Hulagu Khan

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Hulagu Khan
IlKhan of Persia
Hulagu Khan.jpg
Painting of Hulagu Khan by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, early 14th century.
Reign 1256–1265
Born 15 October 1218
Died 8 February 1265
Buried Shahi Island, Lake Urmia
Consort Doquz Khatun
Royal House Borjigin
Father Tolui
Mother Sorghaghtani Beki
Religious beliefs Buddhism
This article is about the founder of the Ilkhanate. For the head of the Chagatai khanate, please see Qara Hülëgü

Hulagu Khan, also known as Hülegü, Hulegu (Mongolian: Hülegü Khaan, "Warrior"; Mongolian Cyrillic: Хүлэг хаан; Turkish: Hülagû Han; Chagatai/Urdu: ہلاکو Hulaku; Persian: هولاکو خان‎; Arabicهولاكو خان/ هَلَاوُن ; Chinese: 旭烈兀; c. 1218 – 8 February 1265), was a Mongol ruler who conquered much of Southwest Asia. Son of Tolui and the Kerait princess Sorghaghtani Beki, he was a grandson of Genghis Khan, and the brother of Ariq Böke, Möngke Khan and Kublai Khan. Hulagu's army greatly expanded the southwestern portion of the Mongol Empire, founding the Ilkhanate of Persia, a precursor to the eventual Safavid dynasty, and then the modern state of Iran. Under Hulagu's leadership, the Mongols destroyed the greatest center of Islamic power, Baghdad, and also weakened Damascus, causing a shift of Islamic influence to the Mamluks in Cairo. Under Hulagu's dynasty, Iranian historians also moved from writing in Arabic, to writing in Persian.


Coin of Hulagu, with the symbol of a hare.

Hulagu was born to Tolui, one of Genghis Khan's sons, and Sorghaghtani Beki, an influential Kereyid princess. Sorghaghtani successfully navigated Mongol politics, arranging for all of her sons to become Mongol leaders. She was a Nestorian Christian, and Hulagu was friendly to Christianity. Hulagu's favorite wife, Dokuz Khatun, was also a Christian, as was his closest friend and general, Kitbuqa. It is recorded however that he was a Buddhist[1] as he neared his death, against the will of Dokuz Khatun.[2]

Hulagu had at least three children: Abaqa, Teguder Ahmad, and Taraqai. Abaqa was second Ilkhan of Persia from 1265–1282, Teguder Ahmad was third Ilkhan from 1282–1284, and Taraqai's son Baydu became Ilkhan in 1295.[3] Mirkhond mentions two more children, given as Hyaxemet and Tandon in an early translation; Hyaxemet initially served as governor of Armenia and Azerbaijan, whereas Tandon was given Dyarbekir and Iraq.[4] The order of birth is listed as Abaqa, then Hyaxemet, then Tandon, and then Teguder and Taraqai.

Military campaigns[edit]

A Mughal miniature painting of Hulagu's siege of Alamut.

Hulagu's brother Möngke had been installed as Great Khan in 1251. In 1255, Möngke charged Hulagu with leading a massive Mongol army to conquer or destroy the remaining Muslim states in southwestern Asia. Hulagu's campaign sought the subjugation of the Lurs of southern Iran, the destruction of the Hashshashin sect, the submission or destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, the submission or destruction of the Ayyubid states in Syria based in Damascus, and finally, the submission or destruction of the Bahri Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt.[5] Möngke ordered Hulagu to treat kindly those who submitted, and utterly destroy those who did not. Hulagu vigorously carried out the latter part of these instructions.

Hulagu marched out with perhaps the largest Mongol army ever assembled – by order of Möngke, two tenths of the empire's fighting men were gathered for Hulagu's army.[6] He easily destroyed the Lurs, and the Assassins (the Hashshashin) surrendered their impregnable fortress of Alamut without a fight, accepting a deal that spared the lives of their people.

Siege of Baghdad[edit]

Hulagu's Mongol army set out for Baghdad in November 1257. Once near the city he divided the forces to threaten both sides of the city, on both the east and west banks of the Tigris. Hulagu demanded surrender but the caliph, Al-Musta'sim, refused. The caliph's army repulsed some of the forces attacking from the west but were defeated in the next battle. The attacking Mongols broke dikes and flooded the ground behind the caliph's army, trapping them. Much of the army was slaughtered or drowned.

The Mongols under Chinese general Guo Kan laid siege to the city on January 29, 1258,[7] constructing a palisade and a ditch and wheeling up siege engines and catapults. The battle was short by siege standards. By February 5 the Mongols controlled a stretch of the wall. The caliph tried to negotiate but was refused. On February 10 Baghdad surrendered. The Mongols swept into the city on February 13 and began a week of destruction.

