Sunday, August 25

Hazāra In the Gobi



(Babur and Humayun, painted as having Mongol or Hazara features by a Persian miniaturist c. 17th century.)

An Unimog personnel-carrier draws up behind the kitchen ger, carrying another postscript to the story of the last Khwarezm-Shah. The monster-truck is emblazoned with the livery of a logistics-support-company, and it is trailing some intrepid Swedes walking across the Gobi.  The hatch at the back opens; their cook emerges to borrow water and greens from our cook, to make hot dinners for the tribe of walkers now camped out in the steppe. There is also some mechanical trouble with the Unimog, and soon our driver (whose day job is Automotive-Repair-Instructor at the vocational college in Dalanzadgad) has crawled underneath the chassis. Some of the most illuminating moments in travel occur when one is in the company of the drivers, squatting and drinking tea, proffering politely-useless commentary on unfamiliar drivetrain; in this case, the driver of the Unimog has only a light knowledge of his heavy vehicle, but very interesting features and a very giveaway name - Imam Bakhsh Hazāra.

The Hazāra (Persian: هزاره‎) are a people who used to be concentrated in the Hazārajat, i.e. in central Afghanistan around Bamiyan, but who, after a century of persecution coupled with ethnic-cleansing, are now a global diaspora. They are overwhelmingly Twelver-Shia Muslims, and are said to still make up the third largest ethnic group of Afghanistan, comprising ~10% of the population - say 3 to 5 million souls overall. More than a million more live as refugees in Iran, and a comparable number are based around Quetta in Pakistan.

The physical attributes of the Hazāra,  especially their faces and eyes, as well as parts of their culture and language, resemble those of the Mongolians and Central Asian Turks. It  is thus widely and popularly believed that Hazāra have Mongolian ancestry, and legend talks about a Mongol minggan (unit of a thousand soldiers) returning from skirmishes with Jalaluddin Manguberdi in Bamiyan, settling down in the area, and taking local wives.  The Hazāra speak an archaic Persian, heavy with loanwords from Mongolian, and the conventional theory is that word Hazāra most likely derives from the Persian word for thousand (Persian: هزار‎ - hazār) in memory of the original Mongol minggan. (Another place where a Mongol tuman, unit of 10,000 soldiers, may have settled is Tyumen (Russian: Тюмень), the center of Tyumen Oblast, Russia, located on the Tura River 1,700 kilometers east of Moscow.)

There is also speculation that the term Hazāra may be derived from Chingis Khan's brother Khasar (Hazar), whose descendants competed with the lineage descended from Hülegü (son of Chingis Khan's youngest son Tolui), who ruled as the Il-Khan in ʿIrāq-i ʿAjam and the Khorasān. This theory claims that with the rise of the Timurid Mughals,  the Mongols serving the Hazarid Khans distinguished themselves from the new Moghul invaders by calling themselves Hazāra,  the etymological root Khasar being by now lost among the people. Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in the early 16th century, records the name Hazāra in Baburnama, so if this theory is correct, the Hazarid endonymy must have morphed quite rapidly.

It is most likely that the Hazāra are descended from Mongol military forces, but that these forces came in multiple waves. Nikudari Mongols settled in eastern Persia and mixed with native populations who spoke Persian. A second wave of Khasarid and Chagatai Mongols came from Central Asia; they were followed by other Mongolic groups, associated with the Ilkhanate and the Timurids; all of these waves of Mongol men settled in the Hazārajat and mixed with the local, mostly Persian-speaking population, descendants of the Kushans (whose massive achievement in art and architecture still litter Bamiyan), forming a distinct group. The local wives the soldiers took were by that time Shia, and the children are, to this day, Shia; this heterodoxy, coupled with their status as "progeny of invaders" in the eyes of the Sunni Pashtun, has invited the wrath of the "more-native" tribes against the Hazāra many, many times.



Genetically, the Hazāra are primarily eastern Eurasian with western Eurasian genetic mixtures, clustering closely with the Uzbek population of the Afghanistan, both groups being at a notable distance from Afghanistan's Tajik and Pashtun populations. There is evidence of a patrimonial relation to Mongol peoples of Mongolia -  "the Y-chromosome of Chingis Khan" is present in a greater proportion in the Hazāra men than it is in even the current population of Mongolian men. This chromosome is virtually absent outside the limits of the Mongol Empire; among the Hazāra,  it reaches its highest frequency anywhere in the world - see the blue pie-slice in the graphic below. The Hazāra are also characterized by very high frequencies of eastern-Eurasian mtDNA at 35%, and these are virtually absent from neighboring populations, suggesting that the male descendants of Chingis Khan, or other Mongols of his clan, were accompanied by some women of East Asian ancestry, perhaps the Tatar Bekis of the princes. Women of non-eastern-Eurasian mtDNA in the Hazāra are at 65%, most which is western-Eurasian (possibly Kushano-Bactrian), with the remainder North-Indian.



Imam Bakhsh Hazāra grew up outside Mazar-e-Sharif. After the sack of that Hazāra stronghold by the Taliban during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s, he lived for several years as a refugee in Iran. He says he faced a lot of discrimination in Iran, so when he got sick of it he crossed into Pakistan and went to live with better-off relatives in Quetta who ran a trucking business. His brother got a scholarship from the Mongolian government to go to business-school in Ulaanbaatar - many Mongols still regard the Hazāra as a lost tribe of Chingis Khan, and thus their own. He followed his older brother;  the English he had learnt in Quetta served him well-enough to get underbelly-jobs in the grey-economy around tourism, and he is driving this summer while he learns enough Mongolian to get into college like his brother. The language has been hard, he finds it easier to talk in English and Persian than he does in Mongolian. Chingis Khan's DNA notwithstanding, his face breaks out in a rueful smile over the sheep's-milk-boiled-with-salt-and-tea-dust that we share - "and this they call chai!"

When you go to Ulaanbaatar - he tells me confidingly - there is a restaurant called the Hazāra.  Of course it has nothing to do with the Hazāra. It is Indian. You will like it.

Here is part one of a documentary on the history of the Hazāra. Part two is here. The Pashtun and Tajik cultural memory of Chingis Khan's foray into Afghanistan is one of a holocaust resisted. Below is a clip that reflects that memory - "Genghis Khan said he would spare everyone that surrendered but of course the Afghans did not", and "most ethnic groups from present day Afghanistan rose up and fought." In this memory, the Hazāra did fight, but on the other side.




