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Ages of Conquest: a Kings and Generals Podcast

Sep 20, 2021

“Ket Buqa Noyan kept attacking left and right with all zeal. Some encouraged him to flee, but he refused to listen and said, “Death is inevitable. It is better to die with a good name than to flee in disgrace. In the end, someone from this army, old or young, will reach the court and report that Ket Buqa, not wanting to return in shame, gave his life in battle. The padishah should not grieve over lost Mongol soldiers. Let him imagine that his soldiers’ wives have not been pregnant for a year and the mares of their herds have not folded. [...]The life or death of servants like us is irrelevant.” Although the soldiers left him, he continued to struggle in battle like a thousand men. In the end his horse faltered, and he was captured. [...] After that, Ket Buqa was taken before Quduz with his hands bound. “Despicable man,” said Quduz, “you have shed so much blood wrongfully, ended the lives of champions and dignitaries with false assurances, and overthrown ancient dynasties with broken promises. Now you have finally fallen into a snare yourself.”[...]

    “If I am killed by your hand,” said Ket Buqa, “I consider it to be God’s act, not yours. Be not deceived by this event for one moment, for when the news of my death reaches Hülägü Khan, the ocean of his wrath will boil over, and from Azerbaijan to the gates of Egypt will quake with the hooves of Mongol horses. They will take the sands of Egypt from there in their horses’ nose bags. Hülägü Khan has three hundred thousand renowned horsemen like Ket Buqa. You may take one of them away.”


    So the great Ilkhanid vizier and historian Rashid al-Din records the heroic, and certainly greatly dramatized, account of Kitbuqa Noyan’s final stand at the battle of Ayn Jalut in September 1260. This was the famous Mongol defeat at the newly established, and rather fragile, Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt. The Mongols however, did not see it as an irreversible cataclysm, but the defeat of a small force which would soon be avenged, for Heaven demanded nothing less. The  defeat of the Mongols at Ayn Jalut in 1260 was not the end of the war between the Mongols and the Mamluks, and over the next 50 years Hulegu’s successors, the Ilkhans, tried repeatedly to avenge their losses only to be halted by the Mamluks’ valiant resistance.  Here, we will look at the efforts by the Mongol Ilkhanate to bring their horses to the Nile. I’m your host David, and this is Kings and Generals: Ages of Conquest.


    First, we should note that for anyone wishing to read more about the war between the Mongols and the Mamluks, the most detailed work on the subject can be found in Reuven Amitai-Preiss’ Mongols and Mamluks: The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War, released in 1995. No other work details the entire conflict and its sources so fully, and is an absolute must read for anyone desiring the most effective overview on the subject possible.


    With the death of Grand Khan Mongke in 1259, the Mongol Empire was irrevocably broken: while Hulegu and his successors stayed on good terms with his brother Khubilai, the nominal Great Khan, Hulegu was independent, ruler of  vast domain stretching from Anatolia to the Amu Darya, known as the Ilkhanate. Hulegu’s cousins in the neighbouring Golden Horde, Chagatai Khanate and the Neguderis were almost immediately antagonistic to the Ilkhans, who found themselves defending their distant frontiers from all three, in addition to internal revolts. For the Ilkhans, the Mamluks were but one frontier amongst several, one they could turn to only when the threat from the other Khanates was low. More often than not, this simple fact prevented any great Ilkhanid invasion of the Mamluk state.


For the Mamluks though, their border with the Ilkhanate along the Euphrates river was of utmost importance. In the aftermath of Ayn Jalut, the Mamluk Sultan Qutuz was assassinated by the energetic Baybars, who had fought alongside Qutuz against Kitbuqa. We introduced Baybars back in episode 30 of this podcast. While much credit can be given to Qutuz and the quality of the Mamluk soldiery for the victory at Ayn Jalut, the reason for continued Mamluk successes against the Mongols can be attributed to Baybars. A Qipchaq from the great Eurasian steppe, as a young boy Baybars had been sold into slavery to the Ayybuid Sultan of Egypt. There, Baybars was converted to Islam and received extensive training in all matter of military affairs. An excellent soldier, coupled with  immense ambition, endurance and drive, Baybars understood clearly the danger the Mongols posed, and set up his entire kingdom to defend against them. 


