Jumi’u’t-Tawarikh, The Battle of ‘Ayn Jalut (September 8, 1260)

The Mongol armies were thought to be unstoppable after they were able to overcome the defences of both Baghdad and Damascus. In 1260 Hulagu sent envoys to Saif ad-Din Qutuz in Cairo demanding his surrender; Quduz responded by killing the envoys and displaying their heads on the gates of the city. As Qutuz prepared for a Mongol invasion, Hulagu returned home to attempt to seize power when his brother the Great Khan Mongke died. Qutuz allied with a fellow Mamluk, Baubars, who had fled Syria after the Mongols captured Damascus. The Mongols attempted to ally with the remnant of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, now centred on Acre, but Pope Alexander IV forbade this. The Christians remained neutral.

Both Mamluk and Mongol armies encamped in Palestine in July of 1260. They finally met at Ain Jalut on September 3, with both sides numbering about 20 000 men (the Mongol force was originally much larger, but Hulegu took most of it when he returned home). The Mamluks drew out the Mongol cavalry with a feigned retreat, and were almost unable to withstand the assault. Quduz rallied his troops for a successful counterattack, along cavalry reserves hidden in the nearby valleys. The Mongols were forced to retreat, and Hulagu’s deputy Ket Buqa Noyan was captured and executed.  On the way back to Cairo, Baibars killed Quduz and became sultan himself. His successors would go on to capture the last of the Crusader states in Palestine by 1291.

Ket Buqa Noyan goes to Egypt, does battle with the Egyptian army, and is killed.

When Hulagu Khan departed from Syria, he sent a Mongol emissary with forty liege men on a mission to Egypt, saying, “God the great has elevated Genghis Khan and his progeny and given us the realms of the face of the earth altogether. Everyone who has been recalcitrant in obeying us has been annihilated along with his women, children, kith and kin, towns, and servants, as has surely reached the hearing of all. The reputation of our innumerable army is as well known as the stories of Rustam and Isfandiar. If you are in submission to our court, send tribute, come yourself, and request a shahna; otherwise be prepared for battle.”

At that time there was no one left of Kamilite lineage worthy of ruling, and a Turcoman had become ruler. When he died he left an infant child named Muhammad, who was elevated to his father’s position with Quduz as his atabeg. Muhammad died suddenly, and Quduz became ruler. He curried favor with the people through largesse. Most of the soldiers of Syria and Egypt were the defeated troops of Sultan Jalaluddin who had fled from the gates of Akhlat and gone to Syria. Their leaders and com­manders were Barakat Khan and Malik Ikhtiyaruddin Khan son of …, and Malik Sayfuddin Sadiq Khan son of Mingbuga, Malik Nasiruddin Gushlu Khan son of Beg Arslan, Atlas Khan, and Nasiruddin Muhammad Qaymari. When Hulagu Khan set out for Syria, they went into hiding in the surrounding areas, and after he pulled out, they reassembled and headed for Cairo in Egypt, where they told their sad story to Quduz. He showed them favor, sympathized with them, and gave them much money.  They all became wholehearted supporters of Quduz’s rule.

When the emissaries arrived, Quduz summoned them and consulted with them on what to do, saying, “Hulagu Khan has proceeded from Turan with a huge army into Iran, and no one, caliph, sultan, or malik, has the ability to withstand his onslaught. Having conquered all lands, he has come to Damascus, and were it not for the news of his brother’s death he would have added Egypt to his conquests too. In addition, he has stationed in this area Ket Buqa Noyan, who is like a raging lion and fire-breathing dragon lying in ambush. If he attacks Egypt, no one will be able to contend with him. Before we lose all power of self­determination, we must come up with a strategy.”

“In addition to being Genghis Khan’s grandson, Tolui Khan’s son, and Manggu Qa’an’s brother,” said Nasiruddin Qaymari, “Hulagu Khan has power and might beyond description. At present he holds from the gates of Egypt to the borders of China in his mighty grasp, and he has been singled out for heavenly assistance. If we go before him under amnesty, it will not be blameworthy. However, willingly to drink poison and to go out to greet one’s own death are far from the path of wisdom. A human being is not a grape vine that doesn’t mind having its head cut off. He does not keep his word, for with no warning he killed Khwarshah, Musta’sim, Husamuddin Akka, and the lord of Arbela after having made promises to them. If we go to him he will do the same to us.”

“At the present time,” said Quduz, “everywhere in Diyarbekir, Diyar Rabi’a, and Greater Syria is filled with lamentation. The land from Baghdad to Anatolia lies in ruins, devoid of farmers and seed. If we don’t make a pre-emptive strike and try to repulse them, soon Egypt will be destroyed like the others. Given the multitudes with which he is proceeding in our direction, one of three things must be done: we must make a truce, offer resistance, or go into exile. Exile is impossible, for there is nowhere we can go other than North Africa, and a bloodthirsty desert and vast distances lie between us and there.”

