Thursday, August 8

The Sack of Bukhara

It was not the intention of the Mongols to invade the Khwarezmid Empire. Chingis Khan had originally sent the Shah Alauddin Muhammad of Khwarezm messages seeking trade, and had greeted him as a neighbor: "I am master of the lands of the rising sun while you rule those of the setting sun. Let us conclude a firm treaty of friendship and peace." The Mongols' unification of all "people in felt tents", first the nomadic tribes in Mongolia and then the Turcomen and other nomadic peoples, had come with relatively little bloodshed, and almost no material loss. Even their invasions of China, to that point, had involved no more bloodshed than previous nomadic invasions had caused. The Khwarezmian Shah, on the other hand, was busy with a running dispute with the Abbasid caliph of Baghdad - the Shah had refused to make the obligatory homage to the Caliph as titular leader of Islam, and demanded recognition as Sultan of his Empire, without any of the usual kowtowing. It was at this junction that the Mongol Empire made contact - and Khwarezm Shah had to suddenly deal with the prospect of a monarch on his eastern boundaries, claiming equal footing, with an untested army at his command, where no monarch nor army had existed before. Mongol historians are adamant that the Great Khan had had no intention of invading the Khwarezmid Empire, and was only interested in trade and even a potential alliance, but the Shah was very suspicious of Chingis' desire for a trade agreement. Messages from the Shah's ambassador at Zhongdu (Beijing) in China had described the exaggerated savagery of the Mongols when they assaulted the city (during their war with the Jin Dynasty), and it was easy for the Shah to consider Chingis to be an upstart barbarian.

So the Shah supported his governor  in capturing the Mongol trade envoys at Otrar (see Juavini's account in the previous post.) Chingis Khan then sent a second group of three ambassadors, one Muslim and two Mongols, to meet the Shah himself, and demand the caravan at Otrar be set free and the governor Inalchuq 'Ghair' Khan be handed over for punishment. The Shah had both of the Mongols shaved and had the Muslim beheaded.

In the ensuing war, lasting less than two years, the Khwarezmid Empire was utterly and completely destroyed.

Part of the Mongol success lay in their intelligence network, which allowed them to spring surprises. The Mongols never invaded an opponent whose military and economic will, and whose ability to resist, had not been thoroughly and completely assessed. For instance, Subutai and Batu spent more than a year scouting central Europe, including mapping out paths by which reinforcements might arrive, at every location, before destroying the armies of Hungary and Poland in two separate battles two days apart.

As part of his strategy of taking Khwarezmia, Chingis Khan placed his general Jebe at the head of a small army sent to the south c. 1219, intending solely to capture and execute the person of the Shah, after cutting off his retreat to the southern half of his kingdom. This kind of indirect attack would become a hallmark of his later campaigns, and those of his sons and grandsons. The Shah, whose kingdom was larger than that of Chingis, and a hundred times more prosperous, was not prepared to be hunted personally, and went scurrying around his own kingdom looking for places to hide. Then, Genghis and Tolui, at the head of an army of roughly 50,000 men, skirted Samarkand and went westwards to lay siege to Bukhara first. To do this, they traversed the 'impassable' Kyzyl Kum desert by stealthily hopping through oases, guided by captured nomads. The Mongols arrived at the gates of Bukhara virtually unnoticed; many military tacticians regard this surprise entrance to Bukhara to be one of the most successful surprise attacks in warfare.

The other part of the Mongol advantage lay in artillery. Along with the main Mongol force, Chingis Khan used a Chinese specialist catapult unit in battle; the Chinese may have used the catapults to hurl gunpowder bombs - Juvaini writes about the mangonels hurling the 'fire of the hereafter' into citadels. Historians have suggested that the Mongol invasion had brought new Chinese gunpowder weapons to Central Asia. One of these was the huochong, the Chinese mortar-cannon.

(Above: Chingis Khan mounts the pulpit in Bukhara.)

From Juvaini:

And his troops were more numerous than ants or locusts, being in their multitude beyond estimation or computation. Detachment after detachment arrived, each like a billowing sea, and encamped round about the town. At sunrise twenty thousand men from the Sultan's auxiliary (biruni) army issued forth from the citadel together with most of the inhabitants; being commanded by Kok-Khan and other officers such as Khamid-Bur, Sevinch-Khan and Keshli-Khan. Kok-Khan was said to be a Mongol and to have fled from Chingis-Khan and joined the Sultan (the proof of which statements must rest with their author); as a consequence of which his affairs had greatly prospered. When these forces reached the banks of the Oxus, the patrols and advance parties of the Mongol army fell upon them and left no trace of them.

