In the 13th century a new power emerged on
the Mongolian steppe led by Genghis Khan, who mobilized his people for war and conquest. He carved out a vast empire and upon his death
in 1227, his descendants carried on his mission to conquer the world, leaving a permanent
mark on history – one characterized by slaughter, destruction, and savagery. Forays into Europe reached all the way into
Poland, Hungary and the Balkans, while the advance into the Middle East brought the Muslim
communities to the brink of extinction. Now, the Mamluk Sultanate stands as the last bastion of Islam against the feared Mongol horde. The battle that will change the course of
history is about to take place… In Egypt, the Mamluks were a warrior caste
of slave origin, trained from a young age as warriors that were very capable in battle,
forming a military elite of Ayyubid Sultans of Egypt and Syria. Over time their power grew and by 1250 they overthrew the Ayyubids and formed the Mamluk Sultanate. 10 years on, as the hot summer of 1260 rolled
on, Cairo was the glistening jewel on the banks of the river Nile. The city’s inhabitants went about their
daily routines, unaware that, in the palace, four Mongol envoys had the full attention
of Sultan Saif al-din Qutuz and his generals. They arrived on behalf of Hulagu Khan, carrying
a letter that contained an unequivocal ultimatum: In short, the Khan threatened with terrible
destruction, vowing to shatter all mosques and kill all Muslim children if Qutuz refused
to submit to Mongol rule. For a time, the Sultan and the envoys looked
at each other in silence. Then, Qutuz withdrew to consult with his generals,
while the Mongols confidently smirked. The hastily gathered council of war was a
grim affair as the high ranking officers reminded Qutuz of the sobering Mongol advance into
the Middle East… Over the past 35 years the unrelenting advance
of the Mongols brought destruction to the Islamic world. Countless cities were levelled, their populations
killed or enslaved. Finally, the Great Khan Mongke, grandson of
Genghis Khan, gave his brother Hulagu command of what could have been the largest single
army ever assembled by the Mongols, ordering him to conquer the remaining Islamic countries
of the Middle East and North Africa. In 1258, they marched on Baghdad with 15 tumens,
equal to 150,000 troops. The Abbasid caliphate, although no longer
the centre of political power in the Islamic world, was still its’ intellectual heartland. In February, the Mongols took advantage of
the treachery in the Abbasid court, as well as Caliph’s own foolishness, and cunningly
captured Baghdad, a city of one million inhabitants, effectively putting an end to the once-glorious
Abbasid Empire. Hundreds of thousands of people were put to
the sword or sold into slavery, the city sacked and burned to its’ foundations, the Grand
Library of Baghdad set on fire, the ancient irrigation systems destroyed, with the devastation
so extensive that agriculture took centuries to fully recover. For those of you who want to learn more about
the Abbasid Caliphate, one of the greatest empires in history – an old friend HistoryTime
has just released a great video that covers the Rise and fall of the Abbasid Caliphate
in great detail, including the Fall of Baghdad in 1258. The link to his video is in the description,
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to our channel and click that bell button. A year later, as the aftershocks of the fall
of Baghdad were still felt throughout the Islamic world, Hulagu moved into Syria with a detachment of 6 tumens, equal to 60,000 troops. The speed of the Mongol advance was frightening. By January 1260, the Mongols were at the gates
of Aleppo. The walls were breached after 6 days with
the help of catapults and mangonels. As they stormed the city, the Mongols were
joined by their vassal Armenian and Frankish forces, killing all Muslim and Jewish men
in the ensuing massacre, while most women and children were sent to the slave markets. Christian King of Cilician Armenia and the
Prince of Antioch and Tripoli were handsomely rewarded for their cooperation in the sacking
of the city. After hearing of the horrific fate that Aleppo suffered, the rest of Syria capitulated by late March. With the destruction of major Muslim cities,
