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Ayn Jalut Battlefield

Ayn Jalut Battlefield

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The Ayn Jalut Battlefield (or Ain Jalut) is the approximate site of the battle of the same name, in southeastern Galilee near the Spring of Harod. The Battle of Ayn Jalut, fought on 3 September 1260, is understood as a pivotal moment in Mongol history.

It was at the Ayn Jalut Battlefield that the Bahri Mamluks of Egypt defeated the Mongol Empire and prevented them from further expanding at the time (the Mongols would go on to capture Damascus and Gaza). Today, what remains is simply a set of fields with nothing to mark the battle site.

Ayn Jalut Battlefield history

Expanding further westward, the Mongol Empire armies of Hulagu Khan captured and sacked Baghdad in 1258 and shortly after, the Auuybid’s capital Damascus. Hulahu demanded that Islamic ruler Qutuz of Egypt surrender, but instead he killed the envoys and put their heads on the Bab Zuweila gate of Cairo. Hulagu returned to Mongolia with most of his army, leaving behind 10,000 troops under General Kitbuqa.

Hearing the Mongols had departed Qutuz advanced quickly with his warrior-enslaved Mamluk army from Cairo to Palestine. It was at the Spring of Harod that his forces met with Kitbuga, and using hit and run tactics combined with feigned retreat and impressive flanking manoeuvres, the Mamluks pushed the Mongols back towards Bisan.

After a final attack, Kitbuqa was killed and the Mongols defeated – prevented for the first time from expanding their influence. This was also the first time a Mongol army did not return to avenge the defeat.

Ayn Jalut Battlefield today

Today, the site of the Ayn Jalut Battlefield is situated within Ma’ayan Harod National Park and a kabbutz (housing compound) in modern Israel. As there are no surviving detailed descriptions of the battle, it is in fact difficult to place the exact spot of the battlefield and therefore to preserve it. What remains is

Make sure to take plenty of water and wear comfortable footwear, as Israel is very hot between April and November, and the ground is uneven with the path often covered in weeds and hard to find. The Spring of Harod is also nearby to visit.

Getting to Ayn Jalut Battlefield

You can reach Ayn Jalut Battlefield via the 71 road, a 35 minute drive from Nazareth. There is parking within Gid’ona. For public transport, the 67 bus stops at Gid’ona and runs every 2 hours on the hour.

Jumi’u’t-Tawarikh, The Battle of ‘Ayn Jalut (September 8, 1260)

The Mongol armies were thought to be unstoppable after they were able to overcome the defences of both Baghdad and Damascus. In 1260 Hulagu sent envoys to Saif ad-Din Qutuz in Cairo demanding his surrender Quduz responded by killing the envoys and displaying their heads on the gates of the city. As Qutuz prepared for a Mongol invasion, Hulagu returned home to attempt to seize power when his brother the Great Khan Mongke died. Qutuz allied with a fellow Mamluk, Baubars, who had fled Syria after the Mongols captured Damascus. The Mongols attempted to ally with the remnant of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, now centred on Acre, but Pope Alexander IV forbade this. The Christians remained neutral.

Both Mamluk and Mongol armies encamped in Palestine in July of 1260. They finally met at Ain Jalut on September 3, with both sides numbering about 20 000 men (the Mongol force was originally much larger, but Hulegu took most of it when he returned home). The Mamluks drew out the Mongol cavalry with a feigned retreat, and were almost unable to withstand the assault. Quduz rallied his troops for a successful counterattack, along cavalry reserves hidden in the nearby valleys. The Mongols were forced to retreat, and Hulagu’s deputy Ket Buqa Noyan was captured and executed. On the way back to Cairo, Baibars killed Quduz and became sultan himself. His successors would go on to capture the last of the Crusader states in Palestine by 1291.

Ket Buqa Noyan goes to Egypt, does battle with the Egyptian army, and is killed.

When Hulagu Khan departed from Syria, he sent a Mongol emissary with forty liege men on a mission to Egypt, saying, “God the great has elevated Genghis Khan and his progeny and given us the realms of the face of the earth altogether. Everyone who has been recalcitrant in obeying us has been annihilated along with his women, children, kith and kin, towns, and servants, as has surely reached the hearing of all. The reputation of our innumerable army is as well known as the stories of Rustam and Isfandiar. If you are in submission to our court, send tribute, come yourself, and request a shahna otherwise be prepared for battle.”

At that time there was no one left of Kamilite lineage worthy of ruling, and a Turcoman had become ruler. When he died he left an infant child named Muhammad, who was elevated to his father’s position with Quduz as his atabeg. Muhammad died suddenly, and Quduz became ruler. He curried favor with the people through largesse. Most of the soldiers of Syria and Egypt were the defeated troops of Sultan Jalaluddin who had fled from the gates of Akhlat and gone to Syria. Their leaders and com­manders were Barakat Khan and Malik Ikhtiyaruddin Khan son of …, and Malik Sayfuddin Sadiq Khan son of Mingbuga, Malik Nasiruddin Gushlu Khan son of Beg Arslan, Atlas Khan, and Nasiruddin Muhammad Qaymari. When Hulagu Khan set out for Syria, they went into hiding in the surrounding areas, and after he pulled out, they reassembled and headed for Cairo in Egypt, where they told their sad story to Quduz. He showed them favor, sympathized with them, and gave them much money. They all became wholehearted supporters of Quduz’s rule.

When the emissaries arrived, Quduz summoned them and consulted with them on what to do, saying, “Hulagu Khan has proceeded from Turan with a huge army into Iran, and no one, caliph, sultan, or malik, has the ability to withstand his onslaught. Having conquered all lands, he has come to Damascus, and were it not for the news of his brother’s death he would have added Egypt to his conquests too. In addition, he has stationed in this area Ket Buqa Noyan, who is like a raging lion and fire-breathing dragon lying in ambush. If he attacks Egypt, no one will be able to contend with him. Before we lose all power of self­determination, we must come up with a strategy.”

“In addition to being Genghis Khan’s grandson, Tolui Khan’s son, and Manggu Qa’an’s brother,” said Nasiruddin Qaymari, “Hulagu Khan has power and might beyond description. At present he holds from the gates of Egypt to the borders of China in his mighty grasp, and he has been singled out for heavenly assistance. If we go before him under amnesty, it will not be blameworthy. However, willingly to drink poison and to go out to greet one’s own death are far from the path of wisdom. A human being is not a grape vine that doesn’t mind having its head cut off. He does not keep his word, for with no warning he killed Khwarshah, Musta’sim, Husamuddin Akka, and the lord of Arbela after having made promises to them. If we go to him he will do the same to us.”

“At the present time,” said Quduz, “everywhere in Diyarbekir, Diyar Rabi’a, and Greater Syria is filled with lamentation. The land from Baghdad to Anatolia lies in ruins, devoid of farmers and seed. If we don’t make a pre-emptive strike and try to repulse them, soon Egypt will be destroyed like the others. Given the multitudes with which he is proceeding in our direction, one of three things must be done: we must make a truce, offer resistance, or go into exile. Exile is impossible, for there is nowhere we can go other than North Africa, and a bloodthirsty desert and vast distances lie between us and there.”

“A truce is also imprudent,” said Nasir­uddin Qaymari, “for their word is not to be trusted.”

The other commanders said, “We do not have the power to resist either. You must say what you think the best plan is.”

“My opinion,” said Quduz, “is that we go out to battle together. If we win, fine oth­erwise, we will not suffer blame from the people.”

After that, the amirs agreed, and Quduz consulted with Bunduqdar, his chief amir, in private. “My opinion,” said Bunduqdar, “is that we should kill the emissaries and ride as one to attack Ket Buqa. Win or die, in either case we will not be blamed, and we will have people’s gratitude.”

Quduz approved this plan, and by night he had the emissaries crucified. The next morning they perforce committed themselves to battle and mounted. Amir Baidar, who was the leader of the Mongolyazak [advance troop], sent a man named Aghlabak to Ket Buqa Noyan to inform him of the movement of the Egyptian troops. Ket Buqa sent in reply, “Stay where you are and wait for me.”

