The Mongol Reduction of Northern China I

Just as the Jin were being challenged by the Song on their southern border, the man whose ambition would bring about their destruction was being hailed as universal ruler or great khan by a confederation of Mongol tribes to their north. Chinggis Khan was not a great general or warrior, but he was a skilled and compelling political strategist who had used these talents to unite the disparate and often-warring tribes of the steppes. It seems likely that his plan was to use this confederation rapidly, and before it disintegrated like so many tribal alliances before it, to plunder the lands of northern China on a vast scale.

The Mongol raids on China began in earnest in 1209, with a campaign against the Tangut state of Xi Xia. The Tangut emperor ruled over a multi-ethnic population that included Chinese, Tibetans and many Turkic groups, in addition to the Tangut themselves. Indeed, when we use the term Tangut, as with Jurchen, Kitan or Mongol, we should remember that we are really only naming the leadership of these states or confederations. In reality, each of these entities were multi-ethnic and, particularly in the case of the Mongols as their empire grew, the leading group was very much a minority.

The Tangut emperor’s state also bordered the Jin state along the northwestern reaches of the Yellow River and extended into the Gobi desert and modern Ningxia. In the past the Tangut had lived a nomadic existence, with their only ties to the settled state being their trade in horses with the Song and their raiding of Song merchant columns. The nomadic past of the Xi Xia state, its largely Turkish population and its extension into the steppe made it a natural first target of the nascent Mongol confederation of Chinggis Khan. Its subjugation would give the Mongols access to the northwestern flank of the Jin state, from which they could raid the Yellow River plains, and if the Xi Xia state could be brought to full submission the Mongols would also gain access to its army of horse archers. Added to this was the fact that the Xi Xia state had never fully escaped the orbit of steppe politics, and the Mongol conquest of the state was also part of a ‘tidying up’ of loose ends, as all the Turco-Mongolic peoples on China’s perimeter were absorbed either voluntarily or otherwise into the Mongol ordus or horde. That Xi Xia could never escape its own steppe history is obvious from the fact that many Turkish princes seeking refuge from Chinggis Khan’s father found dubious refuge at the Xi Xia court and that royal daughters of the Xi Xia state were not uncommonly married to members of Chinggis’s own family. To add to this confused mesh of amiability and animosity, one Kereyid prince sought refuge from Mongol vengeance with the Tangut, but then gave a daughter in marriage to Chinggis’s son, Tolui, and she bore the great khans Mongke and Qubilai and the Persian Ilkhan Hulegu. Another of the dissident prince’s daughters married into the Tangut royal family and an unlikely romantic tale has her beauty being the catalyst for Chinggis Khan’s final annihilation of the Xi Xia state. Be that as it may, the Mongols certainly used the harbouring of Kereyid royal fugitives by the Xi Xia court as a pretext for their first extensive incursions into Xi Xia territory. Mongol raids across the Xi Xia state began in 1205 and the presence of their troops in an area bordering Jin also drew the Onggid tribes, a grouping of previously loyal barbarians whom the Jin had relied on to stabilise their northwest frontier, to join Chinggis’s horde.

The Mongols stayed in Xi Xia territory for the next two years and the Xi Xia sent a series of embassies to the Jin emperor, calling for alliance against the Mongols. These appeals were rebuffed by the Jin emperor with the curt comment, ‘it is to our advantage when our enemies attack one another. Wherein lies the danger to us?’

The autumn of 1209 saw Chinggis launching a major invasion of Xi Xia and defeating three Tangut armies before investing the capital Chong Xingfu. The Mongols then attempted to divert the waters of the Yellow River’s irrigation canals to flood the city, but succeeded only in deluging their own camp, which effectively broke the siege. However, they had done enough damage to the Xi Xia state to ensure its capitulation, and in 1210 the Tangut emperor, Xianzong, became a vassal to the Khan.

That Chinggis was only interested in Xi Xia’s submission as a prelude to the greater havoc he wished to wreak upon the Jin is evidenced by his almost immediate employment of Tangut horsemen in raids upon Jin borderlands. By 1214 Xi Xia troops, under Mongol direction, were extensively raiding Jin’s southwest provinces. By this point the Jin were becoming more and more dependent on this region for finances and for horses, as the Song had ceased the payment of the tribute that they had agreed to in 1207 and the Mongols were pressing hard from the north and gobbling up Jin pastureland. The city of Lanzhou slipped from effective Jin control in 1214, as the Xi Xia sponsored a rebellion there against them, and then the Xi Xia sent proposals to Song for a joint action against Jin in the west. At this juncture the Song sat on their hands and did not, in fact, act against Jin in alliance with the Xi Xia until 1220, and even then only in a half-hearted fashion. Perhaps it seemed more logical to the Song to let the Mongols destroy the ‘auld enemy’ for them than to engage the Jin directly themselves or even ally with them against the new foe. The lessons of the past and the debacle that had followed Jin’s conquest of Liao with Song complicity had evidently either not yet been learned or simply forgotten.

The encroachment by the peoples of the northern steppe on Jin lands had begun almost at the beginning of the Jin dynasty. In some ways, the Jurchen’s descent into ‘China proper’ in the first quarter of the twelfth century had created a power vacuum in the northern lands beyond the Middle Kingdom’s borders, and this had been rapidly filled by new confederations. As early as the 1130s, the Jin had been compelled to send punitive expeditions into the hinterlands at the edge of the Gobi. They suffered many reverses on these expeditions, but through them they also managed to retard any progress towards unification by the tribes as they exterminated much of the leadership in the steppe. Possibly as a result of this policy, the words ‘a Jin Emperor killed one of my forefathers. Let me have my revenge!’ have been put into the mouth of Chinggis in traditional Chinese histories to explain the Khan’s invasion of Jin. We can be certain that no such justification was in fact required for the ensuing carnage meted out to Jin by Chinggis Khan and his descendants; invoking the will of Tenggeri the Sky Father or Eternal Heaven would have been sufficient. But there is tenuous evidence to support the fact that Chinggis could have been intent on revenging the death of Ambaghai Khan, whom the Tatar tribe had handed over to their Jin overlords for execution after they captured him. Chinggis Khan considered himself a legitimate successor of Ambaghai as leader of the Mongols. In 1194 Jin had also made a temporary alliance with the man who became Chinggis Khan. This had helped to stabilise the border but had also unfortunately increased the Mongols’ power, as it aided their elimination of tribal rivals. Chinggis Khan’s unification of the tribes was, then, in many ways, begun by the Jin’s actions in the steppes, and it was at the head of a vast confederation army of Mongols, Kitan and Tangut3 that Chinggis set out in March 1211 to launch what was in effect a vast raid or chevachee across the Jin state.

The word chevachee is the most apt way of describing the Mongol raiding tactics in 1211, for it is an act of plundering on a relentless and extensive scale, in order to make control and rule over a region untenable for the enemy. It also deprives the enemy of legitimacy if they cannot effectively respond to the terror inflicted upon their citizens. The taking of territory would have rendered Chinggis’s forces open to a Jin riposte, so the tactic of ‘burn and move on’ also served Chinggis well at this juncture. It is arguable that it failed the Mongols later, when they moved on to attempt to conquer Song, through Sichuan, a region that would not support the rapid movement of cavalry, and they then became bogged down in the garrisoning of territory and a long war of attrition. Later the genius of Qubilai Khan and his commanders was shown in their co-opting of Chinese infantry and engineers to operate where cavalry could not, thereby freeing up the horsemen to go where they could be most effective and to stretch the Song’s defences by lightning strikes. On a more philosophical plane Mongol warfare is a perfect paradigm of Clausewitz’s theory of ‘total war’, in which the ends of war are consumed by the means taken to achieve them. The brief lives of both the Yuan Dynasty and the Mongol Ilkhanate of Persia are both, perhaps, partly explainable by the ‘total war’ origins of both states, and we will look a little later in more depth at how an inability to muzzle the dogs of war once they had been allowed to slip the leash completely contributed to the Yuan’s rapid demise. That such all-enveloping concepts of warfare were alien to China before the Mongols’ rise seems evident, given Sunzi’s five governing factors, the first of which is the Moral Law, which requires accord between the ruled and the ruler, and the fact that the Confucian definition of war was that it was a punishment for both the defeated and the victor.

In the spring of 1211 two Mongol armies totalling about one hundred thousand warriors entered China from the northwest, through lands formerly ‘guarded’ for the Jin by the Onggids, and from the northeast, through mountain passes near modern Beijing. They devastated great portions of the northern provinces and the northwestern army essentially split the Jin army of Shensi from the rest of the Jin forces in the east. This northwestern army, however, failed to take the key border fortresses as the Jin forces in the region outnumbered them by about four to one and the Jin garrison infantry were well equipped with cavalry pikes and crossbows. Initial defeats in the open field and a devastating famine across the entire state seem to have decided the Jin on a defensive strategy by which they hoped either to bring about the break-up of the Mongol army or to bring Chinggis to a negotiation where a modus vivendi similar to that enacted between the Mongols and Xi Xia could be formed. Given that Mongol warriors were unpaid and that therefore commanders were entirely reliant on booty for paying them, the Jin might have been hoping that Chinggis’s horde would disintegrate for lack of plunder. Certainly this was the norm for such barbarian confederations, but unfortunately the tribal army that had invaded China this time was perhaps exceptional in that it was composed of men who were ‘more obedient to their masters than any other men in the world, be they religious or secular’.

The strategy therefore failed. The Jin could keep the Mongols from taking their fortified cities through the technological advantages they held over them, the chief of these being gunpowder and trebuchet-fired ‘thunder crash’ bombs–some of which were moulded from wax to burn slowly, whilst others were hollow ceramic creations holding molten metal or barbs that would stick in wooden shields and make them impossible to carry. Naptha or ‘Greek fire’ was thrown in pots at the enemy and fire-arrows could also break up Mongol attacks, but the Jin could not match the Mongols in the field; the Jin had long ago abandoned the ‘battue’ or nomadic hunt and their stature as mounted archers had gone into decline. The slow-moving, often largely infantry-based field armies the Jin deployed against the Mongols, perhaps a product of the long, static, cold–hot war the Jin had fought against the Song, were easily defeated by the Mongols, and those Jurchen among the Jin armies who did retain the warrior skills of the steppes soon enough joined the Mongols. The cavalry that the Jin did retain was also denied pasture by the Mongols’ continual traversing of the northern plains. Each Mongol trooper had about six horses, and one ‘tumen’ of ten thousand troopers also meant the presence of forty thousand ‘civilians’ and six hundred thousand sheep or goats. Additionally, Bactrian camels and giant carts pulled by as many as twenty oxen were part of the Mongol army’s train. This vast caravan had been known to travel up to six hundred miles in nine days and its capacity for consuming pasture would have been almost locust-like. To worsen matters, the Jurchen homeland of Manchuria, from which they drew horses, cattle and Jurchen warriors, then slipped from the Jin’s grasp as leftovers of the old Liao Dynasty took the opportunity of Jin’s misfortune to desert their cause. Virtually all the Liao–Kitan cavalry and soldiers that had formerly fought with the Jin army swore their allegiance to Chinggis Khan in 1212. A Jin punitive expedition failed to regain Manchuria from the rebels in 1214 and, to make matters worse, its commander then went on to set up his own independent state in northeast China.