the Mamluk Sultanate was now left as the last true stronghold of Islam. And for the Mongols, Egypt was the next target… Back in Cairo, Mamluk commanders agreed that
it would be wise to capitulate to Mongol demands. Qutuz’s opinion… differed. Although he admitted that the Mamluks faced
impossible odds against the vast Mongol army, he was a proud and strong-willed leader. To submit would be an act of cowardice. “Egypt needs a warrior as its’ king”,
he exclaimed. “If no one else will come, I will go and
fight the Tatars alone!” And with that the Sultan ordered the envoys
seized, cut in half at the waist, then decapitated and their heads displayed on Cairo’s imposing
Zuwila Gate. Qutuz’s message to Hulagu was irrevocable
– The Mamluks will not bow to the invader. The killing of envoys enraged the Khan and
the preparations for a full scale war began at once. Qutuz had a difficult task ahead of him. He was vastly outnumbered. The Mamluk sultanate was divided into 24 districts,
each charged with supplying 1000 troops, which placed the total number of Mamluk cavalry
at 24,000, of which 4,000 were royal mamluks, 10,000 were emirs’ mamluks, and 10,000 were
more regular troops of various origins. Meanwhile Hulagu had 60,000 troops across
Syria. Nevertheless, Qutuz began defensive preparations. Perhaps most importantly he could call upon
his rival Baibars, one of the best military commanders of his time, to join him, promising to give control of Aleppo to him after the war. Baibars was of Turkic origin, either a Kipchak
or a Cuman. He was part of the Barli tribe that lived
north of the Black Sea and, while still a boy, he was enslaved by the Mongols during
their invasion of Europe and eventually sold to the Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt and Syria. In Cairo he was educated in accordance with
the Mamluk Furusiyyu Code. He underwent years of extensive military training
and received an excellent education. Even at a young age Baibars displayed exceptional
military prowess and upon completing his training he was appointed as commander of an elite
group of Sultan’s personal bodyguards. He distinguished himself in battle during
the Seventh Crusade and, alongside Qutuz himself, was one of the commanders who destroyed the
Crusader army at the Battle of Al-Mansurah in 1250, where King Louis IX himself was captured. After the fall of Damascus in 1260, Baibars
was invited by Sultan Qutuz to lead the elite Mamluk vanguard against
the Mongols. As defensive preparations in Egypt continued,
word reached Qutuz that Hulagu postponed the campaign against Egypt and withdrew most of
his troops east. The death of the Great Khan Mongke prompted
Hulagu to return to Karakorum for the election of the new Great Khan. Hulagu left his trusted lieutenant Kitbuqa
in charge of defending Syria until he returns to continue the campaign against Egypt. Kitbuqa, who was now governor of Aleppo, was
given command of 1 tumen of 10,000 troops. Additional 2,000 troops of Cilician Armenians,
Georgians, the garrison from Aleppo, as well as locally recruited nomads were added to
Kitbuqa’s command, increasing his total force to around 12,000. Hulagu correctly estimated that Palestine
could not sustain an army larger than 15,000 for a prolonged period of time. Furthermore, intelligence gathered from captive
and allied soldiers suggested that the Mamluks would be able to field no more than 15,000
troops in Palestine. And indeed, for the offensive Qutuz prepared
14,000 of his best mamluks, including Bedouins, Turkoman Mameluks, Mongolian deserters and
members of the Hawwarah tribe of Lybia, assigning 10,000 troops to stay behind and guard Egypt
against a possible Christian invasion. Baibars left Cairo first, in late July, commanding
the large vanguard contingent, force-marching to secure Gaza. Both Qutuz and Baibars saw the departure of
Hulagu’s main army as an opportunity to attack the Mongol rearguard. Qutuz sent urgent letters to Latin crusaders,
asking them to join him. However, the Crusaders, fearing excommunication,
as well as Mongol reprisals, opted for the middle ground, by giving the Mamluk army safe
passage and allowing them to purchase supplies as they pass through Christian territory. Once news reached Kitbuqa of the approaching enemy, he marched out to meet the Islamic army. Having received reports that Qutuz will pass
