Hulagu (or Hüle'ü) was a Mongol ruler of Iran and the grandson of Genghis Khan. He was also the brother of Mangu (Möngkë), Arik Boke, and Kublai. He founded the Il-Khanid (or Ilkhanate) Dynasty. Hulagu expanded the southwestern part of the Mongol Empire to a great extent. He destroyed Baghdad's influence on the Islamic world, through the siege of Baghdad in1258. His forces weakened Damascus, causing the Islamic influence to shift to the Mamluks of Egypt. Though his army was defeated in the Battle of Ayn Jalut, he is remembered as one of the forefathers of modern-day Iran.
Childhood & Early Life
Hulagu Khan was born on October 15, 1218, to Tolui and Sorghaghtani Beki. Sorghaghtani was a Keraite princess who controlled much of Mongol politics. She wished to see all her sons become Mongol leaders. She was a Christian who belonged to the ‘Church of the East’ ("Nestorianism"). Tolui was one of Genghis Khan’s sons.
Hulagu was also the brother of Arik Boke, Mangu, and Kublai Khan.
An assembly held in 1251, at the time of Mangu Khan’s ascension to the throne, stated that Hulagu was to conquer western Asia by crushing the militant Ismailis, or the ‘Assassins’ of Alamut (north-central Iran). Mangu was one of the “Great Khans” of the Mongols. In 1255, Mangu officially appointed Hulagu to establish Mongol power in Islamic areas.
Hulagu's plan was to crush the Lurs, a community of southern Iran; destroy the Hashshashin sect; defeat the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad; crush the Ayyubid Dynasty in Damascus; and overpower the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt.
Soon, Hulagu set out with the largest army ever consolidated in the Mongol empire. In 1256, Hulagu conquered the fortress of the ‘Assassins’ (a militant Islamic sect).
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The Siege of Baghdad (1258)
Hulagu Khan and his general, Guo Kan, led their forces to Baghdad in November 1257. Hulagu asked Baghdad to surrender. However, the caliph, Al-Musta'sim, refused to do so and stated that the Mongols would face the wrath of God if they attacked him. Following this, Hulagu's army attacked the city.
The caliph's army was crushed on January 17, 1258, and Hulagu reached the walls of Baghdad by January 22. Baghdad was forced to surrender on February 10 that year.
Within 10 days, the caliph was executed. Legend has it that the caliph was left to starve to death inside a tower full of gold and silver. However, this appears to be an exaggeration and it is believed by historians that the caliph was probably rolled in a carpet and trampled or beaten to death, so as not to shed royal blood (according to the Mongol custom of executing their own princes).
After this, the Mongols led a massacre for about a week. It is known as one of the most horrific events in Islam’s history. Al-Mustansir of the Abbasid Dynasty survived the massacre and escaped to Egypt. He was given refuge by the Mamluk sultan there.
The Conquest of Syria (1260)
After conquering Baghdad, Hulagu focused on Azerbaijan, which was slated to be the center of the Il-Khanid dynasty. By then, his army had been joined by the Christian vassals of the region, such as the forces of Cilician Armenia (under Hetoum I) and the Franks of Bohemond VI of Antioch.
By the autumn of 1259, Hulagu and his combined army marched toward Syria, which was then ruled by the Ayyubid Dynasty. Aleppo was besieged soon after. Damascus surrendered easily on March 1, 1260, after Christian general Kitbuqa led an attack.
In 1260, the last Ayyubid ruler, An-Nasir Yusuf, was executed by Hulagu. With Baghdad and Damascus gone, the Egyptian Mamluks in Cairo became the power center of the Islamic world.
By the summers of 1260, the Mongols had marched into Gaza, situated on the frontier with Egypt. However, Hulagu soon received the news of Mangu’s death in China and thus returned to Karakorum to decide on the succession.
Hulagu had left behind only 10,000 Mongol horsemen in Syria, under the leadership of Kitbuqa, to fight in the battle.
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The Battle of Ayn Jalut (1260)
The Mamluks, who ruled over the region, seized the opportunity to attack the weak Mongol army. The Crusaders and the Mamluks both viewed the Mongol army as a threat but could not come to an agreement with regard to uniting their forces against the Mongols. Instead, the Crusaders allowed the Egyptian forces to march toward the north through their territory and then resupply near their powerbase of Acre.