The Mongols withdrew for the winter, which gave the Jin forces some respite, but soon enough the Mongols were back again, and over the course of the next two years they also began to enrol Han Chinese deserters into their army. The engineers among these men would make a very valuable contribution to the later Mongol campaigns.

The poor showing of the Jin in this early contest lured the Mongols further into China than they may have planned to go. Certainly, by the time they had taken the Juyong pass and the environs of Beijing, they had in fact overreached themselves. They were unprepared for the siege of such a large city, and what was almost certainly meant as a simple large-scale raid had now got them wrapped up in a territorial war in China. The equipment of the Mongol troopers of this period makes it clear that there was no developed weapons industry available to the army that could produce siege weapons capable of tackling the walls of Beijing; in fact, even with the later acquisition of Chinese centres of industry, many Mongol troopers still lacked crafted metal weapons. The average Mongol soldier wore a simple heavy coat with a belt sword, dagger and axe, and carried dried meat and curds for rations, along with a stone sharpener. The heavy cavalry had lamellar armour, presumably purchased or looted from Chinese manufacturing centres, and every trooper carried a composite bow of yak horn, sinew and bamboo. Other weapons–round wooden shields and lassoes–were decidedly crude compared to the crafted and cherished Mongol bow. The myth that Mongol silk undershirts ‘wrapped’ arrowheads and prevented injury to the wearer has long ago been exploded, but the lamellar armour that the Mongols favoured was certainly more effective than mail against arrows, and this may have been particularly significant given the Jin and Song reliance on archers and crossbowmen.

The Mongol Reduction of Northern China II

By 1213, with Beijing resisting them even though it was effectively cut off, the Mongols were simply roaming the central plains of northern China and had lost the initiative. They were therefore fortunate that the Jin court was in the act of imploding at this juncture. The Emperor Weishao Wang had been assassinated in 1213 by Hu Shahu, a general who had lost the western Jin capital of Datong to the Mongols. Hu Shahu may have decided to strike first, as the punishment for such failure was bound to be harsh. A new emperor, Xuanzong, was installed, but the Jin state was unravelling fast and, in an attempt to replace the high-ranking Jurchen who were deserting the dynasty for service with the Mongols, the normally xenophobic court opened military and civilian posts to all races within the state. A further symptom of the collapse of Jin confidence was seen in the spring of 1214 when the Jin sent peace envoys to Chinggis, and offered a daughter of the late emperor for the khan’s marriage bed. The breathing space this gained them was used by the court to abandon Beijing and desert the troops left there. The court fled to the southern capital of Kaifeng which, it was hoped, was beyond the reach of both the Mongols and of the drought and famine that had struck the north and had once again crippled the logistics of the Jin army.

The Mongols marched on Beijing but could do little except sit beneath its walls and terrorise the surrounding environs. The city was encircled and defended by four fortified villages with four thousand Jin troops in each. Each village also had its own granary and arsenal and was linked by tunnels to Beijing. The city was also protected by three moats fed from Kunming Lake and a 15-kilometre rectangle of rammed earth walls that were 15 metres thick at their base and 12 metres high. Each of its thirteen gates and nine hundred guard towers was protected by double and triple crossbows, capable of hurling 3-metre quarrels over a kilometre, and traction trebuchets with a range of some 300 metres for 25-kilogram projectiles. The Mongols had units in their army trained to use both siege crossbows and trebuchets, the so-called nujun and baojun, but the technology they used was, at this juncture, almost certainly not a match for that of their opponents.

The Mongols suffered enormous losses through pestilence during the siege, which lasted a year, but then the city suddenly surrendered in May 1215, as it was evident that no relief force was coming from Kaifeng. The capitulation, it seems, did not temper the Mongols’ rage at the city’s long defiance, and even in 1216 a visiting envoy could still attest the fact that the bones of the slaughtered formed mountains and the soil was greasy with human fat. Sixty thousand maidens had thrown themselves from the walls rather than fall into Mongol hands and only masons, carpenters and–oddly enough–actors were immune from the risk of summary executions.

By now the Jin were ready to accept having the khan as their overlord, but Chinggis seems to have interpreted the dynasty’s move to Kaifeng as a dangerous act of separatism and he responded with further devastations of the Jin’s Chinese provinces. Elsewhere, control was slipping away from the Jin too. The grain supplies of northern Hubei were gone and the refusal of Song to pay its yearly tribute had reduced the Jin to near penury. The collapse of local government that this and the Mongols’ rapine had precipitated reduced whole provinces to chaos and in Shandong it made bandits the only form of authority. Many of these groups sought Song support and proclaimed loyalty to the dynasty in exchange for secret supplies of food and money. The Song particularly favoured a large confederation of outlaws called the Red Coats, possibly because red was the traditional ‘fire’ colour of the Song court. If this was so, then the Song were sorely misled, as the Red Coats, in fact, showed no particular loyalty to anyone but themselves. However, they resisted all Jin efforts to bring Shandong back under control, and this was probably reason enough for the Song court to support them. In 1218, with the Yellow River flooding and Shandong effectively beyond Jin control, the Song went further and recognised the ruthless Red Coat commander Li Quan as their ‘prefect’ of Shandong.

Song’s sponsoring of bandits such as Li Quan was a direct response to Jin assaults on Song in 1217 as the Jin went to war to try to extract payments from the Song government. Making the Jin fight a proxy war in their own lands would certainly distract them from assaults on Song lands. However, the policy also had a secondary aim: by maintaining a viable state in Shandong the Song may have hoped to prevent a mass movement of Jin’s Han citizens to the south, which would have effectively swamped Song with refugees or even with a mass movement of Jurchen households. It is impossible to make a judgement on the great unanswered question about this period of Jin history: where did all the people go? The drop in population was immense and there was, no doubt, massive emigration from north to south and also death through disease and famine. How many were simply slaughtered by the Mongols and how many died as a result of the invaders’ damage to agricultural infrastructure and destruction of cities is impossible to decide. Certainly nowhere was safe; cities were refuges of a sort, but were also the key strategic goals of the Mongols and were wealthy enough to attract them for plunder alone. The number of refugees fleeing to Song must have been immense; if any member of the ‘local elite’ fled there would also be a movement of his kinsmen, retainers and tenants as an organised community of several hundred households. Certainly there are other occurrences of this phenomenon of a ‘tsunami’ of people in Asian history, and there was never a pleasant outcome for either the displaced or the settled peoples involved. For example, the Jurchen destruction of the Liao’s Kitan state in 1125 had pushed immense numbers of Turkish tribesmen into settled Islamic lands and had within only two decades sounded the death knell of the great Saljuq sultanate of Iran.

The Jin assaults on Song served them badly; they offered peace for tribute, but made little progress in their war and in 1218 the Song were so confident of their ability to resist that they did not even allow the Jin envoys to enter their territory. A third and final Jin offensive was launched in the central border region in the spring of 1221. Initially, the Jin met with success and penetrated over 200 kilometres into Song territory, but the Song, in partnership with Li Quan, then counterattacked and pushed the Jin out.

Jin morale was eroded by their defeat in this campaign and was damaged further by news from other fronts. Despite the Mongols being distracted by their need to complete outstanding ‘steppe business’ with war against, and assimilation of, the Naiman and Merkit peoples of Mongolia, Chinggis’s lieutenant, Mukhali, had used the opportunity of Jin’s war on Song to take the cities of Taiyuan and Daming in 1218 and 1220 and to enter Shandong in 1220. The army that Jin had mustered to eradicate Li Quan was then destroyed by Mukhali. Western Shandong effectively fell to the Mongols and a three-sided war, fought through proxies recruited among bandit clans, ensued between the Mongols, Jin and Song in eastern Shandong. Li Quan attempted to exploit the war for personal gain and, in this increasingly dirty little war, the Song accepted his false proclamations of loyalty to their camp whilst attempting to break up his army by extending generous offers to his subordinates. Song chicanery of this ilk came to Li Quan’s ears whilst bandits in the Mongols’ employ were besieging him at Qingzhou in 1226. He therefore turned to the Jin for support in 1227, but when it became obvious that they were a failing star he opted for the Mongols.

Meanwhile, in the west in 1218 the Tangut of Xi Xia, after attacking the western borders of Jin but failing to make any headway, had then refused to honour troop agreements they had made with the Mongols. Speedy Mongol correction in the form of a punitive invasion forced the Tangut to send troops to serve with Mukhali in the east but this arrangement collapsed once again in 1223 amid mutual recriminations. The Xi Xia were then finally driven by the Mongols’ depredations to parley with their old foe, the Jin. Negotiations ended in the autumn of 1223 with a peace accord, no doubt forced through by mutual fear of the Mongols and by Jin’s need to obtain horses from the Tangut breeding grounds.

The Jin had attempted to secure peace with the Mongols as early as 1220, when envoys were sent far to the west where Chinggis was campaigning against the Khwarazm shah of Persia. However, the offer of recognising the khan as an older brother of the Jin emperor was rejected by Chinggis, and the Jin emperor refused to be ‘demoted’ to king of Henan. Peace negotiations with the Mongols had therefore ended in 1222. Having secured a pragmatic peace with one set of previously inveterate enemies, the Xi Xia, in 1223, the Jin looked now to secure peace with the Song. It was as if China was going to unify, however tardily, in the face of the Mongol onslaught. The last ‘true’ Jin emperor, Aizong, came to the throne in 1224 and his much-reduced empire made peace with Song in the same year, on the basis of Jin giving up its claim for tribute and on an equality of titles between the two emperors. In amongst all this chaos and action the Song emperor, Ningzong, passed quietly away on 17 September 1224. He had been an emperor very much in the background of his own reign; the minister Shi Miyuan had run the country, and the last act he carried out for the dying emperor was to write an edict elevating a new heir to the throne. Ningzong’s children had all died young and one adopted son, Zhao Hong, who was the heir expectant, was replaced by another adoptee, Zhao Yun, almost at the last moment. The succession and enthronement of Zhao Yun as Emperor Lizong went without a hitch despite the odd character of his accession, and the whole affair made the Song state appear as calm as the eye of the storm that was tearing through every other part of China.

Chinggis Khan repaid Xi Xia for its peacemaking with Jin by the near-obliteration of their army in 1226 in a series of battles, one of which was fought upon the frozen waters of the Yellow River, and by a siege of their capital, Zhongxing, in 1227. The siege dragged on, but the liquidation of the Xi Xia state was essentially completed by the time of Chinggis’s death in August 1227.

Jin obtained some respite from the Mongols following the death of the khan, as a regency under Chinggis’s wife attempted to settle the succession issue. This was tricky because, despite some undoubted influence on Mongol polity by Chinese imperial customs, Turco-Mongolic custom had always been for a ‘patrimonial share-out’ of a successful father’s lands and wealth. The apparent solution to this was that Chinggis’s son, Ogedei, was created khagan, or khan of khans, and his brothers were all made khans in their own right. In practice this meant that Ogedei was a primus inter pares and that his writ did not run too far geographically in an empire that already reached to southern Russia and would soon solidify those gains and expand further into the Middle East. His election was also held up for some two years because of an ongoing opposition to his election and animosity from his brother Tolui. Ogedei managed finally to quell all the overt opposition to his reign but the fact that the ‘great khan’ had only limited power over the ‘junior’ khans and that this authority was diminished with each subsequent reign would become more and more apparent as the Mongol empire reached its end.

