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Caliphate at Baghdad Destroyed 1258

The Abbasid caliphate that thrived in Baghdad for three-hundred years was destroyed by the Mongols led by Hulagu Khan in 1258 which is where it is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History. Many people were killed during the Siege of Baghdad, and it took several years before the city recovered.

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The Muslim World

The Abbasid Caliphate was one of the dynasties that ruled Western Asia in the Medieval Period. It thrived between the eighth and tenth centuries. Its influence faded in AD 946 after a Persian general rose to power. The Abbasid royal family and its rulers still existed, but they became puppets under the Persian rulers of the Persian Buyid Dynasty.

The Muslim world then split into different independent caliphates and emirates in the Medieval Period. Al-Andalus (Spain) stayed under the Umayyad rulers but it later split into many kingdoms called Taifas. Meanwhile, some parts of Syria, the Levant, and Egypt were ruled by the Fatimid dynasty. The Samanid, Safavid, and Hamdanid dynasties also took large parts of the Abbasid territories and ruled them independently.

Other enemies of the Abbasid caliphate rose later on. During the eleventh century, the Turkic dynasties of the Ghaznavid and Seljuk rose in Central and Western Asia. The fierce Seljuks first defeated the Ghaznavids, and they later crossed the Oxus River (Amu Darya) to conquer Iraq. They removed the Buyids from power in Baghdad but kept the Abbasid caliph on the throne as their own puppet. They also conquered Syria and some parts of Palestine. The Seljuks later turned north and took away a big part of Asia Minor from the Byzantine Empire to set up the Sultanate of Rum.

The city of Baghdad had withstood sieges and civil wars over the years. But nothing prepared its people and the Abbasid caliphate for the arrival of the fierce Asian warriors in the middle of the thirteenth century: the Mongols.

“Genghis Khan”

The Mongols

The Mongols first rose as different groups of nomadic peoples in the first century AD. They lived on the northern borders of the Han empire. They later influenced the Sui and Tang Dynasties of China. The Mongolic empire of the Khitan Liao crumbled under the Jin Dynasty of the Jurchen people in the 1190s. Because of this, their people were scattered in the area for many years. A Mongol warrior named Temujin rose around this time to become his people’s khan (supreme leader or king). He later united the different Mongol tribes under his rule as khagan (king of kings).

Temujin was later renamed as Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khan) or ‘universal lord’ after he led the Mongols in the conquest of Central Asia and northern China. In 1218, he led his soldiers into present-day Uzbekistan and northern Iran. He then sent envoys to the ruler of Iran to establish trade with them. But the Muslim ruler made a huge mistake after he accused the Mongols envoys as spies and had them killed. In his anger, Genghis Khan ordered his men to sack the Central Asian cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and others in Transoxiana. It was followed later by the fall of Persia into Mongol hands.

The peoples of Central Asia knew that it was useless to fight, so they surrendered to Mongols instead. Genghis Khan then conquered Georgia and southern Russia but he died in 1227 before his army could enter Europe. His son Ogedei became the new khan, and he made Kiev a tributary. They also pushed into Poland and Hungary, as well as the borders of Germany and Austria in the years that followed.

The Siege of Baghdad

Ogedei died in 1241 and the Mongol leaders returned to Asia to elect a new leader. The greatest Mongol Khan, Mongke, rose in 1251. Many of his battles were fought in Muslim-held lands in Asia. He defeated the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum and later ordered his brother Hulagu Khan to attack the city of Baghdad. Before the expedition, Mongke Khan told Hulagu to demand the submission of the Abbasid caliph al-Musta’sim. But if the caliph refused to submit, the khan gave Hulagu his permission to destroy Baghdad. Hulagu led as much as 150,000 Mongol soldiers into Iraq in 1258. Many Christian, Chinese, Persian, and some Turkic soldiers also helped the Mongols in this battle.

When Hulagu arrived near Baghdad, he immediately demanded al-Musta’sim to submit to Mongke Khan. The Abbasid caliph refused because his chief minister told him that the Abbasid army could easily defeat the Mongols. His refusal angered Hulagu, and he ordered the Mongol army to besiege Baghdad on January 29, 1258. The Mongol army immediately broke down the city walls. When he saw that they had no chance of winning against the Mongols, al-Musta’sim tried to negotiate with Hulagu. The Mongol leader did not accept his offer. The city surrendered on the 10th of February 1258. The Mongols entered Baghdad three days later and killed many people in the city.

Al-Musta’sim was the last of the Abbasid caliphs after he and the noblemen were killed by the Mongols. Baghdad was destroyed in 1258. Those who survived the massacre fled the city. It would take many years before Baghdad rose once again.

Picture By unknown / (of the reproduction) National Palace Museum in Taipei – Dschingis Khan und seine Erben (exhibition catalogue), München 2005, p. 304, Public Domain, Link
Fattah, Hala Mundhir, and Frank Caso. A Brief History of Iraq. New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2009.
Marozzi, Justin. Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood–A History in Thirteen Centuries. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, a Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2014.
Roberts, J. M., and Odd Arne. Westad. The History of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
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