Before Ket Buqa arrived, Quduz attacked Baidar and drove him to the banks o£ the Orontes. Ket Buqa Noyan, his zeal stirred, flared up like fire with all confidence in his own strength and might. Quduz stationed his troops in ambush and, himself mounted with a few others, stood waiting. He clashed with Ket Buqa and his several thousand cavalry, all experienced warriors, at Ayn Jalut. The Mongols attacked, raining down arrows, and Quduz pulled a feint and started to withdraw. Emboldened, the Mongols lit out after him, killing many of the Egyptians, but when they came to the ambush spot, the trap was sprung from three sides. A bloody battled ensued, lasting from dawn till midday. The Mongols were powerless to resist, and in the end they were put to flight.

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. May felicity be upon the padishah. When his noble being is well, every loss is compensated. 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.

Near the battlefield was a reed bed in which a troop of Mongol cavalrymen was hiding. Quduz ordered fire thrown into it, and they were all burned alive. 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.”

When the one whose hands were bound heard these words, he reared up like a mad elephant
And replied, saying, “O proud one, do not pride yourself on this day of victory.”

“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 Hulagu 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. Hulagu Khan has three hundred thousand renowned horsemen like Ket Buqa. You may take one of them away.”

Quduz said, “Speak not so proudly of the horsemen of Turan, for they perform deeds with trickery and artifice, not with manliness like Rustam.”

As long as I have lived,” replied Ket Buqa, “I have been the padishah’s servant, not a mutineer and regicide like you! Finish me off as quickly as possible.” Quduz order his head severed from his body.

They then attacked throughout Syria as far as the banks of the Euphrates, overthrowing everyone they found, plundering Ket Buqa’s camp, taking captive his wife, child, and retainers, and killing the tax collectors and shahnas of the provinces. Those who were warned escaped, and when the news of Ket Buqa Noyan’s death and his last words reached Hulagu Khan, he displayed his grief over his death and the fire of zeal flared up. “Where will I find another servant who will show such devotion and allegiance in the face of death?” he said as he showered those left by Ket Buqa with favor.

In 1258, with the Assassins dispatched, Hulegu turned his attention towards his main objective: Baghdad and the Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta&rsquosim. As word of the demise of the Assassins spread local warlords prostrated themselves before Hulegu and offered him their soldiers, doubling the size of the Mongol force. Newly reinforced, Hulegu sent a messenger to Al-Musta&rsquosim demanding that he surrender. The Caliph was persuaded by his chief minister, Al-Alkami, to refuse Hulegu&rsquos demand. What he did not know was that Al-Alkami, was intentionally misleading him. Al-Alkami had been spying for the Mongols and expected that if Baghdad were to fall he might benefit personally.

Al-Musta&rsquosim remained confident, not realizing that he would actually have to defend the city until the Mongols drew to within a day&rsquos ride of Baghdad. He called on the city&rsquos garrison of 20,000 men to ride out and challenge Hulegu, but when the garrison encamped near the Tigris River the Mongols pulled down nearby dykes and dams on the river and flooded the garrison&rsquos camp. Those who did not drown were ridden down by the Mongol&rsquos heavy cavalry.

While the core of Baghdad&rsquos defense already eliminated, Hulegu&rsquos forces went to work on the city itself. The surrounded the city, digging a trench and building a palisade to prevent any of the inhabitants from escaping. Then the bombardment began. Because the Mongols had reached the city faster than they expected the carts carrying the ammunition for the catapults, in disrepair after being dragged up and down the mountains to fight the Assassins, had not yet arrived. They improvised by launching stumps of palm trees and the foundations of buildings into Baghdad. This rain of odds and end continued for a week before the Mongols finally stormed the ninety foot high eastern wall.

When the Mongols breached the walls Al-Musta&rsquosim attempted to open negotiations with Hulegu, but it was too late. The city surrendered, and the Mongols led what remained of the Baghdad garrison out and executed them one by one. The Caliph exited the city last. After a few taunts from Hulegu was rolled up in a rug and trampled to death by horses, an execution method that complied with the Mongol belief that no man can kill a king and that no royal blood should touch the ground.

Following the death of the Caliph the Mongols moved in to sack Baghdad. The population, which estimates put at 800,000 to 2,000,000 people, was massacred. A few Christians and Jews with connections to Hulegu&rsquos allies were spared, and some of the women and children were kept as slaves, but the rest would die. The city burned, and the Tigris ran black with the ink of the books cast into it from the &ldquoHouse of Wisdom,&rdquo the product of four hundred years of work collecting and translating all the knowledge of the known world. Baghdad would never full recover.

Who Were the Mamluks?

The slave-warriors of medieval Islam overthrew their masters, defeated the Mongols and the Crusaders and established a dynasty that lasted 300 years.

The Tombs of the Mamluks, Cairo, Egypt, 1910s.

T he Mamluks ruled Egypt and Syria from 1250 until 1517, when their dynasty was extinguished by the Ottomans. But Mamluks had first appeared in the Abbasid caliphate in the ninth century and even after their overthrow by the Ottomans they continued to form an important part of Egyptian Islamic society and existed as an influential group until the 19th century. They destroyed the Crusader kingdoms of Outremer, and saved Syria, Egypt and the holy places of Islam from the Mongols. They made Cairo the dominant city of the Islamic world in the later Middle Ages, and under these apparently unlettered soldier-statesmens’ rule, craftsmanship, architecture and scholarship flourished. Yet the dynasty remains virtually unknown to many in the West.

The dynasty had two phases. From 1250 to 1381 the Bahri clique produced the Mamluk Sultans from 1382 until 1517 the Burgi Mamluks were dominant. These groups were named after the principal regiments provided by the Mamluks for the last Ayyubid sultan as-Salih whom they served before overthrowing in 1250 the Bahirya or River Island regiment, based on a river island in the centre of Cairo and the Burgi or Tower regiment.

The word Mamluk means ‘owned’ and the Mamluks were not native to Egypt but were always slave soldiers, mainly Qipchak Turks from Central Asia. In principle (though not always in practice) a Mamluk could not pass his property or title to his son, indeed sons were in theory denied the opportunity to serve in Mamluk regiments, so the group had to be constantly replenished from outside sources. The Bahri Mamluks were mainly natives of southern Russia and the Burgi comprised chiefly of Circassians from the Caucasus. As steppe people, they had more in common with the Mongols than with the peoples of Syria and Egypt among whom they lived. And they kept their garrisons distinct, not mixing with the populace in the territories. The contemporary Arab historian Abu Shama noted after the Mamluk victory over the Mongols at Ayn Jalut in 1260 that, ‘the people of the steppe had been destroyed by the people of the steppe’.

Boys of about 13 would be captured from areas to the north of the Persian empire, and trained to become an elite force for the personal use of the sultan or higher lords. The Arabic word Ghulam (boy) was sometimes employed for the bodyguards they would become. The boys would be sent by the caliph or sultan to enforce his rule as far afield as Spain (Venice and Genoa were major players in their transportation despite Papal interdictions) and sold to the commanders of the Islamic governments of the region. Under their new masters they were manumitted, converted to Islam, and underwent intensive military training.

Islamic society, like that of medieval Christendom, took the form of a theoretical pyramid of fealty with the king or sultan at the top and numerous petty lords at its base with each lord above them holding rights of loyalty over them. In the military societies of the 13th century higher lords or amirs maintained a large number of Mamluks, and the sultan held the most. During the Mamluk Sultanate, succession and the power struggles to dispute succession were based chiefly on the size of a candidate’s powerbase, in terms of numbers of men in arms and client lords, that he could muster.

The Mamluks, who had been taken from their families in their youth and had no ties of kin in their new homelands, were personally dependent on their master. This gave the Mamluk state, divorced as it was from its parent society, a solidity that allowed it to survive the tensions of tribalism and personal ambition, through establishment of interdependency between the lower orders and sergeants and the higher lords.

And at the centre Mamluk politics were bloody and brutal. Mamluks were not supposed to be able to inherit wealth or power beyond their own generation but attempts to create lineage did occur and every succession was announced by internecine struggles. Purges of higher lords and rivals were common and sultans commonly used impalement and crucifixion to punish those suspected of acts of lèse majesté or intrigue.