Saturday, August 24

The Death of Chingis Khan




When Chingis Khan returned to Mongolia from the sack of Khwarezm c. 1225, he remembered the Tanghut - a western Tibetan tribe who had created the Xi-Xia or Hsia or Western Xia empire - had not lived up to their promise of sending soldiers to aid his conquest of "the Moslem people." (Although the Tangut emperor Shenzong had been willing to aid the Mongols, his court and, in particular, his general Aša-gambu or Asha Gambu, had recommended against it.) The Secret History of the Mongols says (Paul Kahn's adaptation):

During that winter Chingis Khan said:
“I will go to war with the Tanghut people.”
He reassembled his army for war
and in the autumn of the Year of the Dog he set out.
From among all his wives he took the Tatar, Yesui Khatun, as his companion.
Later that winter as they approached the land of the Tanghut,
Chingis Khan was hunting wild horses in the Arbukha region,
riding his horse known as Red-Earth Gray.
As some soldiers drove the wild horses out from the bush
Red-Earth Gray bolted and threw Chingis Khan to the ground.
The fall caused him a great deal of pain
and he pitched his camp there at Chogorkhad.
That night his condition grew worse
and the next morning
Yesui Khatun called the princes and commanders together.
“Talk among yourselves and decide what to do,” she said.
“The Khan has spent a bad night and his flesh has grown hot.”

The council recommended putting the campaign on hold - the Tanghut lived in walled cities, the Mongols could come back for them - and return for a while to Mongolia. When Chingis Khan heard this counsel he was not in agreement:

“If we do this
the Tanghut will say that our hearts have failed us.
That’s the reason they’ll think we’ve gone back.
Let’s send ambassadors to them from our camp here at Chogorkhad.
If my sickness gets worse
we can withdraw after we hear their reply.”

The Tangut general Aša-gambu threw down the gauntlet:

"Now if you Mongol know nothing but fighting and say,
‘Let’s go to war,’
well, my camp is at Alashai.
All my tents are pitched there
along with my wealth stored on the backs of my camels.
Take yourselves to Alashai and meet me there.
That’s where I will fight you.
If you’re in need of more silver, satins, and gold
take yourselves to our cities,
to Ning-hsia or Liang-chou.”
When they brought these messages back to Chingis Khan
he was enraged by what he heard.
Though his flesh was still burning with fever he said:
“Yes, that answer is more than enough!
How can we withdraw after he’s said such things?
Even if it means I die here
we must answer these boasts with a fight.
Eternal Blue Heaven, you decide who will win!”

Chingis Khan took his army to Alashai and fought Asha Gambu.
They overcame the Tanghut forces on the plains there.
Asha Gambu retreated to a fort in the mountains of Alashai
but he was captured there and his people were defeated.
All his tents and all the wealth stored on the backs of his camels were taken,
and all his soldiers were killed,
blown away like the ashes of a fire gone out.
Chingis Khan ordered this, saying:
“Let our soldiers kill every Tanghut they can lay hands on,
let them slaughter any Tanghut soldier they can get.
Kill the bold and the brave ones,
put every capable Tanghut man to death.”



The emperor Shenzong died during the fighting and was succeeded by Modi, the last of the Burkhans or Tanghut rulers. Modi sued for peace:

He brought out images of the Buddha made from gold.
Then followed bowls and vessels made of silver and gold,
nine and nine,
young boys and young maidens,
nine and nine,
fine geldings and fine camels,
nine and nine,
and every other thing in his realm,
each arranged according to its color and form,
nine and nine.
Chingis Khan ordered Burkhan to present himself outside the closed door of his tent,
Burkhan was told to wait there three days,
and on the third day Chingis Khan decided what to do.

He gave Burkhan Khan the new title Shidurghu.
One Who Has Been Made Upright.
and after allowing Burkhan Shidurghu to stand before him,
Chingis Khan said:
“See that he is executed.
Let Tolun Cherbi be the one to see that he is killed.”

Chingis Khan took everything from the Tanghut people.
He gave their ruler Burkhan the name Shidurghu
and then executed him.
He ordered that the men and women of their cities be killed,
their children and grandchildren, saying:
“As long as I can eat food and still say,
‘Make everyone who lives in their cities vanish,’
kill them all and destroy their homes.
As long as I am still alive
keep up the slaughter.”

Thus, after centuries of rule over north-western China, the Western-Xia state ceased to exist.

Chingis Khan's fall from his horse was apparently aggravated by wounds - perhaps an arrow - received in this battle. Marco Polo writes:

... he went against a certain castle that was called Caagiu, and there he was shot with an arrow in the knee, so that he died of his wound. A great pity it was, for he was a valiant man and a wise.

It is possible that Marco Polo's account aose out of a confusion between Chingis Khan's demise and the circumstances around that of Mongke Khan, his grandson by the Toluid line, which is said to have occurred during the assault of Hochau (in Szechuan province), a name which Polo might have written as Caagiu.  Friar John of Piano-Carpini relates that Chingis was killed by lightning, i.e. it could only be the wrath of God that despatched him.  Persian and Chinese historians, however, agree in speaking of Chingis Khan's death as one from natural causes, in 1227, when he was aged around 65 (72 according to Persian sources.)

Sanang Setzen Khangtaiji (1604-62), a prince of the Mongolian tribe of Ordus, who "deduces all his dynasties from the Indian Sakya, and allots between them the different provinces of Jambu-dwipa", says in his history Sanan Setsen u Namtar that Kurbeljin Goa Khatun, the beautiful Queen of the Tanghut, who had passed into the tents of the Chingis, did him some unknown-and-unknowable bodily mischief, and then commited suicide by drowning in the Karamuren (Hwang-ho), which thenceforth was called the Khatun-Gol, or the Lady’s River, by the Mongols; a name which it apparently still bears.

The Secret History just says:

... coming back to Mongolia,
in the Year of the Pig,

Chingis Khan ascended to Heaven
After-he had ascended
Yesui Khatun was given most of the Tanghut people who remained.





Chingis Khan had asked to be buried without markings. His body was returned to Mongolia, presumably to his birthplace in the Khentii Aimag, where many assume he is buried somewhere close to the Onon river, where it flows out of the Burkhan Khaldun. The funeral escort killed anyone who crossed their path, in order to conceal the location. After the tomb was complete, the slaves who built it were massacred, and then the soldiers who killed them were also killed. Other legends say that his grave was stampeded-over by cavalry, and then trees were then planted over the site. Marco Polo said that in a few generations, by the late 13th century, none of the Mongols knew the location of the burial site. Historians think that his companions would have buried him near one of his favorite places - an area of the Burkhan Khaldun mountain (roughly 48.51°N 108.81°E - about 50kms from the contemporary Khan Khentii - and where the Onon gol emerges out of the Gorkhi-Terelj park) whereunto he was wont to retreat and draw inspiration. This area was called the Ikh Khorig, the Great Taboo; about 240 square-kilometers were sealed off by the Mongols, trespass being punishable by death. It is only within the last 20 years that the area has been open to archaeologists. In this regard see the crowd-sourced Valley Of The Khans project.

