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.
November, 1335. The Khan of the Ilkhanate, Abu Sa’id Bahadur, is dead. Allegedly poisoned by a spurned wife, Baghdad Khatun, his death was the unravelling of the Ilkhanate. Facing an invasion by the mighty Ozbeg of the Golden Horde, and a succession crisis due to Abu Sa’id’s failure to produce an heir, the Ilkhanate rapidly, and violently, tore itself to pieces. Today, we look at the disintegration of the Mongol Ilkhanate, the stories of two men named Hasan, and the history of the region up until the arrival of Emir Temur, fearsome Tamerlane, at the end of the fourteenth century. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
Abu Sa’id had not been an incompetent monarch by any stretch of the means, and his rule was remembered as a golden age, at least in comparison to the mess that followed. A great-great-grandson of the Ilkhanid founder Hulegu, Abu Sa’id’s reign had seen the consolidation of the islamization of the Mongol state, as well as the end of the long war with the Mamluks of Egypt. Il-Khan since 1316, Abu Sa’id had been controlled by the emir Choban, until he nearly eradicated the house of Choban in the late 1320s in an effort to marry Baghdad Khatun, one of Choban’s daughters. For a few years Abu Sa’id had enjoyed a comparatively quiet majority, pursuing art, culture, poetry, building and architecture, as well as efforts to produce an heir. Baghdad Khatun, despite her beauty and the violence he had undertaken to acquire her- which included, among others things, killing her father, brothers and forcing her to divorce her husband- simply did not provide him his much desired son. When Abu Sa’id’s eyes fell upon her niece, Dilshad Khatun, the Il-Khan basically forgot about his current wife, wed her niece and soon enough got her pregnant. For Baghdad Khatun to be humiliated like this, after suffering through the destruction of her family, this was the last straw. The widespread belief was that she had him poisoned in some manner- in Ibn Battuta’s account, this was administered via a handkerchief that she used to clean themselves after sexual intercourse. So did Abu Sa’id die, aged 30 years old, in what is now Azerbaijan while marching north to repel an invasion by the Khan of the Golden Horde, Ozbeg.
With Abu Sa’id’s death, the line of Hulegu became extinct- or at least, the line through Hulegu’s son Abaqa, which had provided most of the Il-Khans. Abu Sa’id uncle, Ghazan, had done much to prune the lineage during his reign, and it seems alcoholism took care of much of the rest. The fact that few Il-Khans lived past 35, with fewer and fewer heirs each generation, has led many to search for underlying causes beyond just alcohol. Scholars such as Charles Melville and Anne F. Broadbridge have pointed to possible consequences of consanguinity among the Il-Khans: that is, essentially inbreeding, given the Il-Khan’s preferences for marrying into the same families, like the Oirats, over generations. The combined effects of rampant alcohol abuse among both men and women and the consanguinity may be the answer behind the alarming drop off in fertility of the Ilkhanid elite over the last decades of the thirteenth century. While Hulegu had produced quite the brood of little Chinggisids- at least 25 sons and daughters-, by the end of the century Ghazan had only a daughter survive childhood, while his brother Oljeitu Il-Khan had an alarming amount of children stillborn or died young. From his twelve wives, Oljeitu only had three children ever reach marriageable age; Abu Sa’id and two daughters, Sati Beg and Dawlandi: the last of whom still died before her father. For Abu Sa’id himself, despite considerable efforts, by his death he had only succeeded in getting his widow Dilshad Khatun pregnant. With no surviving brothers, sons or clear male figure to step into the role, the Ilkhanate suddenly faced a new problem; no clear monarch of the line of Hulegu to head the state.
The explanation of Abu Sa’id’s death without heir directly causing the fall of the Ilkhanate has been, in the opinion of scholars like Charles Melville, somewhat overstated. The image of the Ilkhanate falling without a decline -a counter to the model popularized by Edward Gibbon so long ago- encourages us to overlook problems which had developed. Essentially, Melville notes, a gap had widened between the military elite, the noyad, and the Il-Khan, which accompanied a lack of respect for the Chinggisids. The death of a monarch with no clear heir was hardly a new issue in the Mongol Empire- in fact, the quriltai system wherein a candidate put his name forward and was confirmed by the princes served to supply new khans at need. Additionally, neither were regents unheard of within the empire’s history. The 1240s had seen two regencies, with Ogedai’s widow Torogene and Guyuk’s widow Oghul Qaimish steering the empire in the absence of a Khan- Oghul Qaimish of course, doing this much less successfully than her predecessor. In the form of Baghdad Khatun the Ilkhanate certainly had a powerful woman who could have stepped into the role. Well connected and from a prestigious family, she could have called upon connections established by her late father, Choban. Baghdad Khatun was described as an intimidating, intelligent and proud woman, who openly walked around with a sword strapped to her waist and greatly influenced matters of state. In the opinion of some, Abu Sa’id was bossed around by her. In a more classic Mongolian system, Baghdad Khatun would have guided the state until an heir could have been selected.
But as Melville argues, the actions of the Khans from Ghazan onwards had alienated the military elite. More or less, they must have felt disenfranchised from the government and that the old Mongolian way of life was being abandoned. Certainly Islamization was the most obvious demonstration of this. Ghazan and Oljeitu both abandoned the traditional secret burials of Mongol Khans in favour of massive, expensive and very public mausoleums. The quriltai as a means of choosing the next ruler and affecting major decisions was abandoned, and even the end of the war with the Mamluks- not by conquest, but by diplomacy- must have felt like a betrayal of Mongol imperial ideology. Recall how the contemporary Chagatai Khan Tarmashirin was accused of abandoning the yassa as well- specifically by no longer continuing the annual assembles with the noyad in the eastern half of the Chagatai realm, and thus making them feel they no longer had a role, or a stake, in the Khanate’s government. Tarmashirin was overthrown by a rebellion in 1334, a year before Abu Sa’id’s death, which precipitated the descent of the Chagatai ulus into open war.
By removing their stake in government, and not replacing it with a new loyalty to adhere to in the replacement system, the Ilkhans had gradually removed the need of the various noyans to maintain their loyalty to the Chinggisid ideology. When Abu Sa’id came to the throne in 1317, he was but a 12 year old boy. The long period of Choban’s regency further reduced the khan’s authority and increased that of the military elite. Abu Sa’id largely accepted and seems to have went along with Choban’s oversight up until Choban denied him Baghdad Khatun, at that time married to Shaykh Hasan Jalayir. Only from the very end of the 1320s, after Choban’s death, did Abu Sa’id really rule in his own right. While he did face minor rebellion, there is indication of resentment as efforts undertaken by the central Ilkhanid government. Abu Sa’id’s vizier, Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad, the son of the former vizier Rashid al-Din Hamadani, sought to enforce tax reforms that in effect, would have restrengthened the hand of the central government towards the regional princes and their appanages. As Melville notes, the details are poorly known but it seems to have been an ineffective measure that angered these military princes. Per Melville’s theory, the only outcome of such failed measures would only have been widening the gap between the Il-khan and the military elite.
On Abu Sa’id’s death at the end of November 1335, it fell to the vizier Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad to try and steer the ship in the face of Ozbeg’s invasion. Only five days later, on December 5th, Ghiyath al-Din orchestrated the enthronement of a successor, a man named Arpa Ke’un. Arpa was a Chinggisid, and a member of the house of Tolui… but of the line of Ariq Boke, Hulegu’s younger brother who had fought their brother Khubilai for the throne in the 1260s. Plucked from obscurity by Ghiyath al-Din, it seems he was chosen for his ability to lead the army, for all indication is that Arpa Khan was a man of military background, a “old school Mongol,” in the words of every secondary source that mentions him. Arpa was given command of the Il-Khanid army, and in the snows of the Caucasus he forced back Ozbeg in winter 1335, who once again retreated to the Golden Horde.
Arpa Khan returned triumphant, and Ghiyath al-Din must have had high hopes for his new protege. Arpa was a competent commander who was militarily proven in his defence of the Ilkhanate- a promising figure to rally the Mongols around. Apparently he had little taste for court procedure or niceties, and it is unclear if he was a Muslim. One anonymous Armenian chronicler asserts Arpa was a Christian, and at the very least he was very proud of the “old ways.” At best, he was a Muslim with little care for the specifics of the faith. We might wonder if Ghiyath al-Din was deliberate here too, choosing a man who would be more palatable to the noyad due to his distaste of courtly life. In the opinion of Oleg Grabar and Sheila Blair, it was shortly after Arpa’s ascension that Ghiyath al-Din ordered the commission of the Great Mongol Shahnama, a wonderful illustrated version of the Persian national epic, the Shahnama of Firdausi. An undertaking of massive expense, given the large and lovingly detailed artwork, it certainly indicates that the top levels of the Ilkhanid elite did not imagine they were entering into a crisis anytime soon.
Arpa Khan was not on solid footing though. The fact that he was not of the line of Hulegu certainly hurt his legitimacy. The fact that Abu Sa’id’s widow, Dilshad Khatun, was pregnant and had fled to Abu Sa’id’s uncle, ‘Ali-Padshah, the governor of Diyarbakir, was unnerving too. ‘Ali-Padshah’s sister, Abu Sa’id’s mother Hajji Khatun, also opposed Arpa’s enthronement. Thus, his position needed to be shored up. A marriage was arranged to Abu Said’s sister, Sati Beg; commanders who had been alienated or jailed by Abu Sa’id were given expensive gifts or freed from prison. And the blame for Abu Sa’id’s death was laid squarely on Baghdad Khatun, who had never had the chance to assume the regency. Accused not just of poisoning Abu Sa’id, but of being in correspondence with Ozbeg Khan and inviting him to attack the Ilkhanate, Baghdad Khatun was found guilty and executed, supposedly beaten to death by a Greek slave with a club while she was in the bathhouse. A number of other executions followed of potential rivals.
But Arpa Khan looked for enemies in the wrong direction. ‘Ali-Padshah, the Oirat governor of Diyarbakir, was becoming something of a rallying point for those unhappy with Arpa’s placement as Khan- or unhappy with an energetic man on the throne who might reduce their privileges. Dilshad Khatun had finally given birth to Abu Sa’id’s only child, a girl, but this did not stop ‘Ali-Padshah’s maneuvering. At the start of 1336 he raised his own candidate, Musa, as Il-Khan. Supposedly a grandson of Baidu, who had only held the throne for a few months before Ghazan’s rise, Musa was, unlike Arpa, entirely a puppet of ‘Ali-Padshah. In alliance with Hajji Khatun and Shaykh Hasan Jalayir, who had once been forced to give up his wife Baghdad Khatun to Abu Sa’id and now knew Arpa killed her, ‘Ali-Padshah in the name Musa Il-Khan armed a revolt against Arpa Il-Khan. In the April of 1336, Arpa’s army was defeated in the field. He and Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad fled to Sultaniyya, where they were captured and killed later that month. So ended the reign of Arpa Khan, the final Il-Khan to wield any individual authority.
Arpa’s death in many ways can be considered the true end of the Ilkhanate, for it seems to have removed any attachment the regional commanders held to the Ilkhanid state. ‘Ali-Padshah’s enthronement of Musa Khan gave all of them the realization that each, too, could rule through his own puppet Chinggisid, if he happened to believe hard enough and have one on hand. From 1335 until 1343, no less than 8 Chinggisids were to be declared Il-Khan by these commanders. Little is known of most of them beyond their names and who controlled them. Shortly after Arpa’s death Shaykh Hasan Jalayir announced his own puppet khan, a young boy named Muhammad, and attacked ‘Ali-Padshah. By July 1336, ‘Ali-Padshah was dead and Musa Il-Khan sent running. Shaykh Hasan married Abu Sa’id’s widow, Dilshad Khatun.
At the same time in the far east of the Ilkhanate, the noyans of Khurasan elected their own Il-Khan, Togha-Temur. Togha-Temur was not even a descendant of Chinggis Khan, but his brother Jochi-Qasar! But he came with military backing, and at the end of 1336 Togha-Temur’s armies had overrun Iran and pushed into Iraq and Azerbaijan, forcing Shaykh Hasan Jalayir to flee before him. Even the wandering Musa found his way into Togha-Temur’s employment, and it seemed that the Ilkhanate’s period of disunity would soon be ended… only for Togha-Temur to suddenly withdraw back east in spring 1337. Musa was left with an army to attempt to crush Shaykh Hasan, but Hasan defeated and killed him in July 1337. Though he would threaten Iraq and the Caucasus again on occasion, Togha-Temur mostly contented himself with mastery over Khurasan and Mazandaran for the next 16 years, until his death in 1353 at the hands of the Sarbadars of Sabzavar.
With Togha-Temur’s withdrawal, Shaykh Hasan now faced a new challenger in the form of a different Shaykh Hasan. Our first Shaykh Hasan was of the Jalayirid lineage, a descendant of one of Hulegu’s top generals. Often you’ll see him called Hasan-i Buzurg, or “Big Hasan.” Hasan-i Kuchik, or “Little Hasan,” was meanwhile a grandson of Choban, via his son Temur-tash. Temur-tash had been governor of Anatolia and revolted twice against Abu Sa’id, before being killed by the Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad when seeking support from him. Yet, Temur-tash’s name still carried weight in Anatolia. While the other Ilkhanid claimants fought for power in the Caucasus and northern Mesopotamia, Little Hasan and his brother Malik Ashraf brought his father back to life, so to speak, in the form of a slave who looked a lot like him. Rather young, the boys lacked the experience or prestige to rally an army around themselves, and so required a puppet dead father. The slave, named Qarajari, in Mamluk accounts was the true leader of the uprising, while in Jalayirid and Temurid sources it was Little Hasan and his brother Malik Ashraf. At the very least, it indicates the level of friction in the movement was apparent.With an army composed of urban militias, nomadic cavalry and military slaves, it was a bit of a motley force, but the return of the Chobanids undermined Big Hasan Jalayir.
Big Hasan’s problem was the fact he just had so many members of Choban’s family in his entourage. His new wife, Dilshad Khatun, was a granddaughter of Choban; one of his most important supporters, Oljeitu’s daughter Sati Beg, had been married to emir Choban, and had a son by him, Surghan. With their help, and the help of a grandson of Choban named Pir Husayn, Big Hasan had overcome Musa Khan and retaken Tabriz, which had long been the capital of the Ilkhanate. But the rise of new Chobanid claimants made Big Hasan unsure of his own Chobanid supporters. Antagonizing his Chobanid followers, Sati Beg and her son Surghan fled to join Little Hasan, who forced Big Hasan from Tabriz in 1338, forcing him to retreat to Baghdad. In the process, Little Hasan succeeded in killing Big Hasan’s puppet Chinggisid, the young Muhammad Khan. But seizing Tabriz weakened the bonds between Little Hasan and his fake father; the Fake Temurtash decided he wanted real power and stabbed Little Hasan, who survived and escaped, then publicized the news that Fake Temurtash was actually, well, a fake. “You’re not my real dad!” We may imagine Little Hasan screamed as he ran out of the palace of Tabriz, blood dripping from a wound.
Little Hasan fled to Georgia, meeting with Sati Beg and his cousin Surghan, while the isolated fake Temurtash was pushed from Tabriz by Big Hasan, who in turn was pushed out again by Little Hasan. Still, it was felt a non-Chinggisid could not rule yet in his own right, especially since Little Hasan had, in the eyes of most, simply been serving his “resurrected” father. So, Little Hasan made the nearest Chinggisid the new Il-Khan. And the nearest Chinggisid was none other than his grandfather Choban’s widow, Sati Beg, daughter of the late Il-Khan Oljeitu, sister of Abu Sa’id and also widow of Arpa Khan. For the first time, late in 1338, a Chinggisid woman became Khan- not regent, not khatun, but Khan. Coins were minted in her name bearing the title, the khutba was read in her name and she was officially the ruler of the Ilkhanate, such as it was. But Sati Beg Khan, the only Chinggisid female Khan, held no real power, and largely was a tool through which Little Hasan maintained his power. A scheming, cruel man, Little Hasan offered Sati Beg to be the bride of a rival, solely in an effort to lure the rival into a trap. He also sought to portray himself as a restorer of the Ilkhanate and its protector by commandeering symbols and persons associated with it, such as appointing descendants of Rashid al-Din and other Ilkhanid viziers to chief posts, while continuing to promote Tabriz as the capital in an effort at continuity with the Ilkhanate. Little Hasan himself, along with Sati Beg’s son and two other top figures, took the titles of the ulus emirs, the commanders of the realm, but there could be no question of who was actually in charge…
… or could there be? Restoring a Chinggisid monarchy in place of their fake father Temurtash meant, in effect, the demotion of Little Hasan and his brother Malik Ashraf. Making Little Hasan but one of the ulus emirs further divided his power. Coins in the name of Sati Beg Khan are found even outside of territory the Chobanids directly controlled in this period, suggesting Sati Beg’s enthronement had wider support. Rumours circulated that Sati Beg was in contact with Big Hasan Jalayir in Baghdad, and plotting to kill Little Hasan. Worse still, Togha-Temur, the “eastern Il-Khan,” returned to western Iran at the very start of 1339, having been invited to take the throne by Big Hasan.
Togha-Temur’s great army seemed poised to wash away Little Hasan’s state. Sati Beg Khan and her soon fled west, leaving Little Hasan alone to face Togha-Temur. But the lil’ guy had one last card play. Knowing he faced no chance of overcoming Togha-Temur Khan in battle, instead Little Hasan sent messengers to Togha-Temur offering his submission, and that he would gladly come to submit to Togha-Temur in person, but could not dare leave Tabriz yet due to the danger posed by Big Hasan, at that time in Baghdad. Togha-Temur accepted this gladly, happy to take the former Ilkhanid capital without trouble. He promised to keep Little Hasan in power, and sent a letter describing how he would rid them of Big Hasan… which Little Hasan promptly forwarded to Big Hasan. The latter had already allied with Togha-Temur and was naturally unhappy to find his new overlord so willing to remove him from the scene, so Big Hasan abandoned Togha-Temur Khan. Losing face, his local allies and commanders unsatisfied with the process, Togha-Temur withdrew back east.
The entire incident served to strengthen Little Hasan’s little hands. A few months later in July 1339, he forced Sati Beg Khan to marry another of Little Hasan’s allies, a descendant of Hulegu’s son Yoshmut, who took the throne name of Sulayman, and became Sulayman Khan, though the Mamluks suspected his ancestry was fictive. So ended Sati Beg’s nine month tenure as Khan, losing whatever little authority she held and subsequently disappearing from the sources, though coinage in her name continued to be minted in Georgia well into the 1340s. Her final fate remains uncertain.
In the meantime, Big Hasan down in Baghdad had another ploy to employ. His requests to the Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad for miltiary aid in recognition of Mamluk overlordship did not materialize into any actual support, in addition to the failure of the affair with Togha-Temur. Taking matters into his own hands, he appointed a grandson of Geikhatu Il-Khan, Jahan-Temur, as Il-Khan, then marched north to face Little Hasan in battle.
In June 1340, the two Hasans, each with their khans, met on the field. Little Hasan had the better of the engagement, forcing Big Hasan to flee back to Baghdad. Angered at the turn of events, Big Hasan deposed his puppet Khan Jahan-Temur, and ruled in his own name- the official start of the independent Jalayir Dynasty. Ruling from Baghdad, the Jalayirids oversaw most of modern Iraq to the border with Syria. The Chobanids kept their puppet Chinggisid only a little longer. Sulayman Khan actually outlasted Little Hasan: the little trickster finally met his end when murdered by his own wife in December 1343. With no heir, he was succeeded by his brother, Malik Ashraf, who soon after deposed Sulayman and appointed another puppet monarch, a non-Chinggisid called Anushirvan, from an epithet for the ancient Sassanian shahanshah, Khosrow I. It was an interesting dabble in movement away from legitimacy associated with the house of Chinggis Khan, harkening even back to pre-Islamic Iran. What sort of lineage he was supposed to represent is unclear, as the Mamluks thought that he had essentially crowned a stable boy and then locked him in a gilded cage. Coins were minted in Anushirvan’s name until 1353, the year of Togha-Temur’s death.
Little Hasan had been unpopular in Tabriz and Azerbaijan, but Malik Ashraf was widely hated. Paranoid, violent men, their oppressive tendencies alienated many supporters: both found it easy to be cruel to their families and vassals on the slightest hints of disloyalty- such cruelty was the certain cause of Little Hasan’s wife preemptively murdering him. Mongol allies were angered with the movement away from Chinggisid legitimacy or by the enfranchisement of non-Mongols. The cities of the Caucasus felt exploited as tax sources due to wild expenditure by both Little Hasan and Malik Ashraf, who built large public works in efforts to boost their images and to fund their standing army. The latter of which they struggled to fund, resulting in troops attempting to supply themselves by raiding Chobanid subjects from Azerbaijan, Georgia to eastern Anatolia. At one point at the very start of his reign, Malik Ashraf was locked out of Tabriz, the city barring its gates against him in reaction to his exploitative money grabbing.
All of this was worsened by rounds of Plague- as in, Black Plague. The trade cities of the Caucasus which the Chobanids so relied upon were struck repeatedly and made the situation even more unstable, as the economy was disrupted, trade slackened and key demographic centres depopulated. To distract from troubles and bring in some glory- or share the suffering, Malik Ashraf decided to attack Baghdad in 1347, but the Jalayirids repulsed him. Either through order, or because he no longer had control over his troops, the Chobanid army then ravaged much of the Chobanid kingdom. Facing revolts and rebellions across his kingdom, somehow he managed to maintain his post into the 1350s, when faced with an overwhelming, ultimate threat: the new Khan of the Golden Horde, Jani Beg, son of Ozbeg Khan. Just as this episode began with the threat of a Jochid attack by Ozbeg, so this episode ends with his son coming to finish the job.
The Jochids never forgot Hulegu’s seizure of the Azerbaijani pastures, and repeated attempts to regain were met with failures. Even great and long-reigning Ozbeg Khan had failed to seize them. Jani Beg, in all things, was determined to outdo his father, and in 1357 his messages arrived in Tabriz, bearing a clear ultimatum to Malik Ashraf:
“I am coming to take possession of the ulus of Hulegu. You are the son of Choban whose name was in the decree of the four uluses. Today three realms are under my command, and I also wish to appoint you commander of the ulus; get up and come to meet me.”
Malik Ashraf put on a brave face, dismissing the messenger and replied that Jani Beg only had claim to rule within the lands of Jochi, while Malik Ashraf was the protector of the lands of Hulegu. Malik Ashraf’s sudden claim to support the Toluids, not surprisingly, did not convince Jani Beg, or anyone else. His decision to then imprison Jani Beg’s ambassador did not help matters either. But Malik Ashraf’s defiance was hollow, and he was well aware of the danger he was in. We are told by the Azerbaijani writer al-Ahri, writing about 1360, that Malik Ashraf in fear turned to his attendants and admitted, “This is the son of Khan Ozbeg. He is of the family of Chinggis Khan and has an overwhelming army of three hundred thousand men. I cannot hold out against him.” Ashraf planned to flee to a fortress and hold out there until Jani Beg withdrew or, failing that, flee to Anatolia. News of his cowardice elicited a loud response from the elite and people of Tabriz, who cried out for resistance and claimed that Jani Beg’s only strength was his numbers, and in terms of equipment the Chobanid troops would have the better. Only once it seemed that government was breaking down in the face of the Golden Horde attack, reluctantly Malik Ashraf summoned the troops and rode out to face the approaching Jani Beg Khan. Promptly, his men fled when they caught sight of Jani Beg’s host. Years of mistreatment had generated no loyalty to the person of Malik Ashraf or his office, and none were willing to put their lives on the line in a doomed fight. His army disintegrated and looted his own coffers. Finally Malik Ashraf was betrayed, captured, and paraded through the streets of Tabriz and handed over to Jani Beg. Supposedly Jani Beg would have let him live, if the people of Tabriz had not demanded his death- though it should be said, mercy was not a quality Jani Beg ever had in abundance, so we might wonder about this detail.
Malik Ashraf, son of Temur-Tash and brother of Little Hasan, grandson of Choban Noyan, was thus put to death on Jani Beg Khan’s orders in 1357. The Chobanid state, after a tumultuous two decades, was dismantled, its few surviving representatives scattered to the winds. Jani Beg Khan succeeded where no Jochid Khan had before, in occupying Tabriz and the pastures of Azerbaijan, Arran and the Mughan Plain. Many of the other regional powers, including the Jalayirids recognized Jani Beg’s overlordship. Jani Beg left his son Berdi Beg to govern Azerbaijan, then returned to the Qipchaq steppe- only to soon die, of sickness or, as some accuse, of being poisoned by Berdi Beg. This caused a general withdrawal of the Jochid troops as Berdi Beg left to assume the position of Khan, leaving one of Malik Ashraf’s former deputies in charge on behalf of the Golden Horde.
Finally, it was time for the Jalayirids to return to Tabriz. Big Hasan’s son with Dilshad Khatun was Shaykh Uvays, who succeeded his father to the throne in 1356. Having accepted Jani Beg’s overlordship, the Jalayirids had managed the storm of the Jochid assault well. With their long time Chobanid enemies annihilated, it was now time to seize the Azerbaijani pastures. In summer 1358 Shaykh Uvays successfully retook Tabriz twenty years after his father had last been pushed from the city. In the historical sources, Jalayirid rule is contrasted heavily with the Chobanids. Where the Chobanids appear as scheming, violent and oppressive men, the Jalayirids in contrast are presented as benevolent, respectful to Islamic and Chinggisid norms, ushering in an era of peace and prosperity after years of upheaval. Ruling from the Caucasus across Iraq, the Jalayirids were mighty, and deserved a new title for it. So did Shaykh Uvays begin to style himself Sultan. It was not an easy task, for many former supporters of the Chobanids had to be hunted down, and indeed, in 1359 Uvays was pushed out of Tabriz by another Ilkhanid successor state, the Muzaffarids, albeit briefly. But by the next year Uvays had retaken Tabriz, killed Malik Ashraf’s still resisting son and properly secured Jalayirid control. The Jalayirid Sultanate saw a brief renaissance in art and culture, a restoration of economy and trade following the post-Ilkhanid disruptions. While respect was paid to the house of Chinggis Khan and certain norms associated with the Ilkhanate, this was no Chinggisid state. No Chinggisid puppet was maintained, and neither Uvays nor his sons based their rule on their Chinggisid ancestry, even though they could trace their lineage to a daughter of Arghun Il-Khan. Chinggisid legitimacy as the basis for governance did not long survive Abu Sa’id, and the Ilkhanid successors at most portrayed themselves as protectors of the Il-Khanid dynasty, rather than its continuators.
Thus by the end of the fourteenth century, most of the western portion of the former Ilkhanate, that is the Caucasus, northwestern Iran and Iraq, was ruled by the Jalayirid Dynasty. Iran itself was largely divided between regional forces, the most prominent being the Muzaffarids and Injuids and Sarbadars of Sabzavar. None were of Mongol origin, but were rather local Persian dynasties which had emerged out of the Ilkhanid political structure. In rare cases, pre-existing dynasties like the Kartids of Herat simply reasserted themselves. A few Turkic nomadic confederations, of unclear political origins, emerged in the second half of the fourteenth century, most notably the Black Sheep Turkomans, the Qaraqoyunlu. In Anatolia, a number of Turkic beyliks rose out of the splintered ruins of the Ilkhanid government there, including one on the western end of the peninsula founded by a ghazi named Osman. You may know them better as the Ottomans. The Mamluks maintained their hold on Egypt, with al-Nasir Muhammad enjoying a very long third reign until his death in the 1340s, which then saw a rapid succession of his numerous sons and grandsons on the Mamluk throne, preventing any Mamluk expansion at the expense of the weak post-Ilkhanid states.
Such was the more situation of the late fourteenth century post-Ilkhanid world, soon to be turned over by the rival of a powerful emir from the western Chagatai Khanate named Temur, or Tamerlane. But that’s a story for another day, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals podcast for more. If you enjoyed this and would like to help up 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.
“Ket Buqa Noyan kept attacking left and right with all zeal. Some encouraged him to flee, but he refused to listen and said, “Death is inevitable. It is better to die with a good name than to flee in disgrace. In the end, someone from this army, old or young, will reach the court and report that Ket Buqa, not wanting to return in shame, gave his life in battle. The padishah should not grieve over lost Mongol soldiers. Let him imagine that his soldiers’ wives have not been pregnant for a year and the mares of their herds have not folded. [...]The life or death of servants like us is irrelevant.” Although the soldiers left him, he continued to struggle in battle like a thousand men. In the end his horse faltered, and he was captured. [...] After that, Ket Buqa was taken before Quduz with his hands bound. “Despicable man,” said Quduz, “you have shed so much blood wrongfully, ended the lives of champions and dignitaries with false assurances, and overthrown ancient dynasties with broken promises. Now you have finally fallen into a snare yourself.”[...]
“If I am killed by your hand,” said Ket Buqa, “I consider it to be God’s act, not yours. Be not deceived by this event for one moment, for when the news of my death reaches Hülägü Khan, the ocean of his wrath will boil over, and from Azerbaijan to the gates of Egypt will quake with the hooves of Mongol horses. They will take the sands of Egypt from there in their horses’ nose bags. Hülägü Khan has three hundred thousand renowned horsemen like Ket Buqa. You may take one of them away.”
So the great Ilkhanid vizier and historian Rashid al-Din records the heroic, and certainly greatly dramatized, account of Kitbuqa Noyan’s final stand at the battle of Ayn Jalut in September 1260. This was the famous Mongol defeat at the newly established, and rather fragile, Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt. The Mongols however, did not see it as an irreversible cataclysm, but the defeat of a small force which would soon be avenged, for Heaven demanded nothing less. The defeat of the Mongols at Ayn Jalut in 1260 was not the end of the war between the Mongols and the Mamluks, and over the next 50 years Hulegu’s successors, the Ilkhans, tried repeatedly to avenge their losses only to be halted by the Mamluks’ valiant resistance. Here, we will look at the efforts by the Mongol Ilkhanate to bring their horses to the Nile. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
First, we should note that for anyone wishing to read more about the war between the Mongols and the Mamluks, the most detailed work on the subject can be found in Reuven Amitai-Preiss’ Mongols and Mamluks: The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War, released in 1995. No other work details the entire conflict and its sources so fully, and is an absolute must read for anyone desiring the most effective overview on the subject possible.
With the death of Grand Khan Mongke in 1259, the Mongol Empire was irrevocably broken: while Hulegu and his successors stayed on good terms with his brother Khubilai, the nominal Great Khan, Hulegu was independent, ruler of vast domain stretching from Anatolia to the Amu Darya, known as the Ilkhanate. Hulegu’s cousins in the neighbouring Golden Horde, Chagatai Khanate and the Neguderis were almost immediately antagonistic to the Ilkhans, who found themselves defending their distant frontiers from all three, in addition to internal revolts. For the Ilkhans, the Mamluks were but one frontier amongst several, one they could turn to only when the threat from the other Khanates was low. More often than not, this simple fact prevented any great Ilkhanid invasion of the Mamluk state.
For the Mamluks though, their border with the Ilkhanate along the Euphrates river was of utmost importance. In the aftermath of Ayn Jalut, the Mamluk Sultan Qutuz was assassinated by the energetic Baybars, who had fought alongside Qutuz against Kitbuqa. We introduced Baybars back in episode 30 of this podcast. While much credit can be given to Qutuz and the quality of the Mamluk soldiery for the victory at Ayn Jalut, the reason for continued Mamluk successes against the Mongols can be attributed to Baybars. A Qipchaq from the great Eurasian steppe, as a young boy Baybars had been sold into slavery to the Ayybuid Sultan of Egypt. There, Baybars was converted to Islam and received extensive training in all matter of military affairs. An excellent soldier, coupled with immense ambition, endurance and drive, Baybars understood clearly the danger the Mongols posed, and set up his entire kingdom to defend against them.
The new Sultan greatly expanded the Mamluk regiments, encouraging good relations with the Golden Horde, Genoese and Byzantine Empire to keep up the flow of Turkic slave soldiers from the Eurasian steppe, over the Mediterranean to the ports of Egypt. He established a sophisticated intelligence network to inform him on the Ilkhanate and spread misinformation within it, supported by a system of signal towers, messenger pigeons, improved roads, bridges and relay stations to rapidly send messages. This was the barid, which served as the Mamluks’ answer to the Mongol yam system. Its riders reported directly to the Mamluk Sultan. Frontier fortifications along the Euphrates River like al-Bira and al-Rahba were strengthened, and they served as the first line of defence when the armies of the Ilkhanate advanced. When messengers raced down from Syria to Egypt with news of a Mongol assault, Baybars would immediately march with an army from Cairo to meet them head on. More often than not, the Mongol attack party would return to the Ilkhanate rather than face Baybars head on. His swift reaction kept border officials loyal, feeling their Sultan would soon be there to assist them, or to punish defections. Rather than face the Mongols in battle, garrisons of cities in Syria past the Euphrates border were ordered to withdraw and regrouped at designated locations during invasions, facing the Mongols with united forces or awaiting the Sultan. Baybars would not allow the Mongols to overrun his empire piecemeal, as they had the Khwarezmian Empire some forty years prior.
Baybars cultivated relations with bedouin nomads across Syria, who provided valuable auxiliaries, intelligence and also to keep them from allying with the Mongols. Finally, he strengthed his position domestically, controlling the economy and appointing his own Caliphs to legitimize himself, presenting himself as the defender of Islam. Baybars prepared his entire kingdom for Mongol attacks, a highly effective system the Ilkhanate struggled against. For the Ilkhans, the theater with the Mamluks was a sideshow, one to attack only when other frontiers were secured. The Mamluk Sultanate itself had no hope of conquering the Ilkhanate or seriously threatening it, so the various Ilkhans felt no great rush to overwhelm the Mamluks. In contrast, for the Mamluks the Ilkhanid border was of utmost importance: Baybars had to levy almost entirety of the Mamluk army to repel the Mongols, and thus not even a single defeat could be afforded for it would allow the Mongols to overrun Egypt, and the remainder of the Islamic west. Thus did Baybars finetune a system that proved remarkably successful at defending against the house of Hulegu, although it demanded great personal ability on the part of the monarch, and Baybars’ successors struggled to compare to his vision.
Soon after Ayn Jalut in September 1260, a Mongol force of about 6,000 returned to Syria that December. Commanded by Baydar, an officer of Kitbuqa who had escaped Qutuz and Baybars’ great advance earlier that year, it was a serious threat. At that time Sultan Baybars had not tightened his hold over Syria, attacks by the Crusader states had wrought further confusion, and some of Qutuz’s loyalists had rebelled against Baybars’ rule, one of whom even declared himself sultan. There is implication in the Mamluk sources that the attack was not launched on Hulegu’s order, but Baydar’s own initiative to avenge Kitbuqa. As his army marched, they found that the garrisons of Syria had retreated before them. Placing a governor in Aleppo and other major cities, as the Mongols neared Homs they found the combined garrisons of Homs, Hama and Aleppo had retreated there and rallied before them. Greatly outnumbering the Syrian forces, perhaps 6,000 troops under Baydar to 1,400 under the Syrians, Baydar was ultimately defeated in battle, the Syrians aided by thick fog and the timely flanking of local Bedouin. Coincidentally, it was fought near the grave of Khalid ibn al-Walid, the great commander of the early Islamic conquests and victor at Yarmouk, which earned it double the symbolic value. This first battle of Homs, as it was to become known, strengthened the feeling that the Mongols were not invincible. The Mongol army outnumbered the Mamluk garrisons, and keenly demonstrated the importance of unified defense rather than each garrison hiding behind city walls. For many Mamluk writers, it was the first battle of Homs that stood as the great victory over the Mongols, rather than Ayn Jalut. It was also the last major Mongol offensive into Syria in the 1260s.
Hulegu spent the next years fighting with Berke Khan of the Golden Horde over the valuable territory of Azerbaijan, which Berke believed belonged to the house of Jochi. With Hulegu’s death in February 1265, he was succeeded by his son Abaqa, who was distracted by Jochid attacks and the efforts of setting up a new empire. By then, the most entrenched Sultan Baybars could solidify his defences, and turn to the isolated Crusader strongholds. By this time, little remained of the former Crusader Kingdoms, baring some coastal cities like Antioch, Tripoli and Acre and a few inland fortresses like Krak des Chevaliers and Montfort. The Crusader States had shown neutrality to the Mongols, or even joined them such as the County of Tripoli in 1260 after the Mongols entered Syria. Their neutrality or allegiance to the Mongols, in addition to the possibility of them acting as a foothold to further European troops, meant that the Mamluks would unleash bloody vengeance on them whenever the opportunity arose. From February to April 1265 in the immediate aftermath of Hulegu’s death, Baybars conquered Caesarea, Haifa, Arsuf, Galilee and raided Cilician Armenia, the vassals of the Ilkhanate. In 1268 Baybars took Antioch, and in 1270-71 when Abaqa was fighting with Chagatayid and Neguderi armies in the far east, Baybars took the fortresses of Krak des Chevaliers and Montfort, and planned to attack Tripoli, another Ilkhanid vassal. Though it remains popular in some circles to portray the Mamluk conquest of the Crusader holdouts as titanic clashes, they were side affairs, undertaken by the Mamluks whenever the Ilkhans were occupied. Such was the slow and humiliating coup de grace which ended the Crusader states.
The Mamluks’ ending of the Crusader kingdoms certainly served them strategically, for it was the most effective way to prevent any link up between European and Mongol forces. Hulegu and his successors sent letters to the Kings and Popes of Europe, encouraging them to take up crusade against the Mamluks and together defeat them, offering to return Jerusalem and other holy sites back into Christian hands, but this almost always fell on deaf ears or were greeted with empty promises. Louis IX’s highly organized crusades had resulted in utter debacles at Mansura in 1250 and Tunis in 1270, which dampened whatever minor enthusiasm for crusade was left in Europe. Few European monarchs ever seriously took up Mongol offers at military alliances, with two exceptions. King James I of Aragon found himself the most motivated by the Il-Khan Abaqa’s requests, encouraged by the promises of the Ilkhanate’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 before departing. This was soon followed by the arrival of prince Edward of England, the future King Edward I, at Acre in May 1271 with a small force, and Abaqa sent an army under Samaghar, the Mongol commander in Rum, to assist him: but Samaghar’s force withdrew with the arrival of Baybars. Edward’s troops performed poorly on their own minor raids, and set sail for England in September 1272.
One of the commanders who took part in Samaghar’s raid was Mu’in al-Din Sulaiman, better known as the Pervane, from sahib pervana, the keeper of the seals, though it literally means “butterfly.” The Pervane was the dominant figure of the rump state of the Seljuqs of Rum: when the previous Mongol installed Seljuq Sultan, Kilij Arlan IV, had challenged the Pervane, he succeeded in getting Abaqa to execute the Sultan and instate Arslan’s young son, a toddler enthroned as Ghiyath al-Din Kaykhusraw III. Thus did the Pervane, in coordination with Samaghar Noyan, act as the master of Anatolia. Essentially co-governors, Samaghar and the Pervane had a stable relationship, enriching themselves along the way. But when Abaqa appointed his younger brother Ejei to oversee the Pervana and Samaghar. The Pervane chafed under the increased financial burden and supervision, and asked Abaqa to recall his brother, claiming Ejei was in cooperation with Baybars. Abaqa promised to recall him, but delayed. In his frustration, the Pervane himself reached out to Baybars. The Sultan’s curiosity was piqued, but didn’t commit; by the time his response reached the Pervane in 1274, Ejei and Samaghar had been replaced by Toqa Noyan, and the Pervane didn’t respond. Under Toqa Noyan, Mongol pressure was even greater in Anatolia, and the Pervane’s powers were more limited than ever.
What followed was a terrible mess of political machinations. The Pervane got Toqa Noyan removed, Ejei was reinstated, the Pervane’s efforts to remove Ejei again frustrated Abaqa, who removed Ejei, killed some of his followers and reinstated the Pervane and Toqa Noyan. In November 1275, the Mongols besieged al-Bira, but Baybars had learned of it in advance allegedly due to contacts with the Pervane. After this, the Pervane was careful to rebuild trust with Abaqa, bringing him the Seljuq Sultan’s sister to wed. At the same time, with or without the Pervane’s support a group of Rumi amirs met with Baybars in July 1276, urging him to attack. Judging there was enough support in Rum for him he agreed, and Baybars mobilized his army over winter 1276, setting out in February 1277.
As Baybars sped up the Levantine coast, the Pervane rapidly lost control of Rum as various Turkmen rebelled and a new Mongol army under Tudawan cracked down on the amirs who had contacted Baybars. In Syria, Baybars sent a diversionary force from Aleppo over the Euphrates, while his main army entered Anatolia in early April. After pushing off a Mongol advance force of 3,000 in the Taurus Mountains, news reaches Baybars that Tudawun was camped close by on a plain near the town of Abulustayn (Elbistan) and set out for them, the armies meeting on the 15th of April 1277.
Tudawan’s army was about 14,000 Mongols, Turk and heavily armoured Georgian cavalry was joined by an army of Rumi troops similar size under the Pervane, but Tudawan distrusted them, and kept them away from his lines. Tudawan’s scouts had failed to judge the size of the Mamluk army, which he believed to be smaller and lacking Baybars. In reality, the Mamluks outnumbered the Mongols by a few thousand. As the Mamluks entered the plain at the narrow end they were unable to properly form up, and their centre was positioned before their left wing. The Mongol left flank began the battle, sending arrows into the Mamluk standard bearers in the centre before charging them. The Mamluk centre buckled under the charge, and the more exposed Mamluk left wing was similarly pounded by the Mongol right.
The situation was critical for the Mamluks: likely at this stage, their bedouin irregulars fled. Baybars sent in his reserve, the garrison of Hama, to reinforce his left, and succeeded in forcing back the Mongols. A brief respite allowed the Mamluks to better deploy their lines, and counterattack. The Mongols fought fiercely, but the greater number of the Mamluks made the difference. Gradually forced back over the course of the day, their horses exhausted and unable to access remounts, the Mongols dismounted, signalling they were fighting to the death. With great struggle, the Mamluks defeated them and killed their commanders. The Rumi army took little part in the battle and dispersed, the Pervane escaping, with one of his sons captured by Baybars. The next day the Mamluk Sultan marched for Kayseri, reaching it on April 20th.
Baybars ordered the Pervane and the Seljuq Sultan to him, but the Pervane held out in his own castle. Both realized that Baybars would not be able to hold this position, deep in enemy territory, supplies low and the rest of his kingdom unprotected while a furious Abaqa rallied his army. 5 days after entering Kayseri, Baybars was en route back to Syria and though his vanguard deserted to the Mongols, by June he was in Damascus. Abaqa arrived in Rum too late to catch Baybars, and in his fury was only narrowly persuaded out of massacring everything between Kayseri and Erzerum, while the summer heat kept him from invading Syria. He was able to catch the Pervane though, and put him to death: allegedly, his flesh was eaten by Abaqa and the senior Mongols.
Thus ended one of Baybars’ most skillfully executed campaigns: lightning quick and devastating, creating a terrible mess for the Ilkhanate, though in itself brought no strategic gain or shift in the status quo. It was a great shock when the Lion of Egypt suddenly died at the beginning of July 1277 soon after his return. Baybars had hoped to establish a dynasty: he was seamlessly succeeded by his older son, named al-Sa’id Berke. The new Sultan quickly antagonized the Mamluk emirs through his efforts to limit their powers, and was forced to abdicate in favour of his younger brother, the 7 year old Sulamish. The boy was nothing but a puppet, and his guardian, one of the late Baybars’ Mamluks named Qalawun, soon forced the boy out and took power himself in November 1279. Like Berke, Qalawun had been taken from the Qipchap steppe and sold as a Mamluk. He had loyally served Baybars and proven himself an able commander, though something of a schemer. Though Qalawun’s line came to dominate the Mamluk Sultanate for essentially the next century, initially Qalawun faced stiff opposition in attempting to assert his authority.
This disruption in the Sultanate was a golden opportunity for Abaqa, who decided it was time to press the Mamluk frontier. To this, he decided to put his younger brother Mongke-Temur to the task. Prince Mongke-Temur first raided Syria in November 1280 with King Lewon III of Armenian Cilicia, Bohemond VII of Tripoli and a contingent of Knights Hospitaller. In September 1281, Mongke-Temur returned again, a large force of perhaps 40-50,000 Mongols, Armenians under Lewon III, Georgians, Franks and troops from Seljuq Rum. Abaqa initially followed with another army, but may have been forced to hold due to rumours of an attack by the Golden Horde at Derbent.
The Mongol invasion provided a common enemy to unite the Mamluk factions fighting for power, and under Qalawun they advanced, reinforced by Syrian garrisons and bedouins. They reached Homs a few days before the Mongols in late October, giving Qalawun’s troops a chance to dig in and rest on the plain north of the city. Their preparations were improved as a Mongol defector informed them of Mongke-Temur’s battle plan. Most of the Mongol army was to be placed in the center with the right wing also strong, intending to overpower the Mamluk left and centre where the Sultan’s banners would be. Qalawun thus reinforced his left wing, and positioned himself on a hill behind the vanguard to oversee the battle and act as reserve.
Marching through the night, the Mongols arrived early on the 29th of October, 1281. It was a massive front, over 24 kilometres in length due to the size of both armies. The wings of both forces, so far apart, had little knowledge of what was occurring on the other side. While tired from the night march, the Mongols were eager: the battle was initiated when the Mongol right under Alinaq charged forth. The Mamluk left and part of their centre crumpled and routed under the onslaught. Alinaq continued his pursuit, and here Mongke-Temur’s inexperience and the scale of the battlefield began to tell. Proper communication with the command seemingly absent, Alinaq pursued the fleeing Mamluks off the battlefield, as far as the Lake of Homs where they dismounted to rest, evidently anticipating the rest of the army would soon arrive.
A similar charge by the Mongol left wing lacked the numbers of the Mongol right, so the Mamluk right and centre were able to hold and counterattack. Qalawun’s actual role in this counterattack isn’t clear: some sources have him personally lead the attack, while in others he kept his position hidden, not even raising his banners so as to avoid Mongol arrows. The Mamluks pushed back the Mongol right and the bedouin came around to hit the Mongol flank. The Mongol right fell back to the centre, which under Mongke-Temur was being held in reserve. In the resulting confusion, perhaps thrown by his horse, Mongke-Temur was injured and unable to command. Most of the Mongols then dismounted to make a final stand around the prince, and ultimately routed under the Mamluk assault.
The Mamluks chased the fleeing Mongols right to the border with the Ilkhanate, many drowning in the Euphrates or dying in the desert: so deadly was this rout that Mamluk authors said more Mongols were killed in flight than in the actual battle. Qalawun and a small guard remained on the battlefield: they were forced to hide their banners and stay silent when the Mongol right wing finally returned to the battlefield, too late to turn the tide. It seems it was able to take an orderly retreat back into the Ilkhanate.
Abaqa was furious at this loss, and intended to return the next year, but died in April 1282. As we have covered in our previous episodes, Abaqa’s successors were not blessed with his same longevity or stability, and until 1295 the Ilkhanate saw a succession of short lived monarchs and infighting, internal revolts and renewed attacks by the Golden Horde. Though the succeeding Ilkhans continued to demand Mamluk submission, send threatening letters and continue to attempt an alliance with European powers, nothing materialized beyond border raids and skirmishes in both directions. For the time being, the immediate Mongol threat to the Mamluks had ended, and Sultan Qalawun turned to the remaining Frankish strongholds, all possible beachheads for European armies coming to assist the Ilkhans. Armenian Cilicia was pillaged, remaining inland Crusader strongholds were taken, and in April 1289 the Mongols’ vassal Tripoli fell. After the death of Abaqa’s son Arghun Il-Khan in March 1291, the Mamluks used the resulting distraction in the Ilkhanate to take the final major Frankish city in the Holy Land, Acre, leaving them with but miniscule holdings which fell in the following years. So ended 200 years of Crusader Kingdoms.
Following Qalawun’s death in 1290, he was succeeded by his son al-Ashraf Khalil. A fearsome military commander, it was he who led the push to seize Acre and the final Crusader holdings of note. Yet he did not long to enjoy the throne, and was assassinated in the last days of 1293 due to his efforts to curb the power of the existing Mamluk emirs. With his assassination, the Mamluks entered a period of political instability over the Sultanate. Initially his younger brother al-Nasir Muhammad was placed on the throne, still a child and without any real power. After a year as Sultan he was forced out by his guardian and regent, a Mamluk named, of all things, Kitbuqa. Apparently of Mongol origin, he had been taken captive by the Mamluks at the first battle of Homs in 1260, and made in turn a Mamluk, that is, a slave soldier. Kitbuqa’s reign as Sultan was not particularly notable, mostly marked by intense political infighting and machinations. There was, however, a large body of Oirats who deserted the Ilkhanate to join the Mamluks Sultanate. Kitbuqa’s generous treatment of this body of nomadic troops, with whom it appeared he shared kinship, angered a number of the other Mamluk emirs and undermined his power. He was soon forced to flee as one of al-Ashraf Khalil’s assassins, the Emir Lajin, seized power. When Lajin was murdered in 1299, al-Ashraf Khalil’s young brother al-Nasir Muhammad was recalled to take the throne. Only 14 years old, al-Nasir Muhammad had no real power and was still a puppet for the emirs competing for power.
In comparison, 1295 saw the beginning of the reign of the powerful Ghazan Khan, son of Arghun. Ghazan, as we have covered, was not the first Muslim Ilkhan but by his reign a majority of the Mongols within the Ilkhanate had converted, and made the Ilkhanate an Islamic state. Ghazan consolidated his position early on, executing a number of potential challengers to the throne and restabilizing the Ilkhanid economy, though you can listen to our episode dedicated to Ghazan for more on the internal matters of his reign. While Ghazan was a Muslim, this did not change Ilkhanid policy to the Mamluk. He continued to send letters to western Europe urging them to land an army behind enemy lines. In late 1298, while Mamluk armies ravaged the Ilkhan’s vassal Cilician Armenia, the na’ib of Damascus, Sayf al-Din Qibjaq and a few other top Mamluks deserted to the Ilkhanate during a particularly violent stretch within the Sultanate. Fearing for their lives, they inform Ghazan of Sultan Lajin and his vice-Sultan Manketamur’s purges and unstable positions. Then in summer 1299 a Mamluk raid into the Ilkhanate sacked Mardin, violating Muslim women and descretating a mosque during Ramadan. Ghazan was thus able to easily obtain a fatwa against the Mamluks for this, presenting himself not as an invader, but a holy warrior coming to avenge atrocities against Islam to encourage dissent among Mamluk ranks. Indeed, the ruler of Hama, a top Mamluk ally, believed the accusations.
By December 1299, Ghazan and his army of Mongols, Georgians and Armenians under their King Het’um II, had crossed the Euphrates. By then, Sultan Lajin had been replaced by a al-Nasir Muhammad who was nearly toppled by the Oirat refugees to the Sultanate. Ghazan bypassed Aleppo and Hama, and hunted for the Mamluk army. While encamped on the edge of the Syrian desert, Ghazan learned the Mamluks were gathering at Homs, where they had defeated Mongke-Temur 18 years prior. Rather than fall into their trap, Ghazan chose to outflank them, crossing the Syrian desert and coming out onto a stream some 16 kilometres north of Homs on the 22nd of December. To the Mamluks, it appeared that Ghazan was retreating, and advanced out of their favourable position to pursue. In a reverse of the 2nd Battle of Homs, now the Mamluks were forced to cross the desert, exhausting themselves to reach Ghazan early the next morning, while his own troops rested, quenched their thirst and formed up. Crucially, the Ilkhanid army was under the firm control of Ghazan and his commander Qutlugh-Shah, while the young al-Nasir Muhammad could not control his senior emirs.