Ogedei was in a position to recommence the war on Jin in 1230 and from the pool of fifteen- to sixty-year-old males that the Mongol nation made available to him he formed a personal bodyguard of ten thousand men and deployed armies of thirty-nine thousand men in the west and centre under his truculent younger brother Tolui and sixty-two thousand more in the east under his own command. The armies also included Chinese engineers who had defected from the Jin, along with their gunpowder weapons. The Mongol armies met near the Yellow River during the winter of 1231, where, under the command of Subetei, probably Chinggis’s most trusted lieutenant, the army crossed the fords despite the stout defence of some thirty thousand Jin troops. Subetei’s outriders made it to the walls of Kaifeng by February 1232. The Song court had refused passage through Sichuan to the Mongols of Tolui’s western army, but the Mongols journeyed through the province anyway and there was no Song response to the incursion.

A demand for the surrender of the capital was refused by the Jin court and a siege began in April. Further negotiations ended in July when two Jin officers murdered the Mongols’ envoy along with thirty men of his entourage. This apparent act of madness on the part of the Jin officers is more easily understood against the backdrop of Kaifeng’s misery and chaos in the summer of 1232. Disease and famine are of course natural sequelae to any war, but the total collapse of governance and recriminations within the court, with summary executions commonly following a few days after any man’s promotion, were the street theatre of the dying city. The music accompanying the city to its grave was made by the ‘thunder crash’ bombs of both sides and by the fire-lance rockets of the Jin engineers. Arguably, the Jin’s superiority in technology was the only thing that kept the Mongols from rapidly capturing the city. The fire-lance rocketeers would certainly have had an effect on Mongol cavalry, with their long reinforced paper pipes spewing flames over 3 metres long.

February 1233 saw the Jin emperor flee the doomed city for Henan, where he holed up in Caizhou (modern Runan). Kaifeng was left under the control of several generals, and General Xu Li took overall command in May by virtue of his elimination of any dissenting official or general. He then offered the city to Subetei. His act may have constrained the Mongols in their sacking of the city and the massacre that ensued was at least limited to only the male members of one clan. Xu Li was, however, a victim of the Mongol victory as he was murdered by a fellow Jin officer.

Then, in the summer of 1233, rumours spread to the Song court of a Jin plan to cut through the Song border and form a route of escape for Aizong to Sichuan. However, when the Jin crossed the border they were rapidly defeated by General Meng Gong, and the Song counterattack effectively cut the Jin forces at Caizhou off from any hope of relief. The Song army was now fully in control of southern Henan. The confidence this gave the Song meant that Jin emissaries seeking a pact were sent home, without even the courtesy of an audience being extended to them.

Aizong sent more desperate missives to the Song court, begging for at the least supplies, and at the best armed support against the Mongols who were closing on Caizhou by December 1233, but the Song were by this time already plotting with his enemies for the destruction of Jin. Aizong committed suicide and handed the reins of power, worn out though they were, to a distant relative, Mo Di.

The siege of Caizhou saw the entire populace of the region crowded into the city, for fear of the Mongols, and famine quickly ensued. The Song supplied the Mongol army with grain and no Jin relief army would come to the new capital’s aid, as all strategy had broken down and the armies of the Jin were still defending patches of land across the now dead empire. The rainy season was also in full flow and floods slowed those forces that did respond to the Jin emperor’s pleas. In September 1233 the Song had begun retaking their former prefectures from the Jin and their massing on the border of a large army also drew Jin forces away from the war for the heartland.

Before his death Aizong had attempted to buoy his troops defending the southern border with these words:

The fact that the Tatars unleash their forces and often win battles is because of their northern style and because they use the tricks of the Chinese. It is very difficult to fight against them. As to the Song, they are really not our match! They are weak and not martial, just like women. If I had three thousand armoured soldiers, we could march into Chiang and Huai provinces. Take courage

The Jin then defeated the Song at the battle of Changtu Tian and this Song failure must have made it obvious to the Mongols that the Song state was defended by an army that was, despite its size and sophistication, at times, a paper tiger.

By this time, cannibalism had broken out in Caizhou, and the Song, under General Meng Gong, joined the Mongols in besieging the city in November 1233 with ten thousand men. They breached one wall, but were driven out. Then, on 8 January 1234, the Mongols broke the banks of the Lien River and Song engineers diverted the Ju River away from Caizhou. This effectively denuded Caizhou of its western and southern defences and by 20 January the Mongols were in the western part of the city. Mo Di was killed in house-to-house fighting as the Mongols stormed Caizhou on 9 February 1234. A large body of Jin soldiers, loyal to the last, had desperately tried to defend him and perished with him. General Meng Gong seized the Jin imperial seals and part of Aizong’s burned body as proof of the end of the dynasty, and Song garrisons were placed in southern Henan.

The Song had now outlasted two enemy dynasties, the Liao and the Jin, though they themselves had defeated neither and had even failed once against the armies of the dying Jin. Now they faced another invader from the north, one with which they had made common cause with in the last few months of Jin’s demise. A Chinese proverb that predates the Song dynasty tells us, ‘When the lips are gone, the teeth soon become cold.’ The Jin were gone and Song now faced the Mongols alone.

The Mongol Invasion of Hungary 1241 and its Consequences I

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“In this year, after existing for 350 years, the kingdom of Hungary was annihilated by the Tatars.” This terse statement by the Bavarian monk Hermann of Niederaltaich appears in the annals of his monastery for the year 1241. At almost the same time, the Emperor Frederick II wrote to the English King: “That entire precious kingdom was depopulated, devastated and turned into a barren wasteland.” Contemporary witnesses and chroniclers still called the Asiatic attackers “Tatars”, although these already identified themselves as Mongols.

The “Mongol storm” had been in progress in Asia and Eastern Europe for half a generation, buffeting Russians, Cumans and Poles, yet Hungary was the first to be hit with full force by Genghis Khan’s successors. On 11 April 1241 at Mohi by the confluence of the Sajó and Hernád rivers, the Mongol horsemen led by Batu Khan annihilated the numerically superior but ill-led and barricaded Hungarian forces. Amid indescribable chaos the majority of the country’s religious and lay dignitaries were slaughtered, and it was as if by a miracle that the king and some of his young knights escaped. The Mongols followed in Béla’s tracks as far as Klosterneuburg, near Vienna, and finally even besieged the Dalmatian island city of Trogir, where he had taken refuge: in the Mongols’ eyes a country was not definitively vanquished while its rightful ruler still lived. For months the siege of Trogir continued, and the king and with him Hungary—indeed probably the West itself—were only saved by the sudden death of the Great Khan in far-away Karakorum. When this news reached Batu Khan in the spring of 1242, he promptly turned his Mongols around to be present at the contest for the succession. They pulled out of Hungary, laden with plunder and numerous prisoners: even thirteen years later, the missionaries Carpini and Rubruquis, travelling through the region of Karakorum, met Hungarian slaves still in bondage.

The Mongol storm resulted in a deep disruption for the Magyar population from which, according to medievalists such as György Györffy, Hungary never completely recovered. Györffy calculated that some 60 per cent of the lowland settlements were destroyed. The inhabitants who survived the massacres and abductions were threatened by starvation and disease. Failed harvests caused by destruction of the fields and the impossibility of tilling them added to the catastrophe. The situation was somewhat less severe in the regions west of the Danube, as these were only plundered and torched during the Mongols’ advance and never occupied; here the population loss amounted to about 20 per cent. The Slavs of Upper Hungary as well as the Székelys and Romanians of the Transylvanian mountains had come off fairly lightly. In all, according to older estimates, about half of Hungary’s 2 million inhabitants in 1240 became direct or indirect victims of the Mongol invasion.

The attack did not take Béla IV by surprise since he, alone in Hungary and perhaps in all the West, had recognized the deadly danger posed by the Mongols’ obsessive expansionist dreams of world domination. Owing to its still existing relationships with the Russian principalities, Hungary was quickly informed of events in the East, including the ruinous defeat of the Russians and Cumans by the nomad horsemen in 1223. Moreover, while still crown prince Béla had despatched a group of Dominican monks to the East in order to convert to Christianity the Hungarian tribes who, according to tradition, had remained in the old homeland; in his search for Magna Hungaria, the land of the early Magyars, Friar Julian actually came across people beyond the Volga with whom he could communicate in Hungarian, and it was from these “relatives” that he heard of the Mongols’ unstoppable westerly advance. After their return in 1237 one of the friars wrote an account of his travels and sent it to Rome. When Julian set out a second time on his adventurous journey to the East to scout out the Mongols’ intentions, he could no longer reach the ruined homeland of the distant tribesmen, who had by then been overwhelmed. Julian hurried back to Hungary with the terrible news and accurate information about the Mongols’ military preparations. Furthermore, he brought a threatening letter from Batu Khan to King Béla, calling upon him to surrender and hand over the “Cuman slaves” who had taken refuge in Hungary. Béla did not reply to the ultimatum. However, unlike the Pope and the Emperor, who had for years been entangled in a controversy over the primacy of Rome, the King took the Mongol threat seriously, being fully aware that if the charges and demands were ignored by those threatened, a devastating campaign would always follow.

Béla IV therefore suspected what was in store for his country, and prepared for battle. He personally inspected the borderlands, had defence installations prepared on the mountain passes, and tried to assemble a strong army. It was not his fault that, despite these precautions and warnings to the Hungarian nobles, and appeals to the Pope, Emperor Frederick II and the kings of Western Europe, the Mongols descended upon Hungary and wrought devastation following their victory at Mohi. Though intelligent and brave. Béla was not a general and did not have a powerful professional army at his disposal. Even before his father’s Golden Bull the nation’s warriors, formerly ever ready for battle, had become “comfortable landowners” and were no longer a match for the Mongol hordes operating with remarkable precision and planning.

Another factor was present, with consequences hardly ever considered by Western historians with no knowledge of the Hungarian language although it had decisive consequences already in the earliest days of the Hungarian state, and contributed to other great disruptions in the nation’s history—defeat by the Ottomans and Habsburgs. This factor was an ambivalence towards everything foreign. Oscillation between openness and isolation, between generous tolerance and apprehensive mistrust was probably the main cause of the essentially tragic conflict with the ethnic group which would eventually form the backbone of the Hungarian army: the Cumans. Although this Turkic people had repeatedly attacked Hungary in the past, they later sought refuge and support from the Magyars, especially in view of the unstoppable advance of the Mongols. While still crown prince, Béla endorsed the Cumans’ conversion by the Dominicans and accepted the oath of allegiance of one of their princes who converted together with 15,000 of his people—a bishopric was established for these so-called “western” Cumans. Ten years later the “eastern” Cumans also fled from the Mongols across the Carpathians, giving Béla the support of another 40,000 mounted warriors against the impending invasion from Asia. Before admitting them he had them baptized, yet the integration of this nomad people into the by then Christianized and westernized Hungarian society led to tensions and rioting. When the Mongol offensive was already approaching, the distrustful Hungarian nobles attacked and murdered the Cuman Prince Kötöny, whereupon his soldiers, swearing vengeance, took off to Bulgaria leaving in their wake a trail of carnage and destruction. Thus four weeks before the crucial battle at Mohi the King lost his strongest allies.

