The Mongol's besiege and capture Baghdad in 1258

Prior to his invasion of the Middle East, Hulagu asked the Abbasid caliph, al-Muta'sim, the thirty-seventh of his dynasty, to recognize Mongol sovereignty as his predecessors had once accepted the rule of the Seljuk Turks. The prince of the faithful, overconfident of his own prestige, sent word to the conqueror that any attack on his capital would mobilize the entire Muslim world, from India to north west Africa. Not in the least impressed, the grandson of Genghis Khan announced his intention of taking the city by force. Towards the end of 1257 he and, it would appear, hundreds of thousands of cavalry began advancing towards the Abbasid capital. On heir way they destroyed the Assassin’s sanctuary at Alamut and sacked it’s library of inestimable value, thus making it for impossible for future generations to gain any in-depth knowledge of the doctrine and activities of the sect. When the caliph finally realized the extent of the threat, he decided to negotiate. He proposed that Hulagu’s name be pronounced at Friday sermons in the mosques of Baghdad and that he be granted the title sultan. But it was too late, for by now the Mongol had definitely opted for force. After a few weeks of courageous resistance, the prince of the faithful had no choice but to capitulate. On the 10th of February 1258 he went to the victor’s camp in person and asked if he would promise to spare the lives of all the citizens if they agreed to lay down there arms. But in vain. As soon as they were disarmed, the Muslim fighters were exterminated. Then the Mongol horde fanned out through the prestigious city demolishing buildings, burning neighbourhoods, and mercilessly massacring men, women, and children- nearly eighty thousand people in all. Only the Christian community was spared, thanks to the intercession of the Khan’s wife. The prince of the faithful was himself strangled to death a few days after his defeat.

Hulaga Khan rides against Baghdad and leads his armies from all directions to the City of Peace; the city is taken, and the rule of the Abbasid caliphs comes to an end.

Having set out on the march to Baghdad, Hulagu said, "Let Chormaqan's and Baiju Noyan's soldiers, whose yurt is in Anatolia, enter Mosul in the right wing from the direction of Arbela, cross the bridge at Mosul, and camp west of Baghdad so when our banners arrive from the east they can enter from the direction."  To enter in the right wing under Sonitai Noyan on Hulagu Khan's side were Prince Balagha, the son of Jochi's son Shiban; Prince Tutar, the son of Jochi's son [Boqal's son Minqadur]; and Prince Quli, the son of Jochi's son Orda, together with Buqa Temur and Su'unchaq Noyan.  Ket Buqa Noyan, Qudusin, and Elgai were to enter in the left wing from Luristan, Tikrit (?), Khuzistan, and Bayat as far as the shore of the gulf. Hulagu stationed his aghruqs at Zaki meadow near Hamadan and assigned Qiyaq Noyan to head them.

Around the beginning of 655 [November 1257], he and his soldiers set forth in the center, which the Mongols call the qol, via Kirmanshahan and Hulwan. The great commanders Kokd Elgai, Uruqtu, and Arghun Aqa, the bitigchis Qaraqai, Sayfuddin Bitigchi, who was the administrator of the king­dom, Mawlana Khwaja Nasiruddin Tusi, and Sahib Sa'id Ala'uddin Ata-Malik with all the sultans, maliks, and atabegs of Iran were at court. When they arrived under favorable auspices in Asadabad, once again he sent a messenger to summon the caliph, but the caliph refused. At Dinawar, Ibn al-Jawzi arrived again from Baghdad bearing a message filled with entreaties for Hulagu to turn back, in exchange for which the caliph would remit whatever would be agreed upon to the treasury annually.

Hulagu Khan thought the caliph wanted the troops to turn back and thus incite them to disobedience. "Since we have come all this way," he said, "how can we turn back without having seen the caliph? After we have had an audience with him and seen and spoken with him, we will withdraw with his permission."

From there they went to the mountains of the Kurds. On the 27th of the month [December 6, 1257] he camped in Kirmanshahan, where they massacred and pillaged. A messenger was dispatched for the princes, Su'unchaq, Baiju Noyan, and Sonitai to come quickly. They joined the padishah at Ctesiphon. Aybak Halabi and Sayfuddin Qilich, who were advance scouts in that area, were captured and taken to court. Hulagu spared Aybak's life, in return for which he undertook to convey his words verbatim. Hulagu made them liege men to the Mongol yazak and sent them back well rewarded to cross the Tigris and head for the area west of Baghdad. They burned sheep shanks as was their custom, turned back, crossed the Tigris, and headed for Baghdad's western frontier.