“A truce is also imprudent,” said Nasir­uddin Qaymari, “for their word is not to be trusted.”

The other commanders said, “We do not have the power to resist either. You must say what you think the best plan is.”

“My opinion,” said Quduz, “is that we go out to battle together. If we win, fine; oth­erwise, we will not suffer blame from the people.”

After that, the amirs agreed, and Quduz consulted with Bunduqdar, his chief amir, in private. “My opinion,” said Bunduqdar, “is that we should kill the emissaries and ride as one to attack Ket Buqa. Win or die, in either case we will not be blamed, and we will have people’s gratitude.”

Quduz approved this plan, and by night he had the emissaries crucified. The next morning they perforce committed themselves to battle and mounted. Amir Baidar, who was the leader of the Mongolyazak [advance troop], sent a man named Aghlabak to Ket Buqa Noyan to inform him of the movement of the Egyptian troops. Ket Buqa sent in reply, “Stay where you are and wait for me.”

Before Ket Buqa arrived, Quduz attacked Baidar and drove him to the banks o£ the Orontes. Ket Buqa Noyan, his zeal stirred, flared up like fire with all confidence in his own strength and might. Quduz stationed his troops in ambush and, himself mounted with a few others, stood waiting. He clashed with Ket Buqa and his several thousand cavalry, all experienced warriors, at Ayn Jalut.  The Mongols attacked, raining down arrows, and Quduz pulled a feint and started to withdraw. Emboldened, the Mongols lit out after him, killing many of the Egyptians, but when they came to the ambush spot, the trap was sprung from three sides. A bloody battled ensued, lasting from dawn till midday. The Mongols were powerless to resist, and in the end they were put to flight.

Ket Buqa Noyan kept attacking left and right with all zeal. Some encouraged him to flee, but he refused to listen and said, “Death is inevitable. It is better to die with a good name than to flee in disgrace. In the end, someone from this army, old or young, will reach the court and report that Ket Buqa, not wanting to return in shame, gave his life in battle. The padishah should not grieve over lost Mongol soldiers. Let him imagine that his soldiers’ wives have not been pregnant for a year and the mares of their herds have not folded. May felicity be upon the padishah. When his noble being is well, every loss is compensated. The life or death of servants like us is irrelevant.” Although the soldiers left him, he continued to struggle in battle like a thousand men. In the end his horse faltered, and he was captured.

Near the battlefield was a reed bed in which a troop of Mongol cavalrymen was hiding. Quduz ordered fire thrown into it, and they were all burned alive. After that, Ket Buqa was taken before Quduz with his hands bound.

“Despicable man,” said Quduz, “you have shed so much blood wrongfully, ended the lives of champions and dignitaries with false assurances, and overthrown ancient dynasties with broken promises. Now you have finally fallen into a snare yourself.”

When the one whose hands were bound heard these words, he reared up like a mad elephant
And replied, saying, “O proud one, do not pride yourself on this day of victory.”

“If I am killed by your hand,” said Ket Buqa, “I consider it to be God’s act, not yours.  Be not deceived by this event for one moment, for when the news of my death reaches Hulagu Khan, the ocean of his wrath will boil over, and from Azerbaijan to the gates of Egypt will quake with the hooves of Mongol horses.  They will take the sands of Egypt from there in their horses’ nose bags.  Hulagu Khan has three hundred thousand renowned horsemen like Ket Buqa.  You may take one of them away.”

Quduz said, “Speak not so proudly of the horsemen of Turan, for they perform deeds with trickery and artifice, not with manliness like Rustam.”

As long as I have lived,” replied Ket Buqa, “I have been the padishah’s servant, not a mutineer and regicide like you!  Finish me off as quickly as possible.”  Quduz order his head severed from his body.

They then attacked throughout Syria as far as the banks of the Euphrates, overthrowing everyone they found, plundering Ket Buqa’s camp, taking captive his wife, child, and retainers, and killing the tax collectors and shahnas of the provinces.  Those who were warned escaped, and when the news of Ket Buqa Noyan’s death and his last words reached Hulagu Khan, he displayed his grief over his death and the fire of zeal flared up.  “Where will I find another servant who will show such devotion and allegiance in the face of death?” he said as he showered those left by Ket Buqa with favor.

This translation is from  Jumi’u’t-Tawarikh (Compendium of Chronicles): A History of the Mongols , translated by W.M. Thackston (Sources of Oriental Languages and Literatures 45, 1998-9).  We thank Professor Thackston and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Harvard University for their permission to republish this section.

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