The Grand Library of Baghdad, containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects ranging from medicine to astronomy, was destroyed. Survivors said that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink from the enormous quantity of books flung into the river. Citizens attempted to flee but were intercepted by Mongol soldiers.

Death counts vary widely and cannot be easily substantiated. A low estimate of the number of deaths is about 90,000 (Sicker 2000, p. 111). Higher estimates range from 200,000 to a million.[8] The Mongols looted and then destroyed. Mosques, palaces, libraries, hospitals — grand buildings that had been the work of generations were burned to the ground. The caliph was captured and forced to watch as his citizens were murdered and his treasury plundered.

Hulagu (left) imprisons the Caliph among his treasures to starve him to death. Medieval depiction from "Le livre des merveilles", 15th century.

In the Il Milione, the book that covers the travels of Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant, it is stated that Hulagu starved the caliph to death, but there is no corroborating evidence for that. Most historians believe the Mongol and Muslim accounts that the caliph was rolled up in a rug and the Mongols rode their horses over him, as they believed that the earth was offended if touched by royal blood. All but one of his sons were killed. Baghdad was a depopulated, ruined city for several centuries. Smaller states in the region hastened to reassure Hulagu of their loyalty and the Mongols turned to Syria in 1259, conquering the Ayyubids and sending advance patrols as far ahead as Gaza.

One thousand northern Chinese engineer squads accompanied the Mongol Khan Hulagu during his conquest of the Middle East.[9][10]

Conquest of Syria (1260)[edit]

The siege of Alamût in 1256.

In 1260 Mongol forces combined with those of their Christian vassals in the region, including the army of Cilician Armenia under Hetoum I and the Franks of Bohemond VI of Antioch. This force conquered Muslim Syria, a domain of the Ayyubid dynasty. They took the city of Aleppo and, under the Christian general Kitbuqa, also took Damascus on March 1, 1260 .[11][12][13] A Christian Mass was celebrated in the Grand Mosque of the Umayyads and numerous mosques were profaned. Many historical accounts describe the three Christian rulers (Hetoum, Bohemond, and Kitbuqa) entering the city of Damascus together in triumph,[13][14] though some modern historians such as David Morgan have questioned this story as apocryphal.[15]

The invasion effectively destroyed the Ayyubid Dynasty, theretofore powerful ruler of large parts of the Levant, Egypt, and Arabia. The last Ayyubid king An-Nasir Yusuf was killed by Hulagu in 1260.[16] With the Islamic power center of Baghdad gone and Damascus weakened, the center of Islamic power transferred to the Egyptian Mamluks in Cairo.

Hulagu's intent was to continue south through Palestine towards Cairo to engage the Mamluks. He sent a threatening letter to Qutuz, in Cairo. He asked Qutuz to open Cairo or it would be destroyed like Baghdad. It was at that moment that Mongke Khan's death recalled Hulagu, as an heir, to Mongolia in order to elect a new Khan. As a potential Great Khan himself Hulagu left leaving only 2 tumens (20,000 men) behind under the leadership of his favorite general Naiman Kitbuqa Noyan, a Nestorian Christian.

Upon receiving news of Hulagu's departure, Mamluk Sultan Qutuz quickly assembled a large army at Cairo and quickly invaded Palestine. The Mamluk Sultan Qutuz at that time allied with a fellow Mamluk, Baibars, who wanted to defend Islam after the Mongols capture of Damascus, sacking of Baghdad and subjugation of Bilad al-Sham.

The Mongols, for their part, attempted to form a Franco-Mongol alliance with (or at least, demand the submission of) the remnant of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, now centered on Acre, but Pope Alexander IV had forbidden this. Tensions between Franks and Mongols had also increased when Julian of Sidon caused an incident which resulted in the death of one of Kitbuqa's grandsons. Angered, Kitbuqa had sacked Sidon. The Barons of Acre, contacted by the Mongols, had also been approached by the Mamluks, seeking military assistance against the Mongols.

Though the Mamluks were the traditional enemies of the Franks, the Barons of Acre recognized the Mongols as the more immediate menace. Instead of joining one side or the other the Crusaders opted for a position of cautious neutrality between the two forces. In an unusual move though, they agreed that the Egyptian Mamluks could march north through the Crusader territories unmolested, and even camp to resupply near Acre. When news arrived that the Mongols had crossed the Jordan River, Sultan Qutuz and his forces then proceeded southeast toward the spring at Ain Jalut in the Jezreel Valley.