The new Sultan greatly expanded the Mamluk regiments, encouraging good relations with the Golden Horde, Genoese and Byzantine Empire to keep up the flow of Turkic slave soldiers from the Eurasian steppe, over the Mediterranean to the ports of Egypt. He established a sophisticated intelligence network to inform him on the Ilkhanate and spread misinformation within it, supported by a system of signal towers, messenger pigeons, improved roads, bridges and relay stations to rapidly send messages. This was the barid, which served as the Mamluks’ answer to the Mongol yam system. Its riders reported directly to the Mamluk Sultan.  Frontier fortifications along the Euphrates River like al-Bira and al-Rahba were strengthened, and they served as the first line of defence when the armies of the Ilkhanate advanced. When messengers raced down from Syria to Egypt with news of a Mongol assault,  Baybars would immediately march with an army from Cairo to meet them head on. More often than not, the Mongol attack party would return to the Ilkhanate rather than face Baybars head on. His swift reaction kept border officials loyal, feeling their Sultan would soon be there to assist them, or to punish defections. Rather than face the Mongols in battle, garrisons of cities in Syria past the Euphrates border were ordered to withdraw and regrouped at designated locations during invasions, facing the Mongols with united forces or awaiting the Sultan.  Baybars would not allow the Mongols to overrun his empire piecemeal, as they had the Khwarezmian Empire some forty years prior.


Baybars cultivated relations with bedouin nomads across Syria, who provided valuable auxiliaries, intelligence and also to keep them from allying with the Mongols.  Finally, he strengthed his position domestically, controlling the economy and  appointing his own Caliphs to legitimize himself, presenting himself as the defender of Islam. Baybars prepared his entire kingdom for Mongol attacks, a highly effective system the Ilkhanate struggled against. For the Ilkhans, the theater with the Mamluks was a sideshow, one to attack only when other frontiers were secured. The Mamluk Sultanate itself had no hope of conquering the Ilkhanate or seriously threatening it, so the various Ilkhans felt no great rush to overwhelm the Mamluks. In contrast, for the Mamluks the Ilkhanid border was of utmost importance: Baybars had to levy almost entirety of the Mamluk army to repel the Mongols, and thus not even a single defeat could be afforded for it would allow the Mongols to overrun Egypt, and the remainder of the Islamic west. Thus did Baybars finetune a system that proved remarkably successful at defending against the house of Hulegu, although it demanded great personal ability on the part of the monarch, and Baybars’ successors struggled to compare to his vision. 


Soon after Ayn Jalut in September 1260, a Mongol force of about 6,000 returned to Syria that December. Commanded by Baydar, an officer of Kitbuqa who had escaped Qutuz and Baybars’ great advance earlier that year, it was a serious threat. At that time Sultan Baybars had not tightened his hold over Syria, attacks by the Crusader states had wrought further confusion, and some of Qutuz’s loyalists had rebelled against Baybars’ rule, one of whom even declared himself sultan. There is implication in the Mamluk sources that the attack was not launched on Hulegu’s order, but Baydar’s own initiative to avenge Kitbuqa. As his army marched, they found that the garrisons of Syria had retreated before them. Placing a governor in Aleppo and other major cities, as the Mongols neared Homs they found the combined garrisons of Homs, Hama and Aleppo had retreated there and rallied before them. Greatly outnumbering the Syrian forces, perhaps 6,000 troops under Baydar to 1,400 under the Syrians, Baydar was ultimately defeated in battle, the Syrians aided by thick fog and the timely flanking of local Bedouin. Coincidentally, it was fought near the grave of Khalid ibn al-Walid, the great commander of the early Islamic conquests and victor at Yarmouk, which earned it double the symbolic value. This first battle of Homs, as it was to become known, strengthened the feeling that the Mongols were not invincible. The Mongol army outnumbered the Mamluk garrisons, and keenly demonstrated the importance of unified defense rather than each garrison hiding behind city walls. For many Mamluk writers, it was the first battle of Homs that stood as the great victory over the Mongols, rather than Ayn Jalut. It was also the last major Mongol offensive into Syria in the 1260s. 