In 2003, a historical genetics paper reported that 1 in 200 men in the world are direct-line descendants of Chingis Khan. The abstract reads:

We have identified a Y-chromosomal lineage with several unusual features. It was found in 16 populations throughout a large region of Asia, stretching from the Pacific to the Caspian Sea, and was present at high frequency: ~8% of the men in this region carry it, and it thus makes up ~0.5% of the world total. The pattern of variation within the lineage suggested that it originated in Mongolia ~1,000 years ago. Such a rapid spread cannot have occurred by chance; it must have been a result of selection. The lineage is carried by likely male-line descendants of Genghis Khan, and we therefore propose that it has spread by a novel form of social selection resulting from their behavior.

The social selection is, of course, due to the power that Chingis Khan and his direct descendants  - the Golden Family (Mongolian: Алтан ураг, meaning 'Golden lineage') -  held, especially in a society which allowed one man to have many children through polygamy and concubinage; as well as widespread rape of the conquered populations. See Descent from Genghis Khan for more.

An article discussing this paper quotes the Great Khan:

The greatest joy for a man is to defeat his enemies, to drive them before him, to take from them all they possess, to see those they love in tears, to ride their horses, and to hold their wives and daughters in his arms.

The author goes on to say:

From what I know of the history it does not seem that Genghis Khan was any more evil or sociopathic than Julius Caesar, Charlemagne or Alexander the Great. What he had on his side was simply scale of success. So I don’t know if it truly is an example of nice guys finishing last. The biography gleaned from The Secret History of the Mongols doesn’t indicate the level of self-destructive sociopathy of Stalin or Ivan the Terrible. Rather, Genghis Khan was able to gather around himself a cadre of followers who were willing to stick with him through thick and thin.

In the life and legacy of the great Mongol warlord I suspect we see the patterns of male domination and power projection which were the norm after the decline of hunter-gatherers, and before the rise of the mass consumer society. During this period complex civilizations built on rents extracted from subsistence agriculturalists arose. These civilizations were dominated by powerful men, who could accrue to themselves massive surpluses, and translate those surpluses into reproductive advantage. This was not possible in the hunter-gatherer world where reproductive variance was constrained by the reality that allocation of resources was relatively equitable from person to person. But with agriculture and village society inequality shot up, and the winner-take-all dynamic came to the fore. And so the appearance on the scene genetically of super-Y lineages. 

The Khan is dead. Long live the Khan.

Below, Chingis Khan's nine white flags are trotted out during the annual Naadam in Ulaanbaatar (around minute 8 in the clip.)


Thursday, August 22

Griffins and Baluchitheria



We drive to Bayanzag in the late afternoon, anxious to catch sunset at the Flaming Cliffs. It is overcast, there are puddles in the track-ruts from the afternoon's hailstorm. In the distance towards Bayankhongor there is more devilry - a dust storm hanging out on the horizon. A rainbow comes out.

This is dinosaur territory. The first fossilized dinosaur eggs were discovered in the 1920s in the cliff formation we are heading towards. The discovery was made by the team of Roy Chapman Andrews - American explorer, naturalist, crack-shot, writer, radio personality, teller-of-tall-tales, and, some say, the prototype for Indiana Jones. The fossil eggs were initially thought to belong to Protoceratops:  the most prominent species of this genus is called Protoceratops andrewsi in his honor. Protoceratops ("first horned face") was a lion-sized beast with a beak and a neck-frill, that roamed these parts 75 million years ago.  Its fossils show a lanky quadruped's body, a beaked face, and wing-like frills coming out of the shoulder or neck.

Actually, the expedition cameraman J.B. Shackelford saw the first Protoceratops fossil (across the border in Gansu); it is not recorded who saw the eggs, but the boss got the credit. Each egg was about eight inches in length, and hatchlings are estimated to have been about twelve inches from beak to tail. Due to the proximate abundance of Protoceratops fossils, these eggs were believed at the time to belong to P. andrewsi. Further, due to the discovery of an Oviraptor (a theropod dinosaur that lived at the same time) skeleton in a Protoceratops nest, the former was thought to consume the eggs of the latter (hence the name egg-stealer.) The Oviraptor skull was found crushed, and it was speculated that the injury was received by a Protoceratops mother defending her brood from the predator. However, in 1993, it was discovered that inside the supposed Protoceratops egg was an Oviraptor embryo; that is, the original find represented Oviraptor brooding behavior rather than a failed attempt at nest-raiding. In addition, in 2011 a nest of young P. andrewsi was discovered in Mongolia, so it seems both P and O were doting moms.




P. andrewsi may have been at the root of the mythical creature known as the griffin. Griffins were described as winged lions with eagle faces - the prominent features were lion-limbs ending in talons, a raptor-beak'd-countenance, and wings; they laid their eggs in nests on the ground. Folklorist Adrienne Mayor has suggested the first fossils of "griffins" were found by ancient Saka nomads digging for gold in these Altai Mountains. Greek writers began describing the griffin around 675 BCE, around the age when Greeks first made contact with Saka nomads. In some places the populations mixed. Griffins were described by the Greeks as guarding gold deposits in the arid hill'd red sandstone formations of the wilderness; these creatures are a prominent motif in Scythian gold-work. The South Gobi region of Mongolia, where many exquisitely preserved Protoceratops fossils are found,  is rich in red sandstone as well as gold runoff from the Altai mountains, lending some credence to the theory that P. andrewsi is the basis of the griffin myths.



Above, a golden Saka necklace showing two griffins tear into a horse. Below, a cup excavated from the Marlik site in Gilan, Iran, dated c. 500 BC, showing griffins in the top band.

(As an aside, Herodotus says of the Gilanis: They have all deep blue eyes, and bright red hair. There is a city in their territory, called Gelonus, which is surrounded with a lofty wall, thirty furlongs each way, built entirely of wood. All the houses in the place and all the temples are of the same material. Here are temples built in honour of the Grecian gods, and adorned after the Greek fashion with images, altars, and shrines, all in wood. There is even a festival, held every third year in honour of Bacchus, at which the natives fall into the Bacchic fury. For the fact is that the Geloni were anciently Greeks, who, being driven out of the factories along the coast, fled to the Budini and took up their abode with them. They still speak a language half Greek, half Scythian.)



