The Battle of Ain Jalut took place on 3 September 1260 between Muslim Mamluks and the Mongols in the southeastern Galilee, in the Jezreel Valley, not far from Zir’in. The battle marked 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.
After previous battlefield defeats, the Mongols had always returned and avenged their loss, ultimately defeating their enemies. The Battle of Ain Jalut marked the first time they were unable to do so. The Mongol Ilkhanate leader Hulagu Khan was not able to advance into Egypt, and the Khanate he established in Persia was only able to defeat the Mamluks once in subsequent expeditions, briefly reoccupying Syria and parts of Galilee for a few months in 1300.
Parthia, not Rome, influenced the development of cavalry over the next millennium. In the late Roman Empire and its Byzantine successor in the East, the balance tilted in favor of the horse, with infantry forming a defensive body in battle and serving chiefly as a refuge for the cavalry. Others who adopted this pattern were the Indians; the Chinese; the Arabs, who quickly moved from camels to horses; and, more gradually, the European peoples as well. Whether the adoption of saddle and stirrup drove this development, or was driven by it, is unclear. Heavy cavalry service eventually became a justification for aristocratic political power and encouraged cavalry’s growing predominance. However, large infantry forces were still needed, if only for siege warfare. Thus, aside from cavalry raids such as the long-distance chevauchées of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453 c. e.), offensive operations necessarily tied cavalry to an infantry pace. The Mongols under Genghis Khan (died 1227 c. e.) solved this problem: Their armies of highly trained, fast-moving horse archers and cataphract lancers simply rounded up local peasants by the thousands and forced them to perform siege warfare duties. The epitome of steppe nomad armies, the Mongols were hindered only by environmental factors and internal political problems until they suffered their first defeat in 1260 c. e. at Ain Jalut, Israel, at the hands of the Mamlnks, Egyptian slave cavalry, trained to steppe nomad levels. Toward 1500 c. e., infantrymen began to return to prominence in Europe; notable examples are the English longbowmen, Swiss pikemen, and Hussite Wagenburg soldiers. The development of gunpowder artillery and firearms ultimately spelled the end of cavalry dominance in Europe and, eventually, everywhere that European armies marched.
The Mongols’ military achievements were impressive: The Mongols built, through mobility, superior discipline, and advanced strategies, the largest contiguous land empire of its time. Although the empire remained unified for roughly only seventy years after the death of Genghis Khan, its heritage was maintained by his successors, who included his grandson, Kublai Khan (1215-1294), and later successors such as Tamerlane.
Perhaps the most difficult achievement for Genghis Khan was the unification of the tribes of Mongolia. Once these tribes were united, Genghis Khan forged them into an army of unprecedented size and force. Although tribal confederations had appeared throughout history, none of them possessed the martial potency, discipline, and organization of the Mongols. Furthermore, the Mongols quickly learned to adapt those military methods of their opponents that they deemed effective, particularly siege warfare and the mobilization of resources.
The Mongol Empire at its height stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Carpathian Mountains. Its armies ranged even farther, invading Vietnam and reaching the Adriatic Sea in Europe. In the early 1220’s Jebe (fl. 1200-1230) and Sabutai (c. 1172-1245), two of Genghis Khan’s top commanders, led roughly twenty thousand men into modern Iran, across the Caucasus Mountains into the Russian steppe, and back to Kazakhstan without the benefit of modern communication systems or even maps. This feat is even more impressive considering that the troops fought numerous battles along the way without reinforcements. The organization of the Mongol military allowed the empire to wage offensive wars on several fronts, from China to the Middle East. Although the empire gradually expanded over decades across Asia, individual invasions were rapid and fierce.
Successors such as Tamerlane carried on the Mongol tradition. His campaigns consisted of continuous marching, from India into Siberia and the Middle East. Tamerlane was victorious over many of the top commanders of the late medieval era, including the Ottoman sultan Bayezid (c. 1360-1403), who struck fear into Europe, as well as Toqtamish (fl. c. 1380-1390), who had reunified the Golden Horde, a tribe of Mongols that sacked and burned Moscow in 1382.
The Mongols drew upon the Khitan military system to base the organization of their armies on the decimal system. The largest unit was the tumen, a division of ten thousand men. Contained within each tumen were ten minggans, or one-thousand-man units. These in turn were divided into ten jaghuns, or onehundred- man units. The jaghun was the basic tactical unit. The smallest unit consisted of ten men and was known as the arban.
During larger campaigns, the Mongols often instituted a tamna force, in which a certain number of men from every unit, approximately two out of ten, were mustered to form an army. Once the campaign ended, these troops were allowed to return to their units. The conquered were also included in conscription, but they were usually required to serve in foreign lands, in order to prevent rebellion. The most common method of preventing mutiny at a critical moment was simply to divide the new recruits into existing units. This arrangement prevented the new recruits from forming a cohesive and potentially disrupting force, and it helped to maintain the unit integrity of existing formations. Tamerlane, like Genghis Khan, divided members of recalcitrant tribes among various units in order to prevent mutiny.