on the Mongol Empire, we take you, our dear listeners, in a quick survey of the final years of Chinggisid rule in Mongolia, after the Yuan Dynasty was forced from China in 1368, until the Manchu conquests in the seventeenth century. This will help bridge the gap with the next series in this podcast, and serve as an afterword to this season. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    We detailed in previous episodes the final years of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in China, which culminated with Töghön Temür Khaan fleeing his capital of Dadu to Mongolia. With the Yuan rulers ousted, the new Ming Dynasty, ruled by the Chinese warlord Zhu Yuanzhang now styled the Hongwu Emperor, seized Dadu. Dadu was renamed to Beiping, “northern peace,” and would soon to Beijing, “northern capital.” The Ming, under its early emperors, was a highly militarized state with what’s often described as an oppressively strong government. The Hongwu Emperor, though recognizing that the Mongols had had the Mandate of Heaven, had settled on one key flaw which allowed corruption and poor governance to settle in. That is, that the Yuan Khans simply did not have enough authority within their government, which had been augmented by Töghön Temür Khaan’s debauchery. The lords of the Yuan state simply had too much more power in comparison to the Yuan Emperor. The Ming solution to that, was to, at least in early years of the dynasty, ensure there were few checks on the might of the Ming Emperor. This would lead to intense control over society and its own oppression, but that’s another matter.

    The flight of the Yuan rulers back into the steppe was neither the end of the Yuan, nor of the Mongol threat, and the Ming knew this. The flight of 1368, and Töghön Temür’s death in 1370, was hardly the end of war, as Ming and Yuan forces raided back and forced over the frontier repeatedly. The Ming led continued assaults into Mongolia itself, on one occasion sacking the much reduced former Mongol capital of Qaraqorum. But the Hongwu Emperor’s forces met defeats in Mongolia in 1372, and his armies were forced back in humiliating, destructive routs. The Hongwu Emperor continued to send armies into Mongolia throughout the 1380s, but finally recognized the stalemate. He had solidified rule over China, defeated the last of Yuan holdouts, but in the steppes his armies could be drawn out, starved and crushed by the Mongols. It was better to fall back to military garrisons along the frontier to launch counter attacks, rather than waste more resources in the steppes. Frustratingly, the sons of Töghön Temür continued to claim the right to rule China, and refused to recognize that the Ming now held the Mandate of Heaven. Ming historians from this point on refer to the Yuan in Mongolia as the Northern Yuan, though the Yuan Khaans themselves saw their rule as continuing unabated.

    In the early fifteenth century, the ascension of the Hongwu Emperor’s son, Zhu Di, known as the Yongle Emperor, brought renewed conflict. The Yongle Emperor personally led some of these campaigns, and when he met the Mongols in battle he was victorious, aided by the prodigious usage of gunpowder weapons. But in the final campaigns, the strong man of the Northern Yuan, a fellow named Arughtai, increasingly favoured avoiding direct engagement with the Ming entirely. The Yongle Emperor’s ambitions were thus thwarted, and the threat of starvation and isolation in the steppes forced his withdrawal. It was on one of these withdrawals in 1424 that the Yongle Empire succumbed to illness, and with him died the last skilled military emperor of the Ming.

    The arrival of the Yuan nobility back to the steppe brought with it its own problems, for the sinicized elite accustomed to the finery of great Dadu found life in Mongolia difficult and unrefined. The local lords in Mongolia, having long since felt abandoned by Dadu, did not easily abide the new arrivals or their demands for troops. The Dadu refugees also were decidedly much too Chinese for the liking of Mongolia’s local elite. Many of the Mongolian leaders were descendants of Ariq Böke or Chinggis Khan’s brothers, those who felt they had been left out of the power and resources of the empire. The upheaval brought on by the constant Ming attacks in eastern and central Mongolia at the same time did no favours to the position of the Yuan. On Töghön Temür’s death in 1370, he was succeeded by his son, the much more capable Ayushiridara. Ayushiridara Khaan and his skilled general Koko Temür led effective counter attacks against the Ming, and even succeeded in gaining lost territory, though Ayushiridara’s son Maidiribala was captured by the Ming. On Ayushiridara’s death in 1378, the Ming released Maidiribala back to Mongolia to influence the election, for Maidiribala had been well treated and was seen as favourably disposed to the Ming. But Ayushiridara was succeeded by his brother Tögüs Temür, who continued war with the Ming and interfering along the border. After a series of battles, in 1388 Tögüs Temür was defeated near Buyur Lake in northern Mongolia. Though he escaped, the depowered Tögüs Temür Khaan was soon murdered by a distant relation named Yesüder. With the death of Tögüs Temür Khaan, the unbroken succession of the house of Khubilai came to an end. Now various lords within the Northern Yuan declared their independence, sought peace with the Ming or fought for the Chinggisid throne. As was the usual case when this occurred, khans now rapidly ascended to the throne only to soon be killed or ousted. Their order remains confused, their identities uncertain, and many were little more than figure heads for puppet masters. One of the most notable and longest lasting of these Mongol puppet masters was Arughtai. Until his death in 1434, Arughtai remained the most powerful man in the Northern Yuan court, fighting against the Ming, the Oirats and other rivals to power, but never able to reassert Yan hegemony over all of Mongolia.

    This infighting in the Yuan court greatly benefitted one party in western Mongolia. These were the Oirat, or western Mongols, assembled in a political union known by its clever name, the Four Oirat. While they had been subjects to the Great Khan, their local lords were not Chinggisids, and had enjoyed a great degree of autonomy in the recent decades before the Yuan expulsion. The arrival of the Great Khans from China brought interference in their internal matters, demands for troops and supplies which caused resentment. The turmoil brought on the wars with the Ming and the succession struggles led to the Oirat leadership to challenge the Great Khans. In 1399, Ugechi Khasakha of the Khoit Oirat and Batula, son-in-law to the Khan, killed the Great Khan Elbeg, beginning open warfare between the Oirat and the Yuan. When Ugechi Khasakha assassinated Elbeg Khan’s son Gün-Temür in 1402, the Oirat leader assumed supreme power in Mongolia and the title of Guilichi Khaan. By 1408 his former ally, Batula, ousted Ugechi Khaskha and assumed power himself, while Arughtai elected another of Elbeg Khan’s sons, Bunyashiri, as Khaan. While this civil war was ongoing, the Ming continued to interfere, by granting imperial titles and supplies to other Oirat factions to strengthen them against the Khaan, coupled with invasions of Mongolia itself by the Yongle Emperor. On other occasions, in order to prevent the Oirat from becoming too powerful, the Ming would send troops and supplies to aid the Yuan Khans against the Oirat.

    After the Yongle Emperor’s death in 1424, Ming meddling in Mongolia slackened. With this, the Oirat leader Toghon Chingsang, son of Batula, gradually succeeded in taking control over eastern Mongolia. A skilled politician and diplomat, he maintained good ties with neighbours outside Mongolia, like the Ming and the Jurchen, while strengthening his control over the Mongols and finding rival puppets to install on the Yuan throne. Toghon and his son Esen defeated and executed Arughtai in 1434, and then the rival Chinggisid Khan in 1438. With this, Toghon took effective control of Mongolia. Through marriage alliance and diplomacy he took most of the rest too. With a new puppet Khaan on the throne, Toghon was made the taishi, derived originally from the Chinese Grand Preceptor. Toghon died soon after this, and was succeeded to the position of taishi by his son Esen. Hence, the influential Esen Taishi came to dominate Mongolia.

    A skilled general beyond even his father, by the time Esen Taishi took control at the start of the 1440s he had campaigned as far west as Moghulistan and back. He held onto power with an iron hand and cooperative khaans, crushing rebellions and bringing the Jurchen in Manchuria and cities of what’s now northwestern China’s Gansu province under his rule. Ming armies into the steppe were defeated; the Ming generals and emperors could no longer hold a candle to the might of the Yongle Emperor.

    Struggling to contain Esen Taishi’s expansion militarily or politically, the Ming tried a new strategy: economic warfare. During Toghon Taishi’s period, trade had flowed relatively easily between Mongolia and the Ming, with horses, livestock and furs coming from Mongol lands and manufactured goods and materials from China. Envoys had travelled freely, but the Mongols had also learned to take advantage of Ming gift giving to envoys. Mongol embassies arriving with several thousands persons in tow, which all had to be housed, fed and gifted at the expense of the Ming court. The Ming demanded that Esen Taishi restrict these embassies to only a few hundred men, which Esen felt as an insult. Though forbidden by the Ming, in exchange for horses, border guards and other lords near the frontier traded weapons and armour to the Mongols. Though Esen Taishi would have preferred to maintain good relations and continue profiting off of the Ming, the Ming’s harsher treatment of his envoys and efforts to shut down the trade over the border either pushed Esen too far, or served as a useful pretext for war. Mongol attacks on the north began, and the inexperienced, overconfident and poorly advised Zhengtong Emperor, a great-grandson of the Yongle Emperor, marched from Beijing to face the Mongols in battle. In August 1449, the Mongol-Oirat forces outmaneuvered the Ming and then inflicted a crushing defeat upon them at the Tumu Fort, and captured the Zhengtong Emperor. With his captive in tow, Esen Taishi laid siege to Beijing itself and raided the northern countryside, though called off the campaign and eventually freed his imperial prisoner, hoping he would cause trouble with the new Ming emperor who had been installed.

    The Tumu Crisis, as it came to be known, was a huge embarrassment for the Ming, and put an end to any belief that the Ming could continue to work offensively against the Mongols. While that had been possible in the careful military structure under the Yongle Emperor, after his death the Ming imperial and military infrastructure lacked the ability or the will to carry out such campaigns, yet had retained the misplaced confidence in their ability to do so. Esen Taishi had just poked through that lie with a hundred thousand arrows. Now turning to the defensive, the Ming renewed an age-old strategy against the nomads: building border fortifications to impede their movement. So began the steady construction of the Great Wall of China as it exists today, beginning first north of Beijing and in time crawling along the entire Mongol frontier.

    In turn, the Tumu crisis did not help Esen Taishi’s leadership. His puppet khan, Taisun, began to conspire against him, and they met in battle in 1452. Victorious, Esen Taishi sought to do away with the puppets altogether and rule as khan in his own right, until his assassination in 1455. The height of Oirat domination over the Chinggisids thus passed, and for the next decades contenders to the Chinggisid throne fought against Oirat efforts to reassert their hegemony. What followed was more warfare, great and petty, until Mongolia was reunified again under Chinggisid leadership in the early 1500s by Batu-Möngke Dayan Khaan, more usually known as Dayan Khaan. Raised to office and aided throughout his reign by his skilled mother-in-law/wife Mandukhai Khatun, after years of fighting against Oirats, other Mongols and the Ming, by 1510 Dayan Khaan succeeded in controlling all of Mongolia. He appointed his sons and commanders to head new administrative units; removed the lords who stood against him, reconfirmed those who supported him, and divided the population of Mongolia into 6 tümens, made up of 54 otogs.

    The Dayan Khaanid 1500s was much more stable compared to the century before. It’s not clear how long Dayan Khaan reigned for, with some putting his death in the 1540s, or before 1520. One consequence of his reign was dividing the empire between his sons, assigning them to the various tümed across Mongolia, with one intended as an overarching khan. But his power waned as that of the aristocrats’ grew, and at the end of the 1540s a grandson of Dayan Khan, Altan Khan, usurped power. This ushered in another period of centralization and military authority, as Altan Khan led attacks against the Kazakhs, Oirats and the Ming. In one of his most notable exploits, in 1550 he attacked Beijing itself and set its outskirts aflame. The Ming Emperor was forced into a peace treaty which heavily favoured the Mongols and provided them gifts and advantageous trade terms; a far cry from the offensive might the Yongle Emperor had once employed.

    One of the most lasting consequences of Altan Khan was the promotion of Buddhism in Mongolia, for Altan Khan and his third wife, Jönggen Khatun, were its great patrons. Though Buddhism had a presence in Mongolia for centuries, it had never been a large or significant one. The late thirteenth century saw some flourishing of the faith among the elite, which continued in the following centuries. In the 1570s Altan Khan and his Khatun invited to Mongolia the Third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso; except, he was not yet called the Dalai Lama. This title was bestowed upon Sonam Gyatso by Altan Khan, coming from the Mongolian word Dalai, meaning Ocean. The Dalai Lama was thus the oceanic, or universal, lama, and the title was posthumously applied to Sonam Gyatso’s two previous reincarnations. After Sonam Gyatso’s death in 1588, the Fourth Dalai Lama was a great-grandson of Altan Khan, and thereby a descendant of Chinggis Khan.

    The official, dedicated patronage of Buddhism by Altan Khan and his successors allowed it to spread across Mongolia as it never had before. Altan Khan even took materials from the ruins of the once imperial capital of Qaraqorum to build a monastery nearby, known as the Erdene Zuu which still stands today. Anti-shamanic efforts by the succeeding khans and the new Buddhist clergy reduced the influence of the shamans, and the building of monasteries across Mongolia was the start of the powerful Buddhist Lamas who would, in time, rule large swathes of the country. It was not a quick or perfect transformation; Mongolian sources speak of efforts to replace the traditional Mongol shamanist-animism well into the seventeenth century, and even today shamans can still be consulted in Mongolia.

    From the conversion of the Northern Yuan and its people, Buddhism spread to the remaining independent Oirats, who the Yuan had steadily pushed from their base in western Mongolia. Part of the Oirats travelled far west in one of the final great steppe-migrations; these were the Kalmyks, who made their way west of the Caspian Sea, displacing and ruling over the Nogai Horde. This Kalmyk Khanate was conquered by the Russians in the early eighteenth century, and today they remain largely in Russia’s republic of Kalmykia, which contains the only notable Buddhist population in Europe. Meanwhile, the left wing of the Oirat confederation, known in Mongolian as the dzün gar, went on to establish, in the early seventeenth century, what is normally considered the final steppe empire; the Dzungar Khanate. They ruled that ill-defined region of Moghulistan, known after them as Dzungaria, where today the border of China, Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan meet. The Dzungars would be a fierce foe against Qing Dynasty expansion into Central Asia, and fought constantine against their neighbours in Tibet, Mongolia proper and westwards against the Kazakhs. Ultimately the Dzungars met utter destruction at the hands of the Qing Dynasty in the mid-eighteenth century, an event known as the Dzungar Genocide. The state itself was not merely dismantled, but in its heartland in the Dzungar Basin, its Mongolian speaking population was exterminated and then their lands given to Qing soldiers.

    After Altan Khan’s death in the 1570s, the final period of Mongol unity under a Chinggisid khan passed. The succeeding khans of the lineage of Dayan Khaan could not regain their authority after Altan Khan’s usurpation and minimization of them. The lords of the tümed, the regional divisions, had grown in power and independence. In 1604, a descendant of Dayan Khaan was to become the last Chinggisid in Mongolia to have real power. This was Ligdan Khaan, whose thirty year reign saw the end of Mongolian independence for the next four hundred years. So weak had the position of Great Khan grown compared to other tümed leaders, that Ligdan’s rivals disparagingly called him only the Khan of the Chakhar Mongols —corresponding roughly to today’s Inner Mongolia— rather than Great Khan. His greatest foe came from the east; the Jurchen had been unified and made resurgent. Their leader, Nurhaci, had declared himself Khan of a new Jin Dynasty. It was as if the Mongols’ old foes had returned from the grave. Nurhaci led repeated attacks against Ligdan Khaan, and allied with his rivals in Mongolia.

    Ligdan Khaan was hounded and pursued, and last minute reforms and promises he made could not arrest his fate. In 1634, he died of smallpox in what is now Gansu. His son, Ejei Khaan, was quickly forced to surrender to Nurhaci’s son and successor, Hong Taiji, who declared both a new name for the Jurchen, and a new dynasty; now they were the Manchu, masters of the Qing Dynasty, the final imperial dynasty to rule China. With Ejei at his side, Hong Taiji took the submission of most of the Mongols. Many accompanied him in his conquest of China following the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in 1644, and Mongols remained important part of Qing armies even in the wars against the Dzungars. The Manchu, descendents of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty which had fallen to the Mongols in 1234, had in turn conquered both dynasties which had emerged from the Yuan. Ejei Khaan spent the remainder of his life a humbled prince in the Qing court, while his younger brother, Abunai, led a revolt in 1675 against Qing rule, which was swiftly crushed, Abunai killed and many Borjigin in the Chahar lands of southern Mongolia executed.

    And so, Chinggisid rule in Mongolia passed into memory. Not all Borjigon were killed; an aristocracy of Dayan Khanid descent remained in Mongolia until the twentieth century, when most were lost in Soviet purges. But effective rule of Mongolia remained in the hands of the Qing Dynasty, their appointees, or Buddhist clergy who became feudal lords in their own right. And yet, Chinggis Khan’s memory could not be dislodged. The Qing Emperors appealed to it when it came to controlling the Mongols, and after the start of Qing rule, new chronicles began to be written in Mongolia, in the same Uighur script Chinggis had adopted 400 years prior. With the rediscovery of sections of the Secret History of the Mongols in the seventeenth century, the past and the present of Mongolia could be reunited. In the Erden-yin Tobchi of Sayang Sechen, for example, chapters of the Secret History were combined with the Buddhist teaching which now permeated the Mongol world. Chinggis Khan’s confrontation with the Tangut King now involved them both transforming into animals, with Chinggis’ victory complete with his transformation into the very sky itself. But even here, the story begins just as it did in the Secret History; a blue-grey wolf, and a fallow deer, from whose line would come the boy, Temüjin, born clutching a blood clot in his fist the size of a knuckle bone.

    Our next series picks up with the conquests of the rise of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, and its conquest of China, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and want to help us continue bringing you great content, please consider supporting us on Patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals , or share this with your friends and leave reviews on the podcast catcher of your choice. This series was researched and written by Jack Wilson. You can hear more of his discussions on the Mongols at his channel on Youtube, the Jackmeister: Mongol History. This series was narrated by David Schroeder, host of the Cold War on Youtube. This has been Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest, Season 2: The Mongol Conquests. Thank you for listening, and we’ll catch you on the next one.

  • From the heart of the Mongolian steppe, to North China’s loess plateaus; from the rugged edges of Northern India, to the hot sands of Syria and the Levant, to humid jungles in southeastern Asia, rocky islands off the coast of Japan, the high peaks of the Caucasus, Himalayas, Altai, Tien Shan and Carpathian Mountains, to the frozen rivers in Rus’ granting access to Eastern Europe, and everywhere in between. Our series on the Mongol Empire has taken you across Eurasia, meeting all sorts of figures; the brutal Tamerlane, the indefatigable Sultan Baybars, the brave if shortsighted Jalal al-Din Mingburnu and his foolish father Muhammad Khwarezmshah; the cunning Jia Sidao, the silver-tongued Qiu Chuji, the thorough scholar Rashid al-Din, and travellers like John de Plano Carpini, William of Rubruck, and Ibn Battuta, to the exhausted but noble-hearted Yelü Chücai. And of course, the Mongols themselves: the powerful Öz Beğ, Khan of the Golden Horde; the thorough and pious convert Ghazan Il-Khan; the scheming Du’a of the Chagatais, the stout Qaidu Khan of the Ögedaids, to the Great Khans of the thirteenth century, the most powerful of men; Khubilai, whose hands scrambled for more until his body and empire failed his ambitions; his brother Möngke, whose steely determination sought to solidify the empire at all costs, no matter the bloodshed; Güyük, a reluctant and unfortunate man to ascend to the throne; his mother Törögene, whose fierce will forced her son to that same throne; Ögedai, a drunk who despite his failings built the infrastructure of the empire. And of course, Chinggis himself; once a scared boy in the steppes, turned into the greatest conqueror of them all. Today we end our journey with the Empire of the Great Khans, and reflect on the passage of the Chinggisids. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals, Ages of Conquest.

    Back in our first episode, we highlighted certain trends to look for over the course of this series. The first emphasized looking for the middle ground between the Mongols as inherently evil or good forces, but as people whose expansion was rooted in historical events and personages. The second was the struggles that came with the management of a world empire, and the need to rely on non-Mongolian subject peoples—Chinese, Central Asian Muslims, Persians, Turks and others. The third was the struggle for the purpose of the empire; should it be continued conquest, or consolidation and serving the needs of the imperial princes. This was the balance between the Khan and his central government, or the Chinggisid and military aristocrats. The fourth was the steady assimilation, particularly Turkification, of the Mongols outside of Mongolia, as Mongolian was replaced as the language of administration, legitimacy and finally, among the ruling family itself, even while retaining the Mongolian imperial ideology.

    Regarding the first theme, we have sought to highlight in our many discussions of sources their often complicated, conflicting portrayals or events and persons. While authors like Ibn al-Athir, Nasawi and Juzjani had little good to say about the Mongols or Chinggis Khan, and fit well with the popular model the destructive brute, we’ve also looked at many sources which had more positive portrayals of the khans. Some of these are rather obvious, imperial-produced sources such as the Secret History of the Mongols, but even sources from outside the empire could give glowing reviews of Chinggis Khan. For instance, the fourteenth century English writer Geoffrey Chaucer, in the Squire’s Tale of his famous Canterbury Tales, opens with the following lines:

    At Tzarev in the land of Tartary

    There dwelt a king at war with Muscovy

    Which brought the death of many a doughty man

    This noble king was known as Cambuskan

    And in his time enjoyed such great renown

    That nowhere in that region up or down

    Was one so excellent in everything;

    Nothing he lacked belonging to a king.

    Written at the same time as Toqtamish Khan of the Golden Horde was fighting for control of that Khanate, here Chaucher remembered Chinggis Khan not as a bloodthirsty barbarian, but as a monarch embodying all ideal qualities of kingship. Chaucer continues thusly;

    As to the faith in which he had been born

    He kept such loyalties as he had sworn,

    Then he was powerful and wise and brave,

    Compassionate and just, and if he gave

    His word he kept it, being honourable,

    The same to all, benevolent, and stable

    As is a circle’s centre; and in fight

    As emulous as any squire or knight.

    Young personable, fresh and fortunate,

    Maintaining such a kingliness of state

    There never was his match in mortal man,

    This noble king, this Tartar Cambuskan.

    For writers in fourteenth century England, obviously distant from the Mongol Empire itself, it was not unbecoming to idealize the portrayal of Chinggis Khan. This is not to say that Chaucher’s description is accurate, or necessarily reflects any actual qualities about the man or any of his descendants. But rather, it reflects historical perception. How an individual is perceived by contemporaries, history, and modern people often bears little resemblance to actual details of the individual. Instead, people will contort an image for whatever use suits their current purposes, context and political climate. Thus, warlords from the late imperial, and post-Mongol world styled Chinggis’ image to suit their needs. In Central Asia Chinggisid descent remained one of the most prestigious, and necessary, requirements for rulership up until the nineteenth century in some areas. This was problematic though with the spread of Islam, given that Chinggis Khan’s actual life produced very few episodes to nicely accommodate an Islamic narrative. Certain Persian writings during the Ilkhanate sought to fix this by making Chinggis a Muslim in all but name. On the tomb of Tamerlane, an inscription likely added during the reign of his grandson Ulugh Beğ, makes Tamerlane a descendant of both the Prophet Muhammad and of Chinggis Khan. Later post-imperial authors had a more direct solution; simply making Chinggis Khan outright a Muslim. As the destruction of the conquests slipped further back in time, this became easier and easier to accomplish.

    Religion was not the only aspect which can be molded, for Chinggis’ very status as a Mongol becomes malleable in state efforts to construct national mythos, in both medieval and modern settings. Today, you can find countries where official propaganda, or influential theorists, incorporate Chinggis into the desired story of their nation-state. In China, there remains a significant Mongolian population, largely in what the Chinese call the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, the land south of the Gobi desert but north of the mountains which divide it from the North China plain. The Chinese government has taken to presenting China’s non-Han peoples, Mongols among them, more or less as Chinese minority peoples and actively encourages their adoption of the state-language, Mandarin, and Han Chinese culture. In this view, the Mongol conquests are sometimes presented as a period of national reunification rather than foreign conquest. The efforts of Khubilai Khaan to legitimize the Yuan Dynasty based on Chinese dynastic legal precedent becomes the quote-on-quote “historical evidence,” that Chinggis Khan was actually Chinese, or that in fact, the Mongol conquerors were fully assimilated into the Chinese population and culture. The borders of the Yuan Dynasty served to justify later Chinese territorial claims in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Manchuria, Tibet and Yunnan; places that were, before the Mongols, inconsistently in the Chinese sphere of influence, but since the conquests have often remained dominated by empires based in China. Not coincidentally, such narratives serve to support the narrative of 5,000 years of a continuous Chinese Empire, and remove the sting that may accompany the embarrassment of being conquered by perceived barbarians.

    Likewise, various Turkic peoples, most notably Kazakhs, Tatars, and Anatolian Turks, have sought to claim Chinggis as their own, and there are even groups in Korea and Japan that will argue that Chinggis was actually one of theirs. The Japanese version has Chinggis as the Samurai Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who faked his death and fled Japan for the steppe! Khubilai’s later invasions of Japan again become not foreign assaults, but attempts at national reunification or the efforts by Yoshitsune’s descendants to return home. And of course, fringe groups even in Europe and Russia which, refusing to believe a barbarian horseman could conquer such great states, insist that Chinggis was actually a red-haired, green-eyed man of European ancestry. Such claims often include vague references to the mummies of the Tarim Basin, who bore some features associated with Caucasian populations. The fact that these mummies pre-date Chinggis by millenia is often conveniently left out. All of these people care much more about ethnic categorization than Chinggis himself likely ever did.

    Just as religion or ethnicity can be forced to fit certain agendas, so too can portrayal as barbarian or saviour. In Mongolia today, Chinggis Khan’s unification of the Mongols, his introduction of a writing system, religious tolerance, laws and stability are most heavily emphasized. For building a post-soviet national identity, obviously these are useful attributes to appeal to for the desired national character. But the Mongolian governmet also tends to gloss over the aspects less appreciated in the twenty-first century: namely, the destruction of people and property on a massive scale, mass-rapes, towers of skulls and wars of conquest. The fact that Mongolia’s two neighbours, Russia and China, suffered particularly under Mongol onslaughts, also avoids some diplomatic hurdles to step past these military aspects. For most of the twentieth century during Mongolia’s years as a Soviet satellite state, Chinggis was largely pushed aside, framed as a feudal lord. Instead, Mongolia’s hero of the 1921 socialist revolution, Damdin Sükhbaatar, became the preferred national icon. After Mongolia was democratized in the 1990s after the fall of the USSR, Chinggis Khan has seen a massive resurgence in popularity. Today, Chinggis and Sükhbaatar remain national icons, with monuments to both throughout the country. Outside Mongolia’s parliament, the main square has changed names from Sükhbaatar to Chinggis Square, and since back to Sükhbaatar square. An equestrian statue to Sükhbaatar sits in the middle of that square. More than a few foreign observers had mistakenly called this a statue of Chinggis. In fact, only a few metres away from the equestrian statue of Sükhbaatar sits a massive Chinggis Khan on a throne flanked by his generals, at the top of the steps leading into Mongolia’s parliament. In a way it is metaphorical. No matter how prominent any later hero of Mongolia may be, he will always stand in the shadow of Chinggis Khan. And that’s not even mentioning the 40 metre tall silver monstrosity about 50 kilometres outside of Ulaanbaatar. Speaking of state narratives, much of the cost for this statue was covered by the company owned by Khaltmaagin Battulga, a former professional sambo wrestler who from 2017-2021 served as the fifth President of Mongolia.

    Outside of Mongolia though, Chinggis and the Mongol Empire remain a top-point of reference to paint someone in the most unfavourable light. One of the highest level cases of recent years was when the President of Iraq, the late Saddam Hussein, compared former US President George W. Bush to Hülegü, Chinggis’ grandson and conqueror of Baghdad. The American bombing and capture of Baghdad, and ensuing tragedies that Iraq as suffered in the aftermath of the campaign, have only solidified the connection for a number of Muslims. Meanwhile Russian television and education tend to present the Mongols in a style comparable to Zack Snyder’s film 300, such as the 2017 Russian film Легенда о Коловрате [Legenda O Kolovrate], also known as Furious. Like the Spartans in the film or Frank Miller’s graphic novel, the Rus’ soldiers are presented as formidable warriors fighting monstrous, untrained hordes from the east. Only through sheer numbers or trickery do the disgusting Orientals overcome the pasty-white heroes of the story— though few of the heroes in the Russian films have Scottish accents. Russia has turned the so-called Tatar Yoke into a catch-all to explain any perceived deficiencies compared to western Europe, from government absolutism to alcoholism. Not only the Russians have employed the comparison: “scratch a Russian and you’ll find a Tatar,” Napoleon Bonaparte is supposed to have quipped. And in 2018 the Wall Street Journal released a particularly poorly written article, which compared the political machinations of current president Vladimir Putin as “Russia’s turn to its Asian past,” accompanied by vague comparisons to the Mongols and an awful portrait of Putin drawn in Mongolian armour. In contrast, the Russian Defence Minister, at the time of writing, is Sergei Shoigu, a fellow of Tuvan descent who is alleged to enjoy comparisons of himself to Sübe’edei, the great Mongol general popularly, though inaccurately, portrayed as a Tuvan. The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, essentially a good old-fashioned war of conquests accompanied by war crimes and destruction of cities, has also earned many comparisons to the Mongol conquests by many online commentators. Though unlike the Russians, the Mongols actually took Kyiv.

    Somewhat surprisingly, most cinematic portrayals of Chinggis himself lean towards sympathetic or heroic. One of the most recent is a 2018 Chinese film entitled Genghis Khan in English, which features a slim Chinese model in the titular role, and one of his few depictions without any facial hair. In that film he battles a bunch of skeletons and monsters, and it could be best described as “not very good,” as our series researcher can, unfortunately, attest. One popular portrayal is the 2007 film Mongol, directed by Sergei Bodrov and starring a Japanese actor in the role of Chinggis. That actor, by the way, went on to play one of Thor’s buddies in the Marvel movies. Here, Chinggis is a quiet, rather thoughtful figure, in a film which emphasizes the brutal childhood he suffered from. Another sympathetic portrayal, and one perhaps the most popular in Mongolia, is the 2004 Inner Mongolian series where Ba Sen, an actor who claims descent from Chagatai and appeared in the previously two mentioned films, plays the role of Chinggis.

    Hollywood does not tend to portray Chinggis Khan or the Mongols in films at all, but when it does, it really goes for a swing and a miss. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure has Chinggis essentially only a step above a cave-man in that film. Other Hollywood endeavours are infamous for having non-Asian actors in the role, such as Egyptian-born Omar Shariff in 1965’s Genghis Khan, Marvin Miller in 1951’s The Golden Horde and the most infamous of them all, the cowboy John Wayne in 1956’s The Conqueror. That film’s theatrical release poster bears the tasteful tagline of, “I am Temujin…barbarian… I fight! I love! I conquer… like a Barbarian!” The film was also produced by Howard Hughes, founder of Playboy Magazine, and was filmed near a nuclear testing site. As you may suspect, that film bears as much resemblance to the historical events as an opium-induced fever dream.

    The appearance and depiction of Chinggis and his successors varies wildly. The internet today loves the stories of Chinggis being the ancestor of millions of people, and killing so many people that it changed the earth’s climate. The articles that made both of these claims though, rested on shaky evidence. In the first, which we dedicated an entire episode of this podcast too, the study claimed that high rates of a certain haplotype among the Hazara of Afghanistan demonstrated that Chinggis himself bore that haplotype, and Chinggis was extrapolated to be the ancestor of other peoples bearing such a haplotype. But the historical sources indicate Chinggis and his immediate descendants spent little time in Afghanistan, and the associated Haplotype was probably one associated with various populations leaving Mongolia over centuries, rather than specifically Chinggis himself. Likewise, the study which spawned the claim that the Mongols killed enough people to cool the climate, firstly did not make that claim itself, but moreso incorrectly made the Mongol conquests last from 1206 to 1380, and presented it as an almost two-century period of population decline brought on by Mongolian campaigns; despite the fact that the major destructive Mongolian military campaigns largely halted after 1279. While campaigns continued after that, they were never on the level of the great-campaigns of conquest. Thus it’s irresponsible to claim that any atmospheric carbon loss over the fourteenth century was brought on by continued Mongol military efforts.

    What these two popular descriptions lend themselves to, is one of extremes. The internet loves extremes of anything. For instance, since 1999 the Internet has always sought to outdo itself in declaring the latest Star Wars product to actually be the worst thing ever made. And the Mongol Empire, as history’s largest contiguous land-empire, responsible for immense destruction and long-ranging campaigns and forced migrations, can easily slot in this ‘extreme manner.’ A “top-ten” list where the author writes about how the Mongols were the most extreme and destructive and badass thing ever, repeating the same 10 facts, probably gets released on the internet every other month. Just as national-myth makers in Ulaanbaatar, Beijing and Moscow set how to portray the Mongol Empire in the way most suited to them, so too does the internet and its writers choose an aspect of the empire to emphasis; be it religious tolerance, free-trade, brutality, multi-culturalism, Islam, clash of civilizations, human impact on climate, the territorial expanse of a certain country or its national identity, or whatever argument the author hopes to make.

    The Mongol Empire though remains in the past, and should be treated, and learned about, as such. The events which led to the rise, expansion and fall of the Mongol Empire do not fit into nice, sweeping modern narratives, but their own historical context and situation. The Mongol Empire was not predetermined to ever expand out of Mongolia, or to break apart in 1260; had Chinggis Khan been struck by an arrow outside the walls of Zhongdu, or Möngke lived another ten years, in both cases the empire, and indeed the world, would look dramatically different. History is not the things which ought to be or needed to happen or were supposed to happen; it is the things that did happen, and those things did not occur simply for the purposes of the modern world to exist. A million choices by hundreds of millions of individuals, affected by climate and geography with a healthy dose of luck and happenstance, resulted in the world as we know it. Reading backwards from the present to understand the course of the Mongol Empire, and attempting to make it fit into the political narratives we like today, only does a disservice to history. It should be seen not as a virtuous force bringing continental peace justified by easier trade, nor as a demonic horde, but as an event within human history, in which real humans took part, where great tragedy occured in the pursuit of empire.

    History is not just written by the victor of the actual battles; as we’ve detailed across this series, we have no shortage of historical sources on the Mongol Empire; imperial approved sources, sources by travellers passing through the empire, to sources written by the peoples the Mongols crushed. Instead, the history learned in schools and passed down through historical memory and media is built on top of preferred state narratives, those made today and in the past.

    Our series on the Mongol Empire concludes next week with a final afterward on Mongolia after 1368, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this was want to help us keep bringing you great content, then consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.



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  • With the devastating invasion of the Emir Temür, better known as Tamerlane, in 1395, the Golden Horde had suffered a grievous wound. Its armies were dealt crushing defeats; its Khan Toqtamish was sent fleeing for his life; and the major cities of the Horde had all been sacked by the Timurids. The Horde was now held together with a wish and prayer, and in the hands of the powerful lord Edigü. Today in our final episode on the Golden Horde, we take you through its slow breakup in the century after Tamerlane’s attack. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    We should note that the fall of the Golden Horde was not a single moment or event. 1380, 1395, 1480 or 1502 are not simply switches where the Golden Horde ceased to exist. Rather, it was a centuries long process, with edges of the empire breaking away or being reclaimed, while multiple claimants for power fought each other and sometimes succeeded in reunifying parts or all of the khanates. Rather than a sudden collapse, it was more like waves ebbing to and fro with the tide, and as they withdraw, they pull back a bit further each time, only to in time not return at all.

    The Golden Horde of the fifteenth century was a very different beast from the one Öz Beg had ruled in the early fourteenth century. Steadily, though not immediately the cities of the steppe along rivers like the Volga diminished in size and were largely abandoned. Even Sarai, thoroughly sacked by Tamerlane, remained the nominal capital and continued to be fought over for generations. The overland international trade networks which had once so enriched the Jochid khans dried up as the route across Asia became too dangerous, and the merchants who still made the trek were redirected elsewhere. Rounds of bubonic plague still struck on occasion, and with the end of the medieval warm period, the steppe environment itself steadily became less accommodating with colder winters and less productive grasslands. It was not the end to animal husbandry or even agriculture in the steppe, but it was no longer the great, organized system enjoyed by the Jochids in their heyday. Political instability marked the region accordingly; whereas from Batu until the 1360s the Jochid Khans had maintained peace throughout the steppes, now rival claimants raided or invaded each other, at times annually. While Tamerlane did not end the Golden Horde, his attack aggravated and worsened these problems. The ten years of relative peace Toqtamish had overseen as khan had simply not been long enough to recover from the previous two decades of troubles, and now each problem reared its ugly head once more.

    After Tamerlane’s withdrawal in 1396, he left the state reeling in his wake. Toqtamish Khan had survived, but his armies were broken. Tamerlane had installed a new khan, Quyurchuq, a son of Urus Khan, but Quyurchuq had little authority without Tamerlane’s presence. Edigü, a non-Chinggisid lord and leader of the Manghit peoples, quickly maneuvered Quyurchuq Khan out of the way, and installed his own puppet, a distant relation of Toqtamish named Temür Qutlugh. Edigü was a wily figure, a skilled politician and one of the wealthiest, most powerful lords within the Golden Horde. Long had he fought Toqtamish, first alongside Urus Khan, and then alongside Tamerlane. Once Tamerlane began to withdraw from the Horde for the final time, Edigü promptly betrayed him and began gathering his own forces to overthrow Tamerlane’s puppet.

    Edigü, as a non-Chinggisid, could not claim the title of khan himself. But by making the khans dependent on him for power and military support, Edigü could hold real authority over the realm. As beylerbeyi, Edigü commanded immense influence among the qarachu families; that is, the non-Chinggisid military elite, those generally bore the title of beğ (pronounced as bey). Every khan that Edigü would enthrone had to confirm Edigü as beylerbeyi, the bey of beys; which Khan Temür Qutlugh promptly did. This gave Edigü an institution position akin to vizier or commander-in-chief, “advising” the khan to do exactly what Edigü wished. In turn the khan continued to function in a more ceremonial role and remained official head-of-state, and his name continued to be minted on coinage. No matter how powerful Edigü might be, in the steppes the prestige of Chinggisid rulership was too strong to be cast aside, and attempting to rule in his own right would have presumably resulted in open rebellion against him. Almost two hundred years since Chinggis Khan’s death, his spectre still loomed large over Asia.

    Edigü and Temür Qutlugh’s confirmation took place not a moment too soon, for Toqtamish and his sons were in the midst of collecting forces to retake the khanate. Assisted by the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Vytautas the Great, Toqtamish and his Lithuanian allies invaded the Golden Horde in 1399, only to be defeated but Temür Qutlugh Khan and Edigü at the Vorskla River in 1399. The battle solidified Edigü’s dominance, with Vytautas’ army annihilated, many Lithuanian princes killed and both Vytautas and Toqtamish sent fleeing for their lives. Though Toqtamish continued to seek the throne until his death in 1406, it was clear that Edigü was too strong to be ousted so quickly. And lest Temür Qutlugh Khan have grown too haughty after such a victory, he died in unclear circumstances soon after the battle. Edigü then enthroned Temür Qutlugh’s brother, Shadi Beğ, as khan.

    Under Edigü’s stewardship, efforts were made to stabilize the Golden Horde. He retook Khwarezm after Tamerlane’s death, often raided the Rus’ principalities and laid siege to Moscow in 1408, sparing the city in exchange for a ransom of 3,000 rubles. Some economic recovery is indicated from the restarting of mints in some of the Horde’s major cities. A considerable quantity of coinage entered the markets, some of it quite high quality, a sign of Edigü’s effort to jump-start the economy. To help legitimize himself in light of his lack of Chinggisid credentials, Edigü made himself the standard bearer of Islamization of the remainder of the nomadic population, continuing the process begun by Özbeg. He went as far as to claim descent from the sufi shaykh Baba Tükles, a mythical figure who in popular legend had converted Özbeg to Islam. As in turn Baba Tükles was supposed to be descended from the Caliphs, this gave Edigü an ancient, if almost entirely fictitious, pedigree. Still, descent from the successors of Muhammad was useful when portraying oneself as an almighty Muslim monarch and a champion of Islam.

    But powerful as Edigü was, his might was not supreme. His puppet khan Shadi Beğ did not enjoy being a puppet and sought to remove Edigü from the scene. Learning of the plot, Edigü routed and chased Shadi Beğ from the Horde. He then enthroned Shadi Beğ’s nephew, Bulad, a son of the late Temür Qutlugh. This relationship was likewise fraught; according to the Rus’ Nikonian Chronicle, Edigü had to rush to lift his siege of Moscow when he learned that Bulad had grown irate at Edigü. When Bulad died in 1410, Edigü then enthroned Bulad’s brother Temür. Khan Temür proved even less amenable to Edigü, for upon becoming khan Temür refused to confirm Edigü as beylerbeyi, the institution which gave Edigü his power. Edigü’s supporters abandoned him as Temür sought to capture him, his armies pursuing Edigü to Khwarezm. Nearly was Edigü’s life forfeit, until he was saved by an unlikely source; Jalal al-Din, known to the Rus’ as the Zeleni Sultan, and a son of the late Toqtamish Khan. Jalal al-Din had aided Duke Vytautas of Lithuania against the Teutonic Order at the famous battle of Grünwald in 1410, and in turn for his support was provided troops to assist him in reclaiming the Horde. While Temür Khan’s armies had Edigü under siege in Khwarezm, the khan himself was killed by Jalal al-Din bin Toqtamish. News of it reached Temür Khan’s generals, who lost heart and dissipated while Jalal al-Din was enthroned as Khan in Sarai, inadvertently saving Edigü’s life.

