Monday, August 5


They came, they sapped, they burnt, they slew, they plundered and they departed.
   - Juvaini, Tarikh-i-Jahangushay (History of the World-Killer)

Ata-Malik Juvaini (1226-1283) was a historian from Khorasan whose account of the Mongol conquest of Asia is one of the few primary sources on the expansion of Chinggis Khan's empire. As the name implies, his family was connected with the district of Juvain in Khorasan, which lies at an Afghan-Persian-Uzbek-Turkmen conjunction. This district, now known as Jaghatai, is roughly to the north-west of Nishapur (Neyshabur) in Iran, halfway to the border with contemporary Turkmenistan; the chief town in Juvaini's time was Azadvar, a place which has since declined but is still to be found as a train-station on Google Maps.

Tarikh-i Jahangushay-i Juvaini (Persian: تاریخ جهانگشای جوینی‎, "A History of The World Killer/Conqueror") covers the Mongol wars in Central Asia, Hülegü Khan's sack of Baghdad, the lkhanid conquest of Persia as well as a history of the Nizami Isma'ilis and Hassan Sabbah's Assassins of Alamout. It is an invaluable work of literature; the account of the Mongol invasions of his homeland, based on first-person or  survivor accounts, is one of the main sources on the rapid sweep of Chinggis Khan's armies through the nomadic tribes of Tajikstan, the Mawarunnahr or Tansoxiana, and the established cities of the Silk Road including Otrar, Bukhara, and Samarkand in 1219, as well as of the successive campaigns until Genghis Khan's death in 1227. Like most of the aristocracy of the region, Juvani's family cast its lot with the Mongols soon after the conquest, and Juvaini himself became an official in the khanate of Hulegu. As such, he is discreet in his criticisms, but he is, ultimately, loyal to his land: he cannot hide being appalled at the destruction of Khorasan by the Mongols, and his History is an ambivalent one - it laments the end of a way of life even as it admires the Mongols' religious tolerance, the prosperity of Pax Mongolica, the brilliant military strategies of Chinggis Khan's descendants, and their hardiness.

Juvaini became a confidant of the Il-khan (i.e. Lesser Khan, since the ruler of Iran and Iraq was subordinate to the Great Khan in Mongolia) Hülegü, and was at Hülegü's side during 1256 at the taking of Alamout; in fact, Juvaini was responsible for saving part of Hassan Sabbah's celebrated library. He had also accompanied Hülegü during the sack of Baghdad in 1258, and the next year had been appointed governor of Baghdad, Lower Mesopotamia, and Khuzistan. Around 1282, Juvaini was even invited to attend a Mongol quriltai, or great assembly, held in the Ala-Taq pastures northeast of Lake Van, to elect leaders and discuss policy. He died the following year.

Juvaini's writing is persianate, i.e. it tends to be florid; his descriptions are written from a sense of drama, his sense of audience is perfect: of the fall of Assassin castle Maymun-Diz in November 1256, where he was present at the siege, he describes the effect of trebuchet bombardment on the battlements of the besieged:

The first stones which were discharged from them broke the defenders' trebuchet and many were crushed under it. Fear of the quarrels from the crossbows overcame them so that they were in a complete panic and tried to make shields out of veils. Some who were standing on towers crept in their terror like mice into holes or fled like lizards into the crannies of the rocks.

From the translator's preface to Juvaini's History of the World Conqueror:

The family from which they sprang was one of the most distinguished in Persia. Juvainis had held high office under both the Seljuqs and the Khorazm-Shahs; and they claimed descent from Fadl, the son of ar-Rabi who succeeded the Barmecides in the service of Harun ar-Rashid and who, in turn, traced his pedigree back to a freedman of Uthman's the third Caliph. So often had they occupied the post of Sahib-i-Divan or Minister of Finance that the title had become a sort of family surname; it was borne by Juvaini's brother Shams-ad-Din who did in fact hold this office, though he was also Grand Vizier both to Hulegu and to his son and first successor Abaqa; and it was borne by Juvaini himself, who was actually governor of Baghdad. Of Juvaini's ancestors Muntajab-ad-Din Bad, the maternal uncle of his great-grandfather, the Baha-ad-Din already mentioned, was a secretary and favourite of Sultan Sanjar the Seljuq. How he intervened to save the life of the poet Vatvat, who had incurred Sanjar's displeasure by his verses, is related in the pages of Juvaini. The author's grandfather, Shams-ad-Din Muhammad, was in the service of the ill-fated Muhammad Khorazm-Shah, whom he accompanied on his flight from Balkh to Nishapur. At the end of his life the Khorazm-Shah appointed him Sahib-i-Divan and he was confirmed in this office by Muhammad's son, the reckless adventurer Jalal-ad-Din, whose service he entered after Muhammad's death. He died before Akhlat on the shores of Lake Van in what is now Eastern Turkey, during his master's siege of that town, which lasted, according to the historian Ibn-al-Athir, from the I2th of August, 1229, to the 18th of March, 1230. Nasawi, the secretary and biographer of Jalal-ad-Din, was the executor of Shams-ad-Din's will. In conformity with the dead man's wishes he caused his remains to be transported to his native Juvain, while his property was conveyed, through trustworthy intermediaries, to his heirs. 


Juvaini writes about the casus belli that caused the holocaust of Mongol invasion on Transoxiana. Chinggis Khan, enriched by expeditions against the Tangut, sent a trade caravan to the Khorezm court with the proposal to start an exchange of goodies. The 450 traders comprising this caravan were mostly Muslim, but one Hindu merchant had attached himself to the envoyage, and this merchant happened to address the governor of Otrar with more familiarity than the official liked. As a result, the whole caravan was impounded with prejudice:

When the party arrived at Otrar, the governor of that town was one Inalchuq, who was kinsman of the Sultan's [i.e. Khorezm-Shah's] mother, Terken Khatun, and had received the title of Ghair [Mongol rendering of Khair i.e. Best] Khan. Now amongst the merchants was an Indian who had been acquainted with the governor in former times. He now addressed the latter simply as Inalchuq, and, being rendered proud by reason of the power and might of his own Khan he did not stand aloof from him nor have regard to his own interests. On this account Ghair Khan became annoyed and embarrassed; at the same time he conceived a desire for their property. He therefore placed them under arrest, and sent a messenger to the Sultan in Iraq to inform him about them. Without pausing to think, the Sultan sanctioned the shedding of their blood and deemed the seizure of their goods to be lawful, not knowing that his own life would become unlawful, nay a crime, and that the bird of prosperity would be lopped of feather and wing ...

To impound an embassy, or even kill a single ambassador, let alone 450, would have been ample cause for war in the yasa or law of the Mongols. Juvaini writes when Chinggis Khan heard of the response of Khorezm-Shah he flew into a whirlwind of rage, 'the fire of wrath driving water from his eyes so that it could only be quenched by blood.' He went alone to the top of the hill of Burkhan Khaldun, 'bared his head, turned his face towards the earth and for three days and three nights offered up prayer, saying: "I am not the author of this trouble; grant me strength to exact vengeance."' Juvaini concludes:

Ghair Khan in executing his command deprived these men of their lives and possessions, nay rather he desolated and laid waste a whole world and rendered a whole creation without home, property or leaders. For every drop of their blood there flowed a whole Oxus, in retribution for every hair on their heads it seemed that a hundred thousand heads rolled in the dust at every crossroad ...

If thou doest evil, thou dost punish thyself; the eye of Fate is not asleep.
Bizhan's picture is still painted on the walls of palaces, he is in the prison of Afrasiab.


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