|Siege of Baghdad (1258)|
|Part of the Mongol invasions|
Hulagu's army besieging the walls of Baghdad
|Commanders and leaders|
|120,000[unreliable source?]-150,000[unreliable source?]||50,000|
|Casualties and losses|
|Unknown but believed to be minimal|
The siege of Baghdad was a siege that took place in Baghdad in 1258, lasting for 13 days from January 29, 1258 until February 10, 1258. The siege, laid by Ilkhanate Mongol forces and allied troops, involved the investment, capture, and sack of Baghdad, which was the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate at that time. The Mongols were under the command of Hulagu Khan, brother of the khagan Möngke Khan, who had intended to further extend his rule into Mesopotamia but not to directly overthrow the Caliphate. Möngke, however, had instructed Hulagu to attack Baghdad if the Caliph Al-Musta'sim refused Mongol demands for his continued submission to the khagan and the payment of tribute in the form of military support for Mongol forces in Persia.
Hulagu began his campaign in Persia against the strongholds of Nizari Ismailis, who lost their stronghold of Alamut. He then marched on Baghdad, demanding that Al-Musta'sim accede to the terms imposed by Möngke on the Abbasids. Although the Abbasids had failed to prepare for the invasion, the Caliph believed that Baghdad could not fall to invading forces and refused to surrender. Hulagu subsequently besieged the city, which surrendered after 12 days.
During the next week, the Mongols sacked Baghdad, committing numerous atrocities; there is debate among historians about the level of destruction of library books and the Abbasids' vast libraries. The Mongols executed Al-Musta'sim and massacred many residents of the city, which was left greatly depopulated. The siege is considered to mark the end of the Islamic Golden Age, during which the caliphs had extended their rule from the Iberian Peninsula to Sindh, and which was also marked by many cultural achievements in diverse fields.
Baghdad had for centuries been the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, the third caliphate, whose rulers were descendants of Abbas, an uncle of Muhammad. In 751, the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads and moved the Caliph's seat from Damascus to Baghdad. At the city's peak, it was populated by approximately one million people and was defended by an army of 60,000 soldiers. By the middle of the 13th century the power of the Abbasids had declined and Turkic and Mamluk warlords often held power over the Caliphs.
Baghdad still retained much symbolic significance, and it remained a rich and cultured city. The Caliphs of the 12th and 13th centuries had begun to develop links with the expanding Mongol Empire in the east. Caliph an-Nasir li-dini'llah, who reigned from 1180-1225, may have attempted an alliance with Genghis Khan when Muhammad II of Khwarezm threatened to attack the Abbasids. It has been rumored that some Crusader captives were sent as tribute to the Mongol khagan.
According to The Secret History of the Mongols, Genghis and his successor, Ögedei Khan, ordered their general Chormaqan to attack Baghdad. In 1236, Chormaqan led a division of the Mongol army to Irbil, which remained under Abbasid rule. Further raids on Irbil and other regions of the caliphate became nearly annual occurrences. Some raids were alleged to have reached Baghdad itself, but these Mongol incursions were not always successful, with Abbasid forces defeating the invaders in 1238 and 1245.
Despite their successes, the Abbasids hoped to come to terms with the Mongols and by 1241 had adopted the practice of sending an annual tribute to the court of the khagan. Envoys from the Caliph were present at the coronation of Güyük Khan as khagan in 1246 and that of Möngke Khan in 1251. During his brief reign, Güyük insisted that the Caliph Al-Musta'sim fully submit to Mongol rule and come personally to Karakorum. Blame for the Caliph's refusal and for other resistance offered by the Abbasids to increased attempts by the Mongols to extend their power was placed by the khagans on Chormaqan's lieutenant and successor, Baiju.
In 1257, Möngke resolved to establish firm authority over Mesopotamia, Syria, and Persia. The khagan gave his brother, Hulagu, authority over a subordinate khanate and army, the Ilkhanate, and instructions to compel the submission of various Muslim states, including the caliphate. Though not seeking the overthrow of Al-Musta'sim, Möngke ordered Hulagu to destroy Baghdad if the Caliph refused his demands of personal submission to Hulagu and the payment of tribute in the form of a military detachment, which would reinforce Hulagu's army during its campaigns against Persian Ismaili states.
In preparation for his invasion, Hulagu raised a large expeditionary force, conscripting one out of every ten military-age males in the entirety of the Mongol Empire, assembling what may have been the most numerous Mongol army to have existed and, by one estimate, 150,000 strong. Generals of the army included the Oirat administrator Arghun Agha, Baiju, Buqa Temür, Guo Kan, and Kitbuqa, as well as Hulagu's brother Sunitai and various other warlords. The force was also supplemented by Christian forces, including the King of Armenia and his army, a Frankish contingent from the Principality of Antioch, and a Georgian force, seeking revenge on the Muslim Abbasids for the sacking of their capital, Tiflis, decades earlier by the Khwarazm-Shahs. About 1,000 Chinese artillery experts accompanied the army, as did Persian and Turkic auxiliaries, according to Ata-Malik Juvayni, a contemporary Persian observer.
Hulagu led his army first to Persia, where he successfully campaigned against the Lurs, the Bukhara, and the remnants of the Khwarezm-Shah dynasty. After subduing them, Hulagu directed his attention toward the Nizari Ismailis and their Grand Master, Imam Ala al-Din Muhammad, who had attempted the murder of both Möngke and Hulagu's friend and subordinate, Kitbuqa. Though the Order of Assassins failed in both attempts, Hulagu marched his army to their stronghold of Alamut, which he captured. The Mongols later executed the Assassins' Grand Master, Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah, who had briefly succeeded 'Ala al-Din Muhammad from 1255-1256.