On the morning of December 23rd, 1299, the Mamluks found Ghazan’s army was drawn up. Ghazan commanded the centre, while his general Qutlugh-Shah commanded the right. Qutlugh-Shah’s beating of war drums made the Mamluks believe Ghazan to be located there, and to him they charged, forcing the Mongol right back. Ghazan led the counterattack against them, and Qutlugh-Shah rallied what forces he could and rejoined the Il-Khan. From 11 a.m until nightfall, the battle raged, but finally the Mamluks broke and fled. Ghazan pursued them past Homs before encamping, not wishing to be drawn into a false retreat in the dark. Homs surrendered without a fight and Ghazan took the Sultan’s treasure, distributing it among his nokod, keeping for himself a sword, the title deeds to the Mamluk Sultanate and the muster roll of its army. Next Ghazan marched onto Damascus, which also surrendered without a fight, though its citadel held out. It seems almost the entire Mamluk garrison of Syria had retreated, perhaps recalled to defend the capital. Mongol raiding parties were making it as far as Gaza, with one source reporting they even entered Jerusalem, and the Sultanate seemed poised to fall.
But on February 5th, 1300, Ghazan withdrew from Damascus, returning to the Ilkhanate. Qutlugh-Shah had been left to take the Citadel of Damascus, but he soon followed the Il-Khan. By the end of May, the Mamluks had retaken Syria. Exactly why Ghazan withdrew is unclear: possibly reports of a Neguderi invasion in the east of his realm demanded his attention, or he feared there would not be sufficient pasturage for his large army to make the trip to Egypt: the Mamluks were known to burn grassland and destroy supply depots on the routes they suspected the Mongols to take. Likely he was unaware of how dire the situation really was for the Mamluks, and suspected further armed resistance along the route would make the already treacherous crossing over the Sinai even harder on his army. Whatever the reason, Ghazan had lost the greatest chance to destroy the Mamluks. Ghazan did cross the Euphrates at the end of December 1300, reaching as far as Aleppo, but heavy rains rendered military operations untenable. In 1303 Ghazan ordered Qutlugh-Shah back into Syria, but he was defeated at Marj al-Suffar near Damascus in April. Ghazan’s death the next year, only 34 years old, prevented his next assault. His brother and successor, Oljeitu, ordered the final Ilkhanid attack on the Sultanate, an embarrassing effort in winter 1312 which saw the army retreat not from the Royal Mamluks, but the stiff resistance of ordinary townsfolk. Oljeitu’s son, Abu Sa’id, ultimately organized peace with the Mamluks in the early 1320s, ending the sixty years of warfare between the Mongols and the Mamluks. The Ilkhanate did not long outlive this treaty. Abu Sa’id death in 1335 without an heir saw the Ilkhanate torn apart by regional commanders -the Jalayirids, Chobanids, Muzaffarids and Injuids, among others- who appointed their own puppet Khans or abandoned the pretense entirely.
For the Mamluks, they were unable to take advantage of the Ilkhanate’s disintegration as when al-Nasir Muhammad died in 1341, they entered their own period of anarchy: 8 of al-Nasir’s children and 4 of his grandsons would in turn become Sultan between 1341 and 1382, a period which culminated in the rise of the Circassian Burji Mamluk Dynasty. Whereas the Sultans from Qutuz, Baybars through Qalawun and his descendants were men of Qipchaq-Cuman or even Mongol origin, over the late thirteenth and first half of the fourteenth century a growing number of the Mamluks were sourced no longer from the Qipchaq steppe, but Circassia, a region along the Black Sea’s northeastern coastline. With the end of the Qalawunid Dynasty, Mamluks of Circassian origin took power and established their own dynasty. The Bahri and Burji distinction refers to the parts of Cairo each Mamluk garrison had been based. It was this Mamluk dynasty who would face the wrath of Temur-i-lang at the beginning of the fifteenth century.
These post-Ilkhanid events will be the topic for a forthcoming episode, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals podcast to follow for that. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, please 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.
One of the most enduring images of the Mongolian Empire is that it was a model of religious tolerance, one where each of the Khan’s subjects were free to worship as they pleased. This is not a new belief; in the 18th century, Edward Gibbon presented Chinggis Khan as a forerunner of the enlightenment, and for modern audiences the notion was repopularized with Jack Weatherford’s book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Some use the notion to counter the common presentations of Mongol brutality, usually accompanying blanket terms that all religious clergy were exempted from taxation, labour and were respected- or go as far as to present the Mongols as the inspiration for modern liberal religious toleration. While there is an element of truth to be had here, as with so much relating to the Mongols, describing the Chinggisid empire as a state of religious tolerance where all religions east and west lived in harmony fails to capture the reality of the period.
Even before the founding of the empire, Chinggis Khan interacted with a variety of religions. During his war to unify Mongolia, Chinggis Khan was supported by men of various religious backgrounds: Mongolian shamanist-animists, Nestorian Christians, Buddhists and Muslims, one of whom, Jafar Khoja, was supposedly a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, and stood with him at the muddy waters of Lake Baljuna during one of his lowest moments. The most prominent tribes in the Mongolian steppe in the 12th century were Nestorian Christians such as the Kereyid and Naiman, and on the declaration of the Mongol Empire in 1206 Chinggis Khan’s army and administration were quite mixed. Chinggis Khan himself was an animist: in Mongolian belief, all things in the world were inhabited by spirits which had to be consulted and placated. It was the job of shamans to intercede with these spirits on the Mongols’ behalf. Generally, shamanism is not an exclusive religion; one can consult a shaman and still practice other faiths. The shaman was not like a Christian priest or Islamic imam, but a professional one could consult with regardless of other religious affiliation. The persuasion and power of religion in the Mongol steppe came from the charisma of specific holy men -such as shamans- and their power to convene with spirits and Heaven on the Khan’s behalf in order to secure his victory.
This seems to have been the guiding principle for how Chinggis Khan, and most of his successors, approached religion. Some Mongols viewed the major religions they encountered -Daoism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam- as all praying to the same God via different methods. This was more or less the statement that in the 1250s, Chinggis’ grandson Mongke Khaan provided to the Franciscan friar William of Rubruck during an interview, stating that “We Mongols believe that there is only one God through whom we have life and through whom we die, and towards him we direct our hearts [...] But just as God has given the hand several fingers, so he has given mankind several paths.”
Usually for the Khans, it did not matter who was right, as basically all of the major religions were. What mattered was that these religions should pray to God on behalf of the Chinggisids to ensure divine favour for their rule. Heaven’s will was manifested through victories and rulership, while it’s displeasure manifested in defeats and anarchy. Much like the concept of the Chinese Mandate of Heaven, the right to rule provided by heaven could be rescinded, and thus the Mongols hoped to continually appease Heaven.
But the Mongols’ views on religion were not static and took years to develop into their political theology- and nor were they inherently tolerant, and favours were allotted more on a personal basis. For example, in 1214 Chinggis Khan, or one of his sons, had an encounter with a Buddhist monk named Haiyun. Haiyun, with his head shaved bare in accordance with his role as a monk, was told by the Khan to grow his hair out and braid it in Mongolian fashion- for at that time, the Mongols were attempting to order the general population of north China to do so as a sign of their political subordination. Religions in China dictated how one should maintain their hair; Buddhist monks had to shave their heads, Daoist monks could keep their hair long, while the general Chinese population, on Confucian teaching, could not cut their hair in adulthood, as it was a gift from the parents, and thus was kept in topknots. Demanding that the general population adopt the unique, partly shaved Mongolian hairstyle, was therefore a decree against all of China’s major religions. The Mongols did not succeed in this policy and soon abandoned it’s implementation on its sedentary subjects, though other sources indicate it was enforced on nomadic Turkic tribes who entered Mongol service, indicating their submission to the Great Khan. Notably the Manchu would successfully implement such a policy after their conquest of China 400 years later, forcing the population to adopt the long queues at the back of the head. When the Chinese revolted against Manchu rule, the cutting of the queue was one of the clearest signs of rejecting the Qing Dynasty.
Back to the Buddhist monk Haiyun, who Chinggis had ordered to grow out his hair in Mongol fashion. Haiyun told Chinggis that he could not adopt the Mongol hairstyle, as growing his hair out violated his duty as a monk. Learning this, Chinggis Khan allowed Haiyun to maintain his baldness, then in time extended this allowance to all Buddhist and Daoist clergy. Even with this first privilege, Haiyun and his master did not receive coveted tax exempt status until 1219, and then on the recommendation of Chinggis’ viceroy in North China, Mukhali. This is the earliest indication of Chinggis Khan granting of such a favour, followed soon by the extensive privileges granted to the Daoist master Qiu Chuji. The Daoist had made the journey from North China to meet Chinggis Khan in Afghanistan on the Khan’s urging, ordered to bring Chinggis the secret to eternal life, as the Mongols had been told Qiu Chuji was 300 years old. Master Qiu Chuji told Chinggis that not only did he not have such power, but Chinggis should also abstain from hunting and sexual activity. Not surprisingly, Chinggis Khan did not take this advice, but he did grant the man extensive privileges, tax exempt status and authority over all Daoists in China. Importantly, Chinggis’ edict was directed personally at Qiu Chuji and his disciples, rather than Daoism as a whole. The value Qiu Chuji had to Chinggis was on his individual religious charisma and ability to intercede with the heavens on the Khan’s behalf, as well as his many followers who could be induced to accept Mongol rule. In Chinggis’ view, the fact that Qiu Chuji was a Daoist leader did not entitle him to privileges. Neither did the Mongols initially differentiate between Buddhism and Daoism. In part due to the vaguely worded nature of Chinggis’ edicts, Qiu Chuji’s Daoist followers used these decrees to exert authority over Buddhists as well, seizing Buddhist temples and forcing Buddhist monks to become Daoists, beginning a Buddhist-Daoist conflict that lasted the rest of the 13th century.
The point of these anecdotes is to demonstrate that the conquests did not begin with a specific policy of general religious tolerance or support for local religious institutions. Governmental support and privilege was provided on an ad hoc basis, especially when a group or individual was seen as influential with the almighty. Toleration itself was also advertised as a tool; in the Qara-Khitai Empire, in what is now eastern Kazakhstan and northwestern China, an enemy of Chinggis Khan, prince Kuchlug of the Naiman tribe, had fled to Qara-Khitai and eventually usurped power. Originally an Eastern Christian, that is a Nestorian, in Qara-Khitai Kuchlug converted to a violent strang of Buddhism and began to force the Muslim clerics, particularly in the Tarim Basin, to convert to Chrisitanity or Buddhism on pain of death. When Chinggis Khan’s forces under Jebe Noyan arrived in 1217 pursuing the prince, they recognized the general resentment against Kuchlug and, in order to undermine his support, declared that anyone who submitted to the Mongols would be free to practice their religion. The announcement worked well, as the empire was quickly and successfully turned over to the Mongols, and the renegade prince Kuchlug cornered and killed. Notably, this announcement did not come with statements of privileges or tax exemptions at large for the Islamic religious leaders. It was a decree spread to deliberately encourage the dissolution of the Qara-Khitai and ease the Mongol conquest- in this region, it was a comparatively peaceful conquest, by Mongol standards. But it was not coming from any specific high-mindedness for the treatment of religion, but an intention to expand into this territory and defeat the fleeing Kuchlug.
By the reign of Chinggis’ son Ogedai in the early 1230s, the Mongol stance towards religions became more solidified. A major advancement, on the insistence of advisers like the Buddhist Khitan scholar Yelu Chucai, was that privileges were to be granted on religious communities and institutions rather than based on individual charisma, which made them easier to regulate and manage. Chucai also impressed upon the Mongols that Buddhism and Daoism were distinct beliefs, though the Mongols seem to have often continually erroneously thought both creeds worshipped a supreme deity a la Christianity and Islam. Buddhist and Daoism became, alongside Christianity and Islam, the four main “foreign religions” which the Mongols would issue edicts regarding privileges. It was not an evenly applied thing. With Islam, for instance, it can be said the Mongols often had the greatest difficulties. For one thing, the rapid annihilation of the Khwarezmian empire, the world’s single most powerful islamic state at the time, resulted in the deaths of perhaps millions of Muslims as well as the belief that the Mongols were a punishment sent by God- a belief the Mongols encouraged. The reduction of Islam from “the state religion” to “just another religion of the Khan’s subjects,” was a difficult one for many an imam and qadi to accept. For a universalist religion like Islam, subjugation to a pagan entity was a difficult pill to swallow, and the destruction of cities, mosques, agriculture and vast swathes of the population would not have been eased by statements of how tolerant the Mongols supposedly were.
Further, it is apparent that the Mongols' rule for the first decade or two of their interaction with the Islamic world was not tolerant. Part of this comes to an inherent conflict between the sharia law of Islam, and the yassa of Chinggis Khan. The yassa and yosun of Chinggis Khan were his laws and customs set out to provide a framework for Mongol life, which regulated interactions for the state, individuals, the environment, the spirits and the heavenly. As a part of this, it was decreed that animals had to be slaughtered in the Mongolian fashion; the animal usually knocked unconscious, turned onto its back, an incision made in the chest and its heart crushed. The intention was to prevent the spilling of the animals’ blood needlessly upon the earth, which could beget misfortune. Contravening this was forbidden and punishable by death. The problem was that this is inherently conflicting with halal and kosher slaughter, which entailed slitting the throat and draining the blood. At various times over the thirteenth century, this was used as an excuse to punish and lead reprisals against Muslims. A number of Persian language sources assert that Ogedai Khaan’s brother Chagatai was a harsh enforcer of the yassa on the empire’s Muslim population. In the 1250s ‘Ala al-Din Juvaini asserted that Muslims in Central Asia were unable to make any halal killings due to Chagatai, and were forced to eat carrion from the side of the road. The Khwarezmian refugee Juzjani meanwhile said Chagatai planned a genocide of the Muslims. While these sources like to depict Chagatai as a foil to Ogedai’s more ‘friendly to islam’ image, it remains clear that for many Muslims, it was felt that the Mongol government had a particular hatred for them. But Chagatai was not the only one to enforce this. Ogedai himself briefly sought to enforce this rule, and the famous Khubilai Khan grew increasingly unfriendly to religion in his old age, and in the 1280s launched anti-muslim policies, banning halal slaughter and circumcision on pain of death. The incident which apparently set him off was a refusal of Muslim merchants in Khubilai’s court to eat meat prepared in the Mongolian manner, though it may also have been an attempt to appease some of the Chinese elite by appearing to reduce Islamic and Central Asian influence in his government, particularly after the assassination of Khubilai’s corrupt finance minister Ahmad Fanakati.
Even Daoism, favoured early by the Mongols thanks to the meeting of Qiu Chuji and Chinggis Khan, suffered stiff reprisals from the Mongol government. As the conflict between the Daoists and Buddhists escalated, in the 1250s on the behest of his brother Mongke Khaan, prince Khubilai headed a debate between representatives of the two orders. Khubilai, inclined to Buddhism on the influence of his wife and personal conversion, chose the Buddhists as the winners. Declaring a number of Daoist texts forgeries, Khubilai ordered many to be destroyed and banned from circulation, while also reducing their privileges. This failed to abate the tensions, and in the 1280s an older, less patient Khubilai responded with the destruction of all but one Daoist text, Lau Zi’s Daodejing, and with murder, mutilation and exile for the offending Daoists.
Privileges only extended to religions the Mongols saw as useful, or offered evidence that they had support from heaven. Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Manicheism and Hinduism were usually totally ignored by the Mongols and did not receive the same privileges as the Christian, Buddhist, Daoist and Islamic clergy. Judaism may have received tax exemption status in the Ilkhanate for a brief period in the 1280s and 90s due to the influence of a Jewish vizier, Sa’d al-Dawla, while in the Yuan Dynasty it took until 1330 for Judaism to earn such a status. As these religions lacked states which interacted with the Mongols, the Mongols saw these religions as having no power from heaven, and were therefore useless to them. Without any political clout, and of small representation within the Empire, these groups largely escaped the notice of the Khans.
The Mongols were also not above ordering the annihilation of a religion or religious groups when they defied them. The most well known case was a Shi’ite sect, the Nizari Ismailis, better known as the Assassins. Due to their resistance against the Mongol advance, the sect was singled out for destruction not just politically, but religiously, as Mongke Khaan had become convinced of this necessity by his more orthodox Islamic advisers. This task fell to his brother Hulegu, who enacted his brother’s will thoroughly. Soon after the destruction of the Ismaili fortresses, which was lauded by Hulegu’s Sunni Muslim biographer ‘Ala al-Din Juvaini, Hulegu famously sacked Baghdad and killed the Caliph in 1258. Juvaini’s chronicle, perhaps coincidentally, cuts off just before the siege of Baghdad. This attack on Baghdad was not religiously motivated; the Caliph had refused to accept Mongol authority. As a seemingly powerful head of a religion, his independence could not be abided. It was not a specifically anti-Islamic sentiment here, but a political one. Had the Mongols marched on Rome and the Pope also refused their mandate, such a fate would have awaited him as well. The presence of Christians in Hulegu’s army, many from the Kingdom of Georgia and Cilician Armenia who partook with great enthusiasm in the slaughter of Muslims on Hulegu’s request at Baghdad and in his campaign into Syria, as well as the fact that Hulegu’s mother and chief wife were Chrisitans, would not have been lost on many Muslims, as well as the fact that Hulegu himself was a Buddhist. Hulegu after the conquest of Baghdad ordered its rebuilding, but placed a Shi’ite Muslim in charge of this task and sponsored the restoration of Christian churches and monasteries, and other minority religions in his majority sunni-islam territories.
When the Mongols did convert to the local religions, they were not above carrying out with zeal assaults on other religious communities in their empire. Such was the case for Khans like Ozbeg in the Golden Horde or Ghazan in the Ilkhanate, who converted to Islam and struck against Christian, Buddhist and shamanic elements in their realms. These were as a rule very brief rounds of zealousness, as the economic usage of these groups and the uneven conversion of their followers to Islam made it politically and economically more useful to abandon these measures.
This is not to say of course, that there is no basis for the idea of Mongol religious tolerance, especially when compared to some contemporary states: just that when the favours, privileges and state support were granted, they were usually done to the four main religious groups the Mongols designated: again, Muslims, Christians, Daoists and Buddhists. So entrenched did these groups become as the “favoured religions” that in the Yuan Dynasty by the 14th century it was believed these four groups had been singled out by Chinggis Khan for their favours. This is despite the fact that Chinggis Khan had no recorded interactions with any Christian holymen.
But not idly should we dismiss the notion of there being a certain level of religious toleration among the Mongols. Not without reason was Ogedai Khaan portrayed as friendly in many Islamic sources, and he regularly gave the most powerful positions in the administration of North China to Muslims. European travellers among the Mongols, such as John De Plano Carpini, Marco Polo and Simon of St. Quentin, along with Persian bureaucrats like ‘Ala al-Din Juvaini and the Syriac Churchman Bar Hebraeus, generally reported Mongol indifference to what religions were practiced by their subjects, as long as said subjects accepted Mongol command. Sorqaqtani Beki, the mother of Mongke and Khubilai, was a Nestorian Christian famous for patronizing and supporting mosques and madrassas. Mongke Khaan held feasts to mark the end of Ramadan where he would distribute alms and at least one such feast held in Qaraqorum, listened to a qadi deliver a sermon. He show respect to his Muslim cousin Berke, and for him had halal meat at one imperial banquet. If the yassa of Chinggis Khan was upheld thoroughly, then the Khans and all princes present would have been executed. In the four level racial hierarchy Khubilai Khan instituted in China, Muslims and Central Asians were second only to Mongols and nomads, and ranked above all Chinese peoples.
Religious men visiting the Khans usually left with the belief that the Khan was about to convert to their religion, so favourably had they been received. Khubilai Khan asked Marco Polo’s father and uncle to bring him back 100 Catholic priests and holy oil from Jerusalem, and likely sent the Nestorian Rabban bar Sauma to Jerusalem for similar purposes. Marco Polo then goes on to present Khubilai as a good Christian monarch in all but name. Qaraqorum, the Mongol imperial capital, held Daoist and Buddhist temples across the street from Mosques and Churches. In Khubilai’s capital of Dadu and the Ilkhanid capital of Sultaniyya were Catholic archbishoprics by the early 14th century. So there certainly was a level of toleration within the Mongol Empire that contemporaries, with wonder or frustration, could remark truthfully that it was quite different from their own homelands.
Such religious syncretism survived well into the century, when claimants to the fragmenting successor Khanates in western Asia, in order to define their legitimacy amongst the largely converted Mongol armies and stand out amongst the many Chinggisids, latched onto Islamic identities. Eager to prove their sincerity, they pushed back violently against even traditional Mongol shamanism. Despite it’s early difficulties, in the end Islam largely won amongst the Mongols of the western half of the empire and their descendants, overcoming the brief revitalization Nestorian Christianity and Buddhism had enjoyed thanks to Mongol patronage. Such was the final outcome of the Mongols’ religious toleration
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.
It was this Khudhābandah who embraced Islam [...] when he died, there succeeded to the kingdom his son Abū Sa’īd Bahādur Khān. He was an excellent and a generous king. He became king while of tender age, and when I saw him in Baghdād he was still a youth, the most beautiful of God’s creatures in features, and without any growth on his cheeks. His vizier at that time was the amīr Ghiyāth al-Dīn Muḥammad, son of Khwāja Rashīd; his father was one of the migrant Jews, and had been appointed vizier by the sultan Muḥammad Khudhābandah, the father of Abū Sa’īd. I saw both [the sultan and his vizier] one day on the Tigris in a launch [...]; in front of him was Dimashq Khwāja, son of the amīr [Choban], who held the mastery over Abū Sa’īd, and to the right and left of him were [...] musicians and dancers. I was witness to one of his acts of generosity on the same day; he was accosted by a company of blind men, who complained to him of their miserable state, and he ordered each one of them to be given a garment, a slave to elad him, and a regular allowance for his maintenance.
So the great Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta describes Abu Sa’id in the early 1330s, the final ruler of the Ilkhanate to preside over the united ulus, and to hold any authority. Succeeding his father Oljeitu as a 12 year old boy in July 1317, Abu Sa’id spent his first years on the Ilkhanid throne in the shadow of the great emir, the Noyan Choban. Today, we take you through the life and reign of Abu Sa’id, the last of the Khan in the line of Hulegu, grandson of Chinggis and conqueror of Baghdad. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
Abu Sa’id’s early life was spent under the control of Choban. Unlike his contemporary, El-Temur, the Yuan Dynasty chancellor who left the boy-khan Toghon Temur a mistreated and ignored puppet who feared for his life; Choban protected the young Abu Sa’id and ensured he had a proper Islamic education, teaching him to read, write and speak Persian and Arabic, while also versing him in the history and genealogies of the house of Chinggis Khan and the noyans. In the opinion of the great historian of the Ilkhanate, Charles Melville, Choban viewed himself as a servant of the state, a man who combined pride in service to the Chinggisids while observing sharia law. He was, granted, an exceptionally powerful servant. But his Khan, Oljeitu, had put Abu Sa’id in the care of Choban, and Choban was going to provide for the young lad. Needless to say, almost all decrees of the early reign of Abu Sa’id, if not all of them, first had to pass the approval of Choban, if they did not come from his mind originally. A military man, Choban was not always aware of, or cared for, court protocols both in the Ilkhanate or those it engaged in diplomacy with. Yet he was still a pragmatist, who recognized the strengths and weaknesses of the khanate he now oversaw.
Initially, Abu Sa’id Il-Khan and Choban had kept Rashid al-Din and Taj al-Din ‘Ali-Shah in place as Ilkhanid viziers. Rashid al-Din had of course served since the last years of Ghazan’s reign, and ‘Ali-Shah had been appointed to the position in 1312 by Oljeitu. Neither man much liked the other, and ‘Ali-Shah saw the new khan as an opportunity to oust Rashid. Only two months after Abu Sa’id’s enthronement, ‘Ali-Shah’s whispers succeeded in getting the young Khan to dismiss Rashid al-Din from service. Rashid’s retirement did not last long, as Choban swiftly recalled him, telling Rashid that his service to the state was as necessary as salt to food. Choban seemed to genuinely recognize Rashid al-Din’s talents and wanted to keep him on, but had not counted on Taj al-Din ‘Ali Shah conspiring with Rashid al-Din’s enemies, who loathed him for his wealth, success and still doubted the authenticity of his conversion to Islam. Rashid al-Din, of course, had been born and raised in a Jewish family. While he had converted to Islam over four decades prior, his Jewish heritage was reason enough for some to despise him.
Rashid’s rivals, aided with money and whispers, raised new charges: that Rashid al-Din’s son Ibrahim had poisoned Oljeitu Il-Khan on Rashid’s orders. As Rashid al-Din had been Oljeitu’s physician during his final illness, it was a damning charge. Choban, never one skilled in the subtleties and conspiring of government, either believed the rumours or was paid off by ‘Ali-Shah. He informed Abu Sa’id of the accusation, and various bribed commanders affirmed the veracity. It was a tough trial, and Rashid al-Din fought vigorously. But Abu Sa’id wanted revenge for his father. In July 1318, Rashid al-Din watched helplessly as his son Ibrahim was decapitated before him. As the executioner's blade came for him, he yelled his final defiance: “say to ‘Ali Shah, “You have had me killed for no crime. It will not be long before fate will requite you of me, and the only difference between us will be that my grave will be older than yours.” Rashid al-Din was then cut in half at the waist and his head paraded around Tabriz while people chanted “this is the head of the Jew who abused the name of God; may God’s curse be upon him!” His quarter built outside the city, the Rab-e Rashidi was looted and burned. So ended the long career of Rashid al-Din Hamadani, vizier and historian, the author of our much relied on Compendium of Chronicles. Taj al-Din ‘Ali-Shah only outlived Rashid by six years, though he would be the only Ilkhanid vizier for sure known to have died a natural death.
Following Rashid’s death, a more pressing crisis struck the Ilkhanate. The pax Mongolica achieved in 1305 finally unraveled violently in 1318 and 1319. A Chagatai prince in Ilkhanid service revolted and requested aid from his kinsmen in Central Asia, threatening an invasion from the east, while in the north an army under the new Khan of the Golden Horde, Ozbeg, raced over the Caucasus. It was narrowly fought. Husain Noyan was sent to crush the Chagatai uprising, while the young Abu Sa’id, always one to heedlessly dismiss risks, marched to face mighty Ozbeg. Defeated in the first battle, only the timely reinforcement by Choban Noyan saved Abu Sa’id and forced Ozbeg to retreat at the Kur River. The Chagatai and Jochid threat did not dissipate though. Both khanates invaded again over the 1320s, though repeatedly it was Choban’s family who proved decisive in repelling them. Ozbeg’s second invasion was defeated by Choban around 1325, and in 1326 an attack by the future Chagatai Khan Tarmashirin was overcome by Choban’s oldest son, Hasan.
While these external foes were faced, internal rebellion also rocked the khanate. Commanders who fled before Ozbeg were severely punished by Choban, and in response they plotted to overthrow Abu Sa’id and replace him for his uncle, Irenjin. The plot was discovered, and Abu Sa’id once more led the army. This time victory was gained: despite even Irinjin’s wife, a Chinggisid warrior princess named Konchek, fighting for him on the battlefield, they could not overcome the Il-Khan. Konchek was so notable for her courage, at least, that according to the Persian writer Mustawfi in his Zafarnama, the Mongols recognized Konchek’s bravery on the battlefield by posthumously giving her a man’s name, Ahmad. She was not the only one recognized for courage in the revolt. The young khan himself showed great bravery in battle, riding into the thick of danger. For this he earned the sobriquet Baatar, “hero, brave, valiant.” Hence, you will often see his name as Abu Sa’d Bahadur Khan, by which he liked to style himself for the rest of his life.
Despite their victories Choban was very aware of how stressed Ilkhanid resources were. In addition to natural disasters destabilizing things, the vast fronts they needed to protect against Ozbeg, the Chagatais, the Neguderis and internal rebellions left no extra troops for the frontier with the Mamluks. Having taken part in Ghazan and Oljeitu’s campaigns into Syria, Choban was under no illusion of the difficulty in operating there and dealing with the Mamluks in open battle. Not only that, in 1321 Choban’s own son Temurtash, the governor of Anatolia since 1316, had revolted and declared himself an independent monarch. Not just a steppe khan, mind you, but as the Islamic messiah who heralded the end of days, the mahdi. He had been in touch with the Mamluks for some time, upon his revolt Temurtash requested they provide him with an army to defend his frontiers. The Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad, for his part, did not provide one. It was a great embarrassment for Choban, who dragged his son kicking and screaming back to the Ilkhanate in 1324. Even when not physically fighting, the Mamluks' potential to support rebellion, especially among the constantly seditious Anatolian governors, meant they were an intrinsic threat to order within the khanate. To protect the khanate, Choban needed an end to the fighting with the Mamluks, and he knew it could not be won through an invasion.
Once Choban successfully convinced Abu Sa’id to the wisdom of the preposition, in 1321 a secret embassy reached Cairo to speak to Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad: it brought word of peace, an end to the 60 years of war the Mamluks and Ilkhans had fought. The 1321 embassy is the first recorded attempt, though feelers may have been secretly sent in either direction in the previous years. Al-Nasir Muhammad was immediately struck by the idea. Never had he been an effective military leader, and he still recalled with dread his defeat at Ghazan’s hands two decades prior. It helped that the Ilkhanid message bore no demands of submission or tribute; only fine gifts, and words of friendship between two equal states. Though there were conditions, such as asking al-Nasir to stop sending assassins after Mamluk defectors in the Ilkhanate like Qara-Sunqor and to end raiding each other’s borders, there was not even a hint of the ideology of Chinggisid world domination which had previously permeated all diplomacy between the two. Indeed, this has led some historians like Reuven Amitai to suggest Abu Sa’id abandoned the idea of Chinggisid global hegemony, though he maintained respect for his lineage and ancestry. We may suspect it was simply a recognition of the reality of the situation on the part of Abu Sa’id and Choban.
Thus by 1322, the Mamluk Sultanate and Ilkhanate were at peace. Embassies went back and forth at regular intervals for the rest of Abu Sa’id’s life. Generally, they went well; the Mamluk ambassador to Abu Sa’id’s court was a man named Aytamish, of Mongolian heritage who knew the language and genealogies, as well as being a man of fine Islamic piety. He was absolutely adored by Abu Sa’id. The Il-Khan soon made a surprising suggestion: a marriage alliance linking their houses and solidifying the new order. Now, this was not itself uncommon. It was a regular Mongol ploy to tighten control over vassals with marriages, though a marriage alliance with a non-submitted state was a slightly different matter. Al-Nasir Muhammad himself had already married a princess from the Golden Horde, Tulunbey, in 1320 though it ended in divorce and was a rather embassasing matter all around, as the always paranoid al-Nasir had accused her of not actually being a Chinggisid. What al-Nasir wanted was to marry a Chinggisid princess of absolutely certain lineage in order to elevate his own dynasty. The Ilkhanid response did not fill him with much hope. They wanted a Mamluk princess to marry Abu Sa’id or one of Choban’s sons, with the hint being that they preferred the latter. The implication, as far as al-Nasir believed, was clear. The Il-Khan and Choban, despite the peace, did not think al-Nasir as a Qipchaq Mamluk was worthy to marry a Chinggisid. Al-Nasir’s reaction was, rather typical of himself, somewhat petulant. He made the bride price too high: demanding the city of Diyar Bakir, and for his own name to be read out in sermons in the Ilkhanate before Abu Sa’id’s. He always managed to insist that none of his daughters were of marriageable age. This is despite these talks going on over the entire 1320s, when al-Nasir married off a number of his daughters throughout the decade. No marriage would ever materialize between al-Nasir and the Ilkhanid dynasty.
Though fighting came to an end, there was another space in which Abu Sa’id could challenge al-Nasir Muhammad: the religious one. Both Choban and Abu Sa’id were staunch Sunni Muslims, and wanted to press their claims as the heads of a good Muslim empire. One of the best ways to do this was charitable works and patronizing pilgrimages to the two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina. The problem was the Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad considered himself the Guardian of the two Holy Cities, and as an always suspicious man, any effort the Il-Khan undertook in that region looked like an attempt to undermine him. His most direct challenge to al-Nasir came in 1319. That year he had sent a fine new set of kiswa, or black curtains, to be placed on the Kaaba, the square structure at the centre of Mecca which serves as the holiest place in Islam. Placing new curtains on the Kaaba was one of the symbols of sovereignty as the chief Muslim monarch, and was perhaps Abu Sa’id’s most overt effort to challenge al-Nasir. For his part, al-Nasir ensured the pilgrim caravan he sponsored entered before Abu Sa’id’s, and prevented the curtains the Il-Khan sent from ever being used. Though Abu Sa’id did not try to so directly challenge al-Nasir’s hegemony there again, the Il-Khan and Choban continued to throw out suggestions and sponsor projects in the region. At one point Abu Sa’id proposed going on hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca himself. Choban meanwhile spent considerable sums to restore a much needed well outside Mecca for pilgrims, and also had a large public bath, school and tomb for himself built in Medina beside the mosque of the Prophet. Whenever news of their efforts came to al-Nasir, he would promptly panic and explode in anger. Personally going on hajj three times, he threw piles of money at the Holy Cities in an effort to remind everyone that he was the greater Muslim and their protector. After their peace in 1322, Abu Sa’id largely accepted al-Nasir’s superiority in religion and stewardship over Mecca and Medina, though on occasion surprised the Mamluk Sultan. In 1330 Abu Sa’id sent an elephant, with no immediate explanation, on the pilgrimage. It succeeded in doing little but confusing the locals and costing an inordinate amount of money to feed before dying near Medina. The most effective show of the power of the Chinggisid monarch, it was not.
Another embarrassing matter soon surfaced. In a rather poor judgement of character, or perhaps on Choban’s urging, Abu Sa’id pardoned and reinstated Choban’s son Temurtash, who only in 1321 had declared himself an independent sovereign. The arrogance Temurtash had once he was secure back in Anatolia annoyed Abu Sa’id, as did the haughtiness of another of Choban’s sons, Dimashq Khwaja. As viceroy over Azerbaijan, Iraq and Iraq-i ‘ajam, Dimashq wielded extraordinary power, as if he were vizier. Worse still, according to Ibn Battuta, Dimashq had taken it upon himself to sleep with as many wives of the late Oljeitu Il-Khan as possible. One of these women, Dunya Khatun, urged Abu Sa’id to act before she too fell victim to him. Choban had provided his sons and followers valuable positions across the Ilkhanate, and the children walked around as if they were as mighty as Chinggisids. Their father continued to ignore complaints raised against them, as long as they did not declare open defiance of the Khan as Temurtash had done. As Abu Sa’id grew to manhood, he grew more and more impatient of the influence of the Chobani, which he increasingly felt was at his expense. His anger at Dimashq and the other sons of Choban were fanned by his vizer, Rukn al-Din Sa’in. A former protege of Choban, now he plotted against him, and convinced Abu Sa’id that he now ruled as khan in name only.
The sentiment is echoed by Ibn Battuta, who wrote that “when the Sultan Abu Sa’id succeeded, being a young boy [...] the chief of the amirs, [Choban], gained control over him and deprived him of all powers of administration, so that nothing of sovereignty remained in his hands but the name. It is related that on the occasion of one of the festivals Abu Sa’id needed ready money to meet some expenses, but having no means of procuring it he sent for one of the merchants, who gave him what money he wished.” Entering adulthood and fed on stories of his mighty ancestors, Abu Sa’id chafed under the constraints placed on him by Choban.
The tipping point came when Abu Sa’id set eyes on one of Choban’s daughters, the beautiful Baghdad Khatun. A proud woman who held her eye and apparently liked to carry around a sword, Abu Sa’id was instantly in love. This itself was not a problem; Choban himself had married two of Abu Sa’id’s sisters, the latest, Sati Beg, as recently as 1319. No, the problem was that Baghdad Khatun was already married to one of the most prominent noyans in the kingdom, Shaykh Hasan-i Buzurg of the Jalayir. Late in the summer of 1325, Abu Sa’id alerted Choban of his interests in his daughter. Choban was aghast; as a good Muslim, he would not allow his daughter to be led into adultery, even for the Il-Khan, and forbid the divorce. Attempting to discourage Abu Sa’id’s efforts, Choban quickly tried to move Baghdad Khatun and her husband out of the Khan’s sight. His plan was flummoxed when news came in 1326 of an attack by the Chagatai prince, the future Khan Tarmashirin, on the Ilkhanate’s eastern territory. Choban and his eldest son Hasan rode out and successfully defeated Tarmashirin, but in their absence Abu Sa’id decided it was time to rid himself of the house of Choban once and for all.
Late in 1326, Abu Sa’id made his move. Choban’s son Dimashq Khwaja was captured and imprisoned in the citadel at Sultaniyya, where he was killed while trying to escape in summer 1327. Choban was furious, and turned back to avenge his son’s death. Abu Sa’id raised his own army and prepared to meet his former guardian. As their armies neared each other, Choban’s followers began to desert to the Il-Khan, and Choban was forced to flee. Mirroring the fall of Ghazan’s viceroy Nawruz some thirty years prior, Choban made his way to Herat, where in the winter of 1327 he was strangled to death. When Choban’s son in Anatolia, Temurtash, learned of his father’s death he once again declared his independence, and fled to the Mamluk Sultanate seeking military support. In 1328 he was killed when Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad suspected Temurtash of having designs on the Mamluk throne. Some of Choban’s other sons under the leadership of the eldest, Hasan, fled to the Golden Horde, where in time Ozbeg Khan had them killed. By the time the dust settled, Abu Sa’id had forced the divorce of Shaykh Hasan Jalayir and Baghdad Khatun, and married her himself. Abu Sa’id granted her the mercy of allowing Choban to be buried in his splendid tomb in Medina, though Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad had the final laugh over Choban. He denied Choban’s burial inside his tomb, forcing him to be buried in a cemetery outside the city, and sent Temurtash’s severed head to the Ilkhanid court.
By 1328 Abu Sa’id was finally the man in full control of the Ilkhanate. He once again brought up the marriage between his family and al-Nasir Muhammad. Despite his initial receptiveness, once again al-Nasir stalled and no progress was made. In practice, little government changed under Abu Sa’id’s sole rule. Restrictions against Christian were reimposed: the jizya had been permanently reinstituted, and in 1334 the order went out that Christians were supposed to bear tattoos to mark them out, in addition to signs sewn into their clothing to make them easy to distinguish. How far these were implemented remains unclear, as Abu Sa’id did not seem to interfere with the archbishopric at Sultaniyya founded in his reign. Abu Sa’id remained infatuated with Baghdad Khatun, whose influence over the Il-Khan grew. In this manner she was able to protect the remainder of her siblings and family, aided by the fact that Abu Sa’id showed a willingness to forgive. Baghdad Khatun’s former husband, Shaykh Hasan Jalayir, was accused of attempting to assassinate Abu Sa’id and imprisoned, before being pardoned and given a new position in Anatolia in 1333. Even the memory of Rashid al-Din, once accused of poisoning Abu Sa’id’s father Oljeitu, was rehabilitated, as Abu Sa’id made Rashid’s son Ghiyath al-Din his new vizier. Able to devote himself to artistic pursuits, Abu Sa’id in his spare time composed poetry in Arabic and Persian to al-Nasir Muhammad in Cairo, comparing and discussing Abu Sa’id’s ability.
So the early 1330s passed by relatively quietly in the Ilkhanate. Indeed, the reign of Abu Sa’id would be remembered as a Golden Age, the “Good ol’ days,” for writers of the succeeding generation. Ibn Battuta passed through the Ilkhanate for the first time in these years, and was amazed at the power and glory of the Il-Khan. Abu Sa’id’s only problem facing him was his lack of a male heir. The efforts of Ghazan had greatly pruned the house of Hulegu, and Abu Sa’id had no son or brother to succeed him, though not for lack of trying on his part. When Baghdad Khatun failed to produce an heir for him, it seems Abu Sa’id’s interest began to wane. In accounts such as Ibn Battuta’s, Abu Sa’id doted upon Baghdad Khatun until he saw Dilshad Khatun. She was Baghdad Khatun’s niece, the daughter of her late brother Dimashq who Abu Sa’id had so hated. He apparently found her even more beautiful than he had his current wife. Once the Il-Khan married the girl, he seemingly forgot about Baghdad Khatun. Ignored, her influence dwindling, Baghdad Khatun’s fury smoldered over the following months.
In the summer of 1335, word came to Abu Sa’id that Ozbeg Khan of the Golden Horde was planning another invasion on the Caucasus. Abu Sa’id called up his armies and advanced to defend his borders, but on the 30th of November, 1335, Abu Sa’id died en route in Azerbaijan, only thirty years old. According to Ibn Battuta, Abu Sa’id had been poisoned by the scorned Baghdad Khatun. With no child except for a pregnant Dilshad Khatun left behind, the Ilkhanate awas about to rip itself apart. Our next episodes deal with the disintegration of the Ilkhanate so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue producing 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.
Our last episode dealt with the reign of Ghazan Khan, ruler of the Mongol Ilkhanate from 1295 to 1304. A powerful Muslim monarch, Ghazan’s reign reinvigorated the Khanate, greatly advancing the already underway islamization of the region’s Mongol population. With his death, we enter the final phase of the Ilkhanate’s history. First, we will look at the reign of Ghazan’s brother and successor, Oljeitu Khudabandah, the penultimate ruler of the united Ilkhanate. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
When Ghazan Khan succumbed to his illness on the 17th of May, 1304, the always thorough Ghazan had been prepared. Leaving no male heirs behind and wishing to avoid having the realm descend into warfare, he had forced the military elite and princes to elect his younger brother Oljeitu as Khan. The 24 year old Oljeitu was duly enthroned that July, under the title of Sultan Ghiyath al-Din. The process was remarkably peaceful, with no resistance or massacres accompanying it- with the exception of Oljeitu preemptively having Prince Ala-Fireng, a son of the former Il-Khan Geikhatu, killed, for he had been seen as a potential rival. As far as Ilkhanid successions went, it was nearly as calm as you could hope for. Granted, Ghazan had killed most potential claimants during his own reign.
Oljeitu was a son of Arghun Il-Khan, born in 1280. He and Ghazan were of different mothers: Ghazan was born to one of Arghun’s concubines, whereas Oljeitu was born to Arghun’s third wife, a Kereit Nestorian Christian named Orug Khatun. If Oljeitu’s life could be remarked upon for one thing, even before he became Il-Khan, it was experimentation with religion, usually accompanied by a change of name. Firstly, it seems he was born and raised a Buddhist, much like Ghazan and their father Arghun. The name he was originally given is unclear: in some sources it was Oljeitu or Oljei Buqa, a Mongolian Buddhist name meaning “blessed.” Yet in others, he is confusingly called Kharbandah or Khudabandah. The two names confused even medieval sources. Khudabandah in Persian means “servant of God,” and it seems that Oljeitu often went by this name in his adult life. However, he was also called Kharbandah, which means “donkey driver,” or “servant of the donkey.” No one, medieval or modern, has provided a fully accepted explanation for why he bore such competing names. The Mongols had a custom for a child to be named after the first thing the mother saw after giving birth. Ibn Battuta, travelling through the Ilkhanate in the 1330s, reported that Oljeitu’s mother Orug Khatun had first seen a donkey driver. Yet, as none of her other children bore Persian names, it is confusing that she would not have given him the Mongolian equivalent, Qulanchi. Other sources have him first called Kharbandah, and then change it to Khudabandah upon his enthronement, while others have him take Oljeitu at that time, after the reigning Great Khan, Khubilai’s grandson Temur Oljeitu. Historian Timothy May suggests the kharbandah/khudabandah matter was a rude pun given to him by Sunni schoalars upon Oljeitu’s conversion to Shia Islam. Of course, this is not helped by the fact that the main biography of Oljeitu’s life, written by Qashani soon after the Il-Khan’s death, has him also called Temuder at some point in his youth too.
Regardless if Oljeitu had the name of Oljeitu or Khudabandah at birth, when he was around 10 years old he was given another name and religion: Nicholas, after Pope Nicholas IV. Arghun, during negotiations with said Pope, had Oljeitu baptised and given a Christian name, or rather it’s Mongolian form, Nikolya. The young Oljeitu did not stick with Christianity, as he returned to Buddhism in his teenage years. But this was not to be his final conversion, no sir. He soon joined his brother Ghazan in becoming a Muslim, when he took the name Muhammad. This was not enough for him: first he was an adherent to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, before choosing the school of Shafi’ism. Disgusted by infighting between these schools, some of the noyans who had less love for Islam convinced Oljeitu to “return to the Old ways.” This meant a brief return to Buddhism, possibly a dabble in traditional Mongol Tengriism, before in 1309 or 1310, settling onto Twelver Shi’a Islam. And if that wasn’t enough for you, some authors then have him return to Sunni Islam on his deathbed in 1316, though this may just be a posthumous effort by Sunni authors in the Ilkhanate to rehabilitate him.
So, for those of you who had trouble following that, his full name and title was Sultan Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad Khudabandah Oljeitu, and his religious path went Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, Buddhism, Sunni Islam in two different schools, Buddhism, Shi’a Islam and then a possible return to Sunni Islam. As Oljeitu is the most common name by which he is known, we’ll stick with that.
When Oljeitu became Khan of the Ilkhanate in 1304, he was in the midst of his Sunni Islam phase. Much of his initial years in power was spent following in the footsteps of his late brother, whose tomb he regularly visited for guidance and solace. He reaffirmed the viziers Rashid al-Din and Sa’d al-Siwaji in their posts, as well as Ghazan’s great commander Qutlughshah as the viceroy. Like Ghazan, Oljeitu initially called for the destruction of Christian churches and imposition of the jizya, the poll-tax Christians and Jews had to pay under Islamic law. Also like Ghazan, he quickly rescinded these measures, and by 1305 was writing letters to the Pope and Kings of England and France seeking to orchestrate a military alliance against the Mamluks. Unlike Ghazan, he was greeted soon after his enthronement with messengers from the Great Khan, his namesake Temur Oljeitu, from the Chagatai Khan Du’a and the Ogedeid Khan Chapar. They bore glad tidings: news of the Great Mongol Peace. Du’a and Chapar had already recognized Temur Oljeitu’s overlordship, and now Oljeitu Il-khan was invited to reaffirm the Ilkhante’s loyalty as well. He promptly agreed, as did the then reigning Khan of the Golden Horde, Toqta. By 1305 the pax Mongolica was properly established, and Oljeitu and his son, Abu Sa’id, born in 1305, sent tribute to Temur Oljeitu’s heirs for the remainder of their lives. Of course, the peace did not long last anywhere. Even before Oljeitu’s death in 1316, conflict resumed with the Chagatai Khanate, and when a new Khan came to the Golden Horde in 1313, Ozbeg, he immediately eyed the pastures of the Caucasus.
With his Mongol borders secured for the time being, Oljeitu could focus on other issues on his mind. One was the building of a new capital, Sultaniyya. Originally begun by his father Arghun, it had lain largely derelict since his death. Some 320 kilometres southeast of the current capital, Tabriz, Oljeitu restored and built upon the site in 1305, naming it Sultaniyya. Laying in excellent hunting grounds, the city became a home for the scholars and artists who Oljeitu richly patronized. It also housed his massive tomb complex, which still partially stands today; in fact, Oljeitu’s 49 metre tall tomb, the Dome of Sultaniyya, is one of the few structures remaining of the city, a monument to Oljeitu’s love of building. From 1318 onwards, it was also home to an archbishopric.
Sultaniyya sits in northwestern Iran, and its location may have been behind one of Oljeitu’s next moves, the conquest of the Iranian province of Gilan. This hard to access region lies on the southernmost coast of the Caspian Sea, a mountainous enclave of dense forest and humidity. Since the time of Chormaqun in the 1230s, Gilan had escaped the might of the Mongols, and Oljeitu decided to end its independence, and in May 1307, a four-pronged assault on Gilan was launched. Initial successes met with the submission of a number of local rulers, but were followed with the defeat and death of the great Noyan Qutlughshah in battle. Efforts to avenge Qutlughshah were unsuccessful, and a disappointed Oljeitu ordered a withdrawal, having failed to fully annex the region.
The campaign had one great consequence for the Ilkhanate. The death of Qutlughshah left open the route for the rise of another military leader, Choban. Having been high in the noyad since the accession of Geikhatu, Choban’s wealth and prestige had only increased. A staunch Muslim and firm supporter of Chinggisid rule, Choban Noyan, or the Emir Choban as he is often known, deftly filled the vacuum left by Qutlughshah’s death. We will return to him in a few minutes.
It was not long after the return from Gilan that Oljeitu experienced his crisis of faith with Sunni Islam. A judicial dispute over a marriage held before the court in 1308 or ‘09 between representatives of the two main Sunni schools of thought, Hanafi scholars and a Shafi qadi, devolved into mud-slinging between the representatives of the two schools. The Mongols of Oljeitu’s court were annoyed by the constant argumentation, and disgusted by the insults levied between the parties involved. The sources indicate that both parties looked the worse afterwards, and the Mongols' frustration with complicated Islamic thought and law is evident. This was compounded when lightning struck and killed some of Oljeitu comrades in his attendance. Worried that this was the displeasure of the almighty, some of Oljeitu’s noyans decided that this was a sign that the Mongols needed to return to their own faith. As a first step, it was suggested that Oljeitu should, in classic Turko-Mongolian custom, pass between two fires in order to purify himself, after the misfortune of the lightning strike. The Il-Khan attempted a brief flirtation with his pre-Islamic faiths, but found it either personally or politically untenable, for by then enough of the noyad was Muslim that going too far back could release a violent response.
The solution presented itself in the form of Shi’a Islam. Why Oljeitu chose the Shi’a branch of Islam varies widely in the sources, as various sufis, qadis or members of the military elite are credited with converting him. In one account he is touched by a visit to the shrine of ‘Ali in Najaf, while in another account he is convinced of the merits of Shi’a Islam when someone compared the succession to the Prophet Muhammad to the succession of a Chinggisid monarch. The first four caliphs recognized by Sunni Muslims, it was argued, was akin to having a non-Chinggisid succeed a Chinggisid. Regardless of whoever or whatever convinced him, around 1309 Oljeitu became a Twelver Shi’a Muslim, recognizing ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib as the rightful heir to the Prophet. Oljeitu like his late brother Ghazan adored ‘Ali and honoured his lineage. While not seeking to convert the population of the Ilkhanate en masse to the Shi’a faith, Oljeitu had the names of the twelve Shi’a imams on his coinage and the khutba, the Friday sermons, which prompted resistance in cities like Baghdad and Tabriz. If we believe Mamluk accounts, Oljeitu’s conversion led to rebellions across Iran.