The Baghdad advance guard was commanded by a Qipchaq named Qara Sonqor. In the Mongol yazak was Sultanchuq, a descendant of the Khwarazmians, and he sent a letter to Qara Sonqor, saying, "You and I are of one race. After running from pillar to post in despair and poverty, I suc­ceeded in joining His Majesty's court and surrendering, and he maintains me well. You too have mercy on your own soul, be kind to your children, and surrender so that your life, family, and property may be spared by these people."

In reply Qara Sonqor wrote, "How dare the Mongols attack the House of Abbas, for that family has seen as much good fortune as Genghis Khan's, and their foundations are too firm to quake with every passing breeze. They have been ruling for more than five hundred years, and no creature who has attacked them has been spared by fate. It is far from perspicacious of you to invite me to join the young sapling of Mongol fortune. If he were in amity and friendship, when Hulagu Khan finished conquering the Heretics' lands and fortresses, he should not have gone past Ray but should have returned to Khurasan and Turkistan. The caliph's feelings have been hurt by his onslaught. This being so, if Hulagu Khan regrets what he has done and turns back to Hamadan with his troops, we will have the Dawatdar intercede and plead with the caliph on his behalf. Perhaps he may overlook the offense and accept a truce so that the gates of fighting and contention may be closed."

When Sultanchuq reported the contents of the letter to Hulagu Khan, he laughed and said, "My reliance is on the Creator, not on dirhems and dinars.  If God the eternal befriends me, what do I have to worry from the caliph and his troops?"

To me what are ants, mosquitoes, elephants? What is a spring, a canal, the river Nile?

If God commands a thing, who other than Him knows what the outcome will be?

Another emissary was sent to say, "If the caliph is in submission, let him come out. Otherwise, this means war. Let the vizier, Sulaymanshah, and the Dawatdar come first to hear our words."

Decamping the next day, he stopped by the banks of the river in Hulwan, where he remained from the 9th of Dhu'l-Hijja 655 until the 22nd [December 18-31, 1257]. During that time Ket Buqa Noyan took much territory in Luristan both by truce and by force. On the 11th of Chaqshapat Ay of Moghai Yil, corresponding to the 9th of Muharram 656 [January 16, 1258] Baiju Noyan, Buqa Temur, and Su'unchaq crossed the Tigris at the agreed-upon place on the Dujayl road and arrived in the vicin­ity of Nahr Isa. Su'unchaq Noyan begged Baiju for the vanguard to be west of Baghdad, and, receiving permission, he set off and went to Harbiyya [northwest of Baghad].

Mujahiduddin Aybak the Dawatdar, who was head of the caliph's army, and Ibn Kurd had first made camp between Ba'quba and Bajisra.  When they heard that the Mongols were coming to the west and had crossed the Tigris in the vicinity of Anbar, they did battle with Su'unchaq and Buqa Temur at the gate to Mansur's kiosk above Midrafa, nine leagues from Baghdad. The Mongol troops fell back and went to Bashiriyya in the Dujayl district. When Baiju joined them, they turned back. In that vicinity was a large lake. The Mongols opened the dykes and flooded the entire plain behind the backs of the Baghdad army. At sunrise on Thursday morning, the day of Ashura [January 17], Baiju and Buqa Temur attacked the Dawatdar and Ibn Kurd, defeating them and throwing the Baghdad army into rout. Fathuddin Ibn Kurd and Qara Sonqor, the leaders of the army, and twelve thousand Baghdadis were killed - aside from those who were drowned or got stuck in the mud. The Dawatdar and a few escaped to Baghdad. Others fled to Hilla and Kufa.

The eve of Saturday the 15th of Muharram [January 22] Buqa Temur, Baiju Noyan, and Su'unchaq Noyan came to Baghdad and took control of the western side. They camped in the city quarters alongside the Tigris. Ket Buqa Noyan and the others arrived from the direction of Nahasiyya and Sarsar with an enormous army. Hiilagu Khan left his aghruq in Khanaqin and set out, camping on the eastern side on the 17th of Chaqshapat Ay of Moghai Yil, corresponding to the 15th of Muharram [January 22].

The Mongol army swarmed in like ants and locusts from all directions, forming a circle around the ramparts of Baghdad and setting up a wall. On Tuesday the 22nd [January 29], with Aries in the ascendant, they began to fight. From the direction of the Khurasan road the Padishah of the World was in the center to the left of the city, opposite the Ajami Tower; Elgai Noyan and Quya were at the Kalwadha Gate; Quli, Balagha, Tutar, Shiramiin, and Uruqtu were at the city gates at the Suq Uthman Gate; Buqa Temur came from the direction of the citadel toward the qibla in Dolab Baql; Baiju and Su'unchaq came from the west, where the Azudi Hospital is. They prosecuted the battle in unison, set up catapults opposite the Ajami Tower, and breached it. The caliph sent out the vizier and the catholicos, saying, "The Padishah said I should send the vizier out. I have kept my promise and am sending him. Let the Padishah also keep his word."