On the following day when from the reflection of the sun that plain seemed to be a tray filled with blood, the people of Bukhara opened their gates and closed the door of strife and battle.  The imams and notables came on a deputation to Chingis-Khan, who entered to inspect the town and citadel. He rode into the Juma Mosque and pulled up before the maqsura, whereupon his son Toli dismounted and ascended the pulpit. Chingis-Khan asked those present whether this was the palace of the Sultan; they replied it was the house of God. Then he too got down from his horse, and mounting two or three steps of the pulpit he exclaimed: "The countryside is empty of fodder, fill our horses' bellies." Whereupon they opened all the magazines in the town and began carrying off the grain. And they brought the cases in which the Qurans were kept out in the courtyard of the mosque, where they cast the Qurans right and left and turned the cases into mangers for their horses. After which they circulated cups and sent for the singing-girls of the town to sing and dance for them; while the Mongols raised their voices to the tunes of their own songs. Meanwhile, the imams, shaikhs, sayyids, doctors and scholars of the age kept watch over their horses in the stables … After an hour or two Chingis-Khan arose to return to his camp, and as the multitude that had been gathered there moved away the leaves of the Quran were trampled beneath the dirt beneath their own feet and their horses' hooves.

When Chingis-Khan left the town he went to the festival muhalla and mounted the pulpit; and, the people having assembled, he asked which were wealthy amongst them. Two hundred and eighty persons were designated (a hundred and ninety of them being natives of the town and the rest strangers, i.e. ninety merchants from various places) and were led before him. He then began a speech, in which, after describing the resistance and treachery of the Sultan (of which more than enough has been said already) he addressed them as follows: "O People! know that you have committed great sins, and that the great ones among you have committed these sins. If you ask me what proof I have for these words, I say it is because I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed these great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you." When he had finished speaking in this strain, he continued his discourse with words of admonition, saying, 'There is no need to declare your property that is on the face of the earth; tell me of that which is in the belly of the earth."Then he asked them who were their men of authority; and each man indicated his own people. To each of them he assigned a Mongol or Turk as basqaq in order that the soldiers might not molest them, and, although not subjecting them to disgrace or humiliation, they began to exact money from these men; and when they delivered it up they did not torment them by excessive punishment or demanding what was beyond their power to pay.

Chingis-Khan had given orders for the Sultan's troops to be driven out of the interior of the town and the citadel. As it was impossible to accomplish this purpose by employing the townspeople and as these troops, being in fear of their lives, were fighting, and doing battle, and making night attacks as much as possible, he now gave orders for all quarters of the town to be set on fire; and since the houses were built entirely out of wood, within several days the greater part of the town had been consumed, with the exception of the Juma mosque and some of the palaces, which were built with baked bricks. Then the people of Bukhara were driven against the citadel. And on either side the furnace of battle was heated. On the outside, mangonels were erected, bows bent, and stones and arrows discharged, and, on the inside, ballistas and pots of naphtha were set in motion. It was like a red hot furnace fed from without by hard sticks thrust into its recesses, while from the belly of the furnace sparks shoot into the air. For days they fought in this manner; the garrison made sallies against the besiegers, and Kok-Khan [i.e. the Mongol renegade] in particular, who in bravery would have borne the palm from male lions, engaged in many battles; in each attack he overthrew several persons and alone repelled a great army. But finally they were reduced to the last extremity; resistance was no longer in their power; and they stood excused before God and man. The most had been filled with animate and inanimate and raised up with levies and Bukharans; the fasil had been captured and fire hurled inside the citadel; and their khans, leaders and notables, who were the chief men of the age and the favorites of the Sultan who in their glory would set their feet on the head of Heaven, now became captives of abasement and were drowned in the sea of annihilation.

Fate playeth with mankind the game of the sticks with the ball,
Or the game of the wind blowing (know thou!) a handful of millet.
Fate is a hunter, and man is naught but a lark.

Of the Qanqli no male was spared who stood higher than the butt of a whip and more than thirty thousand were counted amongst the slain; whilst their small children, the children of their nobles and their womenfolk, slender as the cypress, were sold to slavery.


Blogger Garrett Young said...

Do you know any information about when the painting (located under the title "The Sac of Bukhara") was made and by whom

1:27 PM  
Blogger Garrett Young said...

Hey, do you have any information on the painting located under the title "The Sack of Bukhara." Like when and whom it was made. Im doing a paper and I would like to use that painting as example. Let me know

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is from a manuscript of Rashid al-Din's Jami' al-Tawarikh at the Edinburgh University Library via Wikimedia.

3:11 PM  

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