In theory a Mamluk’s life prepared him for little else but war and loyalty to his lord. Great emphasis was placed upon the Furūsiyya – a word made up of the three elements: the ‘ulum (science), funun (arts) and adab (literature) – of cavalry skills. The Furūsiyya was not dissimilar to the chivalric code of the Christian knight insofar as it included a moral code embracing virtues such as courage, valour, magnanimity and generosity but it also addressed the management, training and care of the horses that carried the warrior into battle and provided him with leisure time sporting activities. It also included cavalry tactics, riding techniques, armour and mounted archery. Some texts even discussed military tactics: the formation of armies, the use of fire and smoke screens. Even the treatment of wounds was addressed.

The Mamluk dynasty carefully codified the Furūsiyya, and beautiful illustrated examples were produced. These books also carry the mark of the Mongol influence many pages are decorated with lotuses and phoenixes, motifs carried from China through the Pax Mongolica.

The Mamluks lived almost entirely within their garrisons, and their leisure activities show a striking correspondence to the much earlier comment of the military writer Vegetius that the Romans’ drills were bloodless battles and their battles were bloody drills. Polo was the chief among these for the Mamluks with its need for control of the horse, tight turns and bursts of speed, it mimicked the skills required on the battlefield. Mounted archery competitions, horseback acrobatics and mounted combat shows similar to European jousting often took place up to twice a week. The Mamluk sultan Baybars constructed a hippodrome in Cairo to stage these games and polo matches.

The Mamluks’ opportunity to overthrow their masters came at the end of the 1240s, a time when the Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty, set up by Saladin in the 1170s, had reached a modus vivendi with the Crusader states skirmishing, rather than outright war, was the order of the day in Syria and the Holy Land. However, events in the east were beginning to impact on the region. The Mongols on the eastern steppes were attacking western Chinese tribes and advancing into southern Russia, pushing other peoples west. In 1244, with the tacit support of the Ayyubids in Cairo, Jerusalem fell to a wandering band of Khwarezmians, an eastern Persian group who were themselves fleeing the Mongol destruction of their fledgling empire. One of their first acts was to destroy the tombs of the Latin kings of Jerusalem. In response, Louis IX of France called a crusade (the seventh) though neither the papacy nor any other major Christian monarch was stirred to action. Rather than directly attacking the Holy Land, Louis planned to wrest the rich lands of Egypt from Islam, hoping that control there would lead to the control of Syria.

Louis took Damietta in the Nile delta in June 1249 with an army of about 20,000 men. The Egyptian army withdrew further up the river. Louis started to march on Cairo in November and should have gained an advantage from the death of the last Ayyubid sultan, as-Salih. Despite chaos in Cairo during which the sultan’s widow, Shaggar ad Durr, took control – initially with Mamluk support – Louis and the Templars were roundly defeated by the Mamluk Bahirya commander Baybars at al-Mansourah (al-Mansur). Louis refused to fall back to Damietta and his troops starved, before a belated retreat during which he was captured in March 1250. He was ransomed in return for Damietta and 400,000 livres. Louis left for Acre where he attempted a long-distance negotiation with the Mongols (who he may have believed to be the forces of the mythical Christian king Prester John) to assist him against the Muslims.

As-Salih had done much to promote the power of the Mamluks during his reign, perhaps too much, and the Mamluks eventually forced Shaggar ad Durr to marry their commander Aybeg. Louis’ crusade therefore proved the catalyst for the Mamluks to finally dispense with their Ayyubid overlords. The Bahri Mamluk dynasty was set up in 1250, with Aybeg as its first, though not uncontested, sultan.

However, Aybeg was later murdered in his bath on his wife’s orders. More political murders followed including the beating to death of Shaggar ad Durr until Qutuz, the vice-regent, brought the factions bloodily under his control.

In February 1258 the Mongol armies of Hulegu, grandson of Chinggis Khan and the brother of Kublai, later the Great Khan and Emperor of China, took Baghdad. The Mongols undertook a wholesale massacre: at least 250,000 were killed, but the intercession of Hulegu’s wife spared the Nestorian Christians. Mongol troopers kicked al-Musta’sim, the last Abbasid caliph and spiritual leader of Islam, to death after having rolled him in a carpet – the Mongols did not wish to spill royal blood directly. Aleppo fell almost as bloodily soon after, and it was widely reported, though perhaps untrue, that the Mongols used cats with burning tails sent running into the city to end the siege by fire.

Damascus quickly capitulated, but one of those who escaped the Mongols was the Mamluk general Baybars (1223-77), who had been instrumental in the defeat of Louis in 1249. He fled back to Cairo.

The Mongols completed their conquest of Syria by the near-annihilation of the Assassin sects and by over-running the kingdoms of Anatolia. Only Egypt, a few isolated cities in Syria and the Arabian Peninsula were left to Islam in its historic heartland. The Mamluk sultanate, in power for less than a decade, had shown few signs of enduring. It was led by sultan Qutuz, who had seized power in November 1259 and was still consolidating his authority.

Hulegu sent envoys to Qutuz in Cairo demanding his surrender. Qutuz killed the envoys and placed their heads on the gates of the city, considering treaty with the Mongols to be impossible and that exile into the ‘bloodthirsty desert’ was equivalent to death. Qutuz mobilized and was joined by Baybars.

At this point news arrived that the Mongol Great Khan Mongke had died, and Hulegu returned to Karakorum to support his branch of the family’s claim on power. The remaining Mongol army in Syria was still formidable, numbering about 20,000 men under Hulegu’s lieutenant, Kit Buqa. The Mamluk and Mongol armies encamped in Palestine in July 1260, and met at Ayn Jalut on 8 September.

Initially, the Mamluks encountered a detached division of Mongols and drove them to the banks of the Orontes River. Kit Buqa was then drawn into a full engagement Qutuz met the first onslaught with a small detachment of Mamluks he feigned retreat and led the Mongol army into an ambush that was sprung from three sides. The battle lasted from dawn till midday. The Mamluks employed fire to trap Mongols who were either trying to hide or flee the field Kit Buqa was taken alive and summarily executed by Qutuz. According to the Jama al-Tawarikh (a 14th century Persian history) he swore his death would be revenged by Hulegu and that the gates of Egypt would shake with the thunder of Mongol cavalry horses.

As the Mamluks returned to Cairo, Baybars murdered Qutuz and seized the sultanate himself. This event set the pattern of succession in the Mamluk Empire: only a handful of sultans ever died of natural causes and of these, one died from pneumonia brought on by permanently wearing armour to ward off assassination attempts. The average reign of the sultans was a mere seven years. Despite this the dynasty proved to be one of the most stable political entities of the medieval Middle East. After the Ottomans had hanged the last Mamluk sultan in 1517, the loss of the Mamluks was universally lamented in Egypt, and many minor Mamluk functionaries remained to manage the Turks’ new province.

Baybars I proved thorough and ruthless, and a gifted exponent of realpolitik. Even though he was to follow his victory over the Mongols with an assault on the remaining Crusader cities in Syria, he maintained friendly relations with Norman Sicily and even though he attempted to destroy what remained of Assassin power in Syria, he employed what was left of them to carry out political murders among both his domestic rivals and enemy leaders. Indeed the future king Edward I of England was fortunate to survive a Baybars’ sponsored Assassin attempt on his life in Acre in 1271 during the Eighth Crusade. For some years Baybars kept a member of the Abbasid family as a puppet caliph to engender legitimacy for the Mamluk dynasty – until the unfortunate man was packed off to North Africa and never heard of again. Baybars is said to have died in 1277 from drinking a cup of poisoned wine intended for a guest the story is probably apocryphal but it fits well with the nature of his life.

It has been suggested that the Mongols, the invincible force of the time, were outclassed by the Mamluks on the battlefield the Mongols were lightly armoured horse-archers riding small steppe ponies and carrying little but ‘home-made’ weapons for close combat, whereas the heavily armoured Mamluks, on larger Arab-bred horses, could match them in their mounted archery and then close and kill with the lance, club and sword. It has also been argued that the Mongols were lacking in organizational training whereas the Mamluks spent their lives in training. According to this view, the Mongols were most effective only in terms of their mobility and their rate of fire. The Mongols’ use of ‘heavy’ arrows, allied with the waves of galloping cohorts each of which would fire four or five arrows into the enemy, would exhaust the opposition. Indeed, this together with outflanking manoeuvres, appears to have been the pattern of Mongol attacks. Each Mongol trooper had several fresh mounts ready to ensure the momentum of the attack was not lost.

