Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Hulagu Khan

Hulagu Khan was a grandson of Genghis Khan (Genghis had 43 grandchildren—known ones, that is, because he slept with a lot of women in his lifetime, and his descendants are too numerous to estimate). He was born about 1217CE to Tolui and Sorghaghtani Beki; the only item known about his childhood is an anecdote that he met his grandfather Genghis once when Hulagu was seven years old.

When Sorghaghtani died, his father married Dokuz Khatun, an Assyrian Christian and granddaughter of Ghengis Khan's blood-brother Toghrul. When Tolui died, Dokuz was given to Hulagu to marry. Her Christian background would be important later.

When Hulagu's brother Möngke became the Great Khan in 1251, Hulagu was given the charge of making sure southwest Asia was either firmly in Mongol control or destroyed. He was told to be kind to those who submitted and ruthless to those who did not. As it turned out, he was just the person for the job.

The massive army he marched out with had been assembled slowly over two years, conscripting 10-20% of the empire's fighting men. He had series of successful engagements: Transoxiana,* the Lurs of southern Iran, the Ismailis (Assassins) of Alamut, and the destruction of Baghdad. Because the Abbasid caliph of Baghdad refused to submit, the vengeance of Hulagu's army was overwhelming; however, Dokuz (who accompanied her husband on his campaigns) pleaded successfully to spare the Christian population.

Hulagu then conquered the Ayubbid dynasty in Muslim Syria, killing their last king. The remaining center of Islamic power was in the Mamluk capital of Cairo. Hulagu sent word to Cairo to submit or be destroyed like Baghdad. Rather than proceed to Cairo, however, Hulagu needed to consider the army. Syria did not have the resources to feed his enormous army, so he withdrew to Azerbaijan, leaving a force of 10,000.

He personally left for Mongolia: his brother, Möngke, had died, and there was a dispute over who should take over the empire. The fight was between the youngest brother, Ariq Böke (10 years younger than Hulagu), and a brother two years older than Hulagu named Kublai.

With the succession settled and Kublai in charge, Hulagu returned to his so-far-successful westward campaign. Here's where it gets tricky: tomorrow I hope to explain how, in this next stage, the destruction of the Islamic capital of Baghdad set in motion Hulagu's defeat, and a big problem for the Mongolian Empire.

*Lower Central Asia, what is now eastern Uzbekistan, western Tajikistan, southern Kazakhstan, southern Kyrgyzstan, and parts of Turkmenistan.

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