The same groups of nobles who had aggravated existing tensions in the early phase of the Cumans’ assimilation then complied only hesitantly and reluctantly with the king’s appeals to be in readiness with their contingents. In their accounts the two important witnesses of the Mongol onslaught, Master Rogerius and Thomas of Spalato, revealed clearly the profound differences between the king and a section of the magnates. According to a contemporary French chronicler, Batu Khan heartened his soldiers before the battle of Muhi with the following derogatory slogan: “The Hungarians, confused by their own discords and arrogance, will not defeat you.” The barons, as already mentioned, were incensed mainly by the fact that Béla sought to withdraw his father’s prodigal donations, and that he overrode their opposition in bringing the Cumans into the country and then giving them preferential treatment. They even spread the rumour that the Cumans had come to Hungary, as the Mongols’ allies, to stab the Hungarians in the back at the first opportunity.

The Italian cleric and chronicler Rogerius, who lived through the Mongol invasion, saw this differently. He praised Béla IV as one of the most notable of Hungary’s rulers, who had done a great service to the Church by his missionary work among the pagan people: he had tried—as they deserved—to subdue the “audacious insolence” and insubordination of his barons, who did not balk even at committing high treason. Rogerius defended Béla against the accusation of not having taken steps in time to avert the danger from the Mongols. On the contrary, the nobles had been urged early and repeatedly to gather their regiments and rally to the King. Despite Béla’s obvious inability to impose order on the army, Rogerius blamed the nobles whose antagonism to the King not only denied him vital support in the battle, but virtually willed his downfall—“because they thought that the defeat would only affect some of them and not all.”

Added to the mistrust of foreigners and the discord within their own ranks was the indifference of a silent Western world. The priestly chronicler accuses the European princes of failure to answer the Hungarian King’s calls for help; none of Hungary’s friends had come to its aid in its misfortune. Rogerius does not exclude even the Pope or the Emperor from blame; all had miserably failed. In a letter to Pope Vincent IV Béla wrote in 1253: “We have received from all sides…merely words. […] We have received no support in our great affliction from any Christian ruler or nation in Europe.” The Mongol nightmare determined, consciously or unconsciously, not only the King’s exchange of letters with the various popes and potentates, but also his foreign policy. By far the most important and lasting psychological consequence of the Mongol invasion was the inference “We Hungarians are alone”. The sense of isolation, so characteristic of Hungarians, hardened from then on into a “loneliness complex” and became a determining component of the Hungarian historical image. The calamities of the sixteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries set this reaction into concrete.

The Mongol Invasion of Hungary 1241 and its Consequences II

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Fear of a second Mongol invasion was bizarrely echoed even in King Béla’s dynastic policy. He wrote in a letter to the Pope: “In the interests of Christianity, we let our royal dignity suffer humiliation by betrothing two of our daughters to Ruthenian princes and the third to a Pole, in order to receive through them and other foreigners in the East news about the secretive Tatars.” Clearly an even greater sacrifice, mentioned in the same letter, was the marriage of his firstborn son to a Cuman girl; this was supposed to bind the warlike nomad horsemen, called back a few years after the Mongol attack to the depopulated areas of the Danube-Tisza plains, even closer to the House of Árpád, and hasten their absorption into the Western Christian community.

The aversion to foreigners, even when they were urgently needed as allies; the friction within their own ranks, even in times of extreme danger; and finally the justified sense of aloneness and being at the mercy of others, formed the background to the first catastrophe in the history of the Christian Hungarian kingdom. That the Hungarians felt misjudged, betrayed and besieged by enemies was probably also, or perhaps primarily, the result of what is unanimously criticized in international historiography as “brazen blackmail”. The Austrian Babenberg Duke, Frederick II, set a trap for the fleeing King of Hungary (his cousin and neighbour, not to be confused with the Hohenstaufen Emperor) robbed and imprisoned him. The Austrian was already nicknamed “the Quarrelsome” because he had fallen out with most of his neighbours, even having been temporarily outlawed and divested of his fief in 1236 by the Emperor.

Rogerius, who—as mentioned above—had lived through the Mongol invasion as an eye-witness and was himself imprisoned for a year, described this deed in the thirty-second chapter of his account:

After his flight from the hordes the King rode day and night until he reached the Polish border region: from there he hurried, as fast as he could, by the direct route to the Queen, who stayed on the border with Austria. On hearing this the Duke of Austria came to meet him with wicked intentions in his heart, but feigning friendship. The King had just laid down his weapons and, while breakfast was being prepared, lain down to sleep on the bank of a stretch of water, having by an act of divine providence made his long escape alone from many horrible arrows and swords, when he was awakened. As soon as he beheld the Duke he was very happy. Meanwhile the Duke, after saying other comforting words, asked the King to cross the Danube, to have a more secure rest on the opposite bank, and the King, suspecting no evil, consented because the Duke had said that he owned a castle on the other side where he could offer more befitting hospitality—he intended not to entertain the King but to destroy him. While the King still believed he could get away from Scylla, he fell victim to Charybdis, and like the fish that tries to escape from the frying pan and jumps into the fire, believing that it has escaped misfortune, he found himself in an even more difficult situation because the Duke of Austria seized hold of him by cunning, and dealt with him according to his whim. He demanded from him a sum of money which he claimed the King had once extorted from him. What then? The King could not get away until he had counted out part of that money in coin and another part in gold and silver vessels, finally pledging three adjacent counties of his kingdom.

According to Rogerius, Duke Frederick robbed the Hungarian refugees and invaded the defenceless country with his army. He even attempted to capture Pressburg (now Bratislava) and Györ, which however managed to defend themselves. The chronicler did not realize that Duke Frederick II and Béla IV had old scores to settle. Frederick had attacked Hungary several times since 1233, and had supported an uprising by Hungarian magnates against their King. When András II and his sons. Béla and Coloman, resisted and chased him back to Vienna, the duke could obtain a peace agreement only in return for a costly fine. He had never forgotten this humiliation, and now, against the admonitions of Pope Gregory IX, exploited the Hungarians’ desperate situation.

The historian Günther Stökl referred to the “understandably very negative impression” which “the treachery of its western neighbour left in Hungarian historical consciousness”.5 As is well-known, none of the Central and East European states have school textbooks that treat in a particularly balanced way their own and their region’s history. Still, the chasm is rarely as wide as in the depiction of the episode described by Rogerius. Thus the Hungarian historian Bálint Hóman (1935): “Frederick… capped the disgraceful offence against the right of hospitality to the greater glory of Christian solidarity with an attack on the country suffering under the Tatars.” The Austrian historian Hugo Hantsch (1947) saw the role of the Babenberg Duke differently: “Frederick… stops the Tatars’ advance to Germany… Austria once again proves its worth as the bulwark of the Occident, as the shield of the Empire.”

It was an irony of fate indeed that the moribund kingdom was successful against the expansionist attempts of Duke Frederick of Austria in particular. After Frederick’s death in the battle at the Leitha in June 1246 Béla even got involved in the succession struggle of the Babenbergs and brought Styria temporarily under his control, his son and successor becoming its prince for some years. However, after a serious defeat by Ottokar II of Bohemia at Marchegg in Austria, the Hungarians were no longer able to assert themselves. The “annihilation of the kingdom of Hungary”—never actually came to pass. On the contrary, Béla IV steeled himself after his return for the enormous task of rebuilding the ravaged country, especially the depopulated lowland and eastern areas, which he did with considerable energy, resolve and courage.

Béla, not unjustly dubbed in his country as its second founder after St Stephen for his statesmanship and achievements, still had twenty-eight years ahead of him after the departure of the Mongols. Like Stephen, he was a ruler who practised openness, and the prime mover in an extensive policy of colonization. His realm extended over the entire Carpathian basin and embraced Croatia-Slavonia, Dalmatia and part of Bosnia. The reason why he so quickly regained his political power is partly that the most densely populated western areas of the country were those least affected by the Mongol depredations. Still, his entire domestic and external politics were always haunted by the nightmare of a renewed Mongol incursion, which led to the organizing of a completely new defensive system. The fact that only some castles had withstood the Mongol attacks showed that only well-built forts offered genuine security. That is why the King wanted to see so many cities and smaller places encircled by stone walls. He created a new powerful army, replacing the light archers with a force of heavy cavalry.

Béla managed to resettle the Cumans on the Great Plains, and this foreign tribe came to play an outstanding role in the new army. In his previously cited letter to Pope Innocent IV he wrote: “Unfortunately we now defend our country with pagans, and with their help we bring the enemies of the Church under control.” The Alan Jazyges, originally also steppe horsemen from the East, settled in the country with the Cumans. A royal document of 1267 states that the King had called peasants and soldiers from all parts of the world into the country to repopulate it. German colonists as well as Slovaks, Poles and Ruthenes thus came into Upper Hungary (today’s Slovakia); Germans and Romanians, but also many Hungarians, moved to Transylvania. Soon French, Walloon, Italian and Greek migrants moved to the cities. The Jewish communities of Buda (newly fortified as a royal seat), Esztergom and Pressburg were under the King’s personal protection. Already by 1050, according to the Historical Chronology of Hungary by Kálmán Benda, Esztergom was a centre for Jewish traders who maintained the business connection between Russia and Regensburg and are said to have built a synagogue. Minting was assigned to the archbishopric of Esztergom, which in turn entrusted the task to a Jew from Vienna named Herschel.

King Béla finally had to pay a high political price to the predominantly narrow-minded, selfish oligarchs for the surprisingly fast reconstruction, the promotion of urban development and—his priority—the establishment of a new army. The disastrous concentration of power in the hands of the great magnates remained in force, and in stark contrast to Béla’s radical measures and the reforms passed before the Mongol attack, they were able to assert their old privileges and, even more serious, they were not after all required to return the royal estates and castles, but even received further endowments. This soon created chaotic conditions.

During the last decade of his reign Béla was already embroiled in a serious conflict with his son, the later Stephen V, who was strong in military virtues but power-hungry. Stephen’s rule as sole king lasted only two years; he could not control the mounting tensions between the power of the oligarchs—who by now were feuding among themselves, as were some of the senior clergy—and the lower nobility, who had been supported by Béla as their counterbalance through the granting of privileges. But it was the particularly explosive and unresolved issue of the absorption of the Cuman horsemen into the Hungarian environment which once again impinged disastrously on the royal house itself. Although the Cumans were a mainstay of the new army, especially in campaigns outside Hungary’s borders, the complete socio-religious and linguistic assimilation of the tens of thousands of former nomad horsemen took another two to three centuries.

The marriage of Béla’s son Stephen to Elizabeth, daughter of the treacherously assassinated Cuman prince Kötöny, was meant to seal a lasting reconciliation with this ethnic group. The plan was to give the Cumans parity of treatment with the nobility, but Stephen’s untimely death brought an abrupt end to these endeavours.

Stephen’s son Ladislaus IV (1272–90) was still a child, and the Queen Mother Elizabeth, who called herself “Queen of Hungary, daughter of the Cuman Emperor”, proved to be a puppet in the hands of the power-hungry oligarchs and blatant favourites, and thus totally unfitted for the task of regency. She and her son trusted only Cumans, hindering rather than fostering the precarious process of integration by their exaggerated and demonstrative partiality towards the steppe warriors.