The Mamluks could match the Mongols’ archery assault with their crafted bows and armour and, though they had just one horse each, they could use the larger size of these mounts to deliver a charge like that of Norman knights but with the addition of mobile archery and a ‘Parthian shot’ if required during withdrawal. The timing of the charge was all. The Mamluks were able to destroy the Mongol army at Ayn Jalut – and again at the second battle of Homs in 1281 – by a series of attacks their command and control mechanisms must have been impressive.

The Mamluks themselves formed only the core of Syrian and Egyptian armies. Shortly after Ayn Jalut, the Mongols were defeated again at Homs in 1260 by an army combining Ayyubid levies and Mamluks. Islamic success against the Mongols was founded on the military abilities of the Mamluks, but it was Mamluk statecraft that ultimately defeated the invaders. As well as rapidly clearing Syria of Mongols, they began a process of fortification and improved communications and diplomacy with the Islamic princes of the region, thus consolidating Egyptian power in Syria. The protection of Syria was central to the Mamluk claim to be the defenders of Islam. Egypt’s resources were devoted to building and training the army for Syria, which was always mobilized at the slightest provocation from the Mongols.

Communications within the Mamluk state were also well-organized. Harbours were improved and a four-day postal service established between Cairo and Damascus. Baybars opened up trade with the Spanish kingdom of Aragon and maintained friendly relations with the Italian maritime states. He also sent emissaries to the Golden Horde, the Mongol khanate of Russia with which Hulegu’s Ilkhanate was involved in a protracted struggle. This helped to maintain the flow of slaves from the Black Sea region for the maintenance of the Mamluk system and also built up pressure on the Ilkhanate. Baybars also sent raiding parties into Mongol areas of Armenia, the southern Taurus Mountains and the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum. His priority, though, was to defend Syria and hold Egypt. When he attempted to operate in Anatolia in 1277 and to stir up a Turcoman revolt against the Mongols in this area, he quickly found his resources insufficient for such enterprises.

Baybar’s assaults on Lesser Armenia and the threat of a concerted and simultaneous Mamluk and Golden Horde attack on the Ilkhanate meant that the Mongols felt a need to hem in the Mamluks and if possible bring Northern Syria into their sphere of influence. The spreading of the Muslim faith among the Golden Horde would also have alarmed the Ilkhans, who themselves did not begin converting until late in the 14th century. The Ilkhans’ subject population was overwhelmingly Muslim, and the Mamluks, with their Egyptian-based caliphate, had effectively become the leaders of the Muslim world. In retaliation, the Ilkhanate made agreements with Constantinople, perhaps fearing that Byzantium, too, might engage with the Golden Horde or the Mamluks if the Mongols attacked Greek possessions.

As well as holding the Mongols at bay, Baybars destroyed the Christian lands of Outremer. In 1263 he captured Nazareth and destroyed the environs of Acre. In 1265 he captured Caesarea and Haifa. He then took the fortified town of Arsuf from the Knight Hospitallers and occupied the Christian town of Athlit. Safed was taken from the Knight Templars in 1266. He slaughtered the Christians if they resisted, and had a particular enmity for the military orders: the Templars and Hospitallers received no quarter. Qalawun, his general and a later sultan, led an army into Armenia in 1266. Sis, the capital, fell in September 1266. With the fall of Armenia the Crusader city of Antioch, first captured by Bohemond in 1098, was isolated. Baybars commenced its siege on 14 May 1268 and the city fell four days later. All the inhabitants who were not killed were enslaved.

Acre was attacked again in 1267 but withstood the assault. Jaffa fell in March 1268 and Beaufort the following month. In 1271 Baybars took the White Castle and Krak des Chevaliers from the Templars and Hospitallers after a month-long siege, and added to its already awesome fortifications. The Christians had shown that such powerful fortresses could break up insurgencies, make up for a paucity of forces and threaten communication lines, and the Mamluks followed the same policy.

Baybars may have feared an alliance between the Mongols and Christian powers. The Mongols certainly tried to achieve this and in 1271 Edward Plantagenet, during the Eighth Crusade, was able to convince them to send a sizeable force into Syria to reduce the Mamluk pressure on the remaining Crusader cities. But after the failure of the Crusade the last cities soon fell: Tripoli was taken by the army of Sultan Qalawun, Baybar’s successor, in 1289 and the Crusader settlement of Acre fell in 1291. This effectively made the Syrian coast an impossible beachhead for Christians there would be no more Crusader attempts to regain the Holy Land or Syria.

The Mamluk dynasty was now secure, and it lasted until the 16th century. Power struggles prevented continuity at the centre, and even after the Circassian Burji Mamluks seized power from the Bahri Mamluks in the mid-14th century, factionalism and insecurity continued unabated. The Mamluks managed successfully to re-establish their Syrian powerbases following Timur’s brief but hugely destructive invasion in the early 1400s but the dynasty had been left weakened by the Black Death which had made repeated onslaughts through the Middle East from the mid-14th century and it soon lost the valuable trade revenues of Syria after the Portuguese opened up Europe’s ocean trade and the route to India in the late 15th century. In the end it took two only two brief battles for the Ottoman Sultan Selim I to decimate the last Mamluk army to take the field just outside Cairo near the Pyramids in 1517. The Ottoman army used firearms and artillery, but the Mamluks rode out to meet them with bow, lance and sword. History had caught up with them.

Selim I continued to employ a Mamluk as viceroy, however, and recruitment of Circassians as ‘tax farmers’ continued until the new age arrived in Egypt with Napoleon’s army in 1798. Indeed faction building and Mamluk infighting were still characteristic of Egyptian politics in the early 19th century.

Although warfare was the primary concern of these slave soldiers, their contribution to Islamic art and architecture was immense. Many of the sultans were remarkable builders, a fine example being Qalawun’s mausoleum complex in Cairo, which includes a mosque, a religious school and hospital. The dynasty’s achievements in the arts of the book, especially of the Qur’an, are also very fine. The importance of fighting and training meant that the art of the armourer was highly prized Mamluk armour was decorated and intricate, helmets, leggings, spurs and shields often carried inscriptions such as:

Father of the poor and miserable, killer of the unbelievers and the polytheists, reviver of justice among all.

An offshoot of this artifice was high quality metalwork, such as candlesticks, lamps, ewers and basins, highly decorated with musicians and dancers, warriors and images of the hunt. Intricate decoration of Mamluk glassware can also be seen in mosque lamps, many carrying the Qu’ranic inscription,

The lamp enclosed in glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star

– a suitable testament to a dynasty that prevailed against the most powerful empire of the medieval age.

This article originally appeared in the March 2006 issue of History Today with the title 'The Mamluks'.

Battle of Ain Jalut

  • Kingdom of Georgia
  • Cilician Armenia

The Battle of Ain Jalut (Arabic: معركة عين جالوت ‎, romanized: Ma'rakat ‘Ayn Jālūt), also spelled Ayn Jalut, was fought between the Bahri Mamluks of Egypt and the Mongol Empire on 3 September 1260 (25 Ramadan 658 AH) in southeastern Galilee in the Jezreel Valley near what is known today as the Spring of Harod (Arabic: عين جالوت ‎, romanized: ‘Ayn Jālūt, lit. 'Spring of Goliath'). The battle marked the height of the extent of Mongol conquests, and was the first time a Mongol advance had ever been permanently beaten back in direct combat on the battlefield. [13]

Continuing the westward expansion of the Mongol Empire, the armies of Hulagu Khan captured and sacked Baghdad in 1258, along with the Ayyubid capital of Damascus sometime later. [14] Hulagu sent envoys to Cairo demanding Qutuz surrender Egypt, to which Qutuz responded by killing the envoys and displaying their heads on the Bab Zuweila gate of Cairo. [14] Shortly after this, Hulagu returned to Mongolia with the bulk of his army in accordance with Mongol customs, leaving approximately 10,000 troops west of the Euphrates under the command of general Kitbuqa.

