The Ilkhanate Had Only Two Goals: Conquest and Power
The Ilkhanate was one of the four khanates that emerged after the fragmentation of the Mongol Empire. This khanate was founded by Hulegu Khan, one of Genghis Khan’s grandsons, and lasted from the middle of the 13th century to the first half of the 14th century. The Ilkhanate was based in Persia, and its territory extended from Turkey in the west to the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent in the east. Like the other khanates, this one also had goals of conquest and power.
Early History of the Ilkhanate
The beginnings of the Ilkhanate may be traced back to Genghis Khan’s conquest of the Khwarazmian Empire, which lasted from 1219 to 1224. This marked the beginning of the Mongol’s invasion of the Islamic states in the Middle East. Following this campaign, the Mongols continued to expand their rule in this region. The task of establishing Mongol control in the Middle East had been given to the empire’s generals, and by the middle of the 13th century, large parts of Persia had fallen under the control of the Mongols.
In 1255/6, a fresh expedition was launched by the Mongols against the Middle East. Instead of placing the army under another general, the task was given to a member of the Mongol royal family. During this time, the Mongol Empire was ruled by the Toluid Dynasty. The Great Khan, Mongke Khan, was the eldest son of Tolui (the fourth son of Genghis Khan with his first wife, Borte), and the task of subduing the Islamic states “as far as the borders of Egypt” was given to his brother, Hulegu (Hulagu) Khan. This may be regarded as the birth of the Ilkhanate.
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Hulagu Khan, founder of the Ilkhanate, with his Christian wife Queen Doquz Khatun. (Public Domain)
The Ilkhanate of Persia
Hulegu’s campaign had a number of objectives – the subjugation of the Lurs (a people in southern Iran), the elimination of the Hashshashins, and the submission or destruction of the Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphate, the Ayyubid states in Syria, and the Bahri Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt. It has been reckoned that two out of ten fighting men from the entire empire was given to Hulegu, which would have formed the largest army the Mongols ever assembled. The Lurs were easily defeated by Hulegu and the reputation of the Mongols so frightened the Hashshashins that they surrendered their reputedly impregnable fortress, Alamut, without a fight.
Hulegu’s next target was the Abbasid Caliphate, which he set out against in November 1257. The Mongols demanded the caliph to surrender. As he refused to do so, Hulegu besieged Baghdad, the Abbasid capital. The city fell in February 1258 and the Mongols massacred its inhabitants. The destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate by the Mongols has often been considered as one of the most disastrous episodes in the history of Islam. The Mongols, along with their Christian vassals in the region, then crushed the Ayyubids in Syria.
The siege of Alamût in 1256. (Public Domain)
With the destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate and the Ayyubid Dynasty, the only remaining Islamic power in the Middle East was the Bahri Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt. Before Hulegu could launch a campaign against them, however, he had to return to Karakorum, the Mongol capital. Mongke Khan had died in 1259 and Hulegu was summoned to take part in the selection of the new Great Khan.
The bulk of the Mongol army left with him and about 10,000 troops were left with general Kitbuqa in Syria, as an occupational force. The Mamluks took advantage of the situation and struck the Mongols after Hulegu left the Middle East. In 1260, the Mamluks fought and defeated the Mongols at the Battle of Ayn Jalut. This was an important turning point in history, as it marked the limits of Mongol expansion in the Middle East.
Hulagu and his army. ‘Jami' al-tawarikh’, Rashid al-Din. (Public Domain)
The Ilkhanate VS the Golden Horde
After the selection of the new Great Khan, Hulegu returned to the Middle East, and was planning to attack the Mamluks, so as to avenge the defeat at Ayn Jalut. The Ilkhanate, however, faced an invasion from the Golden Horde in the Caucasus. This conflict was caused partially due to the fact that the leader of the Golden Horde, Berke, was a Muslim who intended to punish Hulegu for his destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate.
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As a result, the Ilkhanate was forced to abandon its campaign against the Mamluks in order to concentrate on the war against the Golden Horde. The break-up of the Mongol Empire resulted in more conflicts like this, and, as a consequence, the Ilkhanate was not able to expand further westwards.
A Timurid drawing of an Ilkhanid horse archer by Muhammad ibn Mahmudshah al-Khayyam Iran, early 15th century. (Public Domain)
The Ilkhanate Religion Changes
Hulagu died in 1265, and was succeeded by his son, Abaqa Khan. Towards the end of the 13th century, the rulers of the Ilkhanate converted to Islam, though they fluctuated between the Sunni and Shia sects. Abu Sa'id Bahadur Khan, the last ruler of the Ilkhanate, died in 1335 without leaving an heir. As a result, the unity of the khanate was broken, and various princes ruled over its former territories until 1353.
Top image: The Mongol ruler Hulagu in Baghdad interns the Caliph of Baghdad among his treasures. Hulagu founded the Ilkhanate. Source: Public Domain
By Wu Mingren
GlobalSecurity.org, 2011. Ilkhan Mongols. Available at: https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iran/history-ilkhan.htm
New World Encyclopedia, 2018. Hulagu Khan. Available at: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Hulagu_Khan
New World Encyclopedia, 2018. Il-Khan dynasty. Available at: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Il-Khan_dynasty
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2016. Hülegü. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hulegu
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018. Il-Khanid dynasty. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Il-Khanid-dynasty