Speaking of the Mamluks, Oljeitu’s next military action was directed against this old enemy. Ever since Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil’s assassination in 1293, the Mamluk Sultanate had been wrought with political intrigue and instability and a series of short lived usurpers. By 1312, al-Ashraf Khalil’s younger brother al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun had been enthroned three times, deposed once and abdicated once. On his third enthronement in 1310, the 25 year old al-Nasir had effectively spent his entire life a puppet thrown around between rivals, and had little military experience. He had been in nominal command during the humiliating defeat at Wadi al-Khaznadar against Ghazan in 1299. Initially on his own enthronement, Oljeitu had sent rather conciliatory messages to the Mamluks, nearly approaching a temporary ceasefire in tone. But Oljeitu was by no means opposed to an attack on the Mamluks: he simply needed time to recoup from the invasions of Ghazan’s final years, while holding out hope that the requested European aid would come to fruition. As he had indicated in his letters in 1305, the Mongol khanates were now at peace: why could the Europeans not see this was a prime time to attack, when the Il-Khan needn’t worry over his distant frontiers? But as the years passed with no responses and no signs of any forthcoming alliance, Oljeitu gave up hope on their assistance. Therefore, when another round of Mamluk defectors entered the Ilkhanate with news of Mamluk weakness with the reenthronement of the young al-Nasir Muhammad, Oljeitu must have thought it an auspicious time for an assault.
Unlike Ghazan’s campaign, Oljeitu’s was poorly planned. Launched late in 1312, the Mongols led a halfhearted siege of Rahbat al-Sham along the Euphrates River that December. There, it was not royal Mamluks who were levied against Oljeitu’s army, but desperate townsfolk who offered stiff resistance, inflicting heavy casualties on Oljeitu’s ill-provisioned force. By the time al-Nasir’s army had rallied and advanced, Oljeitu’s forces had already crossed back over the river into the Ilkhanate. Though neither side knew it, this abysmal showing was the final full-scale invasion the Mongols launched into Syria. Only minor border raids and diplomatic posturing would follow. Oljeitu continued to welcome and reward Mamluk defectors though, who he used to help build up the Ilkhanate’s own version of Mamluk slave soldiers, largely Mongol boys who had been sold into slavery and then later purchased by the Il-Khans. One of the Mamluk defectors, to Oljeitu’s glee, was a fellow named Qara-Sunqor, who had played a major role in the assassination of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad’s older brother and predeceassor al-Ashraf Khalil. The housing of Qara-Sunqor remained a sore point in Ilkhanid-Mamluk relations until the end of the 1320s.
Oljeitu was not finished with his military exercises, ordering an army to annex parts of Afghanistan in order to clamp down on the raids by the Negudaris. The Chagatai Khan Esen-Buqa not only saw the Negudaris as his subjects, but had feared the Yuan Dynasty and Ilkhanate were planning a two-pronged attack on his central kingdom. In an attempt to strike first, Esen-Buqa and his brother Kebek lead an invasion into Ilkhanid Khurasan in 1315, which despite early successes was called off when they learned that the Yuan Dynasty had actually invaded their eastern territory, as we saw previously in this podcast in episode 48, the second part on the Chagatai Khanate. Afterwards, Oljeitu placed his eight year old son, Abu Sa’id, as governor over Khurasan, the traditional position for Ilkhanid heirs. Oljeitu himself had held it for his brother Ghazan.
Ghazan had favoured the vizier, Rashid al-Din, and Oljeitu likewise continued to honour him. Soon after becoming Il-Khan Oljeitu instructed Rashid al-Din to expand his History of Ghazan, turning it into the great Compendium of Chronicles we know it as. In 1312, Oljeitu took the side of Rashid al-Din when he fell out with the other vizier, Sa’d al-Din Savaji. Corrupt and arrogant, he had made many enemies over his tenure, and once he lost the support of Rashid al-Din, Savaji was alone. When Rashid made his report to Oljeitu, which included charges of embezzlement, Oljeitu had Savaji tried and executed in February 1312. His replacement was Taj al-Din ‘Ali-Shah, a former jewel seller who turned out to have all of Savaji’s negative traits in spades. ‘Ali-Shah is usually remarked upon for two things, the first being that he would be the only Ilkhanid vizier known to have died of natural causes in his own bed, and the second being his role in the death of Rashid al-Din. Rashid and ‘Ali-Shah did not get along well, and their fighting led to Oljeitu dividing the Ilkhanate into two separate administrative zones to keep them apart.
Rashid al-Din’s standing with Oljeitu did not falter though, and he nursed Oljeitu when he fell ill in winter 1316. Suffering from severe stomach pain and intense diarrhea, Rashid’s attempt to help purge the illness by providing laxatives only weakened Oljeitu’s hold over his bowels. On the 17th of December 1316, Oljeitu Il-Khan died in Sultaniyya. He was only 36 years old. Like many Mongol princes, his alcoholism seems to have been the key factor in his premature death.
Oljeitu had been adamant that his son Abu Sa’id should succeed him, and luckily had picked a good man to help ensure it was achieved. Choban Noyan, who had only grown in influence over Oljeitu’s life and married the Il-Khan’s daughter, though as devout Sunni Muslim seems to have not cared for Oljeitu becoming a Shi’ite. Wealthy, powerful, influential and respected among the princes and military elite, Choban also had the strength to boss around whoever failed to listen in the first place. Thus in July of 1317, under Choban’s guidance, did Abu Sa’id peacefully succeed his father, without any accompanying assassinations. Oljeitu was the first Il-Khan to be directly succeeded by his son since Abaqa succeeded Hulegu back in 1265. Of course, as a 12 year old boy Abu Sa’id could not do much ruling, and Choban oversaw the actual runnings of government. Until he came of age, Choban protected the boy and ensured he received a proper Islamic education, while also being versed in Chinggisid history. Abu Sa’id was the only Il-Khan to have been a Muslim his entire life, and unlike Ghazan and Oljeitu would show no attachment to Shia Islam. In the meantime, Choban’s sons were placed in prominent positions around the empire, and if the Chobanid family happened to enrich themselves even further along the way while leaving Abu Sa’id out of power, then where were the consequences in that? Well, there may have been a few. To see those consequences, be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue producing 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.
Of all the rulers of the Ilkhanate, perhaps none matched the might or the glory of Ghazan. Of a prestigious lineage: son of Arghun Ilkhan, grandson of Abaqa Ilkhan, great-grandson of Hulegu Ilkhan, great-great-grandson of Tolui and great-great-great-grandson of Chinggis Khan, Ghazan ruled with the self-assured confidence of a proud Chinggisid, who at the same time was veiled in an Islamic legitimacy. For Ghazan, while not the first Muslim monarch of the Ilkhanate, was the one who permanently islamicized the khanate. The Ilkhanate after Ghazan was a very different entity from the time before him, and the course of this we will examine in today’s episode. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
Ghazan did not come to the throne peacefully. As we covered in our last episode on the Ilkhanate, since the reign of his father Arghun Ghazan had been the top commander on the Ilkhanate’s eastern border, defending against Chagatais, Neguderis and the rebelling general Nawruz. Though Ghazan was not happy with his uncle Geikhatu’s election as Il-Khan in 1291, he accepted it. Geikhatu was murdered in early 1295 and an invitation soon came to Ghazan for the throne, he happily accepted. But when a cousin, Baidu, was hurriedly elected by a group of rambunctious princes led by Taghachar Noyan, Ghazan was furious. The result was skirmishing and near full out civil war only narrowly averted. In the end, on the urging of his former foe Nawruz, Ghazan converted to Islam, rallied his forces and stole away Baidu’s supporters. On Ghazan’s order, Baidu was executed, and Ghazan was finally elected as Il-Khan in autumn 1295; taking the title of Sultan Mahmad, as well as padishah-i islam, Emperor of Islam.
Twenty-four years old when he stepped onto the throne, Ghazan was already an individual who had made himself known for his military ability and defence of the Ilkhanate’s eastern border. Having brought about the submission of the former rebel Nawruz Noyan, Ghazan had made Nawruz his number two man. A staunch and loyal supporter of Ghazan, especially once he had convinced the young prince to convert to Islam, Nawruz became Ghazan’s na’ib, viceroy, and acted a sword and shield for Ghazan… as long as Ghazan did as he wished. It seems that at the start of his reign, Ghazan struggled to control Nawruz, and on Nawruz’s urging, Ghazan’s first decree had been to order the destruction of Christian, Jewish and Buddhist places of worship in Islamic cities in the Ilkhanate, especially in Tabriz and Baghdad, the empire’s chief cities. While Ghazan, as a new convert to Islam, may have sought to establish his credentials as a good Muslim monarch, Nawruz seems to have been the more zealous of the two and behind this pogrom.
Once Ghazan reached Tabriz in October 1295 and was officially enthroned the following November, his first orders of business were to set out allotments, who would govern where, who was rewarded for their loyalty, and other enthronement celebrations. One of his bodyguard commanders, Mulai, was made the governor of Diyarbakir, and in a decidedly un-islamic ceremony, Ghazan married one of his father’s widows, Bulughan Khatun. Already it was clear that Ghazan’s conversion to Islam and lofty islamic titles had not replaced his Mongolian identity; while such a marriage, called levirate, was not just encouraged but expected among Mongols, particularly their monarchs, this sort of marriage was expressly forbidden in islam. Ghazan’s servants sought to justify it based on the fact that Ghazan’s father Arghun had not been a Muslim, and hence the marriage never truly legal. Whether this convinced anyone is debatable, but none could tell Ghazan “no.”
But in what was to be a common trend in Ghazan’s reign, punishment was also to be violently meted out once celebrations were done. Ghazan had seen the noyans who had proven themselves duplicitous over the previous reigns, jumping from candidate to candidate as fortunes change. Ghazan would have none of it. The noyan Qunchuqbal was put on trial and executed. Qunchuqbal’s comrade, Taghachar Noyan, who had betrayed every Il-Khan since Teguder Ahmad, was too powerful with too many friends to be so summarily executed, so he was instead “rewarded” with a cushy appointment in Anatolia, where he was quietly murdered. The murder of Taghachar angered one of his friends, the governor of Anatolia named Baltu Noyan. Baltu rebelled at the start of 1296, and Ghazan responded with a large army led by his loyal commander and brother-in-law, Qutlughshah Noyan. It took until the winter of 1296 for Qutlughshah’s forces to defeat and kill Baltu.
This was not the only plot Ghazan faced. In the winter of 1295 forces from the Chagatai Khanate attacked Khurasan and Mazandaran. Ghazan sent Nawruz Noyan and two princes, Sögä and Barula, to repulse them, but the princes soon began to plot against Ghazan. Once learning of their plots, Ghazan ordered Nawruz to turn back and kill them. Another Chinggisid prince, a descendant of Chinggis Khan’s brother Qasar named Arslan, also revolted and was quickly put down. By the end of 1296, Ghazan had faced rebellion from five imperial princes, who were all killed on his order. By the end of his reign, at least seven Chinggisid princes, 31 noyans and 10 high ranking Persian officials perished by the will of Ghazan. One of the most significant was the former vizier, Jamal al-Din Dastjirdani, who was executed in October 1296 on Ghazan’s order, after a trial which would ultimately bring down Nawruz as well.
Dastjirdani’s great rival was Sadr’ al-Din Zanjani, who has popped up repeatedly over our previous episodes, usually seeking the vizierate and generally causing trouble. Having been vizier under Geikhatu Il-Khan, he had lost the position under Geikhatu’s successor Baidu, who gave it to Zanjani’s rival Jamal al-Din Dastjirdani. During Ghazan’s final march on Baidu, Zanjani was one of the first to abandon Baidu for Ghazan, and was rewarded with the position of vizier. However, Ghazan found himself displeased with his viziers; Zanjani was removed after a few months, replaced with Sharaf al-Din Simnani, who was in turn replaced in September 1296 by Zanjani’s old foe, Dastjirdani. Dastjirdani was a close ally to Nawruz, and to reclaim the position of vizier Zanjani would need to take down both men. First, he whispered in Ghazan’s ear of Dastjirdani’s corruption, that he had been embezzling a huge quantity of funds from the treasury. Ghazan quickly had Dastjirdani put on trial and executed, after only a month as vizier.
Zanjani was given the position for the third time, and quickly looked to undermine Nawruz. His timing was good, as Nawruz’s standing with Ghazan had already fallen. Once Ghazan had sent Nawruz east to push the Chagatais out of Khurasan, Ghazan rescinded the most extreme prosecutions against Christians and Jews, who could reconstruct their churches and synagogues. In fact, Ghazan would punish Muslims who led assaults on Christian and Jewish buildings later in his reign. The same privilege was not extended to Buddhists, who permanently lost their standing in the Ilkhanate and Iran. They were given the choice of conversion, or of leaving the Ilkhanate. Once victory was achieved over the Chagatais, Nawruz returned to Tabriz to visit his very sick wife. As he journeyed west, some of the troops Nawruz left in Khurasan revolted, pillaged territory and joined the Chagatais.
Ghazan was furious, insulted Nawruz and ordered him back to his post. Nawruz cooly replied that he would, once he had visited his ill wife. Ghazan’s now poor disposition to Nawruz was taken advantage of by his new vizier, Zanjani. When a clerk in service of a Baghdadi merchant who travelled often to Mamluk Egypt was arrested in March 1297, Zanjani struck. Zanjani and his brother fabricated letters from Nawruz to the Mamluk Sultans, which depicted Nawruz as a man conspiring with them. Planting the letter into the clerk’s belongings, they watched and waited. When Ghazan personally interrogated the clerk, he swore his innocence and made no mention of the letters. But when Ghazan searched the man’s possessions and found the letter ascribed to Nawruz, he was apoplectic with rage. On the spot, Ghazan ordered the clerk beaten to death, then called for the deaths of Nawruz’s family and servants, then ordered Nawruz’s arrest. Nawruz fled upon learning of this, but was captured at Herat and turned over to Noyan Qutlughshah in August 1297, who had Nawruz cut in half. The late noyan’s severed head spent some years adorning one of Baghdad’s gates.
Nawruz’s downfall saw the stars of both Zanjani and Qutlughshah rise. In the meantime, Ghazan continued to advance his image as an almighty Muslim monarch, educating himself on Islamic laws and in 1297, donning a turban. He even experimented with bearing black banners as the ‘Abbasids once did, portraying himself as a sort of replacement ‘Abbasid Caliph, in part to challenge the puppet ‘Abbasid Caliphs the Mamluks kept in Cairo. Zanjani was finally confident in his position as vizier and wielded extreme power. But in the fashion of all Ikhanid viziers, his arrogance bred enemies. In March 1298, news came to Ghazan’s ears that Zanjani was stealing funds from the imperial treasury. Fearing for his life, Zanjani decided to shift the blame away from himself. He went before Ghazan and bravely made accusations against one of his deputies and friends, a physician in Ghazan’s keshig named Rashid al-Din. Ghazan saw through Zanjani’s effort to condemn Rashid, and put a stop to it, though Zanjani maintained his position. The vizier needed a new plot, and to deal with Rashid al-Din. When Qutlughshah Noyan returned from crushing a rebellion in Georgia, the Noyan argued with Zanjani over tribute from the kingdom. Fearing the powerful Qutlughshah’s wrath, Zanjani thought of himself a devilish plan to rid himself of both Qutlughshah and Rashid al-Din. He notified Ghazan that Qutlughshah had ruined the economy of Georgia. Ghazan was then mad at Qutlughshah, who openly wondered who had made the accusation to Ghazan. Zanjani told Qutlughshah that it had been Rashid al-Din, and Qutlughshah stormed off to question Rashid over the matter.
But Zanjani had not counted on one thing: the friendly relations between Qutlughshah and Rashid al-Din from their time in the keshig together. When Qutlughshah questioned Rashid as to why the physician had denounced him, Rashid convinced Qutlughshah of his innocence in the matter. Returning to Ghazan, they quickly deduced that it was the plotting of Zanjani turning them against each other. In April 1298, Zanjani was put on trial and given over to Qutlughshah for execution, who had Zanjani killed in the same manner as Nawruz; cut in half. So ended the third vizierate of Sadr’ al-Din Zanjani.
Following Zanjani’s bisection, Ghazan lifted two men into the position of vizier in 1298: Sa’d al-Siwaji and Rashid al-Din Hamadani. If the latter name is familiar, it is because Rashid al-Din has been a voice we have commonly consulted in our podcast. Indeed, we could say that Rashid al-Din is one of, if not the, most important single medieval author on the Mongols, for he is the author of the massive Compendium of Chronicles, which he began soon after Zanjani’s fall. First we should finally give mr. Rashid al-Din an introduction. He was born in the northwestern Iranian city of Hamadan around 1247 into a Jewish family. Like his father, Rashid was trained as a physician. As Hamadan was an important centre for Iranian Jews, featuring a Rabbinical college, and as evidenced from his knowledge of Jewish customs and Hebrew in the Compendium of Chronicles, we can say that Rashid was educated and raised in Jewish law. Yet for unclear reasons, he converted to Sunni Islam around the age of 30, perhaps in order to benefit his entrance into the majority Muslim bureacracy of the Ilkhanate. Most of his life between these broad strokes before the end of the thirteenth century is unknown. Perhaps as early as the reign of Abaqa Il-Khan did Rashid enter service of the Il-Khans in the role of a physician, and likely served Il-Khan Geikhatu as a steward and prepared his food. According to his own testament, during the failed effort to implement paper money in the midst of economic woes under Geikhatu, Rashid spent his own money to support the vizier’s office of Zanjani with food and cooks.
By the time of Zanjani’s final vizierate during Ghazan’s reign, Rashid al-Din appears as a trusted associated respected by Ghazan and Qutlughshah Noyan, though we know nothing of how this relationship came about beyond Rashid’s presence in the keshig, the imperial bodyguard, in which he had served as steward. Surprisingly little is known of Rashid al-Din’s activities before he became Sa’d al-Siwaji’s associate in the vizierate. Rashid al-Din was a highly educated man, well read in the Qur’an, poetry and the great Iranian national epic, the Shahnama of Firdausi, and was a man proud of Persian culture. A trained physician, he also showed interest in science, history and agriculture, all interests he pursued during his long reign at the top of the Mongol bureaucracy. Soon after reaching this lofty position, he was commissioned by Ghazan to begin a history of the Mongol Empire, from Chinggis Khan to Ghazan himself. This work was to be the beginning of the vast Jami’ al-Tawarikh, the Compendium of Chronicles, which under Ghazan’s successor Oljeitu was expanded to become a universal history covering Chinese, Turkish, Islamic, Indian and, to a lesser extent, Frankish history. Much of the central part of the Compendium of Chronicles is the Ghazanid Chronicle, his history of the Mongol Empire. Named for his patron, this is a history of the Mongol Empire relying on now lost sources, including a Mongolian source on Chinggis Khan’s life, the Authentic Chronicle of Chinggis Khan, also called the Veritable Record of Chinggis Khan. Though this source is no longer extant, it was used by Rashid al-Din and two of the most important surviving Chinese sources on Chinggis Khan, the Shengwu Qinzheng lu and the first chapter of the Yuan Shi. The compilers of the Secret History of the Mongols used the same sources the Authentic Chronicle did, and the authors of the Authentic Chronicle made use of the Secret History of the Mongols, which Rashid himself did not have access to. It was, you know, secret, after all.
Additionally, Rashid made use of earlier Arabic and Persian sources on the Mongols, such as ibn al-Athir, al-Nasawi and ‘Ala al-Din Juvaini’s History of the World Conqueror, who of course had been the older brother of Shams al-Din Juvaini, one of Rashid al-Din’s predecessors as Ilkhanid vizier. Further information in Rashid al-Din’s Compendium of Chronicles was collected from envoys from other Mongol khanates, a high ranking judge from the Yuan Dynasty named Bolod Chingsang, and apparently from Ghazan himself. Fittingly, Rashid al-Din’s history is the main source for Ghazan’s reign, to whom he devotes a very lengthy chapter, which concludes with forty stories illustrating Ghazan’s character and supreme ability. If we take Rashid’s account of Ghazan’s life at face value, then Ghazan was fluent in Mongolian, Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Kashmiri, Tibetan, Chinese and a “Frankish” language. As well, he was a master goldsmith, blacksmith, carpenter and painter who also loved history, medicine, astronomy and alchemy. A perfect Muslim monarch who loved and cared for his people, and refused to harm even a fly if it landed in his food. In Rashid al-Din’s account, the period before Ghazan is one of almost total anarchy, where inept khans more interested in hunting and feasting allowed their viziers and noyans to run the empire; in contrast, Ghazan took true interest in running the government, and under his guidance numerous reforms were launched to rejuvenate the struggling Ilkhanate. How much of this is true is hard to say; we know, for instance, that Ghazan had to rely on interpreters for dealing with Arabic speaking embassies from Damascus, and it seems doubtful the 30 year old Ghazan had found time to master so many industries during his military career. The fact that most of our Persian sources were written during or after Ghazan’s reign makes it hard to check many of Rashid’s statements on the earlier period. The glowing nature of Rashid’s descriptions of Ghazan is often humorous when compared to other contemporaries, such as the Armenian Het’um of Corycus, who describes Ghazan as exceptionally short and ugly.
Regardless, Rashid al-Din’s work is incredibly valuable, and few histories on the Mongol Empire will fail to make reference to it. While Rashid played up Ghazan’s glory, there can be no doubt that under Ghazan serious reforms were undertaken, though whether Ghazan was the inspiration for them, or they came from Rashid himself is unknown. A major effort was directed to reducing abuses of the empire’s agricultural base and farming population. From limiting the numbers of officials and clerks who took advantage of their gereg privileges to collect supplies from the yam routes, to stamping out bandity with more highway patrolmen and new laws. They also tried to prevent the Mongols from harassing the sedentary population. As the Mongols were not provided a salary, many had to support themselves by collecting what they needed through force from the Ilkhan’s subjects. Ghazan sought to solve this by granting lands to Mongol minghaans. The income from these allotted farms and villages would be used to support these Mongols, and stop their pillaging. These were accompanied by monetary reforms and new silver currency, bearing not Mongolian inscriptions but the shahada and Ghazan’s title of padishah-i islam. Measurements and weights throughout the Ilkhanate were ordered to be standardized largely based on what was used in Tabriz, in order to facilitate trade between regions. Canals and underground waterways were built to provide water for cities and irrigation. He also forbid the practice of enticing young women into prostitution.
Under Ghazan, the Ilkhanid treasury was reformed and refilled. The poorly managed treasury had before been subjected to theft from its own guards, and no accounts were made regarding what was contained within or spent. Ghazan and his vizers al-Siwaji and Rashid al-Din remedied this, with a more effective system under better protection. Evidently this was not mere rhetoric on Rashid al-Din’s part, as evidenced by Ghazan’s massive building projects and army mobilizations which indicate a substantial financial backing. At Tabriz, the Ilkhanid capital, Ghazan spent great sums improving the city. A new wall was built around it, along with entire new districts; one of these Ghazan made “New Tabriz,” and encouraged merchants and travellers to frequent it. Rashid al-Din was allotted funds to build himself an entire suburb in Tabriz, the famed Rab-e Rashidi. Here, Rashid al-Din oversaw a community of scholars, scientists and artists from across Iran to as far away as China and Italy. It became a veritable factory that was, in time, tasked by Rashid in copying and reproducing the Compendium of Chronicles, both its text and artwork. Rashid al-Din hoped for his magnum opus to become a medieval bestseller, and dreamed of a copy in every city of the Ilkhanate.
Ghazan was not above a little indulgence in Tabriz, in the form of a massive tomb complex for himself. It was a massive construction that was supposed to be larger than even the mighty mausoleum of the Seljuq Sultan Sanjar. Unfortunately, little of these projects remain. Even Rashid al-Din’s suburb is now little more than a dusty mound outside of Tabriz today. The cause of this we will see in our next episode.
While these efforts were ongoing, Ghazan turned his eyes to military matters. Initially, these were defensive, as with the Chagatais, or crushing rebellions. After the end of Baltu’s revolt in Anatolia, one of the men left in charge of the peninsula, Sulemish, a grandson of Baiju Noyan, began to have his own designs on the region. In contact with the Mamluks, when thick snowfall in winter 1298 cut Anatolia off from the rest of the Ilkhanate, Sulemish revolted. Ghazan of course, would have none of this. When spring came in 1299, an army under Qutlughshah Noyan was sent to bring Sulemish to heel. When his army was defeated, Sulemish fled to the Mamluks, left his brother as a hostage with them and returned to Anatolia with an army. This too was quickly defeated, and Sulemish brought captive to Tabriz, where late in 1299 he was publicly, and very violently, executed.
The revolt, brief as it was, brought the Mamluks to Ghazan’s full attention. Their now shared religion was no cause for peace between them. Like Teguder Ahmad, Ghazan believed it should have made it easier for the Mamluks to submit to him, but their failure to respond to his declaration of his conversion in 1295 infuriated him. Ghazan had no love for them: intensely proud of his Chinggisid ancestry, to Ghazan the Mamluks - lowly slave soldiers who had become kings and were, even worse, Qipchaqs - were nothing but natural servants of the Mongols. Their submission, either through diplomacy or conquest was necessary and inevitable, and the fact they now shared a God did not change that. In March of 1299, defectors came to the Ilkhanate from the Mamluk Sultanate, and brought Ghazan up to speed on what had been happening in Cairo. The news pleased him. From the highs of the might of Baybars, Qalawun and al-Ashraf Khalil, the position of Sultan had become decidedly vulnerable. A young son of Qalawun, al-Nasir Muhammad, had been enthroned following al-Ashraf Khalil’s murder, but his regent, a man of Mongolian origin named, somewhat ironically, Kitbuqa, seized power. al-Nasir Muhammad was deposed and Kitbuqa became Sultan, only to be in turn pushed out by another Mamluk named Lajin. Lajin ruled for three years until his murder at the start of 1299, and the 14 year old al-Nasir Muhammad was recalled to resume the Sultanic title, though real power was in the hands of the emirs.
Thus, as Ghazan had stomped down on threats to his throne and strengthened his power by 1299, the Mamluk Sultanate was ruled over by a young boy with no power fought over between squabbling emirs. It was as perfect a time as any to complete the conquest started by Hulegu some 40 years prior. Ghazan, always with an eye to the message, found a perfect pretext for war when during Ramadan in summer 1299, a Mamluk raiding party raped women in a mosque in an Ilkhanid town. With this, Ghazan was able to get a fatwa declared, coming into Syria in the final weeks of 1299 not as a Mongol conqueror, but a jihadi warrior come to preserve the dignity of Muslims. The fact that he brought a significant body of Christian soldiers from Armenia and Georgia was not lost on his Mamluk critics, especially the famous Hanbali jurist ibn Taymiyyah.
In terms of execution, Ghazan’s 1299 campaign was brilliantly orchestrated. His timing was perfect, and he kept tight discipline over his troops to limit raiding on the population of Syria. On December 22nd, 1299, Ghazan met the army of al-Nasir Muhammad outside of Homs, where his great-uncle Mongke-Temur had been defeated in 1281. Unlike Mongke-Temur, Ghazan was a very experienced captain. He positioned his army at the nearby water source and forced the Mamluks to cross the desert to attack him. The young al-Nasir Muhammad could not overawe the infighting between the emirs, and Ghazan soundly outmaneuvered them. Known as the battle of Wadi al-Khaznadar, Ghazan inflicted a devastating defeat on the Mamluk army- the only major victory enjoyed by the Mongols in all their conflict with the Mamluks. The sultan fled all the way back to Egypt, his army routed, his baggage abandoned and looted by the Mongols. The news of the Mamluk defeat spread rapidly across the region, and Mamluk garrisons from Syria and Palestine melted away or ran to join the sultan in Cairo. In the last days of the thirteenth century, Ghazan took the submission of Damascus. Here, if we believe Rashid al-Din, he took the time to further humiliate the Mamluks. He is supposed to have asked the assembled Damascene delegation who his ancestors were. They explained that he was Ghazan, son of Arghun, son of Abaqa, son of Hulegu, son of Tolui, son of Chinggis Khan. And who, Ghazan asked, was al-Nasir Muhammad’s father? They answered that it was Sultan Qalawun. And who, Ghazan asked again, was Qalawun’s father? Those assembled could not answer, for Qalawun’s father was an unknown Qipchaq slave from the great steppe, from where Qalawun had been taken as a boy. Ghazan’s point had been to demonstrate his own exalted lineage, from the grandest of all conquerors, the family given command by heaven to conquer the world. In contrast, the Mamluks were slaves, nobodies, and without right to rule.
Whether or not Ghazan really had this interaction, it does play into the skillful propaganda he employed during the campaign. As Damascus he had letters read out in Arabic signalling that he would spare the population and denounced Mamluk rule. These letters are rich with Qor’anic references, and it would have felt they were now the subjects of a Muslim, rather than a Mongol. Not all were drawn in by Ghazan’s efforts. A Mamluk scholar in Damascus, ibn Taymiyyah, virulently decried Ghazan as a false Muslim served by a Jew, Rashid al-Din, and accused Ghazan of venerating Chinggis Khan as a prophet. Seeking to encourage resistance against Ghazan, Taymiyyah claimed to have rarely seen the Mongols pray, that they were ignorant of Islam or had Shi’a leanings. The latter is not entirely false; Ghazan had a deep affection for the Caliph ‘Ali and his family, the first legitimate caliph in the eyes of Shi’a Muslims, and like many Mongols was annoyed at infighting between Sunni schools.
Damascus was not put to the torch, and Mongol forces advanced down through Palestine. In some reports, they even entered Jerusalem itself. The path seemed open to Egypt. Yet, in February 1300 Ghazan suddenly turned back to the Ilkhanate, leaving a smaller force under Qutlughshah and the King of Cilicia Armenia, Het’um II, to briefly hold the region until they too retreated. By the start of the summer, the Mamluks had retaken their lost territory. Why Ghazan withdrew is unclear; the most common explanation is that he chose to avoid the summer heat, judging that he lacked the resources to supply an army all the way into Egypt once the summer sun beat down. Certainly, it was not because he lacked desire: in the autumn of 1300 he resumed the campaign, entering Syria again only for sudden extreme rainfall to turn the roads into deep mud that trapped men and horses. Unable to advance, he withdrew the army. Letters were sent to Europe following the first invasion seeking to organize an alliance, but brought, as usual, no actual results. He launched another invasion in spring 1303 under Qutlughshah Noyan, while Ghazan hung back. Qutlughshah suffered a great defeat against the Mamluks at Marj al-Suffar, for which Ghazan had him beaten with a rod upon his return. Yet another invasion was ordered in fall 1303, but was halted when Ghazan’s health took a downward turn.
Ghazan seems to have suffered from routine inflammation of the eyes, mentioned by Rashid al-Din for the first time in 1299. In September 1303, the inflammation returned and quickly became serious. Rashid mentions that Ghazan was cauterized in two places, though unclear where or why. The Il-Khan made a show of moving about on a platform built on the backs of two elephants, an effort to hide the fact he could barely walk and could no longer ride his horse due to the pain. In January 1304, his youngest wife Kärämün Khatun died, which became an emotional blow on top of his physical ailments. The vigorous monarch became depressed, the death of a wife making his own impending mortality seem all the greater. As the weather warmed he recovered some strength, and was able to ride and hunt again. Almost immediately, perhaps as a show of vitality or change of scenery, he set out for Rayy. The decision was foolhardly. On the road his symptoms returned and he lost his appetite. It became clear to all, especially himself, that he was dying. Retaining his mental faculties even as his body failed him, he summoned the noyans to him, and made them swear over and over again to confirm his brother Oljeitu as his successor. Perhaps only once he felt confident their oaths were genuine, did Ghazan allow himself to pass. On the 17th of May, 1304, Ghazan Il-Khan succumbed to his illness. He was 32 years old. His body was returned to Tabriz and entombed in his massive mausoleum, the first Il-Khan to abandon the secret burials of the Mongols. As per his wishes, his brother Oljeitu was enthroned as Khan of the Ilkhanate, setting off the final stage of the Khanate’s history. The reign of Oljeitu begins 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 producing 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.
The Mongols were known for unleashing a series of unrelenting horrors upon the Islamic world, from the catastrophic destruction of the Khwarezmian Empire under Chinggis Khan, to the sack of Baghdad under his grandson Hulegu, where the Caliph himself was killed on Mongol order. No shortage of Islamic authors over the thirteenth century remarked upon the Mongols as a deathblow to Islam, a punishment sent by God for their sins. Yet, many of the Mongols of the west end of the empire even before the end of the thirteenth century converted to Islam, and in time some of the heirs of Chinggis Khan held the sharia over the yassa. In today’s episode, we explore why so many Mongols chose to convert to Islam. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
The Mongolian interaction with Islam began in the twelfth century, as Muslim merchants came to Mongolia with expensive goods such as textiles or metal weapons and tools to exchange for furs and animals to sell in China or Central Asia. Some of these merchants took up valued roles among the up and coming Mongol chiefs; at least two Muslims, Hasan the Sartaq and Ja’far Khoja, were among the warlord Temujin’s close allies during his fabled escape to lake Baljuna, where they swore long lasting loyalty to him. Hasan’s arrival brought much need flocks of sheep to help feed Temujin’s starving men, while Ja’far Khoja was supposedly a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Ja’far served Temujin in valued roles for the rest of his life, acting as an embassy to the Jin Emperor and as daruqachi, or overseer, over the Jin capital of Zhongdu and its environs once the Mongols took it in 1215. When Temujin took the title of Chinggis Khan and began to expand the Mongol Empire, initially Muslims found little reason to lament the expansion of the Great Khan. Muslim merchants continued to serve in prominent roles, acting as emissaries and spies on behalf of Chinggis Khan, who rewarded them handsomely: gladly did Chinggis give them gifts and overpay for their wares in order to encourage them to make the difficult journey to Mongolia, as well as bring him useful information of Central Asia. One such Central Asian, Mahmud, served as Chinggis’ loyal envoy to the Khwarezm-Shah Muhammad. His actions earned him the title of Yalavach, becoming Mahmud the Messenger.
In the Tarim Basin in 1218, the local Muslim population had suffered oppression under the Naiman prince Kuchlug, who had usurped power in the Qara-Khitai Empire. When Chinggis Khan’s great general Jebe Noyan entered the region pursuing Kuchlug, he proclaimed that all those who willingly submitted would be free to worship as they chose. The region largely seems to have swiftly thrown out Kuchlug’s garrisons and officers and happily accepted Mongol rule, not as conquerors but liberators.
This, of course, was not the case for the next stage of Mongol expansion. The highly destructive campaign against the Kwarezmian Empire launched in 1219 resulted in the deaths of perhaps millions of people from what is now Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan through eastern Iran and Afghanistan, a predominatly Muslim region. There are no shortage of accounts of horrendous atrocities suffered throughout the former domains of the Khwarezm-shahs. Though most of what is now modern Iran submitted peacefully to the Mongol commander Chormaqun over the 1230s, with the arrival of Hulegu in the 1250s a new wave of massacres were unleashed, culminating in the infamous sack of Baghdad in 1258 and death of the ‘Abbasid Caliph, an immense blow the psyche of the ummah. At the end of the 1250s it seemed reasonable to anticipate that soon the whole of the remaining Muslim world would become the subject of the Grand Khan.
The initial period after the Mongol conquest was, for many Muslims, not easier. Statements by modern writers of Mongol religious toleration have been greatly over-exaggerated. While it is true that the Mongols in the early years of the Empire generally did not persecute on the basis of religion, the Mongols did persecute on the basis on specific beliefs that they felt ran contrary to steppe custom or the laws of Chinggis Khan, the great yassa. For example, for slaughtering animals the Mongols forbid the spilling of blood. This differed greatly from Muslim and Jewish halal and kosher slaughter, that mandated the draining of it. This in particular became a frequent source of conflict over the thirteenth century, with the Mongols feeling the spilling of blood on the earth would bring misfortune. We are told from the Persian writer Juvaini, a member of Hulegu’s entourage in the 1250s, that Chinggis Khan’ second son Chagatai so thoroughly enforced this prohibition that “for a time no man slaughtered sheep openly in Khorasan, and Muslims were forced to eat carrion.” Essentially, the Mongol viewpoint was that as long as a given religion adherents remained loyal and did not perform the tenets the Mongols forbid, then the worshippers could practice freely. But such freedoms could be revoked: Khubilai Khan in the 1280s, upon feeling insulted when a group of Muslims at his court refused to eat meat he offered them, banned halal slaughter and circumcision, on pain of property loss and death, for almost the entire decade. A Khwarezmian refugee to the Delhi Sultanate writing around 1260, Juzjani, wrote of his sincere belief that Chagatai and other members of the Mongol leadership intended a genocide of the Muslims.
Why then, did Islam succeed in converting the Mongols of western Asia, after such a low-point? It was a matter of proximity. The majority of the population in the major centres in the Golden Horde, Ilkhanate and Chagatai Khanate were Muslims, ensuring that not only could sufis and others proselytize to the Mongol leadership, but also their military. Efforts by Buddhists or various Christian representatives, be they Catholic, Syriac or Nestorian, lacked comparable resources or presence, and their efforts were generally restricted to attempting to convert the highest ranking Mongols. While this brought them some influence, in contrast to the image in most historical narrative sources monarchs tended to convert once enough of their followers had done so for it to be a sound decision for their legitimacy. More Mongols simply had closer proximity to Muslims populations than they ever did Christian or Buddhist, leading to a more thorough conversion than any Franciscan friar could ever accomplish. Similar proximity prompted the slow sinicization of the Mongols in Yuan China.
While the Mongols disliked certain tenets of Islam, they still found use of it. Islamic craftsmen, administrators and healers were quickly spread across the Mongol Empire, accompanying every Khan and Noyan everywhere from campaigns to their personal camps.
In short order they commanded armies, often of their own locally raised forces, to fight for the khans. The various Islamic peoples of Central Asia, be they Turkic or Iranic, could provide a plethora of skills and manpower the Mongols found useful or themselves lacked. Various Mongol armies, particularly the tamma garrison forces, were stationed in close proximity to Islamic centres for extended periods of time. Mongol princes from the highest ranks of the empire, including Chinggis Khan and his own sons, took Muslim wives and concubines. For the lower ranking soldiers forced to leave their families behind in Mongolia, they took Muslim wives and began new Muslim families which replaced their own.
By the reign of Chinggis Khan’s son and successor Ogedai, Muslims made up many of the highest ranking members of the bureaucracy and administration from eastern Iran to Northern China. Some of these men, such as Mahmud Yalavach, his son Mas’ud Beg, and ‘Abd al-Rahman, served as heads of the Branch Secretariats the Mongols established to govern Asia. These men were answerable only to the Great Khan, and held immensely powerful positions.
The proximity of high ranking Muslims throughout the Mongol government and army in significant numbers made them an influential force. The presence of well educated Islamic jurists in the courts of the Khans is very well attested, and a merchant who showed great fiscal ability could find himself richly rewarded in lucrative ortogh arrangements with Mongol princes, where a Mongol prince would provide silver and other currencies, taken via conquest, tribute and taxation, to a merchant as a loan, who would then use it for trade, make money and pay back the prince. Sometimes a well connected merchant could even be rewarded with prominent government position once they won the favour of a prince or khan. The Mongol search for whatever skills they saw as useful particularly rewarded Muslims with aptitude in alchemy and astrology. The Khans of the Ilkhanate spent considerable sums of money on the alchemists who claimed to be able to produce gold or prolong life, much to the chagrin of the Ilkhanid vizier and historian Rashid al-Din. Astrologists who could help determine the future or courses of action also received great reward, for the Mongols put great stock in this, as it was a position similar to the occupation of their own shamans.
With the mention of the shamans, we should give a brief account of the Mongols pre-Islamic religion, and in what ways it helped pave the way for their conversions. Though often dubbed “shamanism,” this is a poor description. Shamans occupied only a part of the Mongol folk religion, which was a series of practices relating to the appeasement and interpretation of spirits which inhabited every part of the natural world. It was the fear of offending these spirits which was behind the Mongols’ own methods of slaughter, refusing to spill blood on the earth, place dirty things into running water or urinate or place knives into fire and ashes. It was the job of shamans to communicate, appease or harness these spirits, and ensure no misfortune befell the family or, after 1206, the Empire. The duties of shamans strictly fell to influencing events within the current life, rather than with a next level of existence. Thus, for the Mongols it was useful to accumulate other holymen who could interact with the supernatural on their behalf beyond what their own shamans did. It also demonstrates why, once they did convert, the Mongols saw it fit to continue to commune with shamans, and makes it so difficult for many to accept the conversion of the Mongols as sincere.
In fact, as historians like Devin DeWeese or Peter Jackson have thoroughly argued, we are in no place to gauge the authenticity of any Mongol’s conversion. Our vantage point centuries later, and nature of our sources, leaves us unable to actually determine the conviction of each convert, and makes it inappropriate to reduce the story of a given khan’s conversion to simply a matter of political convenience. The Mongols actively selected aspects of sedentary societies which benefitted themselves, and therefore could choose to profess Islam while continuing observe shamanic practices and standard cultural actions, all the while seeing no juxtaposition between this.
The earliest conversions of the Mongols or their servants began in the 1230s and 40s. One of the earliest, most prominent figures to convert was not even a Mongol, but a Uyghur named Korguz, Ogedai’s appointment to the new Branch Secretariat of Western Asia, covering Iran and the Caucasus, towards the end of his life. Korguz was one of the most powerful civilian officials in the empire, and his conversion to Islam from Buddhism at the start of the 1240s marked the highest profile convert yet in the Mongol government, though he was killed in 1244 on the order of Ogedai’s widow, the regent Torogene. Batu, shortly before the climactic battle against the Hungarians at Mohi in 1241, certainly had a number of Muslims in his army. According to Juvaini, while preparing for the confrontation Batu ascended a hill to pray to Eternal Blue Heaven, and asked the Muslims in his army to pray for victory as well. It is unclear if they were Muslim troops raised from Central Asia and the steppe, or Mongol converts to Islam in his army.
The exact mechanics of conversion are unknown. Though the historical sources like to portray the people following a prominent prince or khan’s conversion, it seems generally that it was the other way around, where the lower ranks converted in enough numbers to make it useful or safe for a prince to convert. For example, one of the primary army units in Mongol expansion and consolidation were the tamma, a sort of garrison force permanently stationed in a region, made up of a mixed body of nomadic and sedentary troops. The Mongols in these troops were usually forbidden to have their wives and families accompany them. Separated from their homeland, families or local shamans, and taking new, local wives who were generally Muslims, these Mongols were largely removed from the infrastructure that would have encouraged the maintenance of their traditional religion and made them more susceptible to conversion. If not themselves, then their children. Perhaps the best example comes from the tamma commander Baiju, stationed in the Caucasus and Anatolia from the early 1240s until the start of the 1260s. Over the twenty or so years of his career, he appears in a variety of historical accounts, which demonstrate not only the presence of a great number of Muslims in his camp, as advisers, administrators and sufis, but also demonstrate the gradual conversion of his men. By the end of his life, according to sources like the Mamluk encyclopedist al-Nuwayri, Baiju himself became a Muslim and asked to be washed and buried in the Muslim fashion on his death.
Perhaps the most famous convert though, was Berke. A son of Jochi and grandson of Chinggis Khan, Berke is most well known for his war against his cousin Hulegu over the Caucasus. Conflicting accounts are given for his conversion, with some having him raised a Muslim, while others suggest a conversion in the 1240s, drawn to Islam through the efforts of the sufi Shaykh Sayf al-Din Bakharzi. Certainly by the 1250s Berke was a Muslim, and quite a sincere one: the Franciscan Friar William of Rubruck remarks during his trips through the Jochid territories in 1253 that Berke was a Muslim, and forbid the consumption of pork in his camp. Juvaini reported that meat at Mongke Khaan’s enthronement feast in 1251 was slaughtered in halal fashion out of deference to Berke, and Juzjani in distant Delhi had learned of Berke’s Islam by 1260. Mamluk accounts present him having a Muslim vizier and showing great respect for qadis and other Muslim holymen. Yet, the Mamluk embassy also remarked that Berke still continued to dress and wear his hair in the distinctive Mongolian style, rather than don Islamic clothing. While Berke’s war with Hulegu is often portrayed as his anger over the death of the Caliph, it seems this was a secondary concern to him. His own letter to Sultan Baybars remarks on his anger over Hulegu’s infringement of the yassa of Chinggis Khan, by failing to send Berke loot from Baghdad and Iraq or consult with him. The fact that war began three years after Baghdad’s fall, and that Hulegu occupied Jochid territory in northern Iran and the Caucasus after Mongke’s death, suggests that Berke’s immediate concerns were more strategic than spiritual. Islam for the early converts like Berke was not a change of identity, but an acceptance alongside their existing beliefs and incorporated into a Chinggisid world view. Almost certainly Berke, like his Islamic successors, continued to consult with shamans and the yassa, yet never felt disloyal to the sharia.
While Berke’s conversion was accompanied by some of his brothers and commanders, it did not precipitate the Islamization of the emerging Golden Horde. Following Berke’s death around 1266, it took some 14 years for another Islamic Khan to sit on the throne of the Jochids. At the start of the 1280s, both the westernmost khanates of the Mongol Empire saw the enthronement of Muslim rulers: Töde-Möngke taking the throne in the Golden Horde between 1280 and 1282,, and from 1282 to 1284 Tegüder Ahmad in the Ilkhanate. Once more, the sources hint that shaykhs and sufis were behind the conversion of both men, and continued to be held in great esteem in both courts. For the Ilkhan Tegüder, who upon his enthronement went by the name of Sultan Ahmad, we have a variety of sources which describe his commitment to Islam, which vary widely and demonstrate why it remains difficult for many to accept the authenticity of the early conversions.
In a letter Tegüder sent to the Mamluk Sultan Qalawun, Tegüder spoke of establishing sharia law in the Ilkhanate, protected pilgrimage routes and built new religious buildings, similar claims to what Töde-Möngke made in his first letter to the Mamluks around similar time. Tegüder argued that based on the fact of their now shared religion it was easier for the Mamluk Sultans to submit to him. Cilician Armenian writers like Het’um of Corycus and Step’annos Orbelian generally portray Tegüder as a prosecutor of Christians. Yet at the same time the Syriac churchman Bar Hebraeus wote of Tegüder as a friend to Christians, an upholder of religious toleration who exempted them from taxation and allowed Hebraeus to build a new church, while the Mamluks were largely skeptical of his conversion.
Ghazan, the great reformer of the Ilkhanate, sought to portray himself as a powerful Muslim monarch and an heir to the defunct ‘Abbasid Caliphate, but also as the first true Muslim Ilkhanate. For this reason, his two predeceassers who were attached to Islam, Tegüder and Baidu, were both denigrated in official accounts from his reign. Ghazan was raised a Buddhist, and only came to Islam a few weeks before his enthronement, urged to convert by his commander Nawruz Noyan and the Shaykh Sadr al-Din al-Hamuwayi during his rebellion against Ilkhan Baidu. While his biographer Rashid al-Din desperately sought to portray Ghazan’s conversion causing his commanders and soldiers to follow suit, it seems almost certain that it was in fact the opposite, and that by converting Ghazan hoped to gain the wavering support of Baidu’s Muslim followers. Ghazan did so successfully, and overthrew Baidu only a few months after he had himself seized the throne. Upon becoming IlKhan, on the instigation of his zealous general Nawruz, Ghazan order the destruction of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Zoroastrian centres in Muslim cities in his empire and imposed the jizya. However, these harsh measures were quickly rescinded by 1297 with the downfall of Nawruz, though Buddhists did not return to the prominence they had previously enjoyed. Ghazan before the end of the 1290s donned a turban and even declared jihad against the Mamluks. Though some Mamluk scholars, none more famous than the jurist and scholar Ibn Taymiyya, were not convinced of Ghazan’s Islam. Outside of Damascus in 1300, Ibn Taymiyya insulted both Ghazan and his vizier, the Jewish convert to Islam Rashid al-Din, of being false Muslims. Ghazan, he stated, continued to worship Chinggis Khan in place of sharia.
The life of Ghazan’s brother and successor Oljeitu demonstrates perhaps the most extreme example of a Mongol prince’s flexible approach to religion. His father Arghun had the young Oljeitu baptized a Nestorian Christian and given the name of Nicholas, supposedly after the Pope Nicholas IV, with whom Arghun was attempting to ally with against the Mamluks. As a teen, he converted to Buddhism, when he took the Buddhist name of Oljeitu. Under the influnece of a wife, he then converted to Sunni islam, taking the name of Muhammad Khudabanda, servant of God, which became the source of rude puns on his name: kharbunda, donkey driver. First he attached himself to the Sunni school of Hanafism, then to Shafi’ism, before frustration with fighting between the schools turned him back to Buddhism, before in 1309 returning to Islam, but this time abandon the Sunnis for Shi’ism. A number of different sources offer explanations for what drove Oljeitu to become a Shi’a, generally focusing on how a various princes, commanders, scholars and others convinced upon Oljeitu the merits of Shi’a Islam. One particularly detailed account has a Shi'a Scholar describe the succession of the first of the Rashidun Caliphs, those accepted in Sunni Islam, to the Prophet Muhammad instead of 'Ali, remarking to Oljeitu it would be as if a non-Chinggisid general were to succeed Chinggis Khan.
According to the Mamluk sources, Oljeitu’s conversion to Shi’ism prompted a series of rebellions across Ilkhanid Iraq. In some accounts, Oljeitu converted back to Sunni Islam shortly before his death in 1316. His son, Abu Sa’id, followed him to the throne, a Sunni Muslim who did not waver in his faith as his father.
Following Ghazan’s reign from 1295 until 1304, the Ilkhanate became an Islamic state, with the majority of its army and upper echelons converted to Islam. The process was slower in the Golden Horde and Chagatai Khanate. After Töde-Möngke’s deposition in 1287, the Golden Horde would not have another Muslim monarch until the reign of Özbeg, who took the throne in 1313. It seems he converted shortly after his accession, seemingly to gain the support of influential noyans within the Horde. In legendary accounts Özbeg was converted by a sufi named Baba Tükles, who proved the veracity of his religion when he comfortably survived an oven wearing nothing but chain maille, while the shaman he challenged was burnt to death in his oven. However, Baba Tükles does not enter into accounts of Özbeg’s life until centuries after his death. It seems likely that Özbeg was converted by influential sufi and islamic jurists in his entourage, and the increased islamization of members of military and aristocracy making it a viable political choice to convert as well. To cement his reign and his religion, Özbeg ordered the executions of over a hundred Chinggisid princes and noyans. Other prominent converts, such as Ghazan in the Ilkhanate and Tughluq Temur in the eastern Chagatai Khanate, also carried out large scale purges though none matched those of Özbeg. So extensive was Özbeg’s purge that within a generation, the line of Batu had died out within the Golden Horde. In the Chagatai Khanate, Islamization proceed in stops and starts. In the western half of the Chagatai realm, centered as it was around the trade cities of Transoxania and closer to the Iranian world, islamization went quicker, more or less winning out by the mid 14th century. It would take another century in the eastern half of the Chagatai realm, Moghulistan, where steppe lifestyle maintained greater influence. Not until the reign of Tughluq Temur’s grandson, appropriately named Muhammad Khan, in the fifteenth century did Islam win out most of the remaining holdouts, according to the mid-sixteenth century source of Mirza Haidar Dughlat. For the eastern Chagatais, where the local islamic population was much smaller, there was much less interaction with the faith, and thus it took much longer for the military and the noyans to fully convert, despite the conversion of the Khans themselves.
Still, in policy men like Özbeg, Ghazan and Oljeitu largely matched their forebears in providing taxation exemptions, favours and other privileges to Christians, especially Franciscan missionaries, though on a lesser scale than earlier in the thirteenth century. Their successors, Özbeg’s son Janibeg and Oljeitu’s son Abu Sa’id, proved less welcoming, as even Christians found their privileges revoked. Janibeg ordered his men to dress in the fashion of Muslims, while Abu Sa’id sought to become the protector of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina, one year even sending an elephant there for inexplicable reasons. Still, these monarchs showed themselves to continue in their traditions, such as acts of levirate marriage, that is marrying their father’s wives, something forbidden by Islam. Islam proved an aspect of these monarch’s identities, but it took many generations in Iran for all elements of Mongol culture and Chinggisid ideology to be driven out, and in the steppes the process, it can be argued, never truly fully replaced the memory of the house of Chinggis Khan.