through Christian territory, he planned to intercept the Sultan. Meanwhile, Qutuz reached Acre and encamped
outside the city to purchase provisions for his troops. Mongol spies reported the size and position
of the Mamluk army, and Kitbuqa hastened his march, hoping to surprise the Muslims. The Mongols marched along the eastern side
of Lake Tiberias. Once they passed the lake they crossed the
river Jordan and proceeded west towards the Spring of Goliath, where, according to legend,
David slew Goliath. Mongols forced marched in two columns, wanting
to intercept and surprise the Mamluks. Cilician Armenian and Frankish troops were
placed in the vanguard because they knew the terrain and could guide the rest of the army. The Jezreel valley was surrounded by Mount Gilboa in the south and the hills of Galilee to the north. As the Mongol army crossed the river Jordan
they were surprised by Baibars’ contingent. Sudden volleys of Mamluk arrows opened the
engagement. The Christian heavy cavalry moved to close
the distance. Baibars caught the Mongols off-guard. Just like the Crusaders, leading the enemy’s
vanguard, he too knew the lay of the land and he moved his troops into position to launch
a surprise attack, while skilfully avoiding detection by Mongol scouts. Cilician armoured cavalry made contact with the Muslim line, instantly breaking up their formation. A seemingly chaotic skirmish erupted as the
Mamluks were being pushed back. Further back, Kitbuqa’s line of sight was
blocked by the gentle ridge running north-south, where fighting was taking place and, not being
able to see how many Mamluk troops are deployed beyond the ridge, he sent more troops to bolster
the Christian charge, and ordered the rest of his troops to form the battle lines. With Baibars’ exceptional leadership the
Mamluk vanguard is able to maintain discipline during a series of manoeuvers – rotating
between intense brief hand-to-hand clashes, followed by short retreats and arrow volleys
– thus managing to hold back the entire Mongol army with a significantly smaller force,
while gradually giving ground to the enemy. Despite taking considerable losses the Mamluk
commander kept his line stable as he rounded the mountain slopes, maintaining a fighting
retreat under increasing Mongol pressure. Baibars’ troops have reportedly used early
forms of hand guns to shoot at the enemy. These weapons, while very inaccurate, were
very effective at scaring Mongol horses, thereby disrupting and slowing their advance, with
some animals galloping off the field in panic with their riders. After hours of holding back the overwhelming
Mongol advance, tiredness set in and Baibars’ contingent began taking heavy losses. But by now it became clear that his force
was only a part of the Mamluk army. From the surrounding hills, hidden in the
trees, Qutuz watched and waited for the enemy to come to him. Seeing the Mongols pushing Baibars back Qutuz
bolstered the moral of his troops with a rousing speech, which historians say elicited tears
from the eyes of his soldiers, and he reminded them of the Mongol savagery, saying:
“There is no alternative to fighting, except a horrible death for all of you, your wives,
and your children!” Kitbuqa ordered an all-out charge, aiming
to finish off Baibars’ vanguard before they could re-join the main Mamluk force. Qutuz countered by ordering his right flank
to charge out of the treeline into the Mongol left. Recognizing that he is surrounded on three
sides, Kitbuqa ordered his troops to charge-shoot and break away, in an attempt to lure the
Mamluks into giving chase. But Baibars and Qutuz recognized the feigned
retreat ruse. They ordered the men to hold their ground
and shoot their arrows at the enemy from where they stood. Aware that Mamluk bows and arrows are much
deadlier at longer range, and seeing that the feigned retreat didn’t work, Kitbuqa
quickly adapted. He ordered the bulk of his cavalry to swing
across the valley and charge the Mamluk left flank, while instructing the rest of his troops
to close ranks and hold against the Mamluk centre and right flank. His plan was to use the gentle slope to mount a mass-charge that will smash the Mamluk left flank and encircle their army. As Qutuz’s left flank met the Mongol charge,
they were in trouble almost straight away. By overloading the flank, the Mongols pushed
