Möngke Khan Biography

(4th Khagan-Emperor of the Mongol Empire from 1251 to 1259)

Birthday: January 11, 1209 (Capricorn)

Born In: Gobi Desert

Möngke Khan, a Tengri Mongol from the house of Borjigin, was the fourth Khagan of the Mongol Empire. Grandson of the founder, and the first Emperor of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan, Möngke became the first Khagan from the Toluid line. He was the last man to hold the title of the great khan. Following the short rule and then the death of Guyuk Khan, his widow Oghul Qaimish ruled as regent over the Mongol Empire before Möngke took over as 4th Khagan of the empire. Möngke’s reign was marked with quick expansion as the Mongols were successful in conquering Syria, Iraq, and the kingdom of Dali. Significant reforms were introduced during his rule in improving the empire’s administration. The grandeur attained by his capital, Karakorum, in central Mongolia was remarkable. He led campaigns in China and conquered southern China’s Nanchao kingdom. He led his army against the Song dynasty. Mongke died in the field during the siege of Diaoyu (now Chongqing).
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 50


Spouse/Ex-: Chubei Khan

father: Tolui

mother: Sorghaghtani Beki

siblings: Ariq Böke, Hulagu Khan, Khoja, Kublai Khan, Naqu

children: Asutai, Baltu, Baltu Khan, Bayalun, Baylun Khan, Bichihe, Bichike Khan, Sarban, Shirin, Shirin Khan, Urendash Khan, Urüng Tash, Xiliji

