Thursday, August 15

The Last Khwarezm-Shah

Chingis Khan, as we have seen, crossed the Jaxartes in 1219 to launch a multi-pronged blitzkrieg against Khwarezm, sacking first the cities of Bukhara, Otrar, Samarqand, and then Khwarezm-Shah Alauddin Muhammad II's capital of Gurganj (now Köneürgenç or Konye-Urgench.) Separately, a special-forces corps was sent to personally hunt down Khwarezm-Shah Alauddin.

Alauddin fled Urgench, leaving his people to be slaughtered (virtually every man women and child in the city was killed.) Trying to make a roundabout way south, outflanking the Mongols to Khorasan, Alauddin died in mysterious circumstances on an island in the Caspian Sea, near the current-day port of Abaskun. Some say he died of pleurisy, others that he perished of thirst after being finally abandoned by his long-suffering retainers.

Following the death of Ala ad-Din Muhammad II, his son Jalaluddin  inherited the monarchy, albeit one without much of a kingdom. Jalaluddin (also written as Jalal ad-Din, Jaloliddin etc) Mingburnu (Persian: جلال ‌الدین خوارزمشاه; more ornately, Jalal ad-Dunya wa ad-Din Abul-Muzaffar ibn Muhammad), most commonly called Manguberdi (or Mengübirti, Turkic for 'godgiven'), was the last Khwarezm-Shah.

Khwarezm, or Chorasmia (Persian:خوارزم), is a large marshy oasis on the Amu Darya delta, where the river turns north to flow into the (former) Aral Sea. The name is likely an Iranian compound that stands for 'lowland' - from kh(w)ar 'low' and zam 'earth, or land' - this area is the lowest region in Central Asia. Today, the oasis of Khwarezm lies partly in Uzbekistan, partly in Kazakhstan and partly in Turkmenistan. It is bordered to the north by the Aral - which for millions of years had been a very large body of fresh water; to the east by the red Kyzylkum desert; to the south by the black Karakum desert; and to the west by the Ustyurt plateau. Khwarezm was the center of an indigenous Khwarezmian civilization, as well as a series of kingdoms, whose mighty capitals of Kath, Gurganj and Khiva are now ghosts of their former selves.

The historian al-Biruni, incidentally a native speaker of the Indo-Iranian Chorasmian language, says that this land, belonging to Afrasiab, was first colonised 980 years before Alexander the Great,  i.e. in 1292 BC, when the hero of the Iranian epic Siyavash came to Khwarezm; his son Kaykhusraw was established on the throne 92 years later, c. 1200 BC, as the first of the Khwarezmshahs. It is considered that by 600 BC,  Khwarezm was culturally Saka, the four hundred settlements dotting it protected from the surrounding nomads - Hunnic, Turkic, proto-Mongol - by chain-mailed Scythian knights.

During the Achemeneid era, Gaumata, a sinister magus, impersonated Bardiya, the son of Cyrus the great, and took over the Achemeneid empire. According to the Behistun Inscription, he reigned approximately one year, 521-522 BCE, as an impostor; in his time, Khwarezm came under Achemeneid control, and thus entered historical texts.

The Saka horse-masters, however, must have chafed under their new overlords, for when Alexander the Great was passing by in 328 BC, the king of Khwarezm offered friendship, and proposed that he lead Alexander's armies against his own enemies East and West. (Alexander politely refused.) Largely independent during the Seleucid dynasties that followed the Greeks, it is known that Khwarezm and the neighboring Bactriana were both part of the Sassanian empire during the time of Bahram II (c. 290.) According to al-Biruni, a new dynasty, the Afrighids, natively Chorasmian and culturally Iranian, declared independence from the Sassanids and ruled over Khwarezm from c. 305 onwards for many centuries.

In 712, Khwarezm was conquered by the Arab Umayyads; it thus came nominally under Muslim suzerainty, but it was not until the end of the 8th century, or the beginning of the 9th century, that an Afrighid Khwarezm-Shah was first converted to Islam, appearing in texts with the popular convert’s name of ʿAbdallah (slave of Allah). At the time of al-Khwārizmī' (780-850), from whose name we get algorithm, the region was still recognizably Zoroastrian. One of the epithets in al-Khwārizmī''s full name (quoted by al-Tabari) is 'al-Majūsī' - 'of the Magians' - and this would seem to indicate that he was an adherent of the old Zoroastrian religion. This would still have been possible at that time for a man of Iranian origin, but the pious Islamic preface to al-Khwārizmī's Algebra is one written by an orthodox Muslim, so al-Ṭabarī's epithet might mean no more than that al-Khwārizmī''s forebears, and/or perhaps he in his youth, had been Zoroastrian; he lived right at the nexus of a mass-conversion.

In the 10th century, a local family, the Ma'munids, based in Gurganj on the left bank of the Amu Darya,  grew in economic and political importance due to trade caravans. In 995, they violently overthrew the Afrighids of Kath and themselves assumed the traditional title of Khwarezm-Shah. In the tumult, the area was briefly under Samanid suzerainty, before it passed to Mahmud of Ghazna in 1017.  (Most scholars, including al-Biruni, were taken to Ghazna, whence al-Biruni went to India.) From then on, Turco-Mongolian invasions,  coupled with long rule by Turco-Mongol dynasties, supplanted the Indo-Iranian character of the region, although the title of Khwarezm-Shah was maintained up to the 13th century, till the end of Jalauddin 'Manguberdi'. Today, the region is completely Turkic culturally, and Manguberdi one of its heroes.