back the Muslim line. Seeing that his left flank is in danger of
collapsing, Qutuz ordered a detachment of troops to follow him and he rushed to reinforce his troops on the left. In the center, Baibars consolidated his lines
after his fighting retreat and began pushing back the Christian heavy cavalry. The fighting was bloodiest in the centre as
the mounted Mamluk and Crusader troops locked in bitter hand-to-hand combat. Baibars personally led his contingent from
the front, urging his men to defend their country against the invader! Meanwhile, Mamluk left flank was in dire straits. Sections of the line faltered under the weight
of the Mongol attack and some troops began fleeing. As the Mamluk left flank began collapsing,
the Mongols pressed forward, seeing their chance to rout and envelop the enemy. Galloping up the hill, Qutuz urged his men
to stand and fight as he rushed to shore up the ranks. He took off his helmet so that his soldiers
could recognize him. “O, Islam!!!” he shouted three times and
charged into the enemy line with his personal retinue. This act of courage invigorated the troops,
who rallied to his banner. After another hour of fighting, the Mongol
push slowed as the Sultan managed to stabilize the flank. Kitbuqa now found himself in a dangerous situation. When his attempt to overrun the Mamluk left
stalled, his own position became exposed after he sent his last reserves to try and stop
Baibars’ attack in the centre. Seeing that Mongols have committed all of
their troops, Baibars sent urgent messages to the right flank, ordering them to push
the Mongols at all cost, seeing his chance to encircle them from the right. Meanwhile, more troops reinforced the Mamluk
left flank and Qutuz at last managed to turn the tide. Less suited to hand-to-hand combat the Mongols
could not withstand the determined Muslim cavalry and, despite their numerical advantage
they began falling back. Kitbuqa’s other flank also began collapsing
inward and now the danger was real that his position would soon be completely surrounded. One of his officers suggested to him to retreat,
but Kitbuqa replied: “We must die here and that is the end of
it. Long life and happiness to the Khan.” And with those words he too joined the fighting. Bolstered by the presence of their commander,
the resolve of the Mongol troops hardened. But as the Mamluks encircled the invaders,
Kitbuqa was captured by Baibars’ troops amidst the fighting. By now the Mongols were tactically outmatched
on the field and seeing their leader fall into enemy hands, they realized that the battle
was lost. The rest of Kitbuqa’s troops began breaking
out and retreated towards Bisan. On that day, the Muslim army achieved a great
victory at Ain Jalut. By halting the westward Mongol expansion,
and thus saving the three Holiest cities, Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem from destruction,
Qutuz became the saviour of Islam and, arguably, he saved his Christian enemies in the West
from the “Devil’s Horsemen”, a name attributed to the Mongols. For had they managed to conquer Egypt, the
way across northern Africa, all the way to the Strait of Gibraltar, would’ve been open. In theory this would’ve enabled the Mongols
to form a ring around Europe and invade on multiple fronts, making it difficult for any
European army to be positioned in order to hold them back. But Qutuz, who became known as the “Lion
of Ain Jalut”, did not get to enjoy this triumph. He was assassinated a few days after the battle,
while the army was returning to Cairo. Having been loyal to the Aybak faction, Qutuz
certainly had a few enemies and rivals. Baibars, a member of the Bahri faction, was
the most powerful of his rivals, and it is possible that he was responsible for Qutuz’s
death as retaliation, because the late Sultan refused to give control of Aleppo to Baibars
as he had promised, fearing Baibars’ power and ambition. Upon the army’s triumphant return to Cairo,
he became the new Mamluk Sultan. Sultan Baibars was an equally capable ruler
as Qutuz, continuing the strong Mamluk traditions. Irrespective of their political rivalry,
Qutuz and Baibars were men who’s deeds on the battlefield at Ain Jalut preserved Islam
from destruction… Credit goes to our awesome patrons who make
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