I think this is a fantastic piece and for more than one reason.. I actually wanted to post this in light of another thread where some are under the impression that the liege to rulers and succumbing to their injustice simply because they bear the term 'Muslim' was somehow a part of Islamic existence!
Although the Chagatai Khanate and the Golden Horde both established themselves in regions already inhabited by Muslims, their invasions of Central Asia and Russia, respectively, did not have the catastrophic effect on the native Islamic faith that the Mongol invasion of Persia and Iraq had. Although the faith prevailed, and the Mongol invaders were eventually converted to Islam, the Mongol destruction of the Islamic heartland marked a major change of direction for the region. By destroying the Islamic empires that existed before they came, the Mongols instigated a new era for the Islamic world, in which most of the region's power would fall to three great empires - the Ottoman, the Safavid, and the Mughal - as we will see in Chapter 5.
The Mongols began their push into Central Asia and Persia in the early 13th century under Genghis Khan. The cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, later to become part of the Chagatai Khanate, fell to Genghis Khan's armies in 1220. From there it was not difficult to raid Persia, and by 1221 the Persian cities of Merv, Nishapur, and Balkh had fallen. In the inevitable pillaging that followed Mongol attacks, the invaders decimated the population of these regions, sparing only the artisans they deemed useful. The Mongols also uprooted many Muslim graves in their wake, including that of Harun al-Rashid, the 8th century Abbasid caliph who was featured in The Thousand and One Nights
The Muslims inflicted their first defeat on the Mongols in 1221 at the Battle of Parwan, in present-day Afghanistan, under the leadership of Jalal al-Din, son of a Central Asian Muslim ruler. The victory provided a temporary morale boost for the Muslim army, but the Mongols soon regrouped and devastated Jalal's troops later that year. After that initial setback, the Mongols swept through Central Asia into Persia and Iraq. The Persian city of Isfahan fell in 1237, and the Mongols gradually moved closer to Baghdad, the centre of the Abbasid caliphate.
The decision to attack the Abbasid caliphate was made at the same time as the election of the Great Khan Mongke in 1251. The Chagatai Khanate and the Golden Horde were already firmly established empires in the Islamic world, and the Great Khan disliked the fact that his new Muslim subjects worshipped a man - the caliph - that they deemed to be in a higher position than the Great Khan. Mongke decided to send his brother, Hulegu, into Iraq at the head of the invading Mongol army, with the goal of sacking Baghdad and destroying the Abbasid caliphate there. Hulegu set out in 1253, and en route he encountered the Muslim group known as the Assassins, an Ismaili sect that practised an extreme version of Shi'ism. The Assassins were based in Alamut, in northwestern Persia, which Hulegu reached in 1255. The Mongols easily destroyed the small Assassins force, and the remaining members of the group fled south to the Sindh region of present-day Pakistan, where they lived as an underground sect for centuries. After this victory, the Mongols had an open path into Baghdad. Great Khan Mongke had instructed Hulegu to attack the Abbasid caliphate only if it refused to surrender to the Mongols. The Abbasids, led by the caliph, Musta'sim, indeed refused to surrender, making a battle inevitable.
Before the fighting even began, the Abbasids were at a disadvantage. While they theoretically had a large enough army to compete with the Mongols, their troops had been neglected by the caliphate and were not prepared for battle at the time of the Mongol invasion. Another problem for the Abbasids was the centuries-old rift between the Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims. The caliphate was Sunni, as were most of its subjects, but there was a Shi'ite minority under Abbasid control who welcomed the Mongol invaders as a potential means of bringing down the Sunni caliph. Many Shi'ites in Iraq joined the Mongol forces for that reason. Additionally, the caliph's vizier
, or second-in-command, was himself Shi'ite, and it has been suggested that he might have also co-operated with the Mongols in attacking the caliphate. The Mongols also had the support of non-Muslims under Abbasid control. Many Christians in the region saw the Mongols as saviours, hoping that by decimating Islam's adherents, the faith itself would also be destroyed. Indeed, in return for Christian support, the Mongols - some of whom were Nestorian Christian themselves - spared Christian churches and communities from their pillaging.
With all these factors working against the Abbasids, the fall of Baghdad and the destruction of the caliphate in 1258 came rather quickly. The caliph himself, Musta'sim, was captured and killed, and the 500-year-old Abbasid dynasty came to an abrupt and violent end. With Iraq and Persia thus under Mongol control, Hulegu continued west, towards Syria and Egypt. Ayyubid descendants of Saladin held power in Syria at this time, while the European Crusaders had a tenuous hold on the Syrian coast. Egypt, meanwhile, was still recovering from the coup that had ousted the Ayyubids and brought the Mamluks, a class of Turkish slave soldiers, to power. As professional soldiers, the Mamluks would present the Mongols with their only serious and continuous challenge. Syria, however, was easily defeated, since the Ayyubids and Crusaders refused to join forces in defending their territory. The major cities of Aleppo and Damascus fell within a month of each other in 1260, but an immediate invasion of Egypt was halted by the death of the Great Khan Mongke in Mongolia.