Roy Chapman Andrews walked up to the Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag in 1922 and found fossils practically grinning at him from the hillside. As the party walked up to the formation, they could see giant bones sticking out of the ground. One of the first items of loot was the skull of a Baluchitherium. This largest-of-all-mammals-ever had roamed the region 30 million years ago, and had been discovered in fossil form in 1911 in Baluchistan, and to date only another fossil had been found in Turkestan in 1919. Chapman cabled back (during a 3 day trip to Peking, to make sure his wife and children, and those of the other expedition members, were safe from the anti-Christian sentiments that were then being stoked):

"Men, cars safe. Three thousand miles. Mongolia expedition discovers vast fossil fields, rich cretaceous, tertiary deposits. Skull baluchitherium. Complete skeletons small dinosaurs. Skulls rhinoceros. Twenty thousand feet film. Two thousand mammals. Mapped large area. Extremely important geological discoveries."

The expedition also found Velociraptor mongoliensis, the first Asian dromaeosaurid discovered. As its close relatives are found in North America (these are the fast-movers of Jurassic Park), it is suggested that a land bridge was extended between the two continents in the late Cretaceous. Below, a recreation of Baluchitherium, which looks like one tapir two giraffes tall and three elephants long.



Here is some hundred-year-old footage of Mongolia, incorporating parts of those 20000 feet of Shackelford's film that have survived:





Ever since we left Dalanzadgad for the Gobi, there has been no connection with the outside world, except brief snatches of AM radio in Bulgan (there is a huge radio mast that can be seen ~10 miles west of soum; the ger dwellers of course have satellite TV.) At the Gobi Discovery camp in Khongoryn Els, there was one cook whose phone famously got a signal at one notorious corner of the water tank.  We camped out under the tank in faint hope that its cylindrical geometry helped concentrate photons, but alas, only the cook's phone worked at this location (I checked this out, since I talked to 'Zaya on her way out, sitting over a rusty bucket.) On the way to Bayanzag, at Dal Bag my phone suddenly - finally! - chirps up and starts mailing out pictures from the email outbox at high speed, and I am forced to decide on importunate calendar-invites weeks out in the future. At the top of the cliffs, 'Zaya gets phone signal too, and anxiously calls her sister to check on little Naranhueslen in Ulaanbaatar.




We scramble down to the bottom of the canyon. Not only are there pebbly fossils everywhere (you can apparently bite them to test - rock tastes like rock, fossils don't; we didn't try fossil.) There are also more recent camel bones, picked clean and bleached white, against the red soil. Rain from the past day has collected in puddles that are beginning to dry and flake. The clouds part at last, just in time for the last rays to turn the cliffs to flame.


Sunday, August 18

Battle of the Kalka River




There is a postscript to the story of the last Khwarezm-Shah.

From the 11th to 19th centuries, the name Iraq referred to two neighbouring regions, separated by the Zagros Mountains: Arabic Iraq (ʿIrāq-i ʿArab) and Persian Iraq (ʿIrāq-i ʿAjam). Arabic Iraq corresponded with ancient Babylonia (now central-southern Iraq), while ʿAjami Iraq (Iraq Adjami, see map in the previous post) corresponded with ancient kingdom of the Medes (now central-western Iran), including cities such as Isfahan, Ray, Qazvin, and Kashan. Babur writes in the Baburnama "The people of Hindustān call every country beyond their own Khorasān, in the same manner as the Arabs term all except Arabia, ʿAjam." Today, we will follow the Mongol postscript though ʿIrāq-i ʿAjam, via the Caucasus into Rus; ʿIrāq-i ʿArab will come a generation later.

In 1220, on the increasingly-cold trail of the Khwarezm-Shah, the Mongol noyans Jebe and Sübutei were criss-crossing ʿIrāq-i ʿAjam.  They seem to have finally lost track of the Khwarezm-Shah somewhere in the region of Hamadan.

Frustrated, Jebe requested permission from Chingis Khan to continue explorations of the region for a few seasons before returning to the main army via across the Caucasus. While waiting for the Great Khan's reply, the duo set out to search out good pastureland on the Mughan Steppe (in southern Azerbaijan) for the duration of the winter of 1220. There were joined by Kurdish and Turcomen nomads, greedy for any leftover spoil, who, in February 1221, guided them into the Kingdom of Georgia. This region, as the Colchis of Greek mythology, was the home of Aeëtes,  of Medea, the Golden Fleece, and Hephaestus' fire-breathing bronze bulls the Khalkotauroi; the destination of Jason and the Argonauts; as well as the supposed homeland of the Amazons.  Its original confederations of Caucasoid tribes had been absorbed into Greater Assyria, in the time of the Sargons (circa the 8th century BCE.)




In January and February 1221, the Mongol forces made a reconnaissance foray into the Kingdom of Georgia, entering through the valley of the Kura River (where, in prehistory, irrigation-agriculture may have first developed) - not to conquer, but to plunder if possible. The Kurds and Turcoman tribals were sent off in the vanguard. The King of Georgia, George IV Lasha, advanced with 10,000 men and smashed the vanguard (so much for spoils of victory.) The Mongols feigned withdrawal, continuing to launch counter-attacks on the Georgian army to keep drawing them out; when this was accomplished, they launched a full-scale turn-around-attack and defeated Lasha's forces.

This was to confirm a pattern - the highly mobile steppe cavalry of the Mongols playing, so to speak, a 'passing game': when challenged retreat at full pelt, drawing and thinning out the infantries of their plains opponents accustomed to a 'rushing game' of front-gaining-against-front. Then, a lightning-speed wheel-around-and-counter-attack, side-stepping the thinned-out infantry and going for the jugular in the form of the person of the opposing king. This pattern would repeat till a young prisoner of war, Chand Ram of Gujarat, bought for a thousand dinars by the Khilji (Ghilzai) sultan of Delhi, castrated, sodomized, rising first into royal favorite-hood and then generalship, decided to employ pincer movements before these feigned retreats to cut off the Mongols' escape paths; more on 'hazar dinari' Malik Kafur (and his colleague Zafar Khan) another time.

In autumn 1221, the Mongols advanced into Georgia once again, entering as before through the Kura. A Georgian army was again waiting, near Tbilisi, and, after Sübutei saw them massed, he feigned retreat. In this instance (having learnt a lesson from earlier in the year) the Georgians sent cavalry to chase after Sübutei's army, only, this time, to fall into a variant - an ambush set by Jebe; where king George was mortally wounded. After plundering Georgia, Jebe and Sübutei retreated to the steppes to overwinter their horses.  