Our series on the Mongols will continue, and we will visit in detail the topic of Mongol religious tolerance very soon, which ties closely to this matter, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast. If you’d like to help us continue to bring you great content, please consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. Please also consider leaving us a positive review and rating on the podcast catcher of your choice, and sharing us with your friends; each one helps the podcast out alot. 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 the death of the Ilkhan Arghun in 1291 at the end of our last episode, the Ilkhanid throne came to Arghun’s brother, Geikhatu, the governor of Anatolia. Geikhatu’s ascension set off one of the most unstable periods in the Ilkhanate’s history so far, which would ultimately culminate in the rise of perhaps the most significant ruler of the Ilkhanate’s later history, Ghazan, who would skillfully weld Chinggisid ideology with Islam. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
On the death of Arghun Ilkhan due to excessive consumption of mercury and sulphur in at the start of 1291, there were three candidates for the throne: Arghun’s brother Geikhatu, the governor of Anatolia; Arghun’s cousin Baidu, based in Baghdad, and Arghun’s son, Ghazan, who was stationed in the east of the Khanate battling the rebelling general Nawruz. While some members of the military elite, particularly the noyans Taghachar and Qunchuqbal, wished for Baidu to take the throne, a number backed Geikhatu. Among those who flocked to Geikhatu were the noyans Qurumshi, son of Alinaq, and Choban, better known as the Emir Choban.This is the first mention of Choban in the sources, though for today’s episode he will play on a minor role.
On the 23rd of July, 1291 Geikhatu was elected as Khan of the Ilkhanate. Neither Baidu nor Ghazan challenged him, though in accounts such as Marco Polo’s, Ghazan was rather quietly furious at the matter. In his early thirties when he took the throne, like his late brother Arghun, Geikhatu was a Buddhist. Arghun had placed Geikhatu as the viceroy of Anatolia, bringing a region considered a distant frontier into closer connection with the rest of the Ilkhanate. Perhaps the greatest distinction from his brother though was his clemency. In part, it seems to have been a mixture of a personally more peaceful nature, and a belief that Arghun’s reign was cut short by the many executions he had ordered in his final years. One of Geikhatu’s first actions upon taking the throne was personally overseeing an investigation and trials into events surrendering the deaths of Arghun, his vizier Sa’d al-Dawla and other misdeeds undertaken by the noyans in Arghun’s final days. The blame for these murders and abuses were, rightfully, laid onto the noyans Taghachar and Qunchuqbal, who had led the efforts. While Arghun would have met their disloyalty with the removal of heads, Geikhatu showed himself of a different ilk. Almost all of the conspirators received simple pardons, while others were subject to a temporary prison sentence. Taghachar, who was making a habit of being a traitorous sot, was given a pardon as well. Once the trials were completed, and Geikhatu hoped everyone could now start off fresh, the new Il-Khan immediately returned to his preferred Anatolia. His Noyan Shiktur was left to oversee almost the entirety of the Ilkhanate east of Anatolia as a supreme deputy.
The Ilkhan’s sudden removal back to Anatolia left a sort of vacuum behind. It’s not clear to us today exactly what Geikhatu was doing in Anatolia, and it certainly wasn’t clear to contemporaries as rumours spread that the Ilkhan had been killed in an uprising by local Turkic tribes. In Geikhatu’s absence, his clemency paid dividends as the noyans he forgave almost immediately conspired against him. Taghachar Noyan, aided by his deputy Sadr’ al-Din Zanjani, started to organize a coup to topple Geikhatu and enthrone one of Geikhatu’s cousins, Anbarchi. The plot was discovered and foiled, but again, Geikhatu pardoned most of the conspirators. Taghachar himself was given an army to relieve an Ilkhanid fortress besieged by the Mamluks late in 1292 (something which he was unsuccessful at) and Sadr’ al-Din Zanjani, after a brief imprisonment, was even made Geikhatu’s vizier before the end of the year. Suffice to say, these men did not learn their lessons.
While these plotters continued to plot, most of Geikhatu’s reign was spent apparently enjoying the… uh, benefits of being king, if we should say politely. Effectively every medieval source which comments on Geikhatu presents him as a man of utter vice, enjoying constant parties, revelry, and the sons and daughters of the nobility. To quote the continuator of the Syriac churchman Bar Hebraeus, writing not long after Geikhatu’s death:
Now [Geikhatu] being ruler, [...] occupied himself with nothing except riotous living, and amusement and debauchery. He had no thought for anything else except the things which were necessary for kings, and which they were bound to have, and how he could get possession of the sons and daughters of the nobles and have carnal intercourse with them. And he would wanton with them without shame and without modesty. And very many chaste women among the wives of the nobles fled from him, and others removed their sons and their daughters, and sent them away to remote districts. But they were unable to save themselves from his hands, or to escape from the shameful acts which he committed with them. And when he had led this blameworthy manner of life for nearly four years, more or less, and he had polluted himself with the mire of wanton desire of this kind, and he had amused himself with the lusts of the body which do not bring profit, he was hated with a very great hatred by all those who held the reins of his kingdom.
If it was merely Bar Hebraeus’ continuator writing these things, we might dismiss them as regular medieval slander by one disgruntled writer. But these sorts of details make up most of Geikhatu’s source depictions. Wassaf, a Persian writer in the early 14th century Ilkhanate for instance, describes Geikhatu ignoring all duties of the throne to focus on his own pleasure, at one point writing: “at length sovereign rule in turn presented to him his heart’s desire, viz. The backside.” Marco Polo, who passed through the Ilkhanate in the final year of Geikhatu’s rule, wrote of Geikhatu that he “enjoyed himself much with the ladies, for he was excessively given to his pleasures.” The Ilkhanid vizier Rashid al-Din is, as per usual, too respectable to comment on such indecency directly. It was in the reign of Geikhatu that Rashid al-Din became attached to the Ilkhanid court, and besides that, Geikhatu had been the uncle of his patrons Ghazan and Oljeitu. Still, Rashid speaks of the wild spending habits of Geikhatu, politely describing it as incredibly generous gift giving. Wassaf and other writers instead describe wasteful extravagance by Geikhatu, encouraged by vizier Sadr’ al-Din Zanjani, which compounded some sort of troubles facing Mongol herds at the time, resulting in widespread reverberations on the Ilkhanate’s economy.
Of course, no talk of Geikhatu and the Ilkhanate’s fiscal status can be complete without mentioning his most famous disaster: an attempt to impose Chinese style paper money, or ch’ao, in the Ilkhanate. This is the first known example of an effort to implement Chinese block printing for currency outside of China, and every source describes it as an unmitigated disaster, though modern retellings of the incident have certainly exaggerated it.
The inspiration for the idea came from Geikhatu’s vizier, Sadr’ al-Din Zanjani, who had been interested in it for some time. In May 1294 Sadr’ al-Din finally broached it to Geikhatu Khan, who was interested and spoke on the matter further with Bolod Chingsang, a representative from the Yuan Dynasty at the Ilkhan’s court. Zanjani successfully convinced Geikhatu of its advantages, such as being much more difficult to forge or tamper with. Despite the opposition of some members of Geikhatu’s court, especially Shiktur Noyan, Geikhatu gave the order to proceed with a trial run in the Ilkhanate’s chief city, Tabriz, one of the major merchant hubs of western Asia. Printing started in the summer of 1294, and circulation began that September. Orders were put out that anyone who refused to accept it would be put to death.
The result was not great. People did not understand how the paper was worth anything compared to metal coinage, and very quickly merchants were fleeing Tabriz altogether. The humid climate resulted in the Ilkhanid paper apparently nearly falling to pieces. Food and goods became scarce, and when Zanjani himself went to the streets he was threatened and insulted to his face. As Tabriz neared a tipping point of theft, starvation and anarchy, finally the paper money was withdrawn and the regular coinage made the tender again. The effort lasted hardly two months, and was not tried elsewhere. Claims that this episode had long lasting repercussions on the Ilkhanate’s economy are likely overstated due to the limited reach of the experiment. Rather, they encouraged ongoing economic woes in Geikhatu’s reign and did nothing to help the Ilkhan’s already struggling reputation. The failed episode with the ch’ao is routinely mentioned alongside Geikhatu’s massive expenditure, gift giving and debauchery in the sources on his reign, and it is no surprise that not long after the end of the fling with paper money, Geikhatu found himself next on the chopping block.
In the summer of 1294, Geikhatu’s cousin Baidu visited the Ilkhan’s camp. Though he appeared reluctant to claim the throne in 1291, Baidu must have still felt some resentment at losing his chance, in addition to his distaste in how Geikhatu ran the kingdom. It would explain how, when Baidu got quite drunk one evening, he lashed out and insulted Geikhatu to his face. The normally easy going Geikhatu responded furiously and probably drunkenly, ordering Baidu beaten. Once they had sobered up Geikhatu regretted his action and sought to make amends, which Baidu made a show of accepting. Once out of the Khan’s camp, Baidu returned to his own territory and began to organize a rebellion over the winter of 1294. When Geikhatu learned of it, he sent an army against Baidu commanded by the always loyal [sarcasm] Taghachar. Whatever was behind Geikhatu’s choice is unknown. Perhaps he was a large fan of multiple chances, or thought this was an opportunity for Taghachar to display his loyalty. Geikhatu was sorely mistaken. Taghachar immediately sided with Baidu and brought his army to Baidu’s service. A panicked Geikhatu tried to flee to Anatolia, but was overtaken and captured. His captors were men he had imprisoned for earlier crimes, but who Geikhatu had later released on the urging of Taghachar. In late March 1295, Geikhatu’s captors had him strangled to death with a bow string, apparently without the knowledge or approval of Baidu. So ended the reign of the fifth Ilkhan, Geikhatu, only in his mid-30s and having reigned hardly four years.
A few weeks after Geikhatu’s death, Baidu was enthroned as the new Ilkhan in April 1295. A grandson of Hulegu via his son Taraqai, Baidu appears to have been raised a Chritian but converted to Islam. Bar Hebraeus’ continuator remarks that Baidu’s conversion to Islam was a half hearted one aimed to bring him support for the throne; an indication of the growth of Islam among the Mongols of the Ilkhanate. Marco Polo meanwhile was under the impression that Baidu was a Christian throughout his reign. We may suspect he simply was an exponent of Mongol religious tolerance, and did not favour any of these religions but instead tried to appear a friend to each, though it is difficult to tell due to the nature of his reign. Unlike his predecessors, Baidu appears as a much quieter figure, one who seemed lacking in vision for the position of Khan, and was overshadowed by his powerful noyans like Taghachar. Taghachar was given immense power, and Taghachar’s allies, the murderers of Geikhatu, were granted governorships and other positions throughout the empire.
Baidu’s reign had a major obstacle in the form of Geikhatu’s nephew and Arghun’s son, Ghazan. The oldest son of Arghun, Ghazan had since his father’s reign taken a prominent position in the eastern part of the Ilkhanate, Khurasan, where he had acted as chief military governor. Almost yearly he fought off raids by the Qara’una Mongols and from 1289 onwards, fought the rebelling general Nawruz. These conflicts kept him too preoccupied to act after the death of Arghun, and from playing any role in the politics that led to Geikhatu’s overthrow. Nonetheless, Ghazan had been primed for leadership. Well educated, able to read and write the Uighur script for Mongolian and seemingly proficient in Persian as well as athletic and a skilled warrior, the powerful position Ghazan had been granted by Arghun as military commander of the east gave Ghazan useful contacts and backing. Having both military experience and reputation was always a useful boon for claiming leadership among the Mongols. If we are to believe Rashid al-Din, Ghazan’s energetic biographer, then even Abaqa Il-Khan, Ghazan’s grandfather, had recognized the boy’s talent and loved him dearly, though we can suspect this is reminiscent of Qaidu’s claims as a boy that Ogedai Khan had loved him and wanted to make him his successor. More of a useful claim for legitimacy, rather than a necessarily true representation of their relationship, though perhaps Ghazan remembered it fondly.
Certainly Ghazan was seen as a prime candidate for the throne; before his untimely death, the Jewish vizier of Arghun, Sa’d al-Dawla, had tried to contact Ghazan to bring him to his father’s death bed to make his stake for the throne. Following Geikhatu’s murder, Ghazan was also a favourite to succeed his uncle, and had apparently received letters from Baidu asking him to assume the throne- another indication that Baidu was personally reluctant to take the position. Ghazan seemed to not anticipate trickery. He had recently taken the submission of the former rebel, Nawruz, taking control of his army on top of his own. Feeling strong and secure, he began to travel west to the Ilkhanate’s Caucausian territory with only a small guard. Hearing of Ghazan’s movement seems to have sparked Baidu’s followers to hold a snap quriltai and quickly declared Baidu the Il-Khan.
As Ghazan advanced across northern Iran, emissaries from Baidu arrived politely but firmly telling Ghazan to turn back, that he would not be granted safe passage. Evidently, Baidu and his allies recognized that Ghazan expected to have the throne, and wished to dissuade him rather than have to fight off another contender. Baidu’s position as Khan after overseeing the murder of his predeceassor left him with shaky legitimacy. Finally, it was told to Ghazan that Baidu would consider it rebellion if Ghazan advanced any further. Ghazan could not back down now; he quickly summoned Nawruz and his army, which prompted Baidu to rally his own army; by the 19th of May, 1295, the two sides faced off at a site called Qurban Shire in northwestern Iran. After a round of skirmishing, apparently on Baidu’s urging a truce was called and negotiations held.
The meeting was cordial and respectful, and progress was made. Baidu did not wish to fight, but now that he was declared Il-Khan he could not step down. His solution was to essentially divide the Ilkhanate between them, granting Ghazan all of the eastern half of the empire. Ghazan was amenable to the idea, but tensions did not abate. It seems, to Baidu’s frustration, that he continued to be reinforced. As the negotiations went on, more and more of Baidu’s forces trickled in. Seeing Baidu’s army grow, Ghazan feared a trap and slid away, leaving Nawruz, now his lieutenant, to continue the talks. This infuriated Baidu, who felt Ghazan was acting in bad faith. He sent some forces to pursue Ghazan and promptly took Nawruz prisoner. Some called for Nawruz’s execution, but others persuaded Baidu against it. Chief of them was Sadr’ al-Din Zanjani. Though Baidu had not reappointed Zanjani to the position of vizier -instead giving it to one of Zanjani’s rivals, Jamal al-Din Dastjirdani- Sadr’ al-Din did not go far from the court lest the position open up again. He encouraged Baidu and those of the noyans whose ears he had access to -chiefly Taghachar- to spare Nawruz and offer him a deal. If Nawruz would hunt down Ghazan and bring his head in a bag to Baidu, then Nawruz would be greatly rewarded. In the meantime, Sadr’ al-Din Zanjani and Taghachar made their own agreements with Nawruz.
On the 31st of May 1295, Nawruz departed Baidu’s camp to hunt down Ghazan. It took only a few days to find him. Not long after, a rider came to Baidu’s camp, carrying a bag sent by Nawruz. Somewhat reluctantly, Baidu Il-Khan must have ordered an officer forward to open the bag and reveal the dreaded proof of his kinsman’s death. To their surprise, a large cauldron fell out. It was a bit of word play on the part of Nawruz and Ghazan. Qazan in Turkic languages refers to a large pot, cauldron or brass kettle. So Nawruz had brought Ghazan in a bag to Baidu; just not the Ghazan he was hoping for. Nawruz could claim to have kept his word to Baidu, while once more affirming his loyalty to Ghazan.
In the words of Rashid al-Din, Nawruz and Ghazan’s pun sparked quite the reaction among Baidu and his men. To quote Rashid’s Compendium of Chronicles, as per the Thackston translation:
Baidu and his amirs were amazed by this subtle word play and rare joke, but there
was nothing they could do about it. To Baidu the amirs said, “The lion you caught in a trap
you let go, and you were made ridiculous.” He regretted having let Nawroz go, but there
was nothing to be done—as has been said, anyone who overcomes his foe but allows the advantage to slip away will never again have power over him, and regret and remorse profit nothing.
Baidu likely did not have immense respect among the noyans in the first place, given that he had largely been placed on the throne by their efforts entirely. To have lost both Ghazan and Nawroz, after they had been in his hands, and then to be so humiliated by them, further undermined him. In essence, he had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and his prestige among the military elite crumbled accordingly.
While Baidu’s standing worsened, Ghazan undertook a rather momentous decision. On the urging of Nawruz and other influential advisers in his camp, shortly after Nawruz’s return to him Ghazan converted to Islam. Ghazan had been raised and educated as a Buddhist, a religion which his father Arghun and grandfather Hulegu had both been attached to. Even during his tenure in Khurasan, Ghazan had sponsored the construction of Buddhist temples. If we are to believe Rashid al-Din though, Ghazan had always had a questioning mind and found himself skeptical of some aspects of Buddhism. It is possible, though we may suspect it was also a matter of Mongol religious indifference. In the accounts of Ghazan’s chroniclers, when Nawruz impressed upon him the need to convert to Islam, all of Ghazan’s generals, and indeed, the Mongols in Iran, followed suit, a fairly regular aspect of stories of Mongol khans converting to Islam. Generally, historians are of the opinion that Ghazan’s conversion reflects the fact that a great many Mongols, both among the regular soldiers and the military aristocracy, had already become Muslims. While Nawruz may have urged Ghazan to convert out of concern for his soul, for Nawruz was a very sincere and ardent Muslim, it is not difficult to imagine that Nawruz also pointed out the political advantage it could provide Ghazan; by demonstrating that he was a true and devout Muslim, Ghazan could claim the loyalty of all the Mongols who were Muslims, as well as Persian and Arabic members of the bureaucracy. Hence, why post-Ghazan chroniclers tend to cast doubt on Baidu’s claim to be a Muslim as well. Ghazan certainly showed some fervour early after his conversion, though in the coming years it cooled whenever he did not have an urgent political usage for it. Immediately after Ghazan and his noyans began to proclaim the shahada, they observed the Ramadan of summer 1295 then advanced onto Baidu.
As Ghazan and his army moved west once again, Baidu’s camp was still in shambles. Baidu seemed frozen in place, unable to take decisive action. His foundation built on sand, it washed away with the rising tide of Ghazan, now reinforced by his brother Oljeitu. When Baidu sent emissaries to Ghazan, they told Ghazan of the sympathy he had among Baidu’s followers, and then promptly joined him. The former vizier for the late Geikahtu, Sadr’ al-Din Zanjani, was among the first to openly desert Baidu for Ghazan. Choban Noyan and Quremshi Noyan joined with their troops and joined Nawroz in the vanguard. The duplicitous Taghachar, as usual, jumped for the winning side. He who had once abandoned Geikhatu to join Baidu, now left Baidu to back Ghazan. As the summer of 1295 drew to a close Baidu tried to flee, but was swiftly captured and taken back to Tabriz. There, he sent word that he wished for an interview with Ghazan, but Ghazan refused. He ordered Baidu executed, which was carried out on the 4th of October 1295, ending Baidu’s seven month reign as Il-Khan. Only once the deed was done, did Ghazan finally enter Tabriz later that day. He was swiftly enthroned; not as Il-Khan, but with the title of padishah-i-islam, Emperor of Islam, and took the name of Mahmud. So began the reign of Ghazan Il-Khan, or Padishah Ghazan Mahmud, the 7th ruler of the Ilkhanate and a great-great-great-grandson of Chinggis Khan. The Ilkhanate was about to be permanently transformed.
Our next episode focuses on the reign of Ghazan, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals podcast to follow. If you’d like to help us continue bringing you great content, please consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. Please also consider leaving us a positive review and rating on the podcast catcher of your choice, and sharing us with your friends; each one helps the podcast out alot. 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 the long reign of Abaqa Il-Khan, as covered in our previous episode, the Ilkhanate entered it’s somewhat messy “middle period.” These are the years between the death of Abaqa, in 1282, and the ascension of Ghazan in 1295. In these 13 years, four men came to the Ilkhanid throne: Teguder Ahmad, Arghun, Geikhatu and Baidu. Their reigns, if we believe the historians writing under Ghazan and his successors, constituted a period of disorder and anarchy before the stabilizing and centralizing rule of Ghazan. Usually glossed over in favour of Abaqa or Ghazan, today we take you through one of the lesser known periods of the Ilkhanate, beginning with the ilkhans Teguder and Arghun. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
Our last episode ended with the death of Abaqa, son of Hulegu and a great-grandson of Chinggis Khan. A capable enough monarch, Abaqa had ruled the Ilkhanate stably from the mid 1260s until his death in April 1282. His death left three primary candidates: two of his brothers, Mongke-Temur and Teguder, and Abaqa’s eldest son Arghun. The death of Mongke-Temur only a few weeks after Abaqa’s death removed him from the running, and the more senior, powerful and well connected Teguder was able to claim the throne over the young Arghun. Prince Arghun was very bitter of the loss, and nursed his resentment though accepted Teguder’s election. In June 1282 Teguder was installed as the third Ilkhan. In many ways he sought continuity with late brother. The beleaguered vizier Shams al-Din Juvaini and his brother ‘Ala al-Din ‘Ata-Malik Juvaini, the historian and governor of Baghdad, were retained in their posts, as were many other officials in the upper echelons of the bureaucracy.
The new Ilkhan’s reign differed from his late brother’s in one significant respect though: Teguder was a Muslim, who on his enthronement took the name of Ahmad and the title of Sultan. For this reason he is often known, somewhat interchangeably, as Teguder Ahmad or Ahmad Teguder in modern writing, and usually just as Sultan Ahmad in the 13th and 14th century sources. As with so many Mongol converts to Islam, it is unclear when he converted; according to the contemporary Armenian writer Het’um Patmich’, known also as Het’um of Corycus, Teguder had been a Christian in his youth with the baptismal name of Nicholas, but had converted sometime before taking the throne in 1282. It seems he was converted by sufis, as a number of dervishes were attached to his court and inner circle. One sufi in particular, Shaykh Kemal al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman held such great influence over Teguder that he continually consulted with him and referred to him as father.
Teguder’s Islam has been a tricky thing to define, as his commitment to islam varies depending on the source. In a letter Teguder sent to the Mamluk Sultan Qalawun, Teguder spoke of how he has established sharia law in the Ilkhanate, protected pilgrimage routes and built new religious buildings. Indeed, Teguder argued, based on their shared religion it should have been now easier for the Mamluk Sultanate to submit to him. Armenian writers from Cilicia like Het’um of Corycus generally portray Teguder as a great prosecutor of Christians who also destroyed churches, while his countryman Step’annos Orbelian believed Teguder wanted to exterminate Christianity. Yet at the exact same time, the Syriac churchman Bar Hebraeus wote of Teguder as a friend to Christians, an upholder of religious toleration who exempted churches and Christians from taxation and allowed Hebraeus to build a new church. 14th century writers from both the Mamluk Sultanate and the Ilkhanate write of Teguder’s Islam in doubting terms. The Mamluks seem to have been largely skeptical of his conversion, while the great Ilkhanid vizier and historian Rashid al-Din, writing at the start of the 1300s under the aegis of the mighty Muslim monarch Ghazan and his brother Oljeitu, remarked Teguder only “claimed to be a Muslim.”
Teguder’s conversion to Islam was not the start of Islamization of the Mongols; it instead reflects the gradual trend for conversion among some of the younger generation, but at the same time it does not seem to have been an issue for the acceptance of the new Ilkhan, with the exception of the opinion of the his nephew Arghun. Arghun, as Abaqa’s oldest son, felt the throne was his by right. Teguder Ahmad’s extended generosity on his enthronement, including many gifts for Arghun, did not ease Arghun’s hard feelings. The always suspicious Teguder must have taken note of it, but Teguder had an empire to run and wanted to avoid civil strife so showed Arghun his due respect.
In our last episode, we left of with the Juvaini brothers, the vizier Shams al-Din and the historian ‘Ala al-Din, placed in a bind due to the efforts of their enemy, Shams al-Din’s former protege Majd al-Mulk. Majd al-Mulk had found a willing ear in Prince Arghun, who in Abaqa’s final years managed to imprison, fine, and generally harass the powerful Juvainis. On Teguder’s ascension in summer 1282, the new Ilkhan had ‘Ala al-Din released from prison and restored to favour, bestowing on him gifts to make up for his expenses. Likewise was ‘Ala al-Din’s younger brother Shams al-Din maintained in his role as vizier.
Majd al-Mulk was also summoned to speak before Teguder, and worried for his future. As Shams al-Din Juvaini spoke to Teguder Ilkhan of Majd al-Mulk’s misdeeds, Majd al-Mulk reached once again to his associate Prince Arghun, and convinced him that the Juvainis had poisoned his father Abaqa. This time Majd al-Mulk could not outmaneuver the Juvainis. A dried piece of lion skin was found in Majd al-Mulk’s belongings covered in unintelligible script of red and yellow ink. The shamans and buddhist monks in Teguder’s court- another indication he was not the most devout of Muslims- confirmed that the item was one used in sorcery. Majd al-Mulk knew his game was up. The Mongols saw sorcery as one of the most heinous of charges. Despite efforts by Shams al-Din Juvaini to argue for a pardon, Teguder Ilkhan ordered Majd al-Mulk’s death. In August 1282 he was tossed to an angry mob in Tabriz, and torn to pieces.
It can be imagined that Arghun only saw this as proof of the Juvaini’s scheming, though he felt he could not at the moment go after vizier Shams al-Din. That winter Arghun moved to Baghdad with a body of Qara’unas troops. ‘Ala al-Din Juvaini had been reinstated as governor of Baghdad, but had not returned to the city. This was lucky for him, as while in Baghdad Arghun demanded that ‘Ala al-Din pay up the rest of the money he owed from the fines Majd al-Mulk and Arghun had levied against him, fines that Teguder had dismissed. In the process of making noise around the city, Arghun ordered one of ‘Ala al-Din’s recently deceased officers to be disinterred and his body thrown onto the street and descrecrated.
Arghun’s actions were insulting and were met with great concern by the Ilkhan’s court. Teguder positioned an army near Dayirbakir in the event that Arghun decided to strike northwards towards Tabriz, and poor ‘Ala al-Din Juvaini was so distressed by the event that he died in March of 1283. On his return to Khurasan in spring 1283, Arghun stopped in Rayy, modern Teheran, and had Teguder’s governor there beaten, placed in bonds and sent on the road to Tabriz on a donkey, as clear an insult as any. He sent envoy after envoy to the Ilkhan, demanding that he hand over Shams al-Din Juvaini for his role in poisoning Abaqa.
Teguder’s patience grew thin with his nephew. Prince Arghun’s actions looked like sedition, aimed to undermine the reigning Ilkhan. Teguder grew more suspicious; when word came to him that his brother Qongqurtai, who he had placed in command of Anatolia, had been in contact with Arghun, Teguder ordered his brother executed. The murder of an imperial prince antagonized some members of the artstiocracy, who then fled to Arghun. Among them were Arghun’s brother Geikhatu, his cousin Baidu, and the Noyans Taghachar and Nawruz, all names to know in this episode and the following. The death of Qongqurtai was not the only cause for some of these princes and commanders to side with Arghun; some had wanted Arghun to succeed his father Abaqa in the first place, others had been frustrated with Teguder’s haughty and often insulting behaviour to them, and still others were simply annoyed at having a Muslim in the throne of Hulegu Khan.
As tensions rose, at the start of 1284 Teguder finally sent an army under his brother-in-law, Alinaq, to bring Arghun to heel. Over May 1284, Alinaq’s army skirmished with Arghun’s forces, forcing him to retreat. Arghun simply lacked the strength to battle the forces of the Ilkhan in a direct encounter, and ignoring requests by some of his followers to flee the Ilkhanate altogether, in the summer of 1284 Arghun surrendered to Alinaq.
Teguder was very pleased with Arghun’s capture, and went to visit his captive nephew. Teguder resisted calls to have Arghun executed- perhaps judging, from the reaction to Qongqurtai’s death, executing another imperial prince would not do him any favours. He did order the execution of a number of Arghun’s followers, but considering the matter done with, in July 1284 Teguder was content to leave Arghun under guard in Alinaq’s camp while the Ilkhan took a small force to visit his new wife. The move ultimately cost Teguder his throne.
In Teguder’s absence, Buqa Noyan moved to free Arghun. Buqa had already sympathized with Arghun, and Teguder had further antagonized Buqa by insulting and idly threatening him; according to the Mamluk historian ibn ‘abd al-Zahir, Teguder had a habit of reminding Buqa and his comrades that he could have their heads cut off at anytime. While Teguder Ahmad rode off to his wife’s camp, Buqa got Alinaq drunk and with a small party broke Arghun free, armed him, then rode into Alinaq’s tent and decapitated the noyan. Tossing his severed head to the officers and killing those who refused to submit, by the morning Arghun commanded the army. In the words of Rashid al-Din: “Arghun, who had been a prisoner when night fell, woke up in the morning as the emperor of the face of the earth.”
Ilkhan Teguder learned of the revolt and tried to flee with his small party but was overtaken. After a quick trial he was charged with the murder of his Qongqurtai and punished to be killed in the same manner: kicked to death, according to the chronicler ibn ‘abd al-Zahir, in August of 1284. So ended the reign of Ilkhan Teguder Ahmad, after only two years on the throne.
The day after Teguder’s execution, Arghun was declared Ilkhan, after threats were made to those who considered other candidates. Arghun heaped rewards upon those who had helped him to the throne; Buqa Noyan was given so much gold that he was briefly buried in it. The new Ilkhan was in many respects similar to his father Abaqa and grandfather Hulegu. He was a devout Buddhist, one who regularly sought wisdom from Buddhist monks and was gifted Buddhist relics from other prominent Chinggisids in neighbouring Khanates. Like Hulegu, Arghun loved to build; he constructed a series of new palaces in Tabriz and began construction of a new city near Rayy, which under his son Oljeitu would become Sultaniyya. Also like his grandfather, he was enchanted by alchemy, an attraction which ultimately cost him his life.
One of the most associated traits of Arghun’s reign is an anti-Islamic sentiment. Hulegu tolerated Muslims and Islam; Abaqa had shown respect to Muslims in his empire and was remembered as a just ruler; Teguder of course had been a Muslim. However, Arghun became associated, somewhat undeservedly, as a militant hater of Islam. While the Juvainis and other Muslims had occupied the top positions of civilian government in the twenty years since Hulegu’s death, under Arghun the top positions came into the hands of non-Muslims, Mongols and even a Jewish physician. His aggressive letters to the Mamluks differed greatly from Teguder’s more polite suggestions of submission, but despite his rhetoric Arghun never led an invasion into the Mamluk Sultanate. He showed friendship to Christians in his empire, particularly with the Nestorians Mar Yahballaha and Rabban bar Sauma; it was on Arghun’s order that Rabban bar Sauma took his lengthy trip to Europe in an effort to organize a Frankish-Mongol alliance against the Mamluks, a trip we dedicated a special episode to already. Such was his favour to Christianity that Arghun’s son newborn son was baptized and named after the current pope, Nicholas IV. That son in time became the Ilkhan Oljeitu.
While Arghun may have played to anti-Islamic rhetoric at times, perhaps to galvanize the support of “traditional Mongols,” against the converted Teguder, Arghun did not unleash a swath of anti-Islamic policies. During his rebellion against Teguder, Arghun prayed at the shrine of a Muslim saint, Bayazid of Bistam, for victory. While he was Ilkhan, he attended and sponsored festivals marking the end of Ramadan, demonstrating his largesse as a ruler. It seems that rather than really undergoing an anti-Islamic policy, Arghun favoured minorities in his empire, notably Christians and Buddhists. In a Muslim-majority empire, it was a rather deliberate snub, particularly when he overthrew a Muslim monarch, but hardly unusual for a Mongol ruler.
Arghun began his reign by executing some of Teguder’s loyalists, among them Shams al-Din Juvaini. Having retained the vizierate through Teguder’s reign, when Arghun’s rebellion toppled Teguder, Shams al-Din fled. Knowing that Arghun hated him and blamed him for poisoning Abaqa, it was a logical move to get out of Arghun’s sight. But guilt overcame him, knowing his sons were still within Arghun’s reach. Supposedly remarking that only a foolish man left his son in the hands of the Mongols, he returned upon learning that Arghun was apparently offering clemency. Shams al-Din also hoped his old friend Buqa would intercede on his behalf. After a warm reunion with Buqa, and an icy meeting with Arghun, Shams al-Din anxiously awaited his fate. When news came that he was to be fined 20,000,000 gold dinars, money he did not have, Shams al-Din knew his time was up. He urged Buqa to stop the plot, warning him that if the Mongols began to kill their viziers, they would not stop. Buqa did nothing. Shams al-Din consigned himself to his fate, writing his will as the guards came for him. In it, he forbid his younger sons from entering imperial service for the Mongols. On October 16th 1284, Shams al-Din Juvaini was executed on the order of Ilkhan Arghun, thus ending the career of a man who had served as vizier for twenty years, the last in a line of Juvainis who had served as administers for the Khwarezmshahs, the Seljuqs, and according to family legend, all the way back to ‘Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid. Shams al-Din’s lands were confiscated and one of his younger sons killed as well. He proved to be the longest lasting Ilkhanid vizier, as his warning to Buqa Noyan of the Mongols beginning to kill their viziers was accurate. Only one Ilkhanid vizier, Taj al-Din ‘Ali Shah, is known for certain to have died of natural causes in 1324. Every other vizier found their careers end bloodily, though sometimes only murdered after their dismissal. Few viziers between Shams al-Din’s death in 1284 and the appointment of Rashid al-Din in 1298 held the position even for a few years.
Following Shams al-Din Juvaini’s death, Buqa dominated his late friend’s position. A proud Mongol, Buqa proved to have a taste for power. Arghun, after appointing Buqa to the position of na’ib and sahib-diwan, that is, viceroy and vizier, essentially left the running of the Ilkhanate to him. Once Buqa was in his place, and Arghun had made other regional governor appointments, such as his brother Geikhatu to Anatolia, his cousin Baidu to Mesopotamia, and his son Ghazan to Khurasan, Arghun mainly concerned himself with hunting, feasting, his many wives, and building programs, as well as diplomacy with the Mamluks and European powers. Government was largely left to Buqa, who grew in stature and placed his family in key positions. His brother Aruq, for example, became master of Baghdad, still one of the chief cities of the empire and the Eurasian trade routes even after Hulegu’s sack in 1258.
This was the way things continued from 1284 until 1288. For four years, Buqa held almost total authority in the empire, over the military, the imperial family, economic affairs and the court. No document was valid without his signature. This seemed to suit Arghun fine, and it was a relationship recognized as far as the Yuan Dynasty. When a yarliq came from Khubilai Khan in 1286 investing Arghun as Ilkhan, it came with a title to grant to Buqa, chingsang, denoting chancellor. Yet Buqa’s growing arrogance from his might and immense wealth disgruntled other members of the military aristocracy. When Buqa began freely insulting them to their faces while court was in session, it pushed many of his former allies against him. In Baghdad Buqa’s brother Aruq acted like a king, ignoring Arghun’s messengers and failing to send tax revenue from the city to the imperial treasury. The annoyed generals began to whisper to Arghun of the brothers’ actions. First they succeeded in getting Arghun to remove Aruq from Baghdad, replacing him with a skillful Jewish physician named Sa’d al-Dawla, who quickly turned Baghdad’s finances around, discovering over 5 million dinars in unpaid taxes that were promptly shipped off to the treasury. The Noyan Taghachar, once an ally of Buqa who had deserted early to Arghun during the revolt, commissioned his deputy and a future vizier, Sadr al-Din Zanjani to undermine Buqa before Arghun - a ploy which gave Taghachar plausible deniability depending on the response of Buqa or Arghun. To the Ilkhan, Sadr al-Din Zanjani told him of Buqa’s ambition, how there were those who spoke of Buqa as the true emperor, that even yarliqs and paiza commissioned by the Ilkhan were not considered valid unless they bore Buqa’s red seal.
These reports finally irritated Arghun to the scale of Buqa’s power, but he did not wish to throw out so dear an ally. When Buqa fell so ill he had to be briefly removed from his duties, Arghun did not remove his office, but did permanently shift a number of his responsibilities to others, including Noyan Taghachar. When Buqa resumed his office, his influence had been greatly reduced, and it did not take him long to discover what had happened. Feeling insulted, Buqa began to spend less time at court with Arghun, to the point he began to fake illnesses to avoid seeing the Ilkhan. When he learned of this disrespect, Arghun had Buqa’s men removed from prominent office. Feeling himself out of favour and perhaps soon to be directly in the Ilkhan’s ire, Buqa moved to treachery, and spent huge sums to organize a coup. Arghun only caught wind of it when prince Jushkeb, another grandson of Hulegu, betrayed the conspirators and informed the Ilkhan. A furious Arghun rounded up Buqa and his associates late in 1288, including Buqa’s brother Aruq and their sons. Jushkeb himself delivered Buqa’s sentence, which involved a very sharp blade and the side of Buqa’s neck. The rest of Buqa’s family was killed, but Arghun’s suspicions did not end there, and it seems Buqa’s betrayal unhinged Arghun. Even Jushkeb was put to death a few months later, a death which prompted the revolt of Nawruz, son of the late Arghun Aqa, the former head of the Mongolian Imperial Secretariat of Western Asia. When Nawruz revolted in Khurasan, Ilkhan Arghun commissioned his son Ghazan to rein him in. Other princes and officers accused of being in contact with Nawruz, such as Hulachu and Qara Nogai, a son and grandson of Hulegu respectively, were executed on Arghun’s order.
If you feel that Arghun had suddenly become rather execution happy, you’re not the only one. By the end of his reign, Arghun executed, just in Rashid al-Din’s chapter on him, 41 named men. 16 were members of the Turko-Mongolian aristocracy. Mostly these occurred in Arghun’s final years after 1288. The fourteenth century Ilkhanid writer Wassaf remarked that Arghun had initially been adverse to blood letting, until the rise of his Jewish vizier, Sa’d al-Dawla. Of course, this comes from the Muslim writer Wassaf’s distaste for a Jewish man to have become overseer of the Ilkhanate’s Muslim population, and Sa’d al-Dawla did not become sahib-diwan until after Arghun started removing heads.
Sa’d al-Dawla was a good choice for the position of vizier. Chosen to replace Buqa, Sa’d al-Dawla was an excellent fiscal mind. He had shown his skill in Baghdad, and when placed at the top of the Ilkhanate’s economy he quickly recouped losses for the imperial treasury and gained Arghun’s full backing. Some Muslim voices in the government were outraged with the appointment of a Jewish man in such a prominent position, but when Arghun had the chief complainer executed, Sa’d al-Dawla was able to comfortably go about his business without inordinate resistance, and was able to put his brother as well as Jamal al-Din Dastjirdani, a future vizier, in charge of Baghdad. This favouring of a Jewish man probably did much to cement Arghun, to writers like Bar Hebraeus and Wassaf, as a bitterly anti-Muslim man. Sa’d al-Dawla was not in total control, however. When he tried to provide lands to support the destitute sons of the late Shams al-Din Juvaini, Arghun had those lands confiscated and Shams al-Din’s sons killed.
By 1290 Arghun was feeling comfortable and secure in his empire. Sa’d al-Dawla restored the Ilkhanate economy after mismanagement by Buqa. His son prince Ghazan fought Nawruz in Khurasan. The noyan Taghachar repulsed a Golden Horde attack on the Caucasus in 1290, and Arghun waited for news of the expected arrival of Christian forces from Europe to aid in an attack on Mamluk Egypt. Arghun was planning for the future, and needed to be around for it, for he anticipated great things. So in order to maintain a longer life, in 1290, on the advice of an Indian mystic, Arghun began taking a concoction of mercury and sulphur. For 8 months he took this mixture, topped off by a 40 day retreat to the fortress in Tabriz where he cut himself off from the world. Not surprisingly, he fell seriously ill. Once Sa’d al-Dawla, a well trained physician, had Arghun removed from the mystics, his health improved dramatically, but during a lapse in guard, or on Arghun’s approval, they were let back into his presence and gave him another concoction, supposedly of wine. Almost immediately Arghun relapsed, and in the closing days of 1290 it was clear that Arghun was dying.
Certain high ranking noyans used this opportunity to get their retaliation in first. The noyans Taghachar and Qunchuqbal began rounding up their enemies and killing them. When vizier Sa’d al-Dawla contacted Arghun’s son Ghazan to return and put a stop to this, and likely to assume rulership, they had him killed as well. On the 10th of March, 1291, Arghun, son of Abaqa, grandson of Hulegu, great-grandson of Tolui and great-great-grandson of Chinggis Khan, died. He was 30 years old. Such was the effort at prolonging his life. Immediately the various noyans supported different candidates; Taghachar and Qunchuqbal supported Arghun’s cousin Baidu, another grandson of Hulegu, though Baidu himself seems to have been a reluctant candidate. However, the noyans Choban and Qurumshi backed Arghun’s brother Geikhatu, the governor of Rum’, a very wealthy man who controlled the Anatolian silver mines. Arghun’s son Ghazan was an obvious contender, but was still occupied battling the rebelling Nawruz in the far east. Geikhatu, at a quriltai, won the day, and on July 23rd, 1291, was enthroned as the fifth Khan of the Ilkhanate. It is his reign we begin with in our next episode, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you’d like to help us continue bringing you great content, please consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. Please also consider leaving us a positive review and rating on the podcast catcher of your choice, and sharing us with your friends; each one helps the podcast out alot. 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.
Now that we have gone through the Yuan Dynasty, Ogedeid Khanate and Chagatai Khanate, our attention comes to the other Mongol Khanate ruled by the descendants of Tolui; the Ilkhanate. Ruling Iran, Iraq, the Caucasus and the Anatolian peninsula to the borders of the Byzantine Empire, the Ilkhanate was among the most powerful, and also perhaps the best understood of the Khanates, due to a wonderful surviving library of historical works, best exemplified by the mammoth universal history the Ilkhanate’s vizier, Rashid al-Din. For our first episode on the Ilkhanate, we look at its establishment by Hulegu and his son Abaqa, the first twenty years of the Ilkhanate’s history which did much to define the final fifty years. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
As a brief aside, you can revisit a two part discussion between our series historian, Jack Wilson, with professor Michael Hope, a specialist on the Ilkhanate, which we have uploaded on all sites that host our podcast. We last left off with the Ilkhanate in episode 33 of our main series, on the Berke-Hulegu war, where Hulegu fought with his cousin Berke of the Golden Horde over the Caucasus in the early 1260s. Hulegu was the younger brother of Great Khan Mongke and of Khubilai. The third son of Tolui, they were grandsons of Chinggis Khan and thus of prestigious lineage. As we saw in episodes 28 and 29, Hulegu had been ordered by his brother Mongke in the 1250s to complete the conquest of southwestern Asia. Despite the claims of some Ilkhanid writers, or of modern historians who write of Khubilai and Hulegu being made viceroys of China and western Asia, respectively, it is highly unlikely Mongke had commissioned Hulegu to found a new Khanate. Rather, his role was almost certainly just a limited military one, assigned by his brother to complete the conquest so that the Middle East could be properly incorporated into the Central Governmental structure, or even territory that belonged directly to the Khan. Given Mongke’s crackdown on the independence of the Ogedeids, Chagatayids and to a lesser extent, the Jochids, it seems unlikely he was setting up a vast area to become personal fief to another member of the family, even if it was his younger brother. Certainly, we can also ignore statements that this was land Chinggis Khan had granted specifically to the Toluids, or that the Ilkhanate emerged from a division of the empire following Chinggis’ death in 1227. The conquest of Iran proper did not begin until after Chinggis’ death, and it took until Hulegu in the 1250s for the Middle East to become territory of the house of Tolui. Infact, it seems much of this territory was considered, up until 1260 or so, as belonging to the house of Jochi. At least, the Jochids considered this to be the case.
Whatever Mongke’s intentions, as with so much, his plans were upset by his death on campaign in 1259. Hulegu was an important commander during Mongke’s lifetime, but not necessarily one about to be appointed a long term governor. Though he had greatly expanded the Mongol Empire westwards and taken Baghdad, the territory that later became the Ilkhanate was divided between Jochids in the north, especially in the Caucasus and northern Iran but also scattered throughout the region; some Chagatayid territory in the east, namely in parts of Khurasan; and territory that belonged directly to the Great Khan, for whom it seemed Hulegu’s conquests would all go to. Following Mongke’s death, Hulegu essentially seized all these lands. Whether Hulegu had done this in order to declare his independence, or to take advantage of a primary lapse in imperial authority and then force Mongke’s successor to recognize his gains, over 1260 Hulegu seized control of territory claimed by the Jochids and other branches of the family. The Jochid Khan, Berke, was particularly angered at the loss of the pastures and trade cities of the Caucasus, which Mongke had only shortly before re-confirmed for him. Hulegu did not return east to take part in the election of Mongke’s successor or observe matters there, but thought of himself first, using the lull to enrich himself. It was this which precipitated war between the Jochids under Berke in 1262 over the Caucasus.
As we addressed briefly in episode 30, it seems that following the sack of Baghdad in 1258, Hulegu began using the title of il-khan. While popularly translated as viceroy or subject khan, more recent scholarship has demonstrated that the title bore no such connotations of submission or subservience. Rather, it simply designated a sovereign in his own right. Most of the uses of the term il-khan reflect this usage in the historical sources, with rulers from Chinggis Khan himself to the Khans of the Golden Horde referred to as il-khan. By the start of the 1260s we can speak in earnest of Hulegu and his successors as the Ilkhans. We should expect that to contemporaries, Hulegu was understood as his own monarch in truth, whatever nominal allegiance he and his successors paid to Khubilai Khan and his heirs.
From 1262 until his death of epilepsy in 1265, Hulegu was largely concerned with battling Berke Khan in Azerbaijan and Georgia in three years of on and off warfare. He made excuses to avoid traveling east to confirm Khubilai’s enthronement as Great Khan after Ariq Boke’s death. Between fighting the Jochids, Hulegu also had to clamp down on revolts and build a new administration. A number of local leaders in northern Iraq and western Iran who had already submitted to the Mongols revolted after the sack of Baghdad or the defeat at Ayn Jalut. All those who revolted were subjected to horrific punishments. The ruler of Mosul, Badruddin Lu’lu, died in 1261 aged 96, and his son Malik Shah revolted. Hulegu sent an army which brought the city to slaughter and rape the following year, and Maik Shah was tied to a post and covered in sheep’s fat, which soon attracted flies. The resulting maggots born from their eggs then ate the poor man alive while he died of exposure in the Iraqi sun. Malik Shah’s three year old son was cut in half and left hanging as a warning. Another revolting ruler in Mayyafariqan, upon being caught by the Mongols had pieces of his flesh cut off and stuffed into his mouth until he died. In Fars, the Salghurid Atabeg’s actions brought the response of a Mongol army: it took until 1264 for the Atabeg to be caught and killed, and a cousin of his married to one of Hulegu’s sons.
Hulegu also began the building of his own imperial government. He did not merely co opt the existing Mongol bureaucracy. Much of Hulegu’s territory had been previously overseen by the Mongol bureaucrat Arghun Aqa, the head of the Secretariat for Iran and Western Asia since the 1240s, first appointed to the post by Torogene Khatun. While most of Arghun Aqa’s territorial jurisdiction was brought into Hulegu’s new state, and Arghun Aqa continued to serve the Ilkhans until his death in 1275, Hulegu had to incorporate territory he himself had only recently conquered. He was strongly influenced by traditional Persian forms of government, due in part to the advice of prominent Persians in his retinue, Nasir al-Din Tusi and the Juvaini brothers. The older, Shams al-Din Juvaini, was made Hulegu’s vizier, a position he would hold for the next twenty or so years. The younger Juvaini brother we have met often over the course of this series. ‘Ala al-Din ‘Ata-Malik Juvaini served in Hulegu’s court during his campaigns against the Nizari Ismailis and Baghdad, and in turn ‘Ala al-Din was appointed to oversee Baghdad’s reconstruction. We of course know him best as the author of the History of the World Conqueror, one of the single most important surviving historical sources on the Mongol Empire, and used as a source by other medieval authors like Rashid al-Din. Both Juvaini brothers were tasked with much of the rebuilding of the Iranian, Iraqi, Caucasian and Anatolian cities and their economies, which they approached diligently. It was not without Mongol custom though, for Hulegu’s various sons, wives and lords were allotted territories to oversee in order to support themselves, the appanage system which so often stymied efforts by the central government to exert its powers.
In addition, Hulegu established Maragha in northwestern Iran as his capital, and under the supervision of the brilliant scholar Nasir al-Din Tusi, began to make it a centre of learning and science. On Hulegu’s order, Tusi built a great observatory there, and Hulegu provided pensions to artists and scholars in order to enhance his reputation; though Hulegu tended to show greater interest in alchemists who sought to turn things into gold for him. Additionally, Hulegu ordered the construction of palaces and temples and a number of other public works projects, for according to Rashid al-Din, Hulegu loved to build. In Rashid’s time some forty years later, a number of Hulegu’s projects still stood. Hulegu did not abandon nomadism, and instead, in a model followed by his successors, established a primary capital to house his treasury and governmental apparatus, a place on occasion visited by Hulegu, while Hulegu would spend most of his time with his herds and families in his pastures: generally in the rich, cooler pastures of Azerbaijan and northwestern Iran in the summer, and then to eastern Anatolia, northern Iraq or even Baghdad itself during the winters.
Of course, there is also the matter of the Mamluks. The Mamluk Sultanate famously defeated a Mongol army under Ketbuqa Noyan at Ayn Jalut in September 1260. Hulegu did not see the matter as finished; before even the end of 1260, another small Mongol army invaded Syria, though it too was quickly defeated. This proved to be the final Mongol incursion into Syria for the 1260s. The borders with the Golden Horde in the Caucasus, the Qara’una and the Chagatai Khanate in Khurasan proved of greater concern. Only once other matters were settled would the Ilkhans be able to bring their attention to Syria and the Mamluks, but that long war we will cover in a following episode.
Hulegu died in February 1265, a complication from the epilepsy he seemed to suffer from. He was buried on an island in the Caspian Sea with considerable treasure and apparently, human sacrifices. He was followed to the grave soon after by his chief wife, Dokuz Khatun. Aside from an aborted attempt by one son, Yoshmut, to throw his name in for the throne, apparently it was unanimously agreed by the notables of the Ilkhanate to elect Hulegu’s oldest son, Abaqa. Abaqa may not have been born of Hulegu’s chief wives, but he was the most senior of Hulegu’s children in the Ilkhanate, since most of Hulegu’s sons and wives were still in Mongolia at the time of his death. Abaqa had risen as his father’s right hand, and had overseen the Ilkhanate’s eastern Iranian and Khurasani territory. During the initial rounds of fighting against Berke Khan in the Caucasus, Abaqa had a key command role, though led his own forces into a humiliating defeat. For the nearly 17 years that Abaqa ruled over the Ilkhanate, he proved to be a steady and stabilizing, if unimaginative, monarch. Like his father, he was a capable enough manager though often had little care for the details of running the state. He shared his father’s personal affection for Buddhism, but also continued his policy of general religious tolerance. While Buddhists temples were constructed, Abaqa showed himself a friend to all religions. To Chrisitans, Abaqa courted alliances with Catholic Europe and Eastern Christian, that is Nestorian, churches and representatives such as Rabban bar Sauma and Mar Yahballaha were patronized. One of Abaqa’s wives was a daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII, named Maria but called Despina Khatun by the Mongols. The Christian kingdom of Cilician Armenia was a favoured ally, and the churches in Greater Armenia, Georgia and the few Crusader holdouts on the coast were treated respectfully enough. The Armenians and Georgian sources treated Hulegu’s wife, the Christian Dokuz Khatun, as a saintly figure who protected and patronized their churches, a second coming of Constantine I and his mother Helene. To Mongols, he ensured the respect of the yassa of Chinggis Khan and still favoured the Mongol elite and military. For Muslims, Abaqa relied on traditional Persian governmental institutions and his top members of the bureaucracy, especially the Juvaini brothers, were Muslims. Dokuz Khatun, despite her Christianity, had also showed patronage to Buddhist and Muslim public sites and places of worship. The prominence of the minority Christians and Buddhists in the Ilkhanate’s administration and privileges were, however, a matter of contention for an empire with a Muslim-majority population, already unhappy to be ruled over by infidels.