    After years of dreaming for the position and restoring his family to honour, Jalal al-Din Khan had accomplished his greatest desire, and could begin the hunt for Edigü… until he was murdered by his brother, Qibaq, in October 1412. Another brother, Kerim Berdi, took the throne, while Qibaq, backed by Vyautas of Lithuania, challenged him for it. The only thing which had held these brothers together had been their father and the quest for the throne; with the throne now theirs, they tore themselves apart for it.

    The 1410s and 20s went on in this fashion, highly reminiscent of the tumultuous 1360s and 70s. Kerim Berdi killed Qibaq in battle, only for both Edigü and Vytautas to declare new khans. Vytautas had another of Toqtamish’s sons, Jabbar Berdi, declared khan in Vilnius, while Edigü chose another Tuqa-Temürid, Chekre. Cherke seized Sarai, only for Jabbar Berdi to kill Kerim Berdi, take Sarai and chase out Edigü’s candidate. And that situation lasted until one of Kerim Berdi’s sons, Sayyid Ahmad I, was declared khan and threw out Jabbar Berdi. And the pattern continued, with Vytautas and Edigü both declaring new khans immediately upon learning the news. This went on until 1419, when one of the last of Toqtamish’s sons, Kadir Berdi, and Edigü himself, were finally killed in battle.

    The 1420s proved no better in the aftermath of Edigü’s death. A man named Muhammad was enthroned as Khan, but his identity in uncertain, and could possibly be a number of notable Chinggisids who bore the name. In the 1420s the khan in Sarai became just one khan amongst several, and so passed a bewildering number of khans, the order and lengths of the reigns of which are a continuous subject of debate. While more ambitious khans dreamed of reinvigorating the Horde, the borders of the state broke away, with the Timurids, for instance, retaking Khwarezm. The situation stabilized slightly over the 1430s as three main powers emerged; east of the Ural river, Abu’l Khayr Khan, founder of the Uzbek Khanate; Küchük Muhammad Khan, a grandson of Temür Qutlugh, in the Volga steppe, and Sayyid Ahmed II Khan, another Tuqa-Temürid, west of the Don River. Küchük Muhammad’s nearly twenty year reign, from 1435-1459, is when scholarship begins to call the state the Great Horde, to distinguish it from its neighbours, the newly emerging successor khanates.

    While Küchük Muhammad is usually designated the most ‘legitimate’ khan of the Golde Horde, at least in scholarship, each of the competing khans in these years saw themselves as the actual ruler of the Horde. Each tended to demand the Rus’ princes pay tribute to them, a source of much confusion and fear for the Rus’, who watched closely the political developments. The Rus’ were not idle spectators or skillfully playing off the khans, for they spent much of these years locked in their own lengthy civil wars. The Grand Prince, Vasili II Vasilivich, still had to flee his capital due to Mongol attacks, and was even captured by troops of Ulugh Muhammad Khan. Regularly, the Rus’ still paid annual tribute to the Khan of the Great Horde.

    But even the relatively calm 1430s were no salve for the unity of the Horde, and the fragmentation continued, with both the emergence of more Chinggisid and non-Chinggisid polities. Kazan, in the lands of the Volga Bulghars, became an independent realm under the heirs of Ulugh Muhammad Khan, who had been khan of the Golden Horde until his ouster in 1438. Along the Ural River emerged the Nogai Horde under the sons of Edigü. As Edigü’s sons belonged to the Manghit clan, the ruling strata of the Nogai Horde, you will sometimes see this Horde called the Manghit yurt or ulus. North of the Nogais emerged a proper Khanate of Sibir, or Siberian Khanate, ruled by a branch of the Shibanids. In 1459 on the death of Küchük Muhammad, Khan of the Great Horde, he sought to divide the khanate between his sons Mahmud and Ahmad. But Ahmad soon chased out Mahmud, who fled to Hajji Tarkhan, modern Astrakhan at the Volga Delta. Mahmud and his sons turned Astrakhan into their powerbase, and in turn its own independent khanate. In the far east, the newly emerged Uzbek Khanate fell into internal fighting after the death of Abu’l Khayr Khan, which led to a group of young princes breaking off and founding the rival Kazakh Khanate in the 1450s. In 1442, Crimea and the surrounding steppes came under the rule of Sayyid Ahmad II Khan’s nephew, Hajji Giray, establishing the Crimean Khanate’s long ruling Giray Dynasty. Hajji Giray, and his son Mengli Giray, dedicated their lives to the hatred of the heirs of Küchük Muhammad, whose line monopolized the position of Khans of the ever declining Great Horde. For over twenty years, Hajji Giray fought repeatedly with Küchük Muhammad’s son, Ahmad Khan. Ahmad enjoyed few successes; his alliance with Poland against the Crimean Khan brought little help, while the Nogais and other khanates and Hordes bordering him raided his lands, splitting his attention in every direction. His situation was further hampered with the obstinence of the new Grand Prince of the Rus’, Ivan III of Moscow.

    Ivan III brought Moscow out of its lengthy period of civil war, and renewed the drive to dominate the other principalities. Like his predecessors, Ivan III had recognized the overlordship of the Khan. But he also recognized the reality of the situation, for he maintained diplomacy with the other emerging khans, particularly the Crimean. From the 1440s onwards there had been gaps in the deliverance of Rus’ tribute to the Horde, becoming ever more spotty upon Ivan’s official ascension in 1462, culminating in 1471 when Ivan ceased the payment of tribute altogether. Ahmad Khan frequently sent messengers to Ivan demanding the resumption of the tribute, or for Ivan to come and reaffirm his submission in person. The ever more frustrated Ahmad Khan, surrounded and beleaguered by powerful rivals, needed this Rus’ tribute. His first march on Moscow in 1472 was aborted, and ordered another attack on Ivan in 1480 in cooperation with his Polish ally, King Casimir IV. Ivan III did not back down, and sent his army to repel the khan. The two foes faced off across the Ugra River over the summer and into the autumn of 1480. Khan Ahmad waited in vain for Casimir, who never arrived. Arrows were shot, arquebuses were fired; Ivan worried the river would soon freeze and allow Ahmad free passage, but Ahmad retreated first, downtrodden his ally had failed to show. His son Murteza raided Moscow territory as they withdrew, and Ahmad was murdered the next year.

    So ended the Great Stand on the Ugra River, a much overemphasized staring contest. Only centuries later did chronicles see it as an epoch in the independence of the Rus’. It did not directly affect either parties’ standing, and to contemporaries was simply another scuffle amidst hundreds. Twenty years later after the Ugra stand, Ivan sent a message to Ahmad’s son and successor, Shaykh Ahmad Khan, inquiring about resuming their earlier relationship in the midst of a fierce round of struggle with Lithuania. From 1474 to 1685, Moscow sent annual tributes, under the name of pominki, to the Crimean Khans. But raids and attacks by the khans were no longer as devastating as they had once been, with the expansion of better defensive networks by the Rus’, including more stone fortifications and ever-improving firearms technology. Seemingly, the armies of the Khans no longer came with such overwhelming forces, and the chronicles which once spoke of Toqta’s brother Duden handily destroying 14 cities across Rus’, begin to describe the Rus’ repelling or pursuing Tatar raiders. Assaults on cities, such as Ahmad’s brother Mahmud Khan’s failed siege of Ryazan’ in 1460, were beaten back with heavy losses on the part of the attackers. In other cases, the Khans fell prey to other khans; Mahmud’s 1465 attack on Rus’ was intercepted by an army of the Crimean Khan Hajji Giray, who often allied with Moscow against the Great Horde. The khans of the Horde no longer enjoyed a monopoly on military power. Instead of masters of the steppe, they were now members within a political system, facing off with rivals of comparable power, while their own might had shrunk considerably. The khan could no longer unilaterally oppose his will.

    After Ahmad Khan’s death in 1481, his sons attempted to act as co-rulers but were soon at each other’s throats, further weakening the Great Horde while their rivals grew in might. Shaykh Ahmad bin Ahmad Khan emerged the victor. While he had aspirations of reuniting the Horde, his efforts proved futile. Shaykh Ahmad Khan’s reign proved to be one of disaster. His cousin in Astrakhan openly defied him; Ivan III of Moscow allied with Mengli Giray of Crimea against the Great Horde. In an effort to outflank Moscow and Crimea, Shaykh Ahmad sought to restore the military alliance with Lithuania, but no great support ever came of it. Rounds of plague and bad seasons further harmed the Horde’s cities, pasture lands and crops; harsh winters and poor grazing resulted in the deaths of thousands of horses almost every year of the 1490s. Famine weakened his forces, destroyed his herds and caused thousands to flee to neighbouring khanates. By the start of the sixteenth century Shaykh Ahmad was desperate, and in winter 1501 he led his underfed and weakened army in one last gamble, seeking to push west of the Dnieper for greener pasture. But he was trapped in a vicious snowstorm, and cut off from the rest of his forces. His demoralized army suffered for months, and began to trickle off to the territory of the Crimean Khan, Mengli Giray. Shaykh Ahmad suffered his own personal losses; already depressed from the failure of the Lithuanians to arrive, Shaykh Ahmad watched the last of his brothers fall ill and die. As Mengli Giray summoned the entirety of his forces to crush the khan, Shaykh Ahmad’s will finally broke when his own wife abandoned him with much of his family and most of his remaining troops— to join Mengli Giray. When Mengli Giray met Ahmad near the Dnieper in June 1502, the Khan of the Great Horde, who in the time of Özbeg was allegedly capable of raising 300,000 men, was caught with a paltry 20,000. Chased from the field, his palace ordu looted, Shaykh Ahmad Khan spent the rest of his life on the run, and spent much of his last twenty years in Lithuania a political prisoner. So, according to traditional scholarship, did the humiliating career of the final Khan of the Great Horde end, and traditionally 1502 serves as the end date for the Golden Horde.

    However, in recent decades this view has been challenged. Historians like Leslie Collins have demonstrated thoroughly how after 1502 Mengli Giray dramatically grew in strength and began to style himself as Great Khan of the Great Horde; a claim recognized in diplomacy by his Ottoman overlord, the Rus’, the Poles and the Lithuanians. What is now argued is that, to contemporaries, the Great Horde did not end in 1502; the throne was simply taken by another branch of the dynasty, as it had so many times before. Absorbing the remnants of the Great Horde’s lands, troops and wealth, the power of the Crimean Khans grew considerably as they expanded eastwards into the former heart of Shaykh Ahmad Khan’s realm. By the 1520s under Mengli’s son, Mehmed, their influence stretched past the Volga as they put candidates onto the thrones of Kazan and Astrakhan. In a sense, the Horde was briefly reestablished. However, Mehmed was killed by Nogais in 1523, who then raided as far as Crimea, precipitating years of internal fighting for the Crimean throne and leading to the Ottomans taking greater control over the Crimean succession. Meanwhile without a common enemy in the form of the Great Horde the Crimean alliance with Moscow quickly frayed. The Princes of Moscow, now masters of Rus’, were eager to gain access to the Volga trade, and take advantage of the weakness of the Volga Khanates, particularly under Ivan IV and his crusade-minded advisers. In 1552 the first khanate, Kazan, fell to Ivan’s armies; Astrakhan followed in 1554. It is Ivan IV, by the way, who is popularly known as Ivan Grozny, or Ivan the Terrible, and who in 1547 took the imperial title of Tsar, a derivation of Latin Caesar. During the dominance of the Golden Horde, Tsar had been the title reserved for the Khans, whereas the Rus’ princes were knyaz. What Ivan was signalling, in a way, was that the now the Prince of Moscow had replaced the Jochid khan as master of the Rus’.

    The powerful Crimean Khan Devlet I Giray sought to halt Moscow’s expansion, with yearly raids and in 1571, even succeeded in capturing and burning down Moscow. This brief victory was followed by a humiliating defeat at Molodni the next year. The Crimean Khans reluctantly ceded control of the former eastern lands of the Golden Horde to Moscow. This last campaign proved to be the final great success of steppe armies over the Rus’. In the following decades, the Russian Tsardom soon stretched deep into Siberia. The continuous warfare of the fourteen and fifteenth centuries, coupled with epidemics and environmental stresses, left for the Russians nothing but depopulated, weakened khanates to pick off one by one; only to the south, in the great steppe, did the Crimean Khans armies stop Russian expansion; an expansion halted, as much as anything, by logistical difficulties in crossing the steppe, and threat of Ottoman support for the Crimean Khanate, rather than any military capability on the part of the Crimeans. Though the Crimean Khanate launched continuous raids on the southern frontier of Muscovy, Lithuania, Poland and assisted the Ottomans in campaigns into Eastern and Central Europe, they were no longer unassailable. Raids sent on Moscow’s order, or undertaken by the fiercely Cossack hosts who now roamed the steppes, now penetrated into the Crimean peninsula itself.

    Still, they clung on. Over the 1700s the Russian Empire steadily encroached and isolated Crimea, while Ottoman support became ever more tepid. Only in 1783 was the Crimean Khanate finally annexed by Empress Catherine the Great, shortly after the Russians had essentially ended its political independence. The final Crimean Khan, Şahin Giray, was executed a few years later by the Ottomans. When the Kazakh Khanates were finally dissolved by the Russians in the following century, so with them went the last vestiges of the Golden Horde, and the Mongol Empire.

    So ends our history of the Golden Horde, and in turn the Mongol Empire. Be sure to turn in next week as we wrap up our series on the Chinggisid empire, and leave you with considerations for the start of our next series, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.

  • After two decades of anarchy, one man appeared from the darkness to restore the Golden Horde to its might: this was Toqtamish. Just as the candle may spark up just before it goes out, Toqtamish seemed poised to right the wrongs of the previous decades, and reaffirm the power of the Golden Horde over its subjects, and thus bring about further centuries of greatness. But then came Temür, Toqtamish’s former patron, turned greatest enemy. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Age of Conquest.

    While our series on the Golden Horde has so far focused on the descendants of Batu Khan, the khans of the Golden Horde until the start of 1360s, the other descendants of Jochi’s many other sons had their own appanages within the khanate. Of the fourteen named sons of Jochi, by the late fourteenth century there were two of these lineages left who held any might. These were the lines of Shiban, Jochi’s fifth son, and Toqa-Temür, Jochi’s youngest son. As the house of Batu and Orda went extinct in the middle of the fourteenth century, the torch of rulership was passed between these lineages. It seems both lineages were largely based in the eastern part of the khanate, in the Blue Horde or the ulus of Orda. The Shibanids held lands in what was to become the Khanate of Sibir, named for the fortress of the same name. The heart of this territory was the upper Irtysh River, and if the name of Sibir sounds familiar, that’s because in time it gave its name to Siberia. The Toqa-Temürids meanwhile seem to have generally ranged east of the Ural river, across the Kazakh steppes.

    In the chaos that followed Berdi Beğ Khan’s death in 1359, it was representatives of the Shibanids who first moved west to claim the throne in Sarai. When Orda’s line died out in the 1360s, the Toqa-Temürids were the ones on the scene to usurp the ulus in the Blue Horde lands, though it was not a secure power base. The order of khans is a matter of great contention: reigns were brief, and various sources often offer contradictory information, which is often further contradicted with the dates given on coinage in the period. What is clear is that the Blue Horde contenders quickly, if not immediately, saw their conflict and their state as independent of the wars for Sarai ongoing at the same time. The Blue Horde was now separate, once more, from the Golden.

    One of the earliest figures to seize the vacant throne of the Ordaids was Qara-Nogai, a Toqa-Temürid. In the early 1360s he was elected khan in Sighnaq, the Blue Horde administrative capital, located on the lower reaches of Syr Darya River near the Aral Sea. His reign was brief, but after some years of conflict members of his family continued to claim the throne; the most notable of these was Urus Khan, whose reign is usually dated to beginning in 1368.

    Urus Khan was a real strong man— and not a descendant of Orda, as newer research has demonstrated. In the decade of his reign Urus established a firm hold on power and firm military backing. Rivals for the throne were violently killed or exiled, and around 1372 he even led an army to take Sarai and declare himself Khan of the Golden Horde, though he soon abandoned the city. Nonetheless he exercised a monopoly on power in the Blue Horde which made it considerably more stable than the ongoing troubles in the Golden Horde, which was too much even for Urus to exert control over. But such was his influence that his sons and descendants continued to be prominent players for decades. Two sons, Quyurchuq and Ulugh Muhammad, later became khans of the Golden Horde, while the latter established the Khanate of Kazan; a grandson of Urus, Baraq, also became Khan of the Golden Horde, while Urus’ great-grandchildren established the Kazakh Khanate. It should not be a surprise then that some historians suggest that Urus should be identified with Alash Khan, the legendary founder of the Kazakhs from whom all khans were descended. Descent from Urus, in effect, became a new form of legitimacy after the fourteenth century.

    As mentioned, Urus took to killing and exiling his rivals to power. These were often fellow Toqa-Temürids. One such fellow who he had killed was his cousin, Toy-Khwaja. In the aftermath, Toy-Khwaja’s son was forced to flee; this is our first introduction to Toqtamish. Toy-Khwaja must have been quite the rival and had some following, for Toqtamish never had much trouble finding supporters for himself. One source indicates Toqtamish’s mother was a high ranking lady of the Sufi-Qonggirads, a dynasty which had recently established its quasi-independence from the Blue Horde at Urgench and now ruled Khwarezm. A young and courageous warrior, if not the most tactically skilled, Prince Toqtamish deeply desired both revenge and power. Urus Khan’s horsemen pursued him, and Toqtamish fled for his life right out of the steppe, crossing the Syr Darya River to seek shelter with a new rising power: Aksak Temür as the Turks of the time knew him; he’d prefer to be known as Emir Temür Güregen, son-in-law to the house of Chinggis and sahib-i qiran, “lord of the Auspicious Conjunction.” Persians knew him as Temür-i Lang, and today we know him best as Tamerlane. Since half the people in this period are named some variation of Temür, to help make it easier to tell everyone apart we’ll stick with his popular moniker of Tamerlane.

    Since the beginning of the 1360s, Tamerlane had fought for power in the ruins of the western half of the Chagatai Khanate. By spring 1370 he had succeeded in becoming master of Transoxania. As a non-Chinggisid, Tamerlane could not bear the title of khan or rule in his own right over nomads. Thus his official title was Emir, presenting himself as the protector of his new puppet khan, a descendant of Ögedai. From this basis the Timürid empire began to expand.

    When Toqtamish fled to the domains of Tamerlane around 1375, the Emir’s attention was still mostly local. His campaigns into Iran had not yet begun, and instead he alternated between attacking the Sufi-Qonggirads in Khwarezm, and Qamar al-Din, the ruler of the eastern Chagatai lands, or Moghulistan as it was commonly known at the time. Undoubtedly, Tamerlane held a wary eye to his northern border; Urus Khan and his horsemen posed a real threat to Tamerlane, in a way none of his other neighbours did. Thus when a young, pliable claimant to the throne of Urus arrived in his court, Tamerlane was more than willing to oblige. Should Toqtamish control the Blue Horde, then Tamerlane needn’t worry over that border and could turn his attention elsewhere. Toqtamish was received in Tamerlane’s court with high honours and respect, and granted Otrar and other lands along the Syr Darya as patrimony, in addition to troops, horses and supplies. Not coincidentally, Otrar was within spitting distance of Sighnaq. Tamerlane had given Toqtamish a platform to seize the Blue Horde.

    Toqtamish quickly began raiding the lands of Urus, building his reputation as a warrior and charismatic leader. But Urus was no fool and quickly had an army sent after Toqtamish, under the command of a son, Qutlugh Buqa. Despite fierce effort on Toqtamish’s part, and the death of Qutlugh Buqa in the fighting, Toqtamish was defeated and sent back to Tamerlane. The Emir provided Toqtamish another army, only for Toqtamish to again be defeated when another of Urus’ armies came seeking to avenge Qutlugh Buqa. This time, according to the Timurid historian Yazdi, Toqtamish was so thoroughly beaten down that he ditched his armour and swam across the Syr Darya River to save his life, and returned to Tamerlane naked and humbled. Not long after came a representative of Urus, named Edigü, a powerful bey within the Blue Horde and head of the Manghit people. Edigü bore Urus’ message demanding Tamerlane handover Toqtamish; was it not right for the father to avenge the son? What right did Tamerlane have to hold such a fugitive?

    Tamerlane refused to handover Toqtamish— whatever Tamerlaner’s faults, and there were many, he had given his word as overlord to protect the young prince. Some authors go as far as to present an almost father/son dynamic between them. It’s not impossible; Tamerlane had gone through his own period of qazaqliq, the Turkic term for when a prince was reduced to a state of near brigandage, a freebooter fighting for every scrap. It’s the etymological basis, by the way, for both the Turkic Kazakh and the Cossacks of the Pontic steppes. Tamerlane may have sympathized with the fierce, proud Toqtamish, in contrast with his own sons who tended to range from lazy to unreliable. Tamerlane’s own favoured son and heir, his second son Jahangir Mirza, died about this time in 1376 or 7, leaving his father stricken with grief. Toqtamish may have filled in the gap, and as Toqtamish himself had lost his father, it’s not difficult to imagine Toqtamish valuing Tamerlane's presence greatly. Of course, it may simply have been convenience on the part of both parties.

    With Tamerlane’s refusal to hand over Toqtamish, Urus Khan led an army against them. Tamerlane raised one in response, with Toqtamish in the vanguard. Skirmishing ensued, and nearly did the full forces clash, had not, according to Yazdi, a vicious rainstorm kept the armies apart. They returned to their respective realms. The dramatic confrontation between the two great warlords of Central Asia was averted when, likely in 1378, Urus Khan suddenly died, followed in quick succession by the chief of his sons, Toqta Caya.

    In a mad dash, Tamerlane sent Toqtamish with an army to Sighnaq, and had him finally declared khan. Tamerlane returned comfortably to his capital of Samarkand, only to learn that Toqtamish had again been ousted, when another of Urus Khan’s sons, Temür Malik, had declared himself khan and raised an army. Once more Tamerlane reinforced Toqtamish, though now Toqtamish was able to gather more support of his own. Finally Temür Malik Khan was overcome, and Toqtamish firmly emplaced as Khan of the Blue Horde. Not coincidentally, from this point onwards Tamerlane was able to secure his frontiers and begin his southern conquests into Iran, which would hold his attention for the rest of the 1380s.

    The new Khan, Toqtamish, set about confirming the support of the pillars of his new realm. The Shibanids of Sibir, and the Sufi-Qonggirads of Khwarezm, despite their capital of Urgench being sacked by Tamerlane in 1379, were important suppliers of troops for Toqtamish. Numerous beys and princes came over to pledge allegiance to him. Toqtamish either convinced them of his divine support, or richly rewarded them, and succeeded in breaking even some factions. The Manghit leader Edigü, for instance, found that his brother ‘Isa Beğ became a staunch ally of Toqtamish Khan. Edigü’s sister had been married to Urus Khan’s son, the late Temür Malik Khan, and despite the latter’s defeat Edigü remained a powerful and prominent figure within the Horde, controlling a great swath of pasture east of the Ural and Emba Rivers. To bring him over, or at least stop his active resistance, Toqtamish provided Edigü tarkhan, or tax-exempt, status and granted him more lands.

    With his rear secured, Toqtamish had not a moment to lose. His intentions were clear. Toqtamish was not aiming to just succeed his father, or Urus Khan, or be merely Khan of the Blue Horde. He had much bigger dreams. He idolized Öz Beg Khan and the glory days of the united ulus. Beyond that though, outside of Mongolia proper, Toqtamish was effectively the only Chinggisid monarch who held power in his own name. The Yuan Khans had been pushed from China, and their power restricted to the Mongol homeland, and their attention focused on battling Ming Dynasty incursions into the steppe. In the west, all other Chinggisids were puppets or minor princelings. Toqtamish therefore presented himself not just as heir to Özbeg and Jani Beg, or of Batu and Jochi, but as the heir to Chinggis Khan. For the rest of his life Toqtamish remained the most powerful single member of the house of Chinggis, and styled himself not as khan, but as khagan, Great Khan. And for that, he needed Sarai.

    Quickly, but carefully, he made his way onto the Jochid capital, winning over allies or defeating foes as he went, before taking the city in 1380. Only one great enemy remained, and that was the western beylerbeyi, Mamai. There was not a moment to waste once Mamai suffered defeat at Kulikovo against the Prince of Moscow in September 1380. As Mamai retreated to his base in the steppes north of Crima, Toqtamish granted yarliqs to the Italians in the Crimea to confirm and expand their privileges, trapping Mamai between them. Toqtamish unleashed a full assault on Mamai and crushed his power in a decisive engagement along the Kalka River. In the aftermath Toqtamish took Mamai’s camp, his treasury, his wives and beys, and the rest of his troops. Mamai fled for his life, making his way to Caffa, where the Genoese took him captive and executed him in the name of Toqtamish Khaan.

    By 1381 Toqtamish was master of the Golden Horde, and set about reminding everyone of the order of things. The Rus’ princes reaffirmed their submission, with even Dmitri Donskoi, the victor of Kulikovo, promptly sending gifts for Toqtamish, his wives and his princes. But their tardiness in submitting in person brought Toqtamish to shorten the leash. The Rus’ had grown too haughty over the last two decades, and Toqtamish surprised them with a sudden and horrific onslaught. The Prince of Ryazan’ saved his city with a last moment surrender. Other cities were not so lucky. Dmitri Donskoi had hoped to raise an army, but losses after Kulikovo were too great, the princes unwilling to follow Dmitri to such certain doom. In the end Dmitri was forced to flee Moscow before Toqtamish encircled the city. After three days, on the 26th of August 1382, the city was stormed, sacked and burned. Numerous others followed suit.

    Dmitri Donskoi was forced to send his son Vasili as hostage to the Horde, and paid heavy tribute. Once more Moscow minted coins in the name of the Khan, and once more Dmitri collected taxes for him too. Though Dmitri had his revenge on the Prince of Ryazan’ with a vicious attack, the victor of Kulikovo died in 1389, only thirty years old.

    Now master of the lands of Jochi, Toqtamish set about re-strengthening the Horde. The internal stability, as the Horde enjoyed 10 years of relative peace after Toqtamish took Sarai, did wonders for internal trade and movement, coupled with the lessening of the plague impact. He enacted monetary reforms, expanding the centres which minted coins and a lighter standard for silver dirhams, which in the opinion of researchers like Nedashkovsky, was a recognition and response to inflation. When the bey Bekbulat tried to declare himself khan in Crimea, Toqtamish was able to come to agreement with him and reach a peaceable solution. Khwarezm and its Sufi-Qonggirad Dynasty, which Tamerlane had considered his subjects, now recognized Toqtamish as overlord and minted coins in his name from 1381 onwards. On the western frontier, the loss of lands to Lithuania was halted when Toqtamish won a victory over the Lithuanians at Poltava in 1382, and forced them to continue paying tribute for the lands they had already taken from the Horde. From Toqtamish’s point-of-view, this was essentially making them his vassals, though the Lithuanians did not quite see it like this. Nonetheless, the Khan retained generally stable relations with the states along his border.

    Toqtamish also looked abroad. In distant Moghulistan Toqtamish established relations with Qamar al-Din, the effective ruler of the eastern Chagatai lands. In 1385 he opened contact with the Mamluks of Egypt, the first time in ten years diplomatic contact was made. He did not make the mistake of invading Azerbaijan, but instead formed a treaty of friendship with its ruler, Sultan Ahmad Jalayir. And this became quite the issue, for shortly after this treatment was made, Tamerlane invaded Azerbaijan and forced Ahmad Jalayir to flee Tabriz.

    Perhaps Tamerlane had been unaware of the treaty between Toqtamish and Sultan Ahmad, but it seems to have been the evolution of the ever-more fraught relationship between the two. Toqtamish Khan and Emir Tamerlane were already on roads to argument with both claiming the lands of Khwarezm. Tamerlane, now with a puppet Il-Khan, made a show of restoring the former lands of the Ilkhanate; just as Toqtamish was making a claim to restoring former Jochid lands in the Caucasus. But there was another ideological aspect at play. As we’ve emphasized already, Toqtamish was very proud of his Chinggisid ancestry, and appears to have a particular disgust for pretensions of non-Chinggisids to rule. Tamerlane’s presentation of himself as a supreme lord, while also walking around with a bundle of Chinggisid puppets, was an insult Toqtamish could not idly abide. The Golden Horde and Timurid empire lay beside each other like two sharks, in a tank too tight for the both of them. Both rulers simply may have seen confrontation as inevitable, the presentations of both stretching past what the other anticipated, and both expected antagonism.

    It was Toqtamish who launched the first blow. After Timurid forces withdrew from Azerbaijan, Toqtamish attacked in late 1386, taking Baku, Tabriz, and Nakhchivan. Then in 1387, Toqtamish spun around the Caspian and Aral Seas, and in conjunction with Qamar al-Din of Moghulistan, Toqtamish took Tashkent and Qarshi before besieging Bukhara and Tamerlane’s capital of Samarkand.

    Once Toqtamish withdrew, Tamerlane quickly retook Khwarezm, sacking Urgench in 1388 with a massacre to invoke those of Chinggis Khan. Immediate reprisals against Toqtamish were halted by rebellions in Khurasan and a retaliatory campaign in Moghulistan against Qamar al-Din. Once dealt with, Tamerlane could begin extensive preparations for an invasion of the Golden Horde, spending months assembling a large army and supplies collected from across his empire. After a series of feints, Tamerlane set out unexpectedly early in January 1391. Eyeing Tamerlane after several months of marching, Toqtamish felt he knew Tamerlane’s plan. Anticipating that the Emir would cross the Ural River at Kurk-qul, Toqtamish ordered his army to gather there. In one of the surprise maneuvers he so loved, Tamerlane darted in a different direction; before Toqtamish’s full force had even gathered, he learned Tamerlane had crossed further upriver. Toqtamish retreated lest he be outflanked, and his forces who arrived late were set upon by the Timurids.

    But despite this, Tamerlane was playing in Toqtamish’s lands, and was no man of the steppe. Toqtamish drew Tamerlane deeper into the steppe, and in the process began to starve his large army. Parties sent out to forage were ambushed by Toqtamish’s warriors, and the Khan tried to burn the grasslands before the Timurids, though the wet spring hampered this. Knowing his starving men would soon be at their limit, Tamerlane rallied with men with a large hunting expedition and glamourous review of the troops, while sending his son, Omar-Sheikh Mirza with 20,000 swift riders to overtake Toqtamish and force him to battle, allowing the main force to catch up to the Khan. The ploy worked, and Toqtamish was forced to draw up at the Kondurcha River on June 18th, 1391.

    The two massive armies arrayed themselves in large, crescent formations. Both forces were largely horse archers, light and heavy cavalry, with Tamerlane bringing infantry from his Central Asian cities and as far as Badakhshan, and Toqtamish infantry from the Horde’s urban centers. Tamerlane strengthened his wings with units staggered behind them to protect against encirclement, and commanded the rearguard behind the centre. The Golden Horde struck first, attacking across the entire front, Toqtamish himself leading repeated charges. However, some of Toqtamish’s flank commanders retreated, either due to treachery or miscommunication. With the Horde now stretched thin, Tamerlane ordered a counter charge against Toqtamish’s left and centre, which broke and the rest retreated. Though the field was won, Toqtamish and much of his army had escaped. Deprived of a total victory, Tamerlane withdrew, but not before appointing another Toqa-Temürid Temür Qutlugh, as khan, with the wily Edigü empowered too.

    With Tamerlane spending the next few years darting hither and yon across Iran, Toqtamish recoupled his strength, and planned the next bout. When the Prince of Moscow, Dmitri Donskoi’s son Vasili, wished to annex the city of Nizhnii Novgorod, he delivered a large bribe to Toqtamish which the khan was happy to put to use. Gifts and messengers went across the world as Toqtamish built an anti-Timurid alliance. Old allies like the Mamluks and Jalayirids, but also other Turkic states with whom the Horde had had no ties with before, such as the Ottomans and Qaraqoyunlu, the so-called Black Sheep Turkomans. Tamerlane was hardly blind to it, and engaged in his own diplomacy to dissuade such a coalition from forming. But Tamerlane’s political capital was spent. Watching Tamerlane’s movement, Toqtamish placed his own army north of the Caucasus. The two sent envoys to one another in a final diplomatic effort, to no avail, and Tamerlane marched into the steppe in the first months of 1395.

    This time he caught Toqtamish along the Terek River in April 1395, near Grozny in Chechnya. The Golden Horde controlled the north bank of the closest ford and unwilling to storm it, Tamerlane marched upstream, with Toqtamish mirroring him for three days. According to a Spanish envoy to Tamerlane’s court, Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, on the third night, the women and servants in Temur’s camp donned armour and continued on, while the main force swiftly doubled back in the darkness and crossed the now unguarded ford. It didn’t take Toqtamish long to discover the ruse, but it was too late: Tamerlane’s army deployed on their side late on April 14th. Anticipating a night attack, Tamerlane ordered a moat dug around his camp. Toqtamish’s forces skirmished along the edges of the moat, playing instruments and shouting, keeping Temur’s army up with expectations of an assault. But Toqtamish held the main army back, resting them.

    On the morning of the 15th, they formed up. Again they brought massive armies, and Tamerlane increased the size of his rearguard in expectation of encirclement. Toqtamish opened the battle, his right falling upon Temur’s left rearguard. Tamerlane ordered the left wing to assist, and the Golden Horde’s right retreated. Eager to press the assault, Tamerlane’s left pursued, leaving the security of the main army and were drawn into a feigned retreat. Surrounded, the Timurid left was decimated, the survivors colliding with Tamerlane’s lines as a Jochid charge followed up. Battle order was lost. Tamerlane retreated to the fortified camp, Toqtamish’s troops in hot pursuit and nearly captured the emir. With Tamerlane himself now under threat, his commanders acted promptly, forcing wagons together in an impromptu stockade. They held off the Horde long enough for the remainder of the army to form back up, and by evening counterattacked and forced back the Jochids, until nightfall separated them. So ended the first day of battle.

    Discipline and composure were reestablished that night and the armies drew up early on the 16th. Toqtamish’s army again began the battle, his left flank forcing back Tamerlane’s vanguard, and soon Temur’s right was nearly overcome as well. One commander ordered large shields forced into the ground, and from behind this barricade Tamerlane’s archers dismounted and shot at the approaching Tatars, halting their advance. Temur reinforced them with several units from his bodyguard, repulsing the Jochids under this volley of arrows.

    The second day ended better than the first for Tamerlane, but the old emir knew Toqtamish had him matched. That evening he made overtures to a discontented emir in Toqtamish’s camp, Aktau, promising him rewards for promoting intrigue. By morning Aktau had abandoned the battlefield, making his way in time to Anatolia. Toqtamish was disheartened but determined, and formed up again, his left wing weaker with Aktau’s absence. Toqtamish’s centre and flanks all attacked Tamerlane, but Tamerlane had built up his forces on the right, and broke through the weakened Jochid left. Hard fighting continued until evening, Toqtamish valiantly trying to save the left and prevent encirclement, but Temur had the better of the day. Defeated, Toqtamish had an orderly retreat planned, sending one commander to the Caucasus in an effort to harass Tamerlane’s rear. This gave Toqtamish enough time to escape while Temur crushed this army. However, Toqtamish could not rally another army, leaving his cities isolated before the might of Tamerlane.

    Tamerlane pursued Toqtamish, but upon losing him decided to prevent Toqtamish from ever having strength to raise another army again. He then set about systematically dismantling the economy of the Golden Horde, thoroughly sacking every single one of the major cities of the steppe; from the Crimea trade cities, where only Caffa, due to a timely bribe escaped judgment. Tana, Ukek, Sarai to Hajji Tarkhan and more all were brought to ruin on Tamerlane’s order, left smoldering husks as his army moved past. Despite some popular claims, Moscow was not attacked; the Rus’ chronicles indicate only the town of ‘Elets suffered the wrath of the Emir. He declared another of Urus Khan’s sons, Quyurchuq as Khan, and was convinced by Edigü to grant him yarliq to collect and summon his peoples; but realized too late that Edigü had tricked him, and used Tamerlane’s patent and the vacuum of power to carve out his own lands.

    By the summer of 1396, the steppe environment and some sort of epidemic was wreaking havoc on Tamerlane’s troops, and he ordered the withdrawal to Samarkand, carrying with it the loot and treasures of the Golden Horde. The Horde’s cities and trade had struggled through the upheavals of the fourteenth century, but Tamerlane had just delivered a death blow from which they would not recover.

    Toqtamish was not done yet. For the next ten years he continued to seek to reclaim his throne, but now faced a stiff opponent in the form of Edigü. Ridding himself of Tamerlane’s puppet, Edigü reenthroned Temür Qutlugh, in time followed by a host of other puppets, and directed the effort to crush Toqtamish once and for all. But as a man well accustomed to defeat and bouncing back from it, Toqtamish proved remarkably hard to kill, and simply would not take “no” for an answer. The most notable effort came in 1399. After allying with Vytautas the Great, Grand Duke of Lithuania, the two launched a joint-invasion of the Golden Horde. At the Vorskla River in 1399, Edigü and Temür Qutlugh inflicted a crushing defeat on the army of Vytautas and Toqtamish. Many Lithuanian princes were killed, and the fleeing Duke was chased as far as Kyiv, where only after hefty ransom was the city and its refugees spared. The Toqtamish-Lithuanian alliance continued though, and Toqtamish’s son Jalal al-Din fought alongside Vytautas at the famous battle of Grünwald, or Tannenburg, against the Teutonic Order in 1410. Today, the Lipka Tatars in Lithuania and Poland are their distant descendants.

    By 1405, the humbled Toqtamish was in Siberia, and reached out to his former mentor, Tamerlane. Tamerlane was then in the midst of a march on China, wintering in Otrar, and it seems his old heart was warmed by Toqtamish’s offer of cooperation against Edigü. But nothing was to come of it; the old emir died that winter, and the next year Toqtamish fell in a skirmish against the forces of Edigü.

    So ended the life of Toqtamish Khan, the final powerful khan over the whole of the Golden Horde. Though not a truly transformative or administrative monarch, the fact he instilled any sort of stability over the Horde, and led a remarkable effort at unifying it before its final disintegration, left him a powerful legacy. In later Turkic histories Toqtamish is one of the most popular Jochid khans, and over the next century he was benchmark for others who wished to unify the Horde. In 1509, the Crimean Khan Mengli Giray, when sending a large army against Astrakhan during his own bid to reunify the Horde, is reported to have said “I shall be a Toqtamish.”


    And perhaps Toqtamish would have been successful, had he not faced Tamerlane in battle, perhaps the only man at the time with the strength to overcome the might of the Golden Horde. And for that, the Golden Horde paid dearly. Our next, and final episode on the Golden Horde, deals with its final disintegration, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.

  • “The impure and proud Mamai, Lord of the Volga Horde, ruled over the entire Horde, and he slew many lords and khans and he set up a khan according to his own will. He was, however, in great confusion, and everybody distrusted him because he killed many lords and nobles in his Horde. He even killed his own khan, and although he had a khan, this khan of the Horde was ruler in name only, for it was he, himself, who was ruler and master of all. When he learned that the Tatars loved their khan he became afraid that the khan would assume the power from him. Therefore he killed him and all who were faithful to him and those who loved him.”

    So the Rus’ Nikonian Chronicle describes the situation in the Golden Horde at the end of the 1370s. Thirty years after the death of Özbeg Khan, the Golden Horde underwent another, much more violent transformation. During the reign of Özbeg’s son Jani Beg from 1342 to 1357, he had kept the Golden Horde sailing through rough waters as the overland Asian trade began to unravel and the Black Death ravaged his cities. But with Jani Beg’s death in 1357, possibly at the hands of his own son Berdi Beg, the good fortune of the Golden Horde came to a sudden and bloody end. Now the Horde was to enter two decades of anarchy; the bulghaq, the topic of today’s episode. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    In 1357, Jani Beg had just returned from his successful conquest of what is now Azerbaijan, when he suddenly died. According to a contemporary writer, al-Ahari, his son Berdi Beg was, at the time of his father’s death, still in the Azerbaijani lands. But sources such as the later Nikonian Chronicle have Berdi Beg convinced by a cunning emir to strangle his father himself after bringing numerous princes into an alliance with him. The widespread impression seems to have been that he organized his father’s murder, even if the most contemporary sources do not place Berdi Beg there himself. After Berdi Beg left Azerbaijan, the region was lost, seized by the Jalayirids of Baghdad.