These surprise attacks left the Georgians in confusion as to who their attackers were: the record of contemporary chroniclers indicate that they are unaware of the nature or identity of these attackers. After the Mongols had vanished, King George sister and successor Queen Rusudan wrote in a letter to Pope Honorius III that the Georgians had presumed the Mongols were Christians because they fought Muslims, but that they had turned out to be pagans. Grigor of Akner, a Cilician Armenian, wrote a History of The Nation of Archers, covering the forty-four year period from 1229/30 to 1273. About the origin of the Nation of Archers he can only surmise in bewilderment:

Isaac was born from Abraham's free wife. Esau and Jacob were [Isaac's] descendants. Jacob's descendants included the twelve patriarchs and the great prophet, David. The Word of God, our lord Jesus Christ, was revealed from the house and line of David.

[There were also descendants] from the hand maidens of Abraham, one of whom was named Hagar and the other Kendura (Ketura). From Ketura, Imran was born whence the Pahlaws, [a lineage which includes] brave Arshak and saint Gregory, illuminator of the Armenians. From Hagar [descended] Ishmael, which translates "the hearing of God," whence the Ishmaelites. At the birth of Ishmael, God commanded Abraham to give to him and his people the richness of the land, and to make a great people from him with his hand upon his enemies, and more successful than all other peoples with the sword and bow.

The Esavites, who are the Scythians, descended from Esau, son of Isaac. They are black, wild, and strange looking. From them descend the Boramichk' and Lekzik', who dwell in holes and traps and perpetrate many crimes.

And it is said that the Edomites, who are the Franks, also are descended from him. These three peoples, descendants of Hagar, Ketura, and Esau, mingled together and gave birth to another people, strange looking and wicked, called T'at'ar, which means sharp and light.

Sharp and light indeed.



Meanwhile, Chingis Khan granted Jebe and Sübutei permission to take their expeditionary force beyond the Kavkaz (Caucasus).  Jebe was to be in command, Sübutei his deputy.  The noyans advanced to Derbent, the oldest as well as the southernmost city in Russia, in the province of Dagestan, on the Caspian Sea north of the Azerbaijani border.

The name Derbent (Russian: Дербе́нт; Persian: دربند) derives from the Indic Dwar-bandh ('Gate-closed'); it was known to the Arabs as Bāb al a-Bwab ("Gate of Gates"), to the Turks as Demirkapı ('Iron Gate'), and to the Greeks as the legendary Gates of Alexander, being the very narrow primary crossing between the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Middle East to the south, through a very narrow costal strip between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains.

Derbent refused to surrender. Jebe promised to spare the city in return for the services of 10 guides to take them through the Caucasus. To warn the guides against playing any tricks, the Mongols executed one of them. The crossing of the Caucasus was costly; Jebe and Sübutei had to abandon their siege engines, and the Mongols lost hundreds of men to the cold. After making it through the Caucasus, the Mongols were met by an alliance consisting of the Lezgians, the Alans and the Cherkesses tribes who lived north of the Caucasus - a league of Saka, Sarmatian, Caspian (Dagestani/Chechen) peoples. In this alliance they were joined by the Cumans, a  Qipchaq Turkic people who owned an expansive khanate stretching from Lake Balkhash to the Black Sea. The Cumans also convinced the Volga Bulgars (Islamized Oghur-Turkic tribes, who had mixed with the Saka and Alan populations around the confluence of the Volga and the Kama), as well as the Khazars (Turkic Central Asian tribes who by that age had converted to Judaism, and were overlords of the Bulgars) to join forces against the Mongols. With so many tribal players in a league, the scene was ripe for the kind of factional intrigue at which the Mongols excelled.

The first battle between the league and the Mongols was indecisive; soon, the Mongols managed to persuade the Cuman to abandon the alliance by reminding them of the Turkic-Mongol friendship and promising them a share of the booty gained from the other tribes. This arrangement sealed, the Cumans turned back to their homelands; the Mongols attacked the remainder and routed them. The Cumans had split into two separate groups as they were returning home; Jebe and Sübutei picked them off one by one, destroying both armies and executing all the prisoners before sacking Astrakhan. The Mongols then began pursuing the remaining Cumans as they fled in a north-westerly direction towards Russia.

In the meantime, the Venetians had sent a delegation to the Mongols, and these parties concluded an alliance in which it was agreed that the Mongols would destroy any other European trading post they came across. As the Mongols pursued the Cumans, Jebe sent a detachment to Crimea, where the Republic of Genoa had trading stations. The Mongols captured and plundered the Genoese city of Soldaia. In January 1223 the Mongols reached the commercial centre of Sudak in the Crimea, a colony of the small Greek Empire of Trebizond.



(Above: A knight embraces a Cuman-Qipchaq warrior.)

The Cuman Khan Koten, fleeing to Rus,  reached the court of his son-in-law, Prince Mstislav the Bold of Galich. He warned Mstislav: "Today the Mongols have taken our land and tomorrow they will take yours".

However, the Cumans were ignored for almost a year; the Rus had suffered from Cuman raids for decades and tended to treat the Qipchaq as a more immediate problem than the still-hypothetical Tatars; but when news reached Kiev that the Mongols were marching along the Dniester River, Mstislav gathered an alliance of the Kievan Rus princes, including Mstislav III of Kiev and Prince Yuri II of Vladimir-Suzdal, who all promised support. The Rus princes then began individually mustering their armies and going towards a rendezvous point. Crucially, no general or planning authority had been agreed upon.

The moves by the Rus princes was detected by the Mongols, who were on the east side of the Dnieper, waiting for reinforcements from Jochi, Genghis Khan's eldest son, who had been campaigning around Khwarezm and the Aral. Jochi, however, had been taken ill, which meant no decision on reinforcements was immediately forthcoming.

The Rus attempted to confuse the Mongols by attacking from several directions. Galich and Volhynia transported their armies south down the river, while Kiev and Chernigov advanced north up the river, and the army of Kursk advanced from the front. At the same time, the Cumans attempted to attack the Mongol army's rear.

When Jebe and Sübutei heard of the Rus' movements, they began moving east, away from Rus (which was of course the only direction in which they could move.) However, they left a rearguard of 1,000 under the command of Hamabek to report on the Rus' movement. Jochi learned of this, and sent ten envoys to the Prince of Kiev, to reassure him that Jebe's Mongols had no feud with the Rus, and had indeed only been pursuing their mutual enemies the Cumans through the frontiers of Rus; he added that seeing the Rus agitated, the Mongols were already marching east, away from the Rus' cities. 