Learning of these developments, Qutuz quickly advanced his army from Cairo towards Palestine. [15] Kitbuqa sacked Sidon, before turning his army south towards the Spring of Harod to meet Qutuz' forces. Using hit-and-run tactics and a feigned retreat by Mamluk general Baibars, combined with a final flanking maneuver by Qutuz, the Mongol army was pushed in a retreat toward Bisan, after which the Mamluks led a final counterattack, which resulted in the death of several Mongol troops, along with Kitbuqa himself.

The battle has been cited as the first time the Mongols were permanently prevented from expanding their influence, [13] and also incorrectly cited as the first major Mongol defeat. [16] It also marked the first of two defeats the Mongols would face in their attempts to invade Egypt and the Levant, the other being the Battle of Marj al-Saffar in 1303. The earliest known use of the hand cannon in any military conflict is also documented to have taken place in this battle by the Mamluks, who used it to frighten the Mongol armies, according to Arabic military treatises of the 13th and 14th centuries. [17] [18] [19] [20] [21]

The battle

The first to advance were the Mongols, whose force also included troops from the Kingdom of Georgia and about 500 troops from the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, both of which had submitted to Mongol authority. The Mamluks had the advantage of knowledge of the terrain, and Qutuz capitalized on this by hiding the bulk of his force in the highlands, hoping to bait the Mongols with a smaller force under Baibars.

The two armies fought for many hours, with Baibars most of the time implementing hit-and-run tactics, in order to provoke the Mongol troops and at the same time preserve the bulk of his troops intact. When the Mongols carried out another heavy assault, Baibars – who it is said had laid out the overall strategy of the battle since he had spent much time in that region, earlier in his life, as a fugitive – and his men feigned a final retreat, drawing the Mongols into the highlands to be ambushed by the rest of the Mamluk forces concealed among the trees. The Mongol leader Kitbuqa, already provoked by the constant fleeing of Baibars and his troops, committed a grave mistake instead of suspecting a trick, Kitbuqa decided to march forwards with all his troops on the trail of the fleeing Mamluks. When the Mongols reached the highlands, Mamluk forces emerged from hiding and began to fire arrows and attack with their cavalry. The Mongols then found themselves surrounded on all sides.

The Mongol army fought very fiercely and very aggressively to break out. Some distance away, Qutuz watched with his private legion. When Qutuz saw the left wing of the Mamluk army almost destroyed by the desperate Mongols seeking an escape route, Qutuz threw away his combat helmet, so that his warriors could recognize him. He was seen the next moment rushing fiercely towards the battlefield yelling "wa islamah!" ("Oh my Islam"), urging his army to keep firm, and advanced towards the weakened side, followed by his own unit. The Mongols were pushed back and fled to a vicinity of Bisan, followed by Qutuz's forces, but they managed to reorganize and return to the battlefield, making a successful counterattack. However, the battle shifted in favor of the Mamluks, who now had both the geographic and psychological advantage, and eventually some of the Mongols were forced to retreat. When the battle ended, the Mamluk heavy cavalrymen had accomplished what had never been done before, beating the Mongols in close combat. [9] Kitbuqa and almost the whole Mongol army that had remained in the region perished.

The Battle of Ain Jalut is also notable for being the earliest known battle where explosive hand cannons (midfa in Arabic) were used. [10] These explosives were employed by the Mamluk Egyptians in order to frighten the Mongol horses and cavalry and cause disorder in their ranks. The explosive gunpowder compositions of these cannons were later described in Arabic chemical and military manuals in the early 14th century. [11] [12]

The Road to Ayn Jalut.

Genghiz Khan and the Mongol Hordes are a chapter in world history that most people have heard about. Born as Temujin in 1162, the future Genghiz Khan began to conquer neighboring tribes and add their troops to his armies in 1180. By 1206 he had unified Mongolia and taken the title of Genghiz Khan, meaning "supreme emperor."

Conquests continued with the Western Hsia empire in 1209, the Chin empires in 1215, and the Kara-Khitai in 1217 accepting Mongol domination. Between 1218 and 1224, the armies of Genghiz Khan destroyed the powerful Khwarismian Empire that ruled over Persia and what is now Afghanistan, along with other parts of Central Asia. Meanwhile other Mongol forces invaded the Caucasus region in 1221 and entered Russia in 1222, inflicting a terrible defeat on Mstislav of Kiev at the battle of Kalka River in 1223. Although the Hsia and the Chin attempted to throw off the Mongol domination in 1224, Genghiz Khan managed to subdue them before his death in 1227, although the Chin were not finally destroyed until 1234.

Conquering the Chin and Sung.

Genghiz Khan's successor, Ogetei, reigned from 1227 to 1241 and continued the expansion of the already massive Mongol Empire. After completing the conquest of the Chin Empire in 1234, Ogetei began the long war to conquer the great Sung Empire of southern China, which lasted until complete Mongol victory in 1279.

In 1237 Ogetei sent a large army of 150,000 soldiers under the command of Batu, a grandson of Genghiz, and Subetei, one of the best Mongol generals, to conquer Europe. From 1237 through 1240 Subetei smashed through the principalities of Russia, destroying them and their armies. The Russian campaign culminated with the capture and destruction of Kiev on 6 December 1240.

After they had subdued the Russian lands, the Mongols turned on Central Europe. Subetei advanced with an army of 120,000 men in 1241. Incredibly, Subetei divided his army into four columns to sweep through Europe with the objective of a rendezvous at the primary target of their invasion, the kingdom of Hungary. The armies of the Mongols were so mobile and so effective on the battlefield that their European opponents mistakenly thought they were facing forces in excess of 200,000 in the northernmost column of the Mongols when it actually numbered only 20,000.

Those 20,000 men under the command of Kaidu, the grandson of Ogetei, managed to easily defeat an army of Germans and Poles at Liegnitz on 9 April 1241. Meanwhile Subetei proceeded with the attack on Hungary. Bela, the king of Hungary, managed to gather a force of about 100,000 at the Sajo River to oppose a Mongol crossing. The Hungarians possessed numerical superiority over the Mongols, but the Subetei pressed the attack anyway.

King Bela's Army Is Annihilated.

Sending a small force to distract the Hungarians with an assault across a bridge on the Sajo, Subetei and his main army forded the river further south and managed to surprise and surround the Hungarian army. The Mongols increased the confusion of the Hungarians by leaving a gap for them to retreat. Panicked soldiers started to stream through the gap and caused the Hungarian formations to collapse. The fleeing Hungarians now found that additional Mongol troops had them surrounded. The invaders slaughtered their disorganized opponents, killing from 40,000 to 70,000 Hungarians. The army of King Bela had been annihilated in a single day at the battle of the Sajo River on 11 April 1241.

Subetei now began to plan his attacks on Germany and Italy. Mongol scouting parties were making their way toward Vienna and the Alps during December when word came that the Great Kahn Ogetei had died back in Mongolia.

Ogetei's death brought unexpected relief to the terror-stricken Christian Europeans, who perceived the Mongol invasion as the beginning of the end of the world. They viewed the strange invaders as manifestations of the terrible nations of Gog and Magog, who would fight for Satan in the last battle between the forces of good and evil.

Despite the apocalyptic nature of the threat against them, the Pope and the rulers of Christendom proved incapable of organizing a unified resistance to the Mongols. Fortunately for them, it turned out that they did not need to get organized because the Mongol assault never came. Instead of pressing the attack, Subetei and his army returned to Mongolia to participate in the selection of the next Great Khan.

Not Worth the Effort of Conquest?

Even after a new Khan was in place, the Mongols did not renew their assault on Europe. While the reasons for this are not entirely clear, it appears that the Mongols may have decided that Christendom was not worth the effort of conquest! They did, however, maintain their control of the Russian lands for centuries.

Internal rivalries among the Mongols delayed the election of the next Great Khan until 1246 when Guyuk, the son of Ogetei, was selected. He proved to be both short-lived and ineffectual, and died in 1248.