Hulagu Khan said, "We made that stipulation at the gates of Hamadan. Now that we have come to Baghdad and an ocean of tumult and strife has been stirred up, how can we be content with only one? All three must be sent" (by which he meant that the Dawatdar and Sulaymanshah would also have to be sent).

Envoys went to the city, and the next day the vizier, the divan chief, and a group of well-known citizens came out, but they were sent back. Fierce battle was fought for six days and nights. Hulagu Khan ordered six decrees written, saying, "The lives of cadis, scholars, shaykhs, Alids, and Nestorian priests, and persons who do not combat against us are safe from us." The proclamations were fastened to arrows and shot into the city from six sides. Since there was no stone in the Baghdad vicinity, they brought rocks from Jalula and Jabal Khamrin, and date palms were cut down and hurled instead of stones.

On Friday the 25th of Muharram [February 1] the Aiami Tower was destroyed. On Monday the 27th [February 3] the Mongol soldiers proceeded overwhelmingly against the ramparts opposite the Ajami Tower in the direction the padishah was. They emptied the tops of the walls of people, but they still had not gone on the walls in the direction of Suq Sultan, where Balagha and Tutar were. Hulagu Khan chastised them. Their liege men went up, and by evening they had secured the whole of the tops of the eastern walls.

When bridges were being made, Hulagu had ordered bridges built above and below Baghdad, boats made ready, catapults installed, and guards stationed. Buqa Temur and a tuman of soldiers were patrolling the routes to Madayin and Basra to prevent anyone from escaping by boat.

When the battle of Baghdad became in­tense, and the people were being pressed, the Dawatdar got in a boat to escape down river. When he passed the village of al­`Ugab, Buqa Temur let loose a barrage of catapult stones, arrows, and vials of naphtha. Three boats were taken, and the people were killed. The Dawatdar turned back in rout.

            When the caliph was apprised of the situ­ation he despaired totally of his rule of Baghdad. Seeing no escape route, he said, "I will surrender." He sent Fakhruddin Damghani and Ibn Durnus out with a few gifts, thinking that if he sent too much it would indicate how afraid he was and the foe would be further emboldened. Hulagu Khan paid no attention to the embassy, and they returned in failure.

On Tuesday the 29th of Muharram [February 5] the caliph's middle son, Abu'l-Fadl Abdul-Rahman, came out, and the vizier went into the city. The Sahib-Divan and a group of dignitaries were with Abu'l-Fadl, and they had brought a large tribute, but it was not accepted either. The next day, the last of Muharram [February 6], the caliph's oldest son, the vizier, and a group of courtiers came out to intercede. It was to no avail, and they returned to the city. In their company Hulagu Khan sent Khwaja Nasiruddin Tusi and Ay Temur on an em­bassy to the caliph.

On the first of Safar [February 7] they came out. The padishah sent Fakhruddin Damghani, who was the Sahib-Divan, Ibn al-Jawzi, and Ibn Durnus into the city to bring Sulaymanshah and the Dawatdar out. In order to win them over he sent a decree and a paiza and said, "The caliph can do what he wants. If he wants, let him come out; if not, let him not come out. But the Mongol troops will remain on the walls where they are until they come out."

On Thursday the first of Safar they both came out. They were sent back into the city to get their retainers out to ride on an expedition to Egypt and Syria. With them, the army of Baghdad decided to come out, as did an innumerable host, hoping to find safety, but they were divided into units of thousands, hundreds, and tens and killed to the last. Those who remained in the city fled into nooks and crannies.

A group of dignitaries came out and asked for amnesty, saying, "Many people are surrendering. Let them have a respite, for the caliph will send his sons and will come out himself." During this an arrow hit Hindu Bitigchi, one of the great commanders, in the eye.  Hulagu Khan flew into a rage and ordered all haste to be made in taking Baghdad. He commanded Khwaja Nasiruddin to take up residence at the Halaba Gate for the purpose of granting amnesty to the people, and they began to get them out of the city.

On Friday the 2nd of Safar [February 8] the Dawatdar and his followers were killed. Sulaymanshah and seven hundred of his relatives were brought in, hands bound, and questioned.