Mstislav III of Kiev had the Mongol envoys executed.

Soon, Mstislav the Bold reached the Dnieper river opposite the rearguard left by Jebe. Since no Rus prince had been appointed commander-in-chief, each felt he could act as he pleased. Against advice, Mstislav crossed the river under heavy arrow fire. When the Rus did land, however, their numbers were  overwhelming, and the Mongol rearguard died fighting to the last man.

After drawing out the Rus armies for nine days in a feigned retreat, the Mongol army turned to face their pursuers along the Kalka River. The river's location is thought to be the contemporary Kalchik River, in the Donetsk oblast of the Ukraine, which runs into the Sea of Azov.

The Battle of the Kalka River - May 1223 - was conducted with little planning on the side of the Rus. At the outset, the Cumans foolishly charged up a plateau, found heavy enemy cavalry hiding in wait at the top, broke and ran down helter-skelter, and their flight through the Russian ranks led to a mass confusion. (It is possible that the Cumans did not want the Russians to win a battle on Cuman territory, and that this retreat was calculated; what better for the Cuman-Qipchaqs that catalyse a war between Slav and Mongol, and then nimbly step out of the way?) The armies of Volhynia and Kursk made a gap in their lines so that the fleeing Cumans could retreat; however, the Mongol heavy cavalry charged through the newly formed gap, and the army of Chernigov, which was advancing unaware that the battle had started, collided head-on with the retreating Cumans. The Mongol cavalry took advantage of the confusion in the Chernigov line and pressed on, causing the line to collapse, taking with it Prince Mstislav of Chernigov. At the same time, the Mongol wings closed around the rest of the disarrayed Rus army, cutting off its retreat. The surrounded Rus were hit by volley after volley of arrow, accompanied by occasional cavalry charges. As the Mongols were carrying this slaughter, Mstislav the Bold managed to cut his way through the Mongol ring and escape.

(A modern game-simulation of the battle is here.)


Meanwhile Mstislav III of Kiev arrived late to battle, only to see what remained of the Rus army fleeing. Panicked, he retreated to his stockaded camp on a hill by the Dnieper with his 10,000 men. The Mongol army soon arrived to besiege the camp. The Kievan Rus managed to hold out for three days, but Mstislav of Kiev decided to surrender to one of Jebe's allies named Ploskanea on the condition that he and his army would be able to return unharmed to Kiev. Once in control of the camp, the Mongols slaughtered the Kievan army and took Mstislav of Kiev and several other nobles prisoners. Mindful of the superstition against shedding royal blood, yet vengeful for the killing of their envoys, the Mongols asked the Kievan princes to squat, and, placing tables on their backs, conducted a victory feast over their bodies. Mstislav III of Kiev died by suffocation.

Mstislav the Bold managed to reach the western side of the Dnieper with what remained of his army. To stop the Mongols from crossing the Dnieper, Mstislav destroyed all the boats he could find, but at this point Jebe and Sübutei were not interested in Kiev -- for now. The expedition had started out to hunt down Khwarezm-Shah, and wandered into the lands beyond only opportunistically, and found them unprepared. It was time to take stock of the opportunities. The Mongols mopped up the Cuman army near the Ural mountains, defeating and killing their Khan before extracting copious tribute. Following this victory, Jebe and Sübutei  turned east and met the Great Khan and the rest of the Mongol army on the steppes to the east of the Syr Darya. Chingis Khan showed great appreciation for his generals' achievement, and heaped praise on Jebe and Sübutei. The noyans had succeeded not by siege engines or gunpowder, but by nimbleness in movement and strategy, against plodding, unprepared, divided adversaries. After the encounters with Rus, there was much to ponder for the future world-conqueror.


Jebe (or Jebei, Mongolian: Зэв, Zov), however, did not survive the campaign long; he died on the steppe in 1225. His clan had belonged to the Tayichigud tribe, under Targhutai Kiriltugh's leadership. In 1201, during Battle of the Thirteen Sides, Chingis Khan - then Temujin - had been wounded by an arrow to the neck, and his loyal guard Jelme had saved his Khan by sucking all the poisoned blood out of the neck. After the battle, Temujin asked the defeated Tayichigud to reveal who it was that had shot his horse in the neck (euphemistically refering to his own injury as if to his horse's, in an apparent attempt to conceal his injury, or possibly to prevent false confessions.) From The Secret History Of The Mongols (Paul Kahn's adaptation):

Then Chingis Khan spoke again, saying:
"Just as the two armies began to charge one another at Koyiten,
riding up and down the sides of the mountain,
reforming and charging in waves,
someone shot an arrow at me from up on the ridge.
Who was it who was able to fire an arrow from up on the mountain
that pierced the spine of my white-mouthed warhorse?"
Jebe answered him:
I shot the arrow at you from up on the mountain.
If you kill me right here
I'll fertilize a bit of dirt the size of your hand.
But if the Khan will allow me to live
I'll ride out in his service and cut the deepest waters in two,
split the brightest diamond.
Just let him give me the order, 'Go here in my name,'
and I'll be there with a force that will shatter blue rock.
Just let him give me the order to attack
and I'll charge with a force that will smash black stone to pieces."
Chingis answered him:
"Usually a man who's fought against us is the last to admit it.
He'll lie about what he's done or simply hide out of fear.
But this man doesn't deny that he's fought us;
in fact he declares it!
Here's a man who'll tell you straight what he's done
and here's a man I will have in my army.
They say his name is Jirghogadai
but I'll give him a new one.
Since he's the man who shot my warhorse in the spine,
the horse who'd been my finest weapon in war,
I'll name him Jebe, 'the weapon.'
From now on that is your name
and you'll ride by my side."
And this is how Jebe of the Tayichigud clan joined Chingis Khan.

Chingis then gathered his spoils from the Tayichigud camp
and executed the clan leaders,
their sons, their grandsons,
so that their seed blew away in the wind like the ashes.
Then he moved his camp to the Khuba Khaya for winter.




The importance of the expedition Jebe and Sübutei carried out was immense. It was history's longest cavalry raid, the Mongols riding nearly ten thousand kms in three years. Though the expedition did not add new territories, per se, to the Mongol Empire, it gathered intelligence that would be vital for the future conquest of Rus, and for the eventual creation of the Golden Horde, Timur, and Babur. Sübutei stationed numerous spies in Russia, who provided frequent reports on what was happening in Europe and Russia. Finally, the weakening of the Kievan Rus helped shift the strategic gravamen of the Slavic peoples towards Moscow and St. Petersburg, where it remains to this day.