Several more years elapsed before Mongke, another grandson of Genghiz, was elected Great Khan in 1251. Under his rule Mongol expansion resumed, but instead of Christendom, it was the unconquered lands of Islam and the remnants of the Sung Empire that became the targets of military conquest. One of Mongke's brothers, Kublai of Marco Polo fame, embarked on the final conquest of the Sung Chinese empire. Another brother, Hulagu was given the command of massive invasion of the Middle East in 1253.

The Middle East in 1253 was in a confused state. Crusader states managed to hang on desperately against the armies of the Ayyubid Empire founded by the great Saladin, which controlled Egypt and Syria. The Crusaders were able to survive because the Ayyubids suffered from internal strife and had fallen into decline. In Persia, pockets of the Khwarismian Empire also had managed to survive, while in Mesopotamia, the Abbasid Caliphate continued in Baghdad as a shadow of its former glory. The entire region lived in fear of the Assassins operating out of the mountain strongholds. After reducing resistance in Persia, Hulagu moved against the Assassins and the Abbasid Caliph. By 20 December 1256, the last great Assassin fortress of Alamut had surrendered to the Mongols. The conquest of Mesopotamia followed. By 10 February 1258, Baghdad had fallen and al Mustasim the Caliph had surrendered to Hulagu.

Bagged, Rolled, and Trampled.

When Hulagu arrived in Baghdad on 15 February, al Mustasim showed him the hiding place of the great Abbasid treasure in the hope of being spared. That was not to be. Instead, Hulagu instructed his soldiers to get rid of the Caliph. In homage to the Caliph's status, Hulagu ordered his soldiers to avoid shedding the condemned leader's blood. Their solution was to sew the luckless al Mustasim into a canvas bag or roll him into a rug (the reports of history vary) and then trample him with their horses.

The death of al Mustasim delivered a massive shock to the world of Islam. Their spiritual leader had been murdered by a deadly horde of savage pagans. While other caliphs have been proclaimed over the years since that terrible day, the clear succession of the caliphate was irreparably broken, never to be restored.

In September 1259 Hulagu marched on Ayyubid Syria. On 18 January 1260 the Mongols began the siege of Aleppo, an important Muslim city. The defenders held out until 25 February, at which point the Mongols began a massacre of the population that lasted six days. Hulagu, however, spared the life of Turanshah, an Ayyubid prince who commanded garrison and whose bravery and resourcefulness aroused the admiration of the mercurial Hulagu.

Gripped by terror, the Muslims of Syria surrendered Damascus without a fight. Kitaboga, Hulagu's foremost general and a Nestorian Christian (whose fate plays a major role in the ultimate meaning of this narrative), entered the Syrian capital with his army on 1 March. Now the only major Islamic power that remained free of the Mongols was Egypt, the other half of the Abate empire.

Louix IX Launches a Crusade.

Abate Egypt was not seen as a future powerhouse of Islamic military might in 1249. Instead, Crusaders viewed it as an easy conquest, inspiring Louis IX of France to launch the ill-fated Seventh Crusade. That crusade ended in Christian defeat and the capture and ransoming of Louis by the victorious Muslims. Although their victory was more the result of crusader blunders than the skill of Egyptian forces, it solidified Muslim power in the region.

The Sultan of Egypt, also named Turanshah, commanded an army raised on strength of the powerful Mameluke corps, which consisted of slave-soldiers recruited from Circassians, the Turks, and Tartars of the steppes of Russia. Although technically slaves, the proud and ambitious Mamelukes possessed great influence. Their growing power worried Turanshah, who sought to reduce Mameluke influence.

Sultan Turanshah also angered his father's widow, Shajar ud-Durr. She entered into a conspiracy with a Mameluke commander Aibek, who convinced other commanders to join him in the overthrow of Turanshah. They burst into a banquet on 2 May 1250 and attacked Turanshah with swords, but he escaped and fled to a wooden tower by the Nile. The frenzied Mamelukes set the tower on fire and peppered it with arrows. The beleaguered Turanshah dove into the Nile. From there he begged for mercy but received none. A Mameluke general, Baibars, leaped into the river and killed the sultan with his sword.

Aibek was the first Mameluke to claim the throne of the sultan. It was a questionable claim given his slave heritage, but the Sultana Shajar came to his rescue. A member of the true Ayyubid royalty, she stood at his side to give him the veneer of legitimacy. The couple eventually fell out after a several years, and on 15 April 1557, the Sultana ordered her eunuchs to kill Aibek in his bath.

The Champions of Vengeance Win.

Some Mameluke commanders supported the Sultana because she was legitimate by blood, but others demanded vengeance for the slaughtered Aibek. The champions of vengeance won. They had Shajar beaten to death on 2 May, and replaced her as sultan with Aibek's fifteen year old son, Nur ad-Din Ali. The young Sultan proved to possess no potential as a leader, and so in December 1259 another Mameluke commander, Qutuz, deposed the young ruler and made himself Sultan.

At the very moment that Mongol armies were moving relentlessly against Syria, Egypt had come under the firm and capable rule of a Mameluke general.

To the north, Mongol forces were spreading through Palestine, reaching as far south as Gaza. Hulagu's seemingly invincible army was posed like a hammer to smash Egypt. The last major Islamic state seemed on the brink of extinction.

Once again, however, fate intervened in the form of the death of the Great Khan Mongke on 11 August 1259. Hulagu did not immediately break off the attacks on Islam and went on to conquer Syria. These events caused despair among Muslims and elation among the Middle Eastern Christian community. Hulagu had shown himself to be hostile to Muslims and favorable to Christians, as both his chief wife and his leading general Kitaboga were Nestorian Christians.

Threat of Civil War Draws Hulagu Home.

Still, Mongke's death raised the threat of civil war among the Mongol princes as the heir Kublai and his brother Ariqboga jostled for control. Hulagu was brother to both princes, but sided with the designated heir Kublai, who eventually won the struggle.

While that struggle remained in doubt, Hulagu needed to be strategically poised to come to Kublai's assistance. He also faced another problem: The Mongol khans of the Golden Horde and the Kipchaks had converted to Islam, and they opposed Hulagu's depredations against Muslim lands. They threatened Hulagu with attack. So, immediately after the occupation of Damascus, Hulagu withdraw the bulk of his army back to the Persian heartland of his realm. He left the redoubtable Kitaboga in Damascus with between ten and twenty thousand Mongol warriors to hold their conquests.

In Egypt, Qutuz and his Mameluke comrades decided to take the offensive, and on 26 July 1260 the Mamelukes marched on Gaza and wiped out the tiny Mongol garrison. Accounts of the size of Qutuz's army vary considerably. Some credit him with raising an army of 120,000 to face the much smaller twenty-thousand-man army of Kitaboga. Others claim that the Mameluke army consisted of a mere twenty thousand troops, making it an even fight for Kitaboga. It is more likely that Qutuz's army consisted of a core of twenty thousand Mameluke soldiers with thousands of accompanying Bedouin warriors, refugee Khwarismian and Syrian soldiers, and Egyptian levies.

The advancing Mamelukes asked the Crusaders for leave to march through their territory, and leave was given. Kitaboga may have had a reputation for being pro-Christian among the Eastern Christians, but the Crusaders were Western Christians. They harbored grave doubts as to whether their Eastern co-religionists were much better than the Muslims. As for the Mongols, most Crusaders had no doubts about them being far worse than their traditional Muslim opponents. The savagery of Mongol warfare appalled the Crusaders. Some even considered joining the Mameluke army, but ultimately decided against it.

Turning the Trick on the Mongols.

On 2 September the rival armies came together at Ayn Jalut, also known as Goliath's Spring. The Mameluke general Baibars approached Kitaboga's forces with an advance party, while Qutuz remained behind with the main body of the Mameluke army hidden in the hills. Kitaboga attacked Baibars, who appeared to be retreating in the face of the pursuing Mongols. In fact, he was drawing them into an ambush, a trick used many times by Mongol forces.

Kitaboga and his army were surrounded, but as battle-hardened veterans, they fought back with a fury. A seemingly hopeless situation was transformed by their fierce counter attack, and it was beginning to look like the Mamelukes might break.