Hulegu spent the next years fighting with Berke Khan of the Golden Horde over the valuable territory of Azerbaijan, which Berke believed belonged to the house of Jochi. With Hulegu’s death in February 1265, he was succeeded by his son Abaqa, who was distracted by Jochid attacks and the efforts of setting up a new empire. By then, the most entrenched Sultan Baybars could solidify his defences, and turn to the isolated Crusader strongholds. By this time, little remained of the former Crusader Kingdoms, baring some coastal cities like Antioch, Tripoli and Acre and a few inland fortresses like Krak des Chevaliers and Montfort. The Crusader States had shown neutrality to the Mongols, or even joined them such as the County of Tripoli in 1260 after the Mongols entered Syria. Their neutrality or allegiance to the Mongols, in addition to the possibility of them acting as a foothold to further European troops, meant that the Mamluks would unleash bloody vengeance on them whenever the opportunity arose. From February to April 1265 in the immediate aftermath of Hulegu’s  death, Baybars conquered Caesarea, Haifa, Arsuf, Galilee and raided Cilician Armenia, the vassals of the Ilkhanate. In 1268 Baybars took Antioch, and in 1270-71 when Abaqa was fighting with Chagatayid and Neguderi armies in the far east, Baybars took the fortresses of Krak des Chevaliers and Montfort, and planned to attack Tripoli, another Ilkhanid vassal. Though it remains popular in some circles to portray the Mamluk conquest of the Crusader holdouts as titanic clashes, they were side affairs, undertaken by the Mamluks whenever the Ilkhans were occupied.  Such was the slow and humiliating coup de grace which ended the Crusader states.


The Mamluks’ ending of the Crusader kingdoms certainly served them strategically, for it was the most effective way to prevent any link up between European and Mongol forces. Hulegu and his successors sent letters to the Kings and Popes of Europe, encouraging them to take up crusade against the Mamluks and together defeat them, offering to return Jerusalem and other holy sites back into Christian hands, but this almost always fell on deaf ears or were greeted with empty promises. Louis IX’s highly organized crusades had resulted in utter debacles at Mansura in 1250 and Tunis in 1270, which dampened whatever minor enthusiasm for crusade was left in Europe. Few European monarchs ever seriously took up Mongol offers at military alliances, with two exceptions. King James I of Aragon found himself the most motivated by the Il-Khan Abaqa’s requests, encouraged by the promises of the Ilkhanate’s logistical and military support once they reached the mainland. James made his preparations, and launched a fleet in September 1269. An unexpected storm scattered the fleet, and only two of James’ bastard children made it to Acre, who stayed only briefly, accomplishing little there before departing. This was soon followed by the arrival of prince Edward of England, the future King Edward I, at Acre in May 1271 with a small force, and Abaqa sent an army under Samaghar, the Mongol commander in Rum, to assist him: but Samaghar’s force withdrew with the arrival of Baybars. Edward’s troops performed poorly on their own minor raids, and set sail for England in September 1272. 


One of the commanders who took part in Samaghar’s raid was Mu’in al-Din Sulaiman, better known as the Pervane, from sahib pervana, the keeper of the seals, though it literally means “butterfly.” The Pervane was the dominant figure of the rump state of the Seljuqs of Rum: when the previous Mongol installed Seljuq Sultan, Kilij Arlan IV, had challenged the Pervane, he succeeded in getting Abaqa to execute the Sultan and instate Arslan’s young son, a toddler enthroned as Ghiyath al-Din Kaykhusraw III. Thus did the Pervane, in coordination with Samaghar Noyan, act as the master of Anatolia. Essentially co-governors, Samaghar and the Pervane had a stable relationship, enriching themselves along the way. But when Abaqa appointed his younger brother Ejei to oversee the Pervana and Samaghar. The Pervane chafed under the increased financial burden and supervision, and asked Abaqa to recall his brother, claiming Ejei was in cooperation with Baybars. Abaqa promised to recall him, but delayed. In his frustration, the Pervane himself  reached out to Baybars. The Sultan’s curiosity was piqued, but didn’t commit; by the time his response reached the Pervane in 1274, Ejei and Samaghar had been replaced by Toqa Noyan, and the Pervane didn’t respond. Under Toqa Noyan, Mongol pressure was even greater in Anatolia, and the Pervane’s powers were more limited than ever. 