Born Country: Mongolia

Emperors & Kings Mongolian Emperors & Kings

Died on: August 11, 1259

place of death: Diaoyucheng, Chongqing, China

Cause of Death: Dysentery

Childhood & Early Life
Möngke Khan was born on January 11, 1209, in the Mongol Empire as the eldest son of Tolui and Sorghaghtani Beki. His father was the fourth son of Genghis Khan, while his mother was a Keraite princess.
He was named ‘Möngke,’ which in Mongolian language means eternal. He was brought up by Angqui, the childless queen of his uncle Ögedei Khan and was taught writing by Persian scholar Idi-dan Muhammed.
Möngke took to hunting in his teens along with younger brother Kublai Khan in 1224 near the Ili River. The two killed a rabbit and an antelope. Their grandfather, Genghis Khan, performed a ceremony on the two, and as per the Mongol tradition smeared fat from the killed animals onto the middle fingers of the two brothers.
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Early Battle Experiences
His first experience of the battlefield happened in 1230, when he joined his father and uncle Ögedei in a battle against the ‘Jin dynasty.’ He lost his father in 1232 following which Sorghaghtani was appointed head of the Toluid appanage by Ögedei.
Following the instruction of Ögedei, Möngke and his other relatives headed west in 1235 to attack the Kipchaks, Russians, and Bulgars. He captured Kipchak chief, Bachman, later killed by his brother Bujek. He also participated in the Mongol invasion of Rus'. He and Ögedei’s son, Kadan, received orders to crush the tribes in the Caucasus region; Möngke forced several chiefs of the Alans and Circassians to surrender to him.
He took part in the ‘Siege of Kiev’ in 1240 with cousin Batu Khan that resulted in a Mongol victory. Kiev was plundered and most of its citizens slaughtered. He and Batu also fought and won the ‘Battle of Mohi’ on April 11, 1241. It is considered the main battle fought between the Mongols and the Kingdom of Hungary during the Mongol invasion of Europe.
Ögedei called back Möngke in the winter of 1240–41, but died before Möngke reached home. Ögedei’s eldest son, Güyük, became the new Khagan but his reign did not last long, as he died on April 20, 1248. After his death, Batu and Möngke became the main contenders to the Mongol throne.
As the 4th Khagan of the Mongol Empire
Möngke met Batu at the ‘Golden Horde’ following his mother (Sorghaghtani) advice, and received Batu’s support, who arranged a kurultai (political and military council) at Ala Qamaq in the Ulus of Jochi, where Möngke was selected the Khagan. Later, Sorghaghtani arranged a second kurultai on July 1, 1251, where Möngke was proclaimed the Great Khan. Güyük Khan’s wife, Oghul Qaimish, who was ruling as regent over the Mongol Empire after her husband’s death, refused to attend the kurultai and received support from most of the Ögedeid and Chagataid princes.
Möngke started ruling from July 1, 1251. An anti- Möngke plot was discovered by his Kankali falconer, Kheshig, which was planned by Güyük’s son Khoja and Ögedei's favourite grandson, Shiremun, who met Möngke in the guise of paying him homage. Investigations found Shiremun and Khoja guilty. Oghul (Güyük’s wife) and Shiremun were executed, while Khoja was exiled to South China.
Trials of several aristocrats, officials, and Mongol commanders were conducted across the Mongol Empire, from Mongolia and China in the eastern part to Iraq and Afghanistan in the western part. Several of them ranging from 77–300, including Eljigidei, Büri, and Yesü Möngke were killed. Most of the descendants of Genghis Khan who took part in the plot were, however, exiled in some way or the other.
Möngke retroactively conferred his father with the title of Ikh Khagan in 1252. He lost his mother that year. He made sure that unity of the empire remained intact and thus shared the western part of the empire with Batu.
His rule was marked with several administrative reforms, including centralization of administration, drafting his own decrees and their regular revision, excluding lavish costs of Borjigin and non-Borjigid nobles, converting unlimited gifts of princes to regular salaries, imposing taxes on merchants, punishing generals and princes, including his son, who permitted their troops to plunder civilians sans any authorization.
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From 1252 to 1259, a census of the Mongol Empire was organised by him, which included North China, Russia, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Armenia and Georgia. He also made efforts to introduce a fixed poll tax which would be used for the needy units. However, both such initiatives met resistance in western districts triggering riots. Meanwhile, in pursuit of controlling issue of paper money, Möngke set up the Department of Monetary affairs in 1253.
He tried to consolidate power by giving supervisory authority to his brothers Hulagu and Kublai in North China and Iran. Amidst rumours of Kublai founding a de facto independent ulus (district) and exploiting some of the tax receipts, two tax inspectors were sent by Möngke to audit the officials of Kublai in 1257. The latter’s office was abolished after faults were found, including 142 breaches of regulations. While some of the accused Chinese officials were executed, Kublai was later pardoned by Möngke.
Religious Tolerance & Foreign Influence
Möngke favoured Muslim perceptions and along with Hulagu established the Twelver community at Najaf as a self-governing tax-exempt ecclesiastical polity. He followed his predecessors in excluding monasteries, mosques, churches, monks, clerics, and doctors from paying taxes.
He also welcomed several foreign representatives, including the Flemish Franciscan missionary and explorer William of Rubruck, sent by Louis IX of France to seek alliance against the Muslims; and the ones from Latin Empire and the Empire of Nicaea, and allowed debates and discussions on various religions but made sure that this does not pose any threat for any religion or for his kingdom.
Rubruck’s report titled ‘Itinerarium fratris Willielmi de Rubruquis de ordine fratrum Minorum, Galli, Anno gratiae 1253 ad partes Orientales’ gives a detailed account of Möngke’s reign. Rubruck observed presence of Germans, Russians, Hungarians, as also a Parisian goldsmith, Guillaume Boucher, in Karakorum in 1252–53.
Sources mention that Möngke decorated his capital, Karakorum, with Persian, Chinese and European architectures. He built mosques, churches, Buddhist monasteries, and quarters for foreign merchants.
Conquests of Möngke & Death
His conquests were mostly concentrated to East Asia and the Middle East. In 1252, he selected Korea and the Dali Kingdom in Yunnan. His conquests include capitulation of King Gojong whose reign saw prolonged conflict with the Mongols who aimed at conquering Gojong. The conflict ended with a peace treaty in 1259.
Meanwhile an attack was launched on the Ismailis in Iran by Möngke’s armies, led by Hülegü. After suppressing the last resistance in Iran in late 1256, his troops headed for Iraq. The ‘Siege of Baghdad’ (1258), also led by Hulagu, resulted in a decisive Mongol victory. The Mongol forces then moved to Syria in 1259 and captured Damascus and Aleppo before reaching the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Möngke’s other brother Kublai meanwhile led his troops and seized the Thai kingdom of Nan-chao crushing the Chinese in the south. Möngke’s empire also emerged as suzerain of much of today’s Vietnam.
As the central Mongol troops started heading toward China proper, Möngke himself took charge of his forces in 1257. On August 11, 1259, he succumbed to either dysentery or cholera, while he was leading the war in China at Diaoyu Fortress, Chongqing. His remains were interred in Burkhan Khaldun in Khentii Province near the graves of Genghis and Tolui.
With no declared successor, the sudden death of Möngke led to the ‘Toluid Civil War’ between Kublai, who completed the conquest of China, and another brother Ariq Böke. It lasted from 1260 to 1264 resulting in Kublai’s victory and fragmentation of the Mongol Empire. .
Family & Personal Life
Möngke had many wives and concubines. Among them Qutuqui of the Ikheres clan was his first wife through whom he had two sons, Baltu and Urendash, and one daughter, Baylun. Möngke inherited at least one wife of Tolui named Oghul-Khoimish from the Oirat clan. He had two daughters, Shirin and Bichike, with her. Möngke’s youngest wife was Chubei. His most favoured concubines were Bayavchin of the Bayid clan and Quitani of the Eljigin clan.

See the events in life of Möngke Khan in Chronological Order

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