    Berdi Beg in quick order, with the backing of his grandmother Taydula, was proclaimed Khan of the Golden Horde. But feeling he faced threats, real or imagined, the new khan’s first actions were violence. Echoing his father and grandfather, Berdi Beg had his brothers murdered: 12 of them, by one count. For one infant brother, Berdi Beg is alleged to have done the deed with his own bare hands, despite the pleadings of grandmother Taydula Khatun. A number of other high ranking princes and officials too met their deaths on Berdi Beg’s order.

    Berdi Beg’s actions did little to engender love to the new monarch, for whom Heaven seemed to show little favour. The Horde’s trade had declined tremendously in these years. Cities starved and shrunk, as they lost access to international trade, were depopulated by the Black Death and local farmland suffered. The mid-fourteenth century saw the Little Ice Age strike and undo the system built up by the Jochids over the last century. Decreased rainfall over much of the steppe, and likely over-grazing from ever larger herds needed to support cities, when combined resulted in the rapid aridisation across the region. Much of the grassland simply could not sustain the great herds any longer. Almost paradoxically, the Caspian Sea was rising and causing increased flooding along the lower reaches of the Volga, which inundated cities and farmland in the Horde’s most densely populated region.

    The great cities of the Horde saw their population drop rapidly, and the material wealth evaporated without the trade or population to sustain it. The Horde’s elites who had enriched themselves off it were frightened, angered and uncertain. Berdi Beg’s efforts did little to improve things; he is known, for instance, to have raised trade duties on imports to their highest level ever recorded in the Golden Horde: 5%. And an especially virulent wave of the plague in 1359 really topped things off.

    His legitimacy already in doubt due to widespread rumours of having murdered his own father, the generally respected Jani Beg, it should not be a surprise that Berdi Beg’s rule was on thin ice. After only two years on the throne, Berdi Beg, grandson of mighty Özbeg, was murdered. The exact circumstances are unclear; the Nikonian Chronicle puts the blame on the same beg who had urged Berdi Beg to kill his father. The murder of Berdi Beg Khan in 1359 did not, however, improve things very much.

    On Berdi Beg’s death, the throne was taken by Qulpa, a fellow who is variously identified as a brother or cousin of Berdi Beg. Qulpa was not long to enjoy the throne. After six months, Qulpa and his two sons, curiously with the very Rus’ Christian names of Ivan and Mikhail, were all in turn murdered, this time by Nawruz, a brother of Qulpa. Still, the Rus’ princes came to pay homage to Nawruz, and momentarily things looked like they might settle. That is, until Khidr came. Khidr ruled an appanage east of the Ural River, and was no descendant of Batu, but of another son of Jochi, named Shiban. In some accounts, he was invited by Taydula Khatun. But he simply may have seen a chance to throw his hat in the ring. Only months after he took the throne, Nawruz and his son were killed by Khidr, who became the new khan of the Golden Horde. So ended the line of Batu Khan, having ruled the western steppes for a century. The purging of the Batuid lineage with every succession since Toqta and Nogai’s coup in 1291 had reached its final outcome, with Nawruz and his sons the final known male descendants. With the exception of Berke, all the khans of the Golden Horde until that time had been a descendent of Batu. Now, Khidr Khan’s actions had essentially opened the succession to any possible claimant. And boy, did it.

    Within a year Khidr was dead, and over the next twenty years the Jochid throne effectively became the most violent game of musical chairs. Over this period, some 25 khans, possibly more, were declared in Sarai, of varying lineages. Some ruled for two or three years, while many ruled only months. Most of these figures are known only by their names. Some are known only by coinage; in one year, 6 different khans minted coins in Sarai.

    The consequences were legion. The economic woes worsened as cities were now sacked by opposing forces. For the first time, we see archaeological evidence for fortifications around the Horde’s cities in the steppe. A number of cities were outright abandoned. In the west, the condominium with Lithuania was abandoned as the Lithuanian dukes immediately seized the western lands, and in short order the Lithuanian principality extended to the Black Sea coast line. In 1362 under Duke Ol’gerd the Lithuanians won a battle over a Mongol army at the Battle of Blue Waters. In the aftermath, everything between the Dnieper and Dniester came under Lithuanian control, although at least for Podolia, in south-western Ukraine, the Lithuanians continued to pay the tribute to the Mongols well into the fifteenth century. Moldova and other Balkan regions declared independence, while the local nomadic leaders seem to have also stopped heeding the word of Sarai.

    East of the Ural River, the Blue Horde, ruled by the line of Batu’s older brother Orda, too faced its own troubles. The lineage of Orda became extinct in the 1360s and saw its own succession troubles. The khans in the Blue Horde, by the end of the decade, stopped minting coins with the name of the Sarai khans, and started doing so in their own names. The Blue Horde was thus independent once again.

    The princes of the Rus’ stopped making the trips to the Horde to declare their allegiance, for it simply became too dangerous. Rus’ princes were now being robbed and held captive by the rival Jochid powers when they made the trip through the steppe. And with the khans being overturned every few months it was now far too dangerous a trip to make so regularly. However the Rus’ lands were not to be ignored, as certain Jochid princes and contenders for power, having lost access to the trade they had one relied upon, were now turning evermore to the Rus’ as a source of income and loot.

    The khan’s authority decreased further, as many khans did not rule themselves, but were puppets for non-Chinggisid powerbrokers. And the chief of these was Mamai, a powerful military commander based in the steppes near Crimea. As he was no descendant of Chinggis, Mamai had no right to claim the title of khan himself, though he held prestige as beylerbeyi and married a daughter of Berdi Beg. But that didn’t mean he could not put someone amenable to his interests on the throne. The first of these fellows was Abdullah, who was alleged to be a son of either Özbeg Khan or his son Tini Beg. He simply may have come from another corollary branch of the lineage, who Mamai had found convenient to play up. That was hardly unusual, as supposed lost sons of Özbeg, Tini Beg and Jani Beg continued to pop up, such as another claimant, Kildi Beg, in 1361.

    Abdullah Khan was enthroned in Sarai in 1361, and Mamai returned to his Crimean pastures soon after. But Abdullah was quickly ousted by rivals in Sarai and fled back to Mamai. This was to be a regular pattern over the 1360s. Every few years Mamai would march with an army, enthrone Abdullah and return, only for Abdullah to be tossed out or flee when another claimant came a-knockin’, or the nobles in Sarai declared someone else khan. The final attempt resulted in Abdullah’s death in 1370, upon which Mamai empowered a princess in Sarai, named Tulun Bey. Her exact identity is uncertain. It is commonly assumed that she was the Chinggisid princess who Mamai had also married, a daughter of Berdi Beg Khan. If this is the case, then she was the last to rule from the line of Batu. But she was quickly switched out by Mamai, and replaced with another of Mamai’s puppet. And so this pattern continued until 1380, with Mamai’s candidates thrown out every few years, and then installed a year or two later. It’s caused an endless amount of work for historians to try and determine the order and lengths of reigns of all these khans.

    It was well known at large that the Khan was a figurehead for Mamai. As the Rus’ Nikon Chronicle states, “At that time in Mamai’s Horde there was a khan, but he had no power by comparison with Mamai, and was khan in nothing but the title. Even this title, however, was meaningless because all glory and all action were Mamai’s. There was much trouble in the Horde and many Tatar lords had killed each other, lost their heads and died at sword’s points. Thus, little by little, the Horde’s great power was wasted away.”

    Mamai’s intrigues did not merely extend to Sarai, but to the Rus’ lands as well, as the Sarai Khans sought revenue from Rus’ taxes, and Mamai intervened to earn them himself. In one of these conspiracies, Mamai granted the yarliq, or patent, to the Grand Principality of Vladimir, the chief of the Rus’ princes, to the young Prince of Moscow Dmitri Ivanovich. Or as he’s better known to posterity, Dmitri Donskoi.

    Dmitri was a grandson of Ivan I Kalita, the grandson of Alexander Nevsky who had worked so well with Özbeg Khan and began Moscow’s rise to prominence. Ivan Kalita had monopolized the position of Grand Prince, the chief tax collector of the Rus’, until his death. Upon that, it went to his son Simeon, who died of plague, and then to Dmitri’s father, Ivan II Ivanovich, who died in 1359 as the Horde’s troubles began. Only 9 years old when his father died, Dmitri could not rely on the Khans’ support as his fathers had.

    We’ve discussed this matter over previous episodes, but it bears reiterating here. The top title in the Rus’ lands was the Grand Prince of Vladimir. Whoever held this was the #1 prince in the Rus’, and collected taxes for the khans— skimming off the top for himself, of course, but also giving him great influence among the Rus’. While initially the khans had just appointed whoever the Rus’ princes elected as Grand Prince, during Özbeg’s reign the khans assumed the right to rescind and appoint the Grand Prince at will. And the Princes of Moscow, a lesser branch of the Riurikid lineage, quite desired it but held no right to the title without the khan’s backing. And so a relationship was formed, wherein the Princes of Moscow became the most scrupulous enactors of the khan’s will, in order to retain the titles to both Moscow and the Grand Principality, as well as the khan’s military support as protection. And correspondingly, from the 1320s onwards Moscow grew in wealth and power, to the displeasure of the other Rus’ princes, who saw the Moscow line as upstarts with no right to the Grand title.

    Flashing forward to 1360, Khan Nawruz took both the Moscow title and the Grand Principality away from young Dmitri, only for it to be returned in 1362 when the new Khan in Sarai granted both back to him. Mamai saw his opportunity here, and also granted Dmitri the patent for the Grand Principality. The rival in Sarai quickly rescinded his support for Dmitri. Without support from either the Khan or other Rus’ princes the young Prince of Moscow could only seek the assistance of Mamai.

    Mamai gained himself an excellent source of revenue in the young Dmitri, who turned out to be a very capable hand, while for Dmitri Mamai’s armies gave him security he would not have otherwise as a youth on the throne. With the loss of the overland trade, the income from the Rus’ was more important than ever, and Mamai was happy to earn it, and Dmitri did his best to deliver on time. But Dmitri was not passive, and wanted to secure his own base lest the whims of Mamai shift. Through diplomacy, marriage alliances and military threats, Dmitri steadily built his support among the Rus’ princes, and incorporated other smaller principalities under Moscow’s rule. For the first time, the city of Moscow itself received stone walls on Dmitri’s order, which proved their worth in repelling an attack by Lithuania and the rival city of Tver’ in 1368.

    Mamai had use for Dmitri only as long as he provided tribute, so when the Hanseatic League disrupted trade to Dmitri’s territories in the late 1360s, thereby preventing Dmitri from collecting the silver for Mamai, Mamai rescinded the patent to the Grand Principality and gave it to Dmitri’s rival Mikhail Aleksandrovich of Tver’ in 1370. Yet Mikhail proved even worse at sending tribute, and when Dmitri personally presented himself to Mamai to pay homage, accompanied by a great many gifts, Mamai returned him the Grand Princely title. The situation repeated in late 1374 when the Hanseatic League cut the silver export to Novgorod. Mamai once again gave the Grand Princely title to Mikhail of Tver’, but due to plague and Mamai’s failed attempt to control the Volga trade routes, he was unable to support Mikhail militarily. Dmitri in the meantime had built up Moscow’s military and alliances, and in Mamai’s absence forced Mikhail to surrender. Confident in his abilities, Dmitri then took his army to the Volga, asserting Moscow’s authority as far as Bulghar in 1377.

    Mamai was not pleased at this development, a threat to his income while an even greater threat loomed on the horizon. Far to the east in the Blue Horde lands, a powerful Chinggisid Prince named Toqtamish, backed by the Central Asian warlord Temür, was rapidly growing in power. The eye of Toqtamish was drifting to Sarai, and he dreamed of assuming leadership of the Golden Horde. Doing so was a threat of unification which would entail a collision with Mamai. Mamai thus needed to prepare for the inevitable battle, but to do this he needed the resources of the Rus’ tribute. And to that, he needed Dmitri to play nice with him. In August 1378 a force in Mamai’s service was sent to collect the tribute. Dmitri set out, nervously, to meet it head on, intercepting it near the Vozha River. Dmitri’s force held firm under their attack, and succeeded in flanking the Mongols. In an attempt to withdraw across the Vozha River, many of the Mongols were killed, and Dmitri looted their abandoned camp.

    Such was the first real victory an army of the Rus’ had ever had over a force of the Golden Horde in battle, though Dmitri gained little from this victory and neither force was large. But Mamai was furious. The next year he ordered a larger, retaliatory attack on the Ryazan’ land, causing great destruction, burning several cities. Oleg, Prince of Ryazan’ fled before him. The Rus’ paid dearly for their effort.

    In 1378, the same year as the defeat on the Vozha, more alarming news came from the east. Toqtamish had now taken Sarai, and proclaimed himself Khan. Confrontation was imminent, and Mamai could not face Toqtamish with Dmitri rebelling in his rear. If Toqtamish and Dmitri allied, then Mamai would be surrounded by foes. Mamai needed resources to face Toqtamish, and he needed revenue to do that, and Dmitri, as chief tax collector of the Russian principalities and controlling much of the Volga trade, was directly undermining that. It was time for Mamai to confront Dmitri himself. Over the next year, Mamai organized an alliance with Grand Duke Jagailo of Lithuania and Prince Oleg of Ryazan. He called up troops from the Alans, the Circassians, and the Genoese as mercenaries. We are told in the Nikon Chronicle that Mamai furiously studied Batu’s conquest of the Rus’, trying to learn his tactics and strategy. It got to the point that allegedly, Mamai began to see himself as a second Batu, feeling superior to all others and his own men calling him “Great Khan.”

    In 1380, Mamai was ready. He ordered Dmitri to deliver a higher amount of tribute than ever, even greater than what had been paid during the times of Özbeg and Jani Beg. The message was a stalling tactic, as Mamai made preparations to march on Moscow with Jagailo and Oleg, hoping to crush Dmitri of Moscow between the three of them.

    In Moscow, Dmitri quickly organized all the military forces of the Principalities that he could. Surprisingly, most principalities, except Tver’, Novgorod or those aiding Mamai, answered Dmitri’s call for aid. Dmitri’s efforts to build Moscow’s influence now bore fruit, as for the first time in their history, the Rus’ offered something of a united front against the Mongols. The ascendency of Moscow over the other cities had begun, but first they had to stand against Mamai.

    In September 1380 in a field on the upper Don River called Kulikovo, Mamai and the Ryazan forces waited for the Lithuanians. In a sign of poor scouting, on the 9th of September Mamai’s army was shocked to see the arrival of Dmitri and the Rus’ host crossing the Don. Dmitri’s goal was simple; defeat Mamai in the field, before the Lithuanians could arrive and overwhelm him. One of the most famous battles in Russian history was about to begin.

    Numbers for the two armies are uncertain, with Dmitri leading perhaps as many as 30,000 Rus’ troops from across the principalities, while Mamai likely had a slightly larger force, consisting of Mongol-Turkic, that is Tatar, cavalry, Circassians, Rus’ from Ryazan and Genoese mercenaries. Battle began with a clash of champions; the Rus’ monk Peresvet, and a Tatar named variously Chelübei or Temür Mirza. They charged one another on horseback, lances before them. At the collision both were run through and killed, though Perevet’s body is supposed to have stayed in the saddle the longer.

    Battle then commenced. It was across a wide front, extending the Rus’ lines thin but ravines and streams hampered the full deployment of Mamai’s cavalry. Fighting went on for hours, with Mamai’s troops holding the upper hand. Skilled Tatar cavalry and arrows took their toll on the Rus’ and both sides tired over the course of the day. Dmitri had given his standard to another to hold, and when that man fell, the Rus’ wavered. Dmitri himself disappeared in the clash, supposedly wounded and knocked unconscious. Mamai appeared on the verge of victory and kept his forces engaged. Yet one final trick was left to be put in play. Dmitri’s cousin, Vladimir of Serpukhov, was kept in reserve with the Rus’ princely cavalry. As both sides were at exhaustion, the freshly deployed Rus’ cavalry charged from their hiding place in the trees and into the flank of Mamai’s army. Mamai could only watch as his overworked, exhausted army routed, and he too fled. Learning of Mamai’s defeat, the Lithuanians rapidly withdrew before ever making contact. So ended the battle on the Kulikovo field.

    Dmitri had led the Rus’ to defeat a major Mongol army in the field, and for his victory he was given the epithet Donskoi, meaning “of the Don.” While today this battle stands tall in Russian popular memory as a struggle for independence, in reality it led to little immediate change for the Rus’ or to Moscow’s standing. Our main sources come decades after the event and reflect how the battle’s stature had grown with retellings. While the more heroic and famous elements of the battle may have little basis in reality, such as the duel before the battle, the general course of events is probably accurate enough. Whether it was as great a defeat for Mamai as popularly imagined is unknown, nor can we know Mamai for certain was even present. Mamai’s losses are likely greatly overstated, since the next year he was able to raise another army rapidly, suggesting a small clash may have been turned into a grand duel. Arguments that Kulikovo never actually happened due to a lack of archaeological evidence cannot be sustained, as it is rare indeed for archaeological evidence to survive of a medieval battle. Little of the valuable metal equipment was ever left on site, usually quickly scavenged, while bodies were taken away for respectful burials or disintegrated before they could be preserved in the earth. The slightly earlier battle of Bannockburn in Scotland, for instance, though tracked to a relatively small area, has left almost no presence archaeologically speaking.

    The real victor at Kulikovo was not Dmitri, but Toqtamish. After Kulikovo Mamai had strength enough to raise another army, and fought Toqtamish on the Kalka River. There Mamai was defeated for the final time. He was soon captured and executed by Toqtamish or by Genoese in Crimea when he fled there. Either way, Dmitri had succeeded in weakening Toqtamish’s main rival for rule of the Golden Horde, and the new Khan was ready to assert his authority. So ended the Tale of Mamai.

    Our next episode takes you through the reign of Toqtamish, as we enter the final period of the Golden Horde, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.

  • The death of Özbeg, Khan of the Golden Horde, in 1341 marked the end of an era for the Jochid Khanate. The thirty year reign of Özbeg had been one of relative internal stability; a stability his successors were not to enjoy. Bloody succession struggles, plague and economic woe were now to be the news of the day within the Horde. And it was Özbeg’s sons Tini Beg and Jani Beg Khan who were to face the front of it. Today we take you through the reigns of Özbeg’s sons, the eve of the great anarchy which would rip asunder at the very foundation of the Golden Horde. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    Özbeg Khan, during his long life, seems to have initially desired his eldest son Temür to succeed him. Having violently purged the Jochid lineage upon his own accession in 1313, Özbeg had the luxury to decide on a successor. But Temür’s death around 1330 left Özbeg bereaved, and forced him to make due with his other two sons, Tini Beg and Jani Beg. Born to his wife Taydula Khatun, Tini Beg and Jani Beg were well educated princes. Ibn Battuta noted numerous islamic advisors for both princes, and Jani Beg is specifically described as knowledgeable in Islamic laws. Their names both came from Turkic and Persian words for “spirit,” making them “lords of the spirit.” Tini Beg, as the elder, was preferred by Özbeg to succeed him. During his trip to the Golden Horde, Ibn Battuta describes Özbeg showering Tini Beg in preferences and honours for this purpose. Additionally, Ibn Battuta describes Tini Beg as one of the most handsome of men. There is slight indication that Özbeg and Tini Beg fell out towards the end of his life, when Jani Beg’s name begins to appear alongside Özbeg’s on coinage, suggesting perhaps the second son was being groomed to be heir.

    On Özbeg’s death in late 1341, Tini Beg still maneuvered his way onto the throne, likely to the displeasure of Jani Beg. We know little of his reign. There is some suggestion that he was not a Muslim, and had some close links with Franciscans, whom he sent as his envoys to the Pope. One of the earliest pieces of surviving Golden Horde literature dates to his reign, too; a Turkic language poem by the Horde poet Qutb, adapting the Persian language “Khosrow and Shirin” by Nizami. Dedicated to Tini Beg and his wife, it remains a fascinating, if brief, look at the courtly life and social structure of the Horde in the mid-fourteenth century.

    We can tell you little else of Tini Beg’s reign with any certainty. Jani Beg never took kindly to Tini Beg’s ascension; we may suspect he felt that Tini Beg had stolen the throne from him. The order of events is conflicting in the sources; potentially their mother, Taydula, preferred Jani Beg and whispered into his ear while Jani Beg’s Islamic advisers may have encouraged him, in reaction to the possibly non-Muslim Tini Beg’s enthronement. In some versions, Jani Beg first kills one of their brothers, Khidr Beg, in very uncertain circumstances. In Tini Beg’s anger, he raises an army to confront his brother Jani Beg, only to be defeated in battle, taken captive and executed. In other versions, Jani Beg only kills Khidr Beg after Tini Beg’s death. The fact of the fratricide of two of his brothers though, is well attested.

    So, Jani Beg became Khan in 1342. There can be little doubt of Jani Beg’s islam. We are told he even set out orders for his troops to all don turbans and cloaks. Neither could there be any hesitation among the Rus’ princes about recognizing Jani Beg’s rule; one of Jani Beg’s first orders was sending an army to install a new prince in Pereiaslavl’. The meaning was clear. Jani Beg was going to continue his father’s policy of firm mastery over the Rus’. In quick order the Rus’ princes all travelled to the Horde to recognize Jani Beg’s overlordship; the Grand Prince, now Simeon Ivanovich, too made clear his subservience to Jani Beg Khan. Simeon was a close ally to the Khan, and over his reign made regular trips to the Horde, always returning with gifts, honours and Jani Beg’s favour. A smart move, lest the Khan remove him from his post. In doing so, they continued the slow if steady consolidation of Moscow’s influence regarding the other Rus’ cities.

    There is also indication that Jani Beg held loftier pretensions. By the start of Jani Beg’s reign, he was essentially the last remaining Chinggisid khan with authority. The Blue Horde khans were his vassals, and the Chagatai Khanate and Ilkhanate were either divided or dissolved. In the Yuan Dynasty, with whom contact was infrequent, the Great Khan Töghön Temür was a figurehead in comparison to his Chancellors. In reaction, it seems to an extent Jani Beg went about presenting himself not just as successors to Özbeg, but the rightful heir to Chinggis Khan. Not Jani Beg was not just the Jochid Khan, but the supreme Khan. Özbeg himself seems to have used in some instances the title of “khan of khans,” as did Jani Beg. In letters to the Ilkhanid successors in the Caucasus, Jani Beg calls himself the “khan of the three ulusus,” and references to “great Khan,” as a Jochid title continued among his successors for centuries. A subtle shift in ideology, but one indicating a recognition, perhaps, that the Mongol Empire was dead, and now the Jochid Khan was supreme monarch by the grace of Eternal Heaven.

    Jani Beg did not quite share Özbeg’s tolerance to other religions. While he mellowed later in his reign, initially Jani Beg seemed rather set on reducing privileges enjoyed by Franciscans and the Orthodox Church in Rus’, normally a strong supporter of Mongol rule. “Idol temples,” —that is, Buddhist or shamanist sites— were specified for destruction. And as we will see shortly, Jani Beg reacted with particular ire when Christians within his empire caused trouble. But even this animosity should not be too overstated; there is no recorded attempt by Jani Beg, or other Jochid khans, to try and convert the Rus’ and other Christian populations to Islam. In the 1350s a Rus’ Metropolitan, Alexii, healed the eyes of Jani Beg’s mother, Taydula, for which he earned great reward. On Jani Beg’s death in 1357 the Rus’ Nikonian Chronicle describes the late Jani Beg as a friend to Christians, a monarch who had given the Rus’ many privileges. We might suspect that Jani Beg took the throne with a zealousness to prove his Islamic bona fides, and cooled in this fervour as the years passed.

    Unfortunately for the Italian merchants in the Horde, in 1343 Jani Beg was still very much full of zeal. That year, the second of Jani Beg’s reign, news came to him of a murder of a Mongol notable in Tana. Tana was the Italian name for Azov, a trading community Özbeg had granted to the Venetians on the mouth of the Don River, nestled on the edge of the Azov Sea east of the Crimea. In September of 1343, an argument between an Italian and a Mongol, Hajji ‘Umar, resulted in the Italians murdering him in the street. Jani Beg was white hot with rage directed at the Italians. His father Özbeg had generally handled the Italian traders relatively well, playing them off each other and making the Golden Horde a good deal of money. Initially, Jani Beg had reconfirmed the privileges of the Italians. However, Jani Beg took umbrage with the autonomy of the port cities, and felt they had too much control over the Jochid state’s trade. The Italians’ continued dealing in nomadic slaves may also have frustrated the Khan. After the poor relationship between Özbeg and the Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad, Jani Beg basically let the relationship with the Mamluks die. With the disintegration of the Ilkhanate, there was little need for such worthless allies, as far as Jani Beg was concerned. He only sent two embassies to the Mamluks; one alerting them of his enthronement, and one informing them of his conquest of Tabriz. There was no interest or desire to allow the Mamluks their continued access to Qipchap troops, and little patience for Italians selling perfectly good potential warriors to distant Egypt. Not surprisingly, it is about this time that Circassians were gaining prominence as the source of Mamluks in Egypt.

    The murder of the Mongol in Tana was either the final straw, or simply a good pretence to rid himself of the Italians, and perhaps put his own men in charge of the trade. No more could the Italians enrich themselves at the expense of the Horde! In quick order Jani Beg had the westerners in the Black Sea trade cities of Tana and Solkhat expelled or killed, and an army bearing down on Caffa in 1343. As the chief of the port cities, and the primary Geneose settlement, Caffa was the prize of the campaign. But it would be no easy nut to crack. Caffa’s harbour allowed it to be resupplied by sea no matter how strong the land blockade. Caffa had also learned lessons from sieges suffered during the reign of Toqta Khan thirty years prior. The city walls were stout, its supplies well stocked. Khan Jani Beg found the city withstood his initial assaults over 1343 and 1344. On one occasion a night foray resulted in the Genoese burning down Jani Beg’s siege machines. All Jani Beg could do was cut it off by land, for the Genoese could continue to bring in provisions.

    A further issue had developed too. While the Venetian-Genoese rivalry was normally strong, in the midst of this emergency they had put aside their differences, the Venetians seeking shelter in Caffa and the city-states putting a trade embargo on the Golden Horde. Recall in our previous episodes, how we described the ways in which the economy of the Golden Horde relied on the overland Asian trade. Much of this funneled through the Golden Horde’s Black Sea coastline, and booned with the relative stability of inner-Asian travel. But by the 1340s, this economic system was already reeling with the collapse of the Ilkhanate and Chagatai Khanate, and now with this embargo due to the war with Genoa and Venice, the Horde was effectively cut out of the international trade routes. As early as 1344, a Franciscan observer remarked in a letter that protests were breaking out in the Horde’s city with the unintended economic strangulation. The consequences were felt across Europe, with the doubling of the prices of silk and spices. The Horde was a major grain exporter for much of the Black Sea region, and the war was now resulting in famine in Constantinople, as Jani Beg prevented Italian access to the grain harvests.

    In an effort to bring about a resolution, Jani Beg needed a new ploy. He found just the ticket. In an unusual for any Mongol khan, with the exception of Khubilai, Jani Beg decided to build a navy. Harbouring it in the Sea of Azov, Jani Beg was going to attack Caffa land and sea, or at least choke it out. Unfortunately for Jani Beg, such an effort could not go unnoticed as sailors, labourers and materials were called into the region. Once the Genoese learned of it in 1345, a specialty raiding fleet was organized in Genoa, sailed across the Mediterranean and literally dashed Jani Beg’s dreams to pieces; the Golden Horde’s fledgling navy was nipped in the bud, burnt and sunk.

    Jani Beg was denied his swift victory. In 1346 he maintained siege lines but undertook no assaults, and in 1347 concluded separate treaties with Genoa and Venice. Once more the Genoese were able to sail their cargo out of Caffa’s harbour, and the Venetians returned to their colony at Tana. The entire campaign in the end was nought but an expensive failure, returning to status quo ante bellum. The situation remained tense, particularly when Genoese and Venetian rivalry reasserted itself, and not until the late 1350s do things appear to have normalized, and Caffa remained the preeminent trade center of the northern Black Sea coast. But by then, a much more significant crisis now faced the international market, in the form of that intolerable little bugaboo, Yersinia pestis. Or as you may know it by its more colloquial name, the Black Death.

    Wherever its origins were, the Black Death had reached the Golden Horde’s cities by 1346, travelling along the Central Asian trade lines. It likely began ravaging Jani Beg’s army outside of Caffa in 1346, and it is here that we get one of the most infamous cases of biological warfare ever recorded, wherein Jani Beg ordered his troops to catapult the plague bodies of their fallen men into Caffa, causing it to spread among the defenders. Fleeing Genoese thus took it back to Europe with them. The rest, as they say, is history.

    Except maybe it’s not. There’s a number of issues with this popular story. Firstly, it’s described in only a single, by Gabriele de Mussi, who was not an eyewitness. At the time of the siege, de Mussi was in northern Italy, and may have only learned of the information, at-best secondhand, but perhaps only after it passed through multiple informants. The manuscript itself is a matter of question: not only do no other medieval accounts reference Jani Beg launching corpses like this, but no other source mentions de Mussi’s account in particular. In fact, it was unknown until it was discovered in the mid-19th century in what is now Poland! The document itself shows a poor understanding of the chronology, which is suspect for a supposedly educated lawyer like de Mussi. Caffa appears depopulated and abandoned by the end of the siege, though this was far from the case; it also portrays ships coming directly to Genoa from Caffa and spreading the plague thusly. But we know this to be false: the siege ended in 1346, but plague did not come to Genoa until early 1348, and from ships which had come from Sicily. As you probably know, not a lot of plague victims managed two years with it.

    Further issues come from the logic presented in the text. The Mongols’ deep reverence for their own dead, compounded by their conversion to Islam means that launching the bodies of their own fellows into Caffa seems an extraordinary taboo in their culture to break. In fact, there are effectively no historical anecdotes of an army tossing bodies of its own men into a city in order to spread plague; you’ll find very few cultures in history in which soldiers would be willing to disrespect the bodies of their fallen comrades in such a manner. It’s one thing to do it to bodies of the enemy, but the desecration of friends and allies is another matter entirely. The Mongols had a very well established reaction to disease outbreaks; leaving a site entirely, rather than stopping to continually handle the plague bodies. This makes a prolonged proximity to plague victims in order to load them into trebuchets even more unlikely. There have also been arguments that this would be a very ineffective means to actually spread plague! We can even comment on the fact that, had Caffa been so decimated, why did the Mongols not simply overrun it?

    Suffice to say, very few modern scholars accept de Mussi’s version of events, if the manuscript is even authentic. At best, we might wonder if the Mongols had thrown bodies of prisoners, or even animals, into the city at some point during the siege, which through a game of telephone turned into lobbing thousands of Mongol cadavers into Caffa, as de Mussi suggests. An accidental conflation of timelines and events in the midst of monumental horror of the Black Death is an understandable mistake to make.

    The more likely explanation is that the citizens of Caffa picked up the plague after the siege ended. Either looting the abandoned Mongol siege camp, or when the blockade was lifted and trade restarted with the Golden Horde. With the plague already running rampant in the Horde’s cities, it was only a matter of time before it entered Caffa through normal means. The port of Caffa began sending ships out for trade again in spring 1347; by the late summer, the plague was in Constantinople, and by early 1348 in Genoa. Caffa may very well have been the launching point for the plague into the Mediterranean, but the launching point for plague into Caffa was probably not a Mongol siege weapon.

    We have very little information on the effect the Black Death had on the Golden Horde. It seems to have had, just as it did everywhere, a devastating impact on urban centres. As we already established, there were a number of great cities in the steppes which had grown rich on the trans-continental trade. They had already been hurting in previous years with the fall of the other khanates and the Black Sea embargo; now the plague seemed a mortal blow. The only references we have are vague mentions of thousands upon thousands of losses in these cities. The Rus’ Nikonian Chronicle states that so many died in the Horde’s cities, that there was noone left to bury them.

    For the nomadic population, plague seems to have had a lesser impact. Steppe nomads essentially had a cultural system of quarantine for sick persons; gers would be marked off, and none allowed to enter which a sick person was inside. Those who had been in the presence of a person who died in a ger were forbidden from the khan’s presence entirely. Areas where infected animals or persons were seen were strictly avoided. Such systems remain in place even in modern Mongolia, where Yersinis pestis occurs normally in some animal populations. There, the normally sparse population allows the disease to be avoided like the plague. And it seems it proved beneficial for the Mongols; while Jani Beg had around a dozen children alive by the time of his death, at the same time in the Rus’ principalities numerous princes, notables and even the Grand Prince, Simeon, succumbed to the plague.

    Yet most assuredly, the 1340s and 50s marked a downward path for the Horde. While occupied with the Crimean venture, Jani Beg’s western bordering was further slipping from his grasp. In 1345 a Mongol army was defeated by the Hungarian King, Louis the Great. Lithuania continued its expansion into Galicia-Volhynia in competition with the Polish King Casimir III. Jani Beg was frustrated by them, and his mood proved fickle. Initially he granted consent for Casimir’s campaigning in Galicia against the Lithaunains, but then in the early 1350s Mongol troops raided as far as Lublin. In the end, Jani Beg ceded control of Galicia to Poland, and Volhynia to the Lithuanians, in exchange for the continuation of tribute for rights to both lands. While raids by Tatar troops would follow irregularly, Jani Beg’s reign marks the surrendering of the western frontier of the Golden Horde.

    Sinking the resources and men of his empire into Crimea, meant Jani Beg had been unable to take advantage of the disintegration of the Ilkhanate. Though we might wonder if this was in part a reluctance to press that frontier, given the troubles his father had faced attempting to do so. It was not until the end of the 1350s that Jani Beg finally threw his weight against the Ilkhanate’s successors. For years, individuals had fled the Chobanid state to the Golden Horde, bringing news of the poor rulership of Malik Ashraf. For a bit more context, check out episode 58 of this podcast for these post-Ilkhanid states. But in short, the Chobanids were a non-Chinggisid dynasty based in what is now Azerbaijan. Their final ruler was Malik Ashraf, a cruel and violent man who alienated essentially everyone he could. Jani Beg must have felt that the greatly weakened Malik Ashraf would be a pushover. His intentions were clear in the letter he sent to Malik Ashraf in Tabriz:

    “I am coming to take possession of the ulus of Hülagü. You are the son of Choban whose name was in the yarligh of the four uluses. Today three uluses are under my command and I also wish to appoint you emir of the ulus; get up and come to meet me.” At best, as a non-Chinggisid, Malik Ashraf could rule as a governor on behalf of a khan. Malik Ashraf asserted in his response that this is what he was doing, ruling on behalf of Hülagü’s line. The fact that Malik Ashraf by that point had no Ilkhanid puppet khan was glossed over. Additionally, Malik Ashraf sought to ease worries among his men by stating that as the ruler of the lands of Berke, Jani Beg had no right to the lands of Hülegü. Such an argument did little good as Jani Beg’s host entered the Caucasus in 1357. After a single battle the Chobanid army disintegrated, and the fleeing Malik Ashraf was caught and executed. After almost a century of on and off warfare, Tabriz finally came under Jochid rule. Jani Beg was victorious as none of his ancestors had been. After years of reverses, difficulties and other trials, Jani Beg finally had his great victory. He appointed his son Berdi Beg as governor of the region, and returned triumphant to the Golden Horde… only to die two months later. The blame is usually attributed to Berdi Beg, who in various sources was convinced into the action by poison-tongued emirs. In one account, Berdi Beg strangles his father himself. Berdi Beg quickly followed this up with murdering many of his brothers, including one who was only eight months old. He is alleged to have killed this one with his own hands. This, as we will see next week, was very far from being the end of the killing.

    So ended the reign of Jani Beg Khan, and with it, the golden age of the Horde. Jani Beg appears as an almost pale imitation of Öz Beg, ambitious enough for the throne, but not the man to steer the ship in a time of crisis. He wasted men and resources on his effort to expel the Italians, and achieved nothing for the outburst, preventing him from sooner seizing opportunity in the Caucasus. The Black Death and unraveling of the overland trade was of course outside of his power, but Jani Beg’s clumsy hand did nothing to assuage the situation. The fact that he did not face a real threat to his power until 1357 though, speaks to the strength of the Jochid political system that it could essentially coast through these years without major disaster. Such a thing could not be said of Berdi Beg’s reign, or those who were soon to follow him, as the Golden Horde entered its period of bulqhaq: anarchy. Our next episodes will detail the steady collapse of the Golden Horde, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.

  • From 1313 to 1341, Özbeg Khan oversaw what is normally described as the Golden Horde’s Golden age. As our last episode on Özbeg discussed, things were not going quite so golden for old Özbeg. The appellation of golden age belies the troubles which were growing ready to rock the Golden Horde. As our last episode looked at Özbeg and the Golden Horde’s relations south and east, with the other Mongol khanates and the Mamluk Sultanate, today we take you west and north, to see how Özbeg interacted with the powers of Eastern Europe and the Rus’ principalities. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    What appears almost shocking at a cursory glance, is that despite so many authors claiming Özbeg’s glory, he also oversaw its first loss of Golden Horde territory. We’ll begin in the Balkans, and work our way north. On his accession, Özbeg had continued the policy of the late Toqta Khan, by keeping the Bulgarian lands a part of the Horde, backed up by Mongol military presence. Özbeg’s support was important for the Bulgarian tsars in this period: the Tsar from 1323 to 1330, Georgi Terter’s son Michael Shishman, relied heavily on Mongol military support and kept one of his sons at Özbeg’s court as a royal hostage. At the battle of Velbuzjd in 1330, a Bulgarian and Mongol army was defeated by the Serbians, in which Tsar Micheal Shishman was killed. The threat of a military response from Özbeg is probably what kept the Serbians from pressing their advantage. The journey of a Bulgarian embassy to Cairo in 1331 resulted in the Mamluk chronicler al-Umarī to report that despite fighting between the Bulgarians and Serbs, both respected Özbeg due to his great power over them. Though it was not comparable to the influence Nogai had once wielded over the region, the presentation of contemporary chronicles is that the Bulgarian lands remained dependent on the Golden Horde; Bulgaria, for example, was the base from which the Mongols launched attacks on Byzantium, rather than seen as a country they passed through. It was the eventual loss of this Mongol backing that would result in Bulgaria’s vulnerability to Ottoman expansion at the end of the century.

    Like Toqta, Özbeg too married an illegitimate daughter of the Byzantine Emperor, this time of Andronikos III in 1331. This wife was called by the Mongols Bayalun Khatun, and Ibn Battuta accompanied her when she returned to Constantinople to give birth. The impetus was to dissuade further attacks by Özbeg, for Özbeg had resumed raiding the Byzantine Empire. Annual attacks from 1321 to 1323, the largest coming in 1323 and causing a great deal of damage. Raids at first ceased with the marriage of 1331, but when Bayalun refused to come back to the Horde after returning to Constantinople to give birth, attacks resumed. The last recorded assault came in 1337, advancing as far as the Hellespont. Supposedly in response to the failure of Constantinople to supply its annual tribute, the Horde army spent 50 days plundering Thrace, and in the process defeated a Turkish force sent across the straits by a growing beylik in northwestern Anatolia, the Osmanoğlu. Though you may know them better as the Ottomans. So ended the last recorded attack by the Golden Horde on the Byzantine Empire. Sometimes this is compared as a symbolic act, the passing of the torch from Mongol to Ottoman, from old conqueror to new, when it came to the main threat to the region. In 1341 a Byzantine embassy was sent to the Horde to mollify Özbeg, but arrived after his death.

    While in truth Özbeg’s attacks on the Byzantine Empire were raids rather than efforts at conquest, he apparently played them up somewhat in his own court as great victories over Christian powers. Ibn Battuta, during his visit to Özbeg, presents the Khan as a great victor over the enemies of God who undertook jihad against Constantinople. Özbeg, it must be clarified, never showed any attempt at conquering that famous city, and his military actions against Europe all seem considerably minor efforts compared to his wars against the Ilkhanate.

    Along the borders of the Hungarian Kingdom, troops of the Horde —perhaps not always with Özbeg’s permission— raided regularly, especially in Transylvania. However these assaults could now be repulsed, as Hungary was rejuvenated under the skillful leadership of a new dynasty, headed by Charles I of Hungary. On occasion Charles led attacks onto dependencies of the Horde or of Bulgaria. It is remarkable that most of these raids are known only indirectly; often only from charters, where an individual was rewarded for fighting against the Mongols, rather than through any chronicle mention. Özbeg may have preferred indirect pressure, by supporting the former Hungarian vassal, the voivode of Wallachia, a fellow named Basarab. There is no shortage of debate around Basarab and early Wallachia, and we’ll avoid it here; the exact origins and timeline of the emergence of this principality is very far from agreed upon. Established on the border regions of modern Romania and Moldova, these were lands otherwise under control of the Golden Horde. Basarab himself is a target of many arguments; his name suggests a Turkic, likely Cuman origin, however contemporary sources consistently describe him as a Vlakh, a member of the Romance-language-speaking community which today mainly refers to the Romanians. Depending on how his father’s name is reconstructed, it appears either recognizably Mongol, or even Hungarian. While initially a subject of the Hungarian King, by the end of the 1320s Basarab was at war with the Hungarians, and decisively defeated them at the battle of Posada in 1330. There is indirect indication that Basarab had some military support from the Golden Horde.