While Hulegu was distracted by the ensuing succession struggle between his brothers, Kublai and Arik-Boke, the Mamluks launched an attack on the Mongols in Syria. It was the first time in almost 50 years that a Muslim army initiated an attack on the Mongols, and it paid off for the Muslim Mamluks, who defeated the Mongols and occupied their Syrian base at Gaza. A few months later, a second Mamluk attack succeeded in killing Hulegu's commander and driving the Mongols out of Syria altogether. The Mamluks continued to defeat Hulegu's army for the duration of its presence in the region. One reason for the Mamluk success was their status as professional soldiers. The Mamluk state featured very little cultural, intellectual, or administrative development; its existence was devoted solely to military training, and thus the quality of the Mamluk army easily matched that of the powerful Mongols. A second reason that has been suggested for the Mamluks' success is the fact that the Mamluks had been using horseshoes for their horses since about 1244. The Mongols did not use horseshoes, and the rocky terrain of Syria reportedly injured the Mongol horses' hooves to the extent that they were unable to fight effectively. Additionally, the Mamluks realised that grasslands were needed to pasture the Mongols' horses. Therefore, the Mamluks often burned grasslands in Syria in their wake, to prevent the Mongol horses from grazing.
At any rate, the initial Mamluk victories over the Mongols in 1260 were a turning point for Hulegu's army, as several challenges arose after that point. Mongke's death had signalled an end to a united Mongol Empire, as the struggle over his successor split the realm. As we saw in the previous section on the Golden Horde, their Muslim Khan, Berke, had become hostile to Hulegu following the latter's destruction of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258. Berke supported Arik-Boke's claim to the Great Khan position, while Hulegu supported Kublai. When Kublai prevailed in 1260, Hulegu enjoyed the Great Khan's favour for his support, and an increase in cultural interaction between Hulegu's Persian empire and Kublai's Chinese empire ensued, but the unity of the Mongol Empire as a whole was destroyed by Berke's refusal to recognise Kublai. This rift deepened as the years went by. Following Kublai's victory, Hulegu named his empire the Il-Khanate
, or "subordinate Khanate," as a sign of his allegiance to Kublai and the greater Mongol Empire. By 1263, Berke had negotiated an alliance between the Golden Horde and almost all other states surrounding Hulegu's Il-Khanate: the Mamluks in Egypt, the Byzantines in Constantinople, and even the Italian city-state of Genoa, which provided a much needed naval link between the Golden Horde and Mamluk Egypt. The Golden Horde was soon fighting a full-scale war with the Il-Khanate, which continued after the deaths of Hulegu in 1265 and Berke in 1266.
Hulegu's son and successor, Abaqa, ended the war some years later, and the religious reason behind the animosity between the two groups ended when they both eventually became Islamic states. Before that happened, however, Islam in the Il-Khanate suffered under a string of Mongol Buddhist Khans. Many Mongols had adopted Buddhism early in the 13th century, as they were exposed to the religion in China, Tibet, and northern India. Hulegu had adopted some Buddhist customs, but he is primarily regarded as a traditional Mongol shamanist. The fact that he was buried with several young women testifies to this fact, since neither Buddhism nor Islam would have sanctioned human sacrifice. Abaqa, Hulegu's son, was a devout Buddhist who mercilessly persecuted the Muslims of the Il-Khanate. He even promoted Christian interests ahead of Muslim, simply to harass the Muslims. Abaqa's son, Arghun, also a Buddhist, was even harder on Muslims than his father had been. During this period of Buddhist leadership in traditionally Islamic lands, many Buddhist symbols appeared. Numerous Buddhist temples dotted the landscape of Persia and Iraq, none of which survived the 14th century, unfortunately. The Buddhist element of the Il-Khanate died with Arghun, however, and Islam soon spread from the population to the ruling classes.
One instigator for the change was Arghun's brother, Gaykhatu, who succeeded him. Eager to make a name for himself as an Il-Khan, Gaykhatu introduced paper money from China into Islamic trading circles. Islamic merchants in the Il-Khanate refused to accept the unrecognisable new money, however, and trade came to a virtual standstill. The experiment was such a disaster that Gaykhatu was forced to abandon it after six months, and the ensuing rebellion ousted him from power in 1295. His successor, Arghun's son, Ghazan, was the first Muslim of Mongol heritage to rule the Il-Khanate, and all rulers of Persia since him have been Muslim. Ghazan adhered to the Sunni form of Islam, but he was tolerant of Shi'ites. He focussed his religious persecution instead on the Buddhists, who had been so intolerant of Muslims for the past 30 years in the Il-Khanate. Ghazan converted all Buddhist temples to mosques, and he forced the Buddhist priests and monks to either convert to Islam or return to India, Tibet, or China. Christians were also persecuted, in retaliation for their special treatment at the expense of the Muslims under the Buddhist rulers of the Il-Khanate. Ghazan reorganised the administration of the Il-Khanate to reflect its new official Islamic faith. He replaced traditional Mongol law with the Sharia
, or Islamic code of law, and adopted Islamic military codes for the Mongol army. At Ghazan's death in 1304, virtually all Mongol elements in the Il-Khanate had been absorbed into Islamic culture.