Abaqa’s initial steps on his enthronement were to reconfirm the laws passed by his father and to keep most of his appointees in their offices. Shams al-Din Juvaini was maintained as vizier and sahib-diwan, while his brother ‘Ala al-Din ‘Ata-Malik was retained in Baghdad. Perhaps the greatest change in Abaqa’s early days was moving the capital from Maragha to Tabriz, and appointing his brothers to the frontiers. Abaqa’s early reign was caught up with the matter of dealing with his Mongolian kinsmen. Only weeks after his enthronement, Berke Khan and his commander Nogai unleashed another invasion on the Caucasus. You can revisit that war in more detail in episode 33, but after some inconclusive fighting Berke Khan died of illness en route to Tbilisi in 1266. The forces of the Jochids withdrew to select Berke’s successor, and Abaqa in turn built a wall and deep ditch along the Kura River, the frontier between them in the Ilkhanate. Manned by Mongols and Muslims, we are told it allowed merchants to travel between the Ilkhanate and Golden Horde, but stood strong enough to dissuade any serious Jochid re-offensives for many years.
At the end of the 1260s Abaqa then had to deal with the Chagatais. As looked at in episode 47 on the Chagatai Khanate, a peace agreement was reached around 1268 between the Chagatai Khan Baraq, the Ogedeid prince Qaidu, and the new Khan of the Golden Horde, Mongke-Temur. They agreed to a joint invasion of the Ilkhanate. Baraq encouraged the revolt of a Chagatai prince in the Ilkhanate, then followed up with an invasion in 1270. As we covered in detail in episode 47, Abaqa successfully had the revolting Chagatai prince captured and defeated Baraq at the battle of Herat in July 1270. Baraq was broken and fled back to the Chagatai Khanate, where he died in 1271, which precipitated Qaidu’s rise to prominence over the Chagatais. Two years later, in 1273, Abaqa sent a large army to devastate one of the Chagatai Khanate’s chief cities, Bukhara, a rather clear message. Qaidu recognized the display of Abaqa’s power, and despite occasional border raids, the Chagatais would not threaten serious invasion of the Ilkhanate until the early fourteenth century during the reign of Esen Buqa Khan, seen in our second episode on the Chagatai Khanate. So clear was Abaqa’s victory over Baraq that shortly afterwards, Mongke-Temur Khan of the Golden Horde sent gifts and peace offerings to Abaqa. Despite raids by the Neguderis, or Qara’unas, Mongol troops stationed in Afghanistan who had gone renegade, Abaqa for the rest of his reign had relatively calm relations with the Golden Horde and Chagatais.
Following the battle of Herat, envoys came from Khubilai Khan bearing a yarligh, a decree which confirmed Abaqa as Khan. With this confirmation, Abaqa was enthroned a second time, and according to Rashid al-Din only then began to sit in thrones and wear his crown. So began a particular custom of the Ilkhans, in that they would have two enthronements. The first upon their initial election as Khan of the Ilkhanate, and the second following the arrival of an official decree from the Great Khan in China which confirmed the decision. This in many respects was the extent of the Ilkhans’ submission to the Great Khans. While maintaining trade and diplomatic ties, the Great Khan could only confirm an election made in the Ilkhanate, and had no power to remove him from his office. Still, it remained a source of legitimacy and of adherence to the idea of a unified Mongol Empire, even if such a thing no longer existed.
After a busy late 1260s, Abaqa slowed down in his operations in the 1270s. Much of his time was spent drinking or hunting, something he particularly loved, even if his timing and luck during hunting trips was not always great. Shortly after his first enthronement in 1265, his brother Yoshmut misfired an arrow that grazed Abaqa’s neck. After his second enthronement in November 1270, Abaqa received a grievous wound to his hand from a bison. Though the bleeding was halted with an impromptu tourniquet from a bow string, the wound developed an abscess and became infected. In immense pain, Abaqa’s physicians were reluctant to open up the abscess until convinced by Nasir al-Din Tusi that the procedure could be done. Under his supervision, Abaqa’s wound was opened and cleaned, and the Il-Khan’s pain immediately subsided. This was, by the way, Nasir al-Din’s final known action. He is mentioned as dying only a few years later in 1274.
Even if Abaqa spent more time hunting and drinking than with day to day governance, it did not mean the Ilkhanate was rudderless. Abaqa had the luxury to spend time how he wanted, due to the governorship of his vizier, Shams al-Din Juvaini. Shams al-Din and his brother ‘Ala al-Din ‘Ata-Malik were from a family of administrators, with both their father and grandfather officials of the Seljuq Sultans and the Khwarezm-shahs. ‘Ala al-Din had served in the administration of Arghun Aqa, the Mongol governor for most of western Asia from the 1240s until Hulegu’s western advance, and been held in quite some esteem by the great bureaucrat. ‘Ala al-Din’s own historical account, the History of the World Conqueror, features a lengthy and glowing biography of Arghun Aqa. Arghun Aqa continued in a post as the primary tax-collector of the Ilkhanate throughout Abaqa’s reign, as well as governor of Khurasan, thereby remaining an important ally to the Juvainis. Attached to Hulegu’s camp with the start of the prince’s campaign, both Juvaini brothers rose in prominence under his eye. With the establishment of the Ilkhanate, Shams al-Din was made the chief minister of the state, the vizier, and the head of the diwan and chief financial officer, sahib-diwan, while ‘Ala al-Din ‘Ata-Malik was made governor of Baghdad to oversee its reconstruction.
The sahib-diwan was the head of the Ilkhanate’s civilian administration which was, to paraphrase Michael Hope’s discussion on the matter in his Power, Politics and Tradition in the Mongol Empire and Ilkhanate Iran, responsible for provisioning the army, foreign relations, the post system, royal and public treasuries and collection of revenues. The sahib-diwan led a group of regional assistants who coordinated these activities through the provinces of the empire, based on the traditional Persian administration, the diwan. The Mongol addition was a sort of dual administration, wherein the regional operatives of the sahib-diwan were under the supervision of Mongol governors who held supreme authority. So, under Abaqa’s reign ‘Ala al-Din Juvaini, the governor of Baghdad, acted as a sort of assistant or deputy to the Mongol governor of Arab Iraq, Khuzistan and Fars, Suqunjaq Aqa, or in Anatolia Mu’in al-Din Sulaiman worked alongside and under the Mongol governor, Samaghar Noyan. The military elite, the noyad, that is the heads of the family and military leaders, generally served as intermediaries between the diwan and the Ilkhan. The success of a given sahib-diwan rested on his ability to maneuver and work with the noyad. As such, the power and influence of the head of the Ilkhanate’s civilian administration fluctuated widely, often relying on connections more often than ability.
Shams al-din Juvaini was capable enough at this handling of the noyad, though over the late 1270s found himself increasingly undermined by the noyad and other officials. As usual, money brought a great deal of the trouble. The Juvainis became very wealthy over their tenure. It was not simply a case of needlessly enriching themselves, as they were expected to cover many of the costs of their operations themselves, from patronizing other officials, gift giving to bribes needed to keep things running smoothly, or supporting public projects and donations for the sake of the popular image of the empire and government. Shams al-Din Juvaini, it must be said, did seem to pay artists and poets great sums to spread good words about himself and speak of his magnificence. As with any administrator we’ve met in our overview of the Mongol Empire, these men made enemies - often by men who felt excluded from power- and had to appoint their own trusted men and family members to high positions in order to keep these areas out of the hands of enemies, or ensure they worked in agreement with the sahib-diwan. It had the side-effect though, of being nepotism and an easy charge for anyone to rally against.
Sahib Shams al-Din found that his diwan was quite subservient to the needs of the military, and in many respects simply served as a means to provide for the noyad and their troops. As long as the money kept coming in for military needs, such as for Abaqa to move and supply troops from frontier to frontier to face Jochids, Chagatayids, Qara’unas and Mamluks, then Abaqa was usually fine to allow Shams al-Din to act autonomously. Though both Juvaini brothers had developed a kitchen cabinet of rivals and faced accusations, their positions rested secure until 1277.
1277 proved a hallmark year for Abaqa, the Juvainis, and the Ilkhanate itself. That year, the Mamluk Sultan Baybars led a devastating invasion into Mongol ruled Anatolia, defeating a large Mongol army at Elbistan, advancing as far west as Kayseri before withdrawing back to Syria, where died that summer. The Mamluk and Ilkhanid frontier in Syria had not moved much since the immediate aftermath of Ayn Jalut in 1260, but Baybars had gradually been pushing up along the coastline, attacking, harassing and conquering the Il-Khan’s allies, the Crusader states and the Kingdom of Cilician Armenia. In 1265 following Hulegu’s death, Baybars conquered Caesarea, Haifa, Arsuf, and Galilee; in 1268, Baybars took Antioch; in 1271, he took Krak des Chaveliers and almost took Tripoli. When Abaqa’s attention was elsewhere, the Mamluk raided Cilician Armenia.
In Anatolia, the Mongols ruled over the shattered remnants of the Seljuq Sultanate of Rum, in an administration headed by Mu’in al-Din Sulaiman, better known as the Pervane. The Pervane was the dominant figure of the rump state of the Seljuqs of Rum: the Seljuq Sultan, Ghiyath al-Din Kaykhusraw III, was a young boy, so the Pervane acted as co-governor with Samaghar Noyan, his Mongolian counterpart. The two had a stable relationship, but when Abaqa appointed his younger brother Ejei to replace Samaghar, the Pervane chafed under the increased financial burden and supervision, and asked Abaqa to recall his brother, claiming Ejei was in cooperation with Baybars. Abaqa promised to recall him, but delayed. In his frustration, the Pervane reached out to Baybars. The Sultan’s curiosity was piqued, but didn’t commit; by the time his response reached the Pervane in 1274, Ejei and Samaghar had been replaced by Toqa Noyan, and the Pervane didn’t respond. Under Toqa Noyan, Mongol pressure was even greater in Anatolia, and the Pervane’s powers were limited.
What follows is a terrible mess of political machinations. The Pervane got Toqa Noyan removed, Ejei was reinstated, the Pervane’s efforts to remove Ejei again frustrated Abaqa, who removed Ejei, killed some of his followers and reinstated the Pervane and Toqa Noyan. In November 1275, the Mongols besieged al-Bira, a major Mamluk fort on the Euphrates River in Syria, but Baybars had learned of it in advance allegedly due to the Pervane. After this, the Pervane was careful to rebuild trust with Abaqa, bringing him the Seljuq Sultan’s sister to wed. At the same time, with or without the Pervane’s support a group of Rumi amirs met with Baybars in July 1276, urging him to attack. Judging there was enough support in Rum for him, Baybars agreed, mobilized his army over winter 1276 and set out in February 1277. The result was Baybars’ devastating raid into Anatolia. Though the Pervane refused to meet with Baybars, staying instead in his fortress at Tokat, this did nothing to ease Abaqa’s fury. Abaqa arrived in Anatolia swiftly with an army but missed Baybars, and in his wrath demanded every living thing between Kayseri and Erzurum be massacred. Only with difficulty did Shams al-Din Juvaini talk the Il-Khan out of such horror, and was convinced to sate himself with only sacking the nearby city of Siwas executing leaders of local Turkoman tribes. When Abaqa’s threatened invasion of Syria could not materialize due to the summer heat, he returned to his Azerbaijani pastures and summoned the Pervane to him. Only reluctantly did the Pervane arrive on his master’s bidding, where he was charged and put to death. Allegedly, his flesh was eaten by Abaqa and the senior Mongols.
Though Shams al-Din Juvaini was moved to Anatolia to oversee reconstruction there, Abaqa’s trust in his civilian officials was greatly broken. Now was the time for the enemies of the Juvainis to strike. Majd al-Mulk Yazdi, a former protege of Shams al-Din who felt wronged by him, reported that the Juvainis had been in cooperation with the Mamluks and had assisted Baybars in invading Anatolia, based on words from one of Shams al-Din’s deputies. Abaqa had the deputy interrogated and beaten, but the man refused to condemn Shams al-Din, saving the vizier from charges. Majd al-Mulk fell out of favour and into destitution, and in an attempt to win him over Shams al-Din donated a considerable sum of money to him.
When Abaqa was in Khurasan in 1280 dealing with a Qara’una attack, Majd al-Mulk moved again. This time he met with Abaqa’s son, Arghun, and reporting that not only were the Juvainis still in correspondence with the Mamluks, but they were also embezzling huge amounts from the royal treasury. Claiming that Shams al-Din’s donation was actually hush money to keep him quiet, Majd al-Mulk convinced Prince Arghun of the treachery of the Juvainis. Arghun told Abaqa of it on his return from campaign, but it took until the spring of 1281 when Majd al-Mulk met with Abaqa in person and reported it, for Abaqa to react. An angered Abaqa finally moved, arresting the Juvainis and ordering their accounts investigated. Luckily for Shams al-Din, he was able to petition one of Abaqa’s wives, Oljei Khatun, to convince Abaqa of their innocence. Though Majd al-Mulk did not succeed in this attempt, he was not out of favour, and Abaqa appointed him as an official check with Shams al-Din in a sort of co-vizier role.
From this position, Majd al-Mulk focused his plots against Shams al-Din’s brother, the governor of Baghdad ‘Ala al-Din ‘Ata-Malik Juvaini, the historian. The same charges were employed; accusations of embezzlement, treachery, etc. Majd al-Mulk’s timing was good, for it caught Abaqa in a particularly foul mood. Late in 1281, Abaqa’s younger brother Mongke-Temur had been sent with an army into Syria against the Mamluks. Abaqa had been supposed to join him, but had instead wasted time hunting. While he was hunting, the inexperienced Mongke-Temur suffered a humiliating defeat at Homs against the Mamluk Sultan Qalawun. Abaqa was, as you might expect, rather furious. He spent winter 1281 in Baghdad making plans to invade Syria himself. While there, Majd al-Mulk convinced upon Abaqa of ‘Ala al-Din Juvaini’s crimes. ‘Ala al-Din was arrested, then freed by Abaqa, then fined millions of gold pieces. Unable to pay the fines upon an audit, Majd al-Mulk had ‘Ala al-Din beaten and dragged through the streets of Baghdad. Only Abaqa’s death saved him.
Abaqa left Baghdad at the start of 1282 and travelled to Hamadan, where he partook in that favourite Mongol princely tradition, a night of binge drinking. The following morning he was dead, having been struck in his final moments, according to Rashid al-Din, with a vision of black bird perched in a tree. Ordering an archer to shoot at it, no bird could be found, but upon the realization Abaqa was dead.
Abaqa’s nearly twenty year rule had a significant effect on the Ilkhanate, a period of consolidation and continuation from the years of his father, Hulegu. Abaqa managed to keep the military and civilian government largely balanced, oversaw reconstruction after the conquests and secured his border from powerful neighbours. Recognizing the nominal supremacy of the Great Khan, Abaqa proved a formidable presence in western Asia, and with only brief exceptions, the longevity of his reign would ensure that his family would dominate the Ilkhanate until its dissolution. Yet Abaqa overlooked problems facing his kingdom, leaving his successors to deal with a proud military element that would only grow to seek more influence at the expense of the Ilkhan and the civilian administration. We will be exploring these topics and the period following Abaqa’s death in the next episodes, 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, 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.
Back in our 15th episode of this series, we looked at Khwarezmian prince Jalal al-Din Mingburnu’s exploits in India in the early 1220s. Having fled there after Chinggis Khan’s devastating invasion of the Khwarezmian Empire, Jalal al-Din’s flight brought India to the attention of the Mongols. While Chinggis Khan did not invade the subcontinent, this was not the last that India would see of the Mongols. In today’s episode, we return to northern India, dominated by the Sultanate of Delhi, and look at its interactions with the Mongols who repeatedly raided its borders. Why the Delhi Sultans, from Iltutmish, Balban to Alauddin Khalji were able to largely successfully resist the Mongols will be examined, over nearly the century of Mongol-Delhi interactions. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
The Delhi Sultanate arose from the ruins of the Ghurid Empire which had stretched from Afghanistan to Bengal. The Ghurids, or Shansabanids, had been a regional power in central Afghanistan emerging in the ninth century but were subdued by the Ghaznavids, also known as the Yamanids, a persianised Turkic dynasty which dominated much of the Iranian world up to the borders of India from the tenth to the twelfth centuries. The Ghaznavids under their great expander, the mighty Mahmud of Ghazna, reduced the Ghurids to a subject state early in the eleventh century, though in turn the Ghaznavids were pushed from Iran by the Seljuqs with the famous battle of Dandanaqan in 1040, and became tributary to the Seljuqs under their Sultan Sanjar at the start of the twelfth century. In this time, the Ghurid elite converted from Buddhism to Islam, and could be said to have bided their time. The Seljuqs weakened over the twelfth century with the arrival of the Qara-Khitai, the Ghuzz Turk invasions and independence of the Khwarezmian Empire in the north. In turn, the weakness of the Seljuqs advanced the weakness of the Ghaznavids, which provided an opportunity for the Ghurids to rise in the second half of the twelfth century. Under the brilliant leadership of Mu’izz al-Din Muhammad Ghuri, better known simply as Muhammad of Ghor, and his brother Ghiyath al-Din, the Ghurids conquered the remnants of the Ghaznavids. Repulsing invasions by the Ghuzz Turks and proving a staunch foe to the Qara-Khitai and Khwarezm-Shahs, Muhammad of Ghor received backing from the Caliph and expanded across the region. By the end of his life, he had forged an empire stretching from eastern Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan across Northern India to Bengal.
Muhammad of Ghor’s military might rested in large part on his loyal ghulams, Turkic slave soldiers, though over the thirteenth century the term gave way to mamluk. A similar institution existed in the form of the Ottoman janissaries. While it was common for any good regional warlord to employ nomadic Turkic tribes due to their military prowess, they often proved unreliable and self-interested. For the conquest-minded Muhammad of Ghor, he could not put much stock on nomad chiefs who may value their own advancement over Muhammad’s glory. Instead, Muhammad looked to the classic islamic institution of slave soldiers. Ghulams and Mamluks were young boys, generally sold by enemy Turkic tribes, that were brought into the Islamic world and raised from birth to be elite soldiers. Generally having already some horse and archery skills from their youth, these boys were converted to Islam and given the finest training in military matters, with top of the line equipment, weapons and horses, in addition to receiving education and even salaries. The result was a core of fierce warriors loyal not to any tribal or family ties, but to their fellow ghulams and their master, who sheltered and provided for them. No shortage of Islamic princes lamented on how their ghulams tended to be more loyal than their own sons; the sons awaited only the death of the father, while the ghulams wanted only his glory. Famously, the child-less Muhammad of Ghor is supposed to have remarked that, while other monarchs could have a few sons, he had thousands in the form of his ghulams.
The source of many of Muhammad of Ghor’s ghulams were various Qipchap Turkic tribes from the great steppe. As in late Ayyubid and early Mamluk Egypt, and indeed much of the islamic world, the Cuman-Qipchaqs were prized as warriors. His ghulams proved themselves in combat repeatedly. Though supported by local tribes, both Turkic and Pashtun, Muhammad of Ghor over his life increasingly relied on his ghulams, and in time they commanded his armies and acted as his governors. Attacking the Hindu kingdoms of northern India at the close of the twelfth century, Muhammad of Ghor had to return to Afghanistan to face the Khwarezm-Shah Tekish, and Tekish’s son Muhammad. Muhammad bin Tekish, of course, we know best as the gentleman who antagonized Chinggis Khan some two decades later. In Muhammad of Ghor’s absence fighting the Khwarezmians, his ghulams like Qutb ad-Din Aybeg were left to command his troops and govern his territories in India. And these same loyal ghulams, upon the childless Muhammad of Ghor’s assassination in 1206, then quite loyally tore the Ghurid empire to pieces, each one declaring himself master of his own domain.
Qutb ad-Din Aybeg claimed Delhi, and though he tried to establish a dynasty, his early death in 1210 in a polo accident resulted in his young son pushed out by one of his own ghulams, his son-in-law Shams-ud-Din Iltutmish. Iltutmish, a Qipchaq like Aybeg, consolidated the Delhi Sultanate as one of the chief powers of northern India. So began the first of five separate Turko-Afghan dynasties that would rule the Delhi Sultanate over the next three centuries. Because of the ghulam, or mamluk origin of the first dynasty, the first dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate is sometimes known as the Mamluk Sultanate of Delhi, sometimes to mirror the contemporary Qipchaq founded Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt. For the next two hundred years, their foreign policy on their northern border was defined by the Mongol Empire and its successor states.
Relations between the Delhi Sultanate and Mongols began in the 1220s, in the middle of Iltutmish’s reign, when Chinggis Khan himself rode to their borders chasing the Khwarezmian Prince Jalal al-Din Mingburnu, son of the late Khwarezm-Shah Muhammad II. Chinggis did not invade India, though he sent some forces to pursue Jalal al-Din in India. According to the Persian writer Juvaini, Chinggis actually did advance some days into the Punjab, having hoped to find a route that would allow him to march around the Himalayas and attack the Jin Dynasty from the south, but could not find such a road. Other medieval sources and modern historians offer alternative explanations for Chinggis’ refusal to spend more time in India, with reasons ranging from respect for Delhi’s neutrality, the heat of northern India, bad omens, Delhi’s diplomacy appeasing the Khan through token submission, to the simple fact that Chinggis may not have had interest expanding into a new, unknown territory while already dealing with much of Iran, Central Asia and China, with Chinggis intending all along to return to China and deal with the Jin and Tangut. We discussed the matter more in episodes 9 and 15. As it was, Chinggis returned to the east, and died while on campaign against the Tangut in 1227. As we saw in episode 15, Jalal al-Din spent a few years in India making a mess of things, nearly attacking Delhi before withdrawing to Iran after a massive coalition of the post-Ghurid and Hindu forces threatened him.
The great consequences of Mingburnu’s time in India was that he and the Mongols sent to pursue him greatly undermined Iltutmish of Delhi’s other Ghurid rivals in the northwest and the Punjab. Thanks to wars between the Khwarezmian and Mongol forces, Iltutmish over the late 1220s and 1230s gradually absorbed the other post-Ghurid powers up to the Indus River. In addition, he became overlord of a number of regional Hindu kingdoms; some have for this region compared the Delhi Sultanate to a collection of subkingdoms. By Iltutmish’s death in 1236, the Delhi Sultanate was the great power of northern India and the Gangetic plain, from the Indus to Bengal, with recognition from the Caliph as the only Muslim sovereign in India, and indeed, one of the mightiest Muslim rulers in the world.
However, in Iltutmish’s final years the Mongol presence on his border increased. When Chormaqun Noyan and his army entered Iran at the start of the 1230s to complete the conquest of the region and finish off Jalal al-Din -something we discussed in detail in episode 15- a portion of his force was sent into southeastern Iran and Khurasan, which included modern Afghanistan. The remnants of the empire Jalal al-Din Mingburnu had left in Afghanistan and India submitted to the Mongols, and the Mongol Empire now directly bordered the Delhi Sultanate. A tamma force under Dayir was stationed in Afghanistan, and part of the duty of the tamma was to disrupt the states along the borders of the Mongol Empire. As such, Mongol raids into the Punjab and Sind began with increasing regularity in the late 1230 and 40s, which proved difficult for Iltutmish’s troubled successors.
Iltutmish’s eldest son and heir had been groomed for the throne, but his premature death in Bengal was a severe blow to the Sultan. A younger son, Rukn ud-Din Firoz Shah, ultimately succeeded Iltutmish, but the youth enjoyed alcohol and good times more than the complicated court machinations and governance. The boy’s mother acted as the true governor, using her power to take out her grievances. It was not a winning combination. Within months a rebellion removed Firoz Shah and his mother from the scene, which placed Iltutmish’s daughter Raziyya on the throne. Famous as the only female Muslim monarchs in India’s history, and popularly known as Raziyya Sultana, her ascension owed much to the strong Turkic force in the government, many of whom were only recent converts to Islam. Some are known to have been denizens of the former Qara-Khitai empire, which had influential women empresses, and therefore the prospect of a woman ruling in her own name was not as dreadful to them.
Apparently Raziyya had been expected to act as a figurehead, though proved herself, in the vein of all good Qipchap women, to be very assertive and insisted on a prominent, public role. Enjoying horseback archery and riding elephants in public, she supposedly even dressed as a man. Seeking to expand her powerbase, she sought to create additional sources of support in competition to the Turkic ghulams. Her appointees to power included Ghuris, Tajiks, Hindus and even Africans. The ghulams did not appreciate it, and by 1240 Raziyya was deposed and, after a brief attempt to restore her to the throne, killed in favour of her brother, Bahram Shah. So ended the brief reign of perhaps the most well known female Muslim monarch. Her brother and successor Bahram Shah did not long enjoy the throne. A brave and often blood thirsty individual, his effort to totally remove the powerful Turkic aristocracy, increasingly showing itself a rival to power to the Sultan, resulted in his commanders storming Delhi and killing him only two years into his reign. Bahram Shah’s most notable act was appointing Juzjani, a refugee from Khwarezm, as grand qadi of Delhi. Minhaj-i-SIraj Juzjani is one of the most important sources for the period, writing a mammoth history in the 1250s. We’ve visited it often in the course of this series to generally remark on his well known hatred of the Mongols but it is a key for the early history of the Delhi Sultanate. His great history, the Tabaqat-i-nasiri, was translated into English in the late nineteenth century by Major Raverty, and can be found in two volumes free to download by archive.org.
After Sultan Bahram Shah’s death, he was succeeded by Rukn ud-Din Firoz’s son, ‘Ala al-Din Mas’ud Shah. Despite having gained the throne with the support of the Turkic aristocracy, like his predecessors Mas’ud shah sought to weaken them. His four year reign ended with his death at the hands of the youngest surviving son of Iltutmish, Mahmud Shah. From 1246 until 1266, Mahmud proved the longest reigning of Iltutmish’ sons. He was though, the most ineffective, and gradually found himself reduced to puppet by his na’ib, Balban, who we will return to shortly.
While these political upheavals rocked the capital, the Mongols pressed on the northwestern border. In 1241 a Mongol force under Bahadur Tair took Lahore, and Multan was captured in 1245, and by the 1250s, Sind and the Punjab were largely under Mongol control and Mongol raids were a nearly annual occurrence. By the reign of Mahmud Shah, the authority of the Delhi monarch, both within his court and northern India, had declined dramatically. Fortunately for the Delhi Sultan, no full Mongol invasion yet threatened, but the stream of refugees from Iran and Central Asia must have brought constant news of the Mongol terror. Juzjani certainly reported seemingly every rumour he heard, and was certainly under the impression that at least some of the Mongol leadership, particularly Chagatai, favoured the extermination of Islam. The learned and informed in Delhi must have feared greatly what would happen if the Mongols pushed the advantage while Delhi was in the midst of another coup.
Sultan Mahmud Shah bin Iltutmish was overshadowed by his wazir and eventual successor Balban, who changed Delhi policy to the Mongols. An Ölberli Qipchaq and ghulam, Balban had risen in influence over the 1240s, and finally between 1246 and 1249 was raised to the viceroyalty, his might beneath only the Sultan himself. Often, you will see him referred to as a member of the “Forty,” or the “Forty Chiefs.” These were, if you believe some modern writers, forty ghulams of Sultan Iltutmish who acted as kingmakers in Delhi since Iltutmish’s death. However, as pointed out by historians like Peter Jackson, the “Forty” are only mentioned by Ziya’ al-Din Barani, an official writing in Persian in the Delhi Sultanate in the mid-fourteenth century. No other source on Delhi from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries, especially the more contemporary Juzjani, mention such a distinct coalition. It seems likely that “Forty” refers to the fact that these men commanded corps of forty elite men; such groups are mentioned in other contemporary sources, and the same organization was present in the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt at the same time. The “Forty” was not some provisional governmental body composed of forty men who tried to exert their power over the Sultans, but rather Barani’s way to refer to the influential members of the aristocracy and elite- many of whom were Qipchaq Turks, but including Ghuris, Tajiks and even Hindus- who were associated with the military elite and had a vested interest in remaining influential, and were no monolithic body. Balban was a part of this elite, a man experienced with command and the court.
From 1249 through to 1266, with only a brief break, Balban was the #2 man in the Delhi Sultanate, the na’ib, who handled government himself, styled himself Ulugh Khan and married his daughter to the Sultan. Sultan Mahmud Shah turned into a shadowy figure behind Balban’s power. In 1266, Mahmud Shah and his children died in unclear, but almost certainly not natural, circumstances, and Balban took the throne himself. So ended the line of Iltutmish. After many years in the viceroyalty, Balban had moved his allies and friends into prominent positions of power, and thus held the throne securely. He was therefore able to finally act more aggressively towards the Mongols. Initially, diplomacy under Mahmud Shah and Balban had sought to appease the Mongols, and envoys from Hulegu in the 1250s had been honoured and respected, friendly relations urged. Considering the size and might of Hulegu’s army, it was a wise decision. But following Hulegu’s death in 1265, the outbreak of civil war between the Mongols and Balban’s direct seizure of the throne in 1266, Balban went on the offensive. On his order, the Sultanate retook Multan and Lahore by force. Balban worked to fortify India’s rugged border through building forts garrisoned by the various mountain tribes. Further, Balban welcomed Mongols, Persian and Central Asian refugees fleeing the Mongol civil wars in the 1260s, and gave many of them military positions which provided the Delhi Sultans’ with knowledge of Mongolian military tactics. Similar to the Mamluks of Egypt, Mongol refugees were valuable immigrants and their flight was welcomed. Supposedly entire neighbourhoods in Delhi were formed from the Mongols who fled there. Some of these men of Mongol background came to positions of great prominence, after their conversion to Islam of course. Under Balban and his successors, these neo-Muslims, as they were called by Barani, were given command of armies and powerful positions close to the Sultan. One of these men was a member of the Khalaj tribes, named Jalal al-Din.
Beginning in the 1260s, the source of the Mongol incursions into India changed. Rather than an imperial effort, it became led by the Neguderis based in southern Afghanistan, known also as the Qaraunas. With the outbreak of war between the Ilkhanate and Golden Horde, the Ilkhan Hulagu had attacked the Jochid forces who had been a part of his army. Many fled to southern Afghanistan under their general Neguder, becoming a local and unruly power the Ilkhan and Chagatai princes sought to control. From then on, the Neguderis undertook nearly annual raids into India’s northwestern frontier.
Over Balban’s long reign he often still relied on diplomacy to keep the Mongols at bay in between periods of fighting. While he consolidated Delhi’s hold on northern India, Balban expanded southwards and restored the Delhi Sultante’s hegemony after a nadir in the 1240s. While often successful and gaining valuable experience with Mongol tactics, Balban received a great shock in 1285 when his favourite son and heir, Muhammad Shah, governor of Lahore, Multan and Dipalpur, was killed in a vicious Mongol attack on Multan. The once vigorous Balban lived the rest of his life quietly, and largely retired from governance, dying in 1287, succeeded by an inept grandson named Kayqubad. Of the eight sultans who reigned between 1236 and 1296, Sultan Balban was the only one known to have died of natural causes.
Sultan Kayqubad’s reign ended quickly, and following his murder in 1290, Jalal al-Din Khalji established the second dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, the Khalji dynasty. The name Khalji refers to their background, for their family came from Khalaj tribesmen of what is now Afghanistan.While generally later medieval and modern biographers have seen the Khalaj as a Turkic people, the indication from contemporary sources is that they were seen as a group distinct from the Turks- perhaps due to not being associated with horsemanship or ghulams. The Khalaj were originally Turkic speakers, but over centuries had mingled with the various Pashtun peoples of Afghanistan. The Pashtun are a branch of the Iranian peoples, speaking a language from the Eastern Iranic language family. While associated with the Pashtun, the Khalaj were distinct from them; Juzjani, during his writing in the 1250s, always distinguished the Khalaj from Turks, Persians and Pashtuns. As such, you will often find the Khalji remarked as a Turko-Afghan dynasty. Individuals of Khalaj stock were certainly raised to prominent positions under the Khalji Sultans, but contrary to some statements, it was not a replacement of the existing multi-ethnic, but still largely Turkic nobility, but a mere another addition to it, just one group among Turks, Mongols, Hindus, Persians and more.
Around 70 years old when he became Sultan in 1290, Jalal al-Din Khalji first appeared in Mongol service. According to the fourteenth century Ilkhanate historian Wassaf, Jalal al-Din had held command over the Khalaj on behalf of the Mongol appointed governor of Binban, west of the Indus River. A fifteenth century source identifies Jalal al-Din’s father as Yughrush, the name of the Khalaj Amir who is known to have taken part in a Mongol embassy to Delhi in 1260. In the ebb and flow of frontier fortunes, perhaps falling out with the Mongols or too ambitious for the existing climate, at some point in the 1260s Jalal al-Din and a body of his men fled to the Delhi Sultanate to offer their services to Sultan Balban, who rewarded them a position on the frontier against the Mongols. This was part of a growing trend in the second half of the thirteenth century. Whereas Iltutmish and the early Sultans had given command of the borders to men trained as ghulams or mamluks, under Balban and the Khaljis the border with the Mongols was increasingly defended by Turkic tribal leaders, who came with their own retinues and forces. Many had even been in Mongol service and therefore had intimate experience with them. It was a position for any ambitious general to develop a reputation, experience and a sizable military following.
Jalal al-Din’s prominence grew over the reign of Balban as he built his reputation against the Mongols. In the reign of Balban’s grandson Kayqubad, Jalal al-Din Khalji was invited to Delhi to assist against Kayqubad’s court rivals. Despite becoming Kayqubad’s regent, it did little good for the young sultan who was soon murdered, and Jalal al-Din seized power in the aftermath, though faced stiff court resistance throughout his reign.
Sultan Jalal al-Din Khalji is generally portrayed as downright mild-mannered. A devout and forgiving Muslim, often shown to be extraordinarily benevolent and generous to his subjects, he was also very capable miltiarily, personally leading armies against independent Hindu kingdoms and Mongols invaders, a great contrast to Sultan Balban who only rarely headed armies during his long dominance. One of his most notable victories came at Bar-Ram in 1292, where when a ceasefire was declared, some 4,000 of the Mongols under their Prince decided to stay in India after converting to Islam. Sultan Jalal al-Din also cultivated good relations with the Ilkhans. A notable exception to the Sultan’s demeanor, an outright moral failing in the view of his medieval biographers like Barani, was the brutal murder of a famous sufi whose hospice was found to be attached to a conspiracy against him. Jalal al-Din Khalji’s violent reaction was rather unusual for him, given his general clemency to others who plotted against him.
The general kindness, almost certainly overstated, made him appear weak to his ambitious nephew, Alauddin. In 1296 Alauddin Khalji killed his uncle, and arrested and blinded his sons and their allies, and thus usurped power in the Sultanate. So began the reign of the most famous Delhi Sultan. You may know him best as the primary antagonist in the recent Bollywood film, Padmavat, where he is portrayed by Indian actor Ranveer Singh. Alauddin Khalji was not noted for any benevolence, but for his cunning, ruthlessness, and paranoia alongside an iron will and exceptional military ability. Cruel but highly capable, his reign began with a large Neguderi incursion, attacking Multan, Sind and Lahore. Alauddin’s commanders Ulugh Khan and Zafar Khan were mobilized with a larger army than the Mongols, and at Jaran-Manjur defeated them, capturing many men, women and children and executing them.
Alauddin Khalji initiated a number of reforms to strengthen his control and prepare against Mongol invasions. Most of these were directed to enlarging the Delhi military and making it more effective, and building new fortifications. His army and officers were paid in cash and the Sultan had personal control over the army, rather than leaving it in the hands of his amirs. Economic reforms were undertaken as well, with high taxes, up to 50% of each crop, and efforts to prevent hoarding to keep prices low, making it cheaper to feed his men. His position was strengthened by a strong spy network and his loyal eunuch and possible lover, Malik Kefar, who secured him from court intrigues. Alauddin Khalji showed exceptional cruelty as he waged war against Mongol and Hindu alike. His wars in Gujarat were accompanied by the destruction of hundreds of Hindu temples and the massacres of men, women and children. The only extant history written in the reign of Sultan Alauddin, that of Amir Khusrau, speaks of the sultan killing some 30,000 Hindus in a single day during his 1303 campaign in Chittoor. In the words of Khusrau, he cut them down as if they were nothing but dry grass. Alauddin’s conquest of the independent Hindu kingdom of Ranthambore in Rajasthan in 1301, a state which had long held out against the Delhi Sultans, was an event which has since held significance in Indian memory. A number of later poems were written on the fall of Ranthambore which have done much to cement Alauddin’s legacy for Indians as a cruel tyrant with a near genocidal hatred for Hindus. Whether Alauddin actually carried such hatred for Hindus, or this was a consequence of a violent imitation of the cruelty associated with the very successful Mongols, is of little consolation for the many thousands killed on his order.
While these developments were occurring within the Sultanate, to the north was a major shift in the Mongol territory, largely covered in our second episode on the Chagatai Khanate and on Qaidu Khan. With Qaidu’s influence, Du’a was appointed as Khan over the Chagatai Khanate. Splitting rule of central Asia between them, Du’a and his oldest and favourite son, Qutlugh Khwaja, were able to finally bring the fearsome Neguderis, or Qara’unas, under their power in the 1290s. Qutlugh Khwaja was given command over them. While Qaidu and Du’a focused on the border with Khubilai Khan in the northeast, Qutlugh Khwaja from his southern base turned the Chagatayid-Neguderi attention to India in the closing years of the thirteenth century. The reasons for this are unclear: we lack sources from the Chagatai perspective, but Ilkhanid and Indian sources give Du’a an intense interest in India. India was famously wealthy and barring raids into the Punjab, was largely untouched by the Mongols. Further, the defeats suffered in the previous incursions into India needed to be avenged, much like Khubilai and his wrath towards Japan or the Ilkhans towards the Mamluk Sultanate. While the Chagatayids could feel they lacked the ability to make great gains against the Ilkhanate or the Yuan, they could have felt a haughtiness to the Turkic and Hindu forces that awaited them in India, and therefore anticipated easy successes.
While generally the Mongol attacks on India are termed as raids, intended for plunder and undertaken on the direction of individual Neguderi chiefs, the most serious invasions which threatened the Delhi Sultanate occurred on Du’a’s order. The 1296 attack was already noted, and two years later another Mongol force was sent into India. Alauddin Khalji’s army under Ulugh Khan was campaigning in Gujarat when the Mongols attacked in 1298. The commander left in Delhi, Zafar Khan, was able to raise a large army and defeat the Mongols, once more driving them back across the border. The residents of the Sultanate, despite having repulsed attacks before, were not unaware of the destruction caused by the Mongols: many of the new inhabitants of Delhi over the previous decades had been refugees fleeing Mongol terror. Each Mongol attack was therefore a cause for panic and fear. Thus, Zafar Khan was very popular after his victory, which may have given the always suspicious Sultan Alauddin concern over his loyalty. It was not unfounded that a prominent general with enough reputation could make a claim for the throne: Alauddin’s own uncle Jalal al-Din had done just that.
In late 1298 or 1299 began the most serious Mongol invasion of India. On the orders of Du’a Khan, his sons Qutlugh Khwaja and Temur Buqa marched with 50-60,000 Neguderi and Chagatai horsemen over the border. According to sources like Barani, the purpose of this assault was expressly for conquest, and even if we cannot corroborate it from the Chagatai perspective it is evident that this was a serious undertaking compared to earlier attacks. With the arrival of Qutlugh Khwaja’s army, greater than any preceding it, the Sultanate erupted into panic. Qutlugh Khwaja intended to make his mark as the next great Mongol conqueror.
The sources have Qutlugh Khwaja bypassing villages to maximize speed, intending to strike directly at the city of Delhi itself while the Sultan’s army was once again on campaign in Gujarat. At the River Jumna, Zafar Khan confronted Qutlugh but was defeated and forced to retreat to Delhi. News of the defeat of the heroic Zafar Khan caused thousands to abandon their homes in fear, and the capital was soon flooded with refugees flying before the oncoming army. Famine, overcrowding and fear now gripped Delhi as the swarm drained its resources, all while Qutlugh Khwaja closed in.
Alauddin held a council with his generals in the city, where he was advised to abandon the capital: the Mongols were too numerous, too powerful and too close for them to stand a chance. Alauddin trusted his sword however, and raised what forces he could. Some 24 kilometres north of Delhi, Alauddin Khalji met Qutlugh Khwaja at a site called Kili.
While the sources give Alauddin a force of some 300,000 men with 2,700 war elephants, it is nigh impossible Alauddin suddenly put together and supplied an army of such a size on short notice. Modern estimates give a more feasible number at around 70,000 with 700 elephants, still a huge army that likely outnumbered the Mongols. Both forces deployed in the standard formation for steppe armies, a center and two wings. The Sultan took the Delhi center, while Zafar Khan commanded the right wing and Ulugh Khan the left, with elephants dispersed among the three groups. Like the Mongols, the Delhi forces relied on Turkic horse archers, light and heavy cavalry, with much of their army experienced in the same style of warfare as the Mongols.
Zafar Khan, looking to avenge his defeat on the Jumna, led the first charge, attacking the Mongol left flank, which broke before him. Zafar gave chase to drive them from the field, but as he was led further away from the rest of the army, he soon found that he had fallen for a feigned retreat. Zafar was encircled, the Noyan Taraghai leading the ambush. Zafar realized that he had been left to die: the Sultan made no effort to rescue the clearly doomed force, his mistrust of his subordinate’s growing popularity being too great. Abandoned and surrounded, Zafar gave his best until he was captured. Qutlugh Khwaja was impressed by Zafar’s courage, and offered to let him join the Mongols, where surely his bravery would be appreciated, even offering to make him Sultan of Delhi. Zafar Khan was to the end loyal to his Sultan, and refused, and Qutlugh Khwaja ordered the execution of him and all his men and elephants.
With this victory, Qutlugh Khwaja was poised to defeat Alauddin and conquer the Sultanate. At this point however, the Mongol forces retreated. It seems that at some point over the course of the battle, perhaps in a final struggle during the execution of Zafar Khan’s troops, Qutlugh Khwaja was seriously injured, causing his army to retreat. Before he could make it back home, Qutlugh died of his injuries. The Chagatais had lost their prince and another invasion, and Du’a Khan his eldest son, with little to show for it.
This defeat did not end the Mongol invasions of India though, as Noyan Taraghai attacked in 1303 while Alauddin was returning from campaigning in Chittoor where his forces suffered heavy losses. Much of his army was still occupied besieging a major Hindu stronghold. Isolated and besieged near Delhi, inconclusive fighting continued for two months as Sultan Alauddin led a grim resistance. The approaching summer heat and the stalemate tested Taraghai’s patience, and he too retreated, almost certainly unaware how tenuous Alauddin’s position had been. From 1304 until 1308 invasions were annual, but victories over major Mongol armies had broken down much of the aura of Mongol terror, Alauddin appearing divinely protected. Mongol armies were defeated in battle, their commanders trampled to death by elephants in Delhi and pillars constructed of Mongol skulls outside the city, and Alauddin undertook a massacre of the Mongols living in Delhi.
The question remains: why were the Mongols so ineffective in India? Delhi familiarity with Mongol tactics was a major factor, both from combat experience, similar army models and the presence of Mongol defectors. Alauddin’s military and economic reforms allowed him to afford and quickly raise large armies, while his strong, centralized government kept his state from collapsing under the pressures of these invasions. India’s hot summers were hard on the Mongols and their horses, impacting pasturage and limiting when the Mongols attacked. Finally, Alauddin and his generals were simply skilled commanders and a match for the Mongol captains, with luck on their side more often than not. Indian sources however, generally ascribed victory to divine intervention rather than skill, which may be why these Mongol defeats are not remembered like Ayn Jalut.
After Qaidu’s death, Du’a helped organize a general peace between the Mongol Khanates, even suggesting they put aside their differences and launch a joint attack on India. However, the death of Du’a in 1307 and reemergence of tension with the neighbouring Khanates brought the attention of the Chagatais away from India. In 1328-1329 Du’a’s son Tarmashirin undertook the final major Mongol offensive into India, with similar results desultory. Tarmashirin was briefly the Chagatai Khan from 1331-1334, but his death, as well as the collapse of the Ilkhanate, put Central Asia into chaos. Mongol forces were now focused on internal conflict rather than external assault. Much of this we covered in our third episode on the Chagatai khanate, which created the opportunity for a certain Barlas tribesman named Temur to take power in 1370.
Alauddin Khalji continued to rule with an iron hand and expanded the Sultanate. He fell ill in his final years and grew ever more paranoid and disinterested in government, giving more power to his viceroy, Malik Kafur. On Alauddin’s death in 1316, he was succeeded by a young son with Malik Kafur acting as regent. Kafur was quickly murdered and Alauddin’s son deposed by a brother, Mubarak Shah. Mubarak Shah ruled for only four years before he was murdered by his vizier in 1320, ending Delhi’s Khalji Dynasty. The usurper was quickly overthrown by one of Alauddin Khalji’s generals, Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq, and so began the Delhi Tughluq Dynasty, the third dynasty of the Sultanate
Like Jalal al-Din Khalji, Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq had rose to prominence as a frontier commander against the Mongols, particularly from his post at Depalpur during the reign of Alauddin. Sources of the period, including the Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta who visited his court, indicate Ghiyath al-Din was of nomadic background, possibly Mongol or Neguderi, who had entered the Sultanate during the reign of Alauddin Khalji’s uncle, working as a horse keeper for a merchant. The long reigns of Ghiyath al-Din’s successors, Muhammad Tughluq and Firuz Shah were stable, but saw the slow decline of Delhi’s power and permanent losses of Bengal and of the Deccan. Hindu and other smaller Muslim empires expanded at the expense of the Delhi Sultante. As the Tughluq Dynasty stagnated in the closing years of the fourteenth century, the great conqueror Temur cast his eye towards the jewel of northern India. In late 1398 Delhi was sacked and looted by Temur, but limped on until the 16th century when it was finally destroyed by a descendant of both Temur and Chinggis Khan, Babur.
The later interaction of the Delhi Sultanate with the heirs of the Mongols is a topic for future discussions, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this, then consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals to help keep bringing you great content. 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 two episodes have taken you through an overview of the history of the Chagatai Khanate, the middle ulus of the Mongol Empire. From its establishment following Chinggis Khan’s western campaign in the 1220s, through rebuilding efforts by Mahmud Yalavach and Mas’ud Beg, to the turmoil of the 1260s and 70s with the Mongol civil wars and then consoldiation under Qaidu and Du’a, then the many successions of Du’a’s sons to the throne in the first three decades of the fourteenth century. At the end of the last episode, the sixth and last of Du’a’s sons to rule the Chagatais, Tarmashirin Khan, was murdered in the early 1330s, killed in a rebellion led by his nephew Buzan, supported by emirs from the eastern half of the Chagatayids. Over the period we saw the slow spread of Islam among the Mongols and their khans, as well as a widening gap between the western half of the Khanate, in Transoxania, and the Eastern half, Moghulistan. Today, both of trends continue as the Chagatai Khanate descends into anarchy following Tarmashirin’s murder, finally culminating in Emir Temur seizing control of the western half of the ulus Chagatay in 1370, and forever changing the face of western Asia. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
Tarmashirin Khan’s murder in 1334 had a significant impact on the Chagatai Khanate. The last in the long lateral succession of Du’a Khan’s sons, his death essentially opened up the throne to any willing claimant. His antagonizing of the Mongols of the eastern half of the khanate, particularly through his Islamic policies, supposedly abandoning of the laws of Chinggis Khan and leaving them out of government, ensured his reign ended bloodily. The Mongol chiefs of the eastern half of the Khanate rose up behind Buzan, Tarmashirin’s nephew, who had allied with other grandsons of Du’a. They invaded Transoxania hunting down and killing Tarmashirin and causing a flight of pro-Tarmshirin, Islamic Mongol chiefs to the Ilkhanate and Delhi Sultanate in India.
Buzan, according to most sources, was not a Muslim, though ibn Battuta wrote of him as a ‘tainted Muslim.’ Most sources accuse him of being anti-Muslim and strongly pro-Christian, though it seems more likely he was just religiously tolerant, simply allowing Jews and Christians to rebuild their religious structures. It seems he wanted to rule in a more traditional, steppe based fashion, a strong counter reaction to Tarmashirin’s rule.. At least he would have, if Buzan wasn’t murdered only a few months into his reign by a cousin, Changshi, another grandson of Du’a. If we believe ibn Battuta, Buzan was strangled by a bowstring. The thing about violently overthrowing your predecessor, is that it does not leave a lot of the legitimacy that is needed to prevent you being overthrown in turn by the next power-hungry individual. What we start to see in this period is princes refusing to recognize the legitimacy of these new Khans, and deciding to remedy this by replacing these new Khans with themselves. So begins an exceptionally chaotic period in the Chagatai realm.
The new Khan of the Chagatais, Changshi, did not take the throne because he was a supporter of Tarmashirin. Like Buzan, Changshi sought to bring the center of power back to the steppe and Almaliq, the traditional capital of the Chagatais, rather than having it based in the more sedentarized, Islamic Transoxania as Tarmashirin had sought to do. He was apparently a devout Buddhist, ordering the construction of many Buddhist and temples and supposedly, ordering sculptures of the Buddha painted in mosques throughout the Khanate. Yet he also showed great favour to Christians, especially Catholic Franciscans. He was apparently cured of a cancer through the prayers of one Franciscan, and in response heaped rewards on them. Changshi had at least one of his sons baptized, taking the name of Johannes, and placed the Franciscan in charge of their education. A bishopric was established at Almaliq in the 1320s and flourished under Changshi. At Almaliq, Changshi also met with Nicholas, the newly appointed Archbishop of Khanbaliq, who was on his way to China. Changshi gave Archbishop Nicholas authorization to preach freely throughout the Chagatai lands, to repair and build churches and provided him lands on which to build a friary. News of Changshi’s friendship to the Christians reached Pope Benedict XII, who sent a letter to Changshi in 1338. This was not the first letter between the popes and the Khans of Central Asia. In 1289 Pope Nicholas IV sent letters to Qaidu Khan; in 1329 Pope John XXII sent a letter to Eljigidei Khan in response to a message of friendship Eiljigidei had sent prior; and Benedict XII’s letter in 1338 urged Khan Changshi to build stronger relations with Christianity and sponser the growth of the faith in his kingdom. Changshi never received the letter, for in 1337 he and his four sons were killed by his brother, Yesun-Temur.