    The independence of Wallachia appears a part of the gradual secession of authority of the Golden Horde over its westernmost border. Most dramatically was this apparent through today’s Ukraine and Belarus, where the influence of Lithuania grew at the expense of the Golden Horde. Early Lithuanian-Mongol contacts over the thirteenth century seem to have consisted of raids in both directions. Several times did Nogai provide armies for Rus’ princes to attack the Lithuanians, while the Lithuanians took advantage of the initial Mongol invasion in the 1240s to raid deep into the Rus’ lands. The transition from the thirteenth to the fourteenth century is one of poor coverage for Lithuanian history; scattered Lithuanians princes of the 1200s appear in the 1300s unified and consolidated under the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, particularly from Duke Gediminas onwards. By the 1320s, Gediminas was in position to influence the succession over Galicia-Volhynia, in today’s western Ukraine and Belarus and at the time subject to the Golden Horde. Between 1321 and 1323, the young princes of Ruthenia died without heir. The King of Poland Władysław I, the Lithuanian Duke Gedminas, and Khan Özbeg were all very interested in the succession. While Özbeg may have been caught up in his conflicts with the Ilkhanate, at this time the Polish King wrote to the Pope fearing a Mongol attack, and in 1324 Mongol ambassadors were in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Threats and diplomacy, rather than open war, was the means by which the three powers came to a conclusion. An acceptable candidate to replace the deceased princes was selected in the form of Yurii II Boleslaw, a fellow of Polish, Ruthenian and Lithaunian background, a Catholic who converted to Orthodox Christianity, and who married a daughter of Duke Gediminas. And what did Özbeg get out of it? The continuation of tribute from Galicia-Volhynia.

    This willingness for diplomacy with these western neighbours seems surprising, but the sources indicate it was very much Özbeg’s preferred order of operations in this theater. In 1331, a brother of Lithuania’s Duke Gediminas was installed in Kyiv, alongside a Mongol basqaq, or tax collector. In what has been termed a Lithuanain-Mongol condominium, it seems the arrangement was that these westernmost Rus’ lands paid tribute and military service both to Lithuania, and the Golden Horde. As noted by historian Darius Baronas, news of this arrangement made it as far as France, where a French poet in the 1330s described Lithuania as paying tribute to the Golden Horde. It seems that Özbeg’s calculation was simple; Özbeg wanted the income from these western Rus’ principalities, but didn’t desire war over them, intent as he was on focusing his forces on the Ilkhanate. The frontier with Lithuania and Poland was long, the region as a whole rather peripheral. It was cheaper and more convenient to give the administration over to the Lithuanians while still retaining the income. When necessary the threat of the Horde’s horsemen could be levied; in 1333 there was a raid on Briansk, then under Lithuanian control. Meanwhile the Lithuanians could avoid open conflict with the Mongols, allowing them to deal more fully with those troublesome Teutontic Knights. It would not be until the end of Özbeg’s life that this arrangement was challenged, but until that point it proved remarkably flexible and workable to all involved, except for those at the bottom of the ladder now being taxed twice. But Özbeg, however clever he thought he was, had given a foothold for Lithuanian expansion which would soon push right to the Black Sea coastline. In 1340 when Yuri Boleslaw of Galicia-Volhynia died, the King of Poland Casimir III invaded, but quickly withdrew as the threat of Mongol retaliation mounted. While border clashes with Poland, and soon Hungary, commenced, Özbeg actually engaged in diplomacy even with Pope Benedict XII, notifying his holiness of Özbeg’s displeasure. Papa Benedict even offered to make the Kings of Poland and Hungary pay for damages Özbeg incurred because of them. A far cry from the days of the khans demanding the submission of the Popes, but the matter was not resolved before Özbeg’s death in 1341.

    And what of the Rus’? Here Özbeg intervened most forcefully, particularly compared to his predecessors. On Özbeg’s enthronement in 1313, the lead prince of the Rus’, Grand Prince Mikhail of Tver’, spent two years cozying up to Özbeg in his court, eager to secure his support. In his absence from the Rus’ Principalities, Mikhail’s rivals got to work. His main foe was his cousin, Yurii Daniilovich, the Prince of Moscow. A grandson of the famous Alexander Nevskii, Yurii was a man overflowing with ambition. While Mikhail of Tver’ was with Özbeg in his ordu, Yurii of Moscow stormed Novgorod and took it for himself. Mikhail convinced Özbeg to give him an army, and in 1315 they retook Novgorod. Yurii of Moscow was summoned to Özbeg, ostensibly for punishment. But the silver tongued Yurii managed to work his way into Özbeg’s favour, with this one simple trick: convincing Özbeg that he would be able to collect more tax revenues than Mikhail. For this, he received a yarliq installing him as Grand Prince of Vladimir, the chief Prince of the Rus’, as well as receiving a sister of Özbeg in marriage. Konchaka was her name, and she was baptized a Christian, taking the name of Agatha.

    Full of confidence and the Khan’s blessing, Yurii then attacked Mikhail of Tver’, and was promptly defeated. Yurii fled the field, while his newly betrothed Konchaka was taken captive by Mikhail. The Prince of Tver’ tried to tread carefully; in the Nikonian Chronicle, Mikhail treats the captured Mongol generals and troops respectfully, showering them with honours, gifts and releases many of them. His intention was to re-earn Özbeg’s favour, and be reinstalled as the Grand Prince. Unfortunately for him, Özbeg’s sister Konchaka then died in Tver’s captivity, in mysterious circumstances. As you might guess, this was not exactly beneficial to any reelection campaign. Mikhail of Tver’ was put on trial on Özbeg’s court, and after several months of deliberation, Mikhail was condemned and executed in 1318. Yurii of Moscow was thus confirmed as Grand Prince by Özbeg.

    The significance of this is twofold. Firstly, the khans had previously confirmed as Grand Prince whoever was presented to them, and thus followed Riurikid tradition. That is, succession as Grand Prince normally went brother-to-brother, before passing onto the next generation. Özbeg upended this by choosing the new candidate out-of-order, generationally speaking. Yurii of Moscow, as the son of Nevskii’s third son Daniil of Moscow, was very much out of place in this rota system while the previous generation was still alive. Furthermore, this was the first time that the Princes of Moscow received the title of Grand Prince. Moscow had been a minor settlement before the Mongol invasion. Because of Özbeg’s confirmation of the title onto Yurii, Moscow was put onto the steady course to, in time, ‘gather the lands of the Rus’, and eventually swallow up the remnants of the Golden Horde. But that was still some centuries ahead.

    Yurii was not to enjoy his position as Grand Prince for long. After being confirmed by Özbeg he returned to Rus’ where he was met with angry princes and an angry population. The late Mikhail of Tver’s sons swore bloody vengeance. Unable was Yurii to provide the promised volumes of tax. In 1322 Özbeg removed Yurii from his post, and by 1325 Yurii was murdered by Dmitri the Terrible-Eyes, a son of Mikhail of Tver’. Dmitri was executed by Özbeg the next year, but the Grand Princely title was given to Dmitri’s brother, Alexander of Tver’. Nearly did it seem that Tver’ would monopolize the position; Tver’s wealth was then greater than Moscow’s, their right to rule better recognized internally in Rus’. So it would have stayed, until 1327, when there was an uprising in Tver’ which resulted in the killing of several of Özbeg’s officials. Tver’ was then sacked as punishment and Grand Prince Alexander Mikhailovich fled for his life. And who stepped into the vacant spot of Grand Prince? Well, the brother of Yurii of Moscow, Ivan Daniilovich. Or as he is better known to posterity, Ivan I Kalita; Ivan “the purse,” or more usually translated as money-bags.

    Ivan, as you may guess by his sobriquet, proved quite adept at providing Özbeg the much desired tax revenue. Enjoying the position of Grand Prince of Vladimir until his death in the 1340s, Ivan Kalita’s lengthy time in the position solidified Moscow’s monopoly over the Grand Princely title, and began in earnest its ascendency. For Kalita greatly enriched the city itself, bringing other holdings to its authority and thereby turned the once minor city into one of the most eminent of the Rus’ principalities. The Metropolitan of the Rus’ Orthodox Church moved to Moscow in the 1320s, which also cemented it as the centre of Rus’ Christianity, politically. On his death he was succeeded by his son Simeon —confirmed of course by Özbeg Khan— as Prince of Moscow and Grand Prince of Vladimir, and so the title remained among their line. Ivan Kalita’s descendents would transform Moscow and the Rus’ principalities into the Tsardom of Russia, and ruled until the sixteenth century, when the extinct Rurikids gave way to the Romanovs.

    But such dreams of conquest were far off in the mid-fourteenth century. Rus’ history should not be read backwards. The fourteenth century Daniilovichi, the Moscow princely line, were not in a contest for independence against the khan. Far from it. As they had in effect, usurped the succession to the Grand Principality, and had numerous rivals due to it, the Princes of Moscow relied greatly on the khans for their legitimacy. The Grand Prince was the most important tax collector for the khan, and the basis had now been established for the khan to remove him if desired. And Özbeg was not above reminding the Rus’ of his might; some ten Rus’ princes were executed on Özbeg’s order, more than any of his predecessors had done combined. As long as the Princes of Moscow kept bringing in the revenue that the khan wanted, then Özbeg kept the Daniilovichi propped up against any threat. Without the Golden Horde, there was therefore, no rise of Moscow.

    When it came to the succession to the Golden Horde itself, as noted in our previous episode Özbeg had violently trimmed the Jochid lineage, hoping to ensure only his sons could succeed him. His favoured heir, Temür, predeceased him, leaving Özbeg with two troublesome boys; Tini Beg, and Jani Beg. Tini Beg seems to have been the favourite to succeed Özbeg, and after the death of Qutlugh-Temür, Tini Beg became the governor of Khwarezm on behalf of his father. A possible indication of falling out between though, comes from coinage minted near the end of Özbeg’s life. Then, coins begin to be minted bearing the names of Özbeg and Jani Beg, and letters from foreign rulers were addressed to Özbeg and Jani Beg, perhaps suggesting Jani Beg had taken the #2 role in the khanate. Sadly our information on the internal situation on the Jochid court is scant, preventing us from making any proper conclusions or charting its history in this time, particularly as the history of Özbeg’s final years is considerably less detailed.

    Possible troubles between his sons were not the only issues he faced. In 1339 a coup attempt briefly had Özbeg besieged in his palace in New Sarai before the guards broke it up, captured and killed most of the conspirators. Evidently there had been Christians involved; a letter from Pope Benedict XIII thanked Özbeg for only executing three of the Christian conspirators. As this coincides with the appearance of Jani Beg’s name on the coinage in place of Tini Beg, and Tini Beg apparently showed greater favour to Christians than Jani Beg ever did, we might wonder if Tini Beg had a hand in the coup attempt. How else would conspirators be so brazen as to attack the khan in his own palace? But this is mere speculation, and the origins of the coup are unfortunately lost to history.

    For a man of such a lengthy reign, and relatively well covered in the primary sources, Özbeg’s final days are surprisingly unclear. One Mamluk source, aš-Šuğā’īs, has Özbeg die while leading an attack on the Chagatai Khanate in 1342, an attempt by Özbeg to take advantage of that khanate’s ongoing political struggles. Another Mamluk writer, al-Asadī, mentions Özbeg dying in New Sarai in 1341. Most sources simply note the fact of his death in late 1341 or 1342, with no additional details. Regardless, Özbeg, Khan of the Golden Horde, died likely late in 1341, after 28 years on the throne. He was likely in his late 50s or 60s, making him one of the longest reigning, and longest living, Mongol khans. Only Khubilai Khaan’s 34 years on the throne was longer, while Chinggis Khan himself had only 21 years as Khan of the Mongol ulus. Wealth and prosperity within the khanate, and the violent removal of rival princes, ensured Özbeg enjoyed the longest reign of any khan in the 1300s, a century when most khans hardly ruled as long as 5 years and generally died in their mid-thirties.

    What do we make of Özbeg’s life then? In some respects it certainly was a Golden Age, in terms of the arts, crafts and city-building in the steppe. It’s a period of staggering prosperity in comparison to the anarchy which would soon follow. The internal stability of the Horde in this period alone makes it appear an oasis compared to the years on either side of his life. But Özbeg’s claim to fame, his efforts at islamization, were hollow and never complete, and likely they were never intended to be. In foreign policy Özbeg largely experienced defeats, or inadvertently laid the groundwork for the rapid loss in Mongol authority in certain regions. The Golden Horde likely enjoyed its greatest period of wealth and in some respects, international prestige under Özbeg. But the precedent he had set with horrific princely slaughters would soon reign ruin upon the Jochids, as would an event far outside of any monarch’s control: the Black Death.

    A final remark can be made regarding the modern Uzbeks. The name is sometimes attributed, even by medieval authors, as coming from Özbeg’s name. That is, that in some sense the Uzbeks saw themselves as followers of Özbeg Khan, and thereby named themselves for him. The argument though is rather weak; the Uzbek confederation would not emerge until well after Özbeg Khan’s death, and Özbeg as a name is hardly unique to the Jochid khan, for it dates back to the twelfth century, if not earlier. Much like the attribution of the Nogai Horde to the thirteenth century prince Nogai, it’s an effort to attach a nomadic union to an earlier prominent figure which rests on little or no direct evidence.

    With Özbeg’s death, it was time for his son Tini Beg to take the throne. But things would not go well for Tini Beg, as the Jochid state was soon to experience a period of anarchy it would never recover from. So be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.



  • Our previous episode took you through important transformations of the Golden Horde during the long-reign of Özbeg Khan; the islamization, and urbanization, of the khanate. Today we share the first part of our coverage of the political dimensions of Özbeg’s nearly thirty year reign, focusing on Özbeg’s interactions with the Ilkhanate and the Mamluk Sultanate, an area in which Özbeg suffered almost continual defeats. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    As we covered previously, upon becoming khan of the Golden Horde in 1313, Özbeg ordered a wide purge of the Jochid princes, a two-pronged assault to both remove potential rivals and promote Islam among the elite, for those who refused to convert were punished mortally. After his first year in power Özbeg would be remarkably tolerant to other religions within his empire, but he made it abundantly clear that the religion of the Khan and the court was Islam. One of Özbeg’s earliest actions was the construction of a mosque in the Crimean city of Solkhat, or as it’s known for Turkic speakers, Eski Qırım, or Staryi Krym after the Russian annexation. [note for David: Qırım=Crimea, hard K sound]. Built in 1314, parts of the mosque are still extant, though in the sixteenth century parts of it were moved into a new building some distance away.

    Özbeg was no idle khan. With the assistance of the powerful bey Qutlugh-Temür, Özbeg further weakened the power of the remaining Jochid princes with the establishment of the qarachi beys as the lead ministers of the empire, putting greater administrative power into the non-Chinggisid elite. The qarachi beys were headed by the beyleribey, the chief bey, held first by Qutlugh-Temür, and later his brother ‘Isa. These two men were instrumental in Özbeg’s control. Powerful, islamic lords, their early backing had not just been key in Özbeg seizing power in the first place, but in solidifying Özbeg’s islamization of the khanate’s upper echelons. Their support and influence among the military-elite were significant in Özbeg’s centralization of authority, and in the smooth function of the empire as lands and territories were redistributed with the change in authority. And Özbeg went to great effort to ensure their loyalty, creating a reciprocal marriage alliance with them that the Mongols called quda. Qutlugh-Temür married a Jochid princess named Turabey, while ‘Isa married one of Özbeg’s daughters, and in turn Özbeg married one of ‘Isa’s daughters. The brothers were then assigned some of the most economically important and lucrative regions within the khanate; Qutlugh-Temür as governor of Khwarezm, but with his authority expanded to stretch to the Lower Volga, while ‘Isa was situated in the Crimean Peninsula. With Özbeg in the capital on the Volga River, three of them were like three weights balancing the khanate.

    In 1314, only the second year of Özbeg’s reign, the Khan of Chagatai Khanate, Esen Buqa reached out to Özbeg. The ten years since the Pax Mongolica in 1304 had hardly instilled the desired unity among the khanates. Esen Buqa Khan was in the midst of growing tensions with the Ilkhanate and Yuan Dynasty, and feared a combined Toluid assault on the Chagatai lands. By then Esen-Buqa had taken captive Ilkhanid and Yuan envoys, and contacted Özbeg in an effort to bring him into an alliance, telling him that the Great Khan, Ayurburwada, saw Özbeg as illegitimate, and wished to depose him. Özbeg, likely on the council of the experienced Qutlugh-Temür, refused the request for support. The Golden Horde did not take part when Yuan forces invaded the Chagatai lands in 1316 while Esen-Buqa was campaigning in the Ilkhanate. The effort at neutrality with the khanates who had influence in Central Asia was also likely influenced by Özbeg’s success at bringing the Blue Horde, the eastern wing of the Golden Horde, closely under his control, especially after 1321. The once autonomous, if not outright independent, khanate became essentially a province of the Golden Khan through Özbeg’s effort. As the Blue Horde, backed by Özbeg’s troops, in this period extended to the Syr Darya and incorporated former Khwarezmian cities of Otrar, Jand and others, Özbeg did not want the Yuan Dynasty intervening with this profitable expansion.

    Throughout his life Özbeg retained amicable relations with the Yuan Khans, sending them tribute, gifts and his nominal allegiance in exchange for revenues from Jochid estates in China. He valued this income higher, and was not above sending his envoys to the Yuan court to remind them to keep up the payments. Some historians have gone as far as to suggest that Özbeg, influenced by the Yuan administrative system, based his reforms in the Golden Horde upon it’s two-tiered system. Others see Özbeg’s four qarachi beys an adoption of the system employed by the Yuan, where the keshig’s four day-commanders had to countersign the orders of the khan. Furthermore, Özbeg encouraged and profited greatly from the great overland trade. Wares both originating from, and influenced by, China are found within the remains of the Horde cities. The trade across Asia, from Egypt, India, China, the Chagatais and even the Ilkhanate, was the source of much of the great wealth enjoyed by the Jochid khans in the fourteenth century. For more on that, be sure to listen to our previous episode though.

    But Özbeg was no man of peace. His lack of involvement in Esen Buqa’s war with the Ilkhanate and Yuan was not out of a firm belief in the pax Mongolica. In 1314 Özbeg was simply not in a position of security to take part in a larger conflict, and neither did he wish to sour relations with the Great Khan. In fact, Özbeg was to take up seriously Jochid claims on the Caucasus. After his enthronement he sent envoys to the Ilkhanate demanding they cede these lands to the Golden Horde, while another letter reached the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt, urging Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad to join him in an attack on the Ilkhanate. When the opportunity presented itself, Özbeg was to commit wholeheartedly to the task.

    This came after the death of Il-Khan Ölejitü in 1316, and the enthronement of the young Abu Sa’id as Il-Khan the next year. Özbeg promptly set about ordering preparations for an all-out assault; a prince of the Chagatai lineage who had recently defected to the Ilkhanate, Yasa’ur, was convinced to revolt in the eastern part of the Ilkhanate, while Özbeg rallied a great host to assault the Caucasus. In late 1318 the invasion commenced, in what was likely the largest army put to the task since the days of Berke and Nogai almost 60 years before. In the account of the contemporary writer Wassaf, Özbeg’s official pretext was that he came to rest the regency of the Ilkhanate away from Choban, the non-Chinggisid who really ran the Ilkhanate while Abu Sa’id was still in his minority. Yet, Abu Sa’id and Choban rose to the occasion. In the east, Yasa’ur’s revolt was crushed, and the young Abu Sa’id and Choban defeated and repulsed Özbeg along the river Kur, though not before Abu Sa’id was nearly overcome by the Jochid forces.

    Özbeg was not put aside though; in the early 1320s he resumed the effort, this time in conjunction with an army under the Chagatai Khan Kebek. The dating is a bit uncertain; 1322 or 1325, or perhaps these were two distinct invasions. Regardless of the date, the result was the same. The Ilkhanate was victorious, Choban’s skilled military mind outplaying Özbeg, and Choban even pursued Özbeg’s fleeing army back into the Golden Horde. Özbeg’s dreams at conquering the Caucasian pastures did not end. In 1335 Özbeg gave it another go, rumoured to have been invited by Abu Sa’id’s wife, Baghdad Khatun. In the midst of riding north to meet him, Abu Sa’id died, possibly poisoned by his estranged wife. Yet here too, Özbeg was defeated by Abu Sa’id’s hastily chosen successor, Arpa Khan. It may have been too that Özbeg was demoralized when news came of the death of his ally, Qutlugh-Temür, late in 1335. So ended Özbeg’s final attempt to invade the lands of the Ilkhanate. No single reason is obviously apparent for the consistent defeats. It was not based on an inherent military differentiation; both armies continued to field lightly-armoured horse archers. The Ilkhans relied on knowledge of the Caucasus, fortifying and blocking the Jochids at river crossings and preempting Jochid mobility. Jochid defeats may not have necessarily been military failures, as much as an inability to advance except through strategic choke points controlled by large, well-supplied Ilkhanid armies. There is an assumption that Ilkhanid troops were on average better armed and equipped than their Jochid counterparts, even though Özbeg may have fielded larger armies. One factor seems to have been Özbeg himself; the Ilkhanate’s commanders he faced, Choban Noyan and Arpa Khan, were simply better commanders than Özbeg.

    Özbeg’s repeated assaults on the Ilkhanate became a main detail of his reign in numerous medieval accounts, and was evidently well known; the Book of the Knowledge of all the Kingdoms, an anonymous, late-fourteenth century work by a Spanish Franciscan, is a source where the author claims to have travelled around the world, though generally repeats nonsensical claims. Yet even here, a recognizable account of Özbeg’s invasion of the Ilkhanate is presented. A circa 1330 Franciscan account, the Book of the Estate of the Great Khaan, has Özbeg attack Abu Sa’id with 707,000 horsemen, a forced he raised “without pressing hard on his empire.” Some centuries later, Turkic histories like that of Abu’l Ghazi Bahadur Khan even retained mentions of Özbeg’s campaigns against the Ilkhanate, even when such sources are otherwise rather brisk or religion focused when it comes to describing Özbeg’s reign.

    With the military front making no progress, Özbeg was not above that other favoured Jochid strategy. That is, attempting to get the Mamluks to do the work for them. Özbeg had opened contact with the Mamluks soon after his enthronement, where he signaled his support for the alliance. Özbeg heavily promoted his conversion to Islam in his letters, as well as his successes in converting the nomadic population. Coupled with allowing the Genoese back into the Black Sea ports and reopening the slave trade with the Mamluks, Özbeg was clearly marking the time had come to move past the poor Jochid-Mamluk relations that had existed during the reign of his predecessor Toqta Khan. For the Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad, this seemed a convincing enough transformation, and showed himself willing to commit to Özbeg’s initiative. It was this detente, as well as his dreams of a glorious Qalawunid dynasty, that led al-Nasir Muhammad to make an unusual request. In 1315, his messengers arrived in Özbeg’s ordu requesting a Chinggisid princess for al-Nasir Muhammad. Thus began the lengthy, and headache inducing, process of organizing the first, and only, marriage between a Chinggisid and the Mamluks of Egypt.

    It should first be noted that the marriage of Chinggisid women to non-Mongol dynasties was not uncommon. Numerous examples can be found with the other khanates, but for the Golden Horde alone, shortly before al-Nasir’s offer Özbeg had married his own sister Konchaka to Prince Yurii Daniilovich of Moscow, and during the 1250s the khans had offered princesses in marriage to the Hungarian king Béla IV. To the Mongols, such a marriage symbolized one thing; submission to the house of Chinggis Khan, for only a subject could have the right to marry a daughter of his lineage. And Özbeg certainly thought so. As we noted in earlier episodes, the Golden Horde likely imagined the Mamluks as their vassals, and Özbeg must have seen this as a confirmation of it, even if the Mamluks did not view it as such. Negotiations went on, and Özbeg’s demands for a great dowry —some 27,000 dinars, which the Sultan had to borrow from merchants—were reluctantly met. The princess, Tulunbey, arrived in Cairo in 1320 after five years of back and forth, and the marriage was undertaken.

    Unfortunately for Tulunbey, Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad was not the most loving of husbands. Al-Nasir Muhammad had, by that point in his life, lost his throne three separate times, and his youth been manhandled by greedy emirs; the consequences of these emirs resulted in the boy sultan suffering an humiliating defeat at the hands of Ghazan Il-Khan in 1300. Extreme paranoia of all those around him was al-Nasir Muhammad’s primary personality trait, and he was not exactly unjustified in this. But it seems the Sultan rather quickly came to doubt Tulunbey’s heritage, and accused her of not actually being a Chinggisid. The Mamluk chronicles are confused over her background; variously, they identify her as a descendant of Batu, of Berke, or as Özbeg’s daughter, sister or niece. Yet these chroniclers do not share al-Nasir Muhammad’s doubt over the fact of her being a Chinggisid, and appear almost embarrassed at his accusation. As the Mamluks’ general portrayal of Özbeg is as a pious and sincere Muslim monarch, such an accusation of an important ally was a bit of a needless incident. Furthermore, it seems an unusual ploy for Özbeg to play given the scenario, and his outrage over al-Nasir’s treatment of her seems rather much had Özbeg in-fact sent a dummy Chinggisid.

    But even before al-Nasir’s suspicions of Tulunbey developed, his detente with Özbeg had already begun to fray. Özbeg had used the marriage to make greater economic and military demands of the Mamluks, requesting that al-Nasir Muhammad attack the Ilkhanate. As the early 1320s saw the ongoing peace talks between al-Nasir Muhammad and the Il-Khan Abu Sa’id, Özbeg’s demands for military asssitance were evermore discomforting. The frustration of Özbeg Khan resulted in him sending lower-ranking embassies to the Mamluks, beginning a spiraling game of tit-for-tat where each side further disrespected the other’s envoys in an ever-escalating series of diplomatic slaps. At one point Özbeg even forbid the sale of slaves to Egypt in reaction. Perhaps not coincidentally, Özbeg also began to build up his own body of mamluk guards, according to Ibn Battuta. This fall out hardly bode well for the relationship between Sultan al-Nasir and Tulunbey.

    The marriage to Tulunbey produced no children, and by 1327 al-Nasir divorced her and married her off to a lower ranking commander. It took Özbeg some time to learn of this, but once he did he was furious. In 1334 his letter arrived in Cairo, and lambasted the Sultan, telling him that Tulunbey should have been sent back to the Horde, and wrote “Someone like you should not injure the daughters of the Qa’ans!” Özbeg, like all khans, thought little of the Mamluks’ origins as Qipchap slaves. For him to divorce and humiliate a Chinggisid princess was an insult beyond measure.

    Al-Nasir’s very thoughtful response was to claim that Özbeg had been misinformed, and that actually Tulunbey had sadly died. In fact, Tulunbey was still very much alive; her second husband had recently died though, so al-Nasir forced her to marry another commander. This fellow too predeceased her, and Tulunbey was married to a fourth husband. She never returned to the Golden Horde, and died in Cairo in the 1360s, where her tomb remains today.

    Özbeg requested that al-Nasir Muhamamd provide him a daughter to marry in recompense. Just like he would do with the Ilkhanate when they made the same request, al-Nasir equivocated, claiming his daughters were too young to marry. At the same time, he was marrying them off to Mamluk emirs. The relationship between their two states remained strained. While Mamluks chronicles retain a high opinion of Özbeg, neither al-Nasir or Özbeg cared much for the other, and tension remained until both died in 1341. In effect this was the great result of much esteemed Jochid-Mamluk alliance. What initially may have proved promising, largely turned into diplomatic squabbling, annoyance at the failure of the other party to meet expected demands, and never materialized into actual cooperation against the Ilkhanate. At best it stopped the Ilkhanate from truly concentrating too greatly on the Mamluk or Golden Horde frontiers. At worst, it was coincidental diplomatic posturing with two states the Ilkhanate had gone to war with independently. Özbeg, the mighty Islamic khan, proved no more effective with the Mamluks than his non-Muslim predecessors.

    Özbeg’s “southern policy” with the Mamluks and the Ilkhanate then, was not one of great successes. But what of his western frontiers, with Europe and the Rus’? That will be the topic of our next episode, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.



  • “Account of the exalted Sultan Muhammad Uzbak Khan. His name is Muhammad Uzbak, and Khan in their language means ‘sultan.’ This sultan is mighty in sovereignty, exceedingly powerful, great in dignity, lofty in station, victor over the enemies of God, the people of Constantinople the Great, and diligent in the jihad against them. His territories are vast and his cities great; they include al-Kafa, al-Kirim, al-Machar, Azaq, Sudaq and Khwarezm, and his capital is al-Sara. He is one of the seven kings who are the great and mighty kings of the world. [...] this sultan when he is on the march, travels in a separate mahalla, accompanied by his mamluks and his officers of state, and each one of his khatuns travels separately in her own mahalla. When he wishes to be with any one of them, he sends to her to inform her of this, and she prepares to receive him.”

    So the great traveller Ibn Battuta describes Özbeg, Khan on the Golden Horde, during his visit to that khan’s camp. From 1313 until his death in 1341, Özbeg enjoyed the lengthiest of reigns of a Mongol ruler, second only to his distant cousin Khubilai Khaan. The powerful Özbeg would be long remembered as the mightiest of Jochid rulers, and his life was a watershed for the Horde. After him, all khans were Muslims, and his life would be a model, the marker of the Horde’s Golden Age. Yet, despite the proclamations of his excellence, tensions bubbled under the surface, and Özbeg’s great power did not translate into great success. In today’s episode, we take you through the transformation of the Golden Horde under Özbeg, looking specifically at islamization and urbanization. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    Özbeg was a son of To’rilcha, a grandson of Möngke-Temür Khan, a great-great-grandson of Batu, a great-great-great-grandson of Jochi, and thereby a descendant of Chinggis Khan. Özbeg’s father To’rilcha had been a part of the four-wary princely junta that ruled the Horde from 1287 to 1291 under Tele-Buqa Khan. As one of the top princes of this union, and one of the sons of the prestigious Möngke-Temür Khan, To’rilcha had certainly been a powerful prince within the horde. It seems Özbeg drew much of his initial legitimacy from this, and retained a great distaste for his uncle Toqta Khan, who had To’rilcha and the other princes killed in the 1291 coup with the aid of Nogai. Toqta then married Özbeg’s stepmother, To’rilcha’s chief wife Bayalun Khatun, and apparently exiled Özbeg to Khwarezm, which cemented Özbeg’s hatred for his uncle. It’s not surprising then that Özbeg is often accused of being behind Toqta’s somewhat mysterious death in 1312. As we covered in our episode last week, the sources are contradictory over what immediately followed. Though Mamluk sources tend to have Toqta’s sons predecease him, a number of other accounts have Özbeg battle one of Toqta’s surviving sons. Regardless, by the start of 1313 Özbeg was duly enthroned as Khan of the Golden Horde, and if he had not done so already, made public his conversion to Islam.

    Özbeg had a particular view on how to hold onto power, which involved executing a great number of potential rivals to the throne. At least one hundred princes and members of the military elite were killed in perhaps the largest princely massacre of the Mongol Empire and its successor khanates. The justification for many of the deaths was the failure of the given princes to convert to Islam, but this was almost certainly little more than an excuse to substantially trim the branches of the aristocracy. Özbeg wanted to ensure that there would be not only no rivals to his own position, but that only his own sons would be able to succeed him.

    Certainly, islamization was a key part of Özbeg’s reign. There can be no doubt over its spread amongst the Jochid elite from these years onwards, and accounts like Ibn Battuta not only stress the piety of Özbeg and his court, but how islamic institutions were now seeped into the actual administration of the Golden Horde. This ranged from readers of the quran accompanying the royal family everywhere, to Islamic qadi courts now operating alongside the initial justice system established by the dynasty, the jarquchi courts. From Özbeg’s coinage, we know he took the Islamic title and name of Sultan Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad, and in his contacts with the Mamluk Sultanate he expressed loudly the notice of his conversion, and his success in converting the nomads of his empire to Islam. The specific mentions of him killing shamans and Buddhist lamas also indicates an effort to actively uproot the old ways.

    Yet there remains considerable evidence to continued religious plurality within the Golden Horde and for Özbeg himself. For example, at the very start of his reign he wedded his step-mother, Bayalun Khatun, a widow of both Toqta and his father To’rilcha. An experienced political player with many contacts, her support was important in Özbeg’s ascension. Yet wedding his own step-mother was quite against Islamic law and practice. Here Özbeg’s qadis conveniently found a loophole; as neither of her previous husbands had been Muslims, neither marriage was thus legal, and hence technically Özbeg was not marrying his own step-mother. We can’t know if that convinced anyone, but noone had the power to tell Özbeg “no.”

    Moreover, we know that Özbeg did not seek to convert the Christian populations of his realm to Islam. The Rus’ chronicles mention no effort on the part of Özbeg to do so, and only rarely do they even remark on his status as a Muslim. One of his earliest actions as khan, even in the midst of the most zealous period after his conversion, was going out of his way to welcome the Genoese back to Caffa, and in 1332 granted the Venetians right to build a quarter at Tana, on the mouth of the Don River. In quick order he confirmed tax exemptions for the local Franciscan community and gave them permission to build a cathedral in Caffa. Even when a nominal order went out banning the ringing of church bells, it seems there was little enforcement of it, given that this Franciscan cathedral continued to ring them according to other sources. These were not the only privileges they were granted, for the Franciscans were also given freedom to perform missionary activities deep within Horde lands. A Franciscan letter from 1320 indicates that their missionaries had reached as far as Bashkiria, only six years into Özbeg’s reign. A number of extant Franciscan letters survive speaking of the success of their missions due not just to Özbeg’s tolerance, but of even his family. Özbeg’s chief khatun after Bayalun’s death was Taydula, who was specifically noted for her patronage of Christian communities. In fact, letters remain from Pope John XXII and Pope Benedict XII thanking Özbeg and Taydula for their favourable treatment of Christians in the Horde.

    Though Christians received privileges from Özbeg, there is also references to his treatment of other religious groups. During his trip to the Golden Horde, Ibn Battuta met a Jewish person from Spain. Buddhist Uyghurs remained a part of Özbeg’s court. And from other evidence too we know of the continued practice of non-Islamic beliefs well after Özbeg. The Golden Horde’s powerful beylerbeyi, Edigü, who took power some fifty years after Özbeg’s death, also made a name for himself having to stamp out Buddhism and shamanism. And in the fifteenth century a few eye witness reports, such as Johann Schiltberger, indicate a limited presence of traditional folk religions. In other lands of the former Golden Horde, such as in what is now Kazakhstan, the advance of Islam among the Kazakhs remains a topic of debate, with some arguing that it was not until late in the nineteenth century that the islamization was really complete among the nomads there. Özbeg, much like his predecessors Berke and Töde-Möngke, could make a show of the islamization of their states in diplomacy with the Mamluks, but nomads clung, often quite stubbornly, to their old ways.

    Yet no mistake should be made; for Özbeg and his successors, their government was now Islamic, and there was no question about that. Özbeg’s active promotion of Islam, and invitation of Islamic administrators to his cities and government did a considerable amount to promote the religion and bring more converts. Moreover, Özbeg actively had much of his support come from Islamic beys within the Horde, such as his powerful ally Qutlugh-Temür, the governor of Khwarezm. And the effort stuck. Every khan to succeed Özbeg seems to have been a Muslim. According to the Mamluk chroniclers ibn Taghriberdi and al-Safadi, Özbeg ceased to wear his hair in traditional Mongol fashion or to Mongolian hats. Contemporary accounts from the Ilkhanate written before the 1330s such as Wassaf and Qashani portray Özbeg as a pious Muslim, who strictly punished soldiers who harassed sufis. Özbeg’s first embassy to the Mamluks arrived in Cairo in April 1314 and loudly proclaimed their lord’s conversion to Islam. And of course Ibn Battuta, traveling and meeting Özbeg in the 1330s, present Özbeg unambiguously as a Muslim, albeit one who enjoyed large feasts and drinking during ramadan. The image that comes across then, is a relatively adaptable monarch when it came to religion, who knew how to press hard when he could and thus promote Islam, but when necessary to remain flexible to local custom, and keep his empire running smoothly. The fact that Özbeg would sit on the Jochid throne for thirty years speaks much to his success in these matters, compared to the very short reigns of many contemporary khans.

    Of course, nothing can be said about Özbeg’s islam without mentioning Baba Tükles. This famous sufi became, in legend, the man who converted Özbeg to Islam. The story goes that he and Özbeg’s shamans were to hold a competition to prove whose religion was true by seeing who could survive inside a hot oven. The shaman, as most humans would, burnt to death, but when they checked on Baba Tükles, he was sitting comfortably in the oven wearing nothing but a suit of maille and reciting prayers. Seeing that they had opened the oven’s entrance, Baba Tükles asked what the hurry was. Thus was everyone amazed at this miracle, and converted happily to Islam, mashallah. This conversion narrative, masterfully explored in an excellent monograph by Devin DeWeese, became hugely popular in Turkic and Tatar accounts from the sixteenth century onwards. However, Baba Tükles is a mythic figure, not appearing until centuries after Özbeg’s death. Sources contemporary to Özbeg name several other individuals, such as a Bukharan sufi named Ibn ‘Abd-ul-Hamid, as the leading men who converted Özbeg. Perhaps one of them became the inspiration for Baba Tükles, though no fourteenth century account references men burnt inside ovens.

    After the massacres of the Jochid princes, Özbeg set about reorganizing the Jochid administration. In short, the power of the princes was broken, and Özbeg ruled through the non-Chinggisid noyad. For Özbeg, these were the four ulus emirs, called also qarachu begs or ulus begs. Essentially, the four most powerful clan leaders within the Golden Horde not of the dynasty of Chinggis Khan. The head of these four was the beylerbeyi, who acted like the viceroy of the khan. Essentially, these four men discussed and carried out policy with the khan, and their stamp or signature was necessary on all official documents. The origins of the institution are unclear. Similar institutions are recorded in the other khanates; in the Ilkhanate, we know that chancellery documents had to be signed off by the heads of the keshig day guards, powerful, prestigious and hereditary positions. There is some argument that the positions actually were always a part of the Mongol Empire, while others see it as an innovation of Khubilai Khaan, and during the detente between the various khanates after 1304, it spread to other khanates. In the Golden Horde though, the qarachu begs appear distinct from the keshig, and appears as a formal institution throughout all of its successor khanates. For Özbeg, his first beylerberyi was Qutlugh-Temür, the skilled governor of Khwarezm who had been such a stalwart ally of Özbeg in his rise to power. Until his death in the 1330s, Qutlugh-Temür was the number two man in the Golden Horde. Together they led an administrative transformation, redistributing lands, islamicizing parts of government and greatly strengthening the central might of the khan. The Blue Horde, the khanate of the line of Orda east of the Ural River, was nearly totally subsumed in this period and lost its autonomy.

    Özbeg’s new government also fostered the growth of cities within the steppe. The urbanisation of the Horde in the Volga Steppes had been ongoing steadily for years. In a trade network based along the major rivers of the steppe, important camps of the khans and princes, or those few-existing steppe settlements, had flourished under the stability wrought by the Jochids. It should be noted that the nomads of the Golden Horde did not aimlessly wander from one side of the khanate to another. Instead, the entire empire was divided into appanages, and allotted to minghaans. A given minghaan, meaning a thousand men and their families, was given access to pastures and natural resources within that appanage to provide for themselves. When nomadizing, they travelled between these allotted pastures, and were forbidden from accessing those of another minghaan without permission or paying a fee. These minghaans were placed under the control of princes and the military elite, essentially like a feudal estate. What this meant was that the lands of the Eurasian steppe were kept remarkably stable, and no longer divided between warring factions where each sought to claim more land from another.

    No longer concerned about raiding by Qipchaps, and rivers now marked by permanent ferries sponsored by the khans, merchants moved relatively freely across the steppes, paying taxes and tribute but able to make a tidy profit for a bit of work. With then came either imports from Europe, Mediterranean, Central Asia or China, to exports, such as grains, horses, glass, beads, pottery Siberian furs, honeys, horses and slaves, which travelled to the Rus’, Ilkhanate, Mamluk Egypt and as far as India. Indeed, as the Horde’s cities grew, so did its ability to manufacture goods for both internal and external trade. And industries grew around them to support these networks, either by importing the materials needed for manufacture, to feeding the employees and housing the merchants who transported it. A wetter climate in the early fourteenth century coupled with the careful control the Jochids kept of land allowances also allowed for a wider cultivation of farmland within the steppes to better feed growing settlements. Then these people’s spiritual and entertainment needs had to be met, requiring the construction of mosques and other places of worship, market places, bath houses, manors for the elite and more, which made steady work for builders and stone masons.