When Manguberdi came to power, he rejected the title Shah that his father had assumed - a repudiation of ambition in regards to the Caliphate - and called himself, simply, Sultan.  Manguberdi's first task was to retreat with the remaining Khwarezmian forces, about 5000-strong; he was pursued by the Mongols till he reached the safety of the Hindu Kush.

The Tajik tribesmen of what is now Northern Afghanistan took up his offer of alliance. With the onset of spring 1221 Jalaluddin left Ghazna on exploratory forays; the Tajik-Afghan and Khwarezmian forces engaged with the Mongol armies, who they had chanced upon accidentally. The Mongols were defeated. Hearing the news Chingis immediately sent 30,000 men to Parwan, under noyan Kutikonian. They were thoroughly routed by Manguberdi's army. This battle is notable for being the first and only defeat inflicted, by any army, on Chingis Khan's united Mongol forces during his lifetime.

Alas, the coalition was short; like most Afghan alliances it broke up that very night. Legend has it that the breakup was caused by a dispute between Manguberdi's father-in-law, and a local chief, over a magnificent white horse taken as booty from the Mongols. It is said that Manguberdi sided with his father-in-law; the proud Tajik tribesmen departed that same night (leaving their camp fires burning) despite being completely exhausted by the day's fighting. Finding himself without the advantage that the Afghan fighting on his home-terrain affords, Jalaluddin Manguberdi began to retreat, the very next day, towards the east.

Rumours of Manguberdi's successes reached Khorasan in the second half of the year and led to the outbreak of emboldened revolts against the Mongols. Chingis now set out for Ghazna himself, along with Chaghatay, Ögedey, and Toluy. After a one month delay while they overcame heavy resistance on the route to Bamiyan, Chingis and his sons arrived at Ghazna only to discover that Manguberdi had departed for the northern Indus two weeks earlier. The Mongols hastened eastwards, catching up with the Khwarezmian army somewhere near modern Kalabagh, just as they were preparing boats to cross the river, with several thousand non-combatants under their protection. Manguberdi seems to have made the opening moves against the arriving Mongol forces, but was caught in a deadly counter-attack in which most of his fighting-men were surrounded and destroyed. The Sultan himself put up a heroic rearguard fight, and managed to escape across the Indus on horseback at Hund (near modern Attock Fort on the east bank of the Indus, close below the place where it receives the water of the Kabul river and first becomes navigable; and where Alexander had forded it many centuries ago), possibly heading for Peshawar with a small band of followers and refugees.  Chaghatay attempted to follow Manguberdi but lost his trail. Chingis subsequently sent another of his commanders with 20,000 men into the Punjab to track down Khwarezm-Shah. They too failed to accomplish their mission. It is said a solitary bedraggled delirious horseman - the mighty Khwarezm-Shah - showed up some months later at the court of Iltutmish in Delhi.

(Above - Manguberdi escapes the Mongols across the Indus, from a 16th-century Chingiskhannama manuscript now at the British Museum.)

Manguberdi was to spend the next three years in exile in India. Iltutmish did not really want Chingis Khan to follow Khwarezm-Shah to Delhi, and then there were the delicate matters of the various intrigues between Jalauddin's father and the Caliph, who at the end of the day, was still the Commander of the Faithful. Eventually, Manguberdi was persuaded to gather an army and return to Persia. However, he was unable to consolidate his power there; in 1224 his forces were once again defeated in battle by the Mongols in the Alborz Mountains. Escaping again, he led his defeated army over the Caucasus, and in 1225 they captured Azerbaijan setting up their capital in Tabriz.

After initially forming an alliance with the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm against the Mongols, Manguberdi , for reasons unknown, changes his mind and begins hostilities against the Seljuks.  His forces attack Georgia and sack Tbilisi.  In 1230 we read that his army conquers Ahlat in Armenia. This battle, however, results in an alliance between the Seljuks and Ayyubids against him;  and he fights a Seljuk-Ayyubid force at the battle of Yassi Chemen. The battle continues for three days and nights. Manguberdi almost defeats the Seljuk-Ayyubid alliance on the first day, but at the end of the third day, enemy reinforcements arrive to turn the tide.

This was to be Manguberdi's last battle. He had lost most of his army and retinue.  In 1231, he was suddenly killed one day by ambush, in Diyarbakir, by local Kurdish highwaymen. In the ensuing confusion, his short-lived principality in Azerbaijan was captured by the Mongols.

Manguberdi's followers, however, remained loyal to him even after his death,  transforming themselves into a mercenary force called the Khwarezmiyya.  Thirteen years later, in pay of the Ayyubid Sultan Salih Ayyub of Egypt, the Khwarezmiyya invaded Christian-held Jerusalem, capturing the city's citadel, the Tower of David; on July 11, 1244, Jerusalem surrendered. After being conquered by the Khwarezmiyya, Jerusalem would stay under Muslim control until 1917,  till near the end of World War I, when it was taken from the Ottomans by victorious British and Commonwealth forces.


Blogger SPECKLED_BAND said...

Just read your fascinating account of Manguberdi and Khorezmian history. I was in Uzbekistan last month (my second visit, the first being in 2014), and went up to the Aral Sea (what's left of it). Since we heard so much about Manguberdi on our travels through Karakalpakstan I looked him up and happily chanced upon your blog.

Am a keen Central Asia buff myself. In 2015 a friend and I travelled in Xinjiang covering most of its famous places.

Warm regards,

K V K Murthy



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