Tuesday, September 3

The Ulus of Tolui

(Chingis Khan with his first wife Börte, drawn as Indian potentates, dividing up the Mongol empire between their sons. From a copy of the Jami al-Tawarikh, made for the court of Akbar, drawn by Baswan and coloured by Bhim of Gujarat, c. 1596.)

It was Mongol custom that the youngest son inherit his father's hearth, yurt and grazing lands. Chingis Khan divided up his empire between his inheritors several times. Each campaign was after all a risky venture - before he embarked on one, the queens made him settle the succession and create blueprints for divvying up the existing holdings amongst their progeny in case he did not return. The Secret History records that in 1207 Chingis divided all the people of his Empire between his mother, his surviving brothers, and his four sons by Börte.  In addition, after some valorous conquest the spoils could only legitimately go to whichever leader had led the conquering horde - thus in 1208 the Oirat, Kyrgyz, and some Sibir tribes were allocated to Jöchi after his conquest of these peoples. Before the campaign against Khwarezm, Chingis must have promised to reward his sons with the spoils of victory, for the city of Gurganj was added to the ulus of Jöchi in 1221 after its sack. Thus, the (de)composition of the Mongol world among the successors of Chingis took place over several bequests from the hands of the Khan.

Like the yurts, the ulus granted by Chingis consisted solely of open steppe. Revenue from cultivated lands, such as those around Bukhara and Samarqand, or tax from caravan trade, remained imperial property. Each ulus was accompanied by an inju, a portion of annual revenue derived from the taxation of the sedentary territories, to fund each son's court. So, Chaghatai's ulus might comprise the uncultivated lands around Bukhara, and his inju might consist of a quarter of the revenue from the Bukhara-khanate's farming villages (the remainder going to the Great Khan in Mongolia.) The idea was to periodically let each son have more extensive ulus lands to increase the number of people under his support, but still hold the financial power of taxation - required to be able mount wars - centrally in the hands of the Great Khan, and not giving the sons any more inju than their lifestyles could handle.

(The pre-Chingis world c. 1150 in black text, overlaid in red text with the post-Chingis ulus of his sons and grandsons c. 1250.)

Chingis Khan was an excellent judge of character. He knew how to gather around himself people who would go on to offer him faithful unstinting service, such as noyan Jebe the "weapon"; he was also merciless against those who opposed him, or were, in his assessment, untrustworthy. His morality placed little value on the lives of others, but enormous value on family-survival. The harsh living conditions of steppe and desert, the kill-or-be-killed travails of his early family life after his father had been poisoned, the tribal narrative of enslavement and impregnation of captured women, the wolf-pack natural order over which the shamans presided - all provided him with the enormous motivation needed to destroy, wherever he could, the seed of the seed of his enemies, and spread the seed of his own seed in as much of the world as he could comprehend. In this, he was wildly successful.

In his last years, as he shrewdly surveyed the full extent of his successes, Chingis foresaw internal strife,  and was concerned how his successor would maintain the unity of the newly-formed Mongol nation. Although Mongol custom dictated that the father's holdings should pass to the youngest son Tolui, Chingis regarded the leadership of the nation as a separate issue, and debated which of Jöchi, Chagatai, Ögedei or Tolui should inherit it.

(Chingis Khan and his four sons by Börte.)

There had always been some question as to Jöchi's true paternity. Shortly after her marriage to Chingis Khan (then Temüjin), Börte had been abducted by the Merkit confederation. (Actually, Temujin, a horse short, had abandoned her in a cart to flee from a Merkit ambush, calculating she would be raped whereas he would be killed.) After capture, Börte was given to a certain Chilger Bökh as a spoil of war. She remained in Chilger Bökh's captivity for eight months before she was recovered by Temüjin in alliance with his anda Jamukha and his father's anda Toghril 'Ong' Khan. Shortly after being rescued, Börte gave birth to Jöchi.  Disowning the infant would have meant disowning the mother; also, insofar as Chingis had a conscience the circumstance of Börte's capture and impregnation probably lay its weight on it. By all accounts, Chingis Khan treated Jöchi as his own son and firstborn, but doubt always remained amongst the Mongols whether Temüjin or Chilger Bökh was the real father of this child. This uncertainty about his paternity was not without consequences; Jöchi's descendants, although they formed the oldest branch of  Chingis Khan’s family, were never seriously considered for the succession in the Chingisid Khanate.  In The Secret History of the Mongols, just before the invasion of the Khwarezmian empire, Chagatai declares before his father and brothers that he will never accept Jöchi as successor:

[Chingis Khan's] Tatar wife, Yesui Khatun, spoke:
"The Khan will cross the high mountain passes,
cross over wide rivers,
waging a long war far from home.
Before he leaves has he thought of setting his people in order?
[Chingis Khan said:]
I've been forgetting it as if I won't follow my ancestors someday.
I've been sleeping like I won't someday be taken by death.
Jochi, you are my eldest son.
What do you say?"
But before Jochi could speak, Chagadai spoke up:
"When you tell Jochi to speak
do you offer him the succession?
How could we allow ourselves to be ruled
by this bastard son of a Merkid?"

The Secret History goes on the blandly say that after a bit of discussion, Ögedei was offered up by Chagatai as an alternative and met with everyone's approval. It  does not seem likely things should have been so smooth. In any case, Jöchi was, in effect, managed out of Mongol politics by being booted-upstairs to Siberia:

"all the countries and ulus which lie in the region of the Irtysh and the Altai mountains, and the summer and winter ranges in that area. ... [Jöchi's]  yurt was in the region of the Irtysh, and his residence was there..."

Chagatai's personal ulus was originally south of the Ili (northern Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang) according to the monk Ch'ang Ch'un, who travelled through that region in 1221 and 1223, though over time it extended to contemporary Uzbekistan. During his father's lifetime, Ögedei's personal ulus seems to have been in the valleys of the Emil and Qobuq rivers, north of the Ili and south of the Altai. Juvaini records Ögedei assigned this appanage to his eldest son Güyük when he ascended the imperial throne in 1229.  Tolui's ulus was around Chingis Khan's Mongolian homelands east of Ulaanbaatar.

(Tolui with his wife Sorgaqtani Beki.)

Once the trail of the last Khwarezm-Shah grew cold in 1222, Chingis Khan turned back towards Mongolia. Thanks to Li Chi Ch'ang, the diarist of the Taoist monk K'iu Ch'ang Ch'un, we have an account of his progress. Between March and mid May 1222, Chingis must have crossed the Hindu Kush, because it was then that he met Ch'ang Ch'un, four days journey south of the Amu Darya in Uzbekistan. Ch'ang Ch'un had travelled from Samarqand, first crossing the Surkhandarya, before using the floating bridge across the Amu Darya. With the onset of the summer heat Chingis returned to the northern foothills of the Hindu Kush. He may or may not have been personally involved in the suppression of the rebellions that broke out in northern Afghanistan later that autumn. In any case, his army crossed back over the Amu Darya on 6 October 1222, and he arrived at a camp to the east of Samarqand in early November; by the end of January he had reached the eastern bank of the Syr Darya. 

During the spring of 1223, Chingis sent for his sons on at Fanakat on the banks of the Chirchik, three days from modern Chimkent.  There Ögedei, Chagatai and Tolui reunited with their father,  but Jöchi had withdrawn to his latest ulus north of Aral and Caspian seas, and there he remained until his death; he was not destined to see his father again in his lifetime. Perhaps the ascendancy of his younger brother Ögedei as heir-apparent to Chingis Khan, as well as his continuous differences of opinion with Chagatai, had embittered him sufficiently to turn away from court life and seek the solace of the steppe. 