    Altogether this fostered a veritable explosion in the growth of the Horde’s major cities during the reign of Özbeg, recorded both in written sources and the extensive archaeological work in the former Horde lands. Well over a hundred such Golden Horde settlements are now known. The most important of these were along the lower reaches of the Volga River, towards the Delta where it meets the Caspian Sea. Here lay the Horde’s capitals; the first of these was Sarai, founded by Batu after the withdrawal from Europe. Berke had apparently founded a settlement further upstream, and Özbeg moved the capital there. It is assumed it was to better lay out his desired city, and avoid the flooding which plagued old Sarai, for the Caspian Sea was rising every year of the 1320s. Hence, the new capital was called Berke’s Sarai, or Sarai al-Jadid, “New Sarai.” While originally made up of a few hundred felt gers and a handful of permanent structures, these cities rapidly transformed. Felt gers were replaced with immobile homes, originally maintaining the same shape before over time becoming polygonal, then square. Most of the Horde’s major cities followed a similar layout as evidenced by archaeological study; one or more main squares surrounded by large buildings, with streets radiating out from it in rectangular districts. They contained great complex manor houses for the nobility; numerous craft workshops, from bone carving, pottery, iron works, glass-blowing, brick making, bronze casting, and jewellery production, as well as bathhouses, mosques, madrassas, necropolises, and orchards.

    The largest of the ruins is the site known as Selitrennoe, which scholarship currently associates with Sarai al-Jadid, the second capital of the Golden Horde. Its remains stretch over 7 kilometres along the Akhtuba River, a minor branch off the Volga, and 2 kilometres into the steppe, and at its height in the mid-fourteenth century some estimates give it a population of 75,000. Ibn Battuta visited the city in the 1330s, and his description is as follows:

    “The city of [Sarai] is one of the finest of cities, of boundless size, situated in a plain, choked with the throng of its inhabitants, and possessing good bazaars and broad streets. We rode out one day with one of its principal men, intending to make a circuit of the city and find out its extent. Our lodging place was at one end of it and we set out from it in the early morning, and it was after midday when we reached the other end. We then prayed the noon prayer and ate some food, and we did not get back to our lodging until the hour of the sunset prayer. One day we went on foot across the breadth of the town, going and returning, in half a day, this too through a continuous line of houses, where there were no ruins and no gardens. The city has thirteen mosques for the holding of Friday prayers, [...]; as for the other mosques, they are exceedingly numerous. There are various groups of people among its inhabitants; these include the [Mongols], who are the dwellers in this country and its Sultans, and some of whom are Muslims, then the [Alans], the [Qipchaqs], the [Circassians], the Rus’ and [Greeks]. Each group lives in a separate quarter with its own bazaars. Merchants and strangers from the two ‘Iraqs, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere, live in a quarter which is surrounded by a wall for the protection of the properties of the merchants. The sultan’s palace in it is called Altun Tash, altun meaning ‘gold,’ and tash ‘head.’”

    The remains of the palace of Altan Tash have likely been identified, and what a magnificent structure it was. As the largest building found within the Golden Horde, the palace in its glory must have been over 32 metres long and over 40 metres wide. Made of fired brick and timber, its great hall alone was 5.8 by 9.4 metres across, with tiled floors and elegant, gilded polychromatic mosaics along the walls. Some 35 rooms have been identified, including a child’s room where children’s drawings were found carved into the plastered walls. Unlike the palaces of Qaraqorum or Khubilai’s capitals at Shangdu or Dadu, the palace of Sarai was not influenced by Chinese design, but Islamic. Seljuq, Khwarezmian and Iranian influences are detected throughout the remains. Similar layouts and designs, albeit on smaller scale, are found in both Sarai itself and the other cities of the Horde.

    While Özbeg continued to live in nomadic encampments travelling hither and yon across the Horde, he certainly stopped in Sarai when business demanded it, and he sought to ensure he lived in style. The lower Volga from New Sarai down to Hajji Tarkhan on the Volga Delta became the densest part of a new urban network, with these major centres each surrounded by dozens and dozens of smaller settlements, pitted with orchards, farmland and surrounded by the endless grass sea where herds of the nomads still roamed. Typical of these settlements, is that before 1360 they were built without fortifications; no enemy would march across the steppe, and if he did he would have to face the Khan’s horsemen. Only when the Horde fragmented, were there foes who could march on Sarai.

    The growth of the Horde’s cities was not caused by Özbeg Khan. Rather, it was a long running process which evolved out of several developments laid down by his predecessors. But Özbeg took advantage of it, and cultivated it. Or at least, his knowledgeable ministers did, and Özbeg supported them, happy to see goods and coins fill up his warehouses while leaving the trouble of collecting it to others. He actively encouraged settlement and trade, welcoming craftsmen, merchants and administrators from across the Middle East and Central Asia to bring their knowledge and wares to his cities. As already mentioned, he granted quarters in cities along the Black Sea to Italian merchants. On their ships the goods of the Golden Horde, particularly grains and slaves, could be sold across the Mediterranean, while desired imports were brought into his empire. From those port cities merchant caravans could travel east to the Volga cities like Sarai al-Jadid; there a merchant could exchange his wares and rest, before returning home, or travelling south to the Ilkhanate, or even eastwards into Khwarezm. Here Gurganj, once destroyed by Özbeg’s ancestor Jochi, was restored to prominence and was the Jochid’s chief city in the east, a staging point for those travellers going deeper into Central Asia, or perhaps even to Yuan China. Özbeg certainly maintained contacts with the Great Khans, and routinely requested the delivery of the tribute owed him from the Jochid’s injü lands in China. Özbeg could take advantage of, and capitalize on, the development of the Jochid lands and the normalization of contacts with the other Chinggisid states. In short, he enjoyed the fruits of a tree grown generations before. And at each ferry crossing, in each city, and each border, every passing merchant paid tax to the Khan of the Golden Horde, in coins minted in Jochid cities and bearing the names of the Jochid Khan. In this manner, Özbeg became a wealthy man indeed.

    It was a system reliant extensively on wider Eurasian trade networks; thus the Jochid economy would face a terrible consequence were something to happen to that network. But that’s a matter for another episode. Having looked at the transformation of the Golden Horde, our next episode will look at the politics and campaigns of Özbeg Khan, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.



  • With the death of Nogai by 1300, one man was now master of the Golden Horde; Toqta, son of Möngke-Temür Khan, great-grandson of Batu, great-great-grandson of Jochi, and great-great-great-grandson of Chinggis Khan. After the troubles of the 1290s, Toqta ushered in a new age of stability as rivals to power were snuffed out over his twenty year reign. Today we take you through the reign of Toqta Khan. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    Toqta, known also as Toqtogha, was one of Möngke-Temür Khan’s ten sons. While most of Möngke-Temür’s children had joined Tele-Buqa Khan’s alliance from 1287 to 1291, Toqta and three other brothers— Tudan, Sarai-Buqa and Bürlük—seem to have been excluded for unclear reasons. We have only reference to Toqta being seen as a strong figure of certain manly qualities, supposedly embodying Mongol ideals of rulership. Perhaps a skilled archer and rider, a fearsome wrestler and warrior, Toqta appeared an ideal rival to the always militarily-doomed Tele-Buqa.

    Regardless of why, Toqta first appears in the sources being singled out as a rival by Tele-Buqa and his allies. The story, as you heard in our previous episodes, resulted in Toqta allying with Nogai and killing most of his brothers. In 1291 Toqta was enthroned as khan, perhaps also in another four way power division with his surviving brothers, according to the Mamluk chroniclers. Nogai then returned to his territory along the Danube. Popularly it is claimed that Toqta spent his first years as Khan under Nogai’s thumb, but there is relatively little information to support that. Both Toqta and Nogai demanded the other kill surviving supporters of Tele-Buqa Khan, but Nogai is given no involvement in the sources in the major actions Toqta undertook. In 1293, on the request of the Rus’ prince Andrei, son of the famed Alexander Nevskii, Toqta sent his brother Tudan on a devastating attack on the Rus’, aimed on ousting Andrei’s rival brother, Dmitri. 14 Rus’ cities, including Moscow, were sacked, and Novgorod only narrowly avoided destruction due to a timely, and very expensive, pile of gifts. Dmitri died the next year, leaving Andrei as Grand Prince of the Rus’ undisputed. In 1294 Toqta also organized a peace treaty with the Il-Khan Geikhatu, ending hostilities with the Ilkhanate.

    As we covered in the last episode, most of Toqta’s reign in the second half of the 1290s was caught up dealing with Nogai, as growing tensions were fanned into open war between them. After initial defeats, Toqta succeeded in overcoming Nogai, and the old dog was dead by 1300. So ended the first decade of Toqta’s reign, and he could begin to restore the Jochid Khanate’s wider influence. On Nogai’s defeat the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II sent a daughter to marry Toqta, while the Rus’ princes reaffirmed their vassalage. At a gathering of the princes in 1304 Toqta’s influence over them was confirmed with a reallotment of certain cities.

    Like his father Möngke-Temür Khan, Toqta sought to extend the Jochids’ influence over their borders, though faced difficulties in doing so. He placed his brothers Bürlük, Sarai-Buqa and his own sons Ilbasar and Tükel-Buqa into prominent governorships. Sarai-Buqa was made the master of the late Nogai’s former territory. On Toqta’s permission, the new Bulgarian tsar Theodore Svetoslav killed Nogai’s son Chaka in 1301, and on Chaka’s death Sarai-Buqa moved into the Nogayid lands, and Toqta’s son Tükel-Buqa took Nogai’s former administrative centre at Saqchi, thus reasserting the Horde’s mastery over the region. Bulgaria, counter to some suggestions, remained a part of the Golden Horde as a vassal. Toqta might have thought the matter finished, had Nogai’s sole surviving son, Turai, not come out of hiding. Turai, through some silver tongue-work, was welcomed into the local court of Toqta’s brother Sarai-Buqa. In short order, Turai convinced Sarai-Buqa that he should be khan, and thereby had Sarai-Buqa march against Toqta. Sarai-Buqa sought to get another brother, Bürlük, in on the plot. Bürlük made a show of agreeing, while contacting Toqta in secret. With his brother’s permission, Bürlük turned on Turai and Sarai-Buqa, capturing and killing them. Toqta’s son Ilbasar was then made overseer of Nogai’s former lands.

    Meanwhile, on his far eastern border, Toqta had another opportunity arise. There lay the Blue Horde, the khanate under the rule of the line of Orda, the older brother of Batu. Whether the Blue Horde was ever really under the authority of Batu’s line, or was in fact its own independent khanate from its inception, is a matter of hot debate in the scholarship. Regardless of the original intention, during the reign of Orda’s grandson Qonichi from the 1270s until 1300, the Blue Horde was, for all intents and purposes, its own power outside of the influence of the Batuid lineage. Independent contemporaries like Marco Polo and Rashīd al-Dīn attest to the fact. Qonichi, according to Rashīd al-Dīn, was so monstrously overweight that no horse could bear him, and he needed to be carried around in a cart. His guards had to watch over him at night just to make sure his neck fat did not crush his throat, and allegedly, a failure to do so one night resulted in Qonichi’s death. Whether we can give any credence to this story, or it was simply a yarn which made its way across the Mongol Empire we cannot know, but one thing that is apparent is that Qonichi had a keen political mind. While Qaidu Khan fought for mastery over the Chagatais and warred with the Yuan Khans, Qonichi’s realm appeared a beacon of stability. With every other Mongol khanate, Qonichi succeeded in maintaining a friendly or neutral diplomatic status, which secured his realm from the conflicts that marked the second half of the thirteenth century.

    On Qonich’s death in the late 1290s, his son Bayan succeeded him. However, here he was challenged by a younger brother, Mumkqiya, while the Chagatayid Khan Du’a and his Ögedeid ally Qaidu backed one of Bayan’s cousins, Küilük, evidently seen as a man more complimentary to the needs of the Central Asian Mongols. Bayan went to Toqta Khan for aid, but Toqta was at that point in the midst of war with Nogai, and could lend no support beyond sending envoys to Du’a and Qaidu asking them to kindly leave Bayan alone. Somehow, that did not convince Du’a and Qaidu, and we are told that they did not even bother to respond to Toqta’s messages. Qaidu’s death in 1301 didn’t halt the conflict, and by 1303 Bayan was sending out envoys to the Great Khan, Khubilai’s grandson Temür Öljeitü, and the Il-Khan Ghazan, seeking alliance against Du’a Khan. Du’a, undesiring getting caught between a rock and a hard place —that is, the Il-Khan and the Great Khan— proved amenable to the idea of a general Mongol peace. So came about over 1304 and 1305 the Great Mongol peace as Du’a Khan of the Chagatai Khanate, Qaidu’s sons in the Ögedeid khanate, Bayan Khan in the Blue Horde and Ghazan’s successor, Öljeitü Il-Khan, all recognized the supremacy of the Great Khan. When Toqta was alerted of it, he too jumped on board. For the first time since Berke became khan in the 1250s, the Jochid ruler now recognized the overlordship of the Great Khan. For the remainder of Yuan rule in China, the Golden Horde officially regarded Khubilai’s heirs as the rightful ruler of the world— albeit, nominally, and the Great Khan held no real authority within any of the western khanates. From this point onwards Toqta and his successors were provided revenues from prefectures in China.

    In terms of actual peace between the khanates, 1304’s success was rather more ephemeral. Bayan of the Blue Horde continued to face struggles from rivals to power. When his cousin Küilük died, his son continued to challenge Bayan. Only around 1310, when Toqta was able to intervene militarily, was the situation calmed in the Blue Horde. On Bayan’s death by 1312 he was succeeded, apparently without issue, by his son Sasi-Buqa. However, the Blue Horde’s independence was now on a leash, and would be restricted further by Toqta’s successor Özbeg.

    On his border with the Ilkhanate, Toqta was never too subtle. In the 1290s Toqta made peace with Il-Khan Geikhatu and then with Ghazan, but following Nogai’s death Toqta’s policy pivoted. In the first years of the fourteenth century Toqta sent messages to Ghazan demanding he relinquish control over the Caucasus. Like a good Jochid khan, Toqta knew not only the economic value, but the political acumen he would enjoy, if he brought these lands back under control of the Jochid lineage. Evidently he had taken note of the failures of previous efforts, and had convinced himself that diplomacy would instead convince the Ilkhanids to abandon these valuable lands. Ghazan would have none of that though, and responded succinctly with “I conquered these lands by the sword and I will defend them by the word!” If Toqta wanted them, then he’d have to come and take them by force.

    So well known were Toqta’s demands, that they even appeared in the work of the contemporary Byzantine author Pachymeres, where Toqta is portrayed as a deceitful figure trying to steal the kingdom from Ghazan while the latter was on his deathbed. And it’s not altogether inaccurate. When Ghazan died in 1304 he was succeeded by his brother Öljeitü, with whom Toqta at first made peace with, and likewise recognized the Great Mongol Peace. But almost immediately afterwards Toqta sent his first envoys to the Mamluks, where he urged them to join him in an attack on the Ilkhanate. He sent several rounds of these messages to the Mamluks, but found an unwilling ear there. The sultan, the young al-Nasir Muhammad, had signed a truce with Öljeitü, but only a few years before had suffered a crushing defeat at Wadi al-Khaznadar at the hands of the late Ghazan. There was no mood in Cairo for any large expedition against the Ilkhan. Toqta’s hopes for any great conquest of the Caucasus would be dashed. It shows also the almost immediate failure of the Great Mongol Peace; Toqta saw it as an opportunity to settle the disputed claim with the Ilkhanate, and perhaps appealed to the Great Khan to mediate it as would have been done in times past. But no sense of Mongol unity was imposed, or past grievances really settled, by the effort.

    The Mamluk Sultanate’s failure to reply positively to Toqta’s demands brought perhaps the lowest point in Mamluk-Jochid relations. The fact that Toqta was a shamanist or Buddhist meant there was not even a religious common ground for them to work with. It’s perhaps not coincidental that Toqta began to put great pressure on the Italian merchants in the Golden Horde who supplied the Mamluks with captive Qipchaps for their armies. Over the second half of the thirteenth century, a growing colony of Genoese traders had formed along the Golden Horde’s Black Sea coastline. The most important of these sites was at Caffa in the Crimean Peninsula. The Italians made considerable income by selling the most important of the Horde’s overseas exports; grains, which were particularly important for feeding Constantinople, and slaves. With the defeat of Nogai, many of his defeated men and their entire families were sold abroad, but slaves were also procured in raids and even from desperate parents unable to feed their children, and thereby forced to sell them into servitude. The Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt purchased a great many of these slaves, particularly children, who would then be raised in the skills of war to form the actual Mamluk core of the Sultanate’s armies. In theory the Genoese paid tax for this privilege, but in recent years had failed to pay the primary tax on this transaction. Their arrogance did them no favours in Toqta’s eyes.

    It seems probable that Toqta aimed to put pressure onto this trade, and by extension hurt the Mamluks. The official reason given was that Toqta wanted to put an end to the sale of Mongol children abroad. While Toqta perhaps did have a personal dislike to the selling of Mongol and Qipchap children, Toqta may also have wanted to put a stop to the sale of valuable future warriors. After the destructive war against Nogai and arid years of the 1280s and 90s, it may have been necessary to recoup some of these demographic losses. That it could also force the Mamluks to play nice was a handy consequence, as far as Toqta was concerned.

    In October 1307 Toqta gave the order for the expulsion of the Genoese in the Golden Horde. First in the capital of Sarai, the local Genoese were arrested, their goods confiscated. Then he sent his son Ilbasar with an army into Crimea, who laid siege to Caffa at the close of 1307. Here Caffa’s stout stone walls stood defiant. Raids at sea from Venetian rivals, and Nogai’s own vicious attack on Crimea in 1299, had led to the denizens of Caffa strengthening their fortifications. The siege wore on for 8 months, but by May 1308 the defenders knew the situation was hopeless. Thus they abandoned their posts, taking to their ships and setting flame to the city. Ilbasar sacked whatever was left. In the end, the campaign was a success, as the Genoese had been expelled,but if it was indeed intended to make the Mamluks play nice, it did not have this effect. The Mamluks remained stubbornly opposed to any attack on the Ilkhanate. By 1311 Toqta sent an embassy with considerable gifts of slaves and luxurious furs to soften matters. But Mamluk-Jochid relations remained poor until the reign of Toqta’s successor Özbeg, who would also allow the return of the Genoese.

    Toqta also played his hand at monetary reform, perhaps inspired by increased contact with the Yuan Dynasty, and Ghazan’s reforms in the Ilkhanate. His efforts seem more focused on coin weights, and which sites were allowed to mint, while retaining regional variety. Thus in islamic parts of the khanate, the shamanist-buddhist Toqta is given the very Islamic title of sultan.

    Much of the remainder of Toqta’s actions within the Golden Horde are unknown. He was struck by personal tragedies, as it seems between 1308 and 1312 his sons predeceased him. The general image we have is of relative, much needed stability, within the Golden Horde, a period of respite after the war against Nogai and its other neighbours. In the spring of 1312, Toqta apparently decided on a visit to the Rus’ lands himself, making him the first reigning Jochid monarch to do so. Or at least, he would have been the first. Toqta made the unusual decision to travel by ship up the Volga river; the details remain vague, but in an ensuing shipwreck, or from illness aboard the vessel, Toqta died in August 1312. Suspicion, even by contemporaries, was that his nephew, Özbeg, had a role in it. Özbeg was a son of Toqta’s brother, To’rilcha, who had been one of the top allies of Tele-Buqa Khan. Toqta had killed To’rilcha in the coup of 1291, then married To’rilcha’s chief wife, Bayalun Khatun, Özbeg’s stepmother. The young Özbeg was exiled from court, and is commonly assumed to have spent his time in the Jochid lands in Khwarezm near the Aral Sea. Determined and ambitious, Özbeg stood to gain greatly from the death of the childless Toqta.

    What followed next is foggy, to say the least, as the sources offer various, competing narratives. Here we feel the loss of Rashīd al-Dīn, who around the time of Toqta’s death was in the midst of copying the Jami’ al-Tawarikh, and no longer adding information to it. His clear eyed sourcing and reporting of information goes much amiss, as Qashani, Rashīd al-Dīn’s successor when it came to recording events after 1305, provides an account of Toqta’s succession sourced apparently directly from Jochid envoys in 1313. However, Qashani’s account confuses names and chronologies and is totally contradictory with the Mamluk accounts; Toqta’s sons, for instance, are alive in Qashani’s writing, whereas the Mamluks have them all die before their father. Qashani also makes the emir, Qutlugh-Temür, a rival of Özbeg, while the Mamluks and other accounts had Qutlugh-Temür as Özbeg’s chief ally from the start.

    To save your ears, our dear listeners, we’ll simplify this as best we can, based on recent research. First we can mention an interesting hypothesis from historian Thomas Tanase. A long running problem was that contemporary Fransican accounts of the 1320s spoke of a certain Coktoganus being a khan of the Golden Horde who converted to Catholicism, and died before Özbeg. The identity of Coktoganus has been a troublesome thing, with suggestions ranging from this referring toToqta himself, to simple wishful thinking on the part of the Fransciscans in the Golden Horde. However, neither explanation is sufficient. The sources are fairly consistent of Toqta’s position as a shamanist or Buddhist. Further, Fransciscans were generally careful with their gathering of information, and learnt local languages; the idea being that an individual had to be rather knowledgeable of local affairs and language to better convert them. These Franciscans were also stationed within the Golden Horde, from Crimea to Sarai, and likely learned these facts first hand.

    Tanase offers a likely explanation; that Coktoganus was not Toqta, but one of his brothers, Kutukan. If we drop the latin ending -us, Coktogan is a fairly decent rendering of Kutukan, and indeed the Fransicans also noted Coktoganus was a brother of the “Tartar emperor.” The most convincing evidence is that one of these Franciscan accounts lists three of Coktoganus’ sons, whose names match exactly with the sons of Kutukan listed by Rashīd al-Dīn. Mamluk accounts had Kutukan among the brothers killed by Toqta in the 1291 coup, but we might wonder if this was not an accidental or anachronistic addition by the Mamluks, who saw a son of Möngke-Temür missing and added him to the list of dead princes. Based on Tanase’s suggestion, we can propose the following timeline. Toqta died on the Volga in the summer of 1312, with no surviving children. Per Tanase’s idea, the Christian convert Kutukan declared himself khan to succeed his brother, but died within a few weeks or months. A very brief reign would explain how the Mamluks did not record him, particularly if he was never officially enthroned as khan, while also aligning with the Franciscan reports of a natural death for Coktoganus, while also aligning with Qashani’s and al-Aharai’s reports of a member of Toqta’s family being a contender against Özbeg. In these accounts, as well as later Turkic ones, Toqta’s son Tükel-Buqa is alive and battles Özbeg for the throne. Perhaps they confused Kutukan with Tükel-Buqa, or perhaps the Mamluks falsely reported Tükel-Buqa’s death.

    Regardless of whether Tükel-Buqa or Kutukan tried to take the throne in 1312, neither claimant could overcome Özbeg. Even if he was uninvolved in Toqta’s death, Özbeg moved quickly to take the throne himself, backed by the powerful Qutlugh-Temür, the governor of Jochid Khwarezm, and perhaps the most powerful Islamic figure within the Golden Horde. Either on Qutlugh-Temür’s urging, or to gain Qutlugh-Temür’s backing, Özbeg made a simple promise. “Back me as khan, and I will convert to islam.” What Özbeg’s campaign showed was the growing body of Muslims within the Golden Horde, particularly among the beys, or the noyad. A sizeable body of the Jochid elite were, by 1312, converts to Islam. Particularly if a Christian Kutukan had briefly tried to claim the throne, Özbeg may have had great success in rallying support. Among those who backed him included Bayalun Khatun, the widow of both his father To’rilcha, and of Toqta. This influential lady, skilled in Jochid politics, brought important support for Özbeg’s claim.

    A rallying of Islamic beys, and a conversion upon taking the throne, appears to varying degrees in later Turkic accounts like Ötemish Hajji, and Özbeg’s own letter to the Mamluks upon his enthronement, where Özbeg announced proudly his recent conversion to Islam. Qashani is again the odd man out, where Özbeg appears as a Muslim for several years before he takes the throne. In general, the sources agree that Özbeg led an Islamic faction against the entrenched shamanist-Buddhist faction, represented by some member of Toqta’s family. A recurring scene, appearing first in Qashani, and two hundred years later in Ötemish’s Hajji’s version, is that at a feast, rivals for the throne from the opposing faction sought to ambush Özbeg at a feast. Özbeg learns of their treachery, and with his allies storms out of the tent to kill his opponents.

    As you should have gotten a sense after all that, the transition between Toqta and Özbeg is a murky period. Regardless of the specifics, Özbeg was enthroned as Khan of the Golden Horde in January 1313. And the experience left a sour taste in his mouth. Officially, Özbeg set out a mandate; whichever prince failed to convert to islam would be killed. Very conveniently, many of those killed also happened to be descendants of his grandfather, Möngke-Temür Khan; that is, potential rivals to the throne. And what a great many were killed. Some of it was obviously religiously motivated; shamans and Buddhist lamas were killed en masse, and Christian privileges were reduced though they did not suffer any great executions, likely due to their limited presence among the nomadic population. The main element of the slain though, were Jochid princes. Any surviving family members and supporters of Kutukan or Tükel-Buqa, had they indeed challenged Özbeg, were hunted down and killed. Özbeg’s aim was very simple, and based on the lessons of the previous decades, perhaps as passed down by the experienced Qutlugh-Temür. At the start of the 1280s, Möngke-Temür’s successor Töde-Möngke had exiled the sons of Möngke-Temür, but not killed them. Thus they came back to seek revenge. In 1287 Tele-Buqa seized the throne with a group of allies, but had left so many rivals in place that those displeased with his reign had found a figurehead to rally around in the form of Toqta. And while Toqta had killed a great many of the supporters of Tele-Buqa, he had not ripped them up root and bud, leaving Özbeg to nurse his vengeance for twenty years. Özbeg made no such mistake. Of all the purges carried out by the various Chinggisids, perhaps none were as total as that carried out by Özbeg. By the time he was done, the only members of the line of Batu still left, was that of Özbeg and his own sons. The results in a way speak for themselves, for Özbeg would enjoy the longest reign of any descendant of Jochi.

    Our next episode picks up with the reign of Özbeg Khan, from 1313 to 1341, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this episode and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, then consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode was written and researched by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.

  • In [this year] Nogai sent his wife [Yaylaq] Khātūn to the king Țuqṭā with a missive she would carry to him, and advice she would give to him. When she arrived at the [Golden] Horde he greeted her with honor, and celebrated hospitality and gifts with her, and she stayed in the hospitality for days. Then he asked her as to the reason for her coming, she said to him, “[Nogai] says to you that there are some thorns left on your path, so clean them up!” [Toqta] said, “What are the thorns?” so she named off the emirs who Nogai had mentioned to her, who were [23 in numer]. These were those who had conspired with Töle Buqa against Nogai.

    When this missive was conveyed to him, and she told him this story, [Toqta] sought after those emirs, one after another, and killed all of them. So [Yaylaq] Khātūn returned to Nogai, informing him of their killing, so his worry subsided, and his fear gone.”

    So the Mamluk chronicler Baybars al-Mansūrī records an interaction between Nogai, the Mongol master of the lower Danube and southeastern Europe, and Toqta, Khan of the Golden Horde. In 1291 Nogai had assisted Toqta Khan to the Jochid throne, overthrowing the previous Khan, Tele-Buqa. Now both expected favours of the other, which would have deadly consequences. Our last episode looked at Nogai’s role in Europe; today, we look at his interactions with the Khans of the Golden Horde, culminating in the destructive civil war between Toqta and Nogai at the end of the 1290s. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    As noted before, much of this is based off the research of our series historian, Jack Wilson, who offered a reinvestigation of Nogai in the process of his Masters thesis. If you’re curious about more on this matter of his reinterpretation of Nogai, you can speak with directly through his Youtube channel The Jackmeister: Mongol History, where he is in the midst of sharing this reinterpretation in a video form.

    While Nogai was the governor of the Golden Horde’s territory in southeastern Europe, he was hardly removed from wider Jochid affairs. After the death of Möngke-Temür Khan in 1280 or 1282, Nogai was the aqa of the Jochid lineage, as a few sources state, including an interesting letter from the Il-Khan Tegüder Ahmad to the Mamluks. As aqa, he was one of the senior-most members of the family, respected and consulted on all sorts of familial and government matters. And indeed, this is the role he often appears in; when Töde-Möngke Khan considered releasing a captive son of Khubilai Khaan, he is recorded consulting with Nogai as well as other prominent members of the Jochids. Most of Nogai’s interactions from the Jochid khans Töde-Möngke, Tele-Buqa and Toqta all seem based on this aqa relationship.

    While scholarship has often accused Nogai of putting these various khans on the throne, and reducing the khans Töde-Möngke and Tele-Buqa to puppets, this is unsupported by the sources. In the royal succession, Nogai is unmentioned in the transition except in the overthrow of Tele-Buqa, as we covered in a previous episode. Over these years Nogai appears focused on the territory he was assigned to in southeastern Europe. On occasion he sent troops to assist Rus’ princes in raids in Poland and Lithuania, but Nogai only did so when requested by these princes, as described in the Rus’ chronicles. Likewise, when he led armies into Hungary and Poland himself, as we discussed in our previous episodes, Nogai only did so when demanded by Tele-Buqa.

    If not presented as overthrowing khans, or reducing them to figureheads, literature often presents Nogai actively undermining the khans, or undertaking his own diplomatic efforts. But the evidence for this is likewise weak. An interesting case of Nogai possibly undermining Tele-Buqa Khan comes in 1288, when he sent an embassy to the Il-Khan, Arghun, which gave him Buddhist relics. A few weeks after this meeting, Tele-Buqa unleashed his first invasion of the Ilkhanate. It’s tempting to see this as Nogai having his own Ilkhanid diplomacy or alerting Arghun of Tele-Buqa’s attack, but this is the only record of such an embassy, and Arghun was caught unawares by the invasion, as he was in the midst of leaving the Caucasus when the attack occurred. We might wonder if Nogai had actually been instructed to placate Arghun, sending him gifts in order to not suspect any Jochid attacks; Arghun may have seen little reason to believe the truce with the Ilkhanate was in any danger. Neither did Nogai carry out a marriage alliance with the Il-Khan, as if sometimes stated; references to him marrying one of his sons to a daughter of Abaqa Il-Khan have confused Nogai of the Golden Horde with another Nogai, a non-Chinggisid general who lived in the Ilkhanate, and the father of Abaqa’s son-in-law, in this instance.

    Nogai did gave shelter to at least one Rus’ prince, who was out of favour with the reigning khan. Dmitri Alexandrovich, a son of the famous Alexander Nevskii, had a decades long feud with his brother Andrei for the title of Grand Prince. Most usually, you’ll see this presented as a sort of proxy war between Nogai and the khans, with Nogai pushing forward Dmitri as his candidate, and the khans supporting Andrei. While the khans did give Andrei armies and a yarliq to support his candidacy, there isn’t evidence for those who claim that Nogai did the same for Dmitri. In the early 1280s, Andrei Alexandrovich went to the khan, likely Töde-Möngke, and received military support for his claim to Grand Prince of Vladimir, the chief of the Rus’ princely titles. Dmitri fled before Andrei, and after a lengthy flight made his way to Nogai for shelter. As the Nikonian Chronicle records;

    “Grand Prince Dmitrii Aleksandrovich with his druzhina, princes, children and entire court fled to the horde of Khan Nagai, to whom he told everything in order, relating it with tears, and gave him and his nobles many gifts. Khan Nagai listened to him and kept him in honour.”

    What exactly being kept in “in honour” means in this context is unclear. Dmitri arrived with a great many gifts for Nogai to earn Nogai’s favour, a wise move. Nogai only the year before had taken fugitives like Ivaylo and Ivan Asen III to his court; as we noted in the last episode, Nogai, on the urging of his Byzantine father-in-law Michael VIII, had killed Ivaylo and almost executed Ivan too. Dmitri was wise to bribe Nogai for his favour, but should not have expected Nogai’s hospitality to go far if the request from the khan came for his head. But none came. By the next year Dmitri returned from Nogai and made peace with his brother Andrei. This is notable to emphasis; Nogai did not send Dmitri back with an army, or a yarliq. And later that year, Dmitri restarted the war with Andrei himself when he assassinated one of Andrei’s boyars. Only at this juncture, do ‘Tatars’ appear in Dmitri’s service. Their origin is uncertain, but they cannot be directly linked to Nogai, as the Rus’ chronicles themselves do not do so. The presence of Tatar troops of unspecified origin should not be too surprising. Similarly, at the famed Battle on the Ice against the Teutonic Order in 1242, Dmitri’s father Alexander Nevskii had nomadic horse archers fighting alongside him, but their identity, or origin, goes unmentioned. Since this is the closest the sources come to showing Nogai directly challenging the Khan in influence over the Rus’, we shouldn’t rely too much either on this image.

    Our last episode discussed the fall of Tele-Buqa Khan and the enthronement of Toqta in 1291. This, in all of the primary sources, is the only actual removal and enthronement of a khan that Nogai took part in. Toqta had come to Nogai for aid, and promised to carry out Nogai’s will once he became khan. Nogai, as a pragmatic fellow, agreed, for who wouldn’t want the Khan to owe you a favour? Particularly since Nogai had already learned Tele-Buqa was plotting against him. Faking a severe illness, Nogai convinced Tele-Buqa and his allies that he was dying, and wanted to make final amends. With their guard let down, Toqta arrived with an army and executed Tele-Buqa Khan. After Toqta was enthroned, Nogai returned to the Danube, where he carried out a rush of activity, bringing the submission of many of the banates and Serbia that we mentioned last week. New raids are recorded on Poland in the early 1290s, and Mongol emissaries reached even the King of Bohemia. Though unmentioned, it seems likely they originated from Nogai, who devoted most of his attention before 1295 on Europe.

    A young man, Toqta was likely overawed at first by the experienced aqa. Nogai recognized that Toqta’s reign faced threats from loyalists to Tele-Buqa who still lived, and therefore sent word to Toqta; these princes needed to be killed in order to secure the throen. In 1293 a list of 23 noyans was provided, and Toqta duly carried out Nogai’s suggestions. More deaths of such Tele-Buqa loyalists, and presumably enemies Nogai had made over his career, followed the next year. This was much to Nogai’s relief, we are told, as he had been quite concerned over the matter. But Toqta was hardly the pushover he’s often presented as. In 1294 Toqta sent a message to Nogai, demanding the death of Jijek-Khatun and some of her followers. Jijek-Khatun was a widow of Berke and Möngke-Temür Khan, and had briefly served as regent in the final years of Möngke-Temür and Töde-Möngke’s reigns. Nogai carried this out swiftly.

    These reprisals, in which both Nogai and Toqta made demands of the other, seem to have been the extent of effective cooperation between them. Toqta in the early 1290s undertook his own actions which Nogai is not recorded affecting; in response to a request from Andrei Alexandrovich, Toqta ordered a devastating attack on the Rus’ principalities in 1293. This campaign permanently broke the power of Dmitri Alexandrovich, who had once sought shelter with Nogai. In 1294, Toqta also reached a peace agreement with the current Il-Khan, Geikhatu. Once more, it seems Nogai’s influence on Toqta was limited to that of the aqa, rather than a puppet master.

    It appears that the actual fallout between Nogai and Toqta was not out of desire for one to depose the other, but more familial. Nogai had a number of wives and children, and despite his proclamation of Islam in his letter to Baybars in the early 1270s, seems to have not forced it onto any of his family. As noted he married the Greek Orthodox Christian Byzantine Princess Euphrosyne; no indication is provided of her ever abandoning her faith. Another wife, Yaylaq-Khatun, was baptized into the Catholic faith by Franciscan missionaries in Crimea around 1287. One of Nogai’s daughters, Qiyan, married a son of Salji’udai Güregen, who was Toqta’s grandfather and father-in-law. It was obviously a prominent alliance related to Toqta’s ascension, as Salji’udai was close to Toqta and held great influence over his grandson. Salji’udai’s wife was Kelmish Aqa, a lady not only powerful in the Golden Horde, but respected in the Ilkhanate. Marrying into the family cemented Nogai’s relevance to the central court. After the marriage though, Nogai’s daughter Qiyan converted to Islam, to the great displeasure of her Buddhist husband. The husband began to abuse her, and Qiyan alerted her father. Nogai was furious at his daughter’s treatment, and demanded justice from Toqta; hand over Salji’udai and his son, or dismiss them. Toqta of course, was hardly about to hand over his grandfather.

    It should be said that the abuse of Nogai’s daughter was unlikely to have been the sole cause of the conflict, but perhaps rather the spark that set off a growing pile of kindling. Rashīd al-Dīn records that Nogai was greatly frustrated already by Salji’udai’s influence over Toqta compared to his own. As Rashīd says, allegedly quoting Nogai’s response to one of Toqta’s embassies:

    “It is known to all the world what toil and hardship I have endured and how I have exposed myself to the charge of perfidy and bad faith in order to win for [Toqta] the throne […]. And now Saljidai Küregen has authority over that throne. If my son Toqta wishes the basis of our relationship to be strengthened between us, let him send Saljidai Küregen back to his yurt, which is near Khwārazm.”

    Nogai knew he had undertaken an extreme action by taking a lead role in the death of Tele-Buqa, and had expected greater reward for his actions. Rather than Toqta being a figurehead in Nogai’s shadow, as scholarship so often presents, Toqta had failed to give Nogai the respect and influence he felt he was owed. That is, Toqta was always rather independent and powerful, and Nogai lacked authority over him, yet still had hoped for it. Even before the marriage, Nogai may have been frustrated at his lack of influence over Toqta compared to Salji’udai, and perhaps the marriage had been an effort to address this. But the beating of his daughter was pushing things too far for this. And Toqta’s refusal to give justice for Nogai, even after multiple embassies only worsened things.

    Numerous sources, such as Rashīd al-Dīn and Marco Polo, record that at various points, both Nogai and Toqta began ignoring the embassies of the other, which may have occurred at any step of the process but only deepend antagonism between them. Feeling denied options, Nogai decided to force Toqta’s hands. He sent a wife, Chübei, and three sons, Chaka, Teke and Büri, to push a number of princes and generals in the western steppe into running amuck and causing damage, perhaps harassing officers of the khan. After essentially starting a revolt, many of these princes fled to Nogai’s court, where one married another of Nogai’s daughters. Messengers came from Toqta, demanding that Nogai hand over the rebellious princes. Nogai refused, unless Toqta would hand over Salji’udai and his son. That was the price, and it was not one Toqta was willing to pay. More rounds of envoys came, and finally, according to the Mamluk chronicler Baybars al-Mansūrī, Toqta sent a message bearing a plow, an arrow, and a pile of dirt as a riddle. The advisers of Nogai pondered it, but Nogai swiftly deduced what it was, declaring:

    “For the plow, with it Toqta wants to say: if you went into the very depths of the earth, all the same I will pull you out from there with this plow; as for the arrow, with it Toqta wants to say: if you climbed to the very skies, then with this arrow I will force your descent; as for the land, he says: choose for yourself the land on which our meeting will take place."

    It was Toqta Khan’s declaration of war on Nogai. Nogai spoke simply to Toqta’s envoy, “tell Toqta that our horses our thirsty, and wish to drink from the Don.” The Don River was deep in the steppes, northeast of the Black Sea. Nogai was going to march against Toqta Khan.

    War thus broke out around 1297. The initial advance in winter failed, as the rivers did not freeze, preventing either from crossing. A rest followed over the spring and summer of 1298, Toqta rested his troops near the Don river. Nogai advanced tentatively with a small force, including his wives and sons. Realizing that Toqta’s forces were dispersed until the fall, Nogai sent a messenger, telling the khan that Nogai was coming for a quriltai to make peace. In reality, he was hoping to capture Toqta with his small force before Toqta’s tümens could be recalled. Toqta saw through the ruse too late, and had only a small force with him when Nogai fell upon him near the Don.

    Nogai had the better of this first engagement, and forced Toqta’s retreat. It is this victory which actually forms the final event in most versions of Marco Polo’s manuscripts. While Toqta fled back to Sarai, Nogai did not pursue; this was not a battle for mastery of the Golden Horde, and Nogai did not have the forces to advance so deep into Toqta’s territory, particularly once a number of his noyans defected, for unclear reasons. We might wonder if this was not unease among them, for going to war with the Khan of the Horde; another indication that Nogai had not spent the last thirty years in open revolt. Nogai fell back to his own territory, lest he become overextended. His cast his eye on the Crimean peninsula though, the valuable trade center the Golden Horde Khan collected a great many revenues from. Many Crimean cities offered their submission, and Nogai left it to his grandson Aqtaji to take further tribute. While invited to dine in Solkhat, called by Mongols and Turks as Eski Qirim, Aqtaji was wined, dined, and violently murdered by the inhabitants. Needless to say, Nogai was enraged, and swiftly ordered his army into Crimea. In December 1298 a number of Crimean cities were sacked, and refugees fled as far as Mamluk Sultanate bringing word.