Ghazan's successor, his brother, Oljeitu, took the empire in a different direction. Oljeitu was a Shi'ite Muslim, and he embarked on a campaign against the majority Sunnis of the realm. His persecution of Sunnis damaged the Il-Khanate's relationship with the neighbouring Mamluks in Egypt, who were Sunnis. Relations between the two groups were almost at the point of war when Oljeitu died in 1316. Oljeitu's son and heir, Abu Said, was the first Mongol to have an Islamic name since birth. He restored Sunnism as the state religion of the Il-Khanate and made peace with the Mamluks. Peace to the west did not mean peace to the north, however, since the alliance between the Mamluks and the Golden Horde had dissolved after Berke's death in 1266. Abu Said thus found himself involved in a renewed conflict with the Golden Horde over the territory of the Caucasus Mountains. Abu Said died in 1335 while at war with the Golden Horde, and his death marked the beginning of the Il-Khanate's decline and eventual collapse.
A series of succession struggles after 1335 weakened the empire, as did the loss of soldiers and civilians to the Black Death, which had been ravaging Persia. The chaos opened the way for foreign invasion, which occurred in 1357 when the Golden Horde Khan, Jani Beg, attacked Tabriz, the Il-Khanate capital. Although the Golden Horde was not successful in annexing the Il-Khanate to its own empire, it succeeded in adding to the political turmoil of the land. When Timur invaded from Central Asia in 1393, the Il-Khanate was swallowed up into his rapidly expanding empire.
The Black Death
The Mongol invasion of the Islamic heartland had mixed effects. On one hand, the Islamic world never regained its previous power. Much of the six centuries of Islamic scholarship, culture, and infrastructure was destroyed as the invaders burned libraries, replaced mosques with Buddhist temples, and destroyed intricate irrigation systems. In fact, the irrigation equipment necessary for farming in the Mesopotamian desert was not rebuilt until the 20th century. Additionally, Gaykhatu's attempt to introduce paper money at the end of the 13th century virtually destroyed trade in the region, from which it was difficult to recover.
On the other hand, the Mongol invasion was not entirely negative for the Islamic world. Perhaps the most significant achievement for the Muslims under Mongol rule was their ability to absorb the Mongols into their Islamic culture, rather than allowing its destruction at Mongol hands. This feat can be seen in the triumph of the Islamic faith over Mongol shamanism and Buddhism. It had occurred so quickly, in fact, that only 40 years after the fall of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258, the Mongols responsible for it had themselves adopted Islam as the official religion of their empire.
A similar trend is seen in language. Because the majority of the inhabitants of the Central Asian steppe were Turks, and the Mongol army and administration often employed more Turks than Mongols, it did not take long for the Turkish language to replace Mongol in certain regions of the Il-Khanate. The province of Azerbaijan in northern Persia, for example, which is an independent country today, has remained a Turkish-speaking region since Mongol times. Turkish did not become the language of administration in the Il-Khanate, as it had in the Golden Horde by 1280, but it was influential nonetheless. The Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor particularly benefited from their status as Mongol vassals. Perhaps because of their fierce determination to retain their Turkish language and culture under the foreign rulers, or perhaps because of the Mongol favouritism towards the Turks, the Turkish language in the Seljuk region was used for literary purposes for the first time, and it received official recognition.
The Muslims could also thank the Mongols for introducing them to gunpowder, which the Mongols brought from China. While China is generally accepted as the empire that invented gunpowder, the Muslims are credited with applying the invention as a propellant, and thus a weapon. This spread of the native language and culture to the Mongol invaders is seen in the Il-Khanate as well as the Mongol-ruled Yuan Dynasty in China, both of which had rich cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions that pre-dated the Mongol invasion. By comparison, the Golden Horde in southern Russia, despite converting to Islam and adopting the Turkish language, remained true to its Mongol heritage as pastoral nomads and warriors. The Mongols of the Golden Horde remained Mongols; in the Il-Khanate and China, however, the Mongols were so absorbed into the native culture that hardly any trace of them remained by the 16th century. Their legacy was not easily forgotten, however, particularly in Persia, where the Mongol invasion had fuelled the age-old Persian nationalism that would eventually result in the formation of the powerful Safavid Empire there in the 16th century.
Proceed to The Timurid Empire