The Sack of Baghdad
Between January 29 and February 20, 1258, Ilkhanate Mongol forces and allied troops under the command of Hülegü Khan, brother of the khagan Möngke Khan, captured and sacked Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate.
According to The Secret History of the Mongols, Chingis Khan and his successor, Ögedei Khan, ordered their general Chormaqan to attack Baghdad. In 1236, Chormaqan led a division of the Mongol army to Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Further raids on the caliphate became annual occurrences, and some raids reached Baghdad itself. They were sometimes repelled, with Abbasid forces defeating the invaders in 1238 and 1245, and sometimes bought off - by 1241 the Caliph had adopted the practice of sending annual tribute to the court of the khagan. Envoys from the Caliphate were present at the coronation of Güyük Khan as khagan in 1246. Güyük insisted that the Caliph Al-Musta'sim fully submit to Mongol rule and come personally to Karakorum. The Caliph's refusal, and subsequent resistance offered by the Abbasids to increased attempts by the Mongols to extend their power, were the main reasons for the sack.
Möngke had instructed Hülegü to attack Baghdad if the Caliph Al-Musta'sim refused Mongol demands for his continued submission to the khagan and the payment of tribute in the form of military support for Mongol forces in Iran. The Mongol intent had been to further extend their rule into Mesopotamia, but not to directly overthrow the Caliphate - rather, turn the institution of the Caliphate into their local satrapy; this was not to be.
In preparation for his invasion, the Mongols raised a large expeditionary force, conscripting two out of every ten military-age males in the entirety of the Mongol Empire, assembling what may have been the most numerous Mongol army to have existed: by one estimate, 150,000 strong. Generals of the army included the Oirat administrator Arghun Agha, Baiju, Buqa-Temur, Guo Kan, and Ketbuqa, as well as Hülegü's brother Sunitai, and various assorted warlords. Juvayni writes the force was supplemented by Christian forces, including the King of Armenia and his army; a Frankish contingent from the Principality of Antioch; a Georgian force, seeking revenge on the Muslim Abbasids for the sacking of their capital, Tiflis, decades earlier, by the Khwarezm-shahs; 1,000 Chinese artillery experts; as well as Persian and Turkic auxiliaries. Writes Rashīd al-Dīn:
An emissary was sent to the Caliph bearing threats and promises, saying ...
"Previously we have given you advice, but now we say you should avoid our wrath and vengeance. Do not try to overreach yourself or accomplish the impossible, for you will only succeed in harming yourself. The past is over. Destroy your ramparts, fill in your moats, turn the kingdom over to your son, and come to us. If you do not wish to come, send all three, the Vizier, Sulaymanshah, and the Dawatdar, that they may convey our message word for word. If our command is obeyed, it will not be necessary for us to wreak vengeance, and you may retain your lands, army, and subjects. If you do not heed our advice and dispute with us, line up your soldiers and get ready for the field of battle, for we have our loins girded for battle with you and are standing at the ready. When I lead my troops in wrath against Baghdad, even if you hide in the sky or in the earth,
I will bring you down from the turning celestial sphere
I shall pull you up like a lion
I shall not leave one person alive in your realm
And I shall put your city and country to the torch.
If you desire to have mercy on your ancient family's heads, heed my advice. If you do not, let us see what God's will is."
When the emissaries arrived in Baghdad and delivered this message, the Caliph send back Sarafuddin ibn al-Jawzi, an eloquent man, and Badruddin Muhammad Dizbaki Nakhjiwani in the company of the emissaries. In reply the Caliph said:
"Young man! you have just come of age and have expectations of living forever. You have seen your ten-days pass prosperously and auspiciously in dominating the whole world. You think your command is absolute. Since you are not going to get anything from me, why do you seek? You come with strategy, troops and lasso, but how are you going to capture a star? Does the prince not know that from the East to the West, from King to Beggar, from Old to Young, all who are God-fearing and God-worshipping are servants of this court and soldiers in my army? When I motion for all those who are dispersed to come together, I will deal first with Iran and then turn my attention to Turan, and I will put everyone in his proper place. Of course, the face of the Earth will be full of tumult, but I do not seek vengeance or to harm anyone. I do not desire that the tongues of my subjects should either congratulate or curse me because of the movement of armies, especially since I am one of heart and one tongue with the Qa'an and Hülegü. If, like me, you were to sow seeds of friendship, do you think you would have to deal with my moats and ramparts and those of my servants? Adopt the path of friendship and go back to Khurasan. If you are intent on war and battle,
Tarry not, hasten away, and abide not. If
you have a moment's thought of war,
I have thousands and thousands of cavalry
and infantry worthy of the battlefield
and when they wreak vengeance
they can stir up dust from the water of the sea."
Giving them a message like this, he sent the emissaries off with a few gifts and presents.
Envoys went to the city, and the next day the vizier, the divan chief, and a group of well-known citizens came out, but they were sent back. Fierce battle was fought for six days and nights. Hülegü Khan ordered six decrees written, saying, "The lives of qadis, scholars, sheikhs, Alids and Nestorean priests, and persons who do not combat us are safe from us." The proclamations were fastened to arrows and shot into the city from six sides. Since there was no stone in the Baghdad vicinity, they brought rocks from Jalula and Jebel Khamrin, and date palms were cut down and hurled instead of stones.