Only once did the young King Ladislaus IV show his mettle—by a historic action at a decisive moment for Austria’s future. It happened on the battlefield of Dürnkrut, where the army of Hungarians and Cumans, estimated at 15,000 men, resolved the conflict between Rudolf of Habsburg and Ottokar II of Bohemia. In the words of the Hungarian historian Péter Hanák, “In the battle of the Marchfeld [Dürnkrut] Hungarian arms helped establish the power-base and imperial authority of the Habsburgs.” Apart from this, the life of the young King, already known in his lifetime as “Ladislaus the Cuman” (Kún László), was an uninterrupted series of scandals, intrigues and bloody settling of scores. The passionate, spirited and, according to tradition, continuously love-struck King for some reason refused to produce a successor with his wife, the Angevin Princess Isabella of Naples, and had her locked up in a convent. When his pagan following and numerous mistresses resulted in a papal interdict, the psychopathic monarch threatened (as the Archbishop expressed it in a letter to the Pope) “to have the Archbishop of Esztergom, his bishops and the whole bunch in Rome decapitated with a Tatar sabre”. Incidentally, Ladislaus IV is supposed to have performed the sex act with his Cuman mistress during a Council meeting in the presence of the dignitaries and high clergy. He was excommunicated, and finally killed at the age of twenty-eight by two Cumans hired by the Hungarian magnates.

Ladislaus died without issue and anarchy followed. Groups of oligarchs ruled their spheres of interest as if they were family estates, and considered the entire country theirs for the taking, dividing it up between themselves. The last Árpád king, András III, was unable to re-establish central authority or prevent the country’s disintegration. He died in 1301, leaving only an infant daughter, and with him the male line of the Árpáds died out. Years of struggle for the coveted throne of Hungary, by now recognized as a member of the European community of states, resulted in 1308 in the victory of the Angevin Charles Robert, grandson of Mary of Naples, sister of Ladislaus IV.

In the long run the politically and, above all, psychologically most significant heritage of the time of “Ladislaus the Cuman” was the “new historical image” of the Hungarians, invented from A to Z by his court preacher Simon Kézai. In his famous letter to the Pope, King Béla still compared the Mongols with Attila and his murderous and fire-raising Huns. Barely a generation later, between 1281 and 1285, the grandson’s court scribe saw the Huns in a quite different light. Kézai, a gifted storyteller, perceived Attila as a worthy ancestor of the Christian kings. From sources he found “all around Italy, France and Germany” this court cleric, a man of simple background, calling himself in his preface an enthusiastic adherent of King Ladislas IV, concocted the evidently desired historical image. He produced the surprising theory of a “Dual Conquest”: the original 108 clans had in the distant past already made up the same people—who at that time were the Huns, and were now the Hungarians. Coming from Scythia, they had already occupied Pannonia once before, around the year 700, and under Attila conquered half the world. They then retreated to Scythia, finally settling permanently in Pannonia. The 108 clans of 1280 were thus, according to Simon Kézai, the descendants of the original community—without any mingling. Thus was born a historical continuity which had never existed.

Mongol: Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

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When the Mongols engaged an opponent’s field army, they used a wide array of tactics to achieve victory. One such tactic, usually the opening one, was a barrage of arrows from a distance. Although this opening volley often inflicted little harm, it allowed the Mongols to see how the enemy would react. To remain in a position under constant fire probably became frustrating, especially for elite units. For massed infantry, often haphazardly armored, it became precarious.

From the Jürcheds, the Mongols adopted a troop composition of roughly 60 percent light cavalry and 40 percent medium-to-heavy cavalry. Army formations essentially consisted of five lines. The first three lines were light cavalry, and the last two were heavy cavalry. During battle the light cavalry released numerous barrages of arrows upon their opponents before retiring to regroup behind the heavy cavalry. After the opponent had become sufficiently disorganized, or after the Mongol commander decided to deliver the final blow, the heavy cavalry would trot forward in silence, accompanied only by the pounding of drums. Just before contact, the riders would release a terrific, collective scream, intended to frighten their opponents.

The key element in battle remained the Mongol barrage, or “storm,” of arrows, after which the Mongols would base their ensuing actions on their observations of their enemy. They would opt either for an enveloping maneuver or for a continued arrow barrage, at a closer, more destructive range. Another tactic was the mangutai, or the so-called suicide attack. In this maneuver a select group of Mongols would harass the enemy lines, showering them with arrows at close range until the enemy finally broke ranks and charged. The Mongols would then flee, still firing their arrows by turning backward in their saddles, a technique known as the Parthian shot, perfected and made famous by Parthian warriors of ancient Persia. After the pursuing forces became strung out and disorganized, the majority of Mongol forces would then charge. Often these forces had been waiting in ambush along the flanks, or were in fact the mangutai troops, who had mounted fresh horses. The pursuing forces would be unable to withstand the cohesive force of the Mongol charge. This maneuver-the feigned rout-was an old steppe trick, one that the Mongols raised to perfection. In the encircling maneuver the Mongols often left a gap between their lines. Eventually, the encircled foe would detect the gap and attempt to escape through it, inevitably leading to a rout, during which the Mongols would pursue and cut down the fleeing soldiers.

The Mongols conducted the majority of their battles at a distance. They possessed a great advantage in the power of their bows and believed in the principle of massed firepower, coordinating their fire arcs through the use of banners, torches, and whistling arrows. Much like that of modern directed artillery fire, the effect of massed Mongol firepower could be devastating.

Mongol use of massed firepower also applied to sieges. At Aleppo in 1400, the Mongols arranged twenty catapults against one gate. The Mongol use of massed firepower-decades before the English use of massed longbow archers-reduced enemy armies, and with catapults and ballistae, demolished city defenses.

Other Mongol tactics included psychological maneuvers. The Mongols often lighted more campfires than normal to make their camps appear to be larger than they were. At times they also mounted dummies on their spare horses, so that their armies would appear from a distance to be larger than they were. Tamerlane contributed the trick of tying branches to the tails of his horses, so that enormous clouds of dust could be seen from a distance, deceiving his enemies. Merchants who served as spies spread rumors far in advance of the army. Furthermore, Mongols treated with leniency cities that surrendered, whereas they crushed mercilessly those that opposed or rebelled.

In terms of strategy, the Mongols had a set method of invasion that varied only slightly from campaign to campaign. The Mongol army invaded in several, usually three, columns: a center force and two flanking corps. The flanking units, in some instances, went into neighboring territories before a rendezvous with the center army, as in the Mongol invasion of Hungary in 1241. Armies sent into Poland distracted the Poles, the Teutonic Knights, and the Bohemians from joining the Hungarians. A screen of scouts and outriders constantly relayed information back to the column. Their preplanned schedule and use of scouts allowed the Mongols to march divided, but to fight united. Furthermore, because their forces marched in considerably smaller concentrations, the Mongols were not impeded by columns stretching for miles. They used their mobility to spread terror on many fronts at the same time; their opponents were rarely prepared to concentrate their forces against them.

The Mongols’ use of many-pronged invasions also fit in with their preferred method of engaging the enemy. The Mongols preferred to deal with all field armies before moving deep into enemy territory. Because the enemy usually sought to meet the Mongols before they destroyed an entire province, reaching this goal was rarely difficult. Furthermore, the Mongols’ use of columns and a screen of scouts enabled the gathering of intelligence that usually allowed the Mongols to unite their forces before the enemy was cognizant of all the different invading forces, thus better concealing their troop strengths. This arrangement also meant that an embattled force could receive reinforcements or, in the advent of defeat, could be avenged.

By concentrating on the dispersion and movement of field armies, the Mongols delayed assault on enemy strongholds. Of course, the Mongols took smaller or more easily surprised fortresses as they encountered them. The destruction of the field armies also allowed the Mongols to pasture their horses and other livestock without the threat of raids. One of the best examples occurred during Genghis Khan’s Khwarizm campaign (c. 1220). The Mongols took the surrounding smaller cities and fortresses before capturing the principal city of Samarqand, in modern Uzbekistan. This strategy had two effects. First, it cut off the principal city from communications with other cities that might provide aid. Second, refugees from these smaller cities fled to Samarqand, the last stronghold. The sight of this streaming horde of refugees, as well as their reports, reduced the morale of the inhabitants and garrison of the principal city and also strained its resources. Food and water reserves were taxed by the sudden influx of refugees. Soon, what once had seemed a formidable undertaking became an easy task.

After conquering the surrounding territory, the Mongols were free to lay siege to the principal city without interference of a field army. Smaller forts and cities could not harry the Mongols, who either foraged or pursued other missions during the siege. Most important, the many Mongol columns and raiding forces had prevented the main city from effectively assisting its smaller neighbors without leaving itself open to attack. Finally, the capture of the outer strongholds and towns provided the Mongols more siege experience as well as raw materials in the form of labor either to man the siege engines or to act as human shields for the Mongols.

The Mongols also strove to destroy any hopes their opponents had to rally by harrying enemy leaders until they dropped. Genghis Khan first did this during his unification of Mongolia. In his first few encounters, the enemy leaders had escaped, which continually haunted him. After this lesson, the Mongols habitually hunted down opposing leaders. In Khw3rizm Sultan 4Al3 al-Din Muwammad (r. 1200- 1220) died alone on an island in the Caspian Sea after being hounded by Jebe and Sabutai. Mongol units relentlessly pursued Jalal ad-Dtn Mingburnu (r. 1220-1231), Muwammad’s son. Béla IV (1206- 1270), king of Hungary, barely escaped the Mongols, led by Batu Khan (died 1255), in 1241, as his boat pushed off of the Dalmatian coast into the Adriatic Sea.

Constantly on the move to avoid the Mongol forces, an enemy leader was unable to serve as a rallying point for his armies, who were also required to keep moving in order to find him. In many reports, the enemy leaders were only a few steps ahead of the Mongols. This strategy also allowed the Mongols opportunities to acquire new intelligence on other lands, because fleeing leaders ran in the opposite direction of the Mongols. The pursuing Mongol forces could then wreak havoc in new territories. Local powers would keep their forces at home, instead of sending them to help their overlords. In many instances the Mongols would defeat local armies they encountered along the way while avoiding the strongholds, another example of the Mongol method of destroying field armies before laying siege. The most important aspect of these pursuit columns was their capacity for destruction and intimidation, which created a buffer between the currently occupied territories and those that recently had been subdued. Thus, the main army could finish its mission of subjugation while the surrounding environs were devastated and rendered harmless.