What followed was a terrible mess of political machinations. The Pervane got Toqa Noyan removed, Ejei was reinstated, the Pervane’s efforts to remove Ejei again frustrated Abaqa, who removed Ejei, killed some of his followers and reinstated the Pervane and Toqa Noyan. In November 1275, the Mongols besieged al-Bira, but Baybars had learned of it in advance allegedly due to contacts with the Pervane. After this, the Pervane was careful to rebuild trust with Abaqa, bringing him the Seljuq Sultan’s sister to wed. At the same time, with or without the Pervane’s support a group of Rumi amirs met with Baybars in July 1276, urging him to attack. Judging there was enough support in Rum for him he agreed, and Baybars mobilized his army over winter 1276, setting out in February 1277.


As Baybars sped up the Levantine coast, the Pervane rapidly lost control of Rum as various Turkmen rebelled and a new Mongol army under Tudawan cracked down on the amirs who had contacted Baybars. In Syria, Baybars sent a diversionary force from Aleppo over the Euphrates, while his main army entered Anatolia in early April. After pushing off a Mongol advance force of 3,000 in the Taurus Mountains, news reaches Baybars that Tudawun was camped close by on a plain near the town of Abulustayn (Elbistan) and set out for them, the armies meeting on the 15th of April 1277.


Tudawan’s army was about 14,000 Mongols, Turk and heavily armoured Georgian cavalry was joined by an army of Rumi troops similar size under the Pervane, but Tudawan distrusted them, and kept them away from his lines. Tudawan’s scouts had failed to judge the size of the Mamluk army, which he believed to be smaller and lacking Baybars. In reality, the Mamluks outnumbered the Mongols by a few thousand. As the Mamluks entered the plain at the narrow end they were unable to properly form up, and their centre was positioned before their left wing.  The Mongol left flank began the battle, sending arrows into the Mamluk standard bearers in the centre before charging them. The Mamluk centre buckled under the charge, and the more exposed Mamluk left wing was similarly pounded by the Mongol right.


The situation was critical for the Mamluks: likely at this stage, their bedouin irregulars fled. Baybars sent in his reserve, the garrison of Hama, to reinforce his left, and succeeded in forcing back the Mongols. A brief respite allowed the Mamluks to better deploy their lines, and counterattack. The Mongols fought fiercely, but the greater number of the Mamluks made the difference. Gradually forced back over the course of the day, their horses exhausted and unable to access remounts, the Mongols dismounted, signalling they were fighting to the death. With great struggle, the Mamluks defeated them and killed their commanders. The Rumi army took little part in the battle and dispersed, the Pervane escaping, with one of his sons captured by Baybars. The next day the Mamluk Sultan marched for Kayseri, reaching it on April 20th.


Baybars ordered the Pervane and the Seljuq Sultan to him, but the Pervane held out in his own castle. Both realized that Baybars would not be able to hold this position, deep in enemy territory, supplies low and the rest of his kingdom unprotected while a furious Abaqa rallied his army. 5 days after entering Kayseri, Baybars was en route back to Syria and though his vanguard deserted to the Mongols, by June he was in Damascus. Abaqa arrived in Rum too late to catch Baybars, and in his fury was only narrowly persuaded out of massacring everything between Kayseri and Erzerum, while the summer heat kept him from invading Syria. He was able to catch the Pervane though, and put him to death: allegedly, his flesh was eaten by Abaqa and the senior Mongols.


Thus ended one of Baybars’ most skillfully executed campaigns: lightning quick and devastating, creating a terrible mess for the Ilkhanate, though in itself brought no strategic gain or shift in the status quo. It was a great shock when the Lion of Egypt suddenly died at the beginning of July 1277 soon after his return. Baybars had hoped to establish a dynasty: he was seamlessly succeeded by his older son, named al-Sa’id Berke. The new Sultan quickly antagonized the Mamluk emirs through his efforts to limit their powers, and was forced to abdicate in favour of his younger brother, the 7 year old Sulamish. The boy was nothing but a puppet, and his guardian, one of the late Baybars’ Mamluks named Qalawun, soon forced the boy out and took power himself in November 1279.  Like Berke, Qalawun had been taken from the Qipchap steppe and sold as a Mamluk. He had loyally served Baybars and proven himself an able commander, though something of a schemer. Though Qalawun’s line came to dominate the Mamluk Sultanate for essentially the next century, initially Qalawun faced stiff opposition in attempting to assert his authority. 