Many islamic sources portray Yesun-Temur Khan as fanatically anti-Muslim and an absolute madman. Not just murdering his own brother, he was accused of cutting the breasts off his mother, among other unsavoury actions. Whether any of this is warranted is difficult to tell, as he may have been so strongly pro-Buddhist and continued Changshi’s policy of sponsoring Christian missionaries that it left Islamic chronclers little good to say about him. There is circumstantial evidence of a somewhat capable administrator, demonstrated by survival of government documents from his reign from Turfan and an apparent increase in money circulation under him as well. He was challenged though by rounds of epidemics, particularly in the Issyk Kul region.
Things took another shift again when Yesun-Temur was deposed in 1339 by ‘Ali Sultan bin Uruk Temur. ‘Ali Sultan differed from his predecessors in two important ways: he was a fanatic Muslim, and was not a Chagatayid, but a descendant of Ogedai. The fact that an Ogedeid was even able to take the throne of the Chagatayids demonstrates the extent to which access to the succession had been opened up. ‘Ali Sultan’s reign was brief, less than a year. In that time, the most notable action he did, other than usurp the throne, was unleash violent programs against the Christians in his empire. Those who refused to convert to Islam, be they Nestorian or Catholic, were to be killed. The Nestorian Christian community in the Issyk Kul region was almost totally exterminated by ‘Ali Sultan’s effort, either by forced conversion or by the sword. The bishopric of Almaliq was destroyed, its clergy put to death on ‘Ali Sultan’s order. The martyred Bishop, Richard of Burgundy, had only taken the post a year prior. The brief introduction of Cathololicism died out in the region by the end of the fourteenth century.
‘Ali Sultan Khan’s Ogedeid usurpation greatly undermined the integrity of the Khanate. In 1340 the Khan of the Golden Horde, Ozbeg, invaded the Chagatai Khanate, an invasion which only halted due to Ozbeg’s death in 1341 but did nothing to unite the conflicting tension within the Khanate. Even before ‘Ali Sultan’s death in 1340, it seems in the southern part of the western half of the Chagatai Khanate a great-grandson, or great-great-grandson of Du’a Khan, Muhammad bin Bolad, or Muhammad Bolad, declared himself Khan. Around 1342 Muhammad Bolad Khan briefly reigned in Almaliq, while in the western half of Chagatai power was taken by Khalil Sultan bin Yasawur, who may be the same figure as Qazan Khan, who may have also been Khalil Sultan’s brother and co-ruled with him. By1343-1344, Qazan was the sole ruler of the Chagatai khanate, though whether he exerted much power in the eastern half of the realm is uncertain.
Qazan Khan, if you don’t mind a minor spoiler, often appears as a “bad last ruler,” in sources of the Timurids, a despot who preempted a final period of anarchy. Whatever the truth, he did usher in some stablization, and increased the power of the Chagatais over Khurasan, taking advantage of the collapse of the Ilkhanate into rival powers. He likely did little less in his reign except fight off rivals, with a particularly tough opponent in the form of Qazaghan, the chief of the Qara’unas. The Qara’unas were descendents of Mongols stationed in Afghanistan or who had fled there following the outbreak of war between Berke and Hulegu in 1262. They had remained a largely independent, rebellious force resisting efforts by the Ilkhanate and the Chagatai Khanate to bring them under control. Not until the 1290s did the Chagatais succeed in doing so, and the Qara’unas became a useful arm of the Chagatayid miltiary. Often, prominent heirs or brothers, especially under the reigns of Du’a and his sons, were placed in command over the Qara’unas. They were a major military element in the western half of the Chagatai Khanate, and once their chief, the ambitious Qazaghan, began challenging Qazan Khan, it was no easy task for the precariously perched Qazan. After some considerable effort, in 1347 Qazaghan finally killed Qazan, the final effective Khan in the Western Chagatai Khanate.
The Emir Qazaghan then became the true power in Transoxania, though as he was not a descendant of Chinggis Khan, he could not rule in his own right. Wisely, he continued to appoint puppet Khans who ruled in name only. These Khans were total figureheads, some not even of the line of Chagatai, but of Ogedai. Doing so was absolutely necessary. While there could be argument over the legitimacy of a particular Khan, if he was a good candidate or from the right lineage, among the Turko-Mongolian military elite it was still undebatable that the only legitimate ruler had to be descended from Chinggis Khan; it was to the house of Chinggis that the right to rule the world had been given, and no Qara’unas chief, no matter how powerful, could claim that throne if he had not even a drop of Chinggisid blood in him.
While Qazaghan seized power in Transoxania and ushered in a brief period of stability, an important event happened concurrently in the eastern half of the Khanate. In 1347, as Qazaghan killed Qazan Khan, a descendant of Chagatai and grandson of Du’a named Tughluq Temur was also declared Khan. With now two major rival claimants for power, 1347 becomes the usual date in scholarship for the division of the Chagatai Khanate into two realms: Transoxania in the west, sometime still called the Chagatai Khanate, and Moghulistan east of the Syr Darya River.
Tughluq Temur was raised to the throne by a coalition of the powerful Mongol chiefs of the eastern half of the Khanate. Mentioned briefly in the last episode, these were the chiefs who felt out of power by the Khans more interested in sedentarized and Islamic culture, while at the same time finding themselves under less and less direct influence of the Khan. The result was the chiefs who became more powerful and more dissatisfied with the ruler in the west. The usurption of power by the non-Chinggisid Qazaghan and his appointment of puppet Khans was the final straw for these chiefs. Of the tribes in the eastern Chagatai realm, the mightiest were the Dughlats. A proud Mongol tribe, the Dughlat leaders made themselves rich through control of the altı shahr, the six cities in Turkish. These were the rich trade cities along the silk routes through the western Tarim Basin and eastern Turkestan; Kashgar, Yangi Hisar, Yarkand, Khotan, Ush-Turfan, Aksu.
The heads of these tribes, including the Dughlats, were qarachu, ‘blackboned,’ or commoners. That is, they were not of the altan urag, not descendants of Chinggis Khan and like Qazaghan of the Qara’unas they could not claim the throne themselves. The head of the Dughlats, called the ulusbegi or beylerbey as the most powerful of the eastern chiefs, acted as a sort of spokesperson for them. The Dughlat, while the single most powerful tribe, were not strong enough to totally overpower the others and had to act in concert with them. Thus, in 1347 in cooperation with the other tribal heads, the ulusbegi Bulaji Dughlat, enthroned the 18 year old Tughluq Temur as Chagatai Khan, a blatant refusal to recognize Qazaghan or his puppet khans.
Both halves of the Chagatai khanate considered themselves the true heirs of Chagatai, and referred to the other with disparaging terms. To the easterners in Moghulistan, the westerners were qara’unas, a term which had connotations to the Mongols of half-breed, according to Marco Polo when he learned of them. They saw the westerners as corrupted by sedentary culture ruled by a petty non-Chinggisid. To the western half in Transoxania, the easterners were jatah, a term at its kindest reffering to ne’er-do-wells and rascals, and at its worst robbers and thieves. The westerners saw the east as little more than raiders, for such was their interaction with them.
Tughluq Temur Khan is often considered the first Khan of Moghulistan. Moghul, being the Persian word for Mongol, is generally what the scholarship uses to refer to Moghulistan’s nomadic inhabitants to distinguish them from true Mongols, a reflection of the primary source usage where the eastern Chagatayids and their lands are the Moghuls of Moghulistan. While there is evidence for use of the Mongolian language in the chancellery of Moghulistan until the end of the 1360s, various forms of Turkic had replaced Mongolian in day-to-day life. Largely still nomadic, many still adhering to the old religion and seeing themselves as true Mongols, Islam had begun to spread among them. Thus it was not surprising that in 1354, Tughluq Temur converted to Islam. Islam was a source of legitimacy for him; there is some indication that Tughluq Temur was of some uncertain paternity, due to conflicting reports on the identity of his father, so converting to Islam was an additional means to shore up his position. Unlike ‘Ali Sultan, Tughluq Temur was no fanatic; he is still recorded asking for Buddhist Lamas from Tibet as teachers for him and his sons. He did promote Islam though and his conversion was an important stage for the spread of Islam east of the Syr Darya. Statements that everyone in the area became Muslim under him are overplayed, as it took many decades still for Islam to drive out the local religious beliefs, be they Nestorian Christianity, Buddhism or Mongolian shamanism.
Tughluq Temur’s 16 year reign saw the most consolidation of power under a Chagatai Khan in years. He was aided in part by the death of the ulusbegi Bulaji soon after Tughluq’s enthronement. Had Bulaji lived longer, he may have played more of a kingmaker role and controlled more of Tughluq Temur’s actions. But Bulaji’s death, and tensions within the Dughlat tribe, led to Bulaji’s 7 year old son Khudaidad becoming the ulusbegi. Bulaji’s brother, Qamar al-Din Dughlat, petitioned Tughluq Temur for the position as he had no support from other members of the Dughlats. Qamar al-Din was a man of violent temperament, and many of the emirs of the Dughlat seem to have desired greater freedom than they had been allowed under Bulaji. Tughluq Temur was of similar opinion; why place an ambitious man like Qamar al-Din as ulusbegi, who would certainly prove a hindrance to Tughluq Temur’s power, when Tughluq Temur could instead have a malleable child in the position? And so Tughluq Temur ignored Qamar al-Din’s petition and confirmed the enthronement of young Khudaidad, a matter which Tughluq Temur’s heirs would rue dearly.
Khan Tughluq Temur continued to strengthen his position in Moghulistan, weakening the hegemony of the Dughlats and bringing other tribal heads to heel. He apparently killed a number of them, both those who refused to convert to Islam or resisted his efforts. By 1360, Tughluq Temur was the single most powerful Chinggisid in the entire former Mongol Empire, which placed him in a very good position to take advantage of misfortune in Transoxania. The Emir Qazaghan had paid tribute to Tughluq Temur, in large part to pay him off against attacking Transoxania. Qazaghan was a capable enough figure, keeping control, if at times tenuously, on the various disparate elements of the region, until he was murdered in 1358. Qazaghan’s son ‘Abd Allah took his position, but lacked his father’s capability. As tensions from warlords in Transoxania and Khurasan bubbled up, among other poor decisions, ‘Abd Allah chose to halt the payment of tribute to Tughluq Temur. For the Khan in Moghulistan, this was all the excuse he needed. In 1360 and 1361, Tughluq Temur invaded Transoxania twice in order to oust ‘Abd Allah and reunite the Chagatai Khanate. ‘Abd Allah fled and was killed, and Tughluq Temur installed his son Ilyas as the regional governor. Many tribal leaders joined Tughluq Temur, while others fled, including Hajji Beg, the chief of the Barlas, a Turkified Mongolian tribe near Samarkand. One member of the upper echelons of the Barlas did not flee, and he was able to convince the conquering Tughluq Temur Khan to appoint him as head of the Barlas in Hajji Beg’s absence. This was the first appearance of Temur, though you may perhaps know him better by the nicknames given to him later in life to refer to his limp: Aksak Temur, in Turkish, Temur-i-lang in Persian, which in English became Temur the Lame: Tamerlane. Temur was at this point 30 years old and given his first position of relative importance, one he soon surpassed.
Tughluq Temur Khan did not long enjoy his conquest, for like all good Chinggisid monarchs, he suddenly died in his early 30s in 1363. So powerful had he been though, that his descendants would continue to rule in parts of Moghulistan until the 17th century. Without his father’s backing, Ilyas was driven out of Transoxania in 1365 by a coalition of forces under Qazaghan’s grandson, Amir Husayn, and Temur of the Barlas. Back in Moghulistan, Ilyas was soon killed, perhaps by Qamar al-Din Dughlat. Either before or after Ilyas’ death, Qamar al-Din had his revenge for Tughluq Temur’s denial to make him ulusbegi. He launched a revolt, killed some 18 Chagatai princes and declared himself Khan. No puppet khans, no indirect rule, Qamar al-Din was the first non-Chinggisid to try and claim the title of Khan, and rule in his own right, since the Mongol conquests. If Qamar had thought he would find support for this action, he was sorely mistaken. Not even the Dughlat tribe themselves were willing to recognize Qamar’s usurption, and few of the other tribes in Moghulistan did either. Qamar al-Din faced stiff resistance as warfare broke out across Moghulistan. For the next 25 years, Qamar al-Din fought enemies within Moghulistan and from Transoxania. The other sons of Tughluq Temur were sent into hiding to keep them out of Qamar al-Din’s hands, and never did he enjoy a moment of stability until his disappearance in the 1380s. Only then would Tughluq Temur’s son, Khidr Khwaja, be enthroned in 1389 as the Chagatai khan after a nearly 30 year interregnum.
The great consequence of Qamar al-Din’s usurption is that it facilitated the rise of Tamerlane. After Ilyas was ousted around 1365, Qazaghan’s grandson Amir Husayn had resumed power over the region, but was undermined by the power hungry Barlas leader, Temur. Despite having married Husayn’s sister, Temur began conspiring with other regional powers, and when Husayn moved his capital to Balkh and fortified it, Temur convinced them that Husayn was their enemy, having moved his capital out of the traditional region and preparing to defend it against them. So, Transxonia revolted against Husayn, eventually resulting in Husayn’s death. Now the figure of real power in Transoxania, Temur had carefully observed the failures of Qazaghan, ‘Abd Allah, Husayn and of Qamar al-Din. At a quriltai in April 1370, Temur oversaw the enthronement of a Khan of the Chagatayids, a descendant of Ogedai named Soyurghatmish. Temur himself only took the title of emir, and officially was a guardian and adviser to the Khan. Marrying a Chinggisid princess, Emir Temur also took the title of güregen, a son-in-law to the house of Chinggis Khan. However, Temur was the real power, and from 1370 he began to campaign against his local enemies. One of his first campaigns was against Qamar al-Din of Moghulistan. Though never able to catch Qamar al-Din, Temur repeatedly invaded Moghulistan, wreaking great destruction, taking thousands of prisoners and further undermining the fragile powerbase Qamar had. If there had been an actual reigning Khan in Moghulistan, perhaps a figure could have rallied the tribes to resist and defeat Temur early in his career. But Qamar’s illegal rule ensured there could be no rallying behind his name, and Emir Temur only grew in might. Under him, the last vestiges of Chagatai rule in Transoxania were washed away. Though a Chagatai Khan was appointed in Moghulistan in the last years of the fourteenth century, the Temurids never recognized them as such. Tughluq Temur and his successors were always the ulus-i-Moghul or ulus-i-Jatah, as far as Temurid historians were concerned. The fifteenth century became a century of Temurid rule, and it would not be until the 1500s that Chinggisids would again rule in Transoxania; but these were descendants of Jochi, not of Chagatai.
The career of Temur and later history of Moghulistan is a topic for a later 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, please 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.
While the Chagatai Khanate, the division of the Mongol Empire encompassing much of Central Asia and Northwestern China, has a reputation as the Mongol Khannate to fragment into infighting first, this would not have been the view for an observer on the ground in the early fourteenth century. Following the death of Qaidu, the Ogedeid master of Central Asia in the last decades of the thirteenth century, his former ally Du’a, Khan of the Chagatais, stood dominant, particularly with the Great Peace he achieved between the Khanates in 1304. Picking up from our previous episode, we take you through the history of the Chagatai Khanate in the early fourteenth century, from Du’a’s singular rule in 1301 through the reigns of the six of his sons who became Khan, ending with Tarmashirin in 1334. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
At the close of the previous episode, Qaidu Khan was dead. Qaidu was a descendant of Great Khan Ogedai, and as we covered thoroughly in episode 41, had from 1271 until 1300 been the most influential figure in Central Asia. Over the 1270s he came to dominate the Chagatai Khanate, finally consolidating his hold over them in 1282 when he appointed Du’a, a grandson of Chagatai, as their Khan. Du’a and Qaidu worked well together, ushering in a period of rebuilding for the Chagatai Khanate after the tumultuous 1260s and 70s. Qaidu was definitely the senior partner in the relationship, and led their wars against Khan Khubilai in northwestern China and western Mongolia. But with Qaidu’s death in 1301, Du’a had had enough of the fighting. Du’a had been injured and forced to retreat before the Yuan armies. Only the year before, his eldest son Qutlugh Khwaja was killed fighting in India, and the Khan of the Blue Horde, the eastern wing of the Golden Horde, was attempting to rally the other Khanates into making a joint attack on the Ogedeids and Chagatayids. For the Central Asian Khanates, such a coalition would be absolutely disastrous. A combined Golden Horde, Ilkhanate and Yuan assault from all directions would be unstoppable. Du’a wanted to rest, recoup his strength and throw Mongol energies away from each other, and against unconquered lands like India.
Interfering with the Ogedeid succession after Qaidu’s death, Du’a ensured Qaidu’s less compentent son Chapar was on the throne, then sent an embassy to the Great Khan Temur Oljeitu offering to recognize his authority. Temur Oljeitu was delighted, immediately accepted and over 1304 and 1305 messengers were sent across the Mongol Empire, inviting the Golden Horde and Ilkhanate to once more recognize the Great Khan. The Great Rapproachment saw the resumption of tribute and revenues back and forth across the empire, reconstruction and expansion of postal stations, the travelling of envoys and merchants, and the true start of a pax Mongolica. Against the Delhi Sultanate of India Du’a sent more armies, though no joint-Mongol campaign against India ever materialized.
Du’a made good use of the partnership with the Yuan, for he was soon skirmishing, and then at war with, the Ogedeids. Many of the Ogedeid princes had not taken kindly to Du’a efforts to divide them, and had begun to oppose him. In 1306 Du’a, in conjunction with a Yuan army under the future Khaghan Qaishan, defeated a Ogedeid army under Qaidu’s sons Chapar and Orus. Chapar surrendered, and the Ogedeis were left splintered. Chagatai horsemen were unleashed to hunt down those princes who still resisted; it is in these raids that Qaidu’s famous daughter Qutulun was likely killed.
Du’a would have wiped out the last of the Ogedeids, had he not died the next year in 1307. So ended the life of the longest reigning Chagatai Khan, who had overseen a recovery of the weakened ulus. Realigning their diplomatic position with their Mongol kinsmen, the Chagatais seemed poised to enter a new period of strength. Du’a was succeeded by his son Konchek, who continued his father’s policies until his sudden death in 1308. Power was then seized by a distant cousin, Naliqo’a. Naliqo’a was the brother of a man who had briefly been Khan in the 1270s before Du’a took the throne, and was a great-grandson of Chagatai via his son Buri.
Naliqo’a’s reign as Khan was a shock to the Khanate. Firstly was the fact that he was not of the line of Du’a Khan. Du’a had been Khan for many years, and had many sons desiring the throne. Many within the Chagatai Khanate, especially those same sons, felt the throne belonged to the line of Du’a, and that Naliqo’a was thus a usurper despite his Chagatai heritage. Additionally, he was a Muslim, and sought to impose islamisizing policies upon the Chagatais. While the Chagatai Khanate is often dismissed as one of the Khanates which immediately converted to Islam, the conversion of the Chagatai realm was a slower and more difficult process than in either the Golden Horde or Ilkhanate. Mubarak Shah, during the few months he had been Khan in the previous episode, may have been a Muslim, but had not reigned long enough for that to matter. Baraq Khan allegedly converted to Islam just before his death in 1271, but this had no impact on his reign. No Chagatai Khan since had been a Muslim, and for many in the Khanate, particularly in the eastern half where there was little contact with Muslims, the strong pro-Islam stanch of Naliqo’a Khan was seen as inherently conflicting to the yassa of Chinggis Khan.
Khan Naliqo’a thus received stiff resistance. By 1309 he was murdered at banquet in a coup led by one of Du’a’s son, Kebek. Kebek was a clever man but did not want to be Khan, inviting his brother Esen-Buqa to take the throne. This upheaval in the Chagatai Khanate prompted a last ditch attempt by the Ogedeid princes to rebel against the Chagatais, which Kebek and Esen-Buqa, with difficulty, crushed by 1310. With the last of the Ogedeid princes fleeing to the Yuan Dynasty, the Khanate of the house of Ogedei was finally dissolved, its territory split between the Chagatai and the Yuan.
The popular image of the Mongol Empire dividing into four Khanates -the Golden Horde, the Ilkhanate, Yuan Dynasty, and Chagatai Khanate- only truly existed from 1310 onwards with the dissolution of the Ogedeids, domination of the Blue Horde by the Golden Horde, and the Qara’unas in Afghanistan largely coming under Chagatai control. Later authors, both medieval and modern, would anachronistically throw this back to the time of Mongke’s death, or even Chinggis’ division of the empire amongst his sons, but it was a gradual evolution in no-way planned. The “four successor khanates” of the Mongol Empire did not exist in their popularly imagined way until the first decade of the fourteenth century.
Without the Ogedeis as a common enemy, the Chagatai and Yuan were soon squabbling over the border. In the process of dividing up the Ogedeid territory, in which the Yuan took the land east of the Altai mountains and the Chagatai the west, some of the Chagatayid pasture lands came under Yuan control. Khan Esen-Buqa sought to get the Yuan border garrisons to redraw the border, but they would not budge. The Yuan garrison commander refused to recognize the legitimacy of Esen-Buqa’s status as a Khan. Esen-Buqa began to fear that the Yuan and the Ilkhanate were planning a joint attack on the Chagatayids, and began to make his own plots. He tried to ally with the new Khan of the Golden Horde, Ozbeg, and in 1312 sent his nephew to attack Ilkhanid Khurasan, where he was repusled. Tensions mounted, and in 1313 Esen-Buqa detained Yuan envoys to the Ilkhanate, and finally in 1314 he assaulted the Yuan border outposts. The garrison commander was a veteran though, who had warnings of the plot. Moving the families of his men back, Esen-Buqa’s forces were met only by a crack tumen of troops who forced the Chagatais back.
Esen-Buqa tried to offset his losses in the northeast by launching an attack on the Ilkhanate with his brother Kebek in 1315. The campaign was cut short when they learned that the Great Khan Ayurburwada, furious at Esen-Buqa’s provacations, had ordered an all out invasion of the Chagatai Khanate. Esen-Buqa had, in his fear, created the situation he had so dreaded. The armies of the Yuan advanced as far as Lake Issyk Kul and Talas before withdrawing, and strengthened their border positions. The situation remained strained; after the invasion one of the Chagatai princes in Transoxania, a Muslim named Yasawur, defected with 30-40,000 troops to the Ilkhanate, while the Yuan prince Qoshila, son of Qaishan, fled to the Chagatais. Sporadic border fighting continued, and threat of an open resumption of hostilities remained until both Esen-Buqa and Great Khan Ayurburwada were dead by 1320. Their successors, Esen-Buqa’s brother Kebek and Ayurburwada’s son Shidebala, proved more amenable to peace, and by 1323, after being convinced that there was no plot to overrun inner Asia, Kebek Khan recognized the supremacy of Great Khan Shidebala, though as you’ll recall from episode 44, Shidebala did not have long to remark on the triumph. Sending two princesses for Kebek Khan to marry and resuming trade and tribute, the Yuan and Chagatai relationship remained amicable for the remainder of Yuan rule in China.
Kebek Khan was a competent and able ruler. Almost immediately after becoming Khan, the new Ilkhan Abu Sa’id invited Kebek Khan to attack the rebel Chagatai prince Yasawur, who had since revolted against the Ilkhans. The campaign was successful and Yasawur was killed, but Kebek was then assured of his military strength and the weakness of the Ilkhans. In 1321 he ordered attacks on the Delhi Sultanate in India, and in 1322 invaded the Ilkhanate in a joint effort with the Golden Horde Khan Ozbeg, who was in the midst of repeated rounds of conflict with the young Ilkhan Abu Sa’id. The campaigns were failures. Both Ozbeg and Kebek found themselves hampered by weather and a skillful defence by the teenage Abu Sa’id and his amir, Choban. When Kebek moved his brother Tarmashirin into Ghazna in Afghanistan in 1326, the Ilkhan’s suspected another attack, and Choban’s son was sent to deliver a crushing defeat onto Tarmashirin and occupied Ghazna. Despite the fact Tarmashirin recaptured Ghazna later that year, it did little to offset the frustration at the setbacks.
While Kebek’s military ventures were never really successful, in internal matters he proved himself a capable administrator. Unlike the previous Chagatai Khans who ruled from the steppes and based themselves around Almaliq, Kebek moved himself into Transoxania, or Mawarannahr. At Qarshi he built a new capital, and oversaw efforts to revitalize and improve agriculture and trade. Minting new denominations of coins, he also consistently minted these coins in his name unlike previous Chagatai Khans. The coins were, due to this, known as kebeks, and became a widely used currency in Central Asia. Arguments have been made that these are the origin of the Russian word for a certain denomination of the ruble, the kopek. Khan Kebek sought to limit the power of regional princes, dividing the realm into new administrative units, tumens. Essentially, districts which could support the raising of 10,000 men for war. His reforms and control of power garnered him a reputation and legacy as a just, respectable ruler, even among Muslims. The famous Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta, who passed through the Chagatai Khanate in the early 1330s, recorded anecdotes of Kebek’s just nature and friendliness to Islam.
The reign of Kebek had other, unforeseen consequences for the Chagatai Khanate though. Kebek spent his reign in the western half of the Khanate, Transoxania. This was the more densely populated half of the Chagatai Khanate between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, the heart of the former Khwarezmian Empire. The great cities of Bukhara and Samarkand sat here, and the influence of both Islam and Persian culture were great. There were nomads living here of course, but in close proximity to the sedentary population. The nomads here also owned mills, gardens, villages and benefitted from agriculture. Many of the Mongol noyans and princes who settled here converted to Islam first. Culturally, this was a region very distinct from the eastern half of the Khanate. This was a diverse range of territory, stretching east of the Syr Darya and Ferghana Valley, the Chagatais controlled up to the Tarim Basin and at times, the Uighur lands in Turfan. Some of this was rugged mountain, the northern stretches of the Pamirs and the Tienshan mountains; some was inhospitable desert, as in the Tarim Basin and the frightful Taklamakan desert. The region north of the Tienshan was home to open steppe, the lakes Balkhash and Issyk Kul and lower reaches of the Irtysh River, rolling hills, and low mountains that lay west and south of the Altai Mountains, bordering on the western edge of Mongolia. Today it forms parts of northern Xinjiang, eastern Kazakhstan and western Mongolia. Often, it is called Dzungaria or the Dzungar Basin, after the Oirat kingdom based in the region in the 17th century famous for their wars against the Qing Dynasty. Before the Mongol conquests, this was the realm of the Qara-Khitai. From the 14th century until the Dzungar conquests though, this broad expanse of land was Moghulistan; land of the Mongols. In these steppe lands, a great many Mongols had migrated during the conquest period. The existing agricultural settlements in the steppe here had largely been destroyed and turned over to pasture for Mongol imperial usage in the mid-thirteenth century. Settlements were few and far between; even in the Tarim Basin, famed trade cities like Kashgar, Yarkand and Khotan hugged the borders of the fearsome Taklamakan, and were under the thumb of Mongol chiefs. The sedentary world held no mastery over the Mongols here, who remained true to their ways. Islam only slowly came to the region. To be the ruler here, a man needed to be a mighty steppe warlord. If not living there, the Chagatai Khan had to make yearly trips to hold council with the local Mongol chiefs to make sure they felt included. Kebek’s decision to move his government into the heart of Transoxania began a rift between the Khan and the Mongols in Moghulistan. Feeling left out of power by Khans more interested in sedentarized and Islamic culture, while also under less and less direct influence of the Khan, the chiefs of the eastern half of the Khanate became more powerful. Of these, the mightiest would be the Dughlats. A proud Mongol tribe that made themselves wealthy by controlling many of the trade cities of the Tarim Basin, the Dughlats were to become a dominant player in Chagatai politics after the end of Du’a’s sons, The might of the Dughlats will be something we will return to next episode, though they were observers to the events we describe today.
Kebek’s reign saw the division into Transoxania and Moghulistan begin, but it took decades to widen. He died in 1327, succeeded by his brother Eljigidei, a more typical steppe Khan who returned the court to the traditional capital around Almaliq. A devout Buddhist, he was a proponent of religious toleration and was friendly to Christian missionaries in his lands. The most notable action of his reign was his support for the Yuan prince Qoshila. As you may recall from episode 44 when Eljigidei had his brief cameo, whe the Yuan Emperor Yesun-Temur died, a coup by the Qipchaq officer El Temur resulted in the disappearance of Yesun-Temur’s young son and successor. El Temur and Qoshila’s brother, Tuq Temur, invited Qoshila to return and take the throne, and the Chagatai Khan Eljigidei accompanied Qoshila into Mongolia proper. Eljigidei was present at Qoshila’s enthronement north of Karakorum in February 1329, the first Chagatai Khan to return to Mongolia in decades. Eljigidei then returned to the Chagatai Khanate, where he was understandibly quite annoyed to learn of Qoshila’s murder later that year, but did nothing about it, due to his death in 1330.
Eljigidei was succeeded by another brother, Dore-Temur, who reigned less than a year before being succeeded by his brother, Tarmashirin, one of the most famous Chagatai Khans. In 1331, Tarmashirin became the sixth and last of Du’a’s sons to be Khan. An experienced soldier from fighting the Ilkhanate and Delhi Sultanate, Tarmashirin moved the court back to Transoxania and continued to promote trade and agriculture as Kebek had done. Unlike Kebek, Tarmashirin was a Muslim, the first Muslim Khan since the brief reign of Naliqo’a over twenty years prior. Like Naliqo’a, he enacted a number of pro-Muslim policies. So well known was his Islam that even in the Mamluk Sultanate he was reported as a devout adherent to sharia. It’s unclear when he converted to Islam. His name, Tarmashirin, is Buddhist, suggesting that he was probably, like many of his brothers, raised in a Buddhist environment. Professor Michal Biran suggested that Tarmashirin may have converted to Islam as late as 1329. Only the year before, Tarmashirin had led an attack on India, and a letter from the Delhi Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq survives from this time asking the Ilkhan Abu Sa’id to ally with him against the enemies of Islam coming from the Chagatai khanate. Tarmashirin may have converted in order to preempt an alliance between the Ilkhanate and Delhi and open his own friendly relations with the Delhi Sultante, and to make himself stand out among candidates to the Chagatai throne.
There certainly had been a growth in Islam among the Mongols of the Chagatai ulus since Naliqo’a’s reign, largely in the western half of the Khanate. Among the Turkified Mongolian tribe of Barlas, situated near Samarkand and the ancestors of Amir Temur, by the 1330s, 50-70% of the Barlas commanders listed in the sources bore Islamic names of Arab origin. Tarmashirin, who certainly favoured Transoxania, may have hoped to appeal to these Mongols for support, particularly since there is some indication he may have seized the throne from his brother Dore-Temur. An embassy from Tarmashirin arrived in the Yuan Dynasty in 1331 announcing his enthronement, and only four months later an embassy alleging to be from Dore-Temur is recorded as arriving in the Yuan realm. Tarmashirin was in a rocky position where, for many of the military elite, adherence to the yassa of Chinggis Khan mattered a great deal more than adherence to sharia.
Ibn Battuta met Tarmashirin in 1333 during his trek from the Golden Horde to India, and his brief interaction with this famous author is probably in large part why Tarmashirin is more well known than his brothers. Battuta thought highly of the Khan, writing of him:
“He is the exalted sultan ‘Ala al-Din Tarmashirin, a man of great distinction, possessed of numerous troops and regiments of cavalry, a vast kingdom and immense power, and just in his government. His territories lie between four of the great kings of the earth, namely the king of China, the king of India, the king of al-’Iraq and the [Khan Ozbeg], all of whom send him gifts and hold him in high respect and honour. He succeeded to the kingdom after brother [Eljigidei]. This [Eljigidei] was an infidel and succeeded his elder brother Kabak, who was an infidel also, but was just in government, showing equity to the oppressed and favour and respect to the Muslims.”
Ibn Battuta then writes of his interactions with Tarmashirin, depicting him as a pious man who never missed prayer, listened intently to the complaints of his subjects and was generous: on Battuta’s departure from Tarmashirin after 54 days, the Khan gave Battuta some 700 silver dinars, a sable coat worth another 100 as well as horses and camels. This generosity was evidently not extended to the chiefs of the eastern half of the ulus, who felt betrayed by the shift of power to the sedentary and Islamic western half. It was not just a betrayal of themselves, but of the yassa of Chinggis Khan. Ibn Battuta describes Tarmashirin violating certain aspects of the yassa, with the most notable violation coming from never visiting the eastern half of the Khanate, and never convening toi, or feasts, annual meetings with the chiefs there. The Mamluk historian al-Safadi goes further, writing that Tarmashirin entirely abolished the yassa and insulted it. For Mongol chiefs who held their identity as Mongols dear (despite the fact they largely spoke Turkic by now) it was an unforgivable crime. His favouring of Islam and apparent refusal to allow Christians and Jews within his empire rebuild their churches suggests he did not adopt the much espoused Mongol religious pluralism, implying another disavowment of the yassa. Accusations from some sources that Tarmashirin even tried to have Mongols practice agriculture and abandon nomadism would have pushed these tensions even further.
There is another factor at play, emphasized by Michal Biran. As you may have noticed throughout our series, succession among the Mongols, though generally restricted to a specific lineage, could be a free-for-all within that lineage. In this case, the lineage was that of Tarmashirin’s father Du’a. Succession in many Turkic and Mongolian states could be linear, that is, father-to-son, or laterally, that is, brother-to-brother. Often, succession would not be linear until the lateral line of succession had been exhausted. Only once all surviving brothers had died, could the succession pass to the next generation. Tarmashirin, as the last son of Du’a, was therefore the last khan before all the sons of his brothers could throw their names in for the khanate. Tarmashirin may have pushed his brother from the throne, alienated the militarized half of the khanate by ignoring them, becaming Muslim and favouring sedentary society, and was the last obstacle before many of these annoyed princes could make their own claims for the Khanate. Tarmashirin essentially set himself up to be violently overthrown.
In summer 1334, a few months after ibn Battuta’s departure from Tarmashirn and only three years into his reign, rebellion arose in the eastern half of the Khanate, led by Tarmashirin’s nephews. A number of chiefs and princes declared Tarmashirin’s nephew Buzan the new Khan. Buzan was a son of Dore-Temur, the brother who Tarmashirin may have pushed from the throne, and was supported by other grandsons of Du’a. They invaded the western Chagatai realm with a large force, and a frightened Tarmashirin fled south, seemingly to Ghazna, where he had previously been stationed and may have had allies. However, Tarmashirin was captured and brought to Buzan, who had Tarmashirin executed near Samarkand sometime in fall 1334. So ended the reign of Tarmashirin Khan, last of the sons of Du’a.
… or was it? Ibn Battuta records that a man claiming to be Tarmashirin later appeared in India. A number of former retainers of Tarmashirin, including a physician, had also fled to the Delhi Sultante following the rebellion of Buzan. These retainers, when sent to identify this Tarmashirin, vouched for his identity. The physician claimed this man even bore the same scar from a boil the physician had removed from the back of Tarmashirin’s knee. However, Tarmashirin’s son and daughter had fled to the Delhi Sultanate, and it was decided that, based on their account of their father’s death, that this man had to be a fraud. So, the faux-Tarmashirin was exiled from India, finally making his way to Shiraz in Iran. Ibn Battuta passed through Shiraz some time later and tried to meet this Tarmashirin for himself, but was blocked from doing so, and could therefore not confirm the identity of the so-called Tarmashirin.
Though Tarmashirin has been often remarked upon for his conversion to Islam, his religion did not usher in a transformation of the Ilkhanate into an Islamic state. Indeed, his religion likely played a large role in his ultimate dismissal. Tarmashirin could not be the Ilkhanate’s version of Ghazan of the Ilkhanate or Ozbeg of the Golden Horde. Rather, Tarmashirin’s conversion was an indication of the gradual conversion of the western half of the Chagatai Khanate, where he spent much of his life and his entire reign. The Khanate, that is some of the Mongols, was marginally more Muslim than it had been during the reign of Naliqo’a, for instance, but it the most dangerous element, the nomadic military elite and Mongol chiefs in the east, Moghulistan, were not Muslims. It was this elite that any man hoping to rule would need to placate, but no Chagatai Khan after Tarmashirin could rule comfortably now.
The rebellion, as we will cover in our next episode, had dramatic consequences for the Chagatai Khanate, and brought about a period of anarchy which ultimately contributed to the rise of Amir Temur, or Tamerlane, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals Podcast to follow. If you’d 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.
Having now taken you to the end of Mongol rule in China, we move westwards in our histories of the Mongol Khanates. Our next stop is the middle Khanate: the ulus of Chagatai. Encompassing much of Central Asia, the Khanate ruled by the descendants of Chinggis Khan’s second son Chagatai is perhaps the most poorly known. In our first episode on the Chagatais, we’ll take you through their history in the 13th century, touched on often in previous episodes but now recieving its own focus. From efforts at reconstruction by Mahmud Yalavach and his son Mas’ud Beg, to stability under the regeny of the widow Orghina Khatun, to disasters in battle at Herat to domination under Qaidu and the rise of Du’a Khan. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
The territory which became the Ulus of Chagatai was conquered by the Mongols in two stages. The eastern half of the ulus, in what is now southeastern Kazakhstan and northwest Xinjiang, was taken largely peacefully when Jebe Noyan overran the empire of Qara-Khitai in 1218-1219. As covered back in episode 8, the fleeing Naiman prince Kuchlug had fled to Qara-Khitai and usurped power there. When Jebe invaded, Kuchlug ran for his life, leaving the cities of his new empire defenseless. The lack of defense was ironically beneficial, as they largely submitted peacefully, and the former Qara-Khitai troops joined their new Mongol overlords. The more densely populated western half of the empire was not so lucky. This region, including Transoxania and the Ferghana valley in modern southern Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan down to Turkmenistan, was controlled by the Khwarezmian Empire, and was violently crushed by Chinggis Khan in the first years of the 1220s, as we saw in episode 9.
Each site that put up resistance fell victim to the Khan’s wrath. The destruction not just of cities, but of agriculture and irrigation canals. The toll on the population was horrific. Perhaps millions were killed in the course of the conquest. Perhaps as many died from the ensuing starvation, spread of disease and banditry. Thousands upon thousands were displaced from their homes, or transported elsewhere on Mongol order. The initial governors set over the region and cities did little to help, simply bringing more taxation and material demands onto the population.
Chinggis Khan’s second son, Chagatai, stayed in the region after the conquest. Contrary to popular belief, Chinggis did not divide his empire among his sons in order for them to become distinct states. Rather, they were each allotted territory within the empire in order to support themselves. Chagatai was granted much of the former Khwarezmian and Qara-Khitai realms, becoming the basis of the ulus of Chagatai. Stern and demanding, Chagatai had little care for city life or the cultures of the people he ruled over. He was a man of the steppe, and his reign was spent in the steppe. Though he maintained a quasi-capital at Almaliq, near modern Kulja, northwestern Xinjiang on the Ili River, Chagatai resided in his summer and winter pastures. Almaliq served to collect tribute and house his treasures, his officials and received messengers from the court. Reconstruction of the conquered territories was not his concern. His engineers were used to build large pools for water fowl to flock to for Chagatai to hunt.
This is not to say Chagatai had no interaction with his subjects. Chagatai was a strict upholder of the yassa and the yosun, the laws and customs of his father Chinggis Khan. We have mentioned in previous episodes that there was conflict on who these laws should apply to; that is, just nomads, or to the sedentarized populations of the empire as well. Well, Chagatai was of the opinion that everyone was subject to the laws, which were to be enforced as strictly as possible. Laws against theft were violently enforced. The Persian historian Juvaini, writing in the mid 1250s, who worked for the Mongols and spent quite some time in the Chagatai realm, wrote this famous passage you may have heard variations of:
“For fear of his yasa and punishment his followers were so well disciplined that during his reign no traveller, so long as he was near his army, had need of guard or patrol on any stretch of road; and, as is said by way of hyperbole, a woman with a golden vessel on her head might walk alone without fear or dread.”
The presence of Chagatai was enough to discourage thievery, although the quote has often been taken out of context to suggest a woman could walk across all of Asia under Mongol rule and not face any danger. While a strict enforcer of the yassa’s promulgations against theft, Chagatai was more infamous in the Muslim world for the anti-Islamic aspects of the yassa. Though the Mongols have a popular image as a beacon of religious liberty, this has been overstated. Though often tolerant in the most literal sense, as in they just tolerated certain religions seen as useful, the Mongols were less accommodating when they found that a religion conflicted with their own customs. The yassa, for instance, mandated the method in which an animal must be slaughtered: crushing the heart, and not letting any blood spill. Needlessly spilling blood on the ground was a great offense to the spirits. The halal method of slaughter perscribed by Islam though, requires cutting the throat and draining the blood. The two methods were inherently contradictory, and conflicts often arose from Mongols attempting to ban halal slaughter. Immediately after describing how Chagatai’s army dissuaded theft, Juvaini wrote the following:
“And he enacted minute yasa that were an intolerable imposition upon such as the Taziks, [so] that none might slaughter meat in the Moslem fashion nor sit by day in running water, and so on. The yasa forbidding the slaughter of sheep in the lawful manner he sent to every land; and for a time no man slaughtered sheep openly in Khorasan, and Moslems were forced to eat carrion.”
Chagatai may not have specifically hated Muslims or been a man of constantly boling rage, as he is often portrayed by modern authors. He certainly employed Muslims in the top ranks of his bureacracy. We should probably imagine him better as an uncomprosiming figure seeking to stringently enforce his father’s laws; it just so happened that this enforcement was quite harmful to Muslims caught in the crosshairs. From the Mongol point of view, you could still be a Muslim as long as you did not practice these certain customs the Mongols disliked, such as spilling blood or washing dirty things in running water.
The nuance made little difference to the Muslims of Central Asia, to whom Chagatai consistently appears as a tormenter in the sources. Juzjani, a Khwarezmian refugee to the Delhi Sultanate in India, wrote in the 1250s and describes Chagatai as a demonic figure who wanted to exterminate the Muslims. Often, Chagatai is used in these sources as a contrast to Ogedai, usually depicted as generous and a friend to Islam.
Ogedai’s enthronement as Khan of Khans in 1229 certainly was a benefit to the Muslims of the empire. At the start of his reign Ogedai created another governmental layer, the Secretariat system- check out episode 13 for more on this. While the North China Branch Secretariat has received greater attention in our series, at the same time a Branch Secretariat for Turkestan, or Central Asia, was established to oversee the populations under Chagatai’s rule, and strengthen the Great Khan’s authority there. The man chosen to head the department was a good choice, a native of Khwarezm called Mahmud Yalavach.
Mahmud Yalavach, and his son Mas’ud Beg, were perhaps the two longest serving ministers of the Mongols, and the two have often weaved their way in and out of our series. Mahmud Yalavach’s early life is unknown, other than that he hailed from Khwarezm. The great Russian orientalist Vasili Bartold suggested that Mahmud Yalavach is identical to Mahmud Bey, the vizier of the final Gur-Khan of the Qara-Khitai. Yalavach first reliably appears as a part of Chinggis Khan’s 1218 embassy to the Khwarezmian Empire, where he is identified as Mahmud Khwarezmi. Taken aside by the Khwarezm-Shah Muhammad II, Mahmud deftly handled their interaction, and for the mission he earned the title of Yalavach, Turkic for messenger or ambassador. Staying in Mongol service, in 1229 Ogedai appointed him manager of the Branch Secretariat for Central Asia.
Yalavach, assisted by his son Mas’ud Beg, proved a very capable man, and under him the first genuine reconstruction efforts after the Mongol conquest were implemented. At his direction with the backing of Great Khan Ogedai, cities and irrigation systems were rebuilt, agriculture encouraged and revitalized, a new tax system implemented and efforts to clamp down on extra-ordinary levies on the part of Chagatai and his sons were enacted. His efforts were successful. Several contemporary sources agree to the restoration of prosperity to the region, corroborated by numismatic evidence.
Yalavach’s first decade in charge of the Central Asian Branch Secretariat was a much needed salve for the region, though he faced competition from Chagatai, who did not take kindly to his brother’s officer’s interference. At the first opportunity he would get, Chagatai would undermine Yalavach.
In 1238, an unexpected crisis emerged from one of the chief cities of Transoxania, Bukhara. There, a sieve-maker named Mahmud Tarabi became a popular figure on account of his supposed magical capabilities and ability to communicate with djinn. Juvaini says that, according to reputable individuals with whom he spoke with in Bukhara, one of Tarabi’s spells included making a medicine from dog feces and blowing it into the eyes of the blind, which restored their sight. Juvaini did not have a high opinion of him, also remarking that in regards to his stupidity and ignorance Tarabi had no equal.
Tarabi developed quite a reputation for magic and miracles, encouraged by a local notable named Shams-ad-Din Mahbubi, who through his personal vendetta against Bukhara’s leadership and the Mongols, encouraged Tarabi’s pretensions. How the very planets were aligning in his favour! Mahbubi told him, even going as far, Juvaini says, speaking of a prophecy that a man from Tarabi’s home village of Tarab would conquer the world. Unfortunately for Tarabi, there was some very stiff competition for such a claim.
Mahmud Yalavach was alerted to the bubbling unrest in Bukhara gathering around Tarabi, and sought to lure the man out and kill him. Tarabi saw through the trap and evaded it, which escalated his troublemaking. His inflammatory speeches to the people of Bukhara riled them up, and his claims of support from the invisible hosts of heaven seemed to have been given some merit when a merchant with a shipment of swords had his wares fall into Tarabi’s hands. With his followers now armed, Tarabi, as all good prophets do, collected around himself riches and women. Convinced of their power, they killed or drove out the Bukharan government and Mongolian representatives.
A response force was rallied- likely local militia under the command of regional darughachi. Mahbubi and Tarabi marched out of Bukhara at the head of their army, convinced of their divine protection. Neither wore armour or weapon, and spread rumours that whoever rose a hand against them would be struck down parrarlyed. The response force was worried, and only set off a volley of arrows when the wind picked up a dust storm. Frightened that this was some trick of Tarabi, the response force fled, and Tarabi’s army doggedly pursued. They caught up to the response force and killed a great many. Upon returning to Bukhara, they were unable to find either Tarabi or Mahbubi. Juvaini asserts that both were struck by arrows in the volley set off by the government forces and killed, though it went unnoticed by both the Bukharan and the government forces. Regardless, under new local leadership, Tarabi’s army turned to looting and pillaging the countryside.
So they remained occupied for a week until a proper Mongol army arrived, either imperial troops or sent by Chagatai. The Bukharan forces went up confident towards them, believing defeating local militia was the same as defeating the horsemen of the Great Khan. The first volley of arrows killed the leadership of the Bukharan forces, and within hours 20,000 of the late-Tarabi’s followers had joined them. The following day, the Mongols were leading the citizens of Bukhara onto the plain before the city, preparing to unleash a horrific massacre as punishment. Only at the intervention of Mahmud Yalavach, with approval of Great Khan Ogedai, was this averted, and the population spared, probably to the displeasure of Chagatai.
The Tarabi revolt however had undermined Yalavach’s credibility. Later in 1239 when Chagatai sought to transfer territory under Yalavach’s supervision to another official -something which under the secretariat system, Chagatai lacked the power to do- Yalavach complained to Ogedai. Ogedai agreed with Yalavach’s complaint, but to smooth things over with his brother, removed Yalavach from his office. But to demonstrate that he was not doing this to allow imperial perogative to slip, Ogedai immediaely appointed Yalavach’s son Mas’ud Beg to his father’s position at head of the Central Asian Secretariat, while Yalavach would, in the final months of Ogedai’s life in 1241, be appointed to head the Secretariat in North China after Yelu Chucai’s [choots-eye’s] demotion.
Mas’ud Beg was just as capable as his father, and dedicated himself to the reconstruction of Central Asia, but with little progress over the 1240s. Ogedai had little energy for governance in his final years, and when he died in December 1241, Chagatai was the chief figure of the empire, the senior Chinggisid. Chagatai’s support for the regency of Ogedai’s widow Torogene helped ensure her position, but the last son of Chinggis Khan soon died of illness in 1242.
Chagatai’s favourite son, Motugen, had died during the Khwarezmian campaign. He moved his choice of heir to another young son, but he too died early. Finally, Chagatai decided on a son of Motugen, Qara-Hulegu to be his heir. Qara-Hulegu was quickly confirmed into his father’s position in 1242, and largely cooperated in both financial policy and personnel with the regent Torogene Khatun. Therefore, Mas’ud Beg had to flee to Batu, chief of the Jochids, as Torogene threatened both him and his father Yalavach, men she saw as her enemies. This period we covered back in episode 20. Torogene’s son Guyuk became Great Khan in 1246, welcoming Mas’ud Beg and Mahmud Yalavach back to their positions, but deposing Qara-Hulegu. Instead, Guyuk Khan appointed his friend, a son of Chagatai named Yesu-Mongke, as the new Khan of the Chagatais. Yesu-Mongke was good at exactly one thing, the sources agree: drinking.
After Guyuk’s death in 1248, the former Khan Qara-Hulegu and his clever wife Orghina wisely backed the new contender for the throne, Tolui’s son Mongke. When Mongke became the Khan of Khans in 1251, he undertook a massacre of princes of the line of Ogedai and Chagatai who had opposed him and plotted against him. As we saw in episode 21, Mongke essentially dissolved the ulus of Ogedai, and while the territory of the Chagatais remained intact, their ranks were thinned. Guyuk’s appointed Chagatai Khan Yesu-Mongke was deposed and eventually killed on Mongke’s order, and Qara-Hulegu was rewarded for his loyalty with the khanate again. Mas’ud beg and Mahmud Yalavach were reconfirmed in their positions in Central Asia and China. Everyone set out from Karakorum to return to their posts, except for Qara-Hulegu, who died en route. His young son Mubarak-Shah was duly enthroned as Khan of the Chagatais, with his mother, Qara-Hulegu’s widow Orghina Khatun, as regent.
She was a good choice, an intelligent and shrewd woman who understood the dynamics of the Chagatai realm well. She was well respected, as she had been held in esteem by Chagatai himself, and as a granddaughter of Chinggis Khan via his daughter Checheyigen and a prince of the Oirats, she was of distinguished lineage. Over the 1250s, Orghina Khatun in cooperation with Mas’ud Beg furthered the reconstruction of Central Asia. According to Juvaini in the 1250s Transoxania finally reached the level of prosperity it had before the Mongol conquest. Fully backed by Mongke Khan, who also married her aunt, strengthening their connection, Orghina may as well have been the Chagatai Khan herself. The Mongol Empire saw a number of female regents over the 1240s and 50s, and Orghina may well have been the most capable. She gave Mas’ud Beg full support and materials to restore the economic power of the region. Both became quite wealthy through their efforts, as they had enough money to persoally endow madrassas. When Mongke Khaan’s brother Hulegu passed through the region in 1253 en route to his Iran campaign, Orghina Khatun hosted lavish banquets for Hulegu and his wives, who happened to be Orghina’s sister and half-sister.
The height of the Chagatai Khanate was probably this decade under Orghina Khatun and Mas’ud Beg’s governance. The Chagatayids enjoyed their best relationship with the imperial government, having the full backing of Grand Khan Mongke, the trade routes prospered, cities were rebuilt, their economies restored and the region had a period of relative peace, and the horrors of the conquest began to slip into the past. There is some indication that the realm may have been, in this time, called something like the ulus of Oghina. The Franciscan Friar William of Rubruck, who passed through the region in the early 1250s, reported that he heard it called Organum. The term is of uncertain origin. Rubruck himself didn’t know where it came from, and there is debate in the scholarship if it actually refers to Orghina, with a number of alternative suggestions made, such as it coming from the name of Urgench, the capital of Khwarezm. But it is terribly coincidental though, that Rubruck would use such a rare term with more than a passing similarity to the name of the lady ruling the area skillfully at the exact same time.