Books and Articles Biran, Michal. Qaidu and the Rise of the Independent Mongol State in Central Asia. Surrey, England: Curzon, 1997. Gabriel, Richard A. Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan’s Greatest General. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. Hildinger, Erik. Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia, 500 B. C. to 1700 A. D. New York: Sarpedon, 1997. Reprint. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2001. Hull, Mary. The Mongol Empire. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books, 1998. Jackson, Peter. The Mongols and the West, 1221-1410. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005. Kennedy, Hugh. Mongols, Huns, and Vikings: Nomads at War. London: Cassell, 2002. Manz, Beatrice Forbes. The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Martin, H. D. The Rise of Chingis Khan and His Conquest of North China. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1950. May, Timothy. The Mongol Art of War: Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Military System. Barnsley, England: Pen and Sword Military, 2007. Morgan, David. The Mongols. 2d ed. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2007. Prawdin, Michael. The Mongol Empire: Its Rise and Legacy. London: Allen and Unwin, 1940. Reprint. New Brunswick, N. J. AldineTransaction, 2006. Saunders, J. J. The History of the Mongol Conquests. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971. Reprint. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Turnbull, Stephen. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests, 1190-1400. New York: Routledge, 2004. _______. Mongol Warrior, 1200-1350. Illustrated by Wayne Reynolds. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2003.

Mongol Victory at Huan’erzui

Genghis Khan at the Battle of Huan’erzui by Alexis Morand on ArtStation

At Yehuling (Fox Range)   1211, 100,000 Mongols defeat 500,000 Chinese

At the Battle of Huan’erzui (Badger’s Mouth) in February 1212, the Mongols under CHINGGIS KHAN delivered a legendary defeat to the field armies of the Jin dynasty in North China.

The Jin used the Mengan/Mouke system to organize their subjects (especially in the border regions), which made military mobilization much easier. It was a decimal system that was based on tribal structure. The smallest unit was a Puliyen, which contained about 50 households and was lead by a headman of the same title. In wartime this became a fighting unit, and the headman became the officer. Every male member of the group had to provide military service and bring along at least one auxiliary soldier (usually a male slave). A Mouke was a larger unit made up of about 5 or 6 Puliyen or 300 households (often less), lead by an officer of the same title. A single Mouke usually constituted one walled town or village. A Mengan was a unit of 1,000 households (technically. Often it was less), and a Wanhu was 10,000 households (the equivalent of Mongol Tumens). In times of emergency the Jin would also conscript local Chinese peasants.

To beef up border defense the Jin also used nine Jiu units (also known as Juyin). These were ethnically mixed mercenary armies made up of Khitans, Tanguts, Turks, Mongols, etc. The Jiu armies surrendered or defected to the Mongols almost immediately. Genghis Khan himself was part of the Jin border defense system early in his career when he helped the Jin fight the Tatars and was granted the title “Ja’ud-qori”, which meant something like “commander of the frontier”.

Although the Mongols had advanced as far as the capital of North China’s JIN DYNASTY in 1211, they withdrew to the Jin frontier in Inner Mongolia that winter. In February 1212 the Mongols took the border prefecture of Huanzhou (near modern Zhenglan Qi) and besieged Fuzhou. The Jin emperor dispatched the bandit-suppression commissioner, Heshilie Jiujin, to lead the crack cavalry of the ruling Jurchen people and KITANS, assisted by Han (ethnic Chinese) infantry under two civil officials, Duji Qianjianu and Hu Sha. The force totaled several hundred thousand.

Leaving Hu Sha with infantry at Huihebao Fort (modern Huai’an), Heshilie Jiujin and Duji Qianjianu advanced past Yehuling (Fox Range) into Inner Mongolia. While certain Kitan commanders advocated a surprise attack, Heshilie Jiujin preferred to advance his troops in a body and sent an envoy to Chinggis Khan denouncing his invasion. The Mongols besieging Fuzhou (in Inner Mongolia) had been eating breakfast but formed up quickly after hearing of the Jin advance. Although the Mongols were vastly outnumbered, MUQALI, Chinggis Khan’s trusted NÖKÖR (companion), led a cavalry charge, discomfiting the Jin ranks. The main Mongol force then moved up to shatter the Jin troops. Pursuing the fugitives more than 48 kilometers (30 miles) they met Hu Sha’s rear guard at Huihebao Fort, crushing it. The flower of Jin soldiery was destroyed in this battle, which became legendary among the Mongols. The victory was attributed to the fighting qualities of the Mongol cavalry, Heshilie Jiujin’s excessive caution and reliance on numbers, and the disaffection of many Kitan commanders, who resented Jurchen control.

What went wrong with the Badger mouth for the Chinese was probably an issue of training. The Jin likely had an army composed largely of peasant levies rather than professional soldiers. The Mongols on the other hand were a fairly lethal force of highly trained men. If one looks at the numbers a whole lot of Chinese soldiers survived the battle. I suspect they broke really quickly, probably in the face of the Mongol ferocity. The Mongols were famous for their discipline. The Mongol troops of Genghis were probably the most disciplined troops in the world at the time, and likely right up there among the most disciplined forces ever.

The Mongols may also have underestimated the Mongols in terms of man-to-man fighting. Bottle-necking an enemy (as they did at the pass) only works if your own soldiers are man-to-man equal to or superior than the enemy (so you can off-set superior numbers). Here it was a rough analogy to Thermopylae, except the Mongols were the Spartans, not the Chinese. The poorly trained Chinese troops probably became fodder for the Mongol troops, and likely couldn’t bring their over-whelming numbers to bear in any relevant way such as surrounding or flanking the Mongols. It came down to a largely man-to-man slug, and the Mongols chewed up the Chinese. As the Chinese losses mounted, they probably broke in fear, because their discipline would likely have been very poor. As the old adage goes, “you can give a peasant a sword, but it won’t make him a warrior”.

The battle is a classical example of how quality of troops can easily offset quantity, particularly in the right conditions. My opinion of the battle is that the Chinese massively under-estimated Mongol troops and made a horrendous error in choosing their battleground (though given the Mongol superiority in mobility, they may not have had a choice).

And in the narrow confines of the pass, the battle would have been decided not by cavalry charges (where the Iron cavalry would have been useful) but by the sheer individual and group fighting ability. Plus the Mongol superiority in archers would have devastated the Chinese troops. The Mongols were like the Persian Immortals, highly skilled with bow and melee weapons. The fact remains, that a significant number of Chinese troops survived the battle, and yet were not able to reform and take the exhausted Mongols. This indicates that they broke, which means their comparative discipline was poor. Maybe the Chinese elite troops got slaughtered, nobody denies the heavy Mongol losses and only the non-elite troops broke. Either way the difference in discipline shows.

Mongols and Yuan China

Battle of Tumu Fortress

In the late 15th century China was still a world leader in many areas of technology, having enjoyed advanced economic development for many centuries before the West. However, it began to suffer from worsening ossification of the central government and scholar-elite into endemic corruption and a rigid interpretation of Confucianism which ultimately was unable to adapt the rural economy to the expanding population. Late Ming China slowly withered under a baleful climate of stifling bureaucracy and self-imposed insulation from the emerging centers of world trade and technological innovation, which were shifting from China to Europe. For instance, the tendency to concentrate firearms production and casting artillery in centralized locations may have inhibited innovation in design. Political crisis also interfered with military reform and adaptation. At least on land the Xuande emperor had been a committed war leader. His son, Zhu Qizhen (Zhengtong Emperor), was not. Goaded to invade Mongolia, he was captured and lost an army of 500,000 to the Mongols at Tumu in 1449, after which the Mongols advanced on Beijing.

Battle of Tumu, (September 1, 1449)

In 1449 the Ming emperor Zhu Qizhen (Zhengtong), son of the fierce Xuande emperor, was just 21. Accepting advice from his chief eunuch, Wang Zhen, he invaded Mongolia with a huge host several hundred thousand strong and a truly mammoth supply train. Without ever encountering the Mongols the army turned around once it reached the extreme edge of its supplies. Just a few days march from a fortified town, and food and water, its rearguard was ambushed. Another was quickly formed but it too was cut off and wiped out by pursuing Mongols. Then the main body was surrounded. Weak from thirst, hunger, and overlong marches, the Ming Army stood no chance in the battle that followed. Wang Zhen was killed and Emperor Zhu Qizhen captured. As many as 500,000 Chinese may have perished in the Tumu campaign and battle. The Mongol horde then moved toward Beijing, raiding, pillaging, and raping as it passed unimpeded by any Ming army. The eight border garrisons (built by Hongwu but later abandoned by Yongle) did nothing but tend to themselves. As the Mongols were ill-equipped for a siege, after a week of plundering the outlying districts and countryside around Beijing they left, steppe ponies burdened with booty. In 1450 the Mongols released the boy emperor but in the interim his brother had claimed the throne. The Zhengtong Emperor did not regain power until he mounted a successful coup against his brother in 1457. After a long debate over appropriate strategy toward the Mongols, the Ming court decided to adopt a pure defensive posture and began construction of 700 miles of the Great Wall.

After that, the terrified Ming rebuilt old frontier fortifications and added 700 new miles of Great Wall to huddle behind in fear of Mongol raids-in short, they surrendered the old claim to rule Mongolia and shifted to a purely defensive strategy. From 1474 wall-building intensified and the number of firearms troops multiplied, with most in garrisons along the walls. Since their major enemies lacked fortifications, Chinese field tactics emphasized the use of guns mainly in defense. It was only in civil wars that Chinese gunners faced the tactical problem of overwhelming fortifications.

Great Wall

Construction of defensive walls began during the reign of China’s “First Emperor,” Qin Shi Huang, in 221 B. C. E. These connected sections of preexisting border fortifications of Qin’s defeated and annexed enemies, dating to the Warring States period, from which the Qin empire had emerged as victor. The building technique of this remarkable structure was the ancient method of stamped earth that employed masses of slave laborers as well as military conscripts. Some parts of the wall stood for nearly two millennia and were incorporated into the modern “Great Wall” built by the Ming dynasty following the humiliation of defeat and capture of the Zhengtong Emperor at Tumu (1449). After he regained the throne in 1457, the Ming court decided on a purely defensive strategy and began building 700 miles of new defensive walls starting in 1474, fortifying the northern frontier against Mongol raiders. The Ming system involved hundreds of watchtowers, signal-beacon platforms, and self-sufficient garrisons organized as military colonies. Infantry were positioned along the wall to give warning. But the main idea was for cavalry to move quickly to any point of alarm and stop raiders from breaking through. In that, the Ming strategy emulated Mongol practices from the Yuan dynasty. It was also reminiscent, though not influenced by, the Roman defensive system of “limes” which in Germania alone were 500 kilometers long.

The Great Wall was meant to reduce costs to the Ming of garrisoning a thousand-mile frontier by channeling raiders and invaders into known invasion routes to predetermined choke points protected by cavalry armies. This strategy was mostly ineffective. The Great Wall was simply outflanked in 1550 by Mongol raiders who rode around it to the northeast to descend on Beijing and pillage its suburbs (they could not take the city because they had no siege engines or artillery). The wall was also breached by collaboration with the Mongols of Ming frontier military colonies, which over time became increasingly “barbarian” through trade, marriage, and daily contact with the wilder peoples on the other side. Some Han garrisons lived in so much fear of the Mongols they were militarily useless; others lost touch with the distant court and hardly maintained military preparations at all. Finally, the Great Wall could always be breached by treachery or foolhardy invitation. Either or both occurred when a Ming general allowed the Manchus to enter China via the Shanhaiguan Pass to aid in the last Ming civil war in 1644, which brought the Ming dynasty to an end and put the Qing in power.