They met the small Mongol army in northern Palestine at Ayn Jalut 'Spring Of Goliath'. The Mongol army of about 20,000 faced the apparently smaller army of the Muslims. The two armies fought relentlessly for many hours, with Mamluk leader Baibars most of the time implementing hit-and-run tactics in an attempt to lure the Mongol forces into chasing him. The reason for this was that Baibars and Qutuz had hidden the bulk of their forces in the hills to wait in ambush for the Mongols to come into range. The Mongol leader Kitbuqa, already provoked by the constant fleeing of Baibars and his troops, decided to march forwards with all his troops on the trail of the fleeing Mamluks. When the Mongols reached the highlands, Mamluk's appeared from hiding and the Mongols then found themselves surrounded on all sides by enemy forces as the hidden troops hit them from the sides and Qutus smashed into the Mongol rear. Estimates of the actual size of the whole Mamluk army range from 24,000 to 120,000.

While the Mongols did break free of the trap and even mounted a temporarily successful counterattack their numbers had been depleted to the point that the outcome was inevitable. When the battle finally ended, the Mamluk army had accomplished what had never been done before, defeating a Mongol army in face to face close combat. Almost the whole Mongol army that had remained in the region, including Kitbuqa, were either killed or captured that day.

Battle of Ayn Jalut (1260)[edit]

Hulagu Khan leading his army.

The Crusaders, traditional enemies of the Mamluks, regarded the Mongols as the greater threat and refused to join forces with them or with the Muslims electing to remain neutral with both of them. After a brutal battle, the Egyptian Muslim army commanded by Qutuz defeated the Mongol army of 20,000 soldiers at the Battle of Ayn Jalut 'Spring Of Goliath'. The battle of Ayn Jalut established a high-water mark for the Mongol conquest. The Mongol invasion east and south came to a stop after Ayn Jallut.

Civil War[edit]

Hulagu returned to his lands by 1262, after the succession was finally settled with his brother Kublai Khan established as Great Khan. But when Hulagu massed his armies to attack the Mamluks and avenge the defeat at Ain Jalut, he was instead drawn into civil war with Batu Khan's brother Berke. Berke Khan, a Muslim convert, had promised retribution in his rage after Hulagu's sack of Baghdad, and allied himself with the Mamluks. He initiated a series of raids on Hulagu's territories, led by Nogai Khan. Hulagu suffered a severe defeat in an attempted invasion north of the Caucasus in 1263. This was the first open war between Mongols, and signaled the end of the unified empire.

Communications with Europe[edit]

Hulagu sent multiple communications to Europe in an attempt to establish a Franco-Mongol alliance against the Muslims. In 1262, he sent his secretary Rychaldus and an embassy to "all kings and princes overseas". The embassy was apparently intercepted in Sicily by King Manfred, who was allied with the Mamluks and in conflict with Pope Urban IV, and Rychaldus was returned by ship.[17]

On April 10, 1262, Hulagu sent a letter, through John the Hungarian, to the French king Louis IX, offering an alliance.[18] It is unclear whether the letter ever reached Louis IX in Paris—the only manuscript known to have survived was in Vienna, Austria.[19] The letter stated Hulagu's intention to capture Jerusalem for the benefit of the Pope and asked for Louis to send a fleet against Egypt:

"From the head of the Mongol army, avid to devastate the perfidious nation of the Sarasins, good-willing support of the Christian faith (...) so that you, who are the rulers of the coasts on the other side of the sea, endeavor to deny a refuge for the Infidels, your enemies and ours, by having your subjects diligently patrol the seas."

—Letter from Hulagu to Saint Louis.[20]

Despite many attempts, neither Hulagu nor his successors were able to form an alliance with Europe, although the 13th century saw a vogue of Mongol culture in the West. Many new-born children in Italy were named after Mongol rulers, including Hulagu: names such as Can Grande ("Great Khan"), Alaone (Hulagu), Argone (Arghun) or Cassano (Ghazan) are recorded.[21]


The funeral of Hulagu Khan.

Hulagu Khan died in 1265 and was buried in the Shahi Island in Lake Urmia. His funeral was the only Ilkhanate funeral to feature human sacrifice.[22] He was succeeded by his son Abaqa, thus establishing his line.


Hulagu and Queen Doquz Qatun depicted as the new "Constantine and Helen", in a Syriac Bible.[23][24]

Hulagu Khan laid the foundations of the Ilkhanate State, and by doing so paved the way for the later Safavid dynastic state, and ultimately the modern country of Iran. Hulagu's conquests also opened Iran to both European influence from the west and Chinese influence from the east. This, combined with patronage from his successors, would develop Iran's distinctive excellence in architecture. Under Hulagu's dynasty, Iranian historians also moved from writing in Arabic, to writing in Persian.[25]