After defeating the Assassins, Hulagu sent word to Al-Musta'sim, demanding his acquiescence to the terms imposed by Möngke. Al-Musta'sim refused, in large part due to the influence of his advisor and grand vizier, Ibn al-Alkami. Historians have ascribed various motives to al-Alkami's opposition to submission, including treachery and incompetence, and it appears that he lied to the Caliph about the severity of the invasion, assuring Al-Musta'sim that, if the capital of the caliphate were to be endangered by a Mongol army, the Islamic world would rush to its aid.
Although he replied to Hulagu's demands in a manner that the Mongol commander found menacing and offensive enough to break off further negotiation, Al-Musta'sim neglected to summon armies to reinforce the troops at his disposal in Baghdad. Nor did he strengthen the city's walls. By January 11 the Mongols were close to the city, establishing themselves on both banks of the Tigris River so as to form a pincer around the city. Al-Musta'sim finally decided to do battle with them and sent out a force of 20,000 cavalry to attack the Mongols. The cavalry were decisively defeated by the Mongols, whose sappers breached dikes along the Tigris River and flooded the ground behind the Abbasid forces, trapping them.
The Abbasid caliphate could supposedly call upon 50,000 soldiers for the defense of their capital, including the 20,000 cavalry under al-Musta'sim. However, these troops were assembled hastily, making them poorly equipped and disciplined. Although the caliph technically had the authority to summon soldiers from other Muslim empires to defend his realm, he neglected or lacked the ability to do so. His taunting opposition had lost him the loyalty of the Mamluks, and the Syrian emirs, whom he supported, were busy preparing their own defenses.
On January 29, the Mongol army began its siege of Baghdad, constructing a palisade and a ditch around the city. Employing siege engines and catapults, the Mongols attempted to breach the city's walls, and, by February 5, had seized a significant portion of the defenses. Realizing that his forces had little chance of retaking the walls, Al-Musta'sim attempted to open negotiations with Hulagu, who rebuffed the Caliph. Around 3,000 of Baghdad's notables also tried to negotiate with Hulagu but were murdered. Five days later, on February 10, the city surrendered, but the Mongols did not enter the city until the 13th, beginning a week of massacre and destruction.
Contemporary accounts state Mongol soldiers looted and then destroyed mosques, palaces, libraries, and hospitals. Priceless books from Baghdad's thirty-six public libraries were torn apart, the looters using their leather covers as sandals. Grand buildings that had been the work of generations were burned to the ground. The House of Wisdom (the Grand Library of Baghdad), containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects ranging from medicine to astronomy, was destroyed. Claims have been made that the Tigris ran red from the blood of the scientists and philosophers killed. Tales of the destruction of books - tossed into the Tigris such that the water turned black from the ink - seem to originate from the 14th century.
Citizens attempted to flee, but were intercepted by Mongol soldiers who killed in abundance, sparing no one, not even children. Martin Sicker writes that close to 90,000 people may have died. Other estimates go much higher, but are almost certainly exaggerated.
The caliph Al-Musta'sim was captured and forced to watch as his citizens were murdered and his treasury plundered. According to most accounts, the caliph was killed by trampling. The Mongols rolled the caliph up in a rug, and rode their horses over him, as they believed that the earth would be offended if it were touched by royal blood. All but one of Al-Musta'sim's sons were killed, and the sole surviving son was sent to Mongolia, where Mongolian historians report he married and fathered children, but played no role in Islam thereafter (see The end of the Abbasid dynasty).
Hulagu had to move his camp upwind of the city, due to the stench of decay from the ruined city.
The historian David Morgan has quoted Wassaf describing the destruction: "They swept through the city like hungry falcons attacking a flight of doves, or like raging wolves attacking sheep, with loose reins and shameless faces, murdering and spreading terror...beds and cushions made of gold and encrusted with jewels were cut to pieces with knives and torn to shreds. Those hiding behind the veils of the great Harem were dragged...through the streets and alleys, each of them becoming a plaything...as the population died at the hands of the invaders."
Some modern historians have cast some doubt on the vehemently anti-Mongol medieval sources. George Lane (SOAS), for example, doubts the Grand Library was destroyed as the learned members of the Mongol command such as Nasir al-Din Tusi would not have allowed it, and that disease was the major cause of death. Primary sources state that Tusi saved thousands of volumes and installed them into a building in Mar?gheh.
Some historians believe that the Mongol invasion destroyed much of the irrigation infrastructure that had sustained Mesopotamia for many millennia. Canals were cut as a military tactic and never repaired. So many people died or fled that neither the labour nor the organization were sufficient to maintain the canal system. It broke down or silted up. This theory was advanced (not for the first time) by historian Svatopluk Sou?ek in his 2000 book, A History of Inner Asia.
Hulagu left 3,000 Mongol soldiers behind to rebuild Baghdad. Ata-Malik Juvayni was later appointed governor of Baghdad, Lower Mesopotamia, and Khuzistan after Guo Kan went back to the Yuan dynasty to assist Kublai's conquest over the Song dynasty. The Mongol Hulagu's Nestorian Christian wife, Dokuz Khatun successfully interceded to spare the lives of Baghdad's Christian inhabitants. Hulagu offered the royal palace to the Nestorian Catholicos Mar Makikha, and ordered a cathedral to be built for him.
Initially, the fall of Baghdad came as a shock to the whole Muslim world; after many years of utter devastation, the city became an economic center where international trade, the minting of coins and religious affairs flourished under the Ilkhans. The chief Mongol darughachi was thereafter stationed in the city.
In the campaigns waged in western Asia (1253-1258) by Jenghis' grandson Hulagu, "a thousand engineers from China had to get themselves ready to serve the catapults, and to be able to cast inflammable substances." One of Hulagu's principal generals in his successful attack against the caliphate of Baghdad was Chinese.