China never built a defensive wall along its Pacific sea frontier, as it felt no threat from that quarter. And yet, the main threat to its long-term stability and independence came across the Pacific in the form of European navies and marines. As with the 20th century Maginot Line in France, building the Great Wall in some ways signaled Ming defeatism rather than advertised Ming strength. The overall historical meaning of the Great Wall is ambiguous. To some, it signifies the worst features of China’s exploitative past; to others, it celebrates the longevity of China’s advanced, classical civilization.

Tumu Crisis – Wikipedia

The Era of Inter-Mongol Warfare I

The Toluid Civil War was a war of succession fought between Kublai Khan and his younger brother, Ariq Böke, from 1260 to 1264. Möngke Khan died in 1259 with no declared successor, precipitating infighting between members of the Tolui family line for the title of Great Khan that escalated to a civil war. The Toluid Civil War, and the wars that followed it (such as the Berke–Hulagu war and the Kaidu–Kublai war), weakened the authority of the Great Khan over the Mongol Empire and split the empire into autonomous khanates.

The ‘four uluses’: construct and reality

The conflict between Qubilai and Arigh Böke in the Far East in 1260–4, combined with the outbreak of war between Hülegü and Berke in the Caucasus in the winter of 1261–2, had momentous consequences. The Mongol empire fragmented into a number of virtually independent states, each a considerable power in its own right. They are usually listed as follows: (1) the dominions of the ‘Great Khan’ (qaghan) in China and Mongolia proper, known within China as the Yuan empire; (2) the Ilkhanate in Iran, Iraq and Anatolia; (3) the ulus of Chaghadai in Central Asia; and (4) the ulus of Jochi in the western steppes, sometimes called the ulus of Batu or of Berke (and still often termed by historians the ‘Golden Horde’). The conquered Muslims of the empire were now divided among these states. In the first, they represented only a small minority of the subject population; in the second and third, a majority; and in the fourth, at the very least a large and burgeoning minority.

To speak of four khanates, however, is to ignore the other polities termed ulus in our sources, notably the ‘left wing’ of the Jochid realm, the so-called Blue (or, in some sources, White) Horde in western Siberia, presided over by the line of Batu’s brother Orda (see p. 105); Rashīd al-Dīn tells us that although its khans headed their every command (yarligh) with the name of Batu’s successor, they nevertheless enjoyed complete autonomy and did not attend his court. The conventional taxonomy discounts also the extensive domain of Qaidu (d. 702/1303) and his son and successor Chapar, which for over forty years incorporated the Chaghadayid ulus (p. 150). We occasionally encounter the phrase ‘the ulus of Qaidu and Du’a’, as if they ruled jointly over a single state; and this usage is also reflected, anachronistically, in Western European writings. A further anomaly was the existence of the independent Negüderi Mongols or ‘Qara’unas’, former Jochid contingents who had escaped slaughter at Hülegü’s hands in c. 1261, had coalesced in present-day Afghanistan under the local Jochid commander Negüder, and dominated the borderlands between India, Transoxiana and Iran (see p. 148). Until the Negüderis’ subjection by the Central Asian Mongols in the 1290s, and even in some measure thereafter, this territory was no man’s land. Marco Polo describes Negüder as making war on ‘all the Tartars who dwell round about his kingdom’.

On occasions, moreover, one of the ‘four khanates’ splintered. For the last decade of the thirteenth century the western Jochid lands were effectively divided between the khan Toqto’a (690–712/1291–1312), who ruled east of the Dnieper, and his distant cousin and rival, Noghai, whose sway extended from the Dnieper to the Danube; their conflict ended only with Noghai’s defeat and death in 699/1299. In the 1340s the ulus of Chaghadai fractured permanently into a western half, centred on urban Transoxiana, and an eastern half, known as Mughalistān (‘Mongol territory’) and characterized by nomadic culture. Arguably, the Ilkhanate had likewise split into two rival states in 737/1336 with the election of Togha (or Taghai) Temür in Khurāsān.

Insofar as it corresponds to reality, the quadripartite division of the Chinggisid dominions belongs more comfortably in the fourteenth century. This was how Ibn Faḍl-Allāh al-‛Umarī, for instance, saw the Mongol world in c. 1338. The concept would have a long life, into and beyond the Timurid era. The history of the Chinggisids at one time attributed to Temür’s grandson Ulugh Beg (d. 853/1449), and utilized by Khwānd-Amīr in the sixteenth century, bore the title Ta’rīkh-i arba‛a ulūs-i chingīzī (‘History of the Four Chinggisid Uluses’). A hundred years after Ulugh Beg, Mīrzā Ḥaydar Dughlāt could write as if the four major khanates originated with Chinggis Khan’s own conferment of large appanages on his four sons by his chief wife. But the political map that emerged from the events of the early 1260s bore only a limited relation to the system that had evolved out of the conqueror’s distribution of lands. Any apparent parallel amounts to no more than coincidence.

The qaghan and Mongol unity

Had the break-up of the empire occurred by design, historians would no doubt have viewed it as a rational development. By 1260 Mongol expansion had virtually reached the limits of the steppe. The distances between the constituent parts of the empire, moreover, were enormous; it was hardly practicable to dominate them from the old centre at Qaraqorum, still less from Qubilai’s summer capital in the Mongolian-Chinese borderlands, Kaiping (renamed Shangdu and better known as ‘Xanadu’), or his winter residence in Khanbaligh (Dadu, founded between 1266 and 1275 close to the former Jin capital of Zhongdu). But from 1259 until 1304 there was no longer a qaghan who commanded universal recognition throughout the Mongol dominions, and Hülegü’s successors were the only Chinggisids consistently to acknowledge Qubilai and his line. The qaghans continued to despatch to Iran a patent of authority on the accession of each Ilkhan, with the possible exceptions of Tegüder Aḥmad (r. 681–3/1282–4), of whose election Qubilai may have disapproved, and of Baidu, whose reign (694/1295) was too brief. It has been suggested that the reigns of Gaikhatu and Baidu witnessed a loosening of the ties of overlordship, since although both monarchs struck coins in the qaghan’s name (apart from certain of Gaikhatu’s issues) they ceased to employ the title Il-khan. The removal of the qaghan’s name and title from the coinage soon after Ghazan’s conversion to Islam and his enthronement (and a matter of months after Qubilai’s death) did not imply any formal breach with the Yuan. On the contrary: regular diplomatic contacts and cultural exchanges bespeak a relationship between trusted allies, and the qaghans were still conferring exalted titles on certain of the Ilkhan’s chief ministers as late as Abū Sa‛īd’s reign. This allows us to speak of a ‘Toluid axis’ spanning the Asian continent throughout the period down to the 1330s.

Two other expressions of dynastic unity had disappeared soon after 1260. One was the presence within a region of troops owing allegiance to different branches of the imperial family. The other was the possession by the khan and princes of one ulus of rights, property and personnel within the territory of another, as such enclaves inevitably became a target for rulers determined to deprive their rivals of valuable assets and appropriate them for their own purposes. We saw earlier how Hülegü’s assault on the Jochid forces in Iran, followed a few years later by the absorption of Tegüder’s Chaghadayid contingent, terminated the existence of such discrete military forces in the Ilkhanate; how Jochid pasturelands and revenues in Iran passed into Ilkhanid possession; and how Alughu massacred Berke’s dependants in Bukhārā. According to al-‛Umarī, Abagha destroyed workshops in Tabrīz that belonged to Berke. When he turned against the qaghan, Baraq in turn seized the dependants of Qubilai and Abagha in his territory and appropriated their possessions. Late in 666/in the spring or summer of 1268, prior to his invasion of Khurāsān, Baraq despatched Mas‛ūd Beg to the Ilkhan’s court for the purpose of espionage, but with the ostensible mission of conducting an audit of the personal property (inchü) of Baraq and Qaidu in Iran; what became of this property following Baraq’s attack and defeat, we never learn.

The overall result of these changes was the transition from the ulus to the more self-contained khanate, through a consolidation and concentration of resources in the hands of regional khans. On balance, the shift favoured those who ruled over a great many wealthy towns and cities, at the expense of those whose territories for the most part comprised steppe. Princes in Central or Western Asia were still technically entitled to the revenues of certain districts in China, and the Ilkhans, as dutiful subordinates, continued to receive their share, at intervals, down into the fourteenth century. In relation to other, ‘rebel’ Mongol rulers, Qubilai tried to use the rights that they held within his dominions as leverage, to secure their acquiescence in his sovereignty. Marco Polo could perhaps be forgiven for blaming the conflict between Qubilai and Qaidu on the Qaghan’s refusal to send Qaidu what was his due from China; but it has to be said that here the policy was completely ineffective.

The attitude of the khans of the Golden Horde towards the Qaghan shifted. Having backed Arigh Böke in the civil war of 1260–4, Berke withheld recognition from Qubilai following the latter’s victory. His successor Mengü Temür (r. 665–79/1267–80) aligned himself with Qaidu. In 1275, when Qubilai’s son Nomoghan was arrested in Central Asia by a group of mutinous princes in his army, he was packed off as a prisoner to Mengü Temür. Qonichi, the ruler of Orda’s ulus, likewise supported Qaidu. The unwillingness of the Jochids for some decades to collaborate with the Qaghan as they had done in Möngke’s reign may have been as crucial in undermining Qubilai’s efforts to extend his control over Central Asia as were his preoccupations in the Far East. But in 1283 Mengü Temür’s brother and successor Töde Mengü (r. 680–6/1281–7), in consultation with Qonichi, released Nomoghan, sending him back to the Qaghan and acknowledging Qubilai’s supremacy; the prince rejoined his father in Khanbaligh in March 1284. Any rapprochement at this juncture may have been merely temporary, since the Yuan shi indicates that friendship was not restored until the reign of Qubilai’s grandson, the Qaghan Temür (1294–1307). According to Rashīd al-Dīn, a niece of Qubilai named Kelmish Aqa, who was married to a leading Jochid noyan and was the grandmother or mother-in-law (or both?) of Mengü Temür’s son, the khan Toqto’a (r. 690–712/1291–1312), was influential in restoring good relations with the Toluids. Toqto’a may also have been drawn into closer relations with Khanbaligh by the predicament of his ally Bayan, Qonichi’s son and successor, whose rival for the throne of Orda’s ulus was supported by Qaidu and Du’a. In 702/1303 Bayan sent envoys both to the Qaghan Temür and to the Ilkhan Ghazan to propose a grand coalition against the Central Asian Mongols, who in turn strove to prevent a junction between the forces of the Jochids and the Qaghan.

In 1304 Du’a persuaded Chapar to propose a general reconciliation within the Mongol world and to acknowledge the authority of the Qaghan Temür. Chapar’s approach met with a prompt and positive response, and the Ilkhan Öljeitü received an embassy from Temür, accompanied by envoys from Chapar, Du’a, Toqto’a, Orda’s ulus and other princes, and announcing the establishment of peace. But the new-found harmony rapidly dissolved, as we shall see, and no general peace was ever achieved again; even regional peace agreements tended to be short-lived. In 709/1309, following a succession struggle, the Chaghadayids renewed their submission to the qaghan. Yet an exchange in 713/1313 between representatives of the Chaghadayid khan Esen Buqa and one of the qaghan’s frontier commanders illustrates the self-confidence bred in the Chaghadayids’ officers by decades of resistance to the Yuan and by their dynasty’s role in destroying Chapar’s realm. The qaghan’s general reacted violently to the use of the term yarligh by Esen Buqa’s envoys to denote their master’s orders; it could apply, he shouted, to no order but the qaghan’s own; the princes’ orders were styled linkajī (Ch. lingzhi). ‘For us,’ the envoys retorted, ‘Esen Buqa stands in the qaghan’s place.’ Clearly the relationship between the qaghan and regional khans could not be expected to revert to where it had stood in 1259. This altercation heralded a decade-long war between the Chaghadayids and the Yuan, and on occasion also with their Ilkhanid allies. It was not until 723/1323 that Esen Buqa’s successor Köpek (c. 720–6/c. 1320–6) finally made peace with the qaghan and recognized his nominal authority.