The Mamluks then attacked the remaining part of the Mongol army in Galilee, in what is now known as the Battle of Ayn Jalut. On September 3, 1260, the Mongol army was defeated badly.
Following this, Kitbuqa was executed. The Mongols could not reclaim Ayn Jalut. For the next few centuries, the Mongols repeatedly invaded Syria but could not retain their lands for more than a few months. The Tigris River remained the border of the Mongol Empire for the rest of Hulagu's reign.
By 1262, Hulagu returned to his region, after his brother Kublai Khan was named the next “Great Khan.”
Between 1262 and 1263, Hulagu faced conflicts in the Caucasus area. His cousin and Batu Khan's brother, Berke, who was the ruler of the Golden Horde, had joined Hulagu’s enemies, the Mamluks of Egypt. Berke was a Muslim convert and wished to avenge the siege of Baghdad.
Hulagu's forces won initially, marching across the Terek into Berke's region. However, they faced heavy losses. Many of his soldiers drowned in the river, as the thin ice gave way under the weight of their horses.
In 1263, Hulagu was crushed in his attempted invasion north of the Caucasus. This was the first civil war between the Mongols and spelled the end of the unified empire. Apart from the revolts in Mosul and Fars, this was also one of Hulagu's final campaigns.
Relations with Europe
Hulagu wished to build an alliance with France, against the Muslims. Thus, in 1262, he sent an embassy, with his secretary Rychaldus, to "all kings and princes overseas." However, the embassy was stopped by King Manfred in Sicily, as the king was an ally of the Mamluks. Rychaldus was sent back by ship.
Hulagu sent a letter to King Louis IX of France on April 10, 1262, through John the Hungarian. In the letter, he suggested an alliance. It is not known if the letter reached Louis IX.
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However, the letter had mentioned Hulagu's plan to take over Jerusalem for the benefit of the Pope and had requested Louis IX to send him a fleet against Egypt. Nevertheless, Hulagu’s dream to form an alliance with Europe remained unfulfilled.
Italian traveling merchants Niccolò and Maffeo Polo traveled to Hulagu’s empire and stayed in Bukhara (present-day Uzbekistan), trading from 1261 to 1264.
The two merchants then joined an embassy sent by Hulagu to Kublai Khan. In 1266, the Polos arrived at the court of Kublai Khan in Khanbaliq (present-day Beijing, China).
They then stayed there many years. In 1291, they were sent by Kublai to escort 17-year-old princess bride Kököchin to Arghun Khan, who was Hulagu's grandson.
Family & Personal Life
Hulagu's chief wife, Doquz Khatun, was a Nestorian Christian, much like Hulagu’s mother. She was a 13th-century Keraite princess and the granddaughter of Toghrul.
It is believed Doquz was handed over to Tolui after her grandfather’s death. However, she was then married off to Hulagu, after Tolui’s death.
Historians claim that during the siege of Baghdad, many Christians were spared because of Doquz’s intervention.
Historians also claim that Hulagu had converted to Buddhism in his final years, against Doquz’s wishes. A Buddhist temple at Ḵoy is an evidence of his interest in Buddhism.
Hulagu had fathered at least three children. They were Abaqa Khan, Tekuder, and Taraqai. Abaqa had served as the second Ilkhan of Iran, from 1265 to 1282. Tekuder Ahmad was the third Ilkhan, from 1282 to 1284. Taraqai's son Baydu took over as the Ilkhan in 1295.
It is believed Hulagu had two more children, Hyaxemet and Tandon. Hyaxemet initially served as the governor of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Tandon ruled over Diyarbakır and Iraq.
Historians believe the order of their birth is as follows: Abaqa, Hyaxemet, Tandon, Tekuder, and lastly, Taraqai.
Hulagu Khan died on February 8, 1265. He was buried on a large rock situated about 1,000 feet above the Shahi Island in Lake Urmia. His funeral reportedly featured the ritual of human sacrifice and involved the burial of many young women who would serve him in the afterlife. His son Abaqa ascended to the throne after his death.
Hulagu founded the Il- Khanid Dynasty and thus paved the way for the Safavid Dynasty, which led to the formation of Iran. His campaigns made Iran open to European and Chinese influences.
The Polos followed the Silk Road during his reign, and their journey improved the cultural relationship between the East and the West.
During his rule, Iranian historians started writing in Persian instead of Arabic. This signified Iran's cultural revival and is said to have led to the rise of Shiaism as the dominant religion of Iran.