(In 1237, Sübutei, this time with Batu Khan, returned for a second invasion, with 120,000 men, and this time annihilated the Kievan Rus. Russian states had to submit to Mongol rule - the Tatar Yoke - and became part of the Golden Horde; the Yoke stayed on until 1480. Eastern Europe would fundamentally change;  resulting in the division of the East Slavic people into three separate nations - modern day Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.)

Following the Battle of the Kalka River, in 1224 the Chronicle of Novgorod reported:

" ... unknown tribes came, whom no one exactly knows, who they are, nor whence they came out, nor what their language is, nor of what race they are, nor what their faith is; but they call them Tatars."

Below, Ulaanbaatar during the Naadam festival.


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.


Wednesday, August 14

Gobi Mirage


Our next stop, appropriately, is the Gobi Mirage ger camp; this part of the desert reliably delivers the conditions that make shimmering lakes and seas appear in the distance, over dozens of miles.

Normally, the Earth's atmosphere has a vertical temperature gradient of about -1° Celsius per 100m - it gets colder as you go up. When there is strong heating at the ground level, the temperature gradient can reach -4° or -5°C per m. Cold air is more dense than warm air, and therefore has a greater refractive index. When light rays pass from hotter to cooler air, they bend in the direction of the gradient; if the air near the ground is warmer than that higher up, the light rays bend in a concave, upward trajectory. Once the rays reach the viewer’s eye, the visual cortex interprets them as if they traced back along a perfectly straight 'line of sight', i.e. at a tangent to the path the ray takes at the point it reaches the eye. The result is that an 'inferior image' of the sky above appears on the ground. The viewer - especially a thirsty one - may incorrectly interpret this image as a body of water reflecting the sky, which is to the brain a more reasonable occurrence.





We reach the Gobi Mirage camp; the cooks bring out airag in greeting. As we walk towards our ger, a small cloud of dust tearing over the desert resolves itself to be another SUV; it stops at the edge of the camp, and two gesticulating figures jump up and run after us; 'Zaya has arrived.

When Byambe phoned in her intention to quit, 'Zaya, the President of Blue Silk travels in Ulaanbaatar, called her sister, jumped into a SUV, dropped off her 5-year-old Naran with her aunt,  and, driving madly 15 overnight hours non-stop over the middle- and south-Gobi, arrived helter-skelter at the Mirage camp to take over personally. Out went Byambe, back to the Land Cruiser, to lurch back to the capital. and in came the best guide we could ever hope to find for the remainder of our trip; 'Zaya and her Peace-corper husband Jon have an unique combination of perspectives, one an Mongolian-insider, the other an outsider who has slowly integrated into Mongolia.




In the afternoon, as we eat in the cooking ger, storm clouds roll in. Pea-sized hail-in-the-desert follows, and Mr. M runs around collecting them in my baseball cap.


Monday, August 12

Khongoryn Els To Bulgan





We wake at dawn to start the journey back eastwards, past the summit of the Western Beauty, to the Bayanzag Flaming Cliffs area. At the Tsogt Ovoo pass, we stop to make token offerings of rock to the suburgan (i.e. chorten; from the Sanskrit su-garbha or chamber of good relics), its blue silk tied around argali-sheep-horn fluttering in the desert wind.

Byambe, our guide, has decided that the South Gobi is too ardous; she used to work in a mining supply-chain role, tour-guiding had seemed both a change from drudgery of 3-weeks-on-2-weeks-off in small towns, and a chance to practice languages; but after sandstorms and a few nights back in the middle of nowhere, she decided yesterday that this was not the change she was looking for. As we drive back, she muses about going to Beijing to visit a friend - she used to be a student at Harbin, and misses the bright lights of the Chinese cities.

What do the Chinese think about Mongolia?
"They don't consider us to be an indepedent country. They think we are part of China. That is very hard for us to hear." A little later she adds "I think it is terrible what the Chinese are doing to Tibet."

Mid-morning, we reach one of the soum centers -  flyspeck administrative posts that provide basic services in this nation of desert and steppe. From Dateline Mongolia - An American Journalist In Nomad's Land (by Michael Kohn, who also co-authored the Lonely Planet guide to Mongolia)

Soums are basically counties, invented by the Soviets when they attempted to collectivize rural areas. During this bureaucratic process, every soum was given a soum center, a small administrative town designed to house the elements that Russians deemed necessary for settled life: a school, a government house, a theater, a post office, a hospital, a bank, a dry goods store and a market. Soum streets were never paved and no paved roads led to them. Most were ghost towns - nomad families preferred to live out on the steppes where there was better grass for their animals, and only came into town for the occasional shopping spree. Dashbalbar was surrounded by poor ger suburbs, each property surrounded by a wood fence. Its center contained five or six concrete buildings, each in a similar state of neglect ... Gana and I moseyed to a tiny whitewashed theater where a variety show was in progress, complete with Buriat song-and-dance routines and slapstick comedy skits. The closing performance was a stunning play about the years of Stalinist repression, which described - in graphic detail - how men, women and children were taken from their homes in midnight raids, the women raped and their husbands sent to their deaths. The audience wept.

We drive through the soum center of Bulgan. The Mongolian word is сум, arrow.


Saturday, August 10

Samarqand 1220




''Is she not queen of the earth?'' Edgar Allan Poe was to ask (even from a distance of many centuries.) ''Her pride above all cities? In her hand their destinies?''

Chingis Khan drove his horde behind a massive levy of men from Bukhara to Samarqand. As he prepared to take the queen of the world, the Great Khan stopped to scout the necropolis of Shah-i-Zinda on the hillside of Afrosiab. He rode inside the mosque of Qusam ibn Abbas, a cousin of the prophet Muhammad, who had come to Samarkand as one of the proselytizing leaders of the Arab invasion of the 7th century. Popular legend says ibn Abbas was beheaded by the Zoroastrian king of Afrosiab but took his head and went into a deep well, where he's still living now. Over the well they built a shrine to Shah-i-Zinda, the King Who Lives. If the Mongols were culturally afraid of thunder, their Leader was squeamish about dogs and the undead; while the minaret and the outworks were leveled, it is said that that santuary and structures immediately surrounding it were allowed to exist.

Writes Juvaini:

For a day or two Chingis-Khan circled the town in person in order to inspect the walls, the outworks and the gates, and during this period he exempted his men from fighting.  At the same time he dispatched Yeme and Subutei, who were two of the great noyans and enjoyed his special trust, in pursuit of the Sultan together with thirty thousand men, and sent Ghadaq Noyan to Vakhsh and Talaqan.