As with so many things, this came to a crash with Mongke Khan’s death on campaign in 1259. Orghina Khatun and her kinsmen supported Mongke’s brother, Ariq Boke, in his declaration as Khan of Khans, which put them at odds with Mongke’s other brother, Khubilai. Khubilai in 1260 sought to place a more amenable figure on the Chagatayid throne in order to deny Ariq an ally, and sent a great-grandson of Chagatai named Abishqa to depose or marry Orghina Khatun. Ariq Boke arrested and executed Khubilai’s Chagatai prince, but soon decided he needed his own man leading the Chagatayids. Orghina was a skilled administrator, but no miltiary leader, and she may not have been willing to allow Ariq to use her realm as a supply depot for war against Khubilai, who had access to all the materials of north China. In 1261 Ariq had Orghina removed and placed Alghu, another grandson of Chagatai, onto the throne. Orghina came to Ariq’s court and basically spent the next two years criticizing him for the action.
As you undoubtedly know by now, as we covered it in episode 32, the war between Ariq Boke and Khubilai did not go well for Ariq. Alghu turned out to be unreliable, denying Ariq his supplies and backing Khubilai. Soon after, Orghina Khatun left Ariq Boke, returning to the Chagatai Khanate where Alghu forced her into marriage. Orghina was very popular among the Chagatayids, and it seems Alghu struggled for legitimacy. Marrying the influential Orghina was Alghu’s best solution. To seal the agreement, Alghu made her young son Mubarak-Shah his designated heir and once more confirmed the great administrator Mas’ud Beg over Transoxania.
Ariq Boke was furious at Alghu’s betrayal, and in his frustration invaded the Chagatai Khanate, attacking Almaliq, but was soon, due to famine and desertion, forced to surrender to Khubilai. His victory complete, Khubilai confirmed Alghu and Orghina as the masters of the Chagatayids. With the war between the Toluids settled but the Great Khan’s influence severely curtailed in Central Asia, Alghu was free to strengthen himself as an independent monarch. He had to deal with an upstart Ogedeid prince on his northern border, however, a young man named Qaidu. Qaidu managed to defeat Alghu’s forces in a first battle, but Alghu regrouped and defeated Qaidu late in 1265. Poised to invade Qaidu’s small dominion, matters seemed bleak for Qaidu until Alghu suddenly died at the start of 1266. This much needed reprieve for Qaidu would define the Chagatais for the rest of the 13th century.
As per their agreement, on Alghu’s death Orghina Khatun finally placed her son Mubarak-Shah on the Chagatayid throne in March 1266. This is the last known event of Orghina Khatun’s life, and it seems she died soon after enthroning her son. Apparently this was done without the approval of Khubilai Khan, as when Khubilai learned of this he sent another grandson of Chagatai from his court, Baraq. Only months into his reign, and some 15 years since his father’s death, Mubarak-Shah Khan was captured by Baraq and made his prisoner.
The new Chagatai Khan, Baraq, won his first victory over Qaidu, but when Qaidu returned backed with troops from the Golden Horde sent by the Jochid Khan Mongke-Temur, Baraq was sent onto the backfoot. He pillaged Bukhara and Samarkand to fund a new army, starting the first round of undoing Mahmud Yalavach and Mas’ud Beg’s work. Even worse, it was for naught; Qaidu and Mongke-Temur sent emissaries for a truce. And so, either in 1267 on the Qatwan Steppe, or in 1269 at Talas, Chagatai Khan Baraq, the Ogedeid Prince Qaidu and representatives of the Jochid Khan Mongke-Temur made peace. They divivded the revenue of Transoxania between them, with ⅔ going to Baraq and ⅓ to be split between Qaidu and Mongke-Temur. Pastures were divided between them, princes and troops were forbidden to enter cities, Mas’ud Beg was to be placed in control of administering the sedentary population and Baraq and Qaidu became anda, blood brothers. Promising to support Baraq in an invasion of the Ilkhanate, they apparently also sent a joint letter to Khubilai criticizing his sinicization. The peace of Talas can be considered a definitive end to Mongol imperial unity, for now the princes ignored divided the empire between themselves.
Though a peace, it was an uneasy one, and one dependent on turning their energies against other Mongols. Late in 1269 in preparation for his invasion of the Ilkhanate, Baraq encouraged a Chagatayid prince who served the Ilkhans to desert. Ilkhan Abaqa, son of Hulegu, swiftly crushed the prince’s attempt near Derband.
In 1270 Baraq entered Ilkhanid territory in Khurasan, in what is now northeastern Iran and Afghanistan. Accompanying him were a large body of soldiers from Qaidu. Baraq’s army devastated much of Khurasan, overruning Badakhshan, Shaburghan, Taliqan, Merv and Nishapur in the first months of 1270, undoing much of the recovery these places had had since the invasion of Chinggis fifty years prior. Baraq won a victory over Abaqa Ilkhan’s brother Tubshin and the long serving governor of the region, Arghun Aqa, causing them to flee to Abaqa and warn him of the danger. But Qaidu had given explicit orders to his own men; after the victory over Tubshin, a disagreement between Qaidu’s commanders and Baraq’s was used as pretext for Qaidu’s men to abandon Baraq. Baraq was incensed and sent some men to pursue, all the while giving valuable time for Abaqa Ilkhan to mobilize his forces.
Baraq then turned his attention on Herat in northern Aghanista in July of 1270. But Abaqa, was already on the march, and the Georgian forces in Abaqa’s vanguard surprised and destroyed Baraq’s advance force. Baraq pulled his men back after the brief clash, with Abaqa keeping his large army mostly hidden. Abaqa then sent a peace embassy to Baraq, and Baraq seems to have momentarily considered; then promptly sent a small group of spies to find and track Abaqa’s army.
Abaqa captured the spies, executing all but one when he had a terribly clever idea. Absolutely devious, in fact. Leaving one spy tied up but near feasting troops, Abaqa had his troops in a panic abandon their camp and make much noise that an army of the Golden Horde had crossed the Caucasus and Abaqa needed to pull back to deal with it. The spy was allowed to escape and report his news back to Baraq, who was positively delighted. He quickly advanced, crossing the Herat river and plundered Abaqa’s deserted camp then moved leisurely onto a nearby plain… where he found Abaqa’s larger army drawn up for battle. Baraq had fallen into the trap, but he was not going to roll over for Abaqa. Baraq’s Chagatayid horsemen led the first charge, unleashing a volley of arrows into the Ilkhanid forces. Devastating cycle charges of a thousand horse archers ravaged the Ilkhanid lines, the apparently lighter equipped Chagatais too mobile for the heavier Ilkhanid cavalry. One of Baraq’s chief commanders was struck down by an arrow, but they resumed the attack and their repeated charges pushed back the Ilkhan’s centre and left.
Abaqa considered retreating, but was encouraged by his generals to stick to the field. Redeploying his forces, gradually the Ilkhan encircled Baraq’s army. In a last attempt, Baraq personally led charges against the Ilkhan, until knocked from his horse. According to Rashid al-din, the grounded Baraq shouted at his men, “I am Baraq, give me a horse!” until finally acquiring a horse and riding off the field, pursued by the Ilkhanid troops for two days. One of Baraq’s commanders continued to fight, holding off the Ilkhans long enough to allow a number of Chagatayid troops to escape as well. So ended the battle of Herat, July 1270, ensuring Ilkhanid dominaion of Khurasan. Abaqa’s preoccupation with Baraq allowed the Mamluks to take Tripoli, and the defeat of Baraq ended up allowing Qaidu to dominate Central Asia for the next 30 years.
Baraq reached Bukhara, where he soon fell deadly ill. Qaidu sent troops to capture Baraq, but in August 1271 found that Baraq had succumbed to his illness. The captive Mubarak-Shah used this opprounity to plunder Baraq’s camp and steal his possessions, even the jewelry of his widows, before fleeing to the Ilkhanate with his sister.
Qaidu was now the dominant power in the Chagatai Khanate, a period we largely covered in episode 41. Only a month after Baraq’s death, Qaidu was declared Khan of the Ogedeids, and appointed his first Chagatai Khan. His initiall efforts to instill control were difficult, as sons of Alghu, Baraq and the puppet Chagatai khan himself rebelled. It would not be until 1282 when Qaidu was able to impose his authority, placing Du’a, a son of Baraq, onto the throne of Chagatai. Du’a and Qaidu had a very effective partnership, and channeled the energies of their combined khanates against the Yuan Dynasty, Ilkhanate and even India. It brought much needed peace to the region internally, even if the overland trade routes, the famed silk roads, were disrupted by their warfare. The aging Mas’ud Beg was heart broken when Abaqa Ilkhan preemptively attacked and sacked Bukhara in 1273, and the city was sacked again in 1276 by the rebellious sons of Alghu and Baraq. Mas’ud Beg must have been pleased for some sense of stability with Du’a and Qaidu’s partnership, and continued to do what he could to rebuild until his death in 1289. So honoured was he that Qaidu and Du’a had Mas’ud’s son immediately take his stead. Du’a and Qaidu certainly did what they could to encourage trade and growth, and even constructed cities, though they did not live in them. Their direction of the energies of their warriors against their foes must have helped keep rapacious nomads away from the fragile economic centres within the khanates.
It certainly allowed for expansion of their influence. In the 1290s Du’a with Qaidu’s support exerted his authority over Ghazna in Afghanistan, and the fearsome Neguderis there. His eldest son Qutlugh Khwaja was appointed to head them, and from that base conducted raids on northern India at the same time as Du’a and Qaidu led their armies into Yuan territory in northwestern China. Chagatai raids on the Ilkhanate in the 1290s reached as far as Mazandaran, Fars and Kirman, and they even tried to put their own claimant on the throne of the Blue Horde, between the Caspian and Aral Seas.
The final years of this effective partnership, as we covered in quite some detail in episode 41, ended in 1301 with Qaidu’s death against Yuan forces. At the start of the 14th century, Du’a was master of Central Asia and the Chagatai Khanate. Our next episode picks up with Du’a’s reign and the long shadow he cast over the Chagatais, namely in the form of all of his sons who basically each took a turn being 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, please consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. This episode and researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one!
The rapid expansion of the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth century cannot be attributed to a single new military invention providing technological supremacy over their enemies. The weaponry and equipment of the Mongols differed little from those of their enemies or from previous nomadic empires. Still, the Mongols were adept in employing the tools of their foes. As historian Timothy May wrote, “the Mongols rarely met a weapon they did not like.” Therefore, many questions have been raised regarding the usage, or lack thereof, of gunpowder weapons in Mongolian expansion, particularly outside of China. Today, we give a brief introduction to gunpowder weapons, both their history of use, their use by the Mongols, and the possible role of the Mongol Empire in the dissemination of these weapons. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
For some historians, like J.J. Saunders or Kate Raphael, the Mongols as both users of gunpowder and transmitters of its knowledge to the west is a total negative or extremely unlikely. They see no clear indication of it’s usage in the western historical sources, seeing possible mentions as too equivocal to be relied upon. But the great British sinologist Joseph Needham and his associates, after a thorough study of well over a millennium of Chinese written sources and archaeology, has demonstrated thoroughly that not only were a number of a gunpowder weapons a common feature of Chinese warfare by the thirteenth century, but that the Mongols also used these during their wars in China. More recent historians such as Iqtidar Alam Khan, Thomas T. Allsen and Stephen G. Haw, have advanced Needham’s arguments, arguing that the Mongols carried gunpowder weapons, such as bombs, fire-lances and rockets, west in their conquests over the rest of Eurasia. Stephen Haw in particular has suggested that the infamous smoke-screen employed by the Mongols in Poland at the battle of Liegnitz in 1241 was a gunpowder-based weapon.
To demonstrate this, we must very briefly give an introduction to Chinese usage of gunpowder. Chinese alchemists and engineers had been mixing various chemicals for medicinal and experimental purposes for centuries, including some of those which constitute gunpowder. Gunpowder itself was not the result of any single individual’s experiments, in the style of the old European fable of Berthold Schwarz, but rather a long series of trials combining materials -often, rather ironically, in search of elixirs to eternal life- which ultimately resulted in discovering a rather flammable substance. The first recipe for gunpowder finally appears during the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century CE, in a Taoist work urging alchemists not to mix saltpetre (potassium nitrate), sulphur and carbon-rich materials like coal, and to especially not add arsenic to the mixture, as the result would light aflame. The Chinese quickly found the energy produced by these materials quite mesmerizing when used in fireworks display, and found use for it in civil engineering and mining, but contrary to some popular sentiments that the Chinese only used it for peaceful purposes, it appears they rather quickly applied this new material for warfare. From the 10th century to the 13th, the Chinese created a great number of weapons to violently disseminate knowledge of gunpowder. By 1044, possibly in reaction to military defeats against the newly established Tangut ruled Xi Xia Dynasty, the Song Dynasty was presented a collection of nine kinds of gunpowder weapons and three distinct gunpowder recipes in the Wujing Zongyao. This technology advanced under the Song Dynasty, which faced a collection of ever-more fearsome foes on its northern borders.
From the 10th century onwards, these weapons took a number of forms. Bombs thrown from catapults (huopao), enclosed in pottery or fragmenting metal shells. Arrows (huojian) with incendiary packages strapped to them, launched from bows or massive mounted crossbows, developing into early rockets over the twelfth century. Most infamous was the fire-lance (huojiang): a bamboo or metal tube capable of shooting a jet of flame three metres in length, sometimes with shrapnel and toxic materials packed into the tube to form a terrifying, flame-spouting shotgun. The proportions of consitutent chemicals were refined to increase power, with other additives such as lime to even human faeces to produce a number of horrific bombs; some to explode and throw armour piercing shrapnel, some to spread flame and destroy buildings, with others to have a choking, blinding gas dispersed by the explosion to envelop and confuse the enemy.
The Song Dynasty government was so reliant on these weapons -and so terrified of their foes acquiring them- that it prohibited the sale of any of the materials composing gunpowder to the Khitan Liao Dynasty or Tangut Xi Xia in the 11th century. Both lacked access to natural reserves of saltpetre producing lands. But with the Jurchen conquest of the Liao and Northern Song in the early 12th century, the newly formed Jin Dynasty seized not only stores of these weapons, but the knowledge and resources to produce their own. Now facing a powerful, gunpowder armed foe, this spurred a new stage of gunpowder experimentation by the Song Dynasty. The first textual references to fire-lances, rockets, and new kinds of bombs appear as Song forces desperately resisted Jin invasions. The Song were imaginative when it came to employing these against the Jurchen. The narrow crossing over the rivers into south China became the main lines of defence, and the Song quickly took to arming their ships with rockets and huopao, catapults capable of lobbing bombs against Jin troops, to destroy ships or cast poisonous clouds against men and horses. As early as 1127, Song officials were recommending that all warships be equipped with such weapons to repel the Jin. Other uses speak of the desperation of defenders, coupled with considerable access to gunpowder. The 1207 siege of Te-an is a well known example: the Song defenders filled tea sacks with rice straw, used matting and gunpowder to hurl against the Jin troops assaulting the walls. The Jin were quick to pick up such weapons too, a cause for no shortage of alarm amongst the Song court, among other things. While perhaps effective in slowing the Jin invasions of southern China, gunpowder weapons were neither key in the initial Jurchen conquests of the north, or in actually repelling them. Skilled leadership and political will, in addition to general miltiary resources and logistics, were by far the determining factors. Gunpowder weapons were another tool in an arsenal, rather than the defining strategic component as they often appear in popular imagination.
When Chinggis Khan invaded the Jin Dynasty in 1211, whole companies of Chinese siege engineers entered into his service, either willingly deserted to him or forced into service, bringign with them knowledge to construct various siege machines from catapults to rams. There is not, however, clear indication of the usage of gunpowder weapons against the Jin in these very first years of the conflict. One such Chinese siege specialist who willingly deserted, Guo Baoyu, accompanied Chinggis Khan west on his camapign against the Khwarezmian Empire. According to his biography in the Yuanshi, when the Mongols attempted to force a crossing of the Amu Darya, a number of Khwarezmian ships blocked their path. Guo Baoyu ordered a volley of huojian to be launched against the fleet. The ships were all set aflame, allowing the Mongols passage. While huojian originally and literally meant fire arrows, according to Joseph Needham, Jixing Pan, and Thomas Allsen, over the twelfth century the term came to signify rockets, when powdered gunpowder mixtures with higher percentages of saltpetre, charcoal and less sulphur made for effective rocket propellants.
In addition, the Persian historian Juvaini often makes a distinction between “fire, naphtha and stones,” being thrown into cities during Chinggis Khan’s Khwarezmian campaign, as if there were distinct incendiary weapons being used in addition to the naptha (i.e, petroleum) derived weapons more familiar in the Islamic world. According to Needham, naptha has been utilized for military purposes since the 4thc entury BCE, and remained a feature of armies in the Middle East up until the Mongol conquest. Juvaini’s flowery language makes it difficult at times to know if he was simply being poetic, or literal in terms of the weapons being used, even when he was an eyewitness to the events he describes. While Chinggis Khan certainly brought Chinese siege engineers westwards with him, it does not seem that gunpowder weapons made up a key component of his tactics. Likely, Chinggis lacked the resources to manufacture gunpowder and gunpowder weapons, and if he was making use of them, it was in limited quantities- his tactics for taking cities relied on skillful use of Chinese siege machines in great numbers alongside local forced labour and his powerful Mongol warriors. As mentioned earlier, gunpowder weapons were a tool in the arsenal, rather than a defining component. They lacked the ability to destroy walls by themselves: this was still the job of stones thrown from catapults, which the Mongols are expressly described using throughout the Khwarezmian campaign.
After Chinggis Khan’s death in 1227, his son and successor Ogedai completed the war with the Jin Dynasty, in the process cquiring greater experience with gunpowder weapons, and the natural and manpower resources to produce them. In the early 1230s there are a number of references in Chinese sources to the use of these weapons in the last years of the Mongol-Jin war. In 1231, for instance, the Jin utilized a new development in bomb technology, the heaven-shaking thunder-bomb (zhen tien lei), to sink Mongol ships in a naval engagement. These were bombs with high nitrate content in their gunpowder mixture encased in a cast-iron shell. When set off, they created a monstrous noise like thunder, while also splintering the iron shell into a wave of armour and flesh tearing shrapnel, an early fragmentation grenade.
The most famous gunpowder engagement came the next year well recorded in a detailed description in the dynasty history of the Jin, the Jinshi, compiled under Mongol auspices in the fourteenth century. In 1232, the great Mongol general Subedei besieged the Jin capital of Kaifeng, in a year-long siege in which sides utilized gunpowder weapons. Subedei had catapults launched gunpowder bombs into the city, while the Jin defenders had a variety of gunpowder tools in their defensive arsenal. Mobile shelters pushed up to the walls of Kaifeng were annhilated by thunder-crash bombs dropped onto them via an iron chain. Additionally, great number of ‘flying-fire-spears’ (feihuojiang) were employed. Depending on the interpretation of the historian, these were either fire-lances packed with wads of shrapnel and arrows which when fired acted as a sort of flaming shot gun, while others like Jixing Pan suggets these were infact rockets.
Either way, they were used to great effect and in great numbers. At one point in the siege, a Jin commander took 450 men armed with fire-lances into the Mongol encampment, a surprise attack resulting in hundreds of Mongol troops killed or drowned then they tried to flee. The Jinshi remarked that the thunder-clap bombs and flying-fire-spears were the only two weapons of the Jin the Mongols feared. Yet, these devices could not arrest the fate of the dynasty. A scovered back in episode 14 of this series, the Emperor abandoned Kaifeng before the siege was complete, and the city fell in 1233, and the Jin Dynasty itself finally extinguished the next year.
We must emphasize again, that while terrifying, these gunpowder weapons were not themselves the key determining factors in these wars. The modern concept of all powerful, destructive guns, bombs and cannon must be ignored. The reliability of these early medieval weapons was questionable. Different proportions of the necessary chemicals, or in the design of a given weapon, might result in a device going off early, too late, or not at all. The range of these weapons was often short, and they were best utilized in the defense, in situations where their effect on enemy morale could be maximized. These bombs were not yet the secret to destroying city walls, though they could set fire to wooden structures, towers or gates along the battlements.
Regardless, they were a frightful weapon when used properly. Thus it seems unusual that Subedei, the commander of the final campaigns against the Jin who faced these gunpowder weapons, made little use of them in the great western campaign begun only a few years later. Though specialized Chinese artillery was employed against the Alans of the north Caucasus, Rus’ principalities and Hungarian, there is little direct indication of the use of gunpowder weaponry in the west. Many of the mostly wooden cities of the Rus’ principalities were burned, it is true, but the Rus’ sources generally offer no description of how this occurred, only that it did. Usually they imply the fire was started after the city already fell. In the case of the siege of Vladimir, the Nikonian Chronicle specifies that a great volume of stones were shot into the city, and that the church at Vladimir was burnt only after the Mongols stacked a great pile of wood next to it and set that on fire.
A possible indication of gunpowder usage is supplied by the Franciscan friar John de Plano Carpini, who travelled through the Rus’ principalities late in the 1240s bearing messages from the Pope to the Great Khan. In his report of his travels, Carpini offers a very accurate description of Mongol battle and siege tactics, with the intention that his observations be used to help prepare Christendom against further attacks. Carpini’s short description is worth quoting:
They reduce fortresses in the following manner. If the position of the fortress allows it, they surround it, sometimes even fencing it round so that no one can enter or leave. They make a strong attack with engines and arrows and they do not leave off fighting by day or night, so that those inside the fortress get no sleep; the Tartars however have some rest, for they divide up their forces and they take it in turns to fight so that they do not get too tired. If they cannot capture it in this way they throw Greek fire; sometimes they even take the fat of the people they kill and, melting it, throw it on to the houses, and wherever the fire falls on this fat is almost inextinguishable. It can however be put out, so they say, if wine or ale is poured on it. If it falls on flesh, it can be put out by being rubbed with the palm of the hand.
As the Mongols, as far as is known, did not have access to Greek Fire, it seems that Carpini is attempting to describe an incendiary of unusual properties using cultural terms he was familiar with. And as Carpini’s knowledge of Mongol siege tactics largely came from his discussions with survivors in the Rus’ territories, it seems to imply that a special type of fire-causing weapon was used against the Rus’: quite possibly gunpowder weapons Subedei had brought from China.
The famous smoke screen employed by Mongol forces at the battle of Liegnitz in Poland in April 1241 may also have been a type of gunpowder weapon, as suggested by Stephen Haw.
Firstly, for those of you unaware of the context, here is the relevant quote from the description of the battle of Liegnitz, recorded in the fifteenth century Polish chroncile by Jan Długosz.
“Among the Tatar standards is a huge one with a giant X painted on it. It is topped with an ugly black head with a chin covered with hair. As the Tatars withdraw some hundred paces, the bearer of this standard begins violently shaking the great head, from which there suddenly bursts a cloud with a foul smell that envelopes the Poles and makes thm all but faint, so that they are incapable of fighting. We know that in their wars the Tatars have always used the arts of divination and witchcraft, and this is what they are doing now. Seeing that the all but victorious Poles are daunted by the cloud and its foul smell, the Tatars raise a great shout and return to the fray, scattering the Polish ranks that hitherto have held firm, and a great slaughter ensues.”
Haw suggests that the smoke weapon used at Liegnitz was the same as a category of smoke bombs used in Chinese warfare over the preceding centuries. Devices to deploy toxic smoke and smoke screens have been used in Chinese warfare since at least the 4th century CE, but during the Song Dynasty more effective versions were developed with gunpowder. in easily shatterable pottery containers, these weapons were packed with poisons, foul-smelling ingredients, shrapnel, arsenic and lime. Dispersed by the force of the explosion, these bombs unleashed a cloud or fog of painful gas containing lime and arsenic in order to blind, disorient and confuse enemy forces- very similar to the smoke weapon described at Liegnitz. Not understanding it was a gunpowder weapon, either a bomb or modified fire-lance, the Poles focused on the most visible ‘tool’ as the origins of the smoke, mistakenly identifying a Mongolian horse-hair standard as the device. The failure of the chronicle to describe the sound of the weapon going off could be attributed to the confusion of battle distance in time of Jan Długosz’s compilation from the actual event. None of the contemporary Polish observers would have known what gunpowder was, and therefore failed to associate obvious things we would associate with it, such as the sound, lash of flight or actual mentions of delivering the weapon.
This is a point we must emphasize. The ambiguity of language of many western sources on the Mongols makes it difficult to identify if a new gunpowder weapon was used. Not knowing what the device was, or lacking words for these new devices which the Mongols were almost certainly unwilling to let non-military individuals examine, it is hard to determine when a medieval author is using a term they were familiar with, such as Greek Fire or Naptha, to refer to a new technology which served a similar purpose. The fact that most chroncilers were not first hand witness, but recording accounts from survivors, means it is hard to know how many details of a given day or battle’s events were accurately recorded, particularly as in the case of Jan Długosz, who was writing almost two centuries after the battle of Liegnitz, and was at the mercy of whatever was recorded or survived discussing the battle in 1241.
On the other hand, it can be hard to tell if a source is just providing a dramatic description of a more ‘mundane’ weapon. Such is the case of the Persian writer Juvaini’s account of Hulegu’s campaign in the 1250s, to which he was a direct eye-witness. Juvaini writes of how Hulegu was provided by his brother, the Grand Khan Mongke, a thousand households of Chinese catapultmen, as well as naphtha throwers. As the siege of the Nizari Assassin fortress of Maymun Diz, covered back in episode 28, Juvaini mentions a large crossbow-like weapon deployed by Hulegu’s Chinese siege engineers, which he called an ox-bow, in Persian, kaman-i-gav, a direct translation of the Chinese term for the weapon, ba niu nu, “eight-ox-bow.”.
Juvaini writes that it delivered meteoric shafts which burnt the enemy, in comparison to stones lobbed by the defenders, which did little but harm a single person. The passage is as follows:
[A] kaman-i-gav [‘ox’s-bow’ ], which had been constructed by Khitayan craftsmen and had a range of 2,500 paces, was brought to bear on those fools, when no other remedy remained and of the devil-like Heretics many soldiers were burnt by those meteoric shafts. From the castle also stones poured down like leaves, but no more than one person was hurt thereby.
These ox-bows in Chinese warfare, as described by the Wujing Zongyao, could have gunpowder packages attached to the bolts, and were used in the same manner as Juvaini describes. While some historians like Stephen Haw see this as a clear usage of gunpowder, it must be remarked that Juvaini’s tendency for over-flowery language makes it difficult to gauge how literal this passage must be taken, though he was an eye-witness to the siege.
Generally it seems that gunpowder was little used in most of the Mongols’ western campaigns. Likely difficulties in travelling with it prevented them from taking great quantities of it, and at the time of the conquests there was not sufficient knowledge in the west which would allow them to procure more supplies. The matter was very different in the continuing Mongol wars in China, where under Khubilai Khan bombs were a main component of the wars against the Song Dynasty, which continued to employ them as well. Thousands of bombs were made every month in the Song Dynasty, though often they failed to properly supply these to the necessary border regions which needed them. One Song official in 1257 inspecting the arsenals of the border lamented how poorly supplied these vulnerable sites were in these weapons, and how despite repeated requests to the central government, amends could not be made. The Song continued to throw whatever they could against the Mongols as they advanced deeper into southern China, but by then the Mongols not only had ample supplies of these weapons for war in China, but manpower reserves, a powerful military structure and a leadership hell-bent on overrunning the south, driven by the energetic Khubilai who believed in the eventuality of his conquest. Khubilai’s great general Bayan set up ranks upon ranks of huopao during his drive to Hangzhou, lobbing stones to pound down the walls, gunpowder bombs to annhilated gates and towers and terrify the defenders withi. Against such an inplacable foe, the last of Song resistance was ground to dust.
Khubilai employed gunpowder weapons against other enemies as well. Most famously against the Japanese, where archaeological evidence, the account of the Hachiman Gudokun and the invasion scrolls of Takezaki Suenaga demonstrates the Yuan forces using iron bombs against the Japanese. Though as we mentioned in episode 26 discussing Suenaga’s scrolls, the addition of the bomb going off in the scroll was likely made later, as it is in different ink and Suenaga fails to mention such weapons. For such a boisterrous warrior like Suenaga to not mention surviving a terrifying grenade like that is rather unlikely.
It appears that an advance in gunpowder weapons was made sometime in the late thirteenth century. Near the ruins of Khubilai Khan’s summer capital of Shangdu, the earliest confirmed cannon has been found. Bearing an inscription in the ‘Phags-pa script dating it to 1298, a serial number, weighing just over 6 kilograms (13 lb 11 oz) and just under 35 cm (approx. 14 in) in length, it suggests a product of considerable experimentation and systemization. Earlier, much more primitive and rougher models have been found which from archaological context imply they come from the last years of the Tangut Xi Xia Dynasty, crushed in 1227 by Chinggis Khan. It is probable that the evolution of fire-lances from bamboo to metal tubes was a stepping stone to larger metal tubes capable of larger gunpowder charges and projectiles, brought on by the emergency of the Mongol invasions. Only in the last years of the 13th century did these models reach a level of standardization and sophistication to become bombards, and more and more sophisticated models are known from over the fourteenth century. There are a few passages from 13th and 14th century Chinese texts which may indicate the usage of these cannons, usually in naval engagements; where muzzle flashes seem to be described when Mongol ships fire upon fleeing Jin ships, or on small vessels at the blockade of Xiangyang launch projectiles, but from ships too small for catapult. Much like the western texts, the Chinese did not yet have a name for this new technology though. Calling them huopao, the same name for the catapults which threw gunpowder bombs, it is impossible to know, unless a description is given, which texts refer to bombs, and which to early cannons.
From 1288 we have perhaps the earliest description of small hand held guns or cannons. In the war against his rebel cousin Nayan, Khubilai Khan led his army against Nayan himself, but attacked from multiple fronts. One such operation was led by a Jurchen commander in Khubilai’s service, Li Ting. Using the word for fire-catapult or cannon, huopao, Li Ting and his small squad of Korean soldiers is described as at night sneaking into an encampment of Nayan’s men and setting off these weapons to great effect. From the context, it is clear that these weapons are too small and mobile to be catapults. In further support of this interpretation, it appears one of the actual weapons has been found. Discovered in 1970 in Heilongjiang province, nearwhere Li Ting’s troops fought Nayan, a small bronze cannon or handgun has been discovered from an archaeological site supporting a late thirteenth century context. Weighing 3 and a half kilograms, 34 cm in length, with a bore of 2 and a half centimeters, these were small, anti-personnal weapons. Not much use against walls, but devastating against men and horses. It is no suprise that Nayan’s rebellion was quickly crushed if Khubilai had men with such armaments at his disposal.
The Yuan Dynasty continued to produce cannon over the fourteenth century. One well known example from 1332 bears an inscription with its date and purpose of manufacture, intended to be used on board a ship for suppression of rebels. By the rise of Zhu Yuanzhang and the Ming Dynasty in the late fourteenth century, cannons and other firearms were standard features of Chinese armies. Over the Ming Dynasty, gunpowder weapons continued to advance into more deadly and efficient variants, but did not replace the basic tools of the Mongol conflict in China. Rockets, fire-lances, and bombs were used even into the Qing Dynasty, but supported by cannon, mines and two-staged rockets and even multiple-rockets launchers, similar to the famous Korean hwacha developed during the Imjin war. The Qing too would face fearsome nomads bearing firearms in the form of the Dzunghars, but by then the military advantage was considerably in favour of the Qing.
We can also briefly note evidence for an even earlier usage of firearms, in the form of some controversial iconographic evidence in China. In the Dazu cave system in Sichuan, there is an extensive carved relief featuring individuals armed with a variety of weapons. One carved figure holds something visually very close to early designs of handguns or handcannons, from which clouds of smoke, and possibly a projectile, seem to be carved leaving. As these carvings dates to 1128, this would push back the development of the fire-arm even earlier, and suggest a much more widespread usage of cannon and gun than previously thought. However, the identification is hardly accepted. Some have suggested it was a later addition to the complex during repairs, while others have argued it is not depicting a fire-arm, but merely a wind-spirit holding a bag of wind. As it currently stands, there is no hard evidence for emergence of true fire-arms until the late thirteenth century during the Yuan Dynasty.
So did the Mongols spread gunpowder westwards? Recipes for gunpowder and even the first gunpowder weapons appear in Europe, the Islamic World and India late in the thirteenth century, after contact with Mongol armies. However, the diffusion is difficult to track due to the already mentioned ambiuigisties in terminology. It’s likely the Mongol armies did not travel with great quantities of powder and were reluctant to share it’s knowledge. It is notable though that when perhaps the earliest recipe for gunpowder is recorded in Arabic, circa 1280 by Hasan al-Rammah, he records most ingredients as being Chinese in origin, with saltpetre for instance called Chinese snow, or rockets as chinese arrows. A common word for gunpowder in Arabic and Persian meant [dawā’ in Arabic, and Persian dārū], a literal translation of the Chinese huoyao, fire-drug [ often shortened to just yao in 13th century] which implies that knowledge was transmitted directly from Chinese engineers in Mongol service. By the start of the fourteenth century, fireworks appear as objects of regular entertainment in the Ilkhanate, and therefore transmission from the Mongols, in some fashion, seems certain.
In Europe there are tantalizing clues to transmission. A great number of diplomats, travellers, priests and merchants made the trek from Europe across the Mongol Empire and back, and many brought gifts from the Khans with them, or observed closely the Mongol army in an attempt to learn its secrets. The Franciscan friar, William of Rubruck, spent much time with a European goldsmith in Mongol service, William Buchier, the man who made the famous Silver Tree of Karakorum. Buchier appears to have worked often in conjunction with Chinese artisans in his work for the Mongols. Though Rubruck’s account does not describe gunpowder, Rubruck is known to have met, while back in Paris, the first European who did: Roger Bacon, who describes with amazement his experience viewing Chinese firecrackers going off in Europe. Even if the Mongol army itself did not directly or intentionally transfer gunpowder, or use it in quantities to replace their own bows and arrows, they opened the pathways which allowed its knowledge to move across the Eurasian continent. Over the early decades of the fourteenth century, fearsome hand guns and bombards became regular features of battlefield across the continent, the secret to gunpowder no longer restricted to the Chinese government.
Our series on the Mongols will continue, so please 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, please 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 none.
With the Yuan Dynasty reduced to an ever shrinking area of land around Dadu in north China, to tell the story of the expulsion of the Mongol rulers in 1368 is to tell the story of Zhu Yuanzhang, a peasant turned monk turned warlord turned emperor. Today, we give you the rise to power of Ming Taizu, the Hongwu Emperor, his great victory at Lake Poyang and the Rise of the Ming Dynasty, and the final Yuan efforts to hold onto their dynasty. I’m you host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
Our last two episodes took us through the period of Mongol rule in China from Khubilai Khan’s death in 1294, through his many successors until the reign of Toghon Temur Khan, who took the throne in 1333. Toghon Temur was largely a puppet to his chancellors; first Bayan of the Merkit, and most notably Bayan’s nephew, Toghto. Though faced with a colossal economic and environmental crisis which spawned a series of uprisings in 1351, the Red Turbans, by the end of 1354 Toghto had nearly crushed the movement and restored order. But Toghon Temur Khan made the foolish decision to banish Toghto in January 1355, a decision which signalled the death blow to the Yuan Dynasty. Toghto was the last actor who could have arrested the fate of the Yuan or controled the dynasty’s resources. Within months of Toghto’s dismissal, the rebellion picked up with new energy, and the power of the Yuan court became restricted to the very north. The rest of the empire became subject to various warlords, some with nominal allegiance to the Yuan, and some seeking nothing but its utter destruction.
A few points should be emphasized. The lack of interest Toghon Temur had in governing ensured that there was no individual in the Yuan court who could step into the role of Toghto. The strengthening of the regional rulers during the chancellorship of Berke Bukha, followed by mass mobilization in Toghto’s last years left provincial, regional and local rulers newly empowered and at the heads of much stronger military forces. The famed Mongol army was one of conquest, not garrison duty: there were simply not enough Mongols to garrison all of China, leaving a light Mongol presence past even the Yellow River. Most actual Mongolian and Turkic cavalry were kept in a few strategic areas, largely centrered around the capital and the steppes. Southern China had been poorly integrated into the Yuan, where Song dynasty structures had often been hastily co-opted. With most of the Yuan government and armed forces in the north, in the south’s countryside banditry became a real problem, as years of flood, famine, locust plagues and other environmental catastrophy annihilated farmland, the local economies and regular support networks. Unable to rely on the Yuan army for protection, regional and local leaders organized local defense forces for protection against bandits, the Red Turbans or even the undisciplined newly mobilized Yuan troops, which militarized and armed the population. It must have seemed apparent that the Yuan had lost the Mandate of Heaven, the right to rule China.
In the years immediately after Toghto’s dismissal, three warlords emerged within the Red Turban movement as the most powerful, all along the Yangzi River: Zhang Shicheng, the former salt-worker who became a warlord, declared himself emperor and was nearly crushed by Toghto during the chancellor’s final campaign; Chen Youliang a former fisherman, then office clerk who became leader of the southern Red Turbans and declared his own Han Dynasty with himself as emperor; and a peasant, turned monk, turned warlord, Zhu Yuanzhang.
Born into a destitute family of tenant-farmers in 1328, Zhu Yuanzhang grew up surrounded by famine and uncertainty in central Anhwei. His grandfather had fought against the Mongols for the Song Dynasty in its final years, and Zhu grew up listening to his exploits. In summer 1344, he lost most of his family to famine within three weeks. Unable to feed him, his surviving family gave him away to a Buddhist monastery for labour. With the monastery also unable to feed him, he spent a few years wandering before the twenty year old Zhu returned to the monastery, where he learned to read and write. There he may have happily stayed, until a local battle between Yuan forces and Red Turbans in 1352 resulted in some of the Chinese troops in the Yuan army sacking and looting Zhu’s temple. Once again having lost everything, Zhu went to the only place he could: he joined a nearby Red Turban group. For a starving peasant turned monk, Zhu showed a surprising aptitude for war and gained the attention of the local Red Turban leader, Kuo Tzu-Hsing. Under Kuo’s tutelage, Zhu rose in the ranks, and within a year was given his own command and married Kuo’s adopted daughter, the future Empress Ma. By the start of 1355 Zhu was leading an army of about 30,000 men and building his own staff of educated men around him, most notably the scholar Li Shanchang, who encouraged Zhu’s ambitions, urging him to take the city of Nanjing on the Yangzi River. His first attempt in summer 1355 was a failure, but it resulted in the deaths of Kuo Tzu-Hsing’s sons and heirs, leaving Zhu Yuanzhang in sole command of the local Red Turbans.
Gathering his strength, in April 1356 Zhu finally took Nanjing, making it his capital. This brought him to the attention of the figureheads of the Red Turbans in the north, Liu Futong and his puppet “Song Emperor,” Han Lin-erh. The young Han Lin-erh acted as a sort of symbol for the movement, a Manichean-Buddhist saviour in addition to apparently being a descendant of the Song Emperors. Together, they had redeclared the Song Dynasty, and soon after Zhu Yuanzhang took Nanjing he was appointed governor of Jiangxi province by Han Lin-erh. This placed Zhu at the forefront of the northern Red Turbans on the Yangzi, but Zhu was careful to maintain official subordinance to this ‘Song Emperor,’ who Zhu became the most powerful defender of. In this time Zhu began developing his administrative apparatus, and under the supervision of the scholar Li Shanchang, began cultivating a reputation as a refined, dignified ruler concerned for the safety of the common people. Always he sought to have his armies minimize the destruction they caused, in contrast to the Yuan government forces and the often wild damage caused by other Red Turbans. He gained valuable administrative experience as the governor of Jiangxi, and it is not hard to imagine he was drawing his eye already to the loftiest of aspirations.
All the while, Zhu was eyeing his two powerful neighbours: Zhang Shicheng to the east, who, after a nominal submission to the Yuan government was now happily expanding along the Yangzi River, and to Zhu’s west, the warlord Chen Youliang, the major figure of the southern Red Turbans. Zhu, Zhang and Chen had before even the end of the 1350s were among the most powerful men in China, the three Yangzi lords having wealth and resources beyond any of the minor warlords or Yuan loyalists south of the Yangzi river. To the north it was a slightly different story, where the major powers after the fall of Toghto were the Yuan aligned warlords Chaghan Temur and his nephew, Koko Temur.
Chaghan Temur was a fourth-generation Naiman commander based in eastern Honan, a region his great-grandfather had helped conquer in the early thirteenth century. Both Mongolized and sinicized, having sat for civil service examinations, since the late 1340s Chaghan Temur had been fighting rebel forces with his own army. His victories over them in the early 1350s brought him rewards and titles from the Yuan court, and his power began to expand. Within a few years he was the most powerful force serving the Yuan, doing his best to stay out of the court intrigues and defeat the rebels. In the latter, Chaghan Temur had more successes. In 1358 when Liu Futong and his Song Emperor Han Lin-erh rode triumphant into Kaifeng, once the capital of the Song Dynasty, it was Chaghan Temur who drove them and their armies back, bringing the city once more under Yuan control. By 1362, Chaghan Temur and his allies had managed to restore Yuan Rule from Shanxi to Shandong, and even former enemies like Zhang Shicheng and the pirate Fang Guozhen were sending a token yearly tribute of grain to the capital of Dadu.
Of course, it is difficult to amass such power without making enemies, and Chaghan Temur’s tendency to ignore court orders, make his own appointments and strengthen himself did him no favours. Chaghan Temur was challenged by a rival, Bolod Temur, another powerful commander and father of Toghon Temur Khan’s empress. The court intrigues between the two hamstrung the ability of the Yuan to resist the rebels, and Toghon Temur Khan, in typical fashion, was totally unable to control them. In 1362 officers claiming to be serving the dynasty assassinated Chaghan Temur while he besieged a rebel city, apparently doubting his commitment to the dynasty- and promptly fled to the same rebels they had been campaigning against. The court then confirmed Chaghan Temur’s will, granting his military and civilian positions to his adopted son, Koko Temur.
While Koko Temur’s name means ‘blue iron,’ in Mongolian, it may surprise you to learn that the final effective figure of the Yuan Dynasty was not a Mongol, but a Chinese. Born to a Chinese father and Koko Temur’s sister, his birth name was Wang Baobao, but he had been officially adopted by Chaghan Temur and in 1361 awarded his Mongolian name by the Great Khan. Recognized as a true and loyal servant of the dynasty, Koko Temur seems to have preferred the ideals of steppe life more than his Confucian education, and carried himself in the image of a Mongol ba’atar, and had fought valiantly beside his stepfather. Immediately assuming his late stepfather’s command post, Koko Temur completed the siege, caught the men who had assassinated Chaghan Temur, and in a decidedly un-Chinese ceremony, cut the assassins’ hearts out and sacrificed them to the spirit of Chaghan Temur.
Under the efforts of Chaghan Temur and Koko Temur, most of China north of the Yangzi was secured by the 1363, the Yuan having managed to survive a few serious scares. Rebel forces sent by Liu Futong and Han Lin-erh had raided as far as Liaodong and Shangdu, burning it in 1358, but since then the situation had somewhat stabilized. Bolod Temur continued to denounce Koko Temur, and the court intrigues did not stop. Toghon Temur Khan’s son and heir, Ayushiridara, seems to have wanted his father to abdicate the throne, as the Khan had shown utter incompetence and no leadership throughout the crisis. In alliance with his mother, Toghon Temur’s Korean empress Ki, and the chancellor, they sought to undermine Toghon Temur by convincing him to dismiss one of his chief ministers. The minister fled to Bolod Temur, who was then declared a rebel for housing the minister. Tension raised, Bolod Temur attacked Koko Temur, was defeated and fled to Dadu. At Dadu, Bolod took control of the capital in 1364, putting the chancellor to death and nearly got his hands on Ayushiridara, who fled to Koko Temur. Ayushiridara stayed there under Koko Temur’s protection until Bolod Temur’s cruel treatment of the court resulted in his assassination in August 1365, and Koko Temur marched Ayushiridara back to Dadu.
Koko Temur was rewarded with royal titles, and ignored Ayushirirdara’s efforts to have him remove Toghon Temur. Koko Temur was by then by far the most powerful man in the north, but had no love for court politics and wanted to continue the war against the rebels. Given overall command and a large army, Koko Temur finally set out in 1366 to clear the rebels off the Yangzi, only to find that some of the Chinese commanders and former allies of Bolod Temur in his service resented this upstart and attacked him. Forced to waste time in a pointless civil war, the final chance for the Yuan to even retain the north was lost as Zhu Yuanzhang unified the south.
China’s future was decided with the opening of hostilities between Zhu Yuanzhang and Chen Youliang. While Chaghan Temur rose and fell, the Yangzi warlords quickly moved past any pretenses of ‘peasant uprising to expel the Mongols.’ By the end of the 1350s, it was a battle for imperial power between the three most likely claimants to succeed the Yuan, or at least establish a regional kingdom: Chen Youliang, Zhu Yuanzhang and Zhang Shicheng. By 1357, Chen Youliang had taken control of the Red Turbans south of the Yangzi, Zhu Yuanzhang was the preeminent member of the northern Red Turbans and the protector of the puppet Song Emperor Han Lin-Erh, and Zhang Shicheng nominally recognized Yuna overlordship, though he was clearly building his own kingdom along the coast. Chen Youliang’s state had expanded dramatically, but his eastern expansion down the Yangzi was blocked by Zhu Yuanzhang, and to the north by the effective armies of Chaghan Temur and Koko Temur. Needing more strength before he faced then, and not trusting his Yangzi rivals, Chen decided to deal with the Yangzi foes first. In summer 1360, Chen Youliang sailed down the Yangzi with 100,000 men aboard a great navy. Armies of the early 1360s were built upon peasant troops, but since the 1350s had become operationally much more sophisticated and experienced, with river warfare a key component. Since the early years of the uprisings city walls had been repaired, forcing combatants to resort to lengthy blockades or costly assaults. There is little evidence to suggest Mongol military techniques of the thirteenth century were adopted by the Chinese, cavalry taking only a minor role in these battles.
Chen Youliang’s 1360 attack utilized ships with high sterns which allowed his men to climb onto city walls. This brought him some initial success, and made him so overconfident he had a puppet emperor he had been controlling beaten to death, and had himself proclaimed Emperor of a new Han Dynasty. Chen urged Zhang Shicheng to open another front against Zhu, then sailed for Nanjing. Tricking Chen into disembarking much of his fleet north of Nanjing, Zhu Yuanzhang ambushed Chen’s army and captured much of his navy, forcing Chen to retreat. Due to conflict with Zhang Shicheng, Zhu struggled to immediately exploit this victory. The next year, 1361, Zhu Yuanzhang finally led a naval assault on Chen Youliang’s territory, but was only marginally successful, as rebellion forced him to return to his territory in early 1362. Before he departed, Zhu’s forces took Nanchang near Lake Poyang.
While Zhu struggled with treason and rebellion in his territory, Chen Youliang built another armada. The sources indicate this was a massive effort, totalling 300,000-600,000 men, with large, red painted ships with iron covered turrets for archers and high sterns to once again climb over city walls- the same tactic which had worked so well for him in 1360. In June 1363 his fleet was outside the walls of Nanchang, and Chen believed its fall would lead to the submission of other nearby cities. Unfortunately for Chen, the walls of Nanchang had been reinforced, and his boarding tactic was unsuccessful. Chen was forced into a siege, ruining his plans and taking away his element of surprise. His forces suffered heavy losses, and as the siege dragged into summer the water levels began to lower, risking the large ships which made up the core of his fleet.
Zhu Yuanzhang did not appear to learn of this until August 1363, during which time much of his forces were occupied near the border with Zhang Shicheng. Rapidly reassembling his forces at Nanjing, he sent an army overland to relieve Nanchang, while he prepared a fleet to confront Chen Youliang. Zhu was outnumbered, with perhaps 100,000 to 200,000 men aboard much smaller ships. Further, he risked opening his flank to Zhang Shicheng and rebellion as had happened in 1361. This operation was a great risk, yet he threw all of his weight against Chen Youliang.
His fleet departed Nanjing on the 15th of August 1363, arriving at the entrance to Lake Poyang on the 24th. There he constructed fortified positions to prevent Chen’s fleet from breaking out of the lake. On the 28th, Zhu’s fleet entered the lake, and a startled Chen was forced to lift his 85 day long siege of Nanchang, suddenly realizing he had been trapped. Late on the 29th, the two fleets met off the island of Kanglang shan, where they waited until sunrise the next day. So started the battle of Lake Poyang, the most famous, and largest, naval battle in Chinese history.
On the morning of August 30th, Zhu deployed his fleet into 11 groups, taking the center with his heaviest ships and stationing his lighter vessels on the wings, likely mirrored by Chen’s larger fleet. Zhu’s wing commanders were experienced and had the wind on their side, and their catapults wreaked havoc on the enemy wings, setting ships and men aflame. In the center Chen’s larger ships pushed back Zhu, his own flagship coming under threat. Zhu was forced to retreat to shallower water where Chen’s fleet could not follow, grounding several of Zhu’s ships in the process.
The first day of battle was disappointing, and Zhu sent his top commander Xu Da back to Nanjing with the damaged ships. The next morning Zhu executed some of his officers to get them to line up for battle, but once again the fight went poorly, Chen’s numbers, larger ships and densely packed fleet proving superior in close combat. High ranking officers were lost, and by midday Zhu had to pull back, aware that they were playing to Chen’s strengths. Finding inspiration from the fire used by his lieutenants the previous day, Zhu filled some smaller vessels with reeds and gunpowder, and with the wind shift in the afternoon sent these fireships into the densely packed enemy fleet.
Chen Youliang lost several hundred ships, 60,000 men, several squadrons and two of his brothers in the ensuing conflagration, while Zhu Yuanzhang only lost 7,000 men for the two days. The outcome was still undecided however, as Chen stil outnumbered Zhu greatly. September 1st was spent repairing and resting the fleets, and fighting resumed on the 2nd. Chen put his forces into a more open formation as defense against fireships, which allowed Zhu’s smaller vessels to isolate Chen’s ships, even sailing through Chen’s line at one point. However, Chen’s numbers were telling, and by noon Zhu withdrew, under pressure to depart from the lake by his commanders. The army he had sent by land had now relieved Nanchang, the goal of the campaign achieved. That night Zhu sailed out of Lake Poyang, Chen following the next morning only to find himself confronted with the fortifications Zhu had constructed.
It was clear to everyone that Chen Youliang had been outmaneuvered, and several of his generals defected to Zhu. For nearly a month, Chen waited before the fortifications, trying to determine the best course of action, while Zhu goaded him with antagonizing letters and his food supplies ran lower and lower.
Finding a weak position, Chen ordered his fleet to storm it and take it. But this was part of Zhu’s plan. As Chen was making his way onto the Yangzi river with his tightly packed fleet he sailed into another trap. Zhu was positioned upstream of Chen with more fireships, which were once more sent into Chen’s fleet. The ships that weren’t destroyed fled back down stream, and with order lost Zhu’s ships chased and captured them. Groups of ships locked in combat sailed down river, where forces Zhu had stationed also joined in. In this chaos Chen Youliang attempted to cross between ships in a smaller vessel, when he was killed by an arrow in the eye. News spread rapidly, and with it the last vestiges of resistance collapse. The following morning around 50,000 men and most of the fleet surrendered to Zhu Yuanzhang.