During the siege of Gurganj, Jöchi had engaged in extensive negotiation with the town to persuade it to surrender peacefully and save it from destruction. This action was seen as militarily unsound by Chagatai, but since Chingis Khan had promised the city to Jöchi after his victory, there was much infighting. Chingis Khan finally intervened in the Gurganj campaign; bypassing both Jöchi and Chagatai he appointed Ögedei as the commander of the operation. Ögedei resumed the war vigorously; Gurganj was captured, sacked, and its inhabitants duly massacred. Jöchi, who seems almost humane by the standards of the day, apparently pleaded again for sparing the population, but was overruled by his brothers. Juvaini states that 50,000 Mongol soldiers were given the task of executing twenty-four citizens each, which would mean that 1.2 million people were killed. While this is almost certainly an exaggeration, the sacking of Gurganj is considered one of the bloodiest massacres in human history.

At a family qurultai called in 1222, the issue of Jöchi's legitimacy had been brought up again by Chagatai. Chingis Khan made it clear that Jöchi was his legitimate first-born son, but he worried that the quarrel between the two would split the empire. As for Chagatai, his quarrel with his older brother disqualified both of them; in any case, while a devout Chingisid, Chagatai was considered dour, dull and not able to attract bright followers. While Tolui was allowed to inherit his father's lands by custom, he was a habitual drunkard and Chingis did not see him as capable of being the Great Khan.

When in the spring of 1923, Chingis Khan sent orders to his sons to set out to meet him, Jöchi did not appear out of the Qipchaq steppe. Only when Chingis had moved to Qulan Bashi,  did Jöchi "come up from the other side" (presumably the western bank of the river) driving as gift a thousand horses and large herds of wild asses before him; but he did not come into camp to meet his father. That was to be their closest approach.

(Chinese painting of Ögedei Khan.)

By early 1223, it seems likely that the Great Khan had mentally selected Ögedei, the third son, as his successor. He communicated this decision to his sons and put it in writing as a decree. For the sake of preserving the Empire, and fearing the wrath of their father, Jöchi and Chagatai agreed, but rifts created by this decision never healed. It is possible that Chingis Khan held a qurultai on the banks of the Syr Darya in January 1223, or perhaps it was sometime later, on the Qulan Bashi steppe. Thanks to the Chingis Khan Stone we know that Chingis Khan held another formal gathering on his return, located in the ulus of his brother Khasar's son Yesungge.

"When, after the conquest of the Sartaul [i.e. Muslim] people, Chingis Khan assembled the noyans of all the Mongol ulus in the place called Bukha-Sujihai, Yesungge shot an arrow 335 sazhens [400 meters]." 

The succession decision was likely broadly cemented in one of these fora. Chingis Khan then journeyed on to the Talas and the Chu. He summered on the Irtysh in 1224, before finally reaching Mongolia in 1225. Here he sent for Jöchi again, but without success; Jöchi apologized that he was ill and asked for a pardon. Chingis was given wrong information, by court intriguers,  that Jöchi had been seen out hunting. Sensing rebellion, and fearing Ögedei's anointment was getting compromised, Chingis Khan ordered Chagatai and Ögedei to lead their armies against Jöchi, not realizing that his firstborn was by now close to death. Before it could come to open hostilities, however, news came that Jöchi had died in February 1226. Chingis Khan wept when he received news, during his last campaign against the Tanghut in China, that his eldest son had died.

(Above: Jöchi Khan's mausoleum near Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.)

Chingis himself was dead within the year. The Mongol ulus lumbered along for nearly two years without a Khagan, during which time Tolui - as guardian of the hearth - acted as regent. Some have interpreted this interregnum as a period of mourning; others have imputed a power-struggle between Ögedei and Tolui. Tolui's sons Kubilai and Hülegü were more capable than the branch of Ögedei; Chingis Khan in fact regarded Kubilai as highly as he did Jebe, Jelme and Subutai; eventually the Empire was to reach its zenith under the Toluids. After two years of Tolui's regency, a qurultai was held on the Kelüren River in 1229 to decide the future of the Empire. Seven of Jöchi's sons journeyed east from the Qipchaq steppe to join Chagatai, Ögedei, Tolui, and the other noyans. On the 41st day, after much merrymaking, Ögedei was finally elected Khagan in line with Chingis Khan's written orders. He ordered 40 beautiful girls to be sacrificed to join the soul of his father.

Below, we journey to the Tuul river valley - the ulus of Tolui.


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