Finally, on the third day, when the flare of the sun's flame had risen from the darkness of the pitchy night's smoke and the hocturnal blackness had retired to the seclusion of a corner, so many men, both Mongols and levies, were assembled together that their numbers exceeded those of the sand of the desert or drops of rain. They stationed themselves in a circle round about the town; and Alp-Er Khan, Shaikh Khan, Bala Khan and some other khans made a sally into the open, drew up opposite the army of the world-subduing Emperor and discharged their arrows. Many horse and foot were slain on either side. That day the Sultan's Turks engaged in constant skirmishes with the Mongols - for the light of a kandil flares up a little before it goes out - killing some of the Mongol army, capturing others and carrying them into the town, while a thousand of their own number likewise fell.

Finally, when for the benefit of the earth the fire of heaven was hidden by the earth's smoke, everyone retired to his quarters.

But as soon as the deceitful shield-bearer again struck his sword upon the cloud of night, Chingis-Khan mounted in person and stationed his troops in a circle round about the town. Both inside and outside the troops assembled and made ready for battle. and they pulled up the girth of combat and hostility until the time of evening prayer. From the discharge of mangonels and bows, arrows and stones were set in flight; and the Mongol army took up a position at the very gates and prevented the Sultan's troops from issuing forth on the field of battle. And when the path of combat was closed to them, and the two parties had become entangled on the chess-board of war, and the valiant cavalry were no longer able to manoeuvre  their horses upon the plain, they threw in their elephants; but the Mongols did not turn tail, on the contrary with their King-checking arrows they liberated those that were held in check by the elephants and broke up the ranks of the infantry. When the elephants had received wounds and were of no more use than the footmen of chess, they turned around and stampeded trampling many people underneath their feet. At length, when the Emperor of the Khotan (East, i.e. Sun) had let down the veil over his face, they closed the gates.

The people of Samarqand had been rendered apprehensive by the day's fighting, and their passions and opinions were divergent; some were desirous of submission and surrender, while others feared for their lives; some, by heavenly decree, were restrained from making peace, while others, because of the aura diffused by Chingis-Khan, were prevented from doing battle. Finally, on the next day, when the shining sun spread its glory, and the black raven of the firmament shed its feathers, the Mongol troops being bold and fearless and the people of Samarqand being irresolute in mind and counsel, the latter put the idea of war out of their heads and ceased to resist. The Qadi and the Shaikh-al-Islam together with a number of wearers of the turban hastened to approach Chingis-Khan: they were fortified and encoureged by the breakfast of his promises and with his permission re-entered the town.

At the time of prayer they opened the gate of the muhalla and closed the door of resistance. The Mongols then entered and that day busied themselves with the destruction of the town and its outworks.



The mahouts brought their elephants to Chingis-Khan and demanded elephant fodder. He asked them what the elephants lived on before they fell into captivity. They replied: ’The grass of the plains.’ Whereupon he ordered the elephants to be set free to forage for themselves. They were accordingly released and finally perished [of hunger].

When the king of the heavens had sunk beneath the ball of the earth, the Mongols departed from the town, and the garrison of the citadel, their hearts cut in two with fear and terror, could neither stand and resist nor turn and flee. Alp Khan, however, made a show of valour and intrepidity: issuing forth from the citadel with a thousand desperate men he fought his way through the centre of the Mongol army and joined up with the Sultan. The next morning, when the heralds of the Lord of the planets rose up striking their swords, the Mongol army completely encircled the citadel, and discharging arrows and projectiles from either side they devastated the walls and outworks and laid waste the Juy-i-Arziz. During the space between the two prayers they took the gates and entered the citadel. A thousand brave and valiant men withdrew to the cathedral mosque and commenced a fierce battle using both naphtha and quarrels. The army of Chingis-Khan likewise employed pots of naphtha; and the Friday mosque and all that were in it were burnt with the fire of this world and washed with the water of the Hereafter. Then all in the citadel were brought out into the open, where the Turks were separated from the Tajiks and all divided into groups of ten and a hundred. They shaved the front of the Turks’ heads in the Mongol fashion in order to tranquillize them and allay their fears; but when the sun had reached the west, the day of their life drew to its close, and that night every male Qanqli was drowned in the ocean of destruction and consumed by the fire of perdition. There were more than thirty thousand Qanqli and Turks, commanded by Barishmas-Khan, Taghai-Khan, Sarsigh-Khan and Ulagh-Khan, together with some twenty of the Sultan’s chief emirs, whose names are recorded in the yarligh which Chingis-Khan wrote to Rukn-ad-Din Kart; in which yarligh full mention is made of all the leaders of armies and countries whom he crushed and destroyed.

When the town and the citadel equalled each other in ruin and desolation and many an emir, and soldier, and townsman had taken a sip at the cup of destruction, on the next day, when the eagle which is the heavenly Jamshid had raised its head above the mountain-tops of the earth and the fiery countenance of the sun was lit up upon the round tray of the sky, the people who had escaped from beneath the sword were numbered; thirty thousand of them were chosen for their craftmanship, and these Chingis-Khan distributed amongst his sons and kinsmen, while the like number were selected from the youthful and valiant to form a levy. With regard to the remainder, who obtained permission to return into the town, as a thanksgiving because they had not shared the fate of the others nor attained the degree of martyrdom but had remained in the ranks of the living, he imposed [a ransom of] two hundred thousand dinars on these suppliants and deputed the collection of this sum to Siqat-al-Mulk and ’Amid Buzurg, who belonged to the chief officials of Samarqand. He then appointed several persons to be shahnas of the town and took some of the levies with him to Khorasan, while the others he sent to Khorezm with his sons. And afterwards, several times in succession levies were raised in Samarqand and few only were exempted therefrom; and for this reason complete ruin overran the country.

The outflux of refugees from the Mongol conquest of Mawarunnahr included, incidentally, the families of Sufi icons of India, such as Nizamuddin Aulia and Amir Khusrau.

Hugh Kennedy writes in Mongols, Huns and Vikings:

Revisionist historians have questioned the extent of Mongol ferocity and destructiveness, suggesting that such accounts are largely rhetoric and hyperbole. However, the weight of contemporary evidence is very strong and it is backed up by the archaeology. Of the great cities sacked by the Mongols, only Bukhara and Urgench were rebuilt on the same site: Balkh, Otrar and Nishapur were ruined for ever and at Merv a new town was founded two centuries later well away from the remains of the old. Samarkand was rebuilt outside the old walls while the ancient city remained as it is today, a desolate waste of mud-brick ruins.


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.