    Interestingly, when the survivors begged Nogai for the release of prisoners, he allowed it. Rather than a peaceful nature on Nogai’s part, we should assume this was Nogai attempting to build a base to renew trade ties with Crimea after the war, and remind them of his clemency. For Nogai’s generals and troops though, it did not have the desired effect, for they now lost out on their slaves. His forces already overstretched, and many generals having only recently allied with him, Nogai suddenly had to deal with a massive revolt as many of these discontented commanders declared for Toqta. One of his sons, Teke, seems to have sought to ally with the rebels before being captured, and Nogai’s oldest and most capable son, Chaka, with great slaughter and destruction put down the rebellion and rescued Teke. But many rebels had fled to Toqta with news of the discord; Toqta had used the intervening time to rebuild his forces, pulling troops from the borders. Truce was reconfirmed with the Il-Khan Ghazan, and the border garrisons now reinforced Toqta’s host.

    With some sixty tümens, according to Rashīd al-Dīn, Toqta led the army himself against Nogai, who was still reeling from the revolt. Along the Dnieper River in the last days of 1299, Toqta faced off against Nogai’s much smaller army. The old dog had one last trick to play. Nogai stalled for time, claiming he was deathly ill, sending messengers to Toqta begging forgiveness. Nogai’s message laid the blame for the war all on his sons; while at the same time, the eldest of those sons, Chaka, was leading a force upstream in an effort to flank Toqta. Toqta, having taken part in Nogai’s ploy against Tele-Buqa almost a decade prior, saw right through it and spotted Chaka’s army. The gig was up. Toqta’s full weight fell against Nogai’s army, which disintegrated before it. Nogai tried to flee with a small group of horsemen, only to be caught by a detachment of Rus’ cavalry. Nogai was injured in the attack, and told the Rus’, “Do not not kill me! Take me to Toqta, for he is the khan, and I must speak with him.” The unit returned to Toqta, but Nogai died en route, either of injuries, or as one of the Rus’ decapitated him. In the account of Baybars al-Mansūrī, Toqta had the man who killed Nogai executed; no matter if Nogai was a rebel, he was still a Chinggisid, and this lowly Rus’ druzhina had no right to harm him. So ended the reign of Nogai.

    Nogai’s armies and sons were dispersed. Chaka briefly rallied them from his base in Bulgaria, but when his younger half-brother Teke, and Teke’s mother suggested surrendering to Toqta, Chaka had them executed. The resistance of Chaka was cut short in 1301 when he was betrayed, imprisoned and soon strangled by the new Bulgarian Tsar, his brother-in-law Theodore Svetoslav, the son of Tsar Giorgi Terter. Svetoslav’s murder of Chaka was done only after getting the permission of Toqta Khan, who reconfirmed the vassalage of Bulgaria. The region was then reincorporated into the Golden Horde, and put under the jurisdiction of Toqta’s family, though he constantly had trouble with whoever was in the position. The remainder of Nogai’s family and forces submitted to Toqta, fled to the Byzantine Empire or even the Ilkhanate. All now recognized the authority of Toqta Khan, who quickly set about reasserting the authority of the Jochid khan.

    Nogai’s influence and life ended suddenly at the start of the fourteenth century. Often presented as an all powerful, crafty mayor-of-the-palace type figure, Nogai’s actually handling of the khans seems somewhat clumsy. While true he knew how to play a trick, and could be a devious fellow, he grew rather over confident as soon as he had leverage over the khan— and even quicker, frustrated when he realized how little influence he actually had over Toqta. His actual power over the Golden Horde itself was minimal. Unlike real kingmakers in the Golden Horde in the late fourteenth century, named Mamai and Edigü, Nogai was totally forgotten about after his death. Turkic histories written in the fifteenth centuries onwards which collected some folk tales from the former Horde lands, such as those written by Ötemish Hajji and Abu’l Ghazi Khan, make no mention of Nogai, despite retaining stories of the reigns of Möngke-Temür, Töde-Möngke and Toqta. Some of you might make reference to the Nogai Horde, the Golden Horde successor state which emerged in the fifteenth century. But despite its name, the Nogai Horde bears no connection to Nogai of the thirteenth century; the Nogai Horde emerged in the lands northwest of the Caspian Sea, where Nogai’s influence never extended, and indeed, he was never known for certain to have even traveled east of the Volga. More importantly though, the Nogai Horde traced its rulers not to Nogai, but to the sons of Edigü, the later Golden Horde kingmaker until his death in 1419. Edigü remains a prominent folk hero among many Tatars, but no historical source connects him in any capacity to prince Nogai. A regional commander who once overthrew a khan, and once went to war with another, posthumously Nogai was turned into the most powerful figure of the Golden Horde by modern writers. While we can imagine he might have been flattered by the picture, it’s probably not one he would have recognized. Such was the reign of Nogai Khan.

    Nogai’s life remains one of the most interesting, yet misunderstood parts of the thirteenth century Golden Horde. If you’re interested in learning more about that, you can check out the work of our series historian, Jack Wilson, who is sharing his ongoing research on Nogai through his Youtube Channel, the Jackmeister: Mongol History, and it forthcoming articles in Golden Horde Review, and Acta Orientalia Hungarica. For now, our series will continue with the reign of Toqta Khan in our next episode, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode was researched and written by Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one!

  • In [this year] Nogai sent his wife [Yaylaq] Khātūn to the king Țuqṭā with a missive she would carry to him, and advice she would give to him. When she arrived at the [Golden] Horde he greeted her with honor, and celebrated hospitality and gifts with her, and she stayed in the hospitality for days. Then he asked her as to the reason for her coming, she said to him, “[Nogai] says to you that there are some thorns left on your path, so clean them up!” [Toqta] said, “What are the thorns?” so she named off the emirs who Nogai had mentioned to her, who were [23 in numer]. These were those who had conspired with Töle Buqa against Nogai. When this missive was conveyed to him, and she told him this story, [Toqta] sought after those emirs, one after another, and killed all of them. So [Yaylaq] Khātūn returned to Nogai, informing him of their killing, so his worry subsided, and his fear gone.”

    So the Mamluk chronicler Baybars al-Mansūrī records an interaction between Nogai, the Mongol master of the lower Danube and southeastern Europe, and Toqta, Khan of the Golden Horde. In 1291 Nogai had assisted Toqta Khan to the Jochid throne, overthrowing the previous Khan, Tele-Buqa. Now both expected favours of the other, which would have deadly consequences. Our last episode looked at Nogai’s role in Europe; today, we look at his interactions with the Khans of the Golden Horde, culminating in the destructive civil war between Toqta and Nogai at the end of the 1290s. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    As noted before, much of this is based off the research of our series historian, Jack Wilson, who offered a reinvestigation of Nogai in the process of his Masters thesis. If you’re curious about more on this matter of his reinterpretation of Nogai, you can speak with directly through his Youtube channel The Jackmeister: Mongol History, where he is in the midst of sharing this reinterpretation in a video form.

    While Nogai was the governor of the Golden Horde’s territory in southeastern Europe, he was hardly removed from wider Jochid affairs. After the death of Möngke-Temür Khan in 1280 or 1282, Nogai was the aqa of the Jochid lineage, as a few sources state, including an interesting letter from the Il-Khan Tegüder Ahmad to the Mamluks. As aqa, he was one of the senior-most members of the family, respected and consulted on all sorts of familial and government matters. And indeed, this is the role he often appears in; when Töde-Möngke Khan considered releasing a captive son of Khubilai Khaan, he is recorded consulting with Nogai as well as other prominent members of the Jochids. Most of Nogai’s interactions from the Jochid khans Töde-Möngke, Tele-Buqa and Toqta all seem based on this aqa relationship.

    While scholarship has often accused Nogai of putting these various khans on the throne, and reducing the khans Töde-Möngke and Tele-Buqa to puppets, this is unsupported by the sources. In the royal succession, Nogai is unmentioned in the transition except in the overthrow of Tele-Buqa, as we covered in a previous episode. Over these years Nogai appears focused on the territory he was assigned to in southeastern Europe. On occasion he sent troops to assist Rus’ princes in raids in Poland and Lithuania, but Nogai only did so when requested by these princes, as described in the Rus’ chronicles. Likewise, when he led armies into Hungary and Poland himself, as we discussed in our previous episodes, Nogai only did so when demanded by Tele-Buqa.

    If not presented as overthrowing khans, or reducing them to figureheads, literature often presents Nogai actively undermining the khans, or undertaking his own diplomatic efforts. But the evidence for this is likewise weak. An interesting case of Nogai possibly undermining Tele-Buqa Khan comes in 1288, when he sent an embassy to the Il-Khan, Arghun, which gave him Buddhist relics. A few weeks after this meeting, Tele-Buqa unleashed his first invasion of the Ilkhanate. It’s tempting to see this as Nogai having his own Ilkhanid diplomacy or alerting Arghun of Tele-Buqa’s attack, but this is the only record of such an embassy, and Arghun was caught unawares by the invasion, as he was in the midst of leaving the Caucasus when the attack occurred. We might wonder if Nogai had actually been instructed to placate Arghun, sending him gifts in order to not suspect any Jochid attacks; Arghun may have seen little reason to believe the truce with the Ilkhanate was in any danger. Neither did Nogai carry out a marriage alliance with the Il-Khan, as if sometimes stated; references to him marrying one of his sons to a daughter of Abaqa Il-Khan have confused Nogai of the Golden Horde with another Nogai, a non-Chinggisid general who lived in the Ilkhanate, and the father of Abaqa’s son-in-law, in this instance.

    Nogai did gave shelter to at least one Rus’ prince, who was out of favour with the reigning khan. Dmitri Alexandrovich, a son of the famous Alexander Nevskii, had a decades long feud with his brother Andrei for the title of Grand Prince. Most usually, you’ll see this presented as a sort of proxy war between Nogai and the khans, with Nogai pushing forward Dmitri as his candidate, and the khans supporting Andrei. While the khans did give Andrei armies and a yarliq to support his candidacy, there isn’t evidence for those who claim that Nogai did the same for Dmitri. In the early 1280s, Andrei Alexandrovich went to the khan, likely Töde-Möngke, and received military support for his claim to Grand Prince of Vladimir, the chief of the Rus’ princely titles. Dmitri fled before Andrei, and after a lengthy flight made his way to Nogai for shelter. As the Nikonian Chronicle records;

    “Grand Prince Dmitrii Aleksandrovich with his druzhina, princes, children and entire court fled to the horde of Khan Nagai, to whom he told everything in order, relating it with tears, and gave him and his nobles many gifts. Khan Nagai listened to him and kept him in honour.”

    What exactly being kept in “in honour” means in this context is unclear. Dmitri arrived with a great many gifts for Nogai to earn Nogai’s favour, a wise move. Nogai only the year before had taken fugitives like Ivaylo and Ivan Asen III to his court; as we noted in the last episode, Nogai, on the urging of his Byzantine father-in-law Michael VIII, had killed Ivaylo and almost executed Ivan too. Dmitri was wise to bribe Nogai for his favour, but should not have expected Nogai’s hospitality to go far if the request from the khan came for his head. But none came. By the next year Dmitri returned from Nogai and made peace with his brother Andrei. This is notable to emphasis; Nogai did not send Dmitri back with an army, or a yarliq. And later that year, Dmitri restarted the war with Andrei himself when he assassinated one of Andrei’s boyars. Only at this juncture, do ‘Tatars’ appear in Dmitri’s service. Their origin is uncertain, but they cannot be directly linked to Nogai, as the Rus’ chronicles themselves do not do so. The presence of Tatar troops of unspecified origin should not be too surprising. Similarly, at the famed Battle on the Ice against the Teutonic Order in 1242, Dmitri’s father Alexander Nevskii had nomadic horse archers fighting alongside him, but their identity, or origin, goes unmentioned. Since this is the closest the sources come to showing Nogai directly challenging the Khan in influence over the Rus’, we shouldn’t rely too much either on this image.

    Our last episode discussed the fall of Tele-Buqa Khan and the enthronement of Toqta in 1291. This, in all of the primary sources, is the only actual removal and enthronement of a khan that Nogai took part in. Toqta had come to Nogai for aid, and promised to carry out Nogai’s will once he became khan. Nogai, as a pragmatic fellow, agreed, for who wouldn’t want the Khan to owe you a favour? Particularly since Nogai had already learned Tele-Buqa was plotting against him. Faking a severe illness, Nogai convinced Tele-Buqa and his allies that he was dying, and wanted to make final amends. With their guard let down, Toqta arrived with an army and executed Tele-Buqa Khan. After Toqta was enthroned, Nogai returned to the Danube, where he carried out a rush of activity, bringing the submission of many of the banates and Serbia that we mentioned last week. New raids are recorded on Poland in the early 1290s, and Mongol emissaries reached even the King of Bohemia. Though unmentioned, it seems likely they originated from Nogai, who devoted most of his attention before 1295 on Europe.

    A young man, Toqta was likely overawed at first by the experienced aqa. Nogai recognized that Toqta’s reign faced threats from loyalists to Tele-Buqa who still lived, and therefore sent word to Toqta; these princes needed to be killed in order to secure the throen. In 1293 a list of 23 noyans was provided, and Toqta duly carried out Nogai’s suggestions. More deaths of such Tele-Buqa loyalists, and presumably enemies Nogai had made over his career, followed the next year. This was much to Nogai’s relief, we are told, as he had been quite concerned over the matter. But Toqta was hardly the pushover he’s often presented as. In 1294 Toqta sent a message to Nogai, demanding the death of Jijek-Khatun and some of her followers. Jijek-Khatun was a widow of Berke and Möngke-Temür Khan, and had briefly served as regent in the final years of Möngke-Temür and Töde-Möngke’s reigns. Nogai carried this out swiftly.

    These reprisals, in which both Nogai and Toqta made demands of the other, seem to have been the extent of effective cooperation between them. Toqta in the early 1290s undertook his own actions which Nogai is not recorded affecting; in response to a request from Andrei Alexandrovich, Toqta ordered a devastating attack on the Rus’ principalities in 1293. This campaign permanently broke the power of Dmitri Alexandrovich, who had once sought shelter with Nogai. In 1294, Toqta also reached a peace agreement with the current Il-Khan, Geikhatu. Once more, it seems Nogai’s influence on Toqta was limited to that of the aqa, rather than a puppet master.

    It appears that the actual fallout between Nogai and Toqta was not out of desire for one to depose the other, but more familial. Nogai had a number of wives and children, and despite his proclamation of Islam in his letter to Baybars in the early 1270s, seems to have not forced it onto any of his family. As noted he married the Greek Orthodox Christian Byzantine Princess Euphrosyne; no indication is provided of her ever abandoning her faith. Another wife, Yaylaq-Khatun, was baptized into the Catholic faith by Franciscan missionaries in Crimea around 1287. One of Nogai’s daughters, Qiyan, married a son of Salji’udai Güregen, who was Toqta’s grandfather and father-in-law. It was obviously a prominent alliance related to Toqta’s ascension, as Salji’udai was close to Toqta and held great influence over his grandson. Salji’udai’s wife was Kelmish Aqa, a lady not only powerful in the Golden Horde, but respected in the Ilkhanate. Marrying into the family cemented Nogai’s relevance to the central court. After the marriage though, Nogai’s daughter Qiyan converted to Islam, to the great displeasure of her Buddhist husband. The husband began to abuse her, and Qiyan alerted her father. Nogai was furious at his daughter’s treatment, and demanded justice from Toqta; hand over Salji’udai and his son, or dismiss them. Toqta of course, was hardly about to hand over his grandfather.

    It should be said that the abuse of Nogai’s daughter was unlikely to have been the sole cause of the conflict, but perhaps rather the spark that set off a growing pile of kindling. Rashīd al-Dīn records that Nogai was greatly frustrated already by Salji’udai’s influence over Toqta compared to his own. As Rashīd says, allegedly quoting Nogai’s response to one of Toqta’s embassies:

    “It is known to all the world what toil and hardship I have endured and how I have exposed myself to the charge of perfidy and bad faith in order to win for [Toqta] the throne […]. And now Saljidai Küregen has authority over that throne. If my son Toqta wishes the basis of our relationship to be strengthened between us, let him send Saljidai Küregen back to his yurt, which is near Khwārazm.”

    Nogai knew he had undertaken an extreme action by taking a lead role in the death of Tele-Buqa, and had expected greater reward for his actions. Rather than Toqta being a figurehead in Nogai’s shadow, as scholarship so often presents, Toqta had failed to give Nogai the respect and influence he felt he was owed. That is, Toqta was always rather independent and powerful, and Nogai lacked authority over him, yet still had hoped for it. Even before the marriage, Nogai may have been frustrated at his lack of influence over Toqta compared to Salji’udai, and perhaps the marriage had been an effort to address this. But the beating of his daughter was pushing things too far for this. And Toqta’s refusal to give justice for Nogai, even after multiple embassies only worsened things.

    Numerous sources, such as Rashīd al-Dīn and Marco Polo, record that at various points, both Nogai and Toqta began ignoring the embassies of the other, which may have occurred at any step of the process but only deepend antagonism between them. Feeling denied options, Nogai decided to force Toqta’s hands. He sent a wife, Chübei, and three sons, Chaka, Teke and Büri, to push a number of princes and generals in the western steppe into running amuck and causing damage, perhaps harassing officers of the khan. After essentially starting a revolt, many of these princes fled to Nogai’s court, where one married another of Nogai’s daughters. Messengers came from Toqta, demanding that Nogai hand over the rebellious princes. Nogai refused, unless Toqta would hand over Salji’udai and his son. That was the price, and it was not one Toqta was willing to pay. More rounds of envoys came, and finally, according to the Mamluk chronicler Baybars al-Mansūrī, Toqta sent a message bearing a plow, an arrow, and a pile of dirt as a riddle. The advisers of Nogai pondered it, but Nogai swiftly deduced what it was, declaring:

    “For the plow, with it Toqta wants to say: if you went into the very depths of the earth, all the same I will pull you out from there with this plow; as for the arrow, with it Toqta wants to say: if you climbed to the very skies, then with this arrow I will force your descent; as for the land, he says: choose for yourself the land on which our meeting will take place."

    It was Toqta Khan’s declaration of war on Nogai. Nogai spoke simply to Toqta’s envoy, “tell Toqta that our horses our thirsty, and wish to drink from the Don.” The Don River was deep in the steppes, northeast of the Black Sea. Nogai was going to march against Toqta Khan.

    War thus broke out around 1297. The initial advance in winter failed, as the rivers did not freeze, preventing either from crossing. A rest followed over the spring and summer of 1298, Toqta rested his troops near the Don river. Nogai advanced tentatively with a small force, including his wives and sons. Realizing that Toqta’s forces were dispersed until the fall, Nogai sent a messenger, telling the khan that Nogai was coming for a quriltai to make peace. In reality, he was hoping to capture Toqta with his small force before Toqta’s tümens could be recalled. Toqta saw through the ruse too late, and had only a small force with him when Nogai fell upon him near the Don.

    Nogai had the better of this first engagement, and forced Toqta’s retreat. It is this victory which actually forms the final event in most versions of Marco Polo’s manuscripts. While Toqta fled back to Sarai, Nogai did not pursue; this was not a battle for mastery of the Golden Horde, and Nogai did not have the forces to advance so deep into Toqta’s territory, particularly once a number of his noyans defected, for unclear reasons. We might wonder if this was not unease among them, for going to war with the Khan of the Horde; another indication that Nogai had not spent the last thirty years in open revolt. Nogai fell back to his own territory, lest he become overextended. His cast his eye on the Crimean peninsula though, the valuable trade center the Golden Horde Khan collected a great many revenues from. Many Crimean cities offered their submission, and Nogai left it to his grandson Aqtaji to take further tribute. While invited to dine in Solkhat, called by Mongols and Turks as Eski Qirim, Aqtaji was wined, dined, and violently murdered by the inhabitants. Needless to say, Nogai was enraged, and swiftly ordered his army into Crimea. In December 1298 a number of Crimean cities were sacked, and refugees fled as far as Mamluk Sultanate bringing word.

    Interestingly, when the survivors begged Nogai for the release of prisoners, he allowed it. Rather than a peaceful nature on Nogai’s part, we should assume this was Nogai attempting to build a base to renew trade ties with Crimea after the war, and remind them of his clemency. For Nogai’s generals and troops though, it did not have the desired effect, for they now lost out on their slaves. His forces already overstretched, and many generals having only recently allied with him, Nogai suddenly had to deal with a massive revolt as many of these discontented commanders declared for Toqta. One of his sons, Teke, seems to have sought to ally with the rebels before being captured, and Nogai’s oldest and most capable son, Chaka, with great slaughter and destruction put down the rebellion and rescued Teke. But many rebels had fled to Toqta with news of the discord; Toqta had used the intervening time to rebuild his forces, pulling troops from the borders. Truce was reconfirmed with the Il-Khan Ghazan, and the border garrisons now reinforced Toqta’s host.

    With some sixty tümens, according to Rashīd al-Dīn, Toqta led the army himself against Nogai, who was still reeling from the revolt. Along the Dnieper River in the last days of 1299, Toqta faced off against Nogai’s much smaller army. The old dog had one last trick to play. Nogai stalled for time, claiming he was deathly ill, sending messengers to Toqta begging forgiveness. Nogai’s message laid the blame for the war all on his sons; while at the same time, the eldest of those sons, Chaka, was leading a force upstream in an effort to flank Toqta. Toqta, having taken part in Nogai’s ploy against Tele-Buqa almost a decade prior, saw right through it and spotted Chaka’s army. The gig was up. Toqta’s full weight fell against Nogai’s army, which disintegrated before it. Nogai tried to flee with a small group of horsemen, only to be caught by a detachment of Rus’ cavalry. Nogai was injured in the attack, and told the Rus’, “Do not not kill me! Take me to Toqta, for he is the khan, and I must speak with him.” The unit returned to Toqta, but Nogai died en route, either of injuries, or as one of the Rus’ decapitated him. In the account of Baybars al-Mansūrī, Toqta had the man who killed Nogai executed; no matter if Nogai was a rebel, he was still a Chinggisid, and this lowly Rus’ druzhina had no right to harm him. So ended the reign of Nogai.

    Nogai’s armies and sons were dispersed. Chaka briefly rallied them from his base in Bulgaria, but when his younger half-brother Teke, and Teke’s mother suggested surrendering to Toqta, Chaka had them executed. The resistance of Chaka was cut short in 1301 when he was betrayed, imprisoned and soon strangled by the new Bulgarian Tsar, his brother-in-law Theodore Svetoslav, the son of Tsar Giorgi Terter. Svetoslav’s murder of Chaka was done only after getting the permission of Toqta Khan, who reconfirmed the vassalage of Bulgaria. The region was then reincorporated into the Golden Horde, and put under the jurisdiction of Toqta’s family, though he constantly had trouble with whoever was in the position. The remainder of Nogai’s family and forces submitted to Toqta, fled to the Byzantine Empire or even the Ilkhanate. All now recognized the authority of Toqta Khan, who quickly set about reasserting the authority of the Jochid khan.

    Nogai’s influence and life ended suddenly at the start of the fourteenth century. Often presented as an all powerful, crafty mayor-of-the-palace type figure, Nogai’s actually handling of the khans seems somewhat clumsy. While true he knew how to play a trick, and could be a devious fellow, he grew rather over confident as soon as he had leverage over the khan— and even quicker, frustrated when he realized how little influence he actually had over Toqta. His actual power over the Golden Horde itself was minimal. Unlike real kingmakers in the Golden Horde in the late fourteenth century, named Mamai and Edigü, Nogai was totally forgotten about after his death. Turkic histories written in the fifteenth centuries onwards which collected some folk tales from the former Horde lands, such as those written by Ötemish Hajji and Abu’l Ghazi Khan, make no mention of Nogai, despite retaining stories of the reigns of Möngke-Temür, Töde-Möngke and Toqta. Some of you might make reference to the Nogai Horde, the Golden Horde successor state which emerged in the fifteenth century. But despite its name, the Nogai Horde bears no connection to Nogai of the thirteenth century; the Nogai Horde emerged in the lands northwest of the Caspian Sea, where Nogai’s influence never extended, and indeed, he was never known for certain to have even traveled east of the Volga. More importantly though, the Nogai Horde traced its rulers not to Nogai, but to the sons of Edigü, the later Golden Horde kingmaker until his death in 1419. Edigü remains a prominent folk hero among many Tatars, but no historical source connects him in any capacity to prince Nogai. A regional commander who once overthrew a khan, and once went to war with another, posthumously Nogai was turned into the most powerful figure of the Golden Horde by modern writers. While we can imagine he might have been flattered by the picture, it’s probably not one he would have recognized. Such was the reign of Nogai Khan.

    Nogai’s life remains one of the most interesting, yet misunderstood parts of the thirteenth century Golden Horde. If you’re interested in learning more about that, you can check out the work of our series historian, Jack Wilson, who is sharing his ongoing research on Nogai through his Youtube Channel, the Jackmeister: Mongol History, and it forthcoming articles in Golden Horde Review, and Acta Orientalia Hungarica. For now, our series will continue with the reign of Toqta Khan in our next episode, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode was researched and written by Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one!

  • Kings and Generals: Mongol Empire Podcast

    Episode 64: Golden Horde #4, Tele-Buqa and the Third Mongol Invasion of Poland

    Our previous episode saw a watershed moment in the normally stale politics of the Golden Horde: in the aftermath of the second Mongol invasion of Hungary, the reigning Khan, Töde-Möngke, was deposed by his nephew, Tele-Buqa. Accusing his uncle of insanity, Tele-Buqa and a group of allies now ruled in a four-way alliance, dividing the Golden Horde between them. Over the next four years, all sorts of hell broke loose, as Tele-Buqa ordered a number of new military ventures, all of which ended in failures. An increasingly desperate Tele-Buqa brought the princes Nogai and Toqta into a whirlpool, which would spell disaster for Tele-Buqa, and open warfare as the Golden Horde approached its first civil war. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    Tele-Buqa was a great-grandson of Batu Khan, a son of Tartu, the older brother of Khans Möngke-Temür and Töde-Möngke. As is standard for the Jochid Khans, we know almost nothing about his life before he took the throne of the Golden Horde in 1287, just over 80 years after Chinggis Khan first declared the Mongol Empire. A great-great-great-grandson of Chinggis, Tele-Buqa shared little in common with his illustrious ancestor, though certainly sought to emulate him through military ventures. Tele-Buqa first appears leading the army into Hungary in 1285, as covered in our last episode. You’ll sometimes see in the literature and Wikipedia that Tele-Buqa and Nogai both took part in the 1259 attack on Poland. We covered this campaign in our first episode on the Golden Horde, where it was commanded by Burundai Noyan. The placement of Nogai and Tele-Buqa in the 1259 attack first appears in the fifteenth century chronicle of Jan Długosz, which almost certainly conflated it with the attack Tele-Buqa did lead on Poland in 1287. No other contemporary source supports it, and given that Tele-Buqa was born in the sixth generation of Chinggisids, he was at best a young boy when the 1259 attack occurred. Though children can be known for their lack of mercy, it’s rather doubtful even the most ruthless of toddlers would be given an army.

    When Tele-Buqa took the throne in 1287, he was probably in his late twenties or early thirties. As we discussed in our last episode, Töde-Möngke Khan entered in a religious or mental torpor by the mid-1280s, and the Golden Horde was governed by a widow of Möngke-Temür Khan, Jijek-Khatun. While Nogai is popularly said to have deposed Töde-Möngke and sat Tele-Buqa onto the throne, our series researcher, Jack Wilson, has demonstrated in his own studies how this is not the portrayal in the surviving primary sources. Rather, it seems Tele-Buqa eyed the throne himself, and the ensuing attack on Hungary in 1285, led by Tele-Buqa, was an effort to garner the status and resources to succeed his uncle Töde-Möngke. As we detailed in the last episode, this campaign resulted in the loss of much of his army while crossing the Carpathian mountains.

    Tele-Buqa was furious over his defeat, particularly as Nogai’s forces had escaped comparatively whole with considerable loot. Requiring a new plan, Tele-Buqa conspired with his brother, Könchak, and two sons of Möngke-Temür, Alghui and To’rilcha. As the Mamluk chronicles recorded Töde-Möngke exiling a number of these sons during the succession to Möngke-Temür, we might suspect they had nursed their vengeance throughout Töde-Möngke’s reign. Together, they forced Töde-Möngke to abdicate early in 1287. The justification they told the Mamluks was that Töde-Möngke willingly stepped down to live as a religious hermit; the justification within the Golden Horde seems to have been that Töde-Möngke was insane and unfit to rule. This was what Rashīd al-Dīn learned in the Ilkhanate, and when Ötemish Hajji was collecting folktales from former Horde lands in the sixteenth century, stories of an insane Töde-Möngke had grown in popularity and particularly vulgar ones were supposedly favourites around the campfire.

    The four-way princely junta that Tele-Buqa ruled through is not well understood, beyond the fact that it was some sort of division of power between them, with Tele-Buqa the first-amongst-equals rather than overlord. Rashīd al-Dīn simply remarks that they ruled jointly. The Rus’ chronicles typically mention Alghui alongside Tele-Buqa, indicating that he may have been Tele-Buqa’s #2. As Alghui was the oldest of Möngke-Temür Khan’s sons, it was unsurprising that Alghui was likewise predominant. Their division of power is also supported archeaologically. In the Mongol Empire, coinage generally bore the khan’s name and the tamgha, a sort of individual stamp or crest. In the Golden Horde, Möngke-Temür had been the first to mint coins not in the name of the Great Khan, but in his own name. Likewise, Töde-Möngke followed him in this pattern, and so did Tele-Buqa. Except under Tele-Buqa, it was not just his name on coins. As coins usually bore the city and date of minting, the following pattern emerges. Tele-Buqa’s name is on coins minted in Crimea, but in Sarai, Ukek and Khwarezm—the central and eastern parts of the Golden Horde— coins bearing the tamgha of the deceased Möngke-Temür predominant. These, in the opinion of scholars like Roman Reva, indicate coins minted by Möngke-Temür’s son, Alghui and To’rilcha. A different tamgha in the northern part of the khanate, the important centre of Bulghar on the Volga likely belonged to Tele-Buqa’s brother, Könchak.

    Interestingly, at the same time, there is evidence that Nogai, from his base on the lower Danube at Saqchi, modern Isaccea in Romania, began minting coinage as well. It seems on a whole, Tele-Buqa oversaw a decentralization of the Horde, something understandable given the size of the khanate, Tele-Buq’s own inexperience, and the perceived right of all of the sons of Möngke-Temür to rule. The Mamluk chronicles indicate that most of Möngke-Temür’s sons joined the princes too, though Tele-Buqa, Könchak, Alghui and To’rilcha remained the dominant. Had this union lasted longer, we might be able to discuss how such a princely division worked; were these all new administrative wings, with all the leaders considered khans equal in status, in a sort of Mongolian version of the Roman tetrarchy? Certainly foriegn authors understood Tele-Buqa as the senior, but our lack of internal Golden Horde documents means we can’t, at the current time, understand precisely how this worked in practice.

    With the administration supposedly settled, Tele-Buqa could devote himself to other pursuits; namely, war. Tele-Buqa had a major problem facing him. By usurping the throne, his legitimacy was questionable, particularly without much of a military reputation to justify himself. Additionally, both the textual and climatic proxy data indicates the Golden Horde saw a decrease in precipitation after 1280. What this meant in the steppe, was an associated decrease in pasture, in the form of both aridisation and less bountiful pastures. And a consequence of this, was famine among the herds of the Horde. Starving, sick and dying animals, meant less supplies for the nomadic element of the khanate, the valuable Turkic and Mongolian troops who made up the Horde’s military. For the usurper Tele-Buqa, already know for a catastrophic defeat in Hungary, to now be in the midst of an ever worsening climate, it could have appeared rather dangerously like Heaven was expressing its displeasure. Therefore, Tele-Buqa thought he might remedy the solution, and shore up his legitimacy, with military victories.

    The first target was Poland. In 1241 and in 1259, the Polish duchies had been horrifically ravaged by the Mongol armies. Tele-Buqa undoubtedly expected the same result. Jan Długosz directly connects the attack as a reaction to famine within the Golden Horde, supporting the earlier thesis. The new Khan, soon after the coup, summoned Nogai and his forces, as well as a body of Rus’ troops, and possibly Lithuanians as well, and in December 1287, his armies entered Poland in two main bodies; one under himself and Prince Alghui, and the other under Nogai. The Galician-Volhynian Chronicle informs us that discord still existed between Nogai and Tele-Buqa, and it seems they refused to interact in person. It was, in the words of that same chronicle, a great host, though no specific numbers are given. After taking the time to array his troops in a field and perform an inspection, the campaign was underway. Largely Tele-Buqa bypassed fortifications, ravaging suburbs and outlying communities. He had not come for conquest, but to loot, to return with wagons of slaves and goods in order to demonstrate how Heaven had granted him victory, and therefore smiled upon his place as khan. His efforts to cross deeper into Poland were stymied by initial difficulty finding ice thick enough to bear his army over the Vistula River. Next, a large body of the Rus’ troops withdrew, on account of the mortal illness one of the lead Rus’ princes suffered from. Pressing on without them, Tele-Buqa’s army encircled and assaulted the city of Sandomierz. In the two previous Mongol invasions, the city had fallen to them in quick order. But this time, resistance was stiff, and finally Tele-Buqa lifted the siege when it was clear it would not be overrun except with great struggle.

    He gave his troops leave to ravage a broad strip of Poland for 10 days while he decided his next maneuver. As December 1287 gave way to January 1288, Tele-Buqa settled on Kraków, and the city he marched. Near Torzk he halted, for there he learned that Nogai had been lain siege to Kraków since Christmas. His frustration had not subsided with Nogai, and having felt denied his great victories throughout the campaign, Tele-Buqa Khan abandoned the effort altogether; the imperial equivalent of taking the ball home with you at recess, once you stopped having fun. He’d be damned if he, the Khan of the Golden Horde, would assist Nogai in a siege. Thus in early January 1288 did Tele-Buqa leave Poland, ravaging all the territory he could as he went; including Galicia, his own subjects. And Nogai too was soon forced to withdraw, unable to break the defences of Kraków. For their valiant defence, the Polish Duke Leszek the Black granted the krakowianin [people of Kraków] generous tax exemptions.

    The immediate consequence of the 1287 attack on Poland was in furthering the divide between Tele-Buqa and Nogai. There was no outright defeat, and no great numbers had been lost as had been in the withdrawal from Hungary. Certainly, the Mongols left with a good deal of loot and slaves, given the amount of time they spent ravaging the countryside. But both Nogai and Tele-Buqa blamed the other for the rather inconclusive outcome. There had been attempts to take cities, and these were repulsed, and Nogai knew that Tele-Buqa had actively chosen to not assist in the siege of Kraków. Tele-Buqa’s military dreams were not dashed, though; he simply found another target. In May 1288, only a few months after the return from Poland, Tele-Buqa ordered an attack on the Ilkhanate, under the command of Tamma-Toqta. The Il-Khan, Arghun, rapidly turned back and repelled the Jochid troops, as well as their followup assault that October. And in spring 1290, when Tamma-Toqta once again led Jochid troops into the Ilkhanate, they were again met with defeat. The Ilkhanid forces killed a great many, and captured numerous Jochid princes in the army. It was a humiliating defeat.

    From 1285 through to 1290, Tele-Buqa had led or ordered a number of military ventures. Most of them ended in outright, or even catastrophic, failure. Only in Poland could the result be, somewhat charitably, described as inconclusive. If we imagine Tele-Buqa had undertaken these campaigns in order to shore up his position— a usurpation in the midst of drought and famine— then these efforts had instead looked like Heaven offered no support for Tele-Buqa’s rule; for if it did, surely it would have signaled this through some sort of victory? Alas for Tele-Buqa Khan, this was not the case.

    His legitimacy shaky, his right to rule questioned, rumours may have come to Tele-Buqa of doubt in his leadership, that Heaven was displeased at him and now the princes and noyad whispered of how ill-fit he was. He had usurped the throne from a man seen as incompetent; what would stop someone else from doing the same to him? At this point, Tele-Buqa may have decided to strike first at his perceived rivals. This manifested in two main figures; one was Nogai, who Tele-Buqa had already blamed for military defeats. The powerful prince on the Danube seemed a great potential threat. And the other was Toqta; a son of Möngke-Temür Khan, Toqta is described in all sorts of manly virtues, a real figure to rally anti-Tele-Buqa support around. More significantly, there is no evidence for Toqta taking part in the princely-power sharing arrangement Tele-Buqa had organized with Möngke-Temür’s other sons. Or perhaps he had been, and an ever-more paranoid Tele-Buqa threw him out on some perceived slight, and then decided he should have killed him. Regardless of the process, Toqta felt that Tele-Buqa was threatening his life, and fled to the most powerful person he could: Nogai. Tele-Buqa had inadvertently made the alliance that would cost him his life.

    Fleeing to Nogai’s ordu, according to Rashīd al-Dīn, Toqta gave this message to the elder prince: “My cousins are trying to kill me, and thou art the aqa. I will take refuge with thee so that thou mayst preserve me and prevent the hand of their oppression from reaching me. As long as I live I shall be commanded by my aqa and shall not contravene thy will.” While scholarship usually presents Nogai as the khanmaker deposing the Jochid rulers at will and the man actually running the state, our series researcher has argued against this. If Nogai was the less dominant man, then this offer from Toqta must have been an enticing promise; to have the ruler of the Golden Horde essentially be your man, especially when the current one was making threatening moves? It was too good an opportunity to pass up. Nogai quickly came up with a stratagem to bring down Tele-Buqa and get Toqta to the throne.

    Nogai was the aqa of the Jochids; that is, the senior member of the lineage. As aqa, he held great influence, and was expected to be consulted on prominent matters, delivering his experience and wisdom to those younger generations who simply didn’t know any better. “Kids these days!” we might imagine the one-eyed Nogai mumbling after a frustrating council session with Tele-Buqa. His consultation is recorded when Töde-Möngke released the captive son of Khubilai Khaan, for instance. In fact, most of his influence within the Golden Horde is certainly attributable to this status. And it was this status that Nogai would employ for his plan.

    Two slightly different versions of what he did exist, recorded separately by Rashīd al-Dīn in the Ilkhanate and Baybars al-Mansūrī in the Mamluk Sultanate. It’s possible both accounts are correct, and this is how it may have looked. In the Mamluk account, Nogai received summons from Tele-Buqa, that the khan demanded his presence, on the pretext of needing his advice, though in truth planned to kill him. Nogai gathered his allies, and with foreknowledge accepted Tele-Buqa’s summons, and advanced to meet him. Both the Mamluks and Rashīd recorded that before the meeting though, Nogai contacted Tele-Buqa’s mother, who was not involved in the plot. He convinced her that he had only peaceful intentions; he was the aqa, and only wanted to advise Tele-Buqa, and therefore the lady should convince her son to come, unarmed, with a small party to meet Nogai. Rashīd’s account differs slightly, in that at the same time Nogai feigned that he was deathly ill; he needed the Khan and his allies to come and make final amends before he passed on. He sold the show further by swallowing blood clots, which he would then dramatically cough up. The weakening Nogai assuaged the fears of all others who came across him, telling them “Old age has set in, and I have abandoned conflict, fighting, and disputes. I have neither intention of contending with anyone nor thought of doing battle. However, we have been commanded by [Chinggis] Khan that if anyone in his ulus or urugh goes astray and upsets the ulus, we must investigate and make them content to agree.”

    Tele-Buqa’s mother was utterly convinced, and sent word to her sons, “Go as fast as possible and meet that weak old man who is about to depart this life for the hereafter. If you do not, your mother’s milk will be forbidden to you.” Tele-Buqa and his allies arrived as Nogai had desired, unarmed without any army. Perhaps they had indeed fallen for Nogai’s trick, or perhaps Tele-Buqa wanted a final chance to gloat over the old-man.

    As Tele-Buqa and the princes arrived in the camp, and were beguiled by Nogai’s smooth talk and pained coughs, a messenger was sent to Toqta, bringing him and his men out of hiding. In quick order, Tele-Buqa and the sons of Möngke-Temür were surrounded. Their eyes must have darted back and forth in confusion and terror, from the armed horsemen under Toqta, to the suddenly perfectly fine Nogai rising from his bed, who promptly gave the order for Tele-Buqa and the princes to be tied up. Nogai turned to Toqta, and pointed to Tele-Buqa, almost dismissively saying, “This one took over the kingdom of your father, but these sons of your father agreed with him to seize and kill you. I give them into your hands; kill them as you wish.”

    Out of respect to their imperial status, the bound princes had their heads covered, and backs broken. So ended the four year reign of Tele-Buqa Khan. It was not just Tele-Buqa and his closest allies killed; all of the sons of Möngke-Temür Khan, Toqta’s brothers, were likewise executed Swiftly, Toqta was confirmed as khan of the Golden Horde; Nogai stayed close to confirm it, and Toqta’s few surviving brothers swore their loyalty to him. Upon the completion of the ceremonies, Nogai swiftly returned to the lower Danube. For Nogai’s khanmaker reputation, this was the first, and last, overthrow of the ruling khan that he took part in, according to the primary sources. Even Marco Polo, passing through Anatolia only a few years later, recorded a muddled version of events, making Töde-Möngke and Nogai work together to overthrow Tele-Buqa. Tele-Buqa’s brief reign would largely be forgotten in succeeding generations, but it had ushered in a process of decentralization that would require some time to be corrected. Toqta would begin the process; but not before things came to a head with Nogai. Both men had made promises of assistance, and both were about to find that the other was not as keen to keep their end of the bargain. To see how their conflict develops, be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast. If you’d like to help us continue bringing you great khan-tent, please consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kings and generals, or sharing this with your friends. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.