  1. ^ Hildinger, Erik. Warriors of the Steppe: a military history of Central Asia, p. 148
  2. ^ Jackson, p. 176
  3. ^ David Morgan, The Mongols, p. 225
  4. ^ Stevens, John. The history of Persia. Containing, the lives and memorable actions of its kings from the first erecting of that monarchy to this time; an exact Description of all its Dominions; a curious Account of India, China, Tartary, Kermon, Arabia, Nixabur, and the Islands of Ceylon and Timor; as also of all Cities occasionally mention'd, as Schiras, Samarkand, Bokara, &c. Manners and Customs of those People, Persian Worshippers of Fire; Plants, Beasts, Product, and Trade. With many instructive and pleasant digressions, being remarkable Stories or Passages, occasionally occurring, as Strange Burials; Burning of the Dead; Liquors of several Countries; Hunting; Fishing; Practice of Physick; famous Physicians in the East; Actions of Tamerlan, &c. To which is added, an abridgment of the lives of the kings of Harmuz, or Ormuz. The Persian history written in Arabick, by Mirkond, a famous Eastern Author that of Ormuz, by Torunxa, King of that Island, both of them translated into Spanish, by Antony Teixeira, who liv'd several Years in Persia and India; and now render'd into English.
  5. ^ Amitai-Preiss, Reuven. The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War
  6. ^ Saunders 1971
  7. ^ "Six Essays from the Book of Commentaries on Euclid". World Digital Library. Retrieved 21 March 2013. 
  8. ^ New Yorker, April 25, 2005, Ian Frazier, "Invaders - Destroying Baghdad"
  9. ^ Josef W. Meri (2005). Josef W. Meri, ed. Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Psychology Press. p. 510. ISBN 0-415-96690-6. Retrieved 2011-11-28. "This called for the employment of engineers to engaged in mining operations, to build siege engines and artillery, and to concoct and use incendiary and explosive devices. For instance, Hulagu, who led Mongol forces into the Middle East during the second wave of the invasions in 1250, had with him a thousand squads of engineers, evidently of north Chinese (or perhaps Khitan) provenance." 
  10. ^ Josef W. Meri, Jere L. Bacharach (2006). Josef W. Meri, Jere L. Bacharach, ed. Medieval Islamic Civilization: L-Z, index. Volume 2 of Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia (illustrated ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 510. ISBN 0-415-96692-2. Retrieved 2011-11-28. "This called for the employment of engineers to engaged in mining operations, to build siege engines and artillery, and to concoct and use incendiary and explosive devices. For instance, Hulagu, who led Mongol forces into the Middle East during the second wave of the invasions in 1250, had with him a thousand squads of engineers, evidently of north Chinese (or perhaps Khitan) provenance." 
  11. ^ Saudi Aramco World "The Battle of Ain Jalut"
  12. ^ Grousset, p.581
  13. ^ a b "On 1 March Kitbuqa entered Damascus at the head of a Mongol army estimated to have been over 300,000 strong. With him were the King of Armenia and the Prince of Antioch. The citizens of the ancient capital of the Caliphate saw for the first time for six centuries three Christian potentates ride in triumph through their streets", Runciman, p.307
  14. ^ Grousset, p.588
  15. ^ David Morgan, The Mongols (2nd ed.); Peter Jackson, Mongols and the West
  16. ^ Atlas des Croisades, p.108
  17. ^ Jackson, p.173
  18. ^ Jackson, p.178
  19. ^ Jackson, p.166
  20. ^ Letter from Hulagu to Saint Louis, quoted in Les Croisades, Thierry Delcourt, p.151
  21. ^ Peter Jackson, The Mongols and the West, p.315
  22. ^ Morgan, p. 139
  23. ^ "In May 1260, a Syrian painter gave a new twist to the iconography of the Exaltation of the Cross by showing Constantine and Helena with the features of Hulagu and his Christian wife Doquz Khatun" in Cambridge History of Christianity Vol. 5 Michael Angold p.387 Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-81113-9
  24. ^ Le Monde de la Bible N.184 July–August 2008, p.43
  25. ^ Francis Robinson, The Mughal Emperors And The Islamic Dynasties of India, Iran and Central Asia, pages 19 and 36


  • Boyle, J.A., (Editor). The Cambridge History of Iran: Volume 5, The Saljuq and Mongol Periods. Cambridge University Press; Reissue edition (January 1, 1968). ISBN 0-521-06936-X. Perhaps the best overview of the history of the il-khanate. Covers politics, economics, religion, culture and the arts and sciences. Also has a section on the Isma'ilis, Hulagu's nemesis.
  • Encyclopædia Iranica' has scholar-reviewed articles on a wide range of Persian subjects, including Hulagu.
  • Morgan, David. The Mongols. Blackwell Publishers; Reprint edition, April 1990. ISBN 0-631-17563-6. Best for an overview of the wider context of medieval Mongol history and culture.
  • Atwood, Christopher P. (2004). The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. Facts on File, Inc. ISBN 0-8160-4671-9.
  • Robinson, Francis. The Mughal Emperors And the Islamic Dynasties of India, Iran and Central Asia. Thames and Hudson Limited; 2007. ISBN 0-500-25134-7

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Ilkhan Emperors
Succeeded by