In an effort to save the day, Qutuz joined his troops at the forefront of the battle, urging them to fight for the survival of Islam as well as their own lives. The Mamelukes held their ground, managing at last to kill or capture Kitaboga (again, reports vary).

The surviving but demoralized Mongol forces managed to cut their way out of the Mameluke trap and escape total destruction, but the victory belonged to the other side. According to some accounts Qutuz executed the captured Kitaboga on the battlefield with the defiant Mongol cursing him and predicting Hulagu's revenge.

Great Prestige Is Gained in Victory.

Mameluke forces went on to regain control of Syria and restore the full extent of the old Abate empire. Their victory over the seemingly invincible Mongols gave them great prestige in the Islamic world and made them the leading power of the Middle East.

Hulagu never returned to avenge Kitaboga. Severe and continuing problems with fellow Muslim khans distracted him from plans of reconquest. Eventually his descendants as the Ilkhans, or rulers of Persia, converted to Islam.

Part of Kitaboga's prophecy, however, did come true. Qutuz had grown suspicious of Baibars and denied him the governorship of Aleppo. In the kill or be killed world of Mameluke politics, Baibars decided to strike first. On 23 October 1260, he stabbed Qutuz in the back with his sword during a hunting trip in the Nile delta and took his place as Sultan.

The Value of the One Life.

Over the following years, sporadic warfare occurred between the Mongols and the Mamelukes, but neither side could gain the advantage. Islam survived. It would have probably survived a Mongol conquest of Egypt, but things would have been far different in the Middle East had the Mongols won.

Who knows what an army of Hulagu might have done if the way to Mecca had been laid open by the destruction of the Mamelukes? At the very least the Muslims would have no longer been the ruling religion and political force in the region. The history of the Mongol invasions of Europe and the Middle East certainly show that course of history and the fate of nations can hang on the life of one human being.

Click on the black panther to read Ron Fritze's previous essay,
"Mysteries Set in History, No. 1."

Ayn Jalut Battlefield - History

Not since the Battle of Badr had the Muslim world stood face to face with extinction as it did at the Battle of Ayn Jalut. Just as the Prophet had triumphed at Badr 600 years earlier, the Mamlukes triumphed over the combined armies of the Mongols, the Crusaders and the Armenians at the Battle of Ayn Jalut. The Muslim world survived by a margin that was as small as any allowed by history to any civilization.

As the Mongols turned back from central Europe after overrunning Hungary and Poland, it became obvious to the Christian powers that Western Europe was safe. At the Council of Lyons (1245) they resolved to seek an alliance with the Mongols against the Muslims. In 1246, one of the delegations under John de Plano Carpini reached Korakorum, the Mongol capital and made representations to Kuyuk, the Great Khan. Two of Kuyuk’s ministers were Christian and John was received cordially. A second delegation under Anselm, a Dominican priest, was dispatched in 1247. Louis, King of France, sent a third delegation under William of Rubruquis in 1253. Hayton, King of Armenia, represented himself and traveled to Korakorum in 1254.

The Christian overtures to the Mongols paid off and were rewarded with promises of military help. The Christian population in the major cities was spared even as the Mongols continued to slaughter the Muslims. For instance, while Baghdad was ravaged and pulled to the ground, the Christian populace of Baghdad gathered under the local cathedral and was spared. Hulagu, the destroyer of Baghdad, had several wives, of whom Dokuz Khatun, a Nestorian Christian, was his chief wife. So enthralled were the Christians at their initial success, that Pope Alexander IV wrote to Hulagu in 1260, expressing his pleasure that the latter was disposed to accept the Christian faith.

The news of the fall of Baghdad (1258) was received with great joy in Christendom who saw in it an opportunity to redress the loss of Jerusalem. It was during this period that the Fatimid Assassins sent a delegation to Henry III of England asking for his help to protect them from the Mongols. The reply from the Bishop of Winchester was curt: “Let those dogs devour each other and be utterly wiped out and then we shall see, founded on their ruins, the universal Catholic Church”.

The Christian-Mongol axis continued its aggression against Muslim territories. While the Mongols devastated Asia, the Crusaders continued their onslaught on the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. In 1218, a German army invaded Egypt, occupied Damietta and proceeded towards Cairo. The Egyptians allowed the invaders to enter the delta, then opened the dykes on the Nile, trapping and drowning the German army. In 1261, the French attempted an invasion of North Africa, while Spain and Portugal were militarily active on the Moroccan coast.

Meanwhile, Hulagu followed up the sack of Baghdad with the capture of Iraq and Syria. After consulting with his astrologers, he established his base in Maragha. The Atabeg Seljuk Shah was captured near Shiraz and beheaded. In 1260, Aleppo was stormed and its population was put to death. Damascus surrendered without a fight The Mongol commander Kitbogha, the Armenian King Hayton and the Crusader King Bohemund of Antioch marched together in the streets of the ancient Umayyad capital and forced the Muslim inhabitants of the city to kneel before the cross. Summons was issued to Kutuz, the Mamluke Sultan of Egypt to surrender or face annihilation.

The choices before the Mamlukes were stark indeed. They knew that either surrender or a loss in battle would mean annihilation and the last bastion of Islamic culture would be destroyed (Although Delhi was as yet safe from the Mongols, Islam had barely established itself on the plains of Hindustan by the year 1260). Jerusalem, Mecca and Madina would be taken. Summons went forth from Sultan Kutuz for a jihad under General Bayars. The response was overwhelming and a motivated Muslim army advanced through the Sinai towards Palestine to meet the invaders.

The Mamlukes were a Turkish tribe who had made their home in the islands of the Nile. Hence, they are sometimes called Bahri Mamlukes. The word Mamluke derives its origin from the word Malaka (to own). During the 9th and 10th centuries, slave trade was brisk along the River Volga (in today’s Russia) and around the Caspian Sea. The Vikings (Swedes) were the primary vehicles for this trade. In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Vikings were the imperial power around the Baltic Sea. They conducted raids deep into what are today Russia and Germany, as well as the Slavic lands of the Balkans, captured slaves and sold them to Jewish and Muslim merchants. These slaves were adopted by the Turkish sultans, often married princesses of the royal households and rose to become rulers themselves. Thus it was that the transcendence of Islam elevated slaves to kings. In the 13th century both Egypt and India were ruled by Mamluke (slave) dynasties.

The armies of Baybars met the combined armies of the Mongols, the Crusaders and the Armenians near Nazareth at Ain Jalut in September 1261. A great battle ensued. The Mamluke right flank charged against the invaders and forced it back. But the Mongols counterattacked on the left and the Mamlukes hesitated. General Baybars took charge and a battle cry went forth for the defense of Islam. The enemies were routed. Kitbogha was killed. Hayton, King of Armenia and Bohemund, King of Antioch fled. The Mongols were pursued to Aleppo and destroyed. Egypt and with it Hejaz and Palestine were saved. The dark spell that the Mongols had cast across the Eurasian continent was broken.

Ain Jalut was undoubtedly one of the decisive battles in human history, comparable in its importance with the Battle of Tours (765) and the Battle of Plassey (1757). It marked the farthest advance of the Mongols across Eurasia. With the defeat at Ain Jalut, Christendom lost its hope for recovery of Jerusalem and its hold on the Syrian coastline was made untenable. The Armenians receded to their mountain strongholds in the Caucasus Mountains. Had the Mamlukes lost, Cairo would have met the same fate as Baghdad, the Cross would have supplanted the Crescent and the shamanist Mongol would have ruled over the sacred sites of Mecca and Madina.

Upon his return from Ayn Jalut, Baybars displaced Sultan Kutuz, invited a relative of slain Caliph Al Musta’sim to Cairo and re-established the Abbasid Caliphate in Egypt. There the temporal seat of Sunni Islam stayed, until it was displaced by the Ottomans in 1517 and moved to Istanbul.