  • Last week you heard the first part of the interview between our series researcher, Jack Wilson, and Dr. Stephen Pow on his theory regarding the death of the famous Mongol general, Jebe Noyan. Dr. Pow argues that Jebe died in a small skirmish in the days leading up to the Kalka River, and today they discuss some of the reaction to Pow’s theory, further expanding upon his evidence as well as the possibility of Jebe’s survival. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

  • Any experience reading sources from the Mongol Empire will find a frustrating tendency for them to not mention the fates of some of the empire’s key figures. A recent theory by Dr. Stephen Pow, a frequent guest on our podcast, has sought to cast a light on the possible last days of one of the top generals of the early Mongol Empire, Jebe Noyan, the associate of Subedei during their pursuit of the Khwarezm-shah Muhammad. In part one of their discussion, our series researcher Jack Wilson talks with Dr. Pow on Jebe’s life, the Kalka River battles, and his theory and evidence for Jebe’s death, and what this reveals about the use of sources in the Mongol Empire. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

  • Perhaps no Khan of the Golden Horde in the thirteenth century has had his reputation so maligned as Töde-Möngke. This younger brother of Möngke-Temür ruled the Jochid ulus from around 1282 until he gave up the throne in 1287. His reign is, at the most charitably, usually described as Töde-Möngke being dedicated to religious pursuits, leaving real power in the hands of the rising prince, Nogai. At worst, as in the sixteenth century Qara-Tawarikh of Öttemish Hajji, Töde-Möngke suffered from a debilitating mental condition that left him hopelessly unable to deal with the strains of governance, or indeed even the world around him. Here, based on the research of our series historian conducted during the process of his Masters thesis, we’ll offer a somewhat more nuanced portrayal of Töde-Möngke, who appears to have acted with a little more energy than he has generally been credited with. Along the way, we’ll also deal with the Second Mongol Invasion of Hungary, which occurred during his reign. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    Töde-Möngke, or Tuda-Mengu as he’s known to Turkic speakers, was a younger brother of the previous Khan of the Golden Horde, Möngke-Temür and therefore a grandson of Batu Khan. Like his brother, his life before he became Khan is entirely unknown to us. His older brother died as early as 1280, or as late as 1282, depending on the source. Literature has often placed Töde-Möngke’s rise to power as being through the efforts of prince Nogai maneuvering him to the throne, and entering into a power sharing agreement. However, the primary sources do not portray such a manner of succession.

    Möngke-Temür died of complications following an operation on an abcess in his throat. There is no indication of a preferred successor. He instead left behind nine sons, who in the works of the Mamluk historians Baybars al-Mansuri and al-Nuwayri, immediately squabbled for the throne. His brother Töde-Möngke though, as apparently the oldest surviving descendant of Batu, is described by these sources as essentially fighting off his nephews to take the throne himself. Whether it was open fighting is not particularly clear: the process was probably a mix of threats, bribery and promises over several months, far from unusual in a Chinggisid succession. We might assume that Möngke-Temür died around 1280-1281, and it took until early 1282 for the ascension of Töde-Möngke to be finalized. For anyone claiming Nogai controlled this process, there is simply no mention of his involvement in any of the contemporary sources, nor is there evidence for Professor Vernadsky’s claim that, at the time of Töde-Möngke’s enthronement, that Nogai was also enthroned as a “Khan of the Manghit tribe.” As far as we can tell, there is no reason to assume Nogai was not among the princes and commanders who simply backed Töde-Möngke at the quriltai.

    The first years of Töde-Möngke’s reign are somewhat hazy, but a few details can be made out by comparing the various sources he’s mentioned in. It appears his most notable efforts were related to diplomacy. Though modern writers often by this point give Nogai most control over the Golden Horde’s foreign policy, there is little direct evidence for this. In fact, Töde-Möngke seems to have acted with a bit of vigour in this area. A Mamluk embassy sent with gifts to Möngke-Temür in 1282 arrived too late, and found Töde-Möngke on the throne. The gifts were instead given to Töde-Möngke, and friendly relations commenced. There is nothing particularly distinct in the embassy’s first description of Töde-Möngke, in comparison to his late brother. This first embassy, as recorded by the Mamluk chroniclers, does not describe Töde-Möngke as a Muslim; this is interesting, as not only is Töde-Möngke’s status as the second Muslim khan of the Golden Horde is one of the most notable things of his reign to modern authors, but we would think that the Mamluks would also have been quite interested by such a prospect following Möngke-Temür, who is generally agreed to have been a shamanist-animist. But Töde-Möngke’s 1283 letter to the Mamluk Sultan Qalawun was markedly different. In this second letter, Töde-Möngke espouses at length about his conversion to Islam, how he had established sharia law in the Golden Horde, and asked for an Islamic name as well as banners from the Mamluk Sultan and his puppet ‘Abbasid Caliph. If Töde-Möngke was such an intensely devout Muslim, how did the previous embassy fail to note it?

    Well, Professor Peter Jackson offers an intriguing explanation. First we must look to the year prior to Töde-Möngke’s letter. In June of 1282, a new Il-Khan had taken the throne following the death of Abaqa. This was Tegüder Ahmad, the first Muslim Il-Khan, who we have covered in a previous episode. Soon after taking the throne, Tegüder sent envoys to both the Golden Horde and to the Mamluk Sultanate, informing them of his enthronement and conversion to islam. The letter he sent to the Golden Horde does not survive, but his letters to Cairo do. Here these letters serve as a warning; telling the Mamluks that the Mongols were at peace, and that as a Muslim it would be easier for the Mamluks to submit to Tegüder.

    What Professor Jackson suggests is that Töde-Möngke, upon learning of a Muslim on the throne of Hülegü, worried of rapproachment between the Ilkhanate and the Mamluk Sultanate. While Töde-Möngke maintained the peace with the Il-Khans, there was no advantage to him if Sultan Qalawun submitted to, or made peace with, Tegüder. Recall how the Jochids may have seen the Mamluks as their vassals; this was not to the Jochids’ liking to have their vassals submit to another power. But more immediately, there would be economic and potentially military consequences. The Golden Horde’s trade ties, especially the sale of slaves, to Cairo would presumably lessen, if not dry up, if there was no Egyptian need for these slaves who made up the heart of the Mamluk army. And if the Ilkhanate no longer needed to worry about its border with the Mamluks, then they may be less willing to maintain peace with the Jochids, and could potentially bring its full might to bear on its shared frontiers with the Golden Horde. For Töde-Möngke, it was much better for war to continue between the Ilkhanate and Mamluks. Hence, his letter in 1283 to Qalawun, loudly proclaiming his conversion to Islam; essentially, a means to “out-Muslim” Tegüder’s claim, and discourage Qalawun from feeling he needed to respond too kindly to the Il-Khan’s letter. In the end, Töde-Möngke needn’t have worried much; Tegüder was overthrown and executed by Arghun in 1284.

    But Jackson’s theory raises the question: did Töde-Möngke convert to Islam just for the sake of diplomatically outmaneuvering Tegüder Il-Khan? Possibly, though doubtful. The fact that non-Mamluk sources, including Rashid al-Din, make no mention of Töde-Möngke’s Islam may be telling, though he also casts doubt on Tegüder’s Islam too, in an effort to delegitimize pre-Ghazan Khans who were Muslims. It could be that Töde-Möngke happened to convert in a similar time to Tegüder’s ascension, or was simply quiet about it during the initial Mamluk embassy. Whatever the case, he may have been initially ambivalent of the Mamluk alliance, but upon learning of Tegüder’s conversion via his letter, found it more useful to fully embrace Islam, or at least loudly alert the Mamluks of it. Regardless, by 1283 Töde-Möngke claimed to the Mamluks that he was a Muslim.

    Generally speaking, Töde-Möngke sought peace on his frontiers with other Mongol Khanates. We’ve already noted how Tegüder’s letter spoke of peace between him and Töde-Möngke. There is no record of fighting between the Golden Horde and the Ilkhanate during Töde-Möngke’s reign, and it seems likely that Töde-Möngke maintained the treaty established by Möngke-Temür and Abaqa. The front between the Golden Horde, the Chagatai Khanate and the Ögedeids seems to have likewise remained quiet. Given that Qaidu in 1282 was able to fully assert his authority and place Du’a on the Chagatayid throne, then divert resources to continual attacks on Khubilai’s northwestern frontier, it seems that a truce, perhaps uneasily, was kept in Central Asia. Here, this may have been in large part to the efforts of Qonichi, the head of the line of Orda and ruler of the Blue Horde. Qonichi seems to have acted largely as an independent monarch: both Rashid al-Din and Marco Polo portray Qonichi as answering to no one. Modern scholars have often presumed that Qonichi’s independence was a result of Nogai weakening the Golden Horde Khan. Yet it is not at all apparent that Töde-Möngke held lesser or greater influence over the Blue Horde khans than either his predecessor or successors. Instead, it may well be that the relationship between Töde-Möngke and Qonichi was much the same as it had been under their predecessors: the occasional consultation, perhaps tribute or troop demands, but no real oversight or interference. Qonichi and his son and successor, Bayan, are known to have sent friendly messages to the Il-Khans, and given their apparent interest in neutrality, and position on the east wing of the Golden Horde bordering Qaidu’s dominions, that Qonichi must have sought neutrality with these khans as well.

    In this region Töde-Möngke carried out one significant diplomatic maneuver: in 1283, after consultation with Nogai, Qonichi, and after years of lobbying by the high ranking lady Kelmish Aqa, Töde-Möngke released Khubilai Khaan’s captive sons Nomukhan and Kököchü. After nearly ten years in captivity, the boys were finally allowed to return to the Yuan Dynasty. The effort, clearly enough, was intended on warming relations with the Great Khan. Perhaps Töde-Möngke was a believer in unity between the Mongol Khanates, and did not seek to bring further turmoil between them. Whatever the case, he maintained a non-hostile diplomacy with his cousins, but did not succeed in achieving any empire-wide peace, if that was his intention. The increasingly withdrawn Khubilai hardly showed great interest in the return of Nomukhan, let alone in turning any energy to whatever overtures Töde-Möngke hoped to convey with such an effort. It would take another twenty year for any real strides at peace to be made across the Empire.

    Non-aggressive diplomacy to other Mongols does not mean Töde-Möngke engaged in peaceful relations with all his neighbours. He may simply have been an adherent to the belief, as espoused by the thirteenth century writer ibn Wasil, that if the Mongols stopped killing each other then they could conquer the world. Regarding the Rus’ principalities, Töde-Möngke’s policies much resembled Möngke-Temür’s, and he continued to assign or rescind yarliqs, or patents, granting a given Rus’ prince right to his title. Töde-Möngke did not interfere in the succession of the princes; he respected the Riurikid tradition, and confirmed who was presented to him.

    In the first years of his reign, Töde-Möngke regularly provided armies to Alexander Nevskii’s son Andrei, who was in a protracted dispute with his brother Dmitri for the title of Grand Prince of Vladimir. According to the Nikon Chronicle, Töde-Möngke even sent one of his own sons at the head of an army to assist Andrei. While at point Dmitri Alexandrovich did flee to Nogai, careful readings of the Rus’ chroniclers do not make it apparent that Nogai provided either army or yarliq to support Dmitri in opposition to Andrei as Töde-Möngke’s candidate. For these campaigns between princes, the troops Töde-Möngke sent always used the opportunity to raid and pillage extensively. As the Chronicle of Novgorod records, “in the winter of [1284], Knyaz Dmitri came to Novgorod with his brother Andrei with an armed force, and with Tartars and with the whole of the Low Country, and they did much harm and burned the districts.”

    Most of the activity we can unambiguously write of Töde-Möngke taking part in, even as a participant, can be dated from the first years of reign; roughly, 1282-1284. By the middle of the 1280s, though, Töde-Möngke’s presence nearly disappears. This is best exemplified in 1285, when Nogai and another prince, Töde-Möngke’s nephew Tele-Buqa, attacked the Hungarian Kingdom. The sources make no mention of Töde-Möngke’s involvement, in either ordering or organizing the attack in any fashion. What seems to have occurred is that Töde-Möngke, depending on the source, either went insane or began to devout himself entirely to Islam, growing weary or disinterested in governance in favour of his religious pursuits. Rashid al-Din, the Mamluk Chroniclers and Öttemish Hajji’s sixteenth century history all portray Töde-Möngke effectively abandoning the duties of the Khan. In Mamluk Egypt, Baybars al-Mansuri described Möngke-Temür’s widow, Jijek-Khatun, acting as a regent during part of Töde-Möngke’s reign; it could be that, as Töde-Möngke withdrew from the running of the state around late 1284, Jijek-Khatun became the effective leader of the Golden Horde, as she may have done in the final days of her husband’s illness.

    The inception of the 1285 attack on Hungary is difficult to pinpoint. Someone in the Golden Horde certainly picked a good time to take advantage of matters in Hungary. Following the devastating invasion of the 1240s, the Hungarian King Béla IV had invited the Cumans to return to the kingdom, marrying his son István to a Cuman princess to ensure their place as the first line of defense should the Mongols return. In 1272 after the sudden death of István two years into his reign, his son Laszló, or Ladislaus, the product of the union with the Cuman princess, ascended the Árpádian throne. Only a young boy, his first years were spent tossed between powerful barons who jockeyed for power, while his mother was regent-in-name only. Perhaps because of this, Laszló preferred his mother’s people, the Cumans, and as he grew older lived among them, wore their clothes and took Cuman mistresses— to the horror of his lawfully wedded Christian wife. Hence, Laszló’s epithet, Laszló the Cuman. Laszló’s favouring of the Cumans led to Papal and baronal efforts to clamp down on their privileges and assimilate them, the catalyst for a large Cuman revolt in 1280. Laszló was forced to lead the Hungarian army to defeat the Cumans, culminating at Lake Hód in 1282. Many fled to the Golden Horde, pursued by Laszló right into Horde territory, and brought word of upheaval in the Hungarian kingdom. Certainly, this was as good a time as any for a Jochid army to ravage Hungary. Any one in the Horde could see that.

    But then from whom did the idea for the attack arise? Nogai, whose expanding ordu along the Lower Danube bordered Hungary, is often attributed as the mastermind behind the attack. It would not be out of line given how he had spent his time in the Balkans since 1270, which was a series of raids and threats across southeastern Europe. However, medieval sources which discuss this aspect tend to suggest Tele-Buqa was the impetus. And it seems logical: if Töde-Möngke had delved into his religious fervour, and the Golden Horde was effectively without a head, then all of the princes may have been eyeing the succession. Tele-Buqa, the oldest son of Tartu, the older brother of Möngke-Temür and Töde-Möngke, was perhaps the most promising candidate. Likely the oldest of Batu’s great-grandchildren, Tele-Buqa was a combative, ambitious individual, and probably closely affiliated with the court in Sarai. Seeing perhaps first hand his uncle Töde-Möngke’s dereliction of duties, the dream of the right to rule inherent to every Chinggisid must have stirred within him. But Tele-Buqa had a problem: perhaps no more than 20 years old in the mid-1280s, there had been no real wars in his lifetime, in which Tele-Buqa could have gained glory for his name, and thus make himself a real candidate at the quriltai.

    This idea then, is that Tele-Buqa himself organized the Hungarian campaign, as means to build his reputation in order to seize power from his uncle Töde-Möngke. Considering that Baybars al-Mansuri records Tele-Buqa ordering Nogai to take part, this seems quite probable. But it can’t be totally ruled out that Töde-Möngke himself had originally taken part in the planning. If we assume his foreign policy had been to seek peace with the other khanates, and resume conflict with non-subjugated peoples, then it would be hardly out of line. Tele-Buqa may have been officially delegated responsibility to lead the attack by Töde-Möngke, prior to any incapacitating attack the latter suffered.

    Launched in the February of 1285, the so-called Second Mongol Invasion of Hungary led by Tele-Buqa and Nogai, is nowhere near as well understood as the first. It was certainly not on the scale of the former, and likely had no intention of conquering the kingdom but a raid aiming to take advantage of instability. It has no comparable overview to the first invasion’s eyewitness accounts of Master Roger or Thomas of Split, but it does appear in a wide range of sources: Rus’, Polish, and even Mamluk chronicles; Hungarian and other European letters and charters, and even some archaeologically. Though generally overlooked in favour of its more famous predecessor, when it does appear in popular discussion usually the second invasion is portrayed as a dismal failure, where newly constructed stone castles and well-armoured Hungarian knights, learning the lessons of 1241, overcame the Mongol armies.

    The most recent reconstructions, building on the works of Tibor Szőcs, Peter Jackson, Michal Holeščák and our own series researcher, Jack Wilson, generally paint a more nuanced picture. In short: the surviving sources describe a series of small engagements with no great clash between Mongol and Hungarian armies. If King Laszló had defeated Nogia and Tele-Buqa in open battle, then that would have been described and glorified somewhere. It’s difficult to imagine a King as battered by the nobility and papacy missing the propaganda coup of defeating the Mongols in the field, yet no such battle is recorded.

    Instead, after entering the Kingdom through what is now Slovakia, Nogai and Tele-Buqa’s armies broke into smaller parties and sought to ravage as much of the kingdom as possible. In some regions, particularly the Sáros and Szepés counties, local resistance was stiff. One defender, Master George of the Soós noble house in Sáros county, enjoyed particular success, and a number of Hungarian charters attest to his victories over Mongol parties — and his habit of sending the heads of defeated Mongols to King Laszló. Speaking of Laszló, based on the charters he issued, which record the location of their issue, it seems he stayed as far away from the Mongols as possible, remaining in Buda and Pest until after the Mongol withdrawal, upon which he made a survey of the damaged territory. There is no medieval source describing the King facing the Mongols in any battle.

    But despite charters playing up victories over Mongol arbans, it seems that Nogai and Tele-Buqa’s campaign was rather successful, though specific movements are hard to trace. They pushed as far west as Pest, where two Mongol forces were memorably described converging below the city walls. It does not seem that major cities were assaulted, and given the fact the attack lasted only a few weeks, such hard points were certainly bypassed in favour of speed, overrunning and destroying unfortified towns and villages. When the Mongols began to withdraw around April 1285, they do not seem to have been in retreat, but returning triumphant; described as ladden with a great number of prisoners, it seems they had felt their raid was a success, acquired the booty they could carry and decided to return to the Golden Horde, appearing victorious, and Tele-Buqa doubtless ready to play up the raid as a great victory.

    Their withdrawal through the Carpathians though, was to permanently stain the memory of the campaign. When Nogai turned south through Transylvania to return to his Danube territory, he faced stiff resistance from local Vlachs, Saxons and Szekély, who freed a number of prisoners. Their success over Nogai has likely been greatly overstated though, given that he had strength enough to campaign in Bulgaria and Thrace later that same year. But it was Tele-Buqa who was to feel the brunt of the misfortune. In the best recorded episode of the campaign, noted in Rus’, Polish and Mamluk chronicles, while attempting to cross the Carpathian mountains to return to the Horde a vicious snowstorm caught his army. Losing the trail, pounded by the elements and likely assaulted by local defenders, all in addition to some sort of epidemic, his men starved or died of exposure. Losses were massive, his loot abandoned in the mountains. The Galician-Volhynian Chronicle has Tele-Buqa make his way out of the mountains, on foot, with only a wife and a single mare.

    While Nogai may have been rather happy with his bounty, Tele-Buqa had suffered a humiliating defeat. His chances of earning his election over Töde-Möngke must now have seemed slim. Envious of Nogai’s good fortune while desiring the Jochid throne, it seems a little something in Tele-Buqa snapped that day. Over the next year he made his plan. He enlisted his brother, Könchak, and two sons of Möngke-Temür, Alghui and To’rilcha, and together they schemed and schemed.

    The conspirators launched their plot in 1287. In the accounts of the Mamluks, Töde-Möngke willingly abdicates, giving the throne to Tele-Buqa in order to spend the rest of his days in religious devotion. This was, presumably, the official version of events sent to the Mamluks, in order to not sour relations between the new Khan and the Sultan. Within the Horde, as recorded by the less favourable Rashid al-Din and the latter Öttemish Hajji, it seems the justification spread by Tele-Buqa and his allies was that Töde-Möngke was insane and totally unfit to rule. Thus, sometime in 1287 Töde-Möngke was pushed from the throne, and Tele-Buqa enthroned as the new Khan of the Golden Horde, splitting power between himself and his allies. The final fate of Töde-Möngke is unknown, but presumably Tele-Buqa did not long allow a potential rival claimant to enjoy his retirement.

    Töde-Möngke, after his removal, seems to have become a favourite for folk tales in the Golden Horde, predominantly humorous ones reflecting stories of his insanity— and likely reflecting the insanity being the official excuse spread by Tele-Buqa within the Golden Horde. Öttemish Hajji, in the sixteenth century, records a few of these stories, though noted that many more vulgar versions existed that he dared not repeat.

    The first amusing tale goes as follows. An ambassador came for an audience with

    Töde-Möngke, but the nobles worried that he would say meaningless things before them. However, knowing that Töde-Möngke would say whatever they told him to, (and indeed, that was what kept him on the throne), they came up with a plan. The nobles tied a rope around Töde-Möngke’s hands, and would pull on it to stop him from speaking if necessary. The next morning, the ambassador came before the Khan. After initial pleasantries, Töde-Möngke asked if there were many mice in his country. The ambassador, presumably after a moment of confusion, responded with “a lot.” Next, Töde-Möngke asked if it often rained in his country; once again the ambassador answered in the affirmative. When Töde-Möngke began to ask his next question, the nobles began to pull on the rope, to which Töde-Möngke told the ambassador, “I would ask you more, but they are pulling the rope!” Hurriedly the nobles ushered the ambassador out of the room, giving him a fine fur coat and a horse to distract him.

    Returning to his country, the ambassador was asked by his sovereign what kind of person Töde-Möngke was. The ambassador said, “I saw the Khan only once, and could not see him again, but he asked me these questions.” The ruler and his advisers pondered over the questions, and came to these conclusions: “It is good that he asked how much rain we receive, for all peoples benefit from rain. And it is good that he asked about the mice, as they harm everything.” But no matter how much they discussed it, they could not comprehend his words, “They are pulling on the rope!”

    Funny stuff, right? Maybe your sense of humour is a bit different from the sixteenth century Volga steppe. We’ll share one more. On another occasion, Töde-Möngke led a campaign, and on his return suffered an attack of insanity. Whenever these fits occurred, he was totally unresponsive, and on this occasion remained so for 15 days. The army, unable to move during this time, faced starvation. With the situation drastic, it was decided to dress up a young man as a woman, and parade him before Töde-Möngke, hopefully causing him to remember his wife and desire to return home. Upon showing him to Töde-Möngke, the Khan immediately jumped up, got on a horse and rode off. When Öttemish Hajji reports at this interval that more obscene versions of the story exist that are unfit to be shared, we’ll let you fill in your mind what happened before he got on horseback.

    Töde-Möngke then, in the company of a few courtiers, rode off like a madman to see his wife, only to suddenly grow angry that a mountain on the horizon wasn’t moving. He then promptly got off his horse, laid down on the ground and refused to move until the mountain did. They lay there for hours, until one of the courtiers had a clever idea, telling the Khan that they could outsmart the mountain by moving under the cover of night.

    We shouldn’t rely too much on Öttemish Hajji’s humorous anecdotes as genuine reflections of the thirteenth century. But even here, where Töde-Möngke is at his most incompent, he is still portrayed as capable of going on campaign, and suffering not constant illness, but periodic fits. Perhaps he suffered a condition that resulted in him being immobilized temporarily, physically or mentally, which worsened over his reign, causing him to try and seek assistance through religion and prayer, having run out of alternative means to save his body and throne. The process of which forced him to leave the daily running of governance to Jijek-Khatun. Tele-Buqa, unsympathetic to his uncle’s plight, chose to portray it entirely as insanity in order to justify his coup. Thus, was Töde-Möngke, Khan of the Golden Horde, grandson of Batu, great-great-grandson of Chinggis Khan, remembered in history. Our next episode deals with the reign of Tele-Buqa Khan and his princely junta, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals podcast. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, then consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals, or liking, sharing and leaving a review of this podcast. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.

  • Having taken you, our dear listeners, through the Yuan, Chagatayid and Ilkhanates, we now turn our attention to the northwestern corner of the Mongol Empire: the Jochid ulus, the Golden Horde. Ruled by the line of Chinggis’ eldest son Jochi, this single division of the Mongol Empire was larger than the maximum extent of most empires, dominating from the borders of Hungary and the Balkans, briefly taking the submission of Serbia, stretching ever eastwards over what is now Ukraine, Russia, through Kazakhstan before terminating at the Irtysh River. Under its hegemony were many distinct populations; the cities of the Rus’ principalities, the fur trading centres of the Volga Bulghars along the Samara Bend, the mercantile outposts of the Crimean peninsula which gave the Jochid Khans access to the Mediterranean Sea, to the Khwarezm delta, giving them a position in the heart of the Central Asian trade. These distant frontiers, hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres apart, were connected by the western half of the great Eurasian steppe, the Qipchaq Desert as it was known to Islamic writers. Thus was the Golden Horde, and over the next few episodes we’ll take you through its history, from its establishment under Batu, to the height of its glory under Özbeg, to its lengthy disintegration from the end of the fourteenth century onwards. This first episode will serve as an introduction to the history of the Golden Horde, beginning first with its very name and important historiographical matters, then taking you through its origins, up to the death of Berke and ascension of Möngke-Temür, the first ruler of the Golden Horde as an independent state. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    As good a place to start as any is terminology, and the Golden Horde is known by a host of names. Firstly and most famously, we can note that the Golden Horde is a later appellation, given to the state centuries later in Rus’ chronicles. In Russian this is Zolotaya Orda (Золотой Орды), which in Mongolian and Turkish would be Altan Orda. The English word “horde” comes directly from Mongolian ordu, though also used in Turkic languages, and signifies, depending on the case, a command headquarters, the army, tent or palace- quite different from the image of uncontrolled rabble that usually comes to mind with the term. While commonly said that the Rus’ chronicles took the term from the golden colour of the Khan’s tents, we actually do see the term Golden Horde used among the Mongols before the emergence of the Golden Horde state. For the Mongols and Turks, all the cardinal directions have colour associated with them. Gold is the colour associated with the center; while the divisions of the army would be known by their direction and colour, the overall command or imperial government could be known as the center, the qol, or by its colour, altan. This is further augmented by the association of the colour gold with the Chinggisids themselves, as descent from Chinggis Khan was the altan urugh, the Golden Lineage; and the name of a well-known Mongolian folk band. For example, in 1246 when the Franciscan Friar John de Plano Carpini travelled to Mongolia as an envoy from the Pope, he visited a number of camps of the new Khan, Güyük. Each camp was named, and one of these was, as Carpini notes, called the Golden Horde. In this case, Carpini also describes Güyük’s tent as being literally covered in gold, with even the nails holding the wooden beams being gold.

    So Altan orda, or Golden Horde, may well have been in use within the Golden Horde khanate. However, the term is never used to refer to it in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries. What we see instead is a collection of other terms. In the Ilkhanate, it was common to refer to the rulers as the Khans of Qipchap, and the state as the Desht-i-Qipchaq, the Qipchaq steppe or desert. Hence in modern writing you will sometimes see it as the Qipchap Khanate. But this seems unlikely to have been a term in use by the Jochid Khans, given that the Qipchaps were the Khan’s subjects and seen as Mongol slaves; a rather strange thing for the Mongols to name themselves after them. Given that it was the pre-Mongol term for the region, and the Ilkhanid writers liked to denigrate the Jochid Khans whenever possible, it makes rather good sense that they would continue using it.

    Many modern historians, and our series researcher, like to refer to it as the Jochid ulus, the patrimony of the house of Jochi, particularly before the actual independence of the Golden Horde following 1260. This term appears closer to what we see in Yuan and Mamluk sources, where the Golden Horde was usually called the ulus of Batu or Berke, or ulus of whoever was currently the reigning Khan. Either designating themselves by the current ruler, or by the more general ulug ulus, meaning “great state or patrimony,” with perhaps just the encampment of the Khan known as the altan ordu, the Golden Horde, among the Jochids themselves. Over the following episodes the term Jochid ulus will be used to refer to the state in general, and Golden Horde will be used specifically for the independent khanate which emerged after the Berke-Hülegü war in the 1260s.

    There is another matter with terminology worth pointing out before we go further. The Jochid domains were split into two halves; west of the Ural river, ruled by the line of Batu, Jochi’s second son. And east of the Ural River, ruled by the line of Orda, Jochi’s first son. Now, Batu may have been the general head of the Jochids, or a first amongst equals, or Orda and Batu may have been given totally distinct domains. Perhaps the ulus of Orda simply became more autonomous over the thirteenth century. Opinions differ greatly, and unfortunately little information survives on the exact relationship, but the ulus of Orda was, by 1300, effectively independent and the Batuid Khans Toqta and Özbeg would, through military intervention, bring it under their influence. So essentially, there were two wings of the Jochids with a murky relationship, which is further obfuscated by inconsistent naming of them in the historical sources. Rus’ and Timurid sources also refer to the White Horde and the Blue Horde. The Rus’ sources follow Turko-Mongolian colour directions and have the White Horde, the lands ruled by the line of Batu, the more westerly, and Orda’s ulus being the Blue Horde to the east. Except in Timurid sources, this is reversed, with Batu’s line ruling the Blue Horde, and Orda the White.

    There has been no shortage of scholarly debate over this, and you will see the terms used differently among modern writers. This is not even getting into the matter if the Golden Horde was then itself another division within this, referring to territory belonging directly to the Khan within the Batuid Horde. For the sake of clarity, this podcast will work on the following assumptions, with recognition that other scholars interpretations may differ greatly: that following Jochi’s death around 1227, the Jochid lines and lands were divided among Batu and Orda, with Batu acting as the head of the lineage. The western half of this division, under Batu, we will call the White Horde, and Orda’s eastern division will be the Blue Horde. Together, these were the Jochid ulus, with the rest of their brothers given allotments within the larger domains. While Batu was the senior in the hierarchy, Orda was largely autonomous, which following the Berke-Hülegü war turned into the Blue Horde becoming effectively independent until the start of the fourteenth century, as apparently suggested by Rashid al-Din and Marco Polo,

    One final note is that we have effectively no internal sources surviving from the Golden Horde. In the opinion of scholars like Charles Halperin, the Golden Horde simply had no chronicle tradition. Any records they maintained were likely lost in the upheavals of the late fourteenth century that culminated in the great invasion under Tamerlane in the 1390s, where effectively every major city in the steppe region of the Horde was destroyed. The closest we come to Golden Horde point-of-view chronicles appear in the sixteenth century onwards, long after the dissolution of the Horde. The first and most notable was the mid-sixteenth century Qara Tawarikh of Ötemish Hajji, based in Khiva in the service of descendants of Jochi’s son, Shiban. Sent to the lower Volga by his masters, there he collected oral folk tales which he compiled into his history. While often bearing intriguing and amusing tales, they reveal little in the way of the internal machinations of the Golden Horde. Luckily we are serviced from more contemporary sources, most notably Ilkhanid and Mamluk sources- once again our friend the Ilkhanid vizier Rashid al-Din is of utmost importance, who provides us an important outline of the Golden Horde’s politics up to 1300. The Mamluks and Ilkhanid sources largely collected information from Jochid diplomats or refugees. Most of our understanding of Golden Horde political events, and the details of the following episodes, comes from these sources.

    Post-Ilkhanid Timurid and Jalayirid authors help somewhat for the later fourteenth century, while the Rus’ sources provide information on the Golden Horde almost exclusively in the context of its interactions with the principalities, similar to other European and Byzantine sources. A few details can be gleaned too from travellers like Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta, and even distant Yuan sources from China. Archaeology has provided some interesting details, particularly relating to trade and the extensive coinage circulation of the Jochids. Despite this, the Golden Horde remains, regardless of its fame, arguably one of the poorer understood of the Mongol Khanates.

    So, with that bit of paperwork out of the way, let’s get on with it! The kernel of the immense Golden Horde can be found in the first decades of the thirteenth century. In the first ten years of the Mongol Empire Jochi, Chinggis Khan’s first son, was tasked with leading campaigns around Lake Baikal, as well as the first expeditions that brought their armies far to the west of Mongolia. While around Baikal he had been sent to subdue the local peoples, in 1216 Jochi and Sübe’edei pursued fleeing Merkits across Kazakhstan, to the region between the Aral Sea and the Caspian. Here, the Merkits had allied with Qangli-Qipchaps, beginning the long running Mongol animosity to the various Qipchap peoples. While Jochi was the victor here, he was forced into battle with the Khwarezm-Shah Muhammad on his return, as we have previously detailed. But the result seems to have been an association of these western steppes as Jochi’s lands, in the eyes of the Mongol leadership.

    Such an association was strengthened following the campaign against the Khwarezmian Empire. The Mongols saw conquering a region as making it part of the patrimony of a given prince, and such a belief fueled into the interactions between Jochi and his brothers, especially Chagatai. This was most apparent at the siege of the Khwarezmian capital of Gurganj, where Jochi sought to minimize destruction to the city- not out of humanity, but as it would be a jewel in his domains as one of the preeminent trade cities in Central Asia. Chagatai, in a long running competition with his brother, was not nearly so compassionate. The end result was Gurganj being almost totally annihilated, and Jochi and Chagatai’s antagonism reaching the frustrated ears of their father. As you may recall, Jochi’s mother Börte had been captured by Merkits before he was born, leaving an air of doubt around the true identity of his father. Chinggis, to his credit, always treated Jochi as fully legitimate, and indeed up until 1221, in the opinion of some scholars, appears to have been grooming him as his primary heir. However, the falling out between Jochi and Chagatai over the siege of Gurganj, and Chagatai’s apparent refusal to accept Jochi as anything but a “Merkit bastard,” as attributed to him in the Secret History of the Mongols, left Chinggis with the realization that should Jochi become Khan, it would only lead to war between the brothers. And hence, the decision to make Ögedai the designated heir.

    It has often been speculated that Jochi’s massive patrimony was essentially a means to keep him and Chagatai as far apart as possible,and appeasing Jochi once he was excluded from the throne. Following the conquest of Khwarezm, Jochi seems to have taken well to the western steppe being his territory, the grasslands between the Ural and Irtysh Rivers. Juzjani, writing around 1260, writes of Jochi falling in love with these lands, believing them to be the finest in the world. Some later, pro-Toluid sources portray Jochi then spending the last years of his life doing nothing but hunting and drinking in these lands, but this seems to have been aimed at discrediting his fitness. Rather he likely spent this time consolidating and gradually pushing west his new realm, past the Aral Sea towards the Ural River, while his primary camp was along the Irtysh. Though effectively nothing is known of Jochi’s administration, we can regard this period as the true founding of what became the Jochid ulus, and eventually the Golden Horde. Though he died between 1225 and 1227, either of illness, a hunting accident or poisoned by his father, Chinggis immediately confirmed upon Jochi’s many offspring -at least 14 sons- their rights to their father’s lands. And Chinggis, or perhaps Ögedai, made Jochi’s second son Batu the head of the lineage. It was then that the division of the Jochid lands into two wings under Orda and Batu may have been first implemented.

    By the start of Ögedai’s reign, the western border of the Mongol Empire extended past the Ural River, and Mongol armies were attacking the Volga Bulghars. While we do not have much information on it, we may presume a level of involvement on the part of Batu and his brothers. Of course, in the second half of the 1230s Ögedai ordered the great invasion that overran the western steppe. Starting from the Ural River, within 5 years the Mongol Empire was extended some 3,000 kilometres westwards to the borders of Hungary. Whereas previously the urban area of the Jochid lands was restricted to the Khwarezm Delta and the scattered steppe settlements, now it included the cities of the Rus’ principalities, Volga Bulghars, other Volga communities, and the Crimean peninsula. All in addition to the western half of the great Eurasian steppe, and the now subdued Cuman-Qipchaq peoples. By 1242, Batu was arguably the single most powerful individual in the Mongol Empire. Enjoying the rich grasslands along the Volga between the Black and Caspian Seas, Batu created a permanent capital, Sarai. Much like the imperial capital of Qaraqorum, Sarai served as a base to collect tribute, receive embassies, and house the administration and records, while Batu and the other Jochid princes continued to nomadize. The newly conquered territories were quickly incorporated in the Mongol tax system, and the Rus’ principalities began to see Mongol basqaqs and darughachi come to collect the Khan’s due.

    But Batu was an ambitious man. There was clearly an understanding that the Jochids were granted the west of Asia as theirs, and he took this quite literally. As the Mongol Empire incorporated Iran, the Caucasus and Anatolia over the 1230s through 40s, Batu ensured that Jochid land rights were not just respected, but expanded. The administration in these regions was picked either from Batu’s men, or from his consultation, such as Baiju Noyan, the commander of the Caucasian tamma forces and who brought the Rumi Seljuqs under Mongol rule.

    In the turmoil following Ögedai’s death, Batu extended his hold over western Asia. Naturally, this put him on a collision course with the Central Government. When Ögedai’s widow, Törögene tried to hunt down her political rivals, such as the head of the Central Asia Secretariat Mas’ud Beg, Batu gave shelter to him. When her son Güyük took the throne, Batu did not attend his quriltai in person, putting off any meeting due to, Batu claimed, the severe gout he suffered from preventing his travel. Batu and Güyük had been rivals ever since the great western campaign, where Güyük had insulted Batu’s leadership. Güyük hoped to put a cap on the decentralization of power which had occurred during the last years of his father’s reign and during his mother’s regency, and showed a willingness to execute imperial princes, such as the last of Chinggis Khan’s surviving brothers, Temüge. When rumour came to Batu that Güyük was planning a massive new campaign to subdue the west, Batu must have suspected that Güyük planned on bringing him to heel too; either limiting his political freedom, or outright replacing him with Batu’s older brother, Orda, with whom Güyük was on good terms with.

    The news of Güyük’s advance came from Sorqaqtani Beki, the widow of Tolui and sister of one of Jochi’s most important wives. Sources like William of Rubruck have Batu preemptively poison Güyük in spring 1248, thus avoiding civil war. Batu and Sorqaqtani then promptly had many of Güyük’s favourites executed and, in a quriltai in Batu’s territory, had her son Möngke declared Khan of Khans in 1250, before an official ceremony in Mongolia the next year. The relationship was an effective one. In being key supporters for Möngke’s otherwise illegal election, Jochid land rights were confirmed across the empire. Transoxania was cleared of Chagatayids and handed over the Jochids, Georgia confirmed for Batu’s younger brother Berke, and travellers who passed through the empire in these years like William of Rubruck basically have the empire divided between Batu and Möngke. Most of western Asia, both north and south of the Caucasus, was overseen by Batu and his men. When Batu died around 1255, the Jochids enjoyed a preeminence second only to the Great Khan himself. The special place of the Jochid leader was recognized by numerous contemporary sources, and it is notable that while the rest of the empire was divided into the great branch secretariats, that the Jochid lands were not placed into one until late in Möngke’s reign, and there is little indication it was ever properly established before Jochid independence.

    However, despite even Möngke recognizing Batu’s power, as a part of his wider centralizing efforts he reminded Batu of the leash on him. Batu’s interactions with William of Rubruck indicate that Batu saw his power to conduct foreign diplomacy was limited; the Jochid lands were not exempted from Möngke’s empire-wide censuses, and when Möngke demanded Batu provide troops for Hülegü’s campaigns against the Nizari Ismailis and Baghdad, Batu duly complied. During Batu’s lifetime it was the name of the Great Khan who continued to be minted on coinage in the Jochid lands, and Rus’ princes still had to receive yarliqs, or confirmation, not from Batu but from Qaraqorum. And in 1257, Möngke ordered the Jochid lands to be incorporated into a new Secretariat, and thus bring them better under the control of the Central Government. There is no indication from the sources that Batu or his successors resisted Möngke in any capacity in these efforts

    Following Batu’s death, Möngke promptly ratified Batu’s son Sartaq as his successor, but as Sartaq returned from Qaraqorum, he died under mysterious circumstances; in a few sources, the blame falls onto his uncles, Berke and Berkechir. Sartaq’s son or brother Ilagchi was made Khan under the regency of Batu’s widow Boraqchin Khatun, but soon both were dead. Though Ilagchi’s cause of death is unmentioned, for Boraqchin the Mamluk sources note that Berke had her tried and executed for treason. Still, for Sartaq and Ilagchi the tendency for Mongol princes to die at inopportune times can’t be forgotten, and Berke may have simply reacted to a favourable circumstance. The fact that he stood with the most to gain from their deaths made him the likely scapegoat even to contemporary writers, even if he happened to actually be innocent of the matter. Much like how Batu may or may not have poisoned Güyük, the deaths are a little too convenient for the relevant Jochid princes to be easily dismissed.