On Friday the 25th of Muharram the Ajami tower was destroyed. On Monday the 27th the Mongol soldiers proceeded overwhelmingly against the ramparts opposite the Ajami tower in the direction the padishah was. They emptied the tops of the walls of people, but they still had not gone on the wall in the direction of the Souq Sultan, where Balagha and Tutar [kinsmen of Berke Khan from the Golden Horde] were. Hülegü Khan chastised them. Their liege men went up, and by evening they had secured the whole of the tops of the eastern walls.
When bridges were being made, Hülegü had ordered bridges to be built above and below Baghdad, boats made ready, catapults installed, and guards stationed. Buqa Temur and a tuman of soldiers were patrolling the routes to Madayin and Basra to prevent anyone from escaping by boat.
When the battle of Baghdad became intense, and the people were being pressed, the Dawatdar got in a boat to escape down river. When he passed the village of al-Uqab, Buqa Temur let loose a barrage of catapult stones, arrows and vials of naphtha. Three boats were taken, and the people were killed. The Dawatdar turned back in rout.
When the Caliph was apprised of the situation he despaired totally of his rule of Baghdad. Seeing no escape route, he said, "I will surrender." He sent Fakhruddin Damghani and ibn Durnus out with a few gifts, thinking that if he sent too much it would indicate how afraid he was and the foe would be further emboldened. Hülegü Khan paid no attention to the embassy, and they returned in failure.
(Marco Polo reports that upon finding the Caliph's great stores of treasure, which could have been spent on the defense of his realm, Hülegü Khan locked him in his treasure room without food or water, telling him "eat of thy treasure as much as thou wilt, since thou art so fond of it." A medieval depiction of this incident is shown above, from the Le Livre des Merveilles of the 15th century.)
On Friday the 9th of Safar, Hülegü Khan went into the city to see the Caliph's palace. He settled into the Octagon Palace and gave a banquet for the commanders. Summoning the Caliph, he said, "You are the host, and we are the guests. Bring whatever you have that is suitable for us." The Caliph, thinking he was speaking seriously, trembled in fear. He was so frenzied that he couldn't tell the keys to the treasuries one from another and had to have several locks broken. He brought two thousand suits of clothing, ten thousand dinars, precious items, jewel-encrusted vessels, and several gems. Hülegü Khan paid no attention to these and gave it all away to the commanders present.
"The possessions you have on the face of the earth are apparent," he said to the Caliph. "Tell my servants what and where your buried treasures are." The Caliph there was a pool full of gold in the middle of the palace. They dug it up, and it was full of gold, all in hundred-mithcal ingots.
An order was given for the Caliph's harem to be counted. There were seven hundred women and concubines and a thousand servants. When the Caliph was apprised of the count of the harem, he begged and pleaded, saying, "Let me have the women of the harem, upon whom neither sun nor the moon has ever shone."
"Of these seven hundred, choose a hundred", he was told, "and leave the rest." The Caliph then selected a hundred women from amongst his favorites and close relatives, and took them away.
That night Hülegü Khan went to the ordu. The next morning, he ordered Su'unchuq to go into the city, confiscate the Caliph's possessions, and send them out. The items that had been accumulated over six hundred years were all stacked in mountainous piles around the kiriyas. Most of the holy places like the Caliph's mosque, the Musa-Jawad shrine, and the tombs in Rusafa were burned.
The last Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta'sim Abu-Ahmad Abdullah bin al-Mustansir-Billah (Arabic: المستعصم بالله أبو أحمد عبد الله بن المستنصر بالله) was killed by Hülegü Khan soon afterwards. The Mongols did not want to shed royal blood, so they wrapped him screaming into a rug and trampled him to a pulp with their horses. Most of his sons were massacred; one surviving son was sent as a prisoner to Mongolia, where Mongolian historians report he married and fathered children, but played no role in Islam thereafter.
'Abdallah ibn Faḍlallah Sharaf al-Din Shīrāzī 'Wassaf' (flourished 1299-1323) was a court panegyrist of the Ilkhanate and tax administrator in Fars during the reigns of Ghazan Mahmud and Oljaitü. His history the Tajziyat al-amṣār wa-tazjiyat al-a'ṣār - the Allocation of Cities and the Propulsion of Epochs - was conceived as a continuation of Juvaini. Wassaf estimates that the loss of life in the days after the sack ran into several hundred thousand. Writes Wassaf:
"They swept through the city like hungry falcons attacking a flight of doves, or like raging wolves attacking sheep, with loose reins and shameless faces, murdering and spreading terror...beds and cushions made of gold and encrusted with jewels were cut to pieces with knives and torn to shreds. Those hiding behind the veils of the great Harem were dragged...through the streets and alleys, each of them becoming a plaything...as the population died at the hands of the invaders."
Iraq in 1258 had an extensive agriculture supported by Mesopotamian canal networks thousands of years old. The Mongols filled in the irrigation canals and left Iraq too depopulated to restore them. Baghdad had been the most brilliant intellectual center of the world, from whose destruction Islamic intellectual civilization never recovered. After the sack of Baghdad, Islam turned inward, suspicious of reason and of new interpretations; with the scholars gone the mullahs remained. The Grand Library of Baghdad, containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects ranging from medicine to astronomy, was utterly destroyed. Survivors said that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river and red from the blood of the scientists and philosophers killed.