Professor Kim has argued that the empire continued to be viewed as a unity even after 1260 and that the constituent khanates were not regarded, and did not see themselves, as independent. The Chinggisids indeed retained – or affected to retain – an undiminished sense of their common ancestry and political heritage. But whereas the two Toluid regimes observed consistently amicable relations, the attitude of the other regional khans ranged from outright opposition to the qaghan to a merely nominal recognition of his seniority. In the late 1330s al-‛Umarī, embarking on his account of the qaghan’s territories, felt obliged to emphasize that the dominions of his kinsmen lay outside his authority. He likened the qaghan’s position to that of a caliph, and commented that if confronted by any important matter they informed him but did not require his sanction.

The ‘Middle Empire’

It is worth pausing to reflect in particular on the situation and distinctive role of the Central Asian Mongol polity. Lying at the heart of the Mongol world, Chaghadai’s ulus came to be known as Dumdadu mongghol ulus, ‘the Middle Mongolian people/state’, a designation that Western European observers had perhaps picked up when they christened it the Medium Imperium (sometimes corrupted to the incongruous Imperium Medorum, ‘the Empire of the Medes’). Following the emergence of the Ilkhanate after 1260, the Chaghadayid state was potentially the greatest source of disruption, since it was now almost totally deprived of access to outside frontiers with non-Mongol powers. In his account of the quriltai convened by Qaidu in 1269, Rashīd al-Dīn makes the khan Baraq refer bitterly to ‘this shrunken ulus (hamīn mukhtaṣar ūlūs)’ and complain that it was both hemmed in by the more extensive lands of his kinsmen and under Qaidu’s thumb; by these means he secured Qaidu’s support for his bid to expand into Ilkhanid territory. Over forty years later, we find Baraq’s grandson, the khan Esen Buqa, apprehensive of being crushed between the Yuan and Ilkhanid forces and considering a pre-emptive attack on Ilkhanid Khurāsān as his only recourse.

The language of our sources suggests that internally, moreover, Chaghadai’s ulus was the least stable and the most volatile. Significantly, both Alughu, in the early 1260s, and Du’a, two decades later, are described as ‘gathering together’ the armies of Chaghadai. We should imagine Central Asia as a veritable reservoir of footloose princes and their followers, alert for new confederates and richer spoils: they included the numerous posterity of both Chaghadai and Ögödei, together with some descendants of both Möngke and Arigh Böke and others belonging to the line of Chinggis Khan’s brother Jochi Qasar. In the wake of Baraq’s failed invasion of Khurāsān and his death in 670/1271, the ulus of Chaghadai went through a period of crisis, and several princes abandoned it to enter the service of Qubilai or the Ilkhan Abagha. Notable among the former group were Alughu’s sons Chübei and Qaban, who spent the rest of their lives fighting for the Yuan; those who joined Abagha included the former khan Mubārak Shāh, a prince named Böjei and certain of Jochi Qasar’s descendants. It must be significant that apart from Baba no princes from the far less constricted Jochid territories are known to have taken refuge in the Ilkhanate (had they done so, Ilkhanid sources would assuredly have told us).

The activities of Qaidu, who according to Waṣṣāf fought as many as forty-one battles, whether with the qaghan’s forces or with others, and his sponsorship of the Chaghadayid Du’a (c. 681–706/1282 or 3–1307), Baraq’s son, who cooperated closely with him, introduced a more forward policy and the recovery of lost territory. But the state he had forged survived him by only a few years. His death and the succession of the weaker Chapar put an end to the alliance. In 705/1305, Du’a treacherously turned against Chapar in the name of his new overlord, the Qaghan Temür, inaugurating a war in Central Asia in which Du’a was supported by several Ögödeyid princes as well as by other members of Chaghadai’s line. The result was the dismemberment of Qaidu’s ulus to the advantage of both the Chaghadayid khan and the Qaghan. A number of princes, headed by Qaidu’s son Sarban, migrated into Ilkhanid Khurāsān and sought refuge under the Ilkhan Öljeitü.

Du’a has a claim to be regarded as the second founder of the Chaghadayid state. From his death until c. 1340 the succession was monopolized by his sons and grandsons, apart from a distant kinsman, Naliqo’a (c. 707–8/c. 1308–9), possibly a grandson of Chaghadai himself, who was regarded as a usurper by the adherents of Du’a’s line and was soon overthrown by Du’a’s son Köpek. When Köpek’s eldest surviving brother Esen Buqa was enthroned as khan (709–c. 720/1309–c. 1320), he united under his rule, in Waṣṣāf’s words, ‘the greater part of the empires of Qaidu and Du’a’; Talas, at one time Qaidu’s chief residence, was now Esen Buqa’s summer quarters. Yet although Waṣṣāf hails Esen Buqa’s accession as introducing a period of peace and repose in the ulus of Chaghadai, fresh tensions arose. Already Chapar, seeking to retrieve his position, had been worsted by Du’a’s sons (708/1309) and had taken refuge in China, where Temür’s successor Qaishan (reigned as Wuzong, 1307–11) granted him and his descendants land and an honorific title. Esen Buqa entrusted Köpek with an enormous territory in the west, namely Farghāna and Transoxiana, possibly in order to concentrate his own energies on the conflict with the qaghan’s forces. But a distant cousin and ally, Naliqo’a’s great-nephew Yasa’ur, whose encampment (yurt) lay near Samarqand and who no doubt resented Köpek’s new-found authority in Transoxiana, quarrelled violently with him, and an armed struggle ensued before Yasa’ur abandoned Transoxiana for Khurāsān in 716/1316 to throw himself on Öljeitü’s mercy.

A glance at the frontier with Orda’s ulus, to the north, brings home vividly how far the territory of these steppe polities shifted. The outcome of the early fourteenth-century civil war among Orda’s progeny, which was still raging in 712/1313, is uncertain.52 But in 705/1305 Chapar was able to make his headquarters in the vicinity of the Irtysh and the Altai; the former region, at least, had at one time been the kernel of Orda’s territory and may have been recently acquired. On the other hand, Rashīd al-Dīn had spoken of the territory of Talas and ‘Old Sayrām’ (formerly Isfījāb) as belonging to Qaidu but adjacent to the realm of Orda’s grandson Qonichi. By the middle decades of the fourteenth century the khans of Orda’s line had extended their authority over Jand, Barchinlighkent, Sighnāq and Sawrān; Bayan’s son, the khan Sasi Buqa, was buried in Sawrān in 720/1320–1 and his grandson, Īrazān, in 745/1344–5 at Sighnāq, where the rulers of this branch were striking coins by 768/1366–7. This marked shift in the centre of gravity of the Blue Horde may have begun in the era of Chaghadayid weakness in the 1270s and have accelerated during the struggle between Chapar and Du’a in the early fourteenth century.

Inter-Mongol conflicts and the imperial enterprise

The rivalries between Mongol powers effectively halted the growth of the empire in the west. Imperial expansion between 1229 and 1260 had focused the resources of the Chinggisids on the task of realizing the work begun by their revered ancestor – namely, bringing the known world into the yeke mongghol ulus. That period had not been free of tension, as is clear from the succession dispute of 1241–6 and, more conspicuously, that of 1250–1; but the more violent and more prolonged confrontations from 1260–1 onwards inaugurated a period of stasis. Berke’s invasion of Poland in 1259 and Hülegü’s invasion of Syria and Palestine in 1259–60 marked the last major attacks on independent powers by forces representing the entire Chinggisid dynasty. The growth of Hülegü’s fledgling Ilkhanate was effectively at an end following the defeats at Mamlūk hands late in 1260. Of the invasions of Syria launched by the Ilkhans, in 1281, 1299, 1300 and 1303, the second alone was successful, when Ghazan inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Mamlūk army and overran the country; but even then the Mongol forces withdrew after a matter of weeks.

The Ilkhanid pasturelands south of the Caucasus were vulnerable to the Jochid forces; those of Khurāsān (notably the meadows of Shabūrghān and the Bādghīs) and Māzandarān, to the Mongols of Central Asia. Not for nothing did Hülegü and his successors spend more time in both regions than in any other part of their dominions; and even when the Ilkhan in person was not in the east, his son or future successor tended to be stationed there as viceroy of Khurāsān and Māzandarān – Abagha on Hülegü’s behalf, Arghun for the latter part of Abagha’s reign and under his uncle Tegüder Aḥmad, Ghazan from 683/1284 under Arghun and Gaikhatu, Öljeitü throughout the reign of his brother Ghazan, and Öljeitü’s son, the young Abū Sa‛īd, for a few years prior to his accession.

Abagha’s envoys at the Second Council of Lyons (1274), seeking Western cooperation against the Mamlūks, blamed his previous failure to move against Egypt on the fact that his empire was surrounded by the mightiest enemies. Those enemies chose their moment with care. When Chaghadayid forces raided Fārs in 700/1301, they were exploiting Ghazan’s absence on campaign in Syria. In pursuit of their policy of containing the Ilkhanate, the Mamlūk Sultans were in frequent contact with the khans of the Golden Horde, and sometimes with Qaidu and the Chaghadayids also. On occasions the Ilkhans must have experienced the same sense of constriction as did the Chaghadayids. An informant from Transoxiana in 715/1315 told Öljeitü that Esen Buqa and Köpek, Özbeg of the Golden Horde and the Mamlūk Sultan al-Nāṣir Muḥammad b. Qalāwūn had formed a coalition against him, with a view to partitioning Iran among themselves; though in the event the man was denounced as a liar and a spy and imprisoned in Tabrīz gaol.

Only in the Far East, under Qubilai, was the momentum of expansion maintained for a time against external powers. But apart from those princes who had entered the Qaghan’s service or those who, like the Ilkhans, maintained cordial relations with him from a distance, the other Chinggisid lines had no share in these triumphs or the resulting access of fresh spoils. As the imperial dynasty turned in upon itself, conflict between the uluses over frontier territories threatened to absorb the energies that had hitherto been directed against unsubdued and defiant states. The external advances dried up that would have yielded new appanages for the next generation. Prior to 1259, admittedly, not every prince had received an appanage; but thereafter the pool of grazing-lands, revenues and human capital dwindled in relation to the number of aspiring Chinggisids. Princes and noyans, with their followers, might accordingly be readier to desert their khan for the prospect of greater rewards from one of his hostile neighbours, and in the act of doing so they sometimes perpetrated considerable damage as a parting shot. When relatively long-distance movements of this sort had occurred in the era of the unitary empire, it was in response to the decision of a quriltai and the qaghan’s fiat; now they were unpredictable and unregulated.