This disruption in the Sultanate was a golden opportunity for Abaqa, who decided it was time to press the Mamluk frontier. To this, he decided to put his younger brother Mongke-Temur to the task. Prince Mongke-Temur first  raided Syria in November 1280 with King Lewon III of Armenian Cilicia, Bohemond VII of Tripoli and a contingent of Knights Hospitaller. In September 1281, Mongke-Temur returned again, a large force of perhaps 40-50,000 Mongols, Armenians under Lewon III, Georgians, Franks and troops from Seljuq Rum. Abaqa initially followed with another army, but may have been forced to hold due to rumours of an attack by the Golden Horde at Derbent.


The Mongol invasion provided a common enemy to unite the Mamluk factions fighting for power, and under Qalawun they advanced, reinforced by Syrian garrisons and bedouins. They reached Homs a few days before the Mongols in late October, giving Qalawun’s troops a chance to dig in and rest on the plain north of the city. Their preparations were improved as a Mongol defector informed them of Mongke-Temur’s battle plan. Most of the Mongol army was to be placed in the center with the right wing also strong, intending to overpower the Mamluk left and centre where the Sultan’s banners would be. Qalawun thus reinforced his left wing, and positioned himself on a hill behind the vanguard to oversee the battle and act as reserve. 


Marching through the night, the Mongols arrived early on the 29th of October, 1281. It was a massive front, over 24 kilometres in length due to the size of both armies. The wings of both forces, so far apart, had little knowledge of what was occurring on the other side. While tired from the night march, the Mongols were eager: the battle was initiated when the Mongol right under Alinaq charged forth. The Mamluk left and part of their centre crumpled  and routed under the onslaught. Alinaq continued his pursuit, and here Mongke-Temur’s inexperience and the scale of the battlefield began to tell. Proper communication with the command seemingly absent, Alinaq pursued the fleeing Mamluks off the battlefield, as far as the Lake of Homs where they dismounted to rest, evidently anticipating the rest of the army would soon arrive.


A similar charge by the Mongol left wing lacked the numbers of the Mongol right, so the Mamluk right and centre were able to hold and counterattack. Qalawun’s actual role in this counterattack isn’t clear: some sources have him personally lead the attack, while in others he kept his position hidden, not even raising his banners so as to avoid Mongol arrows. The Mamluks pushed back the Mongol right and the bedouin came around to hit the Mongol flank. The Mongol right fell back to the centre, which under Mongke-Temur was being held in reserve. In the resulting confusion, perhaps thrown by his horse, Mongke-Temur was injured and unable to command. Most of the Mongols then dismounted to make a final stand around the prince, and ultimately routed under the Mamluk assault. 


The Mamluks chased the fleeing Mongols right to the border with the Ilkhanate, many drowning in the Euphrates or dying in the desert: so deadly was this rout that  Mamluk authors said more Mongols were killed in flight than in the actual battle. Qalawun and a small guard remained on the battlefield: they were forced to hide their banners and stay silent when the Mongol right wing finally returned to the battlefield, too late to turn the tide. It seems it was able to take an orderly retreat back into the Ilkhanate.


    Abaqa was furious at this loss, and intended to return the next year, but died in April 1282. As we have covered in our previous episodes, Abaqa’s successors were not blessed with his same longevity or stability, and until 1295 the Ilkhanate saw a succession of short lived monarchs and infighting, internal revolts and renewed attacks by the Golden Horde. Though the succeeding Ilkhans continued to demand Mamluk submission, send threatening letters and continue to attempt an alliance with European powers, nothing materialized beyond border raids and skirmishes in both directions. For the time being, the immediate Mongol threat to the Mamluks had ended, and Sultan Qalawun turned to the remaining Frankish strongholds, all possible beachheads for European armies coming to assist the Ilkhans. Armenian Cilicia was pillaged, remaining inland Crusader strongholds were taken, and in April 1289 the Mongols’ vassal Tripoli fell. After the death of Abaqa’s son Arghun Il-Khan in March 1291, the Mamluks used the resulting distraction in the Ilkhanate to take the final major Frankish city in the Holy Land, Acre, leaving them with but miniscule holdings which fell in the following years. So ended 200 years of Crusader Kingdoms.


