Mongol Invasion of the Islamic World

Episode 28: Mongol Invasion of the Islamic

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

Unlike Genghis Khan, who made no effort to rehabilitate the steppes cities he leveled, his son Ogedei redeveloped the cities he conquered in the eastern Abbasid Caliphate by appointing trusted administrators to run them. Yet Muslims remained in firm control in the region surrounding Baghdad, and the Mamaluks (aka Slave Sultans)* remained in sole control of Egypt.

The Mongol Empire experienced an internal civil war following Ogedei’s death in 1241. Eventually (1251) the position of great khan passed to Genghis Khan’s grandson Mongke.

He appointed Batu ruler of the Mongols and Turks on the western steppes, a post inherited by Berke following Batu’s death. The heirs of Genghis Khan’s second son  Jugatai assumed responsibility for the central steppes. Kublai Khan assumed responsibility for the eastern steppes, and his grandson Hulagu for the eastern Islamic empire.

In addition to the Mamaluks, who continued to receive slave solders from the steppes (via the Byzantine Empire), the other major threat to Mongol rule stemmed from an extremist Shiite group operating out of Alamut (Persia) that carried out orchestrated assassinations of Middle East and Central Asia political leaders.

In his largest military campaign, Hulagu and his troops left the Mongol capitol of Kharakan in 1253. Arriving in Samarkind by 1255, by 1257 they had leveled most of the Shiite assassins’ palaces and confiscated huge libraries of intelligence the Shiites had collected on Mongol opponents.

After securing Persia, in 1258 Hulagu next moved against the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, with support from Christians in Armenia and Antioch. He slaughtered a total of 800,000 civilians in Baghdad, sparing the Nestorian Christians living there because his wife was a Nestorian Christian.

In 1259 he sacked Al Jazeera, the grasslands and cities comprising modern-day Syria, marching as far southwest as Gaza on the Mediterranean. In response, the Mamaluk army (with the help of Crusaders) marched north to Galilee to confront the Mongol army (consisting mainly of Turkish mercenaries). This resulted in the Mongol Army’s very first defeat.

In 1259, Hulagu suspended operations after being notified of the great khan Monke’s death. This would spell the end of Mongol westward military expansion.

*Historically Turkish military leaders relied heavily on civilians and troops they conquered in battle and trained as slave soldiers. See 9th Century AD: Mass Migration of Uighur Turks to the Steppes fo China Leads to Rise of Seljuk Turks on the Steppes

Film can viewed free with a library card at Kanopy.

The Turkish Conquest of Northern India

Episode 24: The Sultans of Dehli

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

In this lecture, Harl focuses on the Turkish conquest of northern India in the late 12th and early 13th century.

After clinching numerous victories in Delhi and other Hindu cities in northern India, the Seljuk Turk Muhammad of Ghazni died in 1206. The son of a slave soldier* himself, Muhammad delegated administration of the conquered territory to slave soldiers. Thus Delhi rulers following Mahmud’s death are frequently referred to as the “Slave Sultans of Delhi.”

Mahmud’s son Iltutmish extended the Seljuk conquest as far south as the Ganges. He ruled with the oversight of a governing council consisting of Muqtis (landholders). Iltutmish groomed his daughter Radiza Begum to succeed him.** Despite being an able (but not great) ruler, her efforts to reduce the power of her governing council led to a full scale rebellion to overthrow her rule.

Her successors continued to conduct raids into the Hindu kingdoms of southern India for loot to finance the Turkish occupation.

Although the sultans of India successfully resisted repeated Mongol invasions from 1220 on, they had a relatively weak military and focused mainly on public monument construction (mosques, madrassas, minarets, mausoleums, etc). Many were built from the remains of Hindu temples. Delhi, formerly a minor city became the center of Muslim power in India. Many of the minarets and mosques from this period persist to the present day.

Despite the Turkish military occupation, Islam would remain a minor religion in India. This was in part due to the failure of large numbers of Turk settlers to migrate to India and in part due to the persistence of strong Tantric (Hindu) rituals in the rural villages. By 1350, all the Muslim cities of northern India were still surrounded by Hindu farm communities.

*As growing numbers of steppes Turks converted to Islam, it became common for their Islamic overlords (as well as the Turks themselves) to enslave warriors they captured in battle to serve in their own armies.

**This was consistent with steppes tradition of appointing women of high rank to become rulers.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

9th Century AD: Mass Migration of Uighur Turks to China Leads to Rise of Seljuk Turks on the Steppes

Episode 21: The Rise of the Seljuk Turks

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

Harl asserts the real beneficiaries of the Battle of Talas (see How the 751 Muslim War with China Left Steppes Under Turkish Control) were the Turks. In 840 AD, a civil uprising in the Uighur Khanate led Uighurs to migrate en masse to China and the caravan cities of the Tarim Basin. The Abbassid Caliphate welcomed the emergence of new Turkish tribes on the steppes and the greater availability of Turkish slaves.

For two centuries prior to their conversion to Islam, Turks entered the Islamic world as imperial bodyguards, as well as slave and mercenary soldiers.

The first mass conversion of Turks (entire tribes) occurred in the 10th century. Kashgar would be the first caravan city to adopt Islamic culture, using a Persian version of Arabic script in the first Turkish literature.

After a long period of inter-tribal warfare, the Seljuk Turks became the predominant tribe on the steppes. In 1071 AD (as agents of the Abassid Caliphate), they invaded and captured both Persia and Baghdad. From then on, the Abassid Caliphate would be ruled by Seljuk sultans.*

*Sultan is defined as a king or sovereign of a Muslim state

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.