The victory at Lake Poyang was greater than Zhu could ever have hoped. With the death of his main rival and absorption of much of his army and fleet, he quickly annexed Chen’s former territory. By 1364, Zhu was the strongest single power in China, with double the manpower and resources of his next greatest rival, Zhang Shicheng. Zhang had failed to take advantage of Zhu’s war with Chen Youliang, and despite throwing off the pretense of submission to the Yuan Dynastyand proclaiming himself the Prince of Wu in February 1364, his domain was easily swallowed by Zhu’s forces. Zhang was captured in 1367, and later died in prison. Zhang’s defeat freed Zhu to commit to conquering the rest of China and crush the Yuan, while the deaths of Liu Futong in 1363 and the Song Emperor Han Lin-erh in 1366 left Zhu to assume supreme command.
In January 1368 Zhu Yuanzhang proclaimed the Ming Dynasty with himself as emperor, taking the era name Hongwu, meaning “overflowing martial accomplishment,” and began the campaign to push the remnants of the Yuan from China. The Hongwu Emperor did not take part himself, sending his skilled general and boyhood friend Xu Da to do it for him. Victory had already been determined; the Hongwu Emperoe had merely to stretch his hand and seize it for himself.
The Yuan failed to react to the rise of the Ming. The strongest warlord aligned with the Yuan, Koko Temur, had spent the last years battling other Yuan warlords. When Ming armies began to advance in 1368, Koko Temur refused an order from the court to repel them due to regional concerns, and for this was declared a foe of the court, open for all to attack. Koko Temur soundly defeated all of the foes sent against him until he was finally reinstated to his position, but by then it was simply too late. The Yuan could offer no counter offensive as Ming armies crossed the Yellow River in August, general Xu Da approaching Dadu in September. Toghon Temur Khan and his heir Ayushiridara fled the city to Mongolia only days before the arrival of the Ming armies, and on the 20th of September, 1368, Dadu came into Chinese rule for the first time in over 400 years. The city fell without a fight, only a few holdouts being executed. The Hongwu Emperor renamed the city to Beiping, meaning ‘pacified north.’ In time the city became the capital of the Ming Dynasty and was renamed to Beijing, the name it holds today.
Over the next two decades, the Ming incorporated the rest of China. In distant Yunnan, the Mongol prince Basalawarmi held out against the Ming until 1382. The fleeing Toghon Temur Khan and Koko Temur were pursued into the steppes and pushed from Inner Mongolia in 1370 after a humiliating defeat, where Ayushiridara’s son Maidiribala and 50,000 Mongols were captured by the Ming forces. Khan Toghon Temur died soon after, a man broken and humilated, lamenting the loss of his capitals, his empire, yet never understanding how it had happened. Ayushiridara finally became Khan and escaped with the remainder of Yuan forces across the Gobi desert into their ancestral homeland, almost exactly a century after Khubilai Khan had declared the Yuan Dynasty. The Ming continued to probe the border, looking to hunt down the new Khan who had not abandoned claims on China, despite Ming diplomats urging their submission. Threats, promises of support, using Ayushiridara’s son as leverage, to a rapid completion of a dynastic history of the Yuan with its glowing portrayal of Chaghan Temur in an attempt to persuade Koko Temur, did nothing to assuage the defiance of the Mongols. This dynastic history, by the way, is the Yuan shi we have referred to so many times over this series, and its rapid completion by the start of the 1370s is part of the reason it’s full of so many errors and even repeated entries.
With Ayushiridara refusing to submit, the Ming pressed the advance. Xu Da inflicted a major defeat on Koko Temur in the Gansu corridor which assisted Ming expansion in Sichuan and the west. In 1372 Xu Da marched with a massive army into the steppes, well over 150,000 men and torched the old capital of Karakorum, but Xu Da learned how dangerous the Mongols were in their homeland. Koko Temur simply manuevered around Xu Da for a month, exhausting the Ming army in marches into seeming nothingness, before falling upon his disillusioned foe. Xu Da’s army was annihilated, the great general forced to flee, and the impetus for Ming advance into Mongolia was broken. The Ming would never be able to conquer Mongolia, and were forced to step back to a defensive position along their borders. The only exceptions were raids and a brief period of Ming aggression during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, the Hongwu Emperor’s son, who led a number of campaigns into the steppe. Over time, this border became entrenched and fortified, particularly in the 15th and 16th centuries, into the Great Wall of China as we know it today. Though border walls had existed prior in much earlier dynasties, it took for the Ming Dynasty for them to develop into a single connected fortification across China’s northern border, and the famous brick structure we know it as today. The Yuan did not relinquish their claims on China, though we generally call the exiled court the Northern Yuan. Confined to Mongolia, aside from raids it would not be until the 1450s and the Tumu crisis that the Mongols would again form an existential threat to the Ming. After the death of Koko Temur in 1375 and Ayushiridara in 1378, the northern Yuan lost their unity, falling into infighting with the Chinggisid Khans becoming puppet rulers for non-Oirat Chinggisids. It would be many years before Chinggisid unity would be reformed, albeit only briefly, in Mongolia.
So the Nothern Yuan and the Ming would form uneasy neighbours for the next centuries, sometimes at war, often conducting trade, each taking advantage of the other at various times. So would be the relationship until the 1600s, when both Ming and the northern Yuan were finally subsumed by a new enemy- the Manchu Qing Dynasty, the descendants of the enemies of both the Mongols and the Chinese, the Jurchen. But that’s a story for another day.
So ends the period of Mongol rule in China. We will return to the later history of Chinggisid Mongolia, but our next episodes bring out attention westwards, to the fates of the Chagatai Khanate, Ilkhanate, and Golden Horde, so be sure to subscribe to our podcast to follow. If you enjoyed this and would like 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.
In the almost 40 years from the death of Khubilai Khan in February 1294, to the ascension of Toghon Temur Khan in July 1333, nine Khans of the Yuan Dynasty had been enthroned, with only Temur Oljeitu Khan reigning over a decade. It was a period of treachery, political infighting, civil wars, fraticide, economic mismanagement and inflation and environmental crises upon environmental crises. It was for Toghon Temur, the final Yuan ruler in China, to have the longest reign, sitting for 35 years in the two capitals of Dadu and Shangdu. His long, passive reign saw the disintegration of Mongol rule in China and the expulsion of the Yuan court in 1368- despite some energetic efforts to save the dynasty. Today, we present to you the final years of the Yuan Dynasty, and the last, but doomed, efforts to save it from total ruin by a series of energetic chancellors, none more famous than Toghto of the Merkit. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
Toghon Temur was only 13 years old when he became Khan of Khans in July of 1333. A great-great-grandson of Khubilai Khan, Toghon Temur was a son of Qoshila, who had briefly reigned as Khan in 1329 before being murdered by his brother, Tuq Temur. The young Toghon Temur had been exiled from the Yuan court by Tuq Temur Khan and his chancellor, El-Temur, first to Korea, then to Guangxi province in China’s far south. It was unlikely he’d ever see the throne, and aside from some time with a Buddhist teacher in his exile, he received no training for governance. But when Tuq Temur Khan’s designated heir died in 1331, the reigning Khan had a crisis of conscience, evidently from his guilt in the murder of his brother Qoshila. On his deathbed, Tuq Temur indicated he wanted the throne to go to the line of Qoshila; not to Toghon Temur, but his younger half brother, the six year old Irinjibal. There was a major obstacle to this, in the form of El-Temur, the real power in the Yuan Dynasty. It was El-Temur who had engineered the coup which placed Tuq Temur on the throne in 1328, and Tuq Temur Khan had been a puppet for El-Temur throughout his reign. Of Qipchaq descent, El-Temur was from the fourth generation of a celebrated family of Qipchap servants to the Khans. His great-grandfather and grandfather had both served Khubilai Khan in his campaign against the Dali Kingdom in the early 1250s, and since then the family had been among the most prominent in the Yuan realm, controlling one of the empire’s key military units, the Qipchaq Guard. El-Temur and his father had loyally served Qaishan Khan, but after his death in 1311 had lost wealth and prestige. The coup El-Temur orchestrated in 1328 was not just to restore the line of Qaishan and place Tuq Temur on the throne, but restore his family’s power.
Alongside another non-Chinggisid powerbroker named Bayan of the Merkit, El-Temur controlled the Yuan court and married into the imperial family. Before his death, Tuq Temur Khan had entrusted his youngest son El-Tegus into Chancellor El-Temur’s care, and El-Temur wanted the young boy to succeed his father. But Tuq Temur’s widow Budashiri rallied the court into supporting her husband’s final wish, and the aging and ill El-Temur reluctantly agreed to make Qoshila’s six year old son Irinjibal Khan… until Irinjibal died of illness not even two months later. Once again El-Temur wanted El-Tegus to become Khan of Khans, but resistance from the court was too great; they wanted the throne to go to Qoshila’s 13 year old son Toghon Temur. Even El-Temur’s number 2, Bayan, was convinced of it by Empress Budashiri, and after several months of argument over early 1333, a declining El-Temur acquiesced, in part due to agreement to marry his daughter Danashirin, to Toghon Temur. With that, El-Temur died soon after.
In July 1333, a little over a century since the death of Chinggis Khan, Toghon Temur was enthroned as the Khan of Khans. The boy was, as to be expected, a puppet. This time, for Bayan of the Merkit, who after serving as second fiddle to El-Temur, wanted to implement his own designs. Part of this was by securing power. In 1335 he unleashed a bloody coup which killed the members of El-Temur’s family and loyalists still in government. Even the daughter married to Khan Toghon Temur was killed. That year, Bayan made himself the sole chancellor of the Yuan Dynasty, the maximum power and authority he could ever hope to attain.
Bayan was not in the office simply for the sake of authority and killing his former coworkers. He actually had a dream. A rejuvenation of the Yuan Dynasty, desiring a restoration to the way things had been in Khubilai’s time; the good old days, when Mongols and Chinese were separated, the racial hierarchy and ensuing privileges clearly enforced. Bayan changed Toghon Temur’s reign title to Chih-yuan, which Khubilai had used from 1264 until his death, a clear symbolism, but there were much more overt and practical methods to Bayan’s plan. Chinese were banned from a great number of government offices, forbidden from learning Mongolian and other west Asian languages, and the Chinese population was to be disarmed and their horses confiscated. The examination system to choose officials reinstated by Ayurburwada 20 years prior was to be again cancelled. Yet Bayan also wanted to make government more efficient by cutting court expenditures, and reduce stress on the empire’s population by decreasing the high fees on the salt monopoly, encouraging agriculture, and improving and speeding up the government relief system. The environmental crisis we spent so much of the last episode discussing had not abated by any means, and Bayan saw it as governmental duty to provide for the people hurt by it. Of course, that couldn’t mean he wasn’t allowed to enrich himself with wealth, honorifics, titles and positions along the way.
A man who had cut his teeth in the wars of the steppes against Qaidu, Bayan had a tendency to overreact to threats violently. Toghon Temur was said to have complained how he spent his first years as Khan in fear for his life due to Bayan. His political enemies were violently persecuted, as seen when he eradicated the allies and family of his former partner El-Temur, and whenever plots were discovered against him. Bayan even had the gall to execute a Chinggisid prince outside the gates of Dadu. News of uprisings, and even the revolt of a city in 1339, led to Bayan believing in a wide conspiracy against him, seeing assassination plots around every corner. He responded with rounds of investigations, charges and violent purges to anyone he suspected involved. His enemies were convinced of the need to bring him down, and in spring 1340 a coup was launched against Bayan, with the support of Khan Toghon Temur and led by Bayan’s own nephew, the rising star Toghto. While Bayan was out hunting, the court stripped him of titles and positions and banished him. Returning from the hunt to find himself jobless and exiled, Bayan died less than a month later. With him died the last of those who tried to bring the court back to the ‘old ways,’ succeeded by those who recognized, and even celebrated, the sinicization of the Mongol dynasty.
The new generation of court leadership was symbolized by Toghto. Only 26 years old at the time of Bayan’s ouster, Toghto had been well educated and raised to prominence by his uncle. Unlike Bayan, Toghto had no misconceptions about restoring things to the time of Khubilai Khan. Raised in China, Chinese culture and Confucianism was something to be appreciated. Believing all government problems could be solved with a steady hand and powerful government, Toghto wanted to centralize and strengthen the Dynasty, with a variety of reforms to tackle the empire’s problems. His first period as Chancellor saw removal of the last of Bayan’s allies, the restoration of the civil service examinations, greater incorporation of Confucian scholars into government than ever before, and actual visibility to Toghon Temur Khan. The Khan finally was able to give a decree denouncing his uncle Tuq Temur for murdering Qoshila, and banished many of the handlers Bayan had placed on him. His cousin El Tegus was almost certainly put to death on his order, removing this claimant to the throne. Toghon Temur’s own son Ayushiridara was entrusted to Toghto’s household to be raised, fed and educated, the boy’s welfare being some Toghto took very seriously.
Luckily for the historians among us, one of Toghto’s most important tasks for posterity was providing the funding to finally complete the official histories of the Liao, Jin and Song Dynasties by 1344. On his encouragement, the Liao and Jin Dynasties were recognized as legitimate, a debate which had in part slowed the completion of these histories in the first place: the Confucian-Chinese editors had rather thoroughly argued against recognizing the Khitan ruled Liao or the Jurchen ruled Jin as proper dynasties, but Toghto, with an eye for the future representation of the Mongol ruled Yuan, pushed for it. So the Liaoshi, Jinshi and Songshi were finally completed and presented to the court, though the quality of the Liao Dynastic history in particular has been lamented by later scholars. As you can imagine, Toghto has always earned a warm reception from historians for this effort, though it does not mean all his efforts in his first Chancellorship were successful. His expensive proposal to cut a new waterway to transport grain to Dadu was a spectacular failure, though it was a problem he would not stop in his efforts to resolve.
Toghto’s bright plans were cut short in the emerging crisises of the 1340s. This was a decade of almost annual earthquakes, unseasonal snowstorms in Mongolia eradicating entire herds, severe flooding in central China, accompanied by widespread famine, drought and epidemic. There has been suggestion that bubonic plague began spreading in China in the 1340s, moving west with Mongol armies to reach Europe in 1347. However, from the beginning of the most severe phase of epidemic in 1344 to having reached the armies of the Golden Horde two years later is a rather tight schedule to cross all of Asia. There has not been enough evidence to identify the epidemics in China as the Black Death, and a great number of other viral epidemics remain likely culprits. After years and years of these environmental issues, the field of frustration finally began to bloom into violent uprisings in the 1340s. In 1341, there were more than 300 bandit uprisings across central China. And among these revolts was the emerging Red Turban Movement.
To quote Frederick Mote’s chapter “the Rise of the Ming Dynasty,” in part 1, Vol. 7 of the Cambridge History of China: The Ming Dynasty, page 18, the Red Turbans were “loosely Manichean within folk Buddhist religion and were millenarian in their impulses. They defied the normal sources of authority and displayed capacities for conspiratorial cohesiveness and for uncompromising relations with the government, thus making their behaviour more extreme than that of conventional rebels. All the important movements of this kind in this period have been loosely grouped under the designation of the Red Turban (Hung-chin) rebellions.” The Red Turbans, so called for their red headbands, were a large and loosely connected group which espoused a sectarian, millenarian Confucianism, calling for radical change of society through military means, returning to an older, ‘purer’ China. Having began in the late 1330s as a respeonse to the environmental and financial crisis blamed on the foreign barbarians ruling China, the movement steadily picked up steam with each year and with each successive trouble and crisis. The Yuan had greatly overlooked this social aspect of their rule and constant attempts to restrict Confucianism and Chinese rights. The Red Turbans were going to provide a framework for many looking for an excuse to fight back, or just to fight. We’ll return to them soon enough.
Toghto’s reaction to the country wide problems in 1344 was to resign his post. For the next five years, the chancellorship was largely dominated by a man named Berke Bukha. He was also genuinely reform minded, but in the other direction from Toghto. Having experienced firsthand the slowness of government relief, Berke sought to decentralize the government, and make each region more able to effectively respond to local problems, be they environmental or banditry. Corresponding and getting permissions with the Central Government in Dadu took too long, especially for the most distant provinces. By the time aid or relief arrived, it could have been much too late to do any good. Essentially, Berke Bukha wanted to cut government red tape, to use a modern parlance. It was a good idea, and one about two decades too late to avert the oncoming catastrophes. The problem of uprisings, economy and environment piled ever higher regardless of Berke Bukha’s efforts, and in 1349 Toghon Temur Khan recalled Toghto to the court to resume his post.
Toghto got back into the saddle with great energy. He was said to have wanted to dazzle his contemporaries and make his name immortal in the historical record, and immediately set about trying to do just that. One problem Toghto had been stumped by in his first chancellorship was how to pay for his great schemes, and in 1350 finally stumbled on an absolutely fool-proof idea: why not just print more money? The fact it was entirely unbacked by the depleted silver reserves in no way would be a problem. With a firm central guiding hand, Toghto got to work on his grandest scheme yet: forcing the Yellow River back into its former course, in order to once more enter the sea south of the Shandong peninsula. This was not a mere vanity project. The annual flooding of the Yellow River had become disastrous, and in 1344, 20 days of nonstop rain had caused the River to rise to 6.7 metres, break its banks and flood 18 districts and 17 cities, cutting of the Grand Canal, and draining into the Huai River, which in turn caused it to rise and threaten the salt fields in Shandong and Hebei provinces, before entering the ocean south of the Shandong peninsula, whereas before it had come out to the north. The threat to the salt fields was a particular concern for the court: as the salt trade and its associated taxes was worth six-tenths of Yuan yearly revenue, it was vitally important to ensure its protection. This was also necessary in order to restore the flow to the Grand Canal, the north-south canal which carried the rice and grain of south China northwards to feed the capital of Dadu every year. This had already been in trouble due to a pirate, Fang Guozhen, having taken control of a portion of the canal and blocking shipments of supplies to Dadu, refusing peace offers, titles and resisting a military operation by Toghto in 1350.
There was intense opposition to the project to reroute the Yellow River, but Toghto had firmly taken control of government and forced the plan through. Printing 2 million ingots worth of the new currency to pay for it, from May to December 1351, 150,000 labourers, and 20,000 soldiers dug a 140 kilometre long channel to reroute the river; and it worked! Once more the Grand Canal was fed, the salt fields were protected and the Yellow River exited into the ocean north of the Shandong peninsula.
Toghto’s genius engineering project was designed to protect the producers and economy of the Yuan Dynasty, but it accidentally became one of the events which sparked off the dynasty’s ultimate collapse. The large gathering of workers, hungry and weak from years of famine, being punished by cruel overseers trying to meet a strict timetable, and paid in a currency that was only a little above worthless, was fertile soil for the Red Turbans. Even as work continued on the canal, a massive revolt erupted in the Huai River valley, which spread rapidly. The Yuan were taken aback, the sheer size of the uprising causing cities to fall in quick succession- few city walls had been rebuilt after the initial Mongol conquests, after all. In the first engagements, the government forces were poorly prepared and beaten back, including an army commanded by Toghto’s brother Esen-Temur. This was not the highly mobile, horse archer forces of the conquest period, but generally local Chinese militias commanded by Mongols and Central Asians. The actual cavalry forces made up of Mongols and Turks were kept close to the capital.
But this was the time for Chancellor Toghto to shine. He seemed almost custom made for this crisis. He immediately organized the defense, raised new armies and conscripted militias. New training and command structures were implemented. He knew he had to tread carefully, lest mismanaged and underpaid troops join in the revolts. In a dizzying juggling effort, Toghto organized and reorganized the larger military units, transferred and reappointed commanders around the dynasty, all to stop this sudden mobilization of troops from creating an opportunity for individuals and regions to form alternate powerbases to resist the government. And it worked shockingly well. With his so-called Yellow Army, named for the colour of their uniforms, this newly raised force of mostly Chinese volunteers under Mongol and Turkic commanders became Toghto’s “nationwide apparatus of pacification,” as historian John Dardess termed it. Leading the most important campaigns himself, Toghto began to halt, then push back, and finally overrun the rebellion. By the end of 1352 Toghto had brought the Huai River valley back under government control. Methodically, they retook the cities which had fallen to the Red Turbans. By the end of 1354, Toghto was effectively about to crush the final major figure of a largely broken movement.
At the city of Gao-Yu on the Grand Canal, in the closing months of 1354 Toghto had surrounded and was advancing on Zhang Shicheng, a former salt worker turned warlord who had declared himself an emperor in 1353. Zhang Shicheng’s control of the strategic city of Gao-yu cut off much of the grain shipment to Dadu and starved the capital, particularly dangerous when epidemics was swirling around the metropolitan region and killing thousands. Toghto had a two-fold plan to overcome Zhang and the liability of the Grand Canal. One was obviously for Toghto to advance with a large army and crush Zhang, but the second was to make the north, for the first time in Chinese history, a rice producing region. 2,000 dyke builders and paddy farmers were transported into central Hebei, Honan and even southern Manchuria to instruct them on how to cultivate rice, and make the north less reliant on southern producers. Given that for most Yuan rule, some of the most important grain and rice producing regions of the south had been depdendent on outside relief efforts due to excess typhoons, floods and droughts, it was a sensible, though expensive plan, one paid for by the unbacked paper currency he continued to print huge quantities of.
In the last days of 1354, Grand Chancellor Toghto had Zhang Shicheng’s city of Gao-yu isolated and on the edge of collapse. The starving Zhang Shicheng, the final figure of the rebellion of any power, was about to crushed beneath the boot of Toghto, and order restored through the Yuan, when Toghon Temur Khan made the spectacular, and by far the worst, single decision of any Yuan Emperor: he dismissed Toghto in January 1355, and Toghto, as loyal servant, accepted. If any single decision could be pointed to as the moment the Yuan lost China, it was this one. The dismissal of Toghto was the dismissal of the last, and only figure, who could have held the dynasty together.
The exact reasons for this short sighted decision are unclear. Toghto’s power had grown considerably from 1350 through 1354, and had developed a system granting him great control of government, finances and the military. It is feasible his enemies at court simply had enough of his might, and led by a former ally of Toghto named Hama of the Qangli, they wanted to act before Toghto had his final victory over the rebellion. They very reasonably asked where might his energies and intentions have gone once the crisis was over? Would all foes of Toghto be wiped away, and Toghto rule in total dictatorship? With the rebellion about to be crushed, they may have felt it safe to remove him and simply finish the work themselves. Toghon Temur Khan may have wanted Toghto’s removal due to the attention and power Toghto had been giving to the Khan’s son and likely successor, Ayushiridara. Toghto had raised the boy in his household, grown close with him and saw to it that he was finely educated, trained for governance and prepared for rulership. Even in the midst of the rebellion, Toghto had given the lad his own palace in Dadu, his own staff, power to choose officials, an allowance and in late 1354, power to review all business conducted by his father the Khan. The young Ayushiridara was on his way to becoming a power within his own right, and Toghon Temur could have worried Toghto was going to replace him with his own son.
We should of course comment on this point on Toghon Temur Khan himself. Usually, Toghon Temur is presented as a Khan who specialized in debauchery and all sorts of sexual perversions, holding his own one-man saturnalias and all that. This isn’t what he spent his entire reign doing, to be sure. His first years as Khan when he was in his early teens were spent living in fear of Bayan, but after the 1335 coup, especially with Toghto’s encouragement, Toghon Temur actually began to take a bit of a role in government. But by the start of the 1350s, the Khan had started to grow tired of the work and began to abandon even the small list of duties he was given. At this point he really started to enter this phase of “party-mode,” as it were, though the level of debauchery is almost certainly overstated by largely hostile Ming Dynasty sources. “Semi-retirement,” as historian John Dardess described it, is probably better to imagine. Certainly, there was excessive eating, drinking and such. You can probably guess what his “participation” was in the “all-female dance ensembles and orchestras'' that he enjoyed. But he had other interests too, such as Buddhism, and sponsored a circumambulation of the imperial palace grounds of Dadu by 108 monks. He had engineering interests, designing his own pleasure barge for the lake in the imperial gardens, and taking part in the construction of a rather clever water clock. He enjoyed his yearly sojourns to the summer capital of Shangdu, spending almost two months of every year simply on the move between Dadu and Shangdu. Really, a lot of interests other than governance.
Toghon Temur was shortsighted, a poor governor, and absolutely not up to the task of stepping into the vacuum left by Toghto’s dismissal. The Khan and the Central Government assumed they could operate the carefully built apparatus Toghto had, somewhat precariously, balanced around his person. Of course, this was not the case in the slightest. With the loss of their leader, Toghto’s army deserted, joining the rebel movements which spread once more, while Zhang Shicheng saw this as divine intervention and expanded his realm onto the Yangzi River. Toghto had been the last credible leader of the Yuan, for no one else in Dadu had the foresight or ability to assuage the dynasty’s fall. In the months following Toghto’s dismissal rebellion reignited, and a lead member of Red Turbans in the north, Liu Futong, declared Han Lin-erh emperor of a restored Song Dynasty. The years of strengthening the regional governments followed by mass mobilization of resources by Toghto resulted in the provincial commanders essentially becoming completely autonomous warlords in at best loose allegiance to the Yuan government. The Yuan Dynasty’s effective area of administration became limited to an area around Dadu in the north, a regional power among a number of competing warlords. Some maintained a nominal adherence to the Yuan government, but were more concerned in fighting for survival against Red Turban and other upstart Chinese warlords than imperial unity. A number of Chinese warlords popped up in loose connection with the Red Turbans, using them as basis to build their own power networks and legitimacy- Zhang Shicheng, Chen Youliang, and of course, the former peasant from Anhwei, Zhu Yuanzhang.
Toghto would not see the end of the dynasty- he was assassinated by his enemies while in exile in Yunnan at the start of 1356. Neither did he live long enough to see that his excess printing of the currency and the ensuing hyperinflation resulted in it becoming totally worthless, ceasing to be circulated within months of Toghto’s death. Toghon Temur Khan would sit almost idly as the Chinese warlords fought amongst each other, eventually snowballing under the authority of Zhu Yuanzhang- though you might know him better by his era name, the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming Dynasty. For the final decade of Yuan rule in China, the Yuan were practically bystanders to their final fate. Our next episode is not a fall of the Yuan, as much as it is the rise of the Ming- so be sure to subscribe to the King 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. 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 Khuiblai Khan’s death in 1294, his successors ruled over the most powerful kingdom on earth, the Yuan Dynasty, controlling all of China and Mongolia. Yet not even one hundred years after the declaration of the Yuan in 1271, the Dynasty was pushed from China, their rulers a shadow of the men Chinggis Khan and Khubilai had been. In our first episode on the Yuan Dynasty, we take you through the first 40 years of their rule after Khubilai, and introduce you to ten Khans, from Temur Oljeitu to Toghon Temur, and the manner in which they lurched from crisis to crisis in the fourteenth century. It was an age of political chaos and bloodthirsty brothers, scheming bureacrats, overbearing mothers and misplaced Khans, and a century where every other person was seemingly named a variation of Temur. It was a period to have strangled even the greatest of rulers and most robust of dynasties; and these were not the greatest of rulers. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.
Our first of ten Khans for today is Temur Oljeitu, Khubilai’s grandson and first successor. Khubilai, as we demonstrated rather thoroughly, had outlived his chosen heir, Jinggim, as well as a plethora of other sons and grandsons. After Jinggim’s death, Khubilai had vacillated on who should succeed him. It was much more traditional Chinese custom for chosen heirs and the like, as opposed to the Mongolian method of ‘to the strongest,’ and declarations of quriltais. Seemingly reluctantly, only in the very twilight years of his life almost a decade after Jinggim’s death, did Khubilai move to make Temur Oljeitu, one of the late Jinggim’s younger sons, his heir. In 1293 Khubilai gave Temur Oljeitu the jade seal of the heir apparent, but had not provided him the full titles and honorifics that Jinggim had held. Thus, when the old Khubilai finally did die in February 1294, Temur Oljeitu was the favourite candidate, but not the only one. He was challenged by his older brother, another son of Jinggim named Kammala. It came to the quriltai in April 1294, where both made their speeches, each demonstrating their knowledge of the maxims of Chinggis Khan, aiming to convince the elite and each other of their fitness for the Grand Khanate.
Of course, it wasn’t really just a matter of speeches which determined the outcome. Being the selected heir of Great Khan Khubilai was obviously a powerful boost, but Temur Oljeitu had a number of powerful allies backing him. His mother, Kokejin, was well respected and beloved by Khubilai; military leaders, especially Bayan of the Baarin, the great conqueror of the Song Dynasty, backed Temur Oljeitu; and prominent members of the bureaucracy, such as the Chancellor of the Right, Oljei. This was to be a heralding of the future of the succession Yuan Khans, where the bureaucracy and military elite became the decision makers. Kammala was convinced to accept Temur Oljeitu, who on April 15th, 1295, was duly enthroned as Khan of Khans and Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty.
Temur Oljeitu was a respectable choice. Conservative minded, both he and Chancellor Oljei, as well as Oljei’s successor Harghasun, aimed to consoldiate and stabilize the Yuan Dynasty after the struggles of Khubilai’s final years. Open minded regarding Chinese culture, respecting Confucianism but not enmeshed in it, while also having connections to the military elite in the Mongolian steppe, Temur Oljeitu was very much a Khan in the mold of his grandfather Khubilai, though lacking his physical and intellectual vigour, while also keeping one of Khubilai’s worst vices, a penchant for alcoholism. In order to stabilize the government and economy, reconciliation of various branches of the family was favoured and great invasions abandoned. Lavish gifts to princes on his accession helped affirm their loyalty and quiet some of the Mongols in Manchuria who had been so problematic in Khubilai’s last years. Plans to invade Annam and Japan were cancelled; the only foreign ventures were to be brief excursions into Burma and northern Thailand which, though largely failures, were not on the scales of any of Khubilai’s efforts. Tax debts from Khubilai’s reign were cancelled, and Temur Oljeitu sought to reduce the tax burden on the people, forbidding the collection of anything beyond established quotas.
Diplomatically, Temur enjoyed a significant triumph over his father. In 1301 his armies under his nephew Qaishan finally defeated Qaidu Khan, the master of central Asia. When Qaidu died of his wounds in September 1301, Qaidu’s puppet Chagatai Khan Du’a decided he had enough of fighting the Yuan. With Qaidu’s son Chapar, Du’a contacted Temur Oljeitu indicating his willingness to recognize Temur Oljeitu’s overlordship. Temur Oljeitu was delighted and immediately accepted. Their representatives were sent to the Khan of the Ilkhanate, also called Oljeitu, and the Khan of the Golden Horde, Toqta. By 1304, peace had reached between the Khanates. For the first time since 1259, there was a recognized Great Khan, something Khubilai had never achieved. Though Temur Oljeitu wielded no authority over them, he sent patents to affirm each Khan, and in turn received gifts and tribute from them, a process largely carried out by his successors. And in 1306, when Du’a went to war with the heirs of Qaidu, Temur Oljeitu provided him with an army. For a few years at the start of the fourteenth century, we can finally speak of a proper pax Mongolica, when there was peace between all of the Khanates across Eurasia. It would not last very long.
In internal matters, Temur Oljeitu did not quite have the same success. For one thing, the Yuan Dynasty permanently hemorrhaged money. In 1295, less than a year after his enthronment, the imperial treasury was reporting to him that nearly all of the wealth Khubilai had accumulated over his reign had been spent in gifts to the princes. The financial policies of Temur Oljeitu and the Chancellors Oljei and Harghasun had brought stability after the “Three Bad ministers,” but was not bringing in new revenue. Temur Oljeitu had to cover government costs by paying out from the silver reserve. This was the silver needed to back the paper currency, and with less silver reserve, inflation would rise and rise, a problem we will keep coming back to. Government corruption was intense. The set quota for the number of court and capital officials was set at 2,600 persons. In the first year of Temur Oljeitu’s reign, it was found to be over 10,000. In 1303, a corruption trial revealed bribery going to the very highest levels of Temur Oljeitu’s government. A furious Khan pushed for further investigation, resulting in over 18,000 convictions of officials and clerks on bribery and other corruption charges. Rather typical of Temur Oljeitu though, was that he lacked the energy to carry out these charges and sweeping changes implied by such convictions. Most officials were let off with hardly as much as a warning, and many simply returned to their posts within the following years.
While it has been common to attest the Yuan Dynasty’s economic failings to corruption and lavish gift giving- which to be sure, there was no shortage of- recent research has highlighted a significant problem overlooked in such a presentation. The fourteenth century was the start of the Little Ice Age, a global climatic shift towards generally cooler and wetter temperatures, not counting for regional variations. Some variations in temperature and weather of the thirteenth century can be attributed to the massive eruption of the Indonesian volcano of Samalas in the late 1250s, with the Little Ice Age entailing more long term shifts. Cooler temperatures in general strongly affect the Asian monsoon season, which in the 14th century manifested into a general trend of intense colds and snowfall in Mongolia and the steppe, droughts in North China and unending rains and typhoons in southern China. These began to be felt in the very first years of Temur Oljeitu’s reign. In 1295, the year after he became Khan of Khans, typhoons struck the Yangzi River delta, his empire’s most densely populated region; the Yellow River broke its banks in multiple places and caused repeated flooding, and a dry spell from the previous years resulted in plagues of locusts that eradicated crops. Flooding, typhoons and locust plagues were annual problems for most of the 1290s. In Mongolia and the steppes, the winters turned harsh, and unexpected and high volumes of snow fell even in spring and summer, starving entire herds and forcing many to flee south to seek support for the Khan. So intense were these problems that in 1297 Temur Oljeitu changed his reign title from Yuanzhen, “Primary allegiance” to Dade, “great virtue.” Usually reign titles were held for decades, so to change it after two years was a last-ditch attempt to appease the heavens.
It was not just an ecological problem though. Khubilai Khan had continued the policy of huang zheng from the Song Dynasty. This was government-provided disaster relief, in the form of cash, food, normally grain or rice, farm tools, animals and other supplies to help the given stricken population through this period. It was a duty of the ruler of China, and fit well into Khubilai’s policy of reconstruction after the Mongol conquest and relieving the burdens of the lower classes. None of Khubilai’s heirs dared repeal such a law, for it became a basis of Yuan legitimacy. However, in a century that was to prove one of unprecedented, and worsening, climatic terrors over a vast geographic area, from the forests of Siberia, mountains of Tibet, Korea, Manchuria across all of China and its southern coast, this was to prove an impossible burden to meet. The detailed Chinese records reveal a dynasty facing a crisis every year. From 1272 until 1357, there was a major famine somewhere in China on average once every two years; over 56 earthquakes were recorded; super typhoons on the southern coast coincided with supersnowstorms in the steppe. Exceptionally cold winters and unexpected frosts meant certain crops could no longer be reliably grown in the north. The densely populated Yangzi River Delta, home to one of the most economically and agriculturally vital areas of the empire, was almost yearly suffering droughts, flooding, epidemics, starvation and typhoons which wiped away entire towns. For more than a third of the Yuan era, the empire experienced at least seven distinct natural calamanities within the same year! People died in the disasters by the thousands, and survivors died in the hundreds of thousands in the ensuing famines and destruction of farmland. Survivors needed to be brought onto government relief. Grain and rice shortages caused the Yuan to try and cover costs only with cash, and to provide more cash, more had to be printed, to the point it outstripped government revenues. Inflation was the result, and Yuan paper money became ever more worthless over the 1300s. Further, waves of natural calamanities always appear to symbolize the given dynasty had lost the support of heaven, and that the time was come for them to be overthrown.
Temur Oljeitu’s reign saw the beginning of these problems. In 1301, a spring drought in the Yangzi Delta was followed by a massive typhoon; arable farmland was destroyed for 50 kilometres along the coast line, and a 30-40 metre high wave pushed 280 kilometres inland! 17,000 were killed by storm by the storm itself, and 100,000 by the ensuing starvation. Only a month later, there was flooding displacing people in Manchuria, a freak August snowstorm in Mongolia, flooding around the imperial capital of Dadu, and a locust plague in Hebei province. From this year onwards, flooding somewhere in the Empire became an almost annual problem: in 1302, 50 days of torrential rain caused flooding in 14 prefectures in southern China, and in 1303 and 1305 severe earthquakes rocked the Central regions. And these problems would only become worse over the rest of the dynasty’s history.
The Khan was simply not equipped to handle this. The conservative-minded Temur Oljeitu and his chief ministers, Oljei and Harghasun, could not invigorate the dynasty for such an immense task as this. After the death of chief and favourite wife in 1299 and mother in 1300, and onset of illnesses from his years of heavy drinking, Temur Oljeitu lost much of his energy for governance, allowing another wife, the empress Buluqan, to overpower him. She sought to ensure the succession of their son, Deshou, a process in which she made many enemies, though even her hostile biography in the Yuan Shi recognized her as a just and able minister. Exiling and removing possible challengers to Deshou’s accession, she was able to have Temur Oljeitu confirm him as heir in 1305… only for Deshou to die unexpectedly early in 1306. When Temur Oljeitu died in February 1307, he had no heirs and no surviving children, and was given the posthumous temple name of Chengzong. One Khan down, nine to go.
Temur Oljeitu’s death saw factions form immediately. Empress Buluqan had her allies, and sought to make Temur Oljeitu’s cousin, Ananda, the next Great Khan. A Muslim and prince ruling over the former Tangut territories, Ananda had a powerful army and seemed a likely candidate.. Until Ayurburwada, a son of Temur Oljeitu’s older brother Darmabala, led a coup in Dadu, arresting Ananda and Empress Buluqan and their allies. They died in prison soon after. Ayurburwada wanted to be Khan, but faced a challenge from his older brother Qaishan and his powerful and experienced army. A veteran of wars against Qaidu and their enemeis in the steppe, Qaishan was a fearsome foe, and war was only averted with the intervention of their mother, Targi. Agreement was reached, making Qaishan the Khan of Khans, and Ayurburwada his heir. So we have our second Khan of the episode, Qaishan, known also as Külüg Khan and by his posthumous temple name, Wuzong.
Unlike Khubilai and Temur Oljeitu, Qaishan was a man of the steppe with no love or understanding for Chinese culture. He immediately changed course with Temur Oljeitu. Where his predecessor sought continuation of Khubilai’s policies and maintained ministers, Qaishan removed most of Temur Oljeitu’s adherents. Instead of seeking to rule through the Secretariats, Qaishan wanted to rule like a steppe nomad in the vein of Chinggis Khan, via his personal retainers and keshig. Lavish gifts were spent on his friends and allies, even building a palace for them. Princely titles were handed out like candy. And for this, only four months into his reign, Qaishan found he effectively spent well over a year’s worth of government revenue: he found himself able to pay less than half of what he had promised in gifts to the aristocracy. In a panic, he spent the rest of the reign trying to address this. The price on salt licenses, one of the most important industries in the Yuan realm, was raised by 35%; prohibition on liquor production was lifted in order to collect taxes there. The tax debts that Temur Oljeitu had cancelled were now to be collected again. Most famously was Qaishan and his allies’ currency program. New copper coins were minted, golder and silver were demonetarized and new paper bills put into circulation. The new currency was based on an exchange of 1:5 with the old, and the volume of currency printed in 1310 was 7 times higher than the three previous years!
Qaishan’s efforts did little good other than expand the bureaucracy needlessly and grow inflation. His sudden death in April 1311 after only a 4 year reign brings us to our third Khan, Qaishan’s younger brother Ayurburwada Buyantu, posthumous temple name Renzong. This was the first fully peaceful transition of power in the Yuan Dynasty’s history. It went according to their agreement, and once comfortably in power, Ayurburwada violently purged the government of Qaishan’s allies and appointees. Unlike the steppe raised Qaishan, Ayurburwada was a man with a good Confucian education, could read and write Chinese and appreciated Chinese art and culture. Most of Qaishan’s policies were immediately reversed, the new currency abolished, the building projects halted, and good Confucian scholar-officials placed into power. Ayurburwada wanted a more traditionally Chinese-Confucian government, and reinstated the civil service examination system to choose officials, for instance, with a distinct Neo-Confucianism curriculum which stayed for the Ming and Qing dynasties. He promoted the translation of Chinese classics in Mongolian, and began the codification of the Yuan legal system, a process that took until 1323. But he could not address the real problems facing the dynasty. The environmental crisis only grew worse, with more severe snow storms in Mongolia increasing the northern refugees crisis, while the flooding problem grew exponentially worse in 1319 onwards, all in addition to the varied economic troubles associated with this, from destruction of farmland to government support of refugees. Ayurburwada could reverse Qaishan’s disastrous currency but could not find new revenue sources to alleviate the problems that Qaishan had tried to fix, and government expenditure was not trimmed. After a brief effort, Ayurburwada found he could not change the privileges of the aristocracy or interfere in the administration of their appanages, though he tried to lesson the number of new princes made and reduce the level of annual gifts. He needed the support of the Mongol and military elite, and reducing their gifts was not a good way to do this.
His greatest political challenges came from his own mother, Dowager Empress Targi, and her favourite, the Chancellor of the Right Temuder. Both were ntrenched supporters of the status quo- that is, enriching themselves and their followers at the expense of the Chinese. Ayurburwada found himself continually harassed, always combating them and their allies who resisted his reform efforts. Temuder bullied and fought with Ayurburwada’s ministers and was openly corrupt. The Khan could not even arrest him. The most he could do was remove Temuder from office, only for Dowager Empress Targi to make Temuder the Grand Preceptor to the Heir apparent, Ayurburwada’s son Shidebala. Unable to stand up to his mother, the reform minded Ayurburwada died in March 1320, aged only 35, without having really made any true reforms to the Yuan state or government, other than add a coat of Confucian-coloured paint to the dynasty for a brief period. He was peacefully succeeded by his 18 year old son Shidebala, known also as Gegeen Khan or by his posthumous temple name of Yingzong. So starts the reign of our fourth Khan of the episode.
Only three days after Ayurburwada’s death, Dowager Empress Targi reinstated Temuder as the Grand Chancellor of the Right, and began a veritable reign of terror. The officials who stood up to them during Ayurburwada’s life were severely punished, exiled or executed. Appointing his own allies and family members, Temuder ran roughshod over the young Khan. But well educated, sinicized and with a strong spirit, Shidebala Khan did not long sit idle. He appointed a fine choice to the second government position, Chancellor of the Left, in Baiju, a grandson of Antung, a popular chancellor under Khubilai, and a descendant of the heroic Mukhali, great general and viceroy of Chinggis Khan. A friend to Confucians and of proud Mongol heritage, Baiju was an excellent choice for any enemy of Targi and Temuder to flock to. Together, Baiju and Shidebala Khan became staunch allies, and the Empress Dowager is said to have complained of the young Khan, “we should not have raised this boy!”
Only two months into his reign, a conspiracy was discovered to replace Shidebala with his younger brother. Baiju urged Shidebala to act quickly, and they unravelled the conspiracy, discovering it was associates of Targi and Temuder behind the plot. Weakening their support network, the Khan and his Chancellor gradually began to repulse the Dowager and her Chancellor. The aging pair were only overcome when they died of old age in the fall of 1322. After that, Shidebala and Baiju could finally carry out their reforms, pushing out more of Temuder’s associates from government and continuing policies of the late Ayurburwada. Shidebala supported Confucians, but he loved Buddhism. An ardent and devout Buddhist, Shidebala ordered a Buddhist temple honouring the ‘Phags-pa lama to be constructed in every prefecture in the empire, with the stipulation that they all had to be larger than their Confucian counterparts. The Khan did not apparently see the hypocrisy in such an expensive program when he was supposed to be dealing with the financial crisis. He also showed open disdain for Islam, having the mosque in Shangdu, the summer capital, destroyed in order to make room for the ‘Phags-Pa temple there.
If Shidebala would have strengthened or weakened the Khanate without the presence of his grandmother or Temuder, it will never be known. In September 1323, a conspiracy made up of a number of princes, allies of the late Temuder and part of the Imperial Asud Guard killed Shidebala and Baiju at Nanpo. Immediately they reached out to prince Yesun Temur, a son of Temur Oljeitu’s older brother Kammala. A month after Shidebala’s murder, Yesun Temur was declared Khan on the Kerulen River, the very birthplace of Chinggis Khan, and became our fifth Khan of the episode.
Yesun Temur was almost certainly involved in the plot against Shidebala, and moved quickly to secure himself against charges of illegitmacy. First rewarding the conspirators, once he was firmly entrenched in the two Yuan capitals, he had the conspirators violently purged, the princes involved exiled to far corners of the empire. Yesun Temur worked hard to distance himself from the means of his enthronement. The official version of events became that he had learned of the plot only days before it happened, and had tried to warn Shidebala Khan. He just happened to be very convientenly placed to immediately become Khan.
The new Khan had spent many years in the steppe and had a powerful military backing, and in some respects was a proponent of returning things to “the old ways.” Only a single Chinese minister was carried over into the new adminsitration, and was routinely ignored. Muslims gained their most prominent status in the Yuan under Yesun Temur. His chancellor of the Left, Dawlat Shah, was a Muslim and a firm ally throughout his reign. However, he understood that the means of his ascension left a bad taste in some mouths, and therefore reached out to accomodate them. Supporters of Ayurburwada and Shidebala who had been wronged by Temuder were posthumously pardoned or restored to their posts; Baiju’s son was given his father’s old military position. Two sons of Qaishan who had been exiled by Shidebala, including one Tuq Temur, were allowed to return. More princely titles and appanages were granted, gifts were made- another addition to the expenditure, but arguably necessary given the means by which he had ascended the throne. Despite his origins, Yesun Temur showed respect to Confucians, refused to scrap the state exam system and encouraged the further translation of Confucian classics and teaching to Mongols, though these had little effect on government. Like Shidebala, Yesun Temur was a Buddhist, and spent great sums on Buddhist temples throughout the empire.
The environmental crisis only worsened though. The flight of Mongols and other peoples of the north and northwest grew so bad that in the first year of his reign, 39% of the money printed that year was spent on trying to send the refugees back and put them onto their feet. This was so ineffective that he then ordered any Mongol trying to migrate south without express permission was to be executed, and in 1326 forbid steppe princes from sending their wives to the court to complain about famine in Mongolia. Intense flooding every year of the 1320s annihilated cropland and worsened the problem, and inflation only continued to rise. These troubles showed no signs of abating when Yesun Temur died of illness in August 1328, aged 35. Our fifth Khan of the episode was succeeded by his 8 year old son Ragibagh at Shangdu in Inner Mongolia. Dawlat Shah and the party enthroning the new Khan were taken aback when news reached them of a coup already underway in Dadu.
Dadu, the imperial capital, had been seized by a Qipchap officer named El Temur. A compatriot of the late Qaishan, who had fought beside him in the wars against Qaidu, El Temur seized the capital in order to restore it to the line of Qaishan. Inviting both Qaishan’s sons Tuq Temur and Qoshila to Dadu to take the throne, El Temur deftly outmanuevered the supporters of young Ragibagh Khan. El Temur’s ally Bayan of the Merkit brought Tuq Temur to Dadu and in October 1328, made him the seventh Khan of the episode- with a promise to abdicate once his older brother, Qoshila, arrived from his exile in the Chagatai Khanate. This was the so-called “War of the Two Capitals,” with the two factions based in each of the capitals founded by Khubilai Khan, Dadu, where sits modern Beijing, and Shangdu, in the steppes in what is now Inner Mongolia. The two sides fought across the border, but El Temur and Tuq Temur’s armies had the better of the encounters. They advanced on Shangdu which surrendered in November 1328. Dawlat Shah and his allies were captured and executed; the young Ragibagh, the sixth Khan of the episode, was never found.
Qoshila was excited at the news, and with the Chagatai Khan Eljigidei, declared himself Khan at a quriltai north of the old imperial capital of Karakorum, declaring Tuq Temur to be his heir. The Chagatai Khan returned to his Khanate, and Qoshila marched southeast.The eighth khan of the episode met the seventh at a palace built by their father, Qaishan, in August 1329. The reunion of Qoshila and Tuq Temur was warm. Four days later, Qoshila Khan was found dead, and Tuq Temur was enthroned once more as Khan of Khans.
Despite being enthroned twice and having killed his brother for the throne, Tuq Temur was a puppet. He sat on the whim of the real powermakers, El Temur and Bayan of the Merkit. They were the ultimate bureaucratic kingmakers, having built their own wealth and support networks independent of the Khan. Unlike Temuder who was loyal to Targi Khatun, or civil servants like Oljei or Harghasun, El Temur and Bayan were their own dynamic duo controlling government, granting themselves titles, imperial wives, honorifics and fiefdoms. Tuq Temur Khan contented himself with his studies of the Chinese classics and Confucianism, which he adored, practicing his calligraphy, collected art and was haunted with guilt over murdering his older brother. The khan founded an Academy to help instill Confucian morals on the Mongols and government. El Temur, who had no care for Confucians, took over this Academy to restrict access of its members to the Khan.
The nakedly illegal reign did no favours for a Dynasty struck with financial and ecological chaos. In the three years Tuq Temur was Khan of Khan, 21 rebellions broke out requiring great resources to be crushed. It would not be until 1332 that the final holdouts of Yesun Temur loyalists would be militarily crushed. No new revenues could be found while the costs of relief, war, the court and corruption continued to soar alongside inflation. In 1328, 343,420 ding of paper money was printed. The next year, 1.232 million was printed, which almost covered the 1.35 million in cash and nearly 1 million tonnes of grain spent on famine relief, a full 20-30% of government revenue in that year.
Tuq Temur Khan obsessed with legitimacy: other claimants were exiled, including the sons of Qoshila. One, the 13 year old Toghon Temur, was sent to Korea. Tuq Temur and his empress had their eldest son Aratnadara declared heir in 1331… one month before Aratnadara died. Beset with grief and guilt, Tuq Temur changed the name of his eldest son, entrusted him to the care of El Temur, and died in September 1332 with the succession undecided. On his deathbed, overcome with shame, he apparently declared that a son of Qoshila was to succeed him in order to make amends. And so, El Temur carried out Tuq Temur’s will, installing the late Qoshila’s six year old son Rinchinbal as the ninth Khan of the episode. El Temur envisioned many happy years watching over this malleable child ruler, only for the lad to die of illness a full 53 days into his reign.
El Temur desired to place Tuq Temur’s young son on the throne, but court resistance was led by Tuq Temur’s widow, the empress Budashiri, who wanted to hold to her husband’s final will. And so, El Temur invited Qoshila’s older surviving son, the thirteen year old Toghon Temur, to come take the throne, our tenth and last Khan of the episode- and the last Chinggisid Khan to rule the Yuan Dynasty in China. The long reign of Toghon Temur will be the subject of our next episode, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals podcast in order to follow. To help us keep bringing you great content, please consider supporting us on patreon at www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals, and providing us a kind review on a podcast site of your choice, or sharing with your friends. All are appreciated. This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson. I’m your host David, and we will catch you on the next one.
The history of the Mongol Empire is not just a history of the Mongols, but the people they interacted with. In today’s interview, our series historian, Jack Wilson, talks with Dr. John Latham-Sprinkle on one of those peoples affected by the Mongol Conquests, the Alans of the North Caucasus. Dr. John Latham-Sprinkle is a historian based at Ghent University in Belgium, whose work focuses on the history of the North Caucasus region, which today is part of the Russian Federation. He researches the Medieval kingdom of Alania, the formation of political power in imperial borderlands, and the history of slavery