    Between 1257 and 1259, possibly waiting for Möngke to begin his Song campaign and be unable to interfere, Berke became the head of the Jochid ulus. As the aqa of the Jochids, that is, the senior member of the line of Jochi, he did this with the approval of his fellow Jochid princes and military leaders. But there is no indication that Berke ever received support from Qaraqorum for his enthronement. Given that Chinggis Khan had confirmed upon Batu the right to rule, the shift from brother-to-brother, though common in steppe successions, was still an extreme matter.

    Part of the success of Berke’s ascension may have been achieved through an agreement with Batu’s family. According to the fourteenth century Mamluk author al-Mufaddal, the childless Berke designated Batu’s grandson Möngke-Temür as his heir. Some historians like Roman Pochekaev have suggested that Berke’s enthronement may have been leveraged as part of an agreement; that Berke, as the most senior member of the Jochids, could take the throne following the death of Ilagchi Khan. But, the prestige of Batu made his line the designated leaders of the White Horde. Without his own children, on Berke’s death the throne would fall back to the line of Batu, under his grandson Möngke-Temür. And so it would remain among Batu’s descendants until the 1360s, almost 100 years after Berke’s death.

    As you likely know, Berke was the first Mongol prince known to convert to Islam. The exact time of his conversion varies in the sources, but a convincing argument has been put forward by professor István Vásáry. Essentially, that Berke, likely through a Muslim mid-wife that raised him (and not a Khwarezmian Princess, as sometimes suggested) was either in his youth a convert to Islam, or at least extremely influenced by it. By the time of the 1251 quriltai in Mongolia which confirmed Möngke as Great Khan, Berke is attested in independent sources writing at the same time to have sought to Islamize the event; getting the meat to be slaughtered for the feast to be halal, according to Juvaini, and trying to get Möngke to swear on the Quran, according to Juzjani. On his return from Mongolia, he was contacted by a Sufi shaykh in Bukhara, Sayf ad-Din Bakharzi, who is mentioned in a number of sources in connection with Berke’s conversion. Having heard of a prominent Mongol prince’s interest in Islam, the Shaykh invited Berke to Bukhara, and there gave him a formal education in the religion, leading to Berke to make a more official declaration of his faith likely around 1252. Berke’s conversion was accompanied by the conversion of his wives, a number of other princes, members of his family and his generals, though all evidence suggests there was only limited spread of the faith among the rank and file Mongols at the time.

    As Khan, Berke sought to ensure Jochid hegemony on frontier regions. His troops crushed a newly independent Ruthenian Kingdom in Galicia, and in 1259 his armies under Burundai Noyan led a devastating raid into Poland. Possibly in this time Bulgaria began paying tribute to the Jochids as well. Berke demanded the submission of the Hungarian King, Béla IV, and offered a marriage alliance between their families. As Hungary was spared any damage in Burundai’s 1259 campaign, it has been suggested that Béla undertook a nominal submission to Berke, sending tribute and gifts in order to spare Hungary from another assault.

    In Khwarezm and the Caucasus Berke continued to exercise influence. But tensions were fraying with his cousin Hülegü, who in 1258 sacked Baghdad and killed the ‘Abbasid Caliph. Obviously, as a Muslim Berke was not keen to learn of the Caliph’s death. According to the contemporary author Juzjani, writing from distant Delhi, Berke had been in contact with the Caliph in the years preceding the siege. Much of Berke’s anger though, as gleaned from his letters to the Mamluks and the writing of Rashid al-Din, was at Hülegü’s failure to consult with Berke as the senior member of the family, and as the master of western Asia. Though Jochid troops partook in the siege, and we have no indication from the sources that Berke tried to prevent them taking part, it seems Hülegü did not reach out to Berke regarding the fate of Baghdad, or in the dispensation of loot.

    Berke was greatly angered at this, and relations only worsened over the following years, once Hülegü killed the Jochid princes in his retinue on charges of sorcery; it just so happened that these same prince had previously annoyed Hülegü through attempting to enforce Jochid land rights over Iran and Iraq. The final straw came in early 1260 once Hülegü learned of Möngke’s death. Hülegü by then had already set up in the pastures of Azerbaijan, land Berke considered his. As he learned of the fighting between his brothers Khubilai and Ariq Böke which broke out later that year, Hülegü decided to use the interregnum to seize the pastures of the Caucasus, as well as all of the land between the Amu Darya and Syria, for himself. Berke’s officials in these lands were driven out or killed. With no Great Khan to intercede, Berke felt forced to resort to violence to avenge his fallen kinsmen and retake his lands; in 1262 he went to war with Hülegü, and so did the Mongol Empire in the west split asunder.

    We’ve covered the Berke-Hülegü war in detail in a previous episode, so we don’t need to repeat ourselves here. The end result was both Berke and Hülegü dead by 1266, and the frontier between them set along the Kura River, where Hülegü’s son and successor Abaqa built a wall to keep out the Jochids- though the jury is out on whether he made them pay for it. The conflict set the border between the newly emerged Ilkhanate and the Jochid state for the next century, and the Jochids would not forget the sting of losing this territory to the Ilkhanids for that time either.

    On Berke’s death his coffin was carried back to Sarai. Berke’s reign, though much shorter than Batu’s, had been a decisive one. For not only did it determine many aspects of the Golden Horde’s diplomacy and character, notably antagonism to the Ilkhans, a predatory view to the Chagatayids who in the 1260s retook control of Transoxiana and killed Berke’s officials, and a cool, distant view to Khubilai Khaan’s legitimacy. He helped begin the alliance with the Mamluk Sultans, which never materialized into any actual military cooperation but uneased the Ilkhans and allowed the Mamluks to continue to purchase Qipchaq slaves from the steppe. This alliance too would survive essentially until the dissolution of the Golden Horde at the start of the fifteenth century.

    But it also seeded the kernel for eventual islamization of the Khanate, a slow process which would only be fulfilled some sixty years later under Özbeg Khan. While their father was the true founder of the Jochid ulus in the 1200s, both Batu and Berke could argue for this title. Batu posthumously became the Sain Khan, the Good Khan, while to the Mamluks the Golden Horde rulers ascended to the throne of Berke. With his death, it seems at Sarai a quriltai was held to confirm the enthronement of his grand-nephew, Möngke-Temür, the first true independent ruler of what we can call the Golden Horde, and subject of our new episode, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, consider supporting us on patreon a www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals, or giving us a like, comment and review on the podcast catcher of your choice, and share with your friends, it helps immensely. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.

  • At the start of the twenty-first century, a study was released which brought the thirteenth century starkly into the present. A 2003 study led by Chris Tyler-Smith published in the American Journal of Human Genetics simply titled “The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols,” determined that an alarming number of men across Asia, from China to Uzbekistan, carried the same haplotype on their Y-chromosome, indicating a shared paternal lineage. 8% of the studied group, just over 2100 men from 16 distinct populations in Asia shared this haplotype, which if representative of the total world population, would have come out to about 16 million men. This was far beyond what was to be expected of standard genetic variation over such a vast area. The researchers traced the haplogroup to Mongolia, and with the BATWING program determined that the most recent common ancestor lived approximately 1,000 years ago, plus or minus 300 years in either direction. The study determined that this could only be the result of selective inheritance, and there was only man who fit the profile, who had the opportunity to spread his genes across so much of Asia and have them be continually selected for centuries to come; that was Chinggis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire. Identifying him with the Y-Chromosome haplogroup, the C3* Star Cluster, the image of Chinggis Khan as the ancestor of 0.5% of the world population has become irrevocably attached to his name, and a common addition in the comment sections on any Mongol related topic on the internet will be the fact that he is related to every 1 in 200 men in Asia today. Yet, recent studies have demonstrated that this may not be the case, and that Chinggis Khan’s genetic legacy is not so simple as commonly portrayed. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    Inside each human being are the genes we inherit from our parents. Distinct alleles within the thousands of genes of our 23 chromosomes affect the makeup of our bodies, from our physical appearances to blood type. Each allele is inherited from our parents, who inherited from their parents, and so on, leaving in each human being a small marker of every member of their ancestry. Due to interbreeding and mixing over time, people living in a certain region will share alleles, given that various members of their community shared ancestors at some point. A collection of these alleles is a haplotype, and a group of similar haplotypes with shared ancestry is a haplogroup. Tracing specific haplogroups attached to the Y-Chromosome, for instance, allows us to trace paternal ancestry of selected persons. It was the haplogroup dubbed the C3*star cluster that the researchers identified as Chinggis Khan’s haplotype, though later research has redefined it to the C2* star cluster. Thus, while you may see it somewhat interchangeably referred to as C3 or C2, depending on how recent the literature you’re reading is. Whoever carried the markers on their chromosome associated with this haplogroup, according to the study, was therefore a descendant of Chinggis Khan. The lineage, it should be noted, does not start with Chinggis Khan; it is detectable in the ancestors of the Mongols dating back at least to the fifth century BCE, to the Donghu people in eastern Mongolia and Manchuria. It is found in high frequencies in populations which had close contact with Mongols from Siberia to Central Asia, as as the Buryats, Udeges, Evens, Evenks, Kazakhs, and in lower frequencies in places conquered by the Mongol Empire. As demonstrated by the 2003 study, a map of these haplogroups lines up rather neatly with a map of the Mongol Empire at the time of Chinggis Khan’s death.

    The 2003 study found that 8% of the men sampled had high frequencies of haplotypes from a set of closely related lineages, the C2* star cluster. With the highest numbers of this cluster found in Mongolia, it was the logical origin point for this cluster. Its frequencies in so many populations of the former Mongol Empire seemed to suggest it spread with Mongol imperial expansion. The researchers therefore identified Chinggis Khan and his close male-relatives as the likely progenitors. While the public has understood this as Chinggis Khan and his family raping a massive percentage of the thirteenth century human population, this was not quite what the study implied. Rather, the selective marriage into the Chinggisid royal family, with each son having high numbers of children, and so on for generations due to prestige associated with the lineage, was the cause for the haplogroup’s spread.

    The study decided that, since the haplogroups showed up in high frequencies among the Hazara of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and as they were deemed to be direct descendants of Chinggis Khan, then this must have meant no one else other than the Great Khan himself was the most recent common ancestor for this haplogroup. The high frequencies across Asian populations, an origin point in Mongolia, an estimated common ancestor approximately a thousand years ago, and association with the supposed Chinggisid Hazaras was the extent of the evidence the study had to make Chinggis Khan the progenitor.

    When released, this study made headlines around the world. You’ll find no shortage of articles stating that “Genghis Khan was a prolific article,” with the underlying, thought generally unstated, assumption that these genes were spread by a hitherto unimaginable amount of rape, “backed up” by the medieval sources where Chinggis is described taking his pick of conquered women after the sack of a city. It’s a useful addition to the catalogue of descriptions to present the Mongols as mindless barbarians, with this study being essentially the scientific data to back up this presentation. It’s now become one of the key aspects of Chinggis Khan’s image in popular culture.

    However, as more recent studies have demonstrated, there are a number of problems with this evidence presented in the 2003 study. Firstly, later researchers have pointed out how indirect the evidence is for the connection of Chinggis Khan to the C2 lineage. The estimates for the most recent common ancestor can vary widely depending on the methods used; while some estimates can place a figure within Chinggis Khan’s epoch, other estimates put the most recent common ancestor for the C2* cluster over 2,000 year ago. Even going by the 2003 study, it still gives a 600 year window for the most recent common ancestor, who still could have lived centuries before or after Chinggis Khan.

    One of the most serious assumptions in the study was that the Hazara of Afghanistan were direct descendants of Chinggis KhanThis is an assumption which rests more on misconception than medieval materials. In fact, the thirteenth and fourteenth century sources indicate that Chinggis Khan spent only a brief time in what is now Afghanistan, only from late 1221 and throughout much of 1222, which he largely spent campaigning, pursuing Jalal al-Din Mingburnu and putting down local revolts before withdrawing. There is no indication that a Mongol garrison was left in the region by Chinggis, and it is not until the 1230s that Mongol forces returned and properly incorporated the region into the empire. Still, it was not until the end of the thirteenth century were Chinggisid princes actually staying in the region, when Chagatayid princes like Du’a’s son Qutlugh Khwaja took control over the Negudaris. The sources instead describe waves of Mongol garrisons into Afghanistan which began almost a decade after Chinggis Khan’s death, from the initial tamma garrisons under Ögedai Khaan’s orders to Jochid troops fleeing Hulegu to Afghanistan in the 1260s. Later, from the late fourteenth century onwards, Afghanistan was the heart of the Timurid realm, and while the Timurids shared some descent from Chinggis through marriage, it’s not exactly the process which would have led to high percentages of Chinggisid ancestry.Together, this strongly suggests that the Hazara would not bear Chinggisid ancestry in any considerable quantity.

    Perhaps most prominently, there is little evidence that connects the C2* star cluster to known descendants of Chinggis Khan. The fact that no tomb of Chinggis Khan or any other known members of his family has been found, means that there is no conclusive means to prove what haplogroups he possessed. Without human remains which undeniably belong to one of his close male relatives or himself, Chinggis Khan’s own haplogroup can not ever be reliably identified. Most royal Chinggisid lineages in the western half of the empire, such as that of the Ilkhanate or Chagatais, disappeared long before the advance of genetic sciences. You might think that looking in Mongolia, you’d find a lot of Chinggisids running about, but this is not the case. Even during the empire, many members of the Chinggisid family were spread across Asia, leaving by the end of the fourteenth century largely lines only from his brothers, and of his grandsons Ariq Böke and Khubilai. In the fifteenth century, a massive massacre of the royal family was carried out by the leader of the Oirats and the true master of Mongolia, the non-Chinggisid Esen Taishi. Mongolia was reunified some fifty years later under the Khubilayid prince Dayan Khan, and it was the descendants of his sons who made up the Chinggisid nobility for the next centuries. Then, in the 1930s Soviet supported purges resulted in the near annihilation of the Chinggisid princes, Buddhist clergy and other political enemies. From 1937-1939, over 30,000 Mongolians were killed, and the Dayan Khanid nobility nearly extinguished.

    While it is true that today in Mongolia, you can find many people who claim the imperial clan name of Borjigin, this is largely because after democratization in Mongolia in 1990, Mongolians were encouraged to take clan names- a fact that, as many commenters have pointed out, historically the Mongols did not do, unless they were actually members of the Chinggisid royal family. While the 1918 census in Mongolia recorded only 5.7% of the population as being Borjigid, during the recent registering of clan names some 50% chose, of course, the most famous and prestigious name for themselves. Therefore, it’s rather difficult to find a lot of a Chinggisids today.

    The 2003 study relied on a random selection of people from across Asia, rather than looking specifically for individuals who claimed Chinggisid descent. Other studies which have sought out people who claim Chinggisid ancestry do not support the C2* Star cluster hypothesis of the 2003 study. A 2012 study by Batbayar and Sabitov in the Russian Journal of Genetic Genealogy of Mongolian individuals who could trace their lineage back to Chinggis Khan’s fifteenth century descendant, Dayan Khan, found none of them matched the Star cluster proposed by the 2003 study. To overcome the previously mentioned issues about finding Chinggisids, to quote Batbayar and Sabitov, “In this study, seven patrilineal descendants of [...] Dayan Khan and two of Chinggis Khan’s brothers’ descendants were chosen for Y-chromosome DNA sequencing. Rather than testing a multitude of subjects, for the sake of accuracy, the most legitimate and proven descendants of Dayan Khan were selected. The DNA donors were selected based upon their official Mongol and Manchu titles and ranks, which were precisely recorded in Mongolian, Manchu, and Soviet documents.” Essentially, as close as you can get to a definite, unbroken paternal line from Chinggis Khan, given the 800 years since his death. When they compared the Dayan Khanid descendants, the descendants of Chinggis’ brothers, and those who could reliable claimed ancestry from Chinggis’ son Jochi, Batbayar and Sabitov demonstrated that essentially each lineage bore different haplogroups, and none, except for a small branch of the Jochids, bore the C2* star cluster of the 2003 study.

    Study of the bodies of medieval Mongol burials have likewise yielded contrasting results when their DNA has been examined. One of the most notable burials which has been studied is the Tavan Tolgoi suit, from eastern Mongolia. Essentially it was a burial of an extremely wealthy family, dated to the mid-thirteenth century. Adorned with jewelry and buried in coffins made of Cinnamon, which would have had to be imported from southeastern Asia, the researcher suggested due to such obvious wealth and power that they must have been Chinggisid. Their bodies showed haplogroups associated, interestingly enough, with western Asia populations, with effectively no descendants in modern Mongolian populations, and most definitely, not the C2* star cluster. This led to the 2016 study by Gavaachimed Lkhagvasuren et al., titled “Molecular Genealogy of a Mongol Queen’s Family and her Possible kinship with Genghis Khan,” to suggest Chinggis must have borne this haplogroup, and possibly, western Asian ancestry. He also pointed to supposed descriptions of Chinggis Khan having red hair as possible supporting literary evidence.

    But this is not reliable evidence. Firstly, none of the graves conclusively can be identified as Chinggisid. The Chinggisid’s known preference for burials on Burkhan Khaldun seems unlikely to make the Tavan Tolgoi burials a close relation. Further, the “red hair” description of Chinggis Khan comes from a mistranslation of a phrase from Rashid al-Din’s Compendium of Chronicles, where Chinggis remarks that young Khubilai lacked his grandfather’s ruddy features, indicating not red hair, but a face red in colour; hardly uncommon for a man who spent his lifetime in the harsh winds of the steppe. Therefore, the Tavan Tolgoi burials seem more likely to represent a family, possibly of Qipchaq origin, taken from western Asia, incorporated into the Mongol military and gaining wealth and power- hardly unusual in the Mongol army, but revealing nothing of Chinggis’ haplogroups. Other wealthy burials of nobility from the Mongol Empire in Mongolia and northern China have revealed differing chromosomal haplogroups, providing no answer as of yet to the question of the Great Khan’s own genetic lineage.

    Much like the 2003’s study erroneous identification of the Hazaras as direct descendants of Chinggis Khan, a more recent study demonstrates the pitfalls of attempting to connect historical figures to genetic data. A 2019 study by Shao-Qing Wen et al. in the Journal of Human Genetics looked at the y-chromosomal profiles of a family from northwestern China’s Gansu-Qinghai area, who traced their ancestry back to Kölgen, a son of Chinggis Khan with one of his lesser wives. Importantly, this family also backed up their claims in genealogical records, and had inhabited the same region for centuries. After the expulsion of the Mongols, they had been made local officials [tusi 土司] by the succeeding Ming and Qing dynasties. This family, the Lu, did not match the C2* Star Cluster, but actually showed close affinity to other known descendants of Chinggis Khan, the Töre clan in Kazakhstan. The Töre trace their lineage to Jani Beg Khan (r.1473-1480), one of the founders of the Kazakh Khanate and a tenth generation descendant of Chinggis Khan’s first born son Jochi. Jochi, as you may recall, was born after his mother Börte was taken captive by Chinggis Khan’s enemies, and was accused, most notably by his brother Chagatai, of not being their father’s son. Chinggis, for the record, always treated Jochi as fully legitimate. As the Lu family in China traced themselves to Kölgen, who shared only a father with Jochi, then the fact that the Lu and the Töre belong to the same C2 haplogroup, with a genealogical separation of about 1,000 years, would suggest that if this is in fact the Y-chromosomal lineage of Chinggis Khan, then Jochi’s uncertain paternity could be laid to rest, and that he was a true son of Chinggis Khan.

    This theory is comfortable and convenient, but other scholars have noted that the connection of the Lu to Toghan, the descendant of Kölgen, is very tenuous. The sources connecting the Lu clan to Kölgen’s family were not compiled until the late Qing Dynasty, some four to five centuries after Toghan’s death. The sources more contemporary to Toghan’s life do not match the description of his life described in the histories used by the Lu clan, leading scholars to argue that, while the Lu clan does have Mongolian origin, and likely did have an ancestor with the very common medieval Mongolian name of Toghan, it seems likely that at some point the Lu clan’s family compilers decided to associate their own ancestor with the more well known Chinggisid of the same name, and therefore claim for themselves Chinggisid ancestry and prestige- hardly an unknown thing by compilers of Chinese family trees. Therefore, the matter of Jochi’s paternity still remains uncertain.

    Perhaps the final nail in the coffin comes in the 2018 study by Lan Hai-Wei, et al. in the European Journal of Human Genetics. Compiling data from previous studies that found issue with the 2003 hypothesis, they looked at groups with high frequencies of the C2* Star clusters like the Hazara or the Daur, a Mongolic-speaking people from Northeastern China who, based off of historical records, make no claims of Chinggisid descent. Newer estimates also suggest the most recent common ancestor for this lineage was over 2,600 years ago. In the most recent hypothesis then, it seems more likely that the star cluster identified by the 2003 study does not represent the lineage of Chinggis Khan, but was simply an incredibly common paternal lineage among ordinary inhabitants of the Mongolian plateau. Its presence in other peoples across Asia was not evidence of selective breeding into the Golden Lineage, but simply the movement of Mongolian troops into a region, and intermixing with the local population. In the case of the Hazaras, this is the exact scenario demonstrated by the historical sources, with waves of Mongol troops rather than a host of Chinggisids descending into the Hazarajat. The possibility cannot be excluded however, that while C2* was a dominant haplotype in thirteenth century Mongolia, that before 1200 it had already been spread across Central Asia by earlier nomadic expansions of Mongolia-based empires like the Göktürk Khaghanates or the Uighur. The Mongol expansion in the thirteenth century, then, would only be another wave of the spread of C2* across Eurasia.

    While it is possible that Chinggis Khan and his close male relatives did in fact, carry the C2* star cluster, there is no evidence which directly or conclusively connects him to it. His known descendants through the line of Dayan Khan are of a different Y-chromosomal haplogroup. The descendants of Dayan Khan, himself a descendant of Chinggis Khan’s grandson Khubilai, and the Kazakh Töre, descendants of Chinggis Khan’s son Jochi, bear haplotypes so distant that their most recent common ancestor is estimated to have lived 4,500 years ago, which does not fair well for the likelihood of Jochi being Chinggis’ son. A third known and tested branch, of the Shibanids in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, does match the C2* star cluster, but has less than 1,000 known members and again, are descended from Chinggis Khan via Jochi. Chinggis Khan then cannot be said to be the ancestor of 0.5% of the world’s population, since his y-chromosomal marking remains unknown. Any attempts at identifying it conclusively can never be more than mere assumptions without finding the bodies of either the Khan or any of his close-male relatives- a prospect highly unlikely, given the Chinggisids’ preference for secret graves. Thus, it seems that his haplotypes are but one more secret that Chinggis will keep with him.

    Our series on the Mongols will continue, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this, and would like to help us keep bringing you great content, please consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals, or sharing this with your friends. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.




    -SOURCES-

    Abilev, Serikabi, et al. “The Y-Chromosome C3* Star-Cluster Attributed to Genghis Khan’s Descendants is Present at High Frequency in the Kerey Clan from Kazakhstan.” Human Biology 84 no. 1 (2012): 79-99. Adnan, Atif, et al. “Genetic characterization of Y-chromosomal STRs in Hazara ethnic group of Pakistan and confirmation of DYS448 null allele.” International Journal of Legal Medicine 133 (2019): 789-793.

    Callaway, Ewen. “Genghis Khan’s Genetic Legacy Has Competition.” Scientific American. January 29th, 2015.

    Derenko, M.V. “Distribution of the Male Lineages of Genghis Khan’s Descendants in Northern Eurasian Populations.” Russian Journal of Genetics 43 no. 3 (2007): 3334-337.

    Dulik, Matthew C. “Y-Chromosome Variation in Altaian Kazakhs Reveals a Common paternal Gene Pool for Kazakhs and the Influence of Mongolian Expansions.” 6 PLoS One no. 3 (2011)

    Gavaachimed Lkhagvasuren et al. “Molecular Genealogy of a Mongol Queen’s Family and her Possible kinship with Genghis Khan.” PLoS ONE 11 no. 9 (2016)

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  • The Mongols were famous for their ultimatums of destruction and submission. No shortage of thirteenth century states received demands for their unconditional surrender to the Great Khan granted divine mandate to rule by Eternal Blue Heaven. Initially, the Mongol imperial ideology was extremely black and white: you could submit to Mongol rule, or face total annihilation. There was no room for other relationships, for the Great Khan had no allies, only subjects. But as the thirteenth century went on and the dream of Chinggisid world hegemony slipped away as the divisions of the Mongol Empire went their separate ways, the Mongol Khans in the west began to seek not the capitulation, but the cooperation of western Europe to aid in their wars against Mamluks. For the Ilkhanate’s sixty-year struggle against the Mamluk Sultanate, the Il-Khans sought to bring the Popes and Monarchs of Europe to a new crusade to assist in the defeat of the Mamluks, an ultimately fruitless endeavour, and the topic of today’s episode. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.

    The first Mongol messages to the Kings of Europe came in the late 1230s and 40s, accompanying Batu and Sube’edei’s western invasion, asking the Hungarians how they possibly could hope to flee the grasp of the Mongols. We know the Mongols sent a number of envoys to European monarchs and dukes, and employed a variety of peoples in this enterprise, including at least one Englishman. Over the 1240s and 50s, European envoys like John de Plano Carpini or William of Rubrucks to the Mongol Empire returned from Karakorum with orders for the Kings and Popes to come to Mongolia and submit in person.While Rus’ and Armenian lords and kings did do so, there is little indication that European rulers even responded to these demands. For the Mongols, who seemed poised to dominate everything under the Eternal Blue Sky, there was little reason to adopt more conciliatory language. From their point of view, the Europeans were only stalling the inevitable: soon Mongol hoofbeats would certainly be heard in Paris and Rome. The Mongols treated the European states as their diplomatic inferiors, subjects basically in a state of rebellion by fact that they had not already submitted. Cruel, threatening and demanding letters were the norm, and it’s safe to say any future efforts at alliance were greatly hampered by this opening salvo.



    The rare diplomatic exception was an embassy sent to King Louis IX of France during his stay in Cyprus in 1248 just before the 7th Crusade. There, messengers came from the Mongol commander in the west, Eljigidei, an ally to the reigning Great Khan, Guyuk. Headed by two Christians in Eljigidei’s service, the embassy bore letters from Eljigidei. These letters called Louis ‘son,’ and had no demand of submission, but mentioned Mongol favouritism to Christians, urged the French King not to discriminate between Latin and non-Latin Christians as all were equal under Mongol law, and wished him well in his crusade. The two Christian representatives of Eljigidei asserted that he was a Christian and that Guyuk himself had already been baptised. The urged Louis to attack Egypt, and prevent its Ayyubid prince from sending forces to aid the Caliph in Baghdad, who the Mongols were soon to attack.

    Louis, is should be noted, almost certainly had not been anticipating any cooperation from the Mongols; he had been well aware of their attacks on Hungary only a few years before, learned of Mongol demands and treatment of foreign powers from travellers like Carpini, and apparently received Mongol ultimatums for his submission in 1247. Further, a devout Christian, it is unlikely he would have gone looking for allies among “pagans,” even for fighting against Muslims. Still, he reacted well to Eljigidei’s messengers and sent a return embassy with gifts with them back to Eljigidei which were to be sent on to Guyuk, while the initial letter was forwarded back to France and ultimately to King Henry III of England. Ultimately, it was for naught. Guyuk was dead even before Louis received Eljigidei’s letter, and Eljigidei himself was soon put to death in the following political turmoil. Little is known of the embassy Louis sent back with Eljigdei’s representatives, but from the little heard of it through William of Rubruck a few years later, it seems to have achieved nothing beyond meeting Guyuk’s widow and the regent, Oghul Qaimish, who portrayed Louis’ gifts as tokens of the French King’s submission. Following the meeting on Cypress, Louis IX suffered a humiliating defeat in Egypt at Mansura, captured and was ransomed by the newly emerging Mamluks. By the time he returned to France and received Oghul Qaimish’s reply, not only was she dead, but the responding letter was essentially another demand for his surrender. This first non-threatening Mongol embassy succeeded only in making the King of France feel like he had been tricked, especially since the new Great Khan, Mongke, sent a letter back with William of Rubruck that disavowed Eljigidei’s embassy. It has been speculated that Eljigidei was using the embassy to spy on Louis, as he was wary of the sudden arrival of Louis’ army in Cyprus, and a desire to find out his military intentions, rather than any genuine interest in cooperation at this point. His hope may have been to ensure that this new army attacked Mongol enemies, rather than get in the way of the Mongols.

    The halting of the Mongol advance at Ayn Jalut by the Mamluks, and fracturing of the Empire into independent Khanates after Great Khan Mongke’s death left the new Ilkhanate in a precarious position. Surrounded by enemies on all sides, the only direction they could expand not at the expense of fellow Mongols was against the Mamluks, who fortified their shared border with the Ilkhans. Even a small raid could trigger the arrival of the full Mamluk army, a dangerous prospect against such deadly warriors. Yet the Ilkhans could not bring their full might to bear on the shared border with the Mamluks in Syria, as it would leave their other borders open to attacks from the Golden Horde, Chagatais or Neguderis, in addition to the trouble of provisioning an army in the tough, hot and dry conditions of the Levantine coastline, a route the Mamluks secured and fortified. Opening a new front against the Mamluks was necessary, and there were already convenient beachheads established in the form of the remaining Crusader States.

    A shadow of their former selves, the Crusader states were represented by a few major coastal holdings like Antioch, Tripoli, and Acre, and inland fortifications like Krak de Chevaliers and Montfort, as well as the Kingdom of Cyprus, whose ruler, Hugh III of Cyprus, took the title King of Jerusalem in 1268. The Crusader States had shown neutrality to the Mongols, or even joined them such as the County of Tripoli did in 1260 after the Mongols entered Syria. In early 1260, the papal legate at Acre sent an embassy to Hulegu, most likely to discourage him from attacking the Crusader holdings. Along with information from the Kings of Armenian Cilicia, their most important regional vassals, the Mongols would have had a vague knowledge of western Europe and their crusading history. The Ilkhanate’s founder, Hulegu, sent the first letter to the west in 1262, intended once more for King Louis IX, though this embassy was turned back in Sicily. This letter was friendlier terms than most Mongol missives, but still contained threats, if rather subdued. Pope Urban IV may have learned of the attempt, and the next year sent a letter to Hulegu, apparently having been told that the Il-Khan had become a Christian. Delighted at the idea, the Pope informed Hulegu that if he was baptised, he would receive aid from the west. In reality, Hulegu never converted to Christianity, and died in 1265 without sending any more letters.

    His son and successor, Abaqa, was the Il-Khan most dedicated to establishing a Franco-Mongol alliance and came the closest to doing so. Due to conflict on his distant borders with the Golden Horde and Chagatayids, as well as the troubles of consolidating power as new monarch in a new realm, for the 1260s he was unable to commit forces to the Mamluk frontier. As a good Mongol, Abaqa was unwilling to allow the enemy total respite, and made it his mission to encourage an attack from the west on the Mamluks. His first embassy was sent in 1266, shortly after becoming Il-Khan, contacting the Byzantines, Pope Clement IV and King James I of Aragon, hoping for a united Christian front to combine efforts with the Mongols against the Mamluks, inquiring which route into Palestine the Christian forces would take. The responses were generally positive, Pope Clement replying that as soon as he knew which route, he would inform Abaqa.

    Abaqa sent a message again in 1268, inquiring about this progress. James of Aragon found himself the most motivated by the Il-Khans requests, encouraged by the promises of Abaqa’s logistical and military support once they reached the mainland. James made his preparations, and launched a fleet in September 1269. An unexpected storm scattered the fleet, and only two of James’ bastard children made it to Acre, who stayed only briefly, accomplishing little there.

    Not long after, King Louis IX set out for Crusade once more, making the inexplicable choice to land in Tunis in 1270. Despite his well planned efforts, the Crusade was an utter disaster, and Louis died of dysentery outside the walls of Tunis in August 1270. Prince Edward of England with his army landed in Tunis shortly before the evacuation of the crusaders, and disgusted by what he saw, set his fleet for the Holy Land, landing at Acre in May 1271, joined by Hugh of Lusignan, King of Cyprus. Edward’s timing was good, as Abaqa had returned from a great victory over the Chagatai Khan Baraq at Herat in July 1270, though had suffered a major hunting accident that November.

    The Mamluk Sultan Baybars was campaigning in Syria in spring 1271, the famous Krak des Chevaliers falling to him that April. Tripoli would have fallen next, had Baybars not retreated back to Damascus hearing of the sudden arrival of a Crusader fleet, and was wary of being caught between European heavy cavalry and Mongol horse archers. Soon after landing Edward made his preparations for an offensive, and reached out to Abaqa. Abaqa was delighted, and sent a reply and orders for Samaghar, the Mongol commander in Anatolia, to head to Syria. Edward did not wait for Abaqa’s reply, and there is no indication he ever responded to Abaqa’s letter. He set out in mid-July, ensuring his army suffered the most from the summer heat, while missing the Mongols who preferred to campaign in the winter. Suffering high casualties and accomplishing little, he withdrew back to Acre. In mid-October Samaghar arrived with his army, raiding as far as to the west of Aleppo while an elite force of Mongols scouted ahead, routing a large group of Turkmen between Antioch and Harim, but was soon forced to retreat with the advance of the Mamluk army under Baybars.

    Missing Samagahr by only a few weeks, in November Edward marched south from Acre at the head of a column of men from England, Acre, Cyprus, with Templars, Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights. They ambushed some Turkmen on the Sharon plain, forced the local Mamluk governor to withdraw, but with the arrival of large Mamluk reinforcements the Crusaders fled, losing their prisoners and booty. That was the closest the Mongols and the Franks came to proper coordination. Edward helped oversee a peace treaty between the Mamluks and the Kingdom of Jersualem, but the heat, difficulties campaigning, political infighting and an assassination attempt on his life permanently turned him off of crusading. By September 1272, Edward set sail for England. A few weeks after his departure the Mongols again invaded, besieging al-Bira but were defeated by the Mamluks in December.

    Edward’s brief effort in Syria demonstrated the difficulties prefacing any Mongol-Frankish cooperation. The Mamluks were a cohesive, unified force, well accustomed to the environment and working from a well supplied logistic system and intelligence network, while the Franks and Mongols were unable to ever develop a proper timetable for operations together. The European arrivals generally had unrealistic goals for their campaigns, bringing neither the men, resources or experience to make an impact.

    Abaqa continued to organize further efforts, and found many willing ears at the Second Council of Lyons in France in 1274, a meeting of the great powers of Christendom intended to settle doctrinal issues, the division of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and plan the reconquest of the Holy land. Abaqa’s delegation informed the Council that the Il-Khan had secured his borders, that peace had been achieved between all the Mongols Khanates, and he could now bring his full might against the Mamluks, and urged the Christian powers to do likewise. The current Pope, Gregory X, fully supported this and made efforts to set things in motion, but his death in 1276 killed whatever momentum this process had had. Abaqa sent another round of envoys, who reached the King of France and the new King of England, Edward. The envoys brought the Il-khan’s apologies for failing to cooperate properly during Edward’s crusade, and asked him to return. Edward politely declined. This was the final set of envoys Abaqa sent west. Perhaps frustrated, he finally organized a proper invasion of Syria, only an army under his brother Mongke-Temur to be defeated by the Mamluks at Homs, and Abaqa himself dying soon after in 1282. His successors were to find no more luck that he had.

    The most interesting envoy to bring the tidings of the Il-Khan to Europe did not originate in the Ilkhanate, but in China: Rabban Bar Sawma, born in 1220 in what is now modern day Beijing, was a Turkic Nestorian priest who had set out on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem before being conscripted to act as a messenger for the Il-Khan, in a journey which is a fascinating contrast to that of his contemporary Marco Polo. Even given him his own dedicated episode in this podcast series, but we’ll give here a brief recount of his journey. Writing his accounts down upon his return to Baghdad later in life, he described how he brought messages and gifts to the Byzantine Emperor Andronicos II Palaiologus, marvelled at the Hagia Sophia, then landed in Sicily and made his way to Rome, having just missed the death of Pope Honorius IV. Travelling on to France, he was warmly welcomed by King Phillip IV, and then on to Gascony where he met the campaigning King Edward of England, who again responded kindly to the Il-khan’s envoy. On his return journey, he met the new Pope Nicholas IV in 1288 before returning to the Ilkhanate.

    Despite the generous receptions Rabban Sauma was given by the heads of Europe, and despite the Il-khan’s promises to return Jerusalem to Christian hands, the reality was there was no ruler in the west interested, or capable of, going on Crusade. By now, the act of Crusading in the Holy land had lost its lustre, the final crusades almost all disasters, and costly ones at that. With the final Crusader strongholds falling to the Mamluks in the early 1290s, there was no longer even a proper beachhead on the coast for a Crusading army. The sheer distance and cost of going on Crusade, especially with numerous ongoing issues in their own Kingdoms at hand, outweighed whatever perceived benefit there might have been in doing so. Further, while Rabban Sauma personally could be well received, the Mongols themselves remained uncertain allies. From 1285 through to 1288, Golden Horde attacks on eastern Europe had recommenced in force. Even the new Khan of the Golden Horde, Tele-Buqa, had led an army into Poland. For the Europeans, the distinctions between the Mongol Khanates were hard to register; how could messages of peace from some Mongols be matched with the open war other Mongols were undertaking? All evidence seems to suggest that the western Franks did not understand that the Golden Horde and Ilkhanate were separate political entities. Recall earlier the conflicting letters Louis IX had received in the 1240s, where one Mongol general offered friendship, only to be tricked in seemingly submitting to the Mongols and then receive letters in the 1250s telling him to discount the previous envoys. Together these encouraged unease over perceiving the Mongols as allies, and served to further dampen interest to pursue these alliances.

    In contrast, the Mamluks had somewhat greater success in their own overseas diplomacy: in the 1260s Baybars initiated contact with the Golden Horde, ruled by the Muslim Berke Khan, encouraging him to keep up his warfare with his Ilkhanid cousins. Sultan Baybars also kept good relations with the Byzantine Empire and the Genoese, allowing him to keep the flow of Turkic slave soldiers from the steppes of the Golden Horde open, the keystone of the Mamluk military. There is also evidence they undertook some limited diplomacy with Qaidu Khan during the height of his rule over Central Asia and the Chagatayids. While the Mamluks and Golden Horde never undertook any true military cooperation, the continuation of their talks kept the Ilkhanate wary of enemies on all borders, never truly able to bring the entirety of its considerable might against one foe least another strike the Il-Khan’s exposed frontiers. But, did the Golden Horde, in the 1260s, perceive this as an alliance? We only have Mamluk accounts of the relationship, but scholarship often supposes that the Golden Horde Khans perceived this as the submission of the Mamluks, and any cooperation was the cooperation between overlord and subject. As many of the Mamluk ruling class were Qipchaqs, so the Mongols had come to see as their natural slaves, it may well be that Berke saw the submission of the Mamluks as a natural part of their relationship, especially since he already ruled the Qipchaq homeland. This alliance, alongside never resulting in direct cooperation, was also never always amicable. When the Jochid Khans grew annoyed with the Mamluks, they would halt the trade of Qipchaq slaves and threaten to deprive the Mamluks of their greatest source of warriors. During the long reign of Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad, a daughter of the Golden Horde Khan Ozbeg was wed to him, in an effort to cement the relationship after a rocky start to the 1300s. Al-Nasir soon accused her of not actually being a Chinggisid, insulting her and infuriating Ozbeg. Yet the relationship survived until the invasions of Emir Temur at the close of the fourteenth century, when the Mamluks and Golden Horde once again took part in a doomed west-Asian effort to ally against Temur.

    Ilkhanid-European contacts continued into the 14th century, but with somewhat less regularity after Rabban bar Sawma’s journey. An archbishopric was even founded in the new Ilkhanid capital of Sultaniyya in 1318, and Papal envoys would travel through the Ilkhanate to the Yuan Dynasty in China until the 1330s. A few envoys came from the Il-Khans still hoping to achieve military cooperation; Ghazan Il-Khan continued to send them before his invasions, including the only one that actually defeated the Mamluk army and led to a brief Mongol advance down the coast, occupying Damascus. News of Ghazan’s successes did spread rapidly, for the Spanish Franciscan Ramon Llull learned of it and promptly sailed all the way across the Mediterranean, hoping to be among the first missionaries to land in the newly reclaimed Holy Land. But upon arriving in Cypress, Llull learned of Ghazan’s equally quick withdrawal. The combined news of a Mongol victory followed by sudden Mongol withdrawal must have only affirmed the opinion of many of the futility of taking part in any more crusades with the Mongols. Military operations against the Mamluks mostly ceased after Ghazan’s death, until a formal peace was achieved between them and the Ilkhanate at the start of the 1320s. Naturally, no further messages for alliances with the powers of Europe were forth coming, and consequently putting an almost total end to European interest and contacts with the Middle East for the next five centuries. European-Mongol relations would continue for some time longer in the territory of the Golden Horde, where the attention of our podcast moves next, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals podcast for more. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, then consider supporting us on Patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.