    Following Qalawun’s death in 1290, he was succeeded by his son al-Ashraf Khalil. A fearsome military commander, it was he who led the push to seize Acre and the final Crusader holdings of note. Yet he did not long to enjoy the throne, and was assassinated in the last days of 1293 due to his efforts to curb the power of the existing Mamluk emirs. With his assassination, the Mamluks entered a period of political instability over the Sultanate. Initially his younger brother al-Nasir Muhammad was placed on the throne, still a child and without any real power. After a year as Sultan he was forced out by his guardian and regent, a Mamluk named, of all things, Kitbuqa. Apparently of Mongol origin, he had been taken captive by the Mamluks at the first battle of Homs in 1260, and made in turn a Mamluk, that is, a slave soldier. Kitbuqa’s reign as Sultan was not particularly notable, mostly marked by intense political infighting and machinations. There was, however, a large body of Oirats who deserted the Ilkhanate to join the Mamluks Sultanate. Kitbuqa’s generous treatment of this body of nomadic troops, with whom it appeared he shared kinship, angered a number of the other Mamluk emirs and undermined his power. He was soon forced to flee as one of al-Ashraf Khalil’s assassins, the Emir Lajin, seized power. When Lajin was murdered in 1299, al-Ashraf Khalil’s young brother al-Nasir Muhammad was recalled to take the throne. Only 14 years old, al-Nasir Muhammad had no real power and was still a puppet for the emirs competing for power.


In comparison, 1295 saw the beginning of the reign of the powerful Ghazan Khan, son of Arghun. Ghazan, as we have covered, was not the first Muslim Ilkhan but by his reign a majority of the Mongols within the Ilkhanate had converted, and made the Ilkhanate an Islamic state. Ghazan consolidated his position early on, executing a number of potential challengers to the throne and restabilizing the  Ilkhanid economy, though you can listen to our episode dedicated to Ghazan for more on the internal matters of his reign. While Ghazan was a Muslim, this did not change Ilkhanid policy to the Mamluk. He continued to send letters to western Europe urging them to land an army behind enemy lines. In late 1298, while Mamluk armies ravaged the Ilkhan’s vassal Cilician Armenia, the na’ib of Damascus, Sayf al-Din Qibjaq and a few other top Mamluks deserted to the Ilkhanate during a particularly violent stretch within the Sultanate. Fearing for their lives, they inform Ghazan of Sultan Lajin and his vice-Sultan Manketamur’s purges and unstable positions. Then in summer 1299 a Mamluk raid into the Ilkhanate sacked Mardin, violating Muslim women and descretating a mosque during Ramadan. Ghazan was thus able to easily obtain a fatwa against the Mamluks for this, presenting himself not as an invader, but a holy warrior coming to avenge atrocities against Islam to encourage dissent among Mamluk ranks. Indeed, the ruler of Hama, a top Mamluk ally, believed the accusations. 


    By December 1299, Ghazan and his army of Mongols, Georgians and Armenians under their King Het’um II, had crossed the Euphrates. By then, Sultan Lajin had been replaced by a al-Nasir Muhammad who was nearly toppled by the Oirat refugees to the Sultanate. Ghazan bypassed Aleppo and Hama, and hunted for the Mamluk army. While encamped on the edge of the Syrian desert, Ghazan learned the Mamluks were gathering at Homs, where they had defeated Mongke-Temur 18 years prior. Rather than fall into their trap, Ghazan chose to outflank them, crossing the Syrian desert and coming out onto a stream some 16 kilometres north of Homs on the 22nd of December. To the Mamluks, it appeared that Ghazan was retreating, and advanced out of their favourable position to pursue. In a reverse of the 2nd Battle of Homs, now the Mamluks were forced to cross the desert, exhausting themselves to reach Ghazan early the next morning, while his own troops rested, quenched their thirst and formed up. Crucially, the Ilkhanid army was under the firm control of Ghazan and his commander Qutlugh-Shah, while the young al-Nasir Muhammad could not control his senior emirs. 