Articles of Interest

Heading towards Egypt and Morocco, the last stronghold of the Moslems, the Mongol Houlagu Khan sent a threatening letter to the Emir of Egypt, “Al-Muzaffar Saif el Din Qutuz” (Arabic) "God has elevated Genghis Khan and his progeny and given us the realms of the face of the earth altogether. Everyone who has been recalcitrant in obeying us has been annihilated along with his women, children, kith and kin, towns, and servants. We have demolished the land, orphaned the children, tortured the people and slain them, made their honoured despised and their leader a captive. Do you think that you can escape from us? After a while you will know what's coming to you.

“If you are in submission to our court, send tribute, come yourself, and request a Shahna (royal pardon as an instrument of surrender) otherwise be prepared for battle."” However, the sudden death of the then-Khagan Möngke Khan the brother of Houlagu, forced the Mongol Ilkhanate Houlagu Khan to take a large part of his army back with him on the way to Mongolia. He left his lieutenant, Kitbuga, with about 20,000 soldiers.


But the Emir’s reply was to kill the 40 Mongolian delegation and leave their corpses hanging in his capital. He decided to meet the Mongols before the enemy reached Egypt. So they sent out an army in Palestine. Both Moslem and Mongol armies encamped in Palestine in July of 1260.

On the right Sultan Al Zahir
Baibars. He ruled 17 years.

When Kit Buqa heard of this, he ordered his troops to prepare for battle and commended them to "Stay where you are and wait for me." But before Kit Buqa arrived, Quduz attacked the Mongol advance guard and drove them to the banks of the Orontes. Kit Buqa, his zeal stirred, flared up like fire with all confidence in his own strength and might.

Mongol Lancers & Mounted Archers

Representation of Sultan Kutuz spearing a Mongol.

The Mongol army and its leader KITBUGA fought very fiercely and very aggressively to break out, but the Mongols were pushed back and fled to the vicinity of Bisan followed by Qutuz's forces. There, they managed to rally and returned to the battlefield making a successful counterattack. However, the battle shifted in favor of the Mamlouks, who now had both the geographic and the psychological advantage, and eventually some of the Mongols were forced to retreat.

Mameluk Heavy Armored Cavalry

Notice the hand pistols (cannons) in its holsters

The Mongols attacked, raining down arrows, and Quduz pulled a feint and started to withdraw. Emboldened, the Mongols rode out after him, killing many of the Egyptians, but when they came to the ambush spot, the trap was sprung from three sides. A bloody battle ensued, LASTING FROM DAWN TILL MIDDAY. The Mongols were powerless to resist, and in the end they were put to flight. Kit Buqa 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 Kit Buqa, not wanting to return in shame, gave his life in battle”.

When the battle ended, the Egyptian Mamlouk heavy cavalrymen had accomplished what had never been done before, BEATING THE MONGOLS IN CLOSE COMBAT. ALMOST THE WHOLE MONGOL ARMY, INCLUDING KITBUQA, WAS DESTROYED.


On the way back to Cairo after the victory at Ain Jalut, Qutuz - a very brave & courageous Mameluk was assassinated by several emirs in a conspiracy led by Baibars. He was reinterred in Cairo and a Mosque is name after him.

Baibars (El-Zahir Rukn el-Din Baibars al-Bunduqdari) became the new Sultan.

Video reconstruction of the battle.

More Notes On Sultan Baibars

Baibars or Baybars (Arabic: الملك الظاهر ركن الدين بيبرس البندقداري ‎, al-Malik al-Ẓāhir Rukn al-Din Baibars al-Bunduqdari), nicknamed Abu l-FutuhBaibars or Baybars (Arabic: الملك الظاهر ركن الدين بيبرس البندقداري ‎, defeated the crusaders in THREE CAMPAIGNS. In order to support his military campaigns, Baibars commissioned arsenals, warships and cargo vessels. He was also arguably the first to employ EXPLOSIVE HAND CANNONS IN WAR, at the Battle of Ain Jalut. His military campaign also extended into Libya and Nubia.

Baibars 13th century magnificent (illuminure) KORAN - British Museum.

His memoirs were recorded in Sirat al-Zahir Baibars ("Life of al-Zahir Baibars"), a popular Arabic romance recording his battles and achievements. He has a heroic status in Kazakhstan, as well as in Egypt and Syria. Al-Madrassa al-Zahiriyya is the school built adjacent to his Mausoleum in Damascus. The Az-Zahiriyah library has a wealth of manuscripts in various branches of knowledge to this day. The library and Mausoleum are being reconstructed by Kazakhstan government fund.

In 2009, a copy of Sultan Beibars Mausoleum in Damascus was to be built in Kazakhstan.

Ramadan through History – The Battle of Ayn Jalut

Throughout Ramadan we are publishing articles about historical moments that took place in this blessed month. We present to you the Battle of Ayn Jalut – the first time ever that a Mongol advance had been permanently halted.

When the Mongols invaded the Muslim world in 1255, they showed no mercy. The goal of the Mongols was to destroy Islam. The Abbasid Caliphate had no power or strategy to fight. The Muslim world was divided and without direction. Fighting amongst themselves, the lust for power was not a strange thing to see in the Muslim world at that time.

Genghiz Khan was waging war in Bukhara at the time – the Muslims decided not to fight and surrendered so that there would not be any bloodshed. They Mongols’ reputation for wanton violence was well known. At first, Genghiz Khaz gave the people amnesty but this only lasted for 10 days. Then the killing started.

Ibn Kathir wrote about this:

“They killed (so) many people that only Allah knows their number! They enslaved women and children. They fornicated with women in the presence of their families. Of the Muslims, those who had fought were killed and some who were captured were tortured badly. Then they burnt homes, masajid and schools, and Bukhara fell into ruins”.

Baghdad, the capital of the Muslim world at that time, was attacked in 1258. The siege began in mid-January and lasted approximately 2 weeks. The Mongol army of 150,000 strong destroyed hospitals, mosques, libraries and palaces.

Between 200,000 and 1,000,000 people were butchered Baghdad, once the centre of the Islamic Empire, was left like a ghost town.

The Mongols threw the books from the libraries of Baghdad into the river Tigris. So many books were thrown into the river that it was said that the river went black from their ink.

The Christians in Europe considered Europe safe from the invasion as the Mongols turned back after capturing Poland and Hungary. The Europeans didn’t waste any time in taking advantage of this and chose to seek alliance with the Mongols against the Muslims.

The Mongols cooperated with the Christians and promised them military help. Whilst the Muslims were savagely murdered in Baghdad, the Christians were spared.

The Mongols continued with their barbarity towards the Muslim and devastated Asia and the Christians attacked Muslims in the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa.

It was one of the dark chapters in the history of Islam.

The Muslim world was being attacked from every side. The Muslims in Damascus surrendered without a fight and in 1260, Aleppo was decimated.

The Mongol commander at the time, Kitbogha, the Armenian King Hayton and the Crusader King Bohemund of Antioch, marched through the city, which was once the capital of the Ummayad dynasty and forced the Muslims to kneel before the cross.

The oppressors and invaders then summoned Kutuz, the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt to either surrender or face annihilation.

There was no choice but to fight back.

The Mamluk Sultan Kutuz allied himself with fellow Mamluk, Berbers and anyone who wanted to defend Islam after the Mongols captured Damascus and most of Bilad-al-Sham.

On 9th Ramadan (September 1261), both sides met at Ayn Jalut.

The armies of the Mongols with their allies were far greater in number than the armies of the Muslims. However, with their well thought out strategy the Muslims were able to defeat their oppressors. The victory of the Mamluks was so great that the leaders of the opposition fled.

When Muslims unite, with the correct intention, nothing can stop them from stopping oppression.

If the Mongols had won, it would have had devastating effects. Egypt, which was the last stronghold for the Muslims, would have no longer been a Muslim state.

With the Mongols defeated, the Christians who had wanted to recapture Palestine, lost any hope of doing so.

This was the first time that a Mongol invasion had been permanently halted.

Like the Battle of Badr, it is not numbers that matters, it is the quality of those who stand firm against the oppressors.

Insha’Allah (God-Willing) we too can be as organised and sincere as those Muslims who defeated the Mongol at the Battle of Ayn Jalut.

Watch the video: Battle of Ain Jalut, 1260 AD The Battle that saved Islam and stopped the Mongols معركة عين جالوت (June 2022).


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