Baghdad fell to the Mongols in 1258. It was then the biggest, richest city in the world. It was where the Caliph lived. He ruled the Muslim world, at least in name. Baghdad has fallen to a non-Muslim army only one other time: in 2003 to the Americans.
In 1253 the Mongol Empire was ruled by Mongke Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan. In that year he sent one brother to the left, another to the right. The one sent to the left was Kublai Khan, sent to take over southern China. The one sent to the right was Hulagu, sent to take over South West Asia.
Hulagu overthrew the Assassins in their castles in Iran. Then he marched on Baghdad.
Baghdad’s Arab Muslim rulers were hated by both Christians and Persians. Hulagu got both on his side – even the Christians who lived in Baghdad itself. Hulagu’s mother and two wives were Christians (Nestorians).
The Mongol army approached from the north and the east. The Christian armies of Armenia and Georgia came down from the north-west. People fled before them to Baghdad, seeking safety behind the city’s walls.
Hulagu asked the Caliph to surrender. The Caliph laughed: he was the most powerful man in the world! He had God and millions of Muslims on his side.
But Hulagu had something the Caliph did not have: gunpowder. He had early forms of cannons and bombs. That allowed him to hammer away at the city’s walls from a safe distance.
On February 5th 1258, the walls gave way.
Hulagu ordered everyone out of the city. Some fled to India, Egypt or Syria. Others hid inside. The Caliph’s army made a run for it – and was cut down.
Hulagu’s armies entered the city. Christians joined them in the robbing and killing, letting loose hundreds of years of hatred on Muslims and mosques.
To Christians the fall of Baghdad was a joy. One Armenian put it this way:
“Five hundred and fifteen years have passed since the founding of the city. Throughout its supremacy, like an insatiable leech it had swallowed up the entire world. Now it restored all that had been taken. … punished for the blood it had shed and the evil it had done; the measure of its iniquity was full.”
The Caliph was taken prisoner. Some say he was locked up and given only his gold to eat. Others say he was rolled up in a carpet and then was trampled by horses. Either way, it was the end of the Abbasid Dynasty (750-1258).
The dead: Some say as many as 800,000 died. That seems too high, but it was a huge number: the smell of dead bodies was everywhere. An outbreak of cholera killed yet more.
The books: Baghdad had been one of the world’s leading centres of learning. The Mongols threw its books into the Tigris River.
The city: Baghdad recovered in ten years or so, but was much smaller, its glory days now gone.
– Abagond, 2016.
Sources: Mainly “Genghis Khan” (2004) by Jack Weatherford.
- Genghis Khan
- The Baghdad Surge
- The Arab world
- Guide to Persians