    On the morning of December 23rd, 1299, the Mamluks found Ghazan’s army was drawn up. Ghazan commanded the centre, while his general Qutlugh-Shah commanded the right.  Qutlugh-Shah’s beating of  war drums made the Mamluks believe Ghazan to be located there, and to him they charged, forcing the Mongol right back. Ghazan led the counterattack against them, and Qutlugh-Shah rallied what forces he could and rejoined the Il-Khan. From 11 a.m until nightfall, the battle raged, but finally the Mamluks broke and fled.  Ghazan pursued them past Homs before encamping, not wishing to be drawn into a false retreat in the dark. Homs surrendered without a fight and Ghazan took the Sultan’s treasure, distributing it among his nokod, keeping for himself a sword, the title deeds to the Mamluk Sultanate and the muster roll of its army. Next Ghazan marched onto Damascus, which also surrendered without a fight, though its citadel held out. It seems almost the entire Mamluk garrison of Syria had retreated, perhaps recalled to defend the capital. Mongol raiding parties were making it as far as Gaza, with one source reporting they even entered Jerusalem, and the Sultanate seemed poised to fall.


    But on February 5th, 1300, Ghazan withdrew from Damascus, returning to the Ilkhanate. Qutlugh-Shah had been left to take the Citadel of Damascus, but he soon followed the Il-Khan. By the end of May, the Mamluks had retaken Syria. Exactly why Ghazan withdrew is unclear: possibly reports of a Neguderi invasion in the east of his realm demanded his attention, or he feared there would not be sufficient pasturage for his large army to make the trip to Egypt: the Mamluks were known to burn grassland and destroy supply depots on the routes they suspected the Mongols to take.  Likely he was unaware of how dire the situation really was for the Mamluks, and suspected further armed resistance along the route would make the already treacherous crossing over the Sinai even harder on his army. Whatever the reason, Ghazan had lost the greatest chance to destroy the Mamluks. Ghazan did cross the Euphrates at the end of December 1300, reaching as far as Aleppo, but heavy rains rendered military operations untenable. In 1303 Ghazan ordered Qutlugh-Shah back into Syria, but he was defeated at Marj al-Suffar near Damascus in April. Ghazan’s death the next year, only 34 years old, prevented his next assault. His brother and successor, Oljeitu, ordered the final Ilkhanid attack on the Sultanate, an embarrassing effort in winter 1312 which saw the army retreat not from the Royal Mamluks, but the stiff resistance of ordinary townsfolk. Oljeitu’s son, Abu Sa’id, ultimately organized peace with the Mamluks in the early 1320s, ending the sixty years of warfare between the Mongols and the Mamluks. The Ilkhanate did not long outlive this treaty. Abu Sa’id death in 1335 without an heir saw the Ilkhanate torn apart by regional commanders -the Jalayirids, Chobanids, Muzaffarids and Injuids, among others- who appointed their own puppet Khans or abandoned the pretense entirely.


    For the Mamluks, they were unable to take advantage of the Ilkhanate’s disintegration as when al-Nasir Muhammad died in 1341, they entered their own period of anarchy: 8 of al-Nasir’s children and 4 of his grandsons would in turn become Sultan between 1341 and 1382, a period which culminated in the rise of the Circassian Burji Mamluk Dynasty. Whereas the Sultans from Qutuz, Baybars through Qalawun and his descendants were men of Qipchaq-Cuman or even Mongol origin,  over the late thirteenth and first half of the fourteenth century a growing number of the Mamluks were sourced no longer from the Qipchaq steppe, but Circassia, a region along the Black Sea’s northeastern coastline. With the end of the Qalawunid Dynasty, Mamluks of Circassian origin took power and established their own dynasty. The Bahri and Burji distinction refers to the parts of Cairo each Mamluk garrison had been based. It was this Mamluk dynasty who would face the wrath of Temur-i-lang at the beginning of the fifteenth century.


    These post-Ilkhanid events will be the topic for a forthcoming episode, so be sure to subscribe to the Kings and Generals podcast to follow for that. If you enjoyed this and would like to help us continue bringing you great content, please consider supporting us on patreon at This episode was researched and written by our series historian, Jack Wilson.  I’